❉ We’re asking, they’re answering. This week, the Mayor of Scarfolk. For more information, please re-read.
Described by Edward Snowden as “This guy, who apparently saw the future”, Richard Littler was born in Manchester and has lived in America, Russia, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland.
Richard is the ‘Mayor’ of Scarfolk town, the council of which releases documents from its archive via the popular black-comedy blog, Scarfolk Council. The blog has had millions of hits and was described by GQ as one of “The 100 Funniest Things in the History of the Internet.” A book called Discovering Scarfolk followed and was published by Ebury Press.
A Scarfolk TV series, which Richard will be co-writing, is in development with Retort.
Richard is also currently writing and directing a short, dystopian animation series called Dick & Stewart, produced by Rook Films & Matador Content.
What were you like at school?
Mostly invisible, I think. I didn’t like school very much so tried to blend into the background as much as possible.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Various: Archaeologist, film director, special-effects whizz, graphic designer and, when I was in my teens, a drummer (in the world’s biggest band, obviously)
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
“For fuck’s sake, Littler, stop faffing about.” I drifted for a long time not knowing how to achieve what I wanted to do.
Who were your heroes growing up?
Steven Spielberg, Keith Moon, Ray Harryhausen, cartoonists Gerald Scarfe & Ralph Steadman. My mother tells me that when I was 4 years old I wanted to be Roy Wood from the band Wizzard.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
I worked in a shoe shop briefly but was chronically shy and couldn’t talk to customers so I hid in the stock room all the time. They eventually fired me.
What are your best and worst qualities?
Best: Vivid, unrestrained imagination. Worst: Vivid, unrestrained imagination.
What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?
When Del Boy falls through the… no, not really. There are so many, so I’ll just go with the latest: Twin Peaks season 3, episode 18 in particular.
Monty Python: Is it funny?
Yes! Though some of it has dated of course, but it is almost 50 years old.
What was the last film that you watched?
The Man Who Never Was, a 1950s WW2 espionage story directed by Ronald Neame.
What film could you watch every day?
Star Wars or Bond films.
What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
Probably one of Bernard Herrmann’s. I think I must have most of them by now. I should say Vertigo but I have a fondness for Beneath the 12 Mile Reef. John Barry is a favourite too. I regularly listen to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Ipcress File.
Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?
Gary Oldman, Cate Blanchett, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton. Political, dystopian satire. In space.
Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?
I’m usually a huge fan of author Kazuo Ishiguro but I couldn’t get to grips with his last novel The Sleeping Giant.
Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?
Geogaddi by Boards of Canada. Do I really have to lend it? When I lend things out they rarely come back.
Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.
Which book would you save if your house was on fire?
The one that’s worth the most (not that I know which is the most valuable). Otherwise there are just too many to choose from – we have about three or four thousand of the bastards. I’d die trying to decide. Maybe I should buy a book about how to survive house fires and keep it handy.
What’s your definition of what makes something cult?
Something that becomes popular unexpectedly, and is then continually and intensely supported by a small group of dedicated fans even after it has stopped (or becomes shit).
What are you reading at present?
Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet.
Where do you think Scarfolk fits into the ‘folk horror revival’ and the hauntology music movement, or Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris’ ‘Ladybird Books For Grown-Ups’? What do you think it says about how those of us old enough to remember the 1970s view the institutions and artefacts of that decade? In We Are Cult, Daniel Marner wrote: “Threat and gloom are as much a part of our nostalgia now as charm or warmth. The Seventies, we gradually came to realise, was actually as horrible as it was extraordinary.”
It’s only certain kinds of people who respond to these late 60s-early 80s cultural references. For example, my sister is only couple of years younger than I am, but she probably wouldn’t remember this period the same way I do.
I haven’t read any of the Ladybirds for Grown-Ups yet. I tend to avoid stuff that I assume is similar to what I do. Scarfolk is, for example, frequently compared to Nightvale in the US; the two locations have even been described as sister cities, but I’ve never heard any of the Nightvale shows. I’m sure they – and the Ladybird Books – are all great, but while I’m doing my thing I try to stay in my own bubble as much as possible.
