When most people think of Peter Pan, they think of a green-clad kid with a funny hat flying through the air, ignoring adulthood and tormenting a bumbling villain in the form of Captain Hook. Writer Kurtis J. Wiebe went a different route when taking inspiration from J.M. Barrie’s storybook character who has gone on to live in various forms thanks to stage plays, animated features and weekly cartoons. Wiebe, along with artist Tyler Jenkins, have been telling the story of a very different Peter, this one an American kid in Europe fighting Nazis during World War II in the pages of “Peter Panzerfaust.”
The first issue found Peter teaming up with a group of orphans whose home was bombed by the Germans. With his Lost Boys recruited, Peter helped them get to France, but that hasn’t been the end of their problems. Since getting together, the group has acquired new members in Wendy, John and Michael Darling as well as Fresh Resistance member Tiger Lily. They’ve also run afoul of Captain Haken whose hand wound up meeting its end thanks to Peter’s dagger, not a crocodile.
With the Shadowline/Image Comics series heading into its third arc — with each arc bookended and narrated by one of the Lost Boys in modern times being interviewed by the mysterious Mr. Parsons — CBR News looked back with Wiebe at Peter Panzerfaust’s” most important elements, his growing working relationship with Jenkins and the surprise popularity of the series which the writer says will last at least 25 issues, but go on longer if the book continues to warrant second printings.
CBR News: The latest issue of “Peter Panzerfaust” just went back for a second printing, something almost unheard for a book at the end of its second arc. Has the fan reaction to the series surprised you?
Kurtis J. Wiebe: Truthfully, yes. I posted on my blog as recently as December a sort of creative commitment to the series that no matter how the sales went on this series, Tyler and I’d committed to see it through to the end. It was just an affirmation to myself more than anyone that I wanted to write this series and to remind me that I loved living in Peter’s world.
Not even a month later, things started to escalate and our sales have more than doubled. Even after doubling our print run between Issue #9 and 10, we still sold out. Honestly, I never expected to hear that, but… I’m more than thrilled. I know there are lots of reasons for it, but I honestly feel like it’s been the rabid support of our readers spreading the word that has a huge part to play in it. So, I’m very grateful to all our fans.â€¨â€¨When we first spoke about the book you said one of the main aspects you were looking to explore was the mix of bravery and naivete in the young characters as they fight a very adult war. Has that changed as they have evolved and become more exposed to the conflict?
The first two arcs were about that journey for all of the characters. Each of them has experienced it in a unique way, but it all led to that momentous clash with the Hook in issue #9. All sense of naivety was stripped on the roof of the Palace de Fontainebleau and understanding what Hook, and ultimately the invading Germans, were capable of, made their war personal and real.
I think the characters have changed. Their experiences have aged them, and I touch on that briefly with Julien and Lily getting married so young. Life became precious; age was little more than a number at that point.â€¨â€¨Do you ever go back to the source material for reference at this point or are you basically working in your own world now?
I do still reference the original novel for bits of story, mainly to take quotes and story themes and add them into my story in a fun way. At this point, I think it’s pretty clear that our connection to the original Peter Pan story is more about reworking the themes and characters in a new way rather than a straight up adaptation. That was always my intention; a new frame to an original classic.â€¨â€¨Instead of having overt fantastical elements, the ones that are alluded to in the story tend to come from the arc’s narrator. Was it always your intention to take that approach? Was there ever a version of this story that had kids flying around fighting Nazis?
When crafting the structure of the story, I’d recently become enamored with the film “Waltz with Bashir.” It’s a documentary about a man who served in the Israeli army during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and has little real memory of the events surrounding the war. By going back to his former unit and interviewing them, he begins to uncover clues about regressed memory from trauma he experienced there. The documentary is fascinating, they talk a lot about how our memory is informed by the influence of others and we, as individuals, can fabricate all new memories if there’s sufficient evidence behind it.
Of course, I was also watching “Band of Brothers” at the time and for anyone who sees that series, in the final episode where they reveal the names of all the men who served and we physically and emotionally see the wounds the war inflicted on them… well, I can honestly say it moved me to tears.
Those two elements, about how someone might cope with living in a war as a child, about being next to someone who saved their lives on countless occasions, that was what I wanted to explore in the narrative structure. It was absolutely planned from the beginning and there was never going to be an overt magical element, only magic in the memories of the men who lived with the mysterious boy named Peter.
You and Tyler are admitted WWII junkies — did you look at any memoirs or journals of soldiers from that time for additional research?
I mentioned earlier that “Band of Brothers” was an influence, I also read “Citizen Soldiers” by Stephen Ambrose who was the author behind the novel the HBO series was based on. I’ve always enjoyed reading those types of non-fiction books, written by men or women who experienced an event firsthand because it’s raw and real. That is something I’m trying to infuse into this story, even though I’ve obviously not experienced tragedies on a level these characters have.â€¨â€¨
The subtlety with which you introduce elements from the source material is so well done that I actually missed the potential for Captain Haken to become Captain Hook the first time around because I was so absorbed in what was going on.
I’ve heard a few times now that people haven’t made that connection yet. Maybe it was too subtle. [Laughs]â€¨â€¨Shadows are an important part of Barrie’s work and the idea of getting out from under someone’s shadow and eventually creating your own is important to your story. Was that a natural relationship you found when looking at the original source material?
