BRIAN '100 BULLETS' AZZARELLO FIRES OFF ANOTHER ROUND IN 'EL DIABLO'
When comic fans see Brian Azzarello's name on the DC/Vertigo "El Diablo" miniseries next year, they'll know who he is: The writer of "100 Bullets," "Hellblazer" and Vertigo anthology short stories. But when he first got the project, he was still just the guy who'd written a little-read, but much-acclaimed, four issue Vertigo miniseries starring a minor DC character called Jonny Double.
"It was the same way as how 'Jonny Double' came about: [editor Axel Alonso] came to me," Azzarello told the Comic Wire on Friday. "He'd been trying to develop the character, it'd been in a number of writers' hands at this point. Just to show you how old this is, while we were waiting on the approval for '100 Bullets,' he threw that at me. 'See if you can come up with something for this.'"
As with "Jonny Double," "El Diablo" is an older DC Comics property, the previous handling of which definitely hearkens back to an earlier era.
"It's the kind of thing you look back on it and say it was hokey, but it was hokey in a nice nostalgic kind of way. We're taking all the niceness out of it. … My take on it is that it's a noir spaghetti western."
El Diablo is a vengeful Western gunslinging ghost … maybe. The mystery of who or what El Diablo is forms a central part of the four issue miniseries.
"We're going to be looking through the eyes of a sheriff who is tracking El Diablo with his posse." Art on the title is by "Congo Bill" artist Danijel Zezelj.
Azzarello isn't what one would call a big western fan.
"I like the Italian westerns. But the American westerns, which you're supposed to like, don't really do anything for me. There's no moral ambiguity," he said. "I'm much more from the Clint Eastwood school than the John Wayne school. It's like the Beatles or the Stones."
Moral ambiguity and a hail of bullets are, of course, what's made Azzarello's name, with the high concept "100 Bullets."
"Initially, I pitched it to Axel. I put him in the position of getting the suitcase. You're riding into work, an old man sits down next to you, puts down the suitcase, it's got a gun and 100 bullets in it, and a picture of a person who'd done you wrong, and offers you carte blanche to do something about it. What would you do?"
What Axel did was talk with Azzarello for two hours after a Wizard World convention, "drinking bourbon and smoking Cubans."
"Let me give huge props to [artist] Eduardo [Risso] for '100 Bullets.' The book wouldn't be what it is without him. We're a good team. … We have something intuitive going, although we've never met." That will be changing in 2001, though. "I wasn't going to do San Diego this year, but Eduardo wants to come up, so I'll go, just for him."
As has become apparent over the course of the series, "100 Bullets" is more than just a series of morality play short stories, but is in fact a longer saga with a beginning, middle and end. Azzarello has a fairly obvious number in mind for what issue he'd like to wrap it up on.
"I've been saying 100," he said. "Let's see if I last. And we'll see if sales merit it. Right now, DC, they're in for 100 issues. Everyone's very happy with the book, and how it's performing. Like I said, every issue, the numbers are going up with every issue, which is bucking the trend.
"Originally, it was pitched as an anthology series. And I pitched it that way, because I didn't want to get stuck in a monthly grind doing the same character. (And here I am, doing 'Hellblazer' [monthly])," he laughed. He took on Vertigo's flagship title starring the beloved semi-hero John Constantine, he says, "for the challenge."
"When I talk 'Hellblazer,' people get so pissed off. … Everyone thinks they know John. 'This is Constantine, this is how he behaves.' But the thing is, you don't know how it's going to behave. That's his hook. If he constantly surprises you, it's good."
And if he outrages some of Constantine's fans, one fan in particular has no problems with the series: "For what it's worth, [John Constantine creator] Alan [Moore] likes it."
Azzarello's "Hellblazer" has run in long story arcs so far, and that's the plan for the foreseeable future, although there will be shorter stories mixed in along the way.
"After 'Good Intentions,' there's a one shot that Steve Dillon is drawing, then there's another four part arc, then another one off, and then a long arc," Azzarello said. "I'm thinking it's going to be six to eight issues.
"Despite all the …" he paused and laughed, "All the bitching and moaning, sales on that book are going up, too. … Must be doing something right."
