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Earlier in the summer, CBR News spoke to Joe Casey about his forthcoming Image Comics projects “Charlatan Ball” and “Nixon’s Pals.” Well, we’re barely out of con season and the Casey train keeps on rolling. This September sees the AiT/PlanetLar release of Casey and Charlie Adlard’s “Rock Bottom,” a surrealist drama about a man quite literally turning to stone. The pair, who worked together previously on the acclaimed “CodeFlesh,” spoke with CBR News about the story, the art, and the history of “Rock Bottom.”
“It’s the story of Thomas Dare, a working musician in L.A. who wakes up one morning and discovers that he’s slowly turning to stone,” Casey told CBR News. The setup may evoke in many readers the typical everyman-wakes-up-with-superpowers, but Casey assures that “Rock Bottom” is far from a superhero origin tale. “We take a much more realistic look at this kind of ‘power fantasy.’ The heart of the story is how this condition of Thomas’ affects his life and the lives of his close circle of friends. Hopefully, it’s a very human story.”
Astute readers may remember a Joe Casey book with this description being announced here at CBR all the way back in 2002, and going by the name of “Monolith.”
“We serve no wine before its time…” Casey jokes. “One hundred and two pages of gut-wrenching and genre-splicing takes a while to write, and even longer to draw.” As for the name change, it’s as easy as calling the proverbial “dibs,” which DC Comics did in 2004 when they published “Monolith,” a depression-era superhero comic created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.
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“…a rose by any other name,” said Casey. “It was hard to believe that anything could be slower in production than a DC project. Then again, this was pre-Didio DC, not to mention the fact that Jimmy Palmiotti is a terrific guy so it was a no-brainer to go back to the patented Title Drawing Board and come with the current moniker (which, I think, fits the book just as well).”
Over the course of “Rock Bottom’s” story, Thomas Dare goes from being a recently-divorced, decidedly chauvinistic pianist in a ’50s rock cover band to a freakish figure exposed and dissected by curious scientists and fearful media alike. The journey is one of immense anxiety. Like the film “Unbreakable,” Casey and Adlard’s story holds its ground in a familiar reality that, from the increasingly sympathetic point of view of Thomas Dare, is just relentless.
“There is such heavy drama in this book,” Casey said. “I really just wanted to write a straight-ahead drama and see if I could maintain it over one-hundred and two pages. It’s the longest, non-serialized comic book I’ve ever written. Believe it or not, when I first conceived of the project, [Original Graphic Novels] were still relatively novel and there weren’t as many out there as there are now. That part of the industry has thankfully exploded, so hopefully ‘Rock Bottom’ can sit proudly beside the other great “done-in-one’s” that occupy readers’ bookshelves.”
Artist Charlie Adlard also aspired to new goals with “Rock Bottom,” employing a drawing style not usually seen in comics signed with his name. Adlard explained to CBR News that the almost entirely line-based artwork for “Rock Bottom” was inspired chiefly by the desire to do something different.
“I’d been looking to try doing some pure line art for some time,” Adlard told CBR News. “But without color. I’ve seen plenty of line art that’s been colored, but I wanted to take it one step further. I wanted to see if a look like that could work without anything else going over the top of it.
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“Also, it was a challenge. I’m very much associated with a very heavy black style, normally, so I wanted to see if I could take away a rather integral part of my usual look and do something that people wouldn’t expect.”
Adlard’s experiment is rather successful, as whatever textures used in the book are to be found on Thomas’ body, effectively setting him apart from the look of everyone else in the comic and thusly heightening the anxiety factor for not only the book’s main character, but the book’s artist as well. “…there’s no hiding with the style of ‘Rock Bottom.’ It’s too open, so everything has to be there and right, of course,” explained Adlard. “The pencils had to be tighter than normal because once I put down my inks, that was it. There were no blacks to cover up any errors, so everything had to be there. Loose pencils were not an option, which is something I certainly was not used to. I’ve always been used to doing very loose pencils and almost ‘drawing’ with the ink.”
Perhaps paradoxically, “Rock Bottom” showcases two creators at the top of their games by way of both doing things they’re not particularly known for doing. Writer Joe Casey is particularly taken with the apparent ironies. Perhaps readers will be seeing a completely different side to the writer?
“God, I hope not…” Casey jokes. “I need to keep a few sides to myself, don’t I? There’s a lot of things about this piece [that are] really raw for me. Sometimes I think ‘Rock Bottom’ is going to end up being my ‘Pinkerton’ (the second and most personal album by Weezer, generally believed to be the band’s creative zenith)… other times I just hope that’s exactly what it ends up being.”
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CBR’s Jonah Weiland & Arune Singh contributed to this story.