This January, Steven Grant is readying the perfect crime in Boom! Studios‘ “Two Guns.” The four issue series follows two bank robbers who aren’t what they seem, robbing a bank that isn’t what it seems. Featuring art by Mataes Santolouco and covers from Kristian Donaldson and Rafael Albuquerque, the series joins other recent entries in the crime genre – though, not exactly in the same way. As Grant’s tagline for “Two Guns” suggests – “Imagine the perfect crime. Now get it wrong” – there’s a something else going on here.
CBR News caught up with Grant to talk about the crime genre, comic book writing, comic book artists, movies and, believe it or not, Oprah.
There’s always some interest in it. In most circles, it’s a popular genre. It’s just in the comics market that it finds it hard to roost, mainly because the comics market is superhero fans and superhero comics absorbed most of the overt tics of crime fiction a long time ago, though spiritually the two genres are almost diametrically opposed. In case of TV, you can’t say that crime doesn’t have a market on TV. There’s “The Sopranos.” There’s “The Shield.” Done right, crime fiction easily finds an audience on TV. Which tells you something about network attempts to do crime fiction. Crime fiction’s something that only works if the creators go at it whole hog, and whole hog is something network TV desperately tries to stifle, in virtually any type of material.
You’ve done some CSI comic book titles. Did working on those get you thinking about doing crime stories of your own, or is “Two Guns” something you’ve had kicking around for a while?
“Two Guns” has been floating around since long before I had anything to do with “CSI” comics. “CSI” is more a police drama, cops finding clues and solving crimes. From my perspective, crime fiction is more about criminals, or, at least, bad (whether intentionally or not) people getting caught up in the consequences of the bad things they’ve done. Kind of a different beast. “Two Guns” doesn’t star criminals per se, but it does star men pretending to be criminals who take a detour to the wrong side of the line and it looks like there’s no road back.
I have to ask a stupid question about the names, just so I won’t be thinking about it. Is Steadman from Oprah’s Steadman? Trench (well, I transposed the n for an a and almost had another question) is fine and Steadman is fine too, but seriously, it’s the first thing I thought. Am I just being dumb?
No, nothing to do with Oprah’s Steadman. I don’t think I had ever heard of him at the time I wrote “Two Guns.” I’m not sure where the name came from, I was just fishing for something and it seemed to work so I used it. Trench, on the other hand, was the name of the police lieutenant Anthony Zerbe played on the short-lived private eye show “Harry O.”
At this point your guess is as good as mine on the breakdowns. As I mentioned, I originally wrote the story launched from a very simple premise: two petty criminals team up to rob a mob bank, but what neither of them knows is that neither of them is a petty criminal. It’s a milieu where everyone lies to everyone not because they’re congenital liars, but because it’s part of their job, the work calls for it. So not only does everyone have secrets, but everyone thinks the other parties are something they’re not, and what everyone is sure are known factors are unknown factors, which makes double crosses pretty easy. The real question isn’t who gets double-crossed, but when is it in your best interest to not betray someone. It’s a painful little exercise in discovery and self-discovery for all involved.
When you say self-discovery… did you make any significant changes or revisions to “Two Guns” when breaking it up for the four issues?
No, not really. It was very tightly written. Once the dialogue has been dropped in prelim, I’ll go over it to see where clarifying captions or additional (or possibly less or rewritten) dialogue is necessary.
You describe “Two Guns” as a character piece – do you find, as a writer, it’s easier to write character pieces in an unsegmented work – a screenplay or a graphic novel – than it is to write them over a limited series?
I don’t know if I’d say easier. It’s different. In work broken down into different chapters or issues, you certainly have to put in different sets and types of hooks to draw the reader along, but you still have to do that in a screenplay or graphic novel, they’re just not as overt. There are some in Hollywood who really do want screenplays to be extremely structured, by the numbers, with a fight scene in the first ten pages, the conflict laid bare by page twenty, a critical obstacle for the hero on page 45, etc. I do think character pieces work best if you let the characters guide the flow of the action rather than try to impose models or formulae onto them, but to some extent you’re always forcing the characters to the flow of the action anyway. The trick is to make it seem as natural and inevitable as possible.