Until recently, the only editor Azzarello had ever worked with was Alonso. But Alonso recently was one of the high-profile defections from DC, moving over to Marvel Comics after Joe Quesada took over as Marvel's editor-in-chief. Azzarello is now edited by Tony Bedard on "Hellblazer" and Will Dennis on "100 Bullets" and "El Diablo."
"It's been smooth. Of course, we're sparring right now, feeling each other out, but there haven't been any problems at all."
Quesada has gone after Azzarello as well, and "had offered me a few Marvel Knights things, and nothing came to fruition at all. So he went and got the guy I work for," Azzarello laughed.
What does that mean regarding the rumors of Azzarello writing for Marvel himself?
"You can read between the lines."
Azzarello will be writing superheroes comics next year, one way or another: He's writing a DC/Wildstorm miniseries, "Batman/Deathblow," with "Superman/Gen13" artist Lee Bremejo.
"This is going to be a different sort of crossover … since Deathblow's dead! So they'll never meet."
THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN:
LOS BROS HERNANDEZ REUNITE FOR 'LOVE AND ROCKETS,' VOL. IIImage #2
One might think that when two of the icons of independent comics decide to reunite on a critically acclaimed title, their publisher would make a lot of noise about it.
"Fantagraphics were a little cautious," Gilbert Hernandez told the Comic Wire on Friday. "They weren't sure if we were serious about this."
But they were and are. Los Bros Hernandez are indeed reuniting and, for the first time since 1996, 2001 will see new issues of "Love and Rockets."
"When we finished the first run of 'Love and Rockets,' we were sure that people were tired of it, and we wanted to move on to other things," Gilbert said. "But in the four or five years since then, people kept asking 'Where's Love and Rockets?'"
While Gilbert and Jaime have been keeping busy since the first volume of "Love and Rockets" ended, much of their audience seems to have been waiting for them to reunite on a book with the L&R title.
"Because nobody forgot the name, you know?" Jaime told the Comic Wire on Friday. "And they kind of kept asking about it. We just thought it'd be kind of fun to do it again. The books we were doing solo, people couldn't find them, they didn't know we were doing them."
"Somehow, the name carries more weight than anything else we do," Gilbert said. "It's not a bad thing, but it's something we've come to accept. As long as it's called 'Love and Rockets,' people pay attention."
At the moment, Gilbert isn't planning on telling stories in the new "Love and Rockets" featuring his established characters. Instead, he's currently working on "Julio's Day," a serialized graphic novel that will run in the book "using only characters that will only appear in a few issues."
But that doesn't mean there's no hope of ever seeing Gilbert handling classic L&R characters in the new series.
"Depending on public pressure. I can go either way on this. I'm flexible."
Of course, he's got another outlet for such tales right now.
"The other book I'm doing is 'Luba,' which continues the Palomar stories, but it might come out with even less frequency," he laughed. "It might come out once or twice a year."
Jaime echoes that sentiment.
"I still want to do 'Penny Century,' but as fast as I am," Jaime laughed, "It'll probably come out once a year."
And while he says there will likely be crossovers at some point, for the most part, Jaime's stories in L&R and "Penny Century" will remain separate.
"'Love and Rockets' will be Maggie's world and 'Penny Century' will be more Ray. It's the same world, but they live in different areas."
As for "Julio's Day," Gilbert says it's a "simple story about a man's life, from his birth to his death … I'm trying a novelistic approach. It's pretty much an unremarkable life. The challenge is to make an unremarkable life interesting."
Jaime's initial story does revisit the classic L&R characters, as fans of the previous series will recognize from the story's title, "Maggie."
"It's sort of, in a small way, reintroducing her, just showing where her life is now," Jaime said. "My characters carry where I'm going to go. It's rare that I come up with a story before I come up with the characters. … I kind of like that. I'm discovering that as the reader does, and at the same time she does. It sounds kind of silly, but me and Maggie are discovering where she's going at the same time together.
"If I had it mapped out to the finest detail, I'd be bored. … I'd know what happens," he laughed. "I like to surprise myself. … Some of the things I put in there I do at the very last minute. … I do comics in chunks, but leave space for the ending. … It kind of keeps me interested as well as the reader, you know?"
Gilbert is also illustrating a serial that his brother Mario is writing for "Love and Rockets" entitled "Me for the Unknown." (The comic will feature three stories in every issue.)
