Adapting comics to film is big business. Plenty of companies seem built around the idea of creating a miniseries or graphic novel for the sole purpose of turning that property into a film or TV series, but that’s not the case with Legendary Comics. A subsidiary of Legendary Pictures, the production house behind films like “300,” Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and the “Hangover” movies, founder Thomas Tull specifically recruited renowned comic editor Bob Schreck to ensure a solid slate of comic book titles. And while transforming its four-color creations to big screen spectacles isn’t the publisher’s main goal, if the comics prove lucrative and popular enough to translate to film down the line, all the better. Considering Schreck has worked at Comico, DC, Vertigo, Dark Horse, co-founded Oni Press and knows practically everyone in the comic business, the odds certainly favor Legendary’s ability to continue to produce some interesting collaborations and projects.
Today, at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, Legendary revealed Jim Lee’s cover to the first issue of the publisher’s latest project, “The Tower Chronicles.” Originally conceived by Tull, Schreck has enlisted an all-star creative team to bring the concept to life in the form of Matt Wagner of “Mage” and “Grendel” fame and “2000 A.D.” and “Lobo” artist Simon Bisley. The series follows the adventures of John Tower, a supernatural bounty hunter, pitting him against all kinds of monsters while dealing with his past as the story progresses through a trio of four issue miniseries’. Schreck also wrangled a roster of A-list artists for covers to go along with Lee’s. With the cover reveal, CBR News spoke with the EIC about putting the creative team together, the mission to make solid comics first and the origins of the series.
CBR News: Being part of Legendary Pictures, I would imagine the properties you look at for Legendary Comics have at least some potential to become films. How important is that in the process?
Bob Schreck: Basically my edict from Thomas Tull, the head honcho of Legendary Pictures and Comics, when I started was to make a great, four square, solid comic book, first. We can’t do things that are just generated to become film IPs [intellectual properties], we have to make a book that is a book, it has to work in the graphic storytelling and sequential art, it’s got to play to the strengths of comics. That’s my edict, that’s my goal. Look at what Hollywood’s producing right now; we’re in a field of comic book-based characters and content. You just have to know the difference between the two mediums and how to play to both. That said, we’re going to make great comics first and maybe make it into a film. That’s the decision Thomas makes — I just have to make sure I deliver a rock solid comic book story.
I think readers understand the intent behind Legendary because of the level of talent you’ve been able to bring in, the comics don’t feel like un-produced scripts like some other books do.
That’s what I would hope. You can see it when somebody is basically lobbing spaghetti against the wall and hoping something sticks, and that’s not the way we’re going about it.
You’ve worked at and had a hand in other companies like Dark Horse, DC Comics and Oni, how does working at Legendary differ?
There’s a lot more responsibility. At DC, being in charge of the Batman group certainly had it’s challenges. At Oni, being the co-founder and co-publisher you certainly have your set of goals and challenges. While there have been more responsibilities [at Legendary], it’s been a lot of fun because I’ve been able to do a lot more things than I could at Oni or even DC. When you’re in charge of the Batman group, you’re only in that world. You couldn’t go and work on Green Arrow or Green Lantern. Being in the Batman group, I couldn’t do what I wound up doing at Vertigo, which was “Sweet Tooth” or “Madame Xanadu.” You can only go so far in terms of tone and timbre of the storytelling. This allows me to do a wider array of things and also allows me to do it [with these people]. I could pinch myself every time I look at the creators we’re doing stuff with.
I would imagine that Legendary Comics has a lot of properties it’s looking at and developing. What made “The Tower Chronicles” pop out as the next thing to push after releasing “Holy Terror?”
We just opened up a TV division as well. Thomas has a pretty good eye for a good story, he’s had a pretty good track record in Hollywood with the movies he’s picked to put together, to produce. “The Tower Chronicles” is actually something that Thomas himself developed and was an idea he came up with. When I started working at Legendary, he wanted to work with the best in the biz, so when he asked me who we could bring on to world-build and co-create “The Tower Chronicles,” I went right to Matt Wagner. [Matt] is a seasoned pro, he’s proven himself with “Mage” and “Grendel” and his Batman stories. It was just an organic, perfect choice. When I heard the concept from Thomas I thought, “Well, this is great, it’s certainly something that lends itself perfectly to the uniqueness of the comic book medium.”
