For better or worse, every comic book creator has his or her own personal well of inspiration. Whether it’s a little mentioned graphic novel or the sweeping score of a movie soundtrack, each and every writer and artist looks towards something else in this world, both internally and externally, for some creative guidance.
It’s certainly no different for Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin, the co-writers of Top Cow’s currently running “Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box” miniseries, and it just so happens that both writers are willing to speak at length about the various influences that inform their work. In a CBR exclusive, Hill and Levin joined forces to discuss the works of fiction, pieces of music and other aspects of life that they find to be the most influential on their “Broken Trinity” collaboration and their creative process at large.
“Batman: The Cult”
Bryan Edward Hill: Jim Starlin, Bernie Wrightson and Bill Wray changed my mind with this mini-series. I still remember sitting in my bedroom as a kid, turning the pages and having little explosions go off in my head. “My present reality is not a pretty place… hard to think, damn hard.” Just brilliant!
This mini-series is a shining example of the power of economy and the ability of words and images to create an experience unlike any other. In my opinion, I think it’s as significant as “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” This book just doesn’t get enough credit.
The Films of Michael Mann
Hill: Michael Mann is inarguably my favorite filmmaker. Some people say he’s style over substance, but I disagree. In his work, style is informed by substance. His work, in addition to being visceral and filled with dynamic action, has some of the best explorations of character in modern fiction. In comics, it’s not just enough to have iconic imagery – that imagery has to inform the reader about character, about the themes of the work, or it’s just flash. Watching how Mann visualizes his narratives, and how those narratives are largely told through imagery, is a master class in visual storytelling.
Rob and I first vibed talking about Michael Mann and David Fincher before we started working together. I love David Fincher too, but I only wanted to put one filmmaker on the list and Michael Mann’s work has my heart. Too bad comic books can’t come with their own soundtrack – but in the advent of digital, I’m working on that!
Rob Levin: Some people argue that it’s a genre, others, just a style. I don’t much care, because I like the themes at play and the type of characters explored. I like people caught on the edge of society where the tiniest move could push them to good or evil, and sometimes an attempt at one leads them to the other. They’re often the truest explorations of characters, because the choices people make ultimately show us who they are.
I think noir also taught me how to write women. In most cases, you only get two types of women – the doting, often cheated on, wife or girlfriend of a protagonist, and the femme fatale. And the latter feature some of the deepest characters ever put to paper or silver screen. I will never forget the scene in Fritz Lang’s “Scarlet Street” when Kitty yanks the proverbial rug out from under Christopher Cross – I don’t think I’ve ever been that devastated. Outside of watching “The Notebook.”
“Green Lantern” #54 / “Se7en”
Levin: A lot of people remember “Green Lantern” #54, written by Ron Marz, as the issue where newly minted ring bearer Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend Alexandra was killed by Major Force and shoved into a refrigerator. I remember it for where it took me as a reader, and later as a writer. Death happens all the time in comics, usually in an attempt to shock fans. Sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn’t. This was different. It couldn’t have been about shock value, because Alexandra had only been introduced a few issues earlier. This was about Kyle, and him defining who he would be in the face of the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Thus began my obsession with driven heroes, often with nothing to lose, fighting to do right, evening scores, and ultimately getting their revenge.
About a year after reading that issue, I saw David Fincher’s “Se7en.” I won’t get into spoilers, but let’s just say that Brad Pitt’s Detective David Mills goes on a similar journey, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring down John Doe. I’ve never gotten either of these out of my head, so they’re pretty much always in there somewhere whenever I try to work on anything.
Hill: Music informs everything that I do, and as soon as I leapt into the world of Michael Finnegan and Glorianna Silver, I put on James Horner’s score to “Patriot Games.” Finnegan being Irish has a little to do with it, but this is something I use a lot for inspiration. It’s lyrical but modern and filled with the sanguine blood of character driven action. You just put this on, make a cup of tea, and the images come. Can’t recommend it enough.
