What’s scarier than a pirate with a hook and a clock-eating crocodile? Try Nazis and tanks, for a start. “Green Wake” and “The Intrepids” writer Kurtis J. Wiebe has plans to prove just that by pitting J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and a brand new batch of Lost Boys against the atrocities of the Axis of Evil in “Peter Panzerfaust,” his February-launching series from Image Comics that has been described as Pan meets the ’80s Russian invasion classic “Red Dawn.”
Drawn by Tyler Jenkins, the new series not only spins the Pan mythology in a new direction, but also pits the fantastical hero and a group of young Frenchmen against one of the greatest evils the world has ever known. CBR News spoke with Wiebe about working with Jenkins again, the origins of the story itself and the joys of watching children rush into battle against menaces far more dangerous than they understand.
“I love the sense of daring adventure, this mix of sheer bravery and total naivety,” Wiebe told CBR News. “Peter Pan and the Lost Boys are fighting a continual war against bloodthirsty pirates and they treat it like it’s a game. There’s something compelling about telling a story where the innocence of youth and the total lack of understanding about real life consequences are played against a backdrop of war, even if they don’t see it that way.”
While the classic versions of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys feature the boys fighting the evils they know in Neverland, Wiebe put his own spin on the archetypes for “Peter Panzerfaust.”
“We’re doing something really interesting with this series in that we’re telling it through the eyes of the Lost Boys as they remember it,” Wiebe explained. “In the preview pages, we see Gilbert — or Tootles — as an old man being interviewed about the war and his experiences with the mysterious boy named Peter. The first arc is seen through Gilbert’s eyes, how he remembers Peter and what he was like from his personal experience. Each Lost Boy that is interviewed will remember him differently; some think he was supernatural, others believe he had incredible luck. Still, his personality will remain very close to the novel version; a happy, adventurous kid who’s brave and inspiring.”
But just who are these new Lost Boys? “They’re a real diverse bunch, I can say that much,” Wiebe said. “One of the difficulties of writing a series with such a large cast is defining each of their individual voices, but I’ve been really lucky working with Tyler. He did a beautiful cast line-up illustration for me and there was so much character in the portraits I already had a huge head start on their development. In this retelling, the Lost Boys are a group of orphans who grew up together in Calais, France. The series starts with the German invasion of France and it just so happens that their orphanage is hit by a stray bomb and they are lucky enough to survive. It’s Peter who motivates them to escape the city; some are reluctant, some are terrified and one in particular wants to see the Germans suffer for their actions. I’m trying to make these kids feel real, their motivations real, but still maintaining a high level of fun adventure.”
Wiebe and Jenkins were both drawn to the time period, which helped Wiebe really narrow down the story’s setting. After that, there was a good deal of research involved in bringing the series to life.
“Both Tyler and I were World War II junkies before this series even came into our brains, so the framework was already there. Once I solidified the basic concept of Peter Pan in World War II, I needed to pick the perfect time and place,” Wiebe said. I wanted to start out from the very beginning, how they came together and then slowly develop their personalities and relationships up to and until the Germans were driven from France. Obviously Tyler is doing a lot of research for the visuals, but I’m keeping everything in check as far as weapons, vehicles, dates, etcetera, so he can focus his hours on illustrating the series. It’s fine by me, I love history.”
While the series has historical roots in a story first written in 1902 and a war that ended in 1945, the concept itself came from a more recent advancement: email.
“It was actually a bit of a joke between Tyler and me, though I don’t remember what the context was. He’d emailed me this concept about a bunch of kids fighting during the Vietnam War and said we should base them off the Lost Boys from ‘Peter Pan,'” Wiebe explained. “At first I didn’t take it very seriously, but it wasn’t long before I was researching World War II and finding I could very easily adapt the characters and locations from Peter Pan into the setting. The World War II/French Resistance connection came about because I’d been doing some reading on [British officer of the French resistance] Nancy Wake, the White Mouse. I think it was a matter of perfect timing.”
Speaking of good timing, Wiebe and Jenkins had been waiting for the right time to work together again after first joining forces on “Snow Angel” for Arcana.
“I’ve known Tyler for over four years since our first meeting at the Calgary Comic Expo in 1997,” Wiebe said. “I’d driven the six hours to pitch a series to Arcana Studios — this was pre-‘Snow Angel’ — that ultimately ended in disappointment. I was pretty upset, but on the way out I saw Tyler and his wife at their artist alley table and his sketches really caught my eye. We talked for a bit and followed up after I returned home by email and that was where it all began. We put pitches together, talked about comics, kept in touch and eventually became good friends. We managed to get a crime noir graphic novel called ‘Snow Angel’ picked up but we’ve been wanting to do our own book for a very long time now. ‘Peter Panzerfaust’ is that series and we’re pouring our hearts into it.”
“Peter Panzerfaust” debuts in February from Image Comics and Shadowline.