C.B. Cebulski left Marvel Comics earlier this year, citing exhaustion. Now, tanned and rested, he’s back, and spoke to CBR News about his two very different new projects, “Drain” and “Wonderlost,” both hitting stores in November with a little help from Image Comics.
“There have been all kinds of takes on vampires and different interpretations of vampirism in every genre of entertainment I can think of,” Cebulski told CBR News. “Some of the most interesting parts of these vampire stories for me was following them as they live their immortal lives. But even so, given the limitations of running times and page counts, we are never really able to get but a quick glimpse of a vampire’s life as he or she moves through time, or more importantly, around the planet. Hell, if I was immortal and had no where to be, I’d go out and see the world. Even in Anne Rice’s books, Lestat and co. never got around much. With ‘Drain,’ what I wanted to do was follow Chinatsu as times passes around her and the world changes before her eyes. We will see some of the key events in human history play out through the eyes of a vampire… and examine her role, good or bad, in them.
“Chinastu will be the first main character we encounter. She’s a female ninja (kunoichi) whose family and clan was slaughtered in a vampire attack. Rather than take her life, she was turned and left as a witness to the fate of her clan in order to spread the legend of the vampires in Japan. But never one to sit idly by and be a victim, Chinatsu decides to get proactive and hunt the vampire that did this to her.”
Unlike many other stories, there’s no metaphorical aspect to vampirism in “Drain.”
“I’m just looking to tell a straight-up, action-packed, bloody vampire tale.”
Given Cebulski’s background with manga comics and Chinastu’s birthplace, one might expect a tour of Japanese history through the vampire’s eyes, but fate has other plans.
“After she’s turned, Chinatsu pretty much leaves Japan in search of the vampire that turned her. She becomes a pirate on the China Sea, crosses Asia in several adventures, ends up in Europe, comes to the States during the colonization, then back to Europe for WWII. She’s going to be all over the place … and time.”
Sana Takeda handles art chores on “Drain” and her style is atypical of American comics.
“Sana is a digital artist who hails from the video game world where she worked in character and background design, 3-D modeling, and illustration for Sega. She actually got my name and contact info through a mutual friend and sent me her portfolio. As soon as I opened it up I knew I had someone special on my hands.”
Although some critics cite the Japanese market as the ideal comics market, Takeda wanted to break into the American market.
“She’s a huge Marvel fan, to be honest. She’s really not a manga reader but loves Wolverine and Gambit and the X-Men. That’s what she wants to be painting. But when ‘Drain’ came along, she jumped at the chance as the story really appealed to her, she says. Now with [X-Men Fairy Tales], she’s gotten her chance to draw an incarnation X-Men so I hope that holds her over for a while. But once people start seeing her work, I know the offers are going to be rolling in for her and I’ll have to start worrying about Drain’s future.”
Cebulski describes the book as “martial arts horror” and says his vampires won’t follow the standard rules of the genre.
“In movies like ‘Blade’ and comics like ‘Blood and Water,’ we’ve seen different perceptions and expected notions of vampirism change and evolve. ‘Drain’ will be no different. My vampires are bases on classic vampires, but depending on how long a vampire’s lived, their abilities, strengths and weaknesses will be different.
“I see it as a series of mini-series. The first arc is six issues, and hopefully there will be more from there. Fingers crossed …”
Even as Cebulski unleashes martial artist vampires on unsuspecting comic stores, he’ll also be releasing a very different project, the autobiographical “Wonderlust.”
“There’s really nothing cooked up about ‘Wonderlost;’ it’s an autobiographical comic about the misadventures of my youth. Everything that goes down (figuratively and literally) in the pages of ‘Wonderlost’ is pulled directly from my past. It all happened, mainly from between the time I was 15-20 years old, the craziest time of my life. I sometimes jokingly refer to it ‘Wonderlost: The Delinquency of a Minor,’ which I may just title the first trade if we get that far.
“Well, the main character is me, a younger and thinner CBC. The rest of the cast of the book will vary, depending on the stories I’m telling. It revolves around a lot of old friends and old girlfriends, especially the first volume which focuses on the ups and downs of teenage romance. But just like Bon Jovi says, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. The people I still keep in touch with know about the project and dig it. I went out with a few old high school friends recently and was showing off some of the art. Everyone seemed to really enjoy seeing themselves (or characters based on them) as comic book characters. Except for a few requests like ‘Can you make me skinnier?’ and ‘Can’t you make my boobs bigger?,’ I got the seal of approval from everyone there.”
