Malcolm McLaren and Big Numbers

By Barry Kavanagh, 17 October 2000

« Brought to Light - deep politics / AARGH | A Small Killing and Lost Girls [warning: spoilers] »

The other thing in that biography was you did something for Malcolm McLaren, something called Fashion Beast. Was that a film?

That was great. It was the only time I’ve – I’ve got no interest in writing for films at all, or getting anywhere near Hollywood or stuff like that but Malcolm McLaren got in touch with me and said that he’d got two or three film properties that he’d like to develop, would I like to meet up with him, choose one of them and see if I could come up with anything? So I met up with him, he’s a charming bloke, he’s really funny, really intelligent and certainly did alright by me.

He actually paid you then, yeah!

I got all the money I was promised, even though he didn’t actually use – I mean, apparently, according to his autobiography, the screenplay that I turned in was just what he wanted but by then, through circumstances beyond my control or his, the money had run out on the project at its source, so it never got made. So I got the experience of writing a screenplay, I don’t know how good it was. It was probably over-clever. I remember him saying that I really ought to leave something for the director to do, because I was writing the screenplay the way I would one of my comics, where you’re talking about camera angles, you’re talking about composition but yeah, it was fun. I just did it mainly because I wanted to work with Malcolm McLaren. He’s somebody that I’ve got a lot of admiration for and you know, it was a laugh. I got paid, I got to meet Malcolm McLaren and hang out with him and Lauren Hutton, who’s one of the most beautiful and nice women -certainly celebrity women – that I’ve ever met. She’s really great, I mean ’cause she used to be a supermodel.

Were they called “supermodels” back then, or just –

No, they weren’t, I mean, she was one who actually fought for rights for models. She kind of organized… and she’s terrific, she’s so self-effacing, she was really nice to spend an afternoon with. Stunningly beautiful and seemingly completely unaware of it, which is a rare combination. Now, her and Malcolm were a nice couple. It was worth doing it just to meet them and the fact that I got thirty thousand quid or whatever for writing the script, that wasn’t bad either.

[Laughs] …I’ve only got #1 of Big Numbers

There were two that actually came out. Yeah, that was going to be a masterpiece, a magnum opus. I still think those first two issues are among some of the best comic work of that period. I mean, I got five scripts written.

Right, ’cause I wish I knew where it was going.

Yeah, well, I mean, I’ve got the whole thing plotted. I’ve got an enormous sheet of A1 paper with the whole plot on it, almost like a graph. The idea was that we were going to produce a really good comic, publish it ourselves, we were really committed to it and it was my money that was kind of supporting the entire thing. What happened was that Bill Sienkiewicz, after promising to do it, he did a brilliant job on the first two episodes and then just seemed to stop working upon it and all the money was kind of pouring down a black hole, because we’d still got overheads but we couldn’t actually get a comic out, because the artist wouldn’t – and we kept saying “Look, Bill, if you don’t want to do this work, just tell us and we’ll think about something else, get a replacement in or something but just tell us so that we’re not just having all of our money pouring down a drain” and Bill still didn’t get up the nerve to tell us that he didn’t want to do it for another few months, by which time our situation was desperate. Then Kevin Eastman, of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame, he stepped in with his brave but doomed publishing venture Tundra and he was trying to produce Big Numbers. We tried to get Al Columbia, who’d been Bill Sienkiewicz’s assistant, to continue with the strip. Now, I heard that Al did an issue of it but then, depending on which story to believe, either he destroyed the artwork or took it away or I don’t know what happened but it meant that we’d had two artists sort of back out on the project.

So, it’s permanently unfinished, do you think?

I don’t see any way that I can resurrect it as a comic strip. I mean, what do I do? Do I actually sort of say “Yeah, we’ve got a great new artist, are we going to start from #1 again but this time, no, buy it, because this time we really will get to issue #12.” I mean, I wouldn’t buy that if I heard it from somebody who’d kind of failed twice to do what he said he was going to do. So the only possible future for Big Numbers is that Alex Usborne, he’s with a firm called Picture Palace Productions, that did The Acid House Trilogy, they did Irvine Welsh –

– They turned that into a film –

– Yeah, there was a little short trilogy of films called The Acid House Trilogy, a couple of which were very good and that was done by Picture Palace Productions. Now, Alex has been working with me. We have got a pretty fully worked out episode-by-episode sort of presentation –


– For Big Numbers the television series. This would be a kind of big twelve-part drama like Our Friends in the North or something like that.

Would it be moved to the present day?


It seems to be set in the late ’80s.

Yeah, I’m not sure, it could be done in the late ’80s or it could be done in the present day, it wouldn’t really matter much. But again, it’s the idea of selling. I mean, I think fractals and shopping is a great idea but as a pitch to hot young Channel 4 presenters who are just mainly thinking “Let’s do Queer as Folk again and see if we can shock some more retired colonels from the home counties and get viewing figures off the back of it,” so your guess is as good as mine whether it’ll ever eventually surface but I know that Alex is still keen to do it if there’s a way that it can be done.

« Brought to Light - deep politics / AARGH | A Small Killing and Lost Girls [warning: spoilers] »