STORYTELLER: DELANO ON STATE OF THE ‘OUTLAW NATION’
Warning: Adult language in the following story.
|Outlaw Nation #13|
Once upon a time, Jamie Delano wrote a little book called “Hellblazer” for DC/Vertigo. The book was a popular one, based around a popular character and Delano had a successful run on the title. He’s since worked on other books, including another popular Vertigo ongoing, an ongoing for another company, and even told some more stories about John Constantine, the star of “Hellblazer.” But last year, he returned to Vertigo to do a new ongoing book, “Outlaw Nation,” a tale that’s an unusual one, even for him.
“The book is doing OK,” Delano told the Comic Wire on Wednesday, “Not a runaway bestseller, but by no means an unmitigated disaster, either. Some readers seem to have thrown up their hands in horror and dismay at the ‘confused complexity’ of the opening issues and run screaming for the hills, but we have attracted a substantial kernel of ‘johnsons’ who are appear to be intrigued by our characters and have the stamina and inclination to follow the meandering plot-threads of the story deeper into the idiosyncratic territory of my imagination. I thank them for their patience, and hope that, over months to come, we can reward them with entertaining, amusing, intriguing, and occasionally thought-provoking work.”
For the as yet uninitiated, what is “Outlaw Nation?”
“Write about what you know best: the old adage goes. Well, for the past 15-plus years I have spent the bulk of my time shut in a room of my house producing — and occasionally consuming — works of fiction. This kind of existence puts a weird filter on the light of reality and distorts one’s perception of the world, I suspect. And it certainly seems to have done so for the main protagonist of ‘Outlaw Nation,’ immortal pulp-fiction writer, Story Johnson. The 20th Century was a big hallucinatory monster of a story, and it was easy to get lost in it … become confused about the nature of the truth and who was telling it. The 21st Century is not going to be any easier to comprehend, but Story Johnson cannot help but try. He’s a writer: that’s his job.
“‘Outlaw Nation’ doesn’t know exactly where it is going, but it knows where it comes from. It draws on the themes, stereotypes and clichés of popular US fiction to power its existence, and then tests them against contemporary morality and politics … seeing if they can find a way to survive, or even prosper.
“At least, that’s what my vision of the book is today. Ask me tomorrow and I may come up with something different. I don’t mean to be evasive but, to me, a continuing series needs to operate on a number of different levels to be satisfying, either to read or create. With the first 12 issues, I have tried to establish a scenario and a core group of characters that together offer potential for the telling of a diverse range of future stories. I have deliberately veered away from the current penchant for ‘story arc’ construction in favor of a more novelistic ‘saga’ type approach to plotting — numerous interlinked storylines, cross-fertilizing each other and finding their own organic, and sometimes frustrating, routes to resolution. An important side-effect of this approach is obviously that it makes it very difficult to identify obvious start and finish points in the narrative at which to pick up or put down the book, and it has been my hope and expectation from the start that trade paperback collections of the story would be ongoing. A kind of Catch 22 is involved here, however. Decisions on TPBs seem largely based on initial sales … so the approach to construction I have chosen is risky, and could potentially shoot the book in its own foot. I hope not; but it is nonetheless a risk I am prepared to take for the sake of fully exploiting the considerable degree of creative freedom allowed me by an imprint such as Vertigo. That I have overestimated the sophistication of my audience, or will fail to live up to their expectations, are possibilities that must be acknowledged; but I’m pretty sure from the letters I get that the former is not the case. The latter remains to be seen.”
When the series got going, a Vertigo mainstay set against a similar sprawling American canvas was winding down. At that point, Garth Ennis’ “Preacher” was the flagship of the imprint, and there were those who sought to compare the just-ending and just-beginning series by the two former “Hellblazer” writers. The accuracy of such comparisons is debatable, of course.
“I don’t know about accurate, but probably inevitable,” Delano said. “Both books (so far, in the case of ON) have a distinct Western theme. Both have covers by Glenn Fabry. Both lead protagonists use engraved Zippo lighters … but whereas Jesse Custer’s carries the legend: Fuck Communism, Story Johnson’s reads: Fuck War — a strong clue as to what I see as the fundamental divergence in the sensibilities of the two books and their approach to their themes.
