David Schulner is best known for his work as a television writer and producer on series including “The Event” and “Trauma.” This fall, Schulner debuts in a new medium, as the writer and creator of Skybound’s “Clone,” featuring art by Juan Jose Ryp.
Announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego and hitting the stands and digital storefronts in mid-November, “Clone” follows lead character Luke Taylor as he finds himself at the heart of a vast conspiracy involving a secret government cloning project. Now, the people at the top want to kill the project, quite literally, and Luke is racing to save himself and his family. Comic Book Resources spoke with Schulner about the story behind “Clone” and Schulner’s first foray into comic book storytelling with the Image Comics miniseries.
“Clone” takes the form of a classic conspiracy thriller with a science-fiction twist, in which the ethos of “trust no one” is extended to include even oneself. “My inspirations were ’24’ and ‘Three Days of the Condor,'” Schulner told CBR. “High octane, action-packed conspiracy thrillers, where one guy finds himself in the middle of something much larger and dangerous than he ever thought possible. Luke Taylor is our lead. He’s an average guy, who starts the issue looking at himself in the mirror and being disappointed in what he sees. Within minutes, a clone of himself shows up on his doorstep bleeding from a gunshot wound, saying, ‘They’re coming for you.'”
Luke is quickly embroiled in a conspiracy reaching reaching as far as the White House. The government, attempting to destroy all traces of their cloning project, has found itself countered by an activist group trying to protect the remaining clones. Meanwhile, Luke’s pregnant wife has been kidnapped and her unborn child may hold the key to successful human cloning. “Then there’s Luke himself who is forced to confront the different clones of himself and witness their strength, courage and intelligence and realize that those qualities are within him as well.”
Schulner touches on some controversial political and scientific ideas in “Clone,” as well as broad themes of self-reflection and self-identity. “The political conspiracy part of the comic concerns the Vice President, who is on the verge of voting to amend to US Constitution to ban the use of embryonic stem cells. But, at home, his daughter is suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s disease, which, as we know, embryonic stem cells could one day help cure. We go right into the eye of the storm.
“I’m very interested in identity and how we create our identity: how people see us versus how we see ourselves,” Schulner continued. “Luke is going to become a father, and this is going to change his identity. Being confronted with a clone of himself, who is vastly different, changes the way he then sees himself. The show I’m doing for NBC right now, ‘Do No Harm,’ is a modern day update on Jekyll and Hyde. So, you can see I’m very preoccupied (or just severely limited as a writer) with the different people that live inside all of us.”
Schulner found in artist Juan Jose Ryp an ideal collaborator: someone who could bring the world of “Clone” to life, providing the story’s sets, actors and special effects, while helping the writer adjust to writing for the printed page. “It’s been amazing,” Schulner said. “[Ryp’s] been a fantastic collaborator, even when he shouldn’t have been. Remember, there was a steep learning curve for me, like, Grand Canyon-steep. I kept wanting to change things after they were inked, which is, how should I say this — idiotic. In TV, I’m changing the story around in the editing room, right up until we air. I had to learn to be a more careful storyteller, because once Juan inked something, he did not have time to go back, change it and re-ink. But, he did, several times, before begging me to stop changing things.
“Good actors can do in a look what sometimes takes an entire scene of dialogue to articulate.”
That “look” is just a small part of what Ryp was able to bring to Schulner’s “Clone.” “When I get Juan’s art back I see what lines I could completely cut,” Schulner said. “Sometimes I’ll cut all the lines from a panel — his art says it all.”
The path from television writer to comic book writer may not be the traditional course for a comic book writer, but according to Schulner, his experience in episodic television writing certainly helped prepare him for scripting “Clone.”
“‘Clone’ started as an idea for a TV show, but only because I’m a TV writer,” Schulner said. “In the process of developing it, my insanely tireless producers, David Engel and David Alpert at Circle of Confusion, said, ‘What do you think about making “Clone” a comic? At Skybound, with Robert Kirkman?’ I’m such a fan of ‘The Walking Dead,’ I immediately jumped.
“TV is story boot camp,” Schulner continued. “The twists and turns before the commercial breaks — the cliffhanger. I wanted the comic to read like a runaway train, and to do that you need story, a lot of it. I tried very carefully to pick the moments when we could slow down to land the character moments but then ramp back up with more twists and turns.
“The challenge for me,” Schulner continued, “was the literal turning of the page. There are 22 pages — that’s 22 times someone could put down your comic and walk away. In TV, you have a commercial break six times an episode, and you’re working really hard to have a great twist before the commercial so the audience comes back. I tried to do that 22 times, which is insane! But, since I’m such a novice I didn’t know of any other way to do it.”