They messed with the wrong Frankenstein. In the upcoming Oni Press series Made Men, Detroit Special Ops Officer Jutte Shelley’s crew is fatally gunned down by criminals, and Shelley herself is left for dead — and that’s how the story begins.
You see, Shelley is actually a member of the Frankenstein family, and soon reassembles her team as best she can in order to exact revenge. That’s where things get really interesting in Made Men, from writer Paul Tobin, artist Arjuna Susini and colorist Gonzalo Duarte. Slated to start in September, the “action dark-comedy” was first announced last month at the Diamond Retailer Summit, and is currently slated for five issues, with the possibility of more.
CBR talked in-depth with Tobin — who, with Colleen Coover, is again an Eisner Awards nominee for Best Digital Comic for their comic Bandette — about Made Men, his flair for the horror genre and Frankenstein mythology specifically, and writing an ensemble cast that includes the wildcard of a man with a lion’s head (and lion’s brain). Plus, CBR has an exclusive five-page preview of interior art from issue #1 by Susini and Duarte.
CBR: Paul, Made Men is the first totally new comics series for you in a while — since, I think, Mystery Girl at Dark Horse. How long has this been in development? If you’ve got five issues in the can, it sounds like a while.
Paul Tobin: I forget the exact date we started on it, but we probably started rolling around a year back or so. Editor Robin Herrera and I bounced back and forth on exactly how we’d like to handle things, and then it went fairly quickly after that. Choosing the artist was easy enough: I’d worked with Arjuna on an earlier pitch and knew from the start that I wanted to bring him in. I’m really comfortable telling stories with Arjuna.
And, yeah! It’s been a fair time since I’ve had a chance to indulge in a new series. I’ve been busy with the regular projects, and then also my novels. I’ve got momentum now, though, and there are more new comics on the horizon! I love the medium!
What was the development process of the series like? Has the Frankenstein mythology something you’ve long been especially interested in, creatively? (I say “especially,” because who isn’t at least a little interested in Frankenstein.)
I think the whole “man-monster” thing has been a draw for me since I first began reading. Frankenstein. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. The Incredible Hulk. Anything that questions what it means to be human. Even stories like I, Robot. And Frankenstein has the added draw of actually creating life, of revivifying what once was. More, what does that mean? Have you brought back the person who died, or have you brought back some entirely new creature who happens to share the form and thoughts of the dead?
So those thoughts were big in my mind, and then of course readers will find that Jutte and her team are born again in another way, when they’re betrayed by the police and need to find a new life, new jobs, new purpose. That’s important to me as well, the thoughts of re-creating oneself in several different ways.
What do you like about the book’s main character, Jutte Shelley (née Frankenstein)? What do you connect the most to in her rather unique struggle?
I can remember working in a comic shop in the middle of Iowa, in 2003, and not wanting to live there, not wanting to work forever in a comic shop, and Colleen Coover and I deciding to pull up our tent pegs and move all the way across the country to Portland, Oregon, where we live now. We didn’t have jobs. We didn’t have anything. But it was time to re-invent ourselves and we knew it. I think that’s one of the aspects where I really connect with Jutte: her life has literally been taken from her. Now she needs to reinvent. What pieces does she pick up? What pieces does she discard? And what pieces can she pick up? In her case, she’d originally discarded much of her heritage, and now she’s beginning to embrace it. And by embracing that aspect of her ancestors’ past, she’s finding that other things naturally come with it.
Made Men, as the plural title suggests, looks to be an ensemble piece. What can you share about how the rest of the main cast came to life?
I wanted a diverse cast. I knew that. I wanted them to be grounded characters, but strange. I’ll be honest: normal people bore me. I want to be challenged in real life, and also in books. I want oddity. But that oddity has to be anchored in the humanity I was earlier talking about. Maybe all this is why the character known as Ex (for how he’s an ex-boyfriend) is the most normal of all. There’s a connection to him being normal, and him being an ex-boyfriend. And then there’s Leo, who’s the least human of them all, anymore. A true monster, in some ways. Gemini is, fittingly, two people. So there’s even more complexity there. Hadry is maybe the most fun to write, because she’s a callback to the classic “we put in the wrong brain!” motif, but she’s a fun wrong brain. More, her purposes aren’t always aligned with that of the rest of the crew, and monkeywrenches are always fun, plotwise.