The tie to Captain Hook in our version was me playing with the concept of the shadow and how it could actually tie our hero and villain together in an interesting way. I believe Peter’s is closer to the mark from the original, that his shadow came to the real world and he had to leave behind his youth in Neverland to retrieve it. In “Peter Panzerfaust,” the shadow represents our desire to be seen as a success in the eyes of our parents. Quite often that desire can be crippling when life doesn’t go our way or we fall off the track of what we believe the expectations of our parents are. Hook, however, has realized that he is more than his father and that he will be far greater than any expectation that could ever be set on him. He sees this in Peter.â€¨â€¨Are there any real world inspirations for these characters, eitherÂ personalÂ connections or more famous personalities? Peter, Gilbert and Haken all feel very familiar.
My mother’s parents played a pretty big role in the narrative interview sequences. A few years ago, before my grandmother died, I brought a compact recording device on the last visit I ever had with her. She was this real tiger, a woman who’d experienced so much tragedy in her life but maintained this most positive, loving demeanor until her very last days. And she was an avid storyteller. I wanted to maintain a piece of that, to carry her stories with me, and I’m glad I did. She never hid the hard facts when she shared her past, everything was very matter of fact but it was always with this bit of hope. I feel like in a lot of ways her voice came through with Gilbert and, honestly, I would often be reminded of my conversations with her when I wrote the scenes between Tootles and Mr. Parsons.â€¨â€¨Peter is such a charismatic character that I find myself believing in him more than I believe what he says when he talks about his past. Is that the response of a paranoid reader or was that something you intended?
That could possibly be connected to the interview narrative style of the story. How much of what we see of Peter is really him, or how much of it is through the eyes of those who loved him? There is a definite history that I know of Peter that isn’t revealed yet, or… maybe never will be. I think, at this point, you and other readers may believe in Peter because, despite it all, he hasn’t given up.
Of course, at the end of Issue #10, we learn that Peter wasn’t perfect. But, like everyone else, we find balance and peace from those around us. And that’s something we dive into more later on in this series.â€¨â€¨Some stories like this wind up giving away too much of what happens by revealing who survives too early. You spread those reveals out in a very satisfying way. Have you moved any of these reveals around in the plotting process?
Well, because each new arc sees a new interviewee, there is that element of ruining the threat of danger because we know who’s alive. Obviously from the beginning of issue #1 we knew Tootles (Gilbert) survived the war, and from issue #6 we knew that Curly (Julien) also made it through intact. I have had to specifically structure this story in such a way so that when the danger is present, you don’t know if they’ll make it or not. So, that’s been a deliberate choice. I think a perfect example of that is Claude on the plank in issue #10.
I will tell you this; I wasn’t sure who was going to die at the end of issue #4, it was between a few characters. So, let that stew a bit for what it means down the road.â€¨â€¨With such a large cast right from the beginning was it difficult fighting the urge to over-explain the characters from issue one? As it is, it’s nice to learn about them as they let themselves be known to the reader.
I appreciate that. It’s been such a hard balance to strike and I know I haven’t always succeeded as best as I could. I’m definitely learning a lot writing this style of story where you don’t want to tell the reader about the character through the interviews while making sure you’re showing more of who they are in the flashbacks. I definitely pulled back on the amount of time spent with Curly as opposed to Tootles when they’re older, and while that was mainly a difference in their personalities, it was also to let the past breathe more on the pages of each issue.â€¨â€¨Having read through the first ten issues in a relatively short period of time they feel like they were all plotted out in arcs instead of written as issues — is that actually the case?
I’ve been told most of my writing reads that way and I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m not writing “Peter Panzerfaust” for each single issue, I’m really building a fairly grand narrative that all leads to a final payoff with the series finale. I’ve learned to be comfortable with my writing strengths and building each five-issue arc as one whole piece is exactly what I love to do.â€¨â€¨Can you talk about any movement with the motion comic and potential TV series at all?
There’s going to be some pretty big news coming out about that in the next few weeks. I’ll make sure you hear about it. I know it’s been ages since it was announced and there’s been little talk of it since, but, trust me, there’s been a lot of very exciting work going on in the time that’s passed.â€¨â€¨How has your working relationship with Tyler evolved since you guys launched the book?
Well, we’re pretty good friends and we see a lot more of each other now since we’re being asked to do signings together at retail shops. I guess we just give each other more shit than usual and take that time to sit down and talk about the future of our book. We’ve had some pretty interesting conversations lately and something completely unplanned for “Peter Panzerfaust” happened at our signing in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. So, fans should be happy we collaborated in the weirdest place in the States.
What can you tell us about what will happen in the upcoming new arc of “Peter Panzerfaust?” Who gets the spotlight this time in the framing story?
This new arc focuses on the efforts of Peter and crew operating out of their new headquarters in the Sticks, a remote cabin getaway in the Morvan Mountains. Mr. Parsons will be visiting Felix, the one who was captured for most of the second arc, and he learns pretty quickly that not everyone is exactly thrilled to revisit that part of their lives.
“Peter Panzerfaust” #11 from Kurtis J. Wiebe, Tyler Jenkins and /ShadowlineImage Comics goes on sale June 12, while the Vol. 2 TPB is available April 10.