Some might be uncomfortable about putting their life’s lowlights on display for the world to read, but Cebulski, at least “not as worried as my mom is!
“To be honest, I’m really not concerned. I’ve always been pretty open about my past and my personal life and like to let people in. Most of the folks that know me have heard a lot of these stories before. Form my early days in college right up to today, I would tell these crazy stories of the misspent adventures of my younger years and people would inevitably always comment, ‘You have to write that down someday.’ So I’m finally taking their advice and doing it. Yes, there are some racy stories and some rather surprising ones. and I don’t always come out in the best light. ‘Wonderlost’ isn’t without its fair share of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But it’s all a part of what made me the person I am today and I’m not afraid to share that with readers.”
In a way, Cebulski says, the autobiographical “Wonderlost” isn’t much different from what he’s been doing for years.
“I think that every writer pulls scenes from their pasts to use in their work, and most of the jokes and gags that made us laugh so hard we cried in movies like ‘Porky’s’ or ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ or ‘American Pie’ all really happened to somebody. The same thing is going on here with ‘Wonderlost,’ but I’m being clear right up front that I’m the lead character in these stories. And yes, that will also make it easier for people to figure out who the rest of the characters in the stories are, and maybe make some real life connections. But truth be told, I don’t know if any of those people will ever happen across a copy of ‘Wonderlost,’ especially as it’s a comic. However, if some of those past loves I haven’t heard from in over 17 years do find a copy, I hope they’ll laugh and recognize what dumb kids we were. Every single one of these stories, and each of the girls in them, taught me something about life and love, and their memories hold a special place in my heart. I hope they feel the same way.”
Cebulski is also resisting the temptation to edit history.
“What’s on the pages is pretty much what really happened. Some of the visuals of the locations maybe not be exact as I don’t have photo-reference of everything from those days gone by, like houses and parks and cars, but the dialogue and situations all play out pretty much exactly as I remember them.”
Cebulski has been out of high school for more than a few years, but feels the story will still feel contemporary to today’s high school-aged readers.
“Kids are kids. Yeah, the times change and the fashions change, but not much else about high school does when you think about it. No matter what year you graduated, everyone remembers high school in pretty much the same way … on an emotional level. It was a time when you came into your own, when you learned how to love and hate and be jealous and petty and felt pleasure and regret. The time periods may be different and the people may change, but most of the situations you see in high school movies from the ’60s and ’70s up to today remain the same.
“I think ‘Wonderlost’ will speak to anyone who has ever gone to high school really, anyone who remembers their first kiss, anyone who’s ever fallen in love, anyone who’s ever had their heart broken. Again, the story is being told through my eyes, but the reader can just as easily put themselves in my shoes and be carried away into a the memories of a similar situation from their past.”
After his departure from Marvel, Cebulski’s decision to come back to comics with Image was a simple one, he said.
“For me it was about two things, creative control and comfort. I knew I didn’t want to sacrifice any control over story, content or rights. I speak on behalf of my artists here too. These were our ideas, our concepts and our characters, and after carefully researching a lot of the deals out there, we didn’t feel comfortable giving part ownership and partial control to another entity. We selfishly wanted to keep this purely our own and Image offered us that option. And when I speak of comfort, I’m talking about that between the creators and the publisher. With Image, it doesn’t get any better. I’ve know Eric Stephenson and Jim Demonakos before we even got into business together. And I have nothing but respect for Erik Larsen and have enjoyed getting to know him since signing with Image. Erik, Eric and Jim in turn have nothing but the utmost respect for the creators and titles they bring under the Image banner. That’s the kind of relationship and support I was looking for in finding a home for our books.”
Cebulski will follow up the one-two punch of “Drain” and “Wonderlost” with a third title, “SHIKI,” in early 2007.
Coincidentally, when Beau Yarbrough, the tracer to Jonah Weiland’s penciller, tells his autobiographical stories, they actually are vampire stories.