"I always thought that Mario was a great idea man, but he didn't have the practice of doing a serial book," Gilbert said. "But now, with the both of us working together, hopefully I can bring out his strengths.
"His is more of a surreal adventure strip … sort of another story about a man who gets a hold of a lot of money, and tries to decide how this is going to affect his life."
In some ways, "Me for the Unknown" hearkens back to the early days of "Love and Rockets," when the comic had more of a genre feel.
"In the earlier days, when I had the science fictiony stuff, that was so much fun to draw," Gilbert said. "If I felt like drawing a rocket ship that day, I drew a rocket ship. But that didn't really apply to the sort of stories I wanted to tell. … I always missed having a forum for telling both kinds of stories. … The only thing that irks me is people saying 'the book was never as good after you dropped the rockets.' What were we doing for those 15 years? … It's like an imaginary bad marriage, where nothing you can do can please your spouse."
When the brothers ended "Love and Rockets," they abandoned the magazine-size format the series had been in previously in favor of a conventional comic book size. The change in format was due in large part to economic reasons, Gilbert said.
"The old story of, if it doesn't fit in the comic box, they don't want it. But I also needed a change … Shrinking to comic size gave it a different look and feel."
"It might sound funny, but something that small and significant, but changing the size was a big deal for me," Jaime said. "It made it kind of exciting to draw in a different shape."
The new series will remain in conventional comic book size, although it'll be in square-bound prestige format.
Since they left "Love and Rockets" behind, some of the ground the brother broke has been rebroken in more mainstream comics: Gay comic characters may grab the attention of superhero fans today, but Los Bros Hernandez have been including realistic gay characters in their work for decades.
"It was a reflection of what we saw going on around us, and what we'd grown up with," Gilbert said. "Several of my high school friends, I found out later, turned out to be gay. … So we knew something about it. One of our jobs in L&R was to present things that we didn't see in other pop media. … We always tried to make it seamless, make it part of the world."
"A lot of the stuff we did wasn't necessarily for shock value, but it was because we wanted to show things that were in the world that weren't in comics," Jaime said. "When I started the comics, I came to realize that my life with my friends was more interesting than what I was reading in comics. So I took advantage of that."
That doesn't mean that the characters all line up with real life friends and acquaintances of the brothers.
"Some characters are types that I've known," Jaime said. "Some characters come closer to people I've known, and some characters, like say my main character, Maggie, is like a thousand people. I've taken from everywhere for her."
Returning to the title that made their reputations means a great deal of expectations from eager fans, but Los Bros aren't cowed by the challenge.
"I would love to do these comics for the rest of my life," Jaime said. "I have a good feeling about it. I'm not too scared."
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO
MARVEL MASTERWORKS EDITIONS?
Back in January, Marvel editor Tom Brevoort put out the word that if fans wanted more high-end Marvel Masterworks reprint collections, they needed to vote with their wallets.
As reported in the January 10 edition of the Comic Wire, Marvel was giving the all-but-dormant format another go with another volume. That book, which reprinted "Fantastic Four" #51-60, arrived in comic shops on October 25.
So what does that mean for the future of Marvel Masterworks?
"While the final decision has yet to be made," Marvel spokesman Your Man @ Marvel told the Comic Wire on Friday, "Editor Tom Brevoort is stridently supporting a new Masterworks edition. As for the Marvel superstar that will get the coveted Masterworks treatment, we're going to keep that under wraps until the official go-ahead is given. Surprises are a glorious thing, and The House is determined to bring back the age of the unexpected!"
PHIL FOGLIO TALKS 'GIRL GENIUS'
Note: Parents may find the XXXenophile.com link contains material unsuitable for children.
If nothing else, Phil Foglio knows how to get buxom women to blow things up in amusing ways. At last, he's putting just that combination center stage in his new comic.
"'Girl Genius' is an adventure comic set in an alternate world where 'Mad Science' actually works," Foglio told the Comic Wire on Thursday. "The Mad Scientists rule the world ... poorly. It's basically an excuse for me to draw cool machines, giant airships and weird characters."
While giant airships are a new one, Foglio's no stranger to cool machines or weird characters. He had another reason for creating "Girl Genius."
