An editor’s “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts always holds the potential to house a new classic for the modern age, written by a blazing undiscovered talent. But by and large, what it typically contains is unpolished, unprofessional work. Add to that many aspiring authors’ eagerness to chase the latest trend and a good portion of that slush pile is not only poorly executed, but it’s poorly executed work that’s been done to death. So how can an editor push pack against the never-ending tide of poorly-written Victorian parodies, ill-qualified parenting guides, bankrupt business manifestos and melodramatic vampire romances? In Andrew Foley and Fiona Staples’ “Done to Death,” available now from IDW Publishing, the answer is simple: murder the authors.
Previously released as single issues through Markosia (after a stint at the soon-defunct Speakeasy Comics), “Done to Death” follows the adventures of an editor turned serial killer who hunts down anyone audacious enough to fill her in-box with shoddy vampire manuscripts and a melancholy vampire bent on slaughtering writers who misrepresent his species.
CBR News spoke with Foley about the book’s themes, its history and his unusual experience as co-writer of the “Cowboys & Aliens” comic.
CBR News: Andrew, you’ve got the “Done to Death” collected edition coming out soon. What can you tell us about this project’s history, how it came together and how it landed at IDW?
Andrew Foley: In 2005, a company called Speakeasy Publishing put out my first graphic novel “Parting Ways,” which was well-received among the half dozen or so people who read it (hi, Mom!). To follow that book up, I decided to try and set up a story that’d been simmering in my brain for a few years. I figured I wouldn’t have a hard time finding a home for it for two reasons: one, I seriously believed that editors would love the character of Shannon Wade and two, I’d lucked out and gotten a fantastic artist on board with the story. Seeing as I had an “in” at Speakeasy, I pitched it there first. They were interested in publishing it — right up until they went out of business.
Then it went to Markosia. A lot of the Speakeasy creators took their books to the small publisher largely because they were offering to pay creators a reasonable page rate upfront and had an ambitious marketing plan. Fiona [Staples] finished the first issue of [“Done to Death”] before the company’s well-documented problems with their primary investor made it necessary for the company to offer different terms to its creators. We’d already done a significant amount of work on the comic, so we decided to stick it out to the end of the story’s five issues and see the lay of the land after that. The book was launched to thundering audience apathy, but we did get enough sales to justify the publication of the complete story, which I’m grateful for to this day. I can’t stand it when small publishers or Diamond solicit a comic and then decide not to ship it for whatever reason.
After the miniseries was over, it became clear that “Done to Death’s” publisher had a different vision for the property than Fiona and I did. After a lengthy negotiation, we resolved all outstanding issues and the rights to the property were returned to its creators.
I then set about trying to find a home for the collection and failed miserably for a couple of years until My Comic Book Savior, Dark Horse editor Rachel Edidin took an interest in the story. She took the comic up the Dark Horse chain of command, pretty close to the top, if I understand things correctly, but it was eventually determined that “Done to Death” wouldn’t fly as a Dark Horse book.
Rachel asked if I’d mind her showing the book to a friend of hers, IDW editor (now writer/editor) Mariah Huehner. “Uh, no, no I wouldn’t mind that at all.” Mariah responded to the material, took it up IDW’s somewhat shorter chain of command and we had a publisher for the collection.
It was a long process, but part of me (the part that doesn’t care about bills) is happy it took as long as it did. Between “Twilight” and “True Blood,” vampires really went mainstream over the nearly five years between the previous publication and the trade paperback. I suspect Shannon and Andy’s antipathy to the genre will resonate with many more people today than it did at the time.
How do you describe the story of this book? Who are our characters and what do they get up to?
“Done to Death” is about Shannon Wade, a book editor so sick of receiving awful vampire manuscript submissions that she starts murdering the would-be writers foisting them on her. It’s also about an overweight loser of a vampire named Andy. He’s killing off the people he blames for manufacturing the image of the tragic, romantic vampire, on the grounds that he’s a vampire and he looks nothing like Robert Pattinson, Tom Cruise or Stephen Moyer. Finally, it’s the story of the woman they’re both killing their way towards, world-famous author Rebecca DeMornay and what happens when their paths intersect.
Shannon Wade is an editor that murders bad authors — does that make her a good guy or a bad guy?