“‘Outlaw Nation’ may sometimes walk similar territory to Preacher, but I’d suggest that it breaks its own trail. Perceived similarities are entirely superficial. Garth has his own distinct voice and interpretation of the world — and long may it be heard — and I have mine. Enough said.”
But both Ennis and Delano were and are Britons looking across the Atlantic to tell what are unmistakably American sagas. What’s the appeal of such a story?
“Its scope,” Delano said. “The chance to reflect back — and perhaps even subvert — something of the projected cultural identity that has dominated the global imagination of 20th century audiences … to tap into that energy that has distorted all our lives with its weird creative vision, perhaps. We have just seen the end of the first ‘American Century’ (A title I considered for ‘Outlaw Nation’ — although [Howard] Chaykin is putting it to pretty good use), I wonder if we are now living on into the second.”
The saga of Story Johnson and his various relations and acquaintances continues in the coming months with …
“First thing to say is that from here on in, the two Gorans — Parlov, pencils and Sudzuka, layouts and inks — really shift up a gear … and I think they were pulling pretty strong already.”
“In #10, ‘Strange Fruit,’ Story goes after Kid Gloves, planning to use him as a hostage to extort his son’s freedom from Old Asa. But his plan is too far-fetched, Gloves puts a twist in the tail of the tale and Story gets a little hung up in the plot.
“#11, ‘Hate, Murder and Revenge’ sees Story maintaining a limp-wrist liberal non-violent approach to ‘Johnson Justice,’ achieving his objective of a confrontation with Old Asa by strictly non-violent means … while all around him wallow in a disgusting bloodbath. Old Asa’s nurse also begins to expand her role in the ongoing story.
“#12, ‘Temptation,’ ‘Nurse Dolores’ reveals a penchant for dress-up as she conducts a nervous Story into his scary father’s presence. Story attempts to bluff Asa into releasing Sundance, but compared to his old man, Story is a poker virgin. Asa does not altogether rule out the possibility of a deal, but Story is going to have to pay a price. This issue rounds up a few loose ends in vague acknowledgment of the book’s first year, but it also unravels new threads to drag us kicking and screaming into the second.
“#13 introduces The ‘Reverend Hell,’ pastor of the jailhouse ‘Church of Johnson’ … but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.”
And for those still finding “Outlaw Nation” to be a dense work to jump into in the middle, Delano notes that he’s set up a section of his Web site, www.jamiedelano.co.uk under Current Projects that gives character biographies and portraits and issue by issue “story so far” breakdowns. He also has an e-mail address specifically set up to discuss “Outlaw Nation” or his other projects with readers: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A TALENT DESERVING OF WIDER RECOGNITION:
ALEX ROBINSON OF ‘BOX OFFICE POISON’
|Box Office Poison|
It’s an award that Linda Medley, Brian Michael Bendis and Tony Millionaire have all won in recent years, and if it wasn’t responsible, the Eisner award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition has served as a good barometer of creators whose time has come. And this year, it might be Alex Robinson‘s turn.
Robinson’s name is familiar to those who follow independent comics, as the creator of “Box Office Poison.”
“It’s the story of some young New Yorkers trying to get by in a cold, uncaring world,” Robinson told the Comic Wire on Wednesday. “One of the main stories deals with Sherman, an aspiring writer working in a bookstore, and his attempt to live a normal life with his girlfriend Dorothy. The other story deals with Sherman’s friend Ed, who works as an assistant to a bitter old cartoonist who created the world’s most popular superhero. There are a few subplots as well, that rise and fall in importance throughout the book. Plus, there’s cursing and nudity.”
Robinson worked on “Box Office Poison” for years before completing it in 2000. His next project was to be a book called “Cave City.”
“Well, I started ‘Cave City’ and released the first issue in mini comic form. I was all psyched, thinking this would be my next graphic novel. I say down to do the second issue and realized I had absolutely no enthusiasm for it, and I guess it’s better to notice that when you’re 26 pages in as opposed to 200 pages in.
