It’s been said that World War II gave birth to the Greatest Generation we saw in the 20th Century and beyond. The struggles the Allied forces went through to defeat the Nazi’s have been well chronicled in books and film and the events of that era still inspire stories to this day. This Spring, following their work together on the Image Comics series “Common Foe” and the Boom! Studios one-shot “10,” writers Shannon Eric Denton and Keith Giffen join forces once again on “Grunts” from Arcana Studios. CBR News caught up with Denton and Giffen to learn more about this brave band of brothers that are the stars of “Grunts.”
To begin with, Denton explained the meaning of the term grunts. “Grunts is a military term commonly referring to the soldiers who actually go in and get their hands dirty whether it’s the cook, mechanic, or infantryman,” Denton told CBR News. “I wanted to clarify that because nowadays you mention ‘military’ and ‘getting your hands dirty’ people tend to think ‘black bag, special ops’ kinda stuff and this story really focuses more on the everyman who gets thrown into a ridiculous situation and has to claw their way out in order to survive.
“Most guys back in the forties would rather have been home with their families watching baseball, but Hitler invaded Poland and Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and things got crazier from there. So the average guy did what needed done and packed their bags and left home to stop this threat.
“Our story is set in World War Two and follows a ragtag squad of Americans as they accidentally stumble upon a Nazi superweapon,” Denton continued. “The Germans want to keep this weapon a secret until they can produce enough of it for it to be effective. Naturally, the Germans are now going out of their way to make sure our squad doesn’t live to spread the word of this new weapon.”
The cast of “Grunts” starts out as a tightly knit group of Americans in an Army squad, but that quickly unravels when they meet up with the surviving remnants of other units. “Since our squad isn’t exactly A-list, we have some fun with the fact the guys they essentially rescue aren’t so sure getting rescued by this bunch is a good thing,” explained Denton. “This allows us to explore the team dynamic of how people in a certain group can end up palling around with one person, but as soon as you insert some new faces into the mix, that dynamic may change.”
This isn’t Denton’s first time writing stories set in World War II, having done so previously in the pages of “Common Foe.” Denton said he feels comfortable writing stories about World War II as it happens to a time he knows a lot about. “My grandfather fought in World War Two and my dad was a career soldier, so this stuff is accessible for me,” said Denton. “Having grown up on or around military bases I know that soldiers, just like everyone else, can’t wait for the work day to be done, they love their families, they’re just as different as anyone else in a profession and yet they have this one unifying belief in something bigger than them that unites them. This is the same belief that makes Spider-Man, Superman, and all the other mythical heroes work so well. Most people want to believe they’d do the right thing with the gifts given to them. I think the profession of soldier lends itself to storytelling because of this. I just look at my doing multiple soldier stories in much the same way Anne Rice continues to do vampire novels or Tarantino does crime films or Grisham writes about lawyers. I like the subject and as long as I do I’ll keep doing them. When I was a kid I was pretty convinced the only person on the planet cooler than the Unknown Soldier was Sgt. Rock. As far as I was concerned, he’d tear Wolverine apart!”
While Giffen may not share Denton’s fascination with World War II, he is fascinated by wars in general. “War fascinates me because of the bullshit aspect,” said Giffen. “All wars are about land, period. You can cloak it in religion and ethnic cleansing, you can say whatever you want, but it always comes back to ‘He’s living where I want to live’ or ‘I want this piece of land.’ It’s always about land, land, land. Every war has always been about land.
“World War II fascinates most people because it was the last time we had a war with such cleanly defined evil,” continued Giffen. “There’s no way you can look at Germany and go, ‘Ehh, it’s kind of nebulous.’ No, no, no! Look at the camps – they were evil! Other wars tend to get kind of muddy because somewhere along the line we decided it’s more important to understand the enemy than kill him. Wars have a perverse fascination.”
“Grunts” is a project Denton’s wanted to take on for a long time now. When he and Giffen first began working together several years ago, Denton mentioned it to Giffen and the creative ball started to roll with each writer jumping in with new ideas. Giffen said that while the story comes from both men– a real 50/50 type of project– Denton really did most of the heavy lifting. “I brought my sensibility, such as it is, to the project– if that counts for anything! Shannon’s more aware of commercial viability and the market than I am, whereas I dig my heels in and say, ‘I want this,'” explained Giffen. “The really crass answer would be I brought my name to the project and maybe with me attached it stood a better chance of going somewhere. That sounds horrible and crass, but if I go to a comic book company and say, ‘I have a project with Harvey What’s-His-Face over here and I have a project over here with Frank Miller,’ which one do you think they’re going to go with? So, really, I bring a familiar name and a couple of ideas, but Shannon was really point man on this one.”
And Denton took a moment to explain how the duo work together, with Denton located in Arizona and Giffen in New Jersey. “We usually chat on the phone, work thru the story verbally, whoever gets it to paper first jots down what we spoke of, fires it off to the other and then that person usually writes until they get to an area they want to play with some more or it’s a wife telling us it’s time for dinner and we stop…enchiladas always win out versus writing,” said Denton.
With Giffen playing a major roll in DC’s upcoming “52” event and forever altering Marvel’s cosmic universe in “Annihilation” (or gentrifying as Giffen put it, “Many boutiques and coffee shops!”) one might think it hard for the writer to find time to work on something like “Grunts.” “You make room for certain projects,” said Giffen. “Yeah, in the middle of ’52’ and ‘Annihilation’ and the ‘Blue Beetle’ thing, I’m always going to carve out some time for projects like ‘I Luv Halloween‘ or ‘Hero Squared’ or projects like ’10.’ Yeah, I might be busy, but when you tally up the projects, the amount of work and how long it takes me to do it, it only comes down to 18 days out of the month and I still have my weekends off to watch the Jets drop out of the playoffs!”
The duo are joined on “Grunts” by artist Matt Jacobs, whom Denton met at Comic-Con International. “He showed me his portfolio and I was blown away by how much energy was in his work,” said Denton. “In comics there have always been the two approaches to drawing; the cartoony or exaggerated versus the realistic. Matt falls more into the exaggerated category. That is what Keith and I wanted for ‘Grunts,’ so it was an easy choice. It fit this story better just as Jean’s more realistic pencils fit ‘Common Foes’ story better. We’d also worked with Matt on several of the Komikwerks anthologies and knew he didn’t miss deadlines. Teaming him up with colorist Eric Spikes has really raised the art to a whole new level. It’s been great!”
In addition to writing comics, Denton also runs his own publishing concern through Komikwerks, yet the book is set to come from Arcana Studios. So, why not publish it yourself considering you have your own publishing company? “One of the problems with being a publisher as well as a creator is that it’s real tempting to just publish your own work,” explained Denton. “However, Komikwerks was set up to publish books and graphic novels, so the comics format didn’t fit our company mandate. Rather than making myself the exception, I went looking for someone who fit the project format wise. I met Sean O’Reilly from Arcana at the Wizard LA show and he was so enthusiastic about the idea as well as the medium. It was just an easy choice to go with them. I’m in fact doing another book with them with my screenwriting buddy Ross Lamanna (“Rush Hour,” “Star Trek: First Contact”) and we’ll be announcing that one soon as well.”
Look for “Grunts” this Spring from Arcana Studios.