Acclaimed comic creator Tommy Lee Edwards visited the CBR Tiki Room at WonderCon 2014 in Anaheim to talk with Jonah Weiland about what’s keeping him busy these days. Edwards gives some background on his current Dark Horse Comics project, “Vandroid,” and what it feels like to rescue a cult movie and make his writing debut. With several directing projects now under his belt, Edwards explains how film was always in the cards and whether or not he’ll ever leave comics behind for a full-time directing career, as well as why so many comic creators have made successful leaps beyond comics. Things wrap up with a discussion of the artist’s intense love for Godzilla, and whether he would ever work on a “Godzilla” comic, plus teases of upcoming Vertigo work and a “Winterworld” issue with writer Chuck Dixon.
On the secret background of his current project, “Vandroid,” from Dark Horse: The cover story to “Vandroid” is that there was a movie in 1984 that these guys made, you know kind of — a bunch of guys from Italy, it wasn’t that great — it’s a B-movie. And the studio burned down, it was a company called Palm Springs Entertaiment, and they lost everything. But then the composer kept all the music, he’s in London, his name is Nick Nicola. And then a guy heard the music, and now Ed Banger records is remastering the music and there’s all these — out of France — they’re doing all these remixes, these big DJs coming in, and some guy heard that, realized this reminded him of a trailer he dug out of some warehouse back… 30 years ago. Now we’ve actually found some of the trailer to “Vandroid,” we’ve got some of the script, we have all these things. My friend Noah Smith and I teamed up with Nick Nicola to basically do a comic book adaptation of the movie that they never got to finish, and Dark Horse is publishing it.
So that’s the cover story. The real story is I went and shot this trailer and tried to mimic 1984 films that I grew up on, which is what “Vandroid” is all about. The composer even, the way it started was, a movie I designed called “The Book of Eli,” the producer was friends with these guys. This guy Nick Nicola, he was an English guy, and I heard this music and it’s like John Carpenter — real synth stuff, but then he’s got some real cool modern stuff laid in in there. It’s amazing. So amazing. And he had this name, Vandroid, and a little bit of an idea of what the movie could have been, and I was like, “We gotta team up on this.” And so we just started writing it, came up with a story, and then Noah and I sit at my kitchen table in North Carolina and write it.
On the decision to write the book instead of drawing it: I knew I couldn’t draw it. I just didn’t have it in me. I was still like recovering from “Turf” and stuff. I’m loving writing it. I’ve always wanted to more of my own writing, so this was a good way for me to just focus on that. Dark Horse loved it, so it’s been great. We’ve got — there’s the fan club, or the Van Club as we’ve been calling it. So yeah, if you go to Vandroid.com, or through Dark Horse or through my site, you can can see there’s like a 30-second teaser, the five minute “extended trailer.” And so it was all made in North Carolina, where you can really see the money onscreen. It came out great.
On whether he wants to trade in his pencil for a director’s chair: I don’t see a huge difference. That’s what I went to school for, actually, was film. I started, wanting to be a director, and I went to film school at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, but I loved comics and I always loved comics and always want to do comics. That’s always been problem is then I’ll go and design a movie, and then go work on a video game then do a comic — I just wish I could do everything. But one thing I learned over the past couple years is I really need to take more control of what I really, really I was meant to do and want to do.
So I did “The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator” for Microsoft, the animated series that Edgar Wright wrote, and that was much more of a collaboration, and I was just so happy and in my element. Comics can be such a solitary — you know, you’re just there by yourself, and that’s what I meant about still recovering from just killing myself on “Turf” and being in my cave. So I really found that maybe it’s the older I get, maybe it’s tastes changing, I’m more drawn to these collaborative efforts, and that’s what “Vandroid” is — we’ve got the comic and the film and the music. And then like David Holmes did the music for “Brandon Generator,” and then he has a new band coming out. In the states he’s mostly known as the guy who does the music for a lot of [Steven] Soderbergh’s movies like “Ocean’s 11” and “Haywire” and stuff — so he has a new band, and I just shot the music video for his band, so I feel like I’m doing more and more what I really want to do.
On how comic creators have often had success in other media, whereas people coming into comics from other avenues are often not: What’s cool is that only recently have the guys and girls, you know the creators from comics, have been able to be accepted more into the other way, and vice versa. My friend Brett Gurewitz from Epitaph records and Bad Religion has Black Mask Studios. We’ve been friends twenty years and he’s always loved comics. I used to do tons of stuff for Epitaph Records, and now he’s got a venue for doing comics because he loves it, and working with comic creators like Steve Niles. And also, especially with Marvel having people who actually know the material work on the movies — I feel like they can do it better.
Even like if I’d go work on an animated movie, you know everybody likes to pigeonhole people, so they’d say, “You’re like a comic guy.” Or when I’d do a live-action thing, “Well you’re like an animation guy.” I’m in talks right now about turning “Vandroid” into a TV show, maybe. And so if that happens it’s gonna be all very live-action and looking like stuff from the ’80s, but I’m also developing an animated show with Film Roman right now that I created, and it’s all 2-D hand-drawn stuff. One of these has to stick!
On his extreme Godzilla fandom: I don’t remember ever not having Godzilla as a big thing for me. My little brother, too, we had the “Shogun Warriors” Godzilla, and the Rodan, and we watched the movies. I had the little remote control with the cord attached to a Mecha-Godzilla, but then I used it in the sand and messed it up. And I loved “Shogun Warriors.” I loved all that stuff. As most of my friends and everybody grew up, obviously I never did, and it just became like a nostalgic thing for me, I think, because I always loved it. And then the original movie, when I finally saw a really good print of it, I was in high school, it was so scary and had such an amazing environmental message to it, and anti-war message, and I had no idea as a kid that this is where it all came from.
So even just a few months ago, my local theater in Durham, North Carolina, The Carolina Theater, they showed a 35mm print of the original “Gojira,” and seeing it on the big screen with an audience — and people were snickering, “Look at those cheesy effects” — that was 1954. So that stuff, what they did, compared to what we were doing in the states, which was like “Oklahoma” and stuff, was completely, the stuff they were doing. And the same year “Godzilla” came out, “The Seven Samurai” came out. That stuff has always been a big, huge impact on me. And then when my son was about two, he became obsessed with Godzilla. Then eventually, now he’s 15, it’s kind of worn off, and it’s still with me though.
On nearly burning out doing so much “Star Wars” work, and how it’s important to keep perspective: I’ve done lot of “Star Wars” stuff, and it got to a point where I was doing so much of it that if I had to do another lightsaber I was gonna kill myself. But it was all this prequel stuff, and I was like, “Well that’s weird, because when I was a kid I would have done anything to draw “Star Wars.” I have to sort of back up and go, “I’m living the dream.” It would suck to have that same kind of thing happen with Godzilla.