Levin: While I can’t narrow things down exactly the way Bryan does, I do listen to movie soundtracks while I write. Lately it’s been “Moon,” the “Bourne” trilogy and “WALL-E.” Whenever a writer on Twitter mentions what’s working for them, I usually check it out just to see if it puts me in a different mood. Definitely helpful for when you get stuck.
My two standbys are “Requiem for a Dream” by Clint Mansell, which I haven’t actually listened to since starting “Broken Trinity,” and “The Last of the Mohicans” by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman. The latter is just sweeping and epic, and not only makes writing better, but reading scripts as well.
The Photography of Peter Lindbergh
Hill: I’m also a filmmaker and a photographer. Sometimes I think I only write because I’m not quite able to get what I want across with a single image. Peter Lindbergh is more than a “fashion photographer” – his work is startling in its precision, its use of contrast and composition and, ultimately, its honesty. Again, comics are an art form based on powerful images. Lindbergh changed what people thought “pop photography” could be. His portraits and editorials are stories, with characterization, theme and mood. Keeping one of his books open on my desk is a constant help.
Levin: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are probably best known at this point for “Criminal,” but their work on “Sleeper” – not to be confused with the hilarious Woody Allen film of the same name – is still my favorite. It’s a perfect blend of noir and espionage with a little superhero flavor thrown on top. Plus, main character, Holden Carver, always takes a beating. In order to do his thing, he has to.
You see, Holden can’t feel pain. He can’t feel anything outside of his emotions. But he can channel the pain inflicted on him and pass it off to another person. I don’t know what it is – call it sadism, mental unbalance or whatever you like, but I like stories where the main character gets his ass kicked, and we never see a happy and healthy Holden Carver. “Sleeper” taught me that it’s okay to write about a character who can’t feel, as long as you can make your audience feel something.
“Star Wars: Empire” #19 – “Target: Vader”
Hill: The most daunting thing for me in comics is bearing the responsibility of writing characters you’ve grown up reading. How do you find that distance? How are you certain about what you want to do as a storyteller?
Ron Marz, with Brian Ching penciling, liberated me from those fears with this story. Ron has a complete understanding of Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker, perhaps more than Lucas does these days, and he puts that on display in a story that is both horrifying and tragic at the same time. It’s moving and a gift to anyone that loves the Star Wars universe. I tell Ron this all the time, but I think he thinks I’m blowing smoke up his ass. [Laughs] I mean it, Ron! That story proves that if you have a good story, about any character, you have a right to write it down.
And yeah. I said Ron Marz writes better “Star Wars” than George Lucas now. I didn’t stutter. I said it. Right here on CBR I said it. Put it on the record!
Levin: It’s a bit of a cliche at this point, people talking about how great “The Wire” is. Problem is, it’s true. It’s a novel and a poem and a gritty drama filled with lyricism, and it’s the best piece of television I’ve ever seen. The fact that it’s largely based on real incidents and set in a place I lived for a year makes it all the better.
But there’s also the writing staff. I give most of the credit to David Simon – he’s the guy that created the show, and the main creative force behind it – but the writers he assembled around him, including Ed Burns, George Pelecanos, Richard Price and Dennis Lehane, to name a few, are all heavyweights in their own right. The fact that so many writers juggling so many characters could make such a cohesive masterpiece that all seems to flow organically in terms of motivations and causality astounds me. It shows the value of both a singular creative vision and trust in your collaborators.
So, in addition to being a great story filled with a huge cast, it showed me the value of collaboration. Working with Bryan has been one of the most fulfilling creative endeavors of my career thus far, and “Broken Trinity” is just the first of many planned ventures together.
The first issue of “Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box,” written by Rob Levin and Bryan Edward Hill and illustrated by Alessandro Vitti, is currently available in stores. The second issue is scheduled to ship on March 17, 2010.