Mechanically it’s all the same, but when I’m approaching, say, Frank Miller’s “Robocop 2,” my working assumption is that whoever’s going to read it is coming to the project for either Robocop or Frank Miller’s peculiar flourishes, not mine. With adaptations, I feel it’s my job to bury my own personality as much as possible – not that my personality doesn’t creep in, since I’m the one making the creative decisions on what to include, what to leave out, how much action takes place where, etc. so some personality creep is unavoidable – and bring out the personality of the work and its originator as much as I can.
The heist and bank robbery genre is an old one in fiction, though today it’s primarily thought of as a film genre. What are some of your favorite works?
I think the first heist film I ever saw was this early Oliver Reed vehicle called “The Jokers” (it co-starred Michael Crawford, who went on to find fame in the theater as the Phantom Of The Opera) about a couple of competitive brothers in swinging London of the ’60s who plot to steal the crown jewels. I’m not a huge fan of the genre, actually, mainly because in a pure heist film the options are severely limited. The really good heist films, like the original “Italian Job,” are all comedies. Heist comedies are great because the heist is the focal point, but what happens around the heist – before and after and during – to the characters is the real point. To a large extent, I viewed “Two Guns” as a comedy, though I didn’t pound it home. I love many crime films – my favorites are probably “Get Carter” (the original Mike Hodges/Michael Caine original), “Touch Of Evil,” “LA Confidential” and “Memento,” and the middle two are definitely crime films despite starring cops because the cops, for the most part, are the criminals, but if I weren’t dead tired I could name a dozen more – but heist films not so much. “Two Guns” is more about the characters, and in that way it’s more like a heist comedy.
Now that you’ve described “Two Guns,” I’ve got to ask. Have you seen “Bottle Rocket?” The two sound completely dissimilar in terms of how they’re handled, but your description, “pretending to be criminals,” made me think of that film.
One of your recent PERMANENT DAMAGE columns talks about the comic book collaborative process in regards to the artist visualizing the script. You said you don’t like to do the artist’s work for them. Now, your relaunch of “Whisper” is coming out soon. “Whisper’s” been with you for quite a while -did the art for the zero issue surprise you? Did you see anything you weren’t expecting? As someone who’s been in the industry for almost thirty years, do you get excited to see your scripts visually rendered?
Terrified is usually a more accurate description. I’ve had work badly or, worse, dully drawn enough that I’m never all that sanguine about working with artists I’ve never worked with before. But I had worked with JJ Dzialowski on a graphic novel Platinum has yet to do anything with called “Paladins.” That was sword and sorcery, but modern day, so I knew he could draw contemporary settings. For “Whisper” #0, my biggest surprise was how little he strayed from the action directions. He’s really a very good artist. We’re talking about doing an online comic now…
Last time I interviewed you, I pestered you about writing “Rom.” This time, no “Ron,” but same general subject. You’re doing a lot more – from what I can tell, looking through Previews – creator-owned work these days. Any reason for the change?
Mainly that Marvel has plenty of other people to write Spider-Man and DC has plenty of other people to write Batman. I’m not opposed to doing work for hire. My three most current projects – the “CSI” series for IDW, a screenplay adaptation for Avatar, and a media project – are all work for hire. But the theory goes that work for hire is good for money in the short run, while creator-owned is better for money in the long run. Creator-owned is generally more creatively satisfying in the short and long runs, too, since it’s always more fun to call the shots, but it’s also fun to be able to pay your bills. (Or, rather, it’s more fun to be able to pay them than it is to not be able to pay them.) I’m not opposed to going where the money is as long as I can get some creative satisfaction out of it. Like the ’60s saying goes, love is like butter: it’s better with bread. But whether I do creator owned or work for hire is usually less up to me than it is up to publishers.