I don’t particularly like the word nostalgia for what Scarfolk does because it implies a longing for the past, perhaps even a fondness. I hope nobody would want to return to somewhere like Scarfolk. I also don’t think that Scarfolk is particularly folk-horror, though of course it does reference that genre occasionally. I just don’t have the experience or knowledge of folk-horror that others have: I didn’t watch Hammer or other low-budget, period horror films during my formative years, for example.
I’m not sure that the artists in question would agree with me at all, but I’ve always felt Scarfolk was a better fit with the so-called hauntological music of bands such as Boards of Canada, Advisory Circle or Belbury Poly, all of which seem to be interested in the re-creation of moods and feelings, some of which are tongue in cheek. When I started Scarfolk I was interested exclusively in capturing the feel of lost memories and emotions; it didn’t make any difference to me if one week I did something funny, another week something unsettling or horrific that wasn’t funny at all.
One of your early credits at the beginning of your design career was creating the storyboards for shows such as Virtual Murder. Can you tell us a little about that?
I was quite young, 18 or 19. I really can’t remember how it came about. Someone knew someone who knew someone who knew the director of Virtual Murder and Kinsey and he was looking for a storyboard artist. One of the ‘someones’ in that list recommended me so I ended up working on a few episodes of each. I remember on set, the director of photography asked me what I’d like to do eventually. I said direct. He replied ‘Why? Don’t you want any friends?’ Well, now I’m directing an animation series, so I don’t have to worry too much about annoying cast and crew.
Which other writers, designers, or film makers have inspired you over the years?
God, so many. Stanley Kubrick, Margaret Atwood, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Terry Gilliam, Haruki Murakami, Hitchcock, Dorothy Parker, Charles Bukowski, Ronald Searle, Paul Auster, Rodchenko, JG Ballard, the artists & writers at MAD magazine and Marvel Comics, William Burroughs, Laurel & Hardy.
You’ve got a series currently in development with Rook Films, ‘Dick And Stewart: I Spy With My Little Eye’. Do you have any other upcoming projects?
I’m in discussions for a new Scarfolk book at the moment. Scarfolk TV is also still in development with Retort. I’m also looking at new feature-length screenplay and TV series ideas, as well as revisiting a couple of projects I abandoned before Scarfolk took off.
Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?
I’ve been giving this some thought and can’t think of anything. It’s very possible that I am disappointingly average.
What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Finishing it. When I’m creating work I’m in a constant state of anxiety. As Dorothy Parker said ‘I hate writing, I love having written.’ Besides, the satisfaction only lasts about 10 minutes anyway because you start worrying about the next job.
What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?
Scarfolk I suppose, if you can call that professional. It was great that one of my projects found an audience (so many don’t) and the freedom of not having to compromise was a breath of fresh air after several years of working on collaborative screenplay projects, on scripts that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen myself.
What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
No matter what you choose to do there will be a cost, so try to do what you enjoy (or at least dislike the least.)
Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?
My wife. She is encouraging and has been fully supportive of my life as a struggling, creative person who struggles strugglingly.
Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?
I’ve never met any of my heroes, so I couldn’t say. I’m not very good at meeting people, whether they’re heroes or not, so it’s probably a good idea that I don’t.
We are at a bar, what are you drinking?
In the past it would have been a double of anything, of everything in fact, but I’m not drinking as much as I used to. Nowadays, it’s likely to be a glass of red wine. I might even stop after one(-ish).
What are your three favourite cities?
Of the ones I’ve lived in, Los Angeles, Krakow & London. I’d also say Moscow because it leaves a deep, lasting impression on you, but it’s a really hard city; you could never describe as a ‘favourite’ as such.
What do you do to chill out?
I don’t know how to relax, though I try to by watching films, bingeing boxsets or reading. Music is indispensable.
What would you like to be your epitaph?
Thank god that’s over.
How can our readers discover more about you and your work?
I’m on Twitter at @richard_littler. Scarfolk is online at https://scarfolk.blogspot.com, and on Twitter (@Scarfolk ), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ScarfolkCouncil/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/scarfolk/)
❉ Discovering Scarfolk’ published by Ebury Press available here.