Well she is a serial killer, which pretty much rules out the option A. My hope is her actions are understandable in the context of the story, even though they’re clearly reprehensible and would be completely unacceptable anywhere but in the pages of a pitch black comedy.
Andy’s goal seems strangely in tune with Shannon’s. What is it that he finds so offensive about the way vampires are portrayed? In his eyes, do any books/TV shows/movies get it right?
Andy’s issue is that over time, the image of vampires in popular culture has changed from Nosferatu to Edward Cullen; they’ve become objects of desire, rather than fear. Which was fine, right up until he became a vampire himself and discovered he was no more desirable than he was prior to his transformation. Probably less so on account of his habit of killing and eating people.
In Andy’s eyes, the closest thing to a real vampire he’s encountered in fiction is the non-Jason Patric bloodsuckers in “Lost Boys.” He also loves “30 Days of Night,” the comic and the film, and not just because I dream of someday getting to do a “30 Days/Done to Death” crossover. Steve Niles vampires are horrible monsters, which Andy can definitely identify with. He liked the still photos of Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” but found the film itself kind of goofy. He thinks “The Hunger” is altogether too sunny for a vampire film, got bored with the adaptation of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” and never finished watching it and George Romero’s “Martin” made him feel uncomfortable, so he stopped watching that, too.
You’ve already spoken a little bit about Fiona Staples, who was the artist for this project. How did you first come to work with her?
Fiona and I were both part of an Albertan comic creators message board called Maple Ink Comics. I saw her artwork posted there, knew she was destined to be a superstar artist and was lucky to somehow managed to convince her illustrating a nobody schmuck writer’s comic wasn’t totally beneath her.
What did her style bring to your story?
It brought it to life! She made the characters breathe, made their world into a real place I could sing her praises all day, she was so damn good on “Done to Death” and she’s only gotten better in the years since. I’d kill to work with her again. Brian K. Vaughan better watch his back.
You’ve said “Done to Death” is the book you’re most proud of. Why is that?
“Cowboys & Aliens” is the thing I’ve done that everyone knows about. “Parting Ways” is the book where everyone who reads it ends up loving it. But “Done to Death” captures my voice in a way no other project I’ve managed to get finished has yet. As much as I love Nick Johnson, Scott Mooney and Nick Craine, Fiona’s is the sort of art I’d make myself if I had even a fraction of her talent. I’d put money down to buy nearly all my books, but if I didn’t know who I was, “Done to Death” is the one I’d pick up first, no question.
Speaking of “Cowboys & Aliens,” which you co-wrote with Fred Van Lente as a comic and which of course recently debuted in theatres — I hear you didn’t quite make it to the opening, but still got to see the movie. What are your thoughts on the somewhat strange development of that property?
At the end of the day, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s Hollywood.”
Did you enjoy seeing a story you worked on up on the screen?
I’d have enjoyed it more if my screen credit made sense and my book royalties had been paid, but taken entirely on its own merits, yes, I did enjoy the movie. Harrison Ford is a fantastic grouchy old man. I could watch him yell at kids to get off his lawn for 90 minutes and be thoroughly entertained.
Were there bits you felt were improved for the film, or any favorite moments from the comic that didn’t quite make it in?
It wounds my pride to say this, but if I’m honest, I think pretty much everything after the title was an improvement over the comic. Actually, now that I think of it, even the movie’s title design is better than what ended up on ours. The screenwriters pretty much ignored everything Fred and I did and just wrote their version of a story called “Cowboys & Aliens,” which was probably the best move they could make. The movie’s tone is much darker than the comic. The aliens are more alien and more horrific. Its effects budget apparently far outstripped ours, which ought to be impossible, but the comic’s artwork was terribly rushed in an attempt to meet deadlines. The characters in both are straight-up Western archetypes, but [Daniel] Craig, Ford, all the actors really, managed to rise above that and make a goofy premise seem almost plausible. Adam Beach especially was spectacular.
There were a lot of cooks in the “Cowboys & Aliens” comic’s kitchen, at least one more than benefited the book, in my opinion. The film feels like a much more unified vision. All the people involved in it were working toward the same goal. I only came onto the comic because someone one day decided it needed to be something substantially different from what that same someone had signed off on previously. In the years since I worked on the comic, I’ve had more and more direct, dealings with Hollywood, and with every one, my experience writing “Cowboys & Aliens” has made more and more sense. It’s a miracle anything gets made in that town, never mind something that actually manages to be good.