Once you brought Matt onto the project, did he and Thomas hammer out the details in the same room or was it more of a back-and-forth emailing type of thing with Matt taking the concept and fleshing it out relatively solo?
Matt flew down from Oregon and spent at least two or three meetings in Burbank. Thomas and Matt would just sit and kick around their various concepts and various ideas for the character: where to bring him and how to slowly reveal his back story. In the meantime, they gave him some pretty intense encounters and conundrums to figure out along the way.
Was it a similar situation bringing Simon Bisley in? Did his name just spring to mind after talking about the concept with Thomas?
The minute I heard the concept, I brought up [Simon] to Thomas, who’s a comic fan. I said, “What do you think about Simon Bisley pulling this off?” And he had a big grin and said, “Let’s go.” This character is a little more stoic and a lot less like Lobo in the sense that he’s not riding out into the stars and trying to find all sorts of baddies. He’s more of a supernatural forensic detective.
As you’re well aware, comics can be a difficult industry to introduce a new property into. With that in mind, how are you pitching “The Tower Chronicles” to readers?
It’s basically about a supernatural bounty hunter offering his services to a select few. While he’s out there solving other people’s problems, he has his own mission to accomplish. There’s a back story that we don’t really want to reveal until folks get the book into their hot hands. Basically he’s a bit of a tortured soul, but he definitely looks forward to behind paid very well while balancing his work by working with people who need his services who might not be able to afford them.
There’s an element — and I’m going to reveal my age here — of “The Fugitive,” the David Janssen 60s TV show. There’s an element of sadness, there’s an element of, as I said before, [him being] a tortured soul where I said, “Hey, wow, this really is going to bring the reader in close in a very strong way.”
The creative team is a fan’s dream, like if you asked someone what combination they’d want writing and drawing this kind of book, they’d come up with Matt Wagner and Simon Bisley pretty quickly. How have they been working together so far?
It’s been going great. Matt and Simon have worked together before, way back, Simon did covers for “Grendel,” I worked with Simon briefly on Constantine [in “Hellblazer”] and prior to that with Frank Miller when we reprinted his “Bad Boy” story — which he did over in England — when I was at Oni. They’re old hands at it, I’m an old hand at it and it’s just a matter of concise and emotionally strong emails to each other like, “No, no, it’s got to go this way.” I kind of sit in the center saying, “Okay guys, let’s agree to go left and go right and try to make sure everyone winds up being happy with the end product.” It’s been a great run and has been a lot of fun. We’ve got Rodney Ramos inking and Ryan Brown coloring. Ryan was Simon’s choice and I think the end result basically looks like Simon himself is painting every page, it looks fantastic. And with the Jim Lee cover, you just can’t go wrong. We’re very, very blessed to have this team.
I understand you have a different big-name artist on the level of Jim Lee doing covers for the other three issues of this series.
That is correct. I’m not allowed to divulge the other three right now, but [the covers] are all in house. I’ve got them ready and waiting to go. It’s difficult to top Jim Lee, but I think the other three are going to stand toe to toe with Jim’s beautiful, beautiful cover.
What kind of monsters or villains will Tower face? Are they traditional like vampires or something completely new?
That’s the other reason we contacted Matt Wagner: he really knows his way around that genre. I’m no new kid to the block, but when Matt sends over the scripts and I get to page — I think it was page 9 — I went, “What the heck is that?” There’s a lot of really cool stuff in there. Some of them are, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of this.” Like every good story and every good storyteller, the trick is finding that one shard in the prism of either a story or a character or a monster that no one else has seen before, and Matt’s just a master at that.
“The Tower Chronicles” is broken up into three four issue miniseries — was there ever any talk of making this an ongoing or going the other way and releasing the different stories as graphic novels?
It was a difficult decision to come to. It’s like with Frank Miller when he did “Sin City,” everybody thought it was an interesting choice to go high contrast black and white, but the reason he wanted to do that was so he didn’t have to wait for color. He could do it more expediently and be on the racks and be in front of his readership more often than not. When you’re doing full-color books, it just takes that much longer to get them produced and get them to the reader. This was a compromise where we could get four of these out bimonthly. Four times 72 is a lot of pages and a while to be away from the readership. It also brings price point down, so you’re not asking somebody to pay $25 for one read. It was a decision we all finally settled upon and are very happy with the results.
“The Tower Chronicles,” created by Thomas Tull, written by Matt Wagner and illustrated by Simon Bisley, comes out from Legendary Comics in September.