Mostly though, I just wanted to make sure that all these people had depth. Complexity. I hate it when you can describe characters in one or two lines. I’ve never met anyone in life that I could do that for. Even the shallowest person has depths, if you take the time to dig.
How have you enjoyed collaborating with the art team of Arjuna Susini and Gonzalo Duarte? What qualities make for the right “Made Men” artist?
Arjuna is amazing on art, and Gonzalo’s colors really help bring out his talents. Arjuna was my first choice because his art has the individuality that I wanted, and plus there’s this underlying sense of grit, and dirt, and his people smell of perspiration and cigarette smoke and the sweet high vanilla of whiskey. I really wanted that aspect. Comes down to it, I wanted someone who could draw a world that always feels like it’s at the end of the alleyway you regret walking down.
A few years back — like say, circa Models Inc. — I wouldn’t have thought of you as a “horror writer,” but between series like this and Colder and The Witcher, it definitely looks like you’re comfortable in the genre. How much do you feel at home writing horror? And how far are you looking to push the violence (and everything else) in this series?
I am absolutely at home in horror. It’s one of my favorite genres to write. I love the thought of what’s behind the door, whether or not that door is ever opened. Writing in the genre allows me to peel back some of the lurking thoughts that we all have, the fact that every step we take is… in some aspects… straight into the unknown. And of course, we all try to forget how death is waiting for us, and in some ways that means that we’ve grown comfortable with how death is waiting: it’s so inevitable that it feels like a part of our stories, rather than the end of stories. But when I’m writing horror I get to explore the duality of, what if life was worse than death, and what if death wasn’t the end, and you had to keep on going, step after step, for steps without end? I get to play with some of that in Made Men, and it’s always some aspect of the horror stories I write.
All that being said, there still looks to be humor in the book — which feels somewhat inevitable given the nature of the high concept. How important is humor in shaping the overall tone of the series?
You know, I’m glad you brought that up. No matter what genre I’m delving into, I want there to be a range of emotions. I’m so tired of stories that only explore one mood. I’m of the mind that characters should always rule stories, and like I was talking about earlier, characters require depth in order to be complete. That means people who laugh, cry, to have to eat now and then. Characters that lust after others, despise others, feel inferior to some, superior to others, to sometimes act against their own best wishes, to sometimes sacrifice for others, to be heaving, odd, incredulous and amazing beasts, just like we all are. And that means that, even in the midst of all the horror, the characters should still be people, with their full range of moods and desires.
How long of a story are you planning here? Is it fairly open-ended?
I have lots of story arcs in mind. I guess this series is like life: I’ll keep going until someone stops me.
What motivated setting the series in Detroit, other than the great history of cop movies set in Detroit?
I wanted a larger city, but in some ways I’m bored with the “regulation” cities that appear in comics. Detroit was a nice compromise, and has the added bonus of being a bit down-and-out right now, in the act of reinventing itself, still a bit gritty and smelling of sweat, but on the rebound, deciding its own future. So, thematically, it was perfect.
I don’t think this is too spoiler-y so I’ll ask: One of the characters, Leo, is basically a lion with human parts in resurrected form. How much fun is having a lion man in your cast, and what can we expect from him going forward?
Well, that’s a very good question. Exactly what can you expect from a man with a lion’s head, and a lion’s brain? For one thing, he’s going to be a total mess. And he’s a big cat, and predicting a big cat is not the easiest thing on earth. Longterm plans are not a priority, so there’s that aspect. I’ve been having a lot of fun with Leo. As any cat owner can tell you, it’s actually really easy to predict what they’re going to do: until that moment when you’re dead wrong.
Made Men is scheduled to debut in September from Oni Press.