“I think I was also affected by the lack of positive response. My public was truly underwhelmed, and since I wasn’t confident in the material to begin with it was doomed. Because of this, I’m going to wait until I’m more confident before going public with anything.
“I’ve also been working on some short pieces that will hopefully show up here and there. I submitted a story to the EXPO anthology and I’m working on back up stories for David Hahn’s ‘Private Beach’ and hopefully for John Kovalic’s ‘Dork Tower.’”
As for being nominated for the award — to be given out next month at Comic-Con International in San Diego — Robinson is pleased.
“I was amazed and very happy, of course. It’s such a relief to finally get some attention after working on the book for four years.
“I follow the awards only to the extent that I know I’ve never been nominated for one, and I vote for my friends when they’re up for things. Other than that I don’t remember who won what.”
While Medley’s “Castle Waiting” and Millionaire’s “Sock Monkey” are both recognized names, there’s no question that Bendis has been the award winner who has had the greatest mainstream success in recent years. Robinson isn’t worried about getting that for himself.
“I think Bendis’ work was much closer to mainstream comics material than mine is, so I don’t know if I’ll make the leap as easily or want to make the leap at all. The only reason I can really think to work in the mainstream is for money, which admittedly is a very seductive reason. But I imagine it’s hard to go back to doing more personal work for little money after that, and most people don’t come back. I would like to do it to the extent that it might broaden my audience and get people to buy ‘Box Office Poison’ who normally wouldn’t give it a second glance.”
And as for his competition against this year’s nominees, Robinson has a few thoughts:
“I know Scott Mills (we’re both published by Top Shelf so that might split that vote) and I’ve read ‘Electric Girl’ but I’ve never seen work by the other fellows. I seem to recall that they’re a little more action-oriented and as such probably sell more than I do so one of them will probably win it. I would love to win, of course, but I’m too pessimistic to think it will happen. It’s an honor just to be nominated, of course, and luckily the nominations came out just when my book was hitting the shops so maybe that got us a few sales.”
GAIMAN OPENS OFFICIAL WEB SITE
For a certain core audience out there, here’s all they need to know about this story: NeilGaiman.com. That whooshing noise was them clicking on the link and rushing off to see the new official site of one of the industry’s most popular writers.
The site replaces the older AmericanGods.com, named after Gaiman’s new novel, and expands it with all the sorts of things one would expect at a site revolving around a big-time writer. (The page about his comics has not yet been uploaded to the site.) It also has new Gaiman content more or less daily, in the form of a journal Gaiman posts to regularly:
“On the advice of Terry Pratchett, who is a wise road warrior and is the only person I know who has signed for more people, and in more countries, than me, and seeing it’s going to be six weeks of living out of hand-luggage (for there may not be time to check luggage, and I can’t risk losing all my socks and black tee shirts to the whims of Northwest Airlines), I decided to buy a Toshiba Libretto, for the road.
“(That’s a very small, full-featured notebook computer that weighs next to nothing, for the non-technically minded among us.)
“I take Terry’s advice on things like this. He’s always right. I still have, and still (once in a blue moon) use, the Atari Portfolio he talked me into buying about 11 years ago. It runs on a cut-down DOS 2.1 — I wrote MURDER MYSTERIES on it and THE GOLDFISH POOL & OTHER STORIES and more episodes of Sandman than I can count — and I’d use it more except I feel faintly ashamed of being seen using such antedeluvian technology when in the company of all the cool geek people I know. They have transparent plastic things that are violently green at you, and which take photographs, order take-out, check for the nearest good sushi restaurant, download basketball scores and double as mobile phones, all at the same time. My Portfolio is only good for writing stuff and storing addresses and phone numbers. Which is all I ever use it for, not having much interest in basketball, and being a writer. I think I once managed to prove it was possible to get e-mail on it some time in 1992, and never tried again …
“Sorry. Got a bit nostalgic there for a second.”
So, NeilGaiman.com. There’s that whooshing sound again.
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