"The main impetus was that I hadn't come up with a completely new idea in a while. 'Buck Godot' is a character I've been drawing since the early '80s. The 'XXXenophile' stuff lets me invent new characters, but they tend to be a tad single-minded, if you know what I mean. I also wanted to do something with an entirely different type of pacing. One of the biggest complaints I've had is that I cram so much story into a comic that it tends to devolve into a set of talking heads in order to get all the dialog in. I wasn't getting a chance to do any fun art, so 'Girl Genius' is going to be more like manga in its pacing, in that the story will move a bit slower, but the world will be more fully developed. This will also allow me to round out the secondary characters. For instance, there are these characters, the Jägermonsters, they're a company of monstrous soldiers, created by a mad scientist. These guys are great. We love them. I've given them these goofball accents and they are a pleasure to draw. They were created because I had a picture and I realized that I needed another character to balance it out. This book exists to entertain my wife. And, of course, me."
Of course, Foglio's audience is a fairly wide one: Readers of his "What's New?" cartoons from the "Dragon" and "Duelist" magazines might not be the right audience for his cheerfully pornographic "XXXenophile" science fiction comics. "Girl Genius" will be aiming to split the difference, Foglio said.
"We're trying to keep this book at an 'all ages' level. However, there will be some adult themes suggested (these are adult characters, after all) and the occasional bit of naughty language, but I'll handle it in such a way that it should go right over a kid's head. This will be tough, however. Kids are pretty sharp."
(Speaking of "What's New?," one of the long-running strip's stars, Dixie, has recently turned evil, much to the dismay of co-star Phil. Is this a permanent change? "Oh, yeah," says Foglio.)
"Girl Genius" has been a long time coming, as has its cast.
"The characters have evolved over time. [Phil's wife] Kaja and I have been writing this series for the last six years. In that time, characters have been created and incorporated into the story and in subsequent re-writings they either get expanded or dropped. The characters that remain are the ones that stayed interesting or vital to the story over several rewrites. Naturally, there are several characters that started out at the beginning. The main character, Agatha, was the first character I came up with, and indeed, was the springboard for the whole series."
Like Agatha, Foglio is going high tech himself in "Girl Genius."
"At this time, the first three issues will be in black and white, and inked by one of the greatest inkers on the planet, Brian Snøddy. After that, what we'd like to do is scan directly from my pencils and color them on the computer. We have done some tests and found that this gives the art a lovely illustrative look, more like European comics. Which we like. We're really leaping into the digital age with this book. Kaja already has two Web sites for our businesses up and running, which bring in enough money that we can take the time we need to work on 'Girl Genius.' She's also working on a site for 'Girl Genius,' GirlGenius.ws. For the book, we're sending the entire thing to the printer on CD. We're doing the lettering on the computer, and we're planning on doing the coloring on the computer as well. This will make everything easier, cheaper and help prevent mail loss."
In the past, Foglio's work has sometimes been difficult to get regularly, as fans of the "Myth Adventures" comic know all too well, but he's got a plan in place for "Girl Genius."
"'Girl Genius' will be coming out every other month. We had several issues in the can before we even solicited issue one. The biggest complaint that we hear from retailers is about comics that put out one or two issues on schedule, and then take six months to get out the third. At the rate I'm getting issues penciled, I expect that we'll have at least six issues finished before issue #1 hits the stands. Once we get going, we've got enough story written that we should be able to bring this book out for the next 10 years."
CHUCK DIXON ON 'ROBIN: YEAR ONE'
Chuck Dixon has an enthusiasm for the supporting members of the Batman Family that would be hard to match. The writer of DC Comics' "Robin," "Nightwing" and "Birds of Prey" has even risked the inevitable comparisons to a milestone comic -- Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One" -- by co-writing the new "Robin: Year One" miniseries, the first issue of which hit the streets on October 25.
"So far, [the reaction has] been 100 percent positive," Dixon told the Comic Wire on Thursday. "One of the few things I've worked on that seems to have a consensus. I thought it would be tougher going since we were intentionally inviting unavoidable comparisons with 'Batman: Year One.'"
As much as the readers have seemed to like it, it's also made the creators happy.
"It's come out as Scott Beatty and I envisioned it. Much of that is thanks to Javier [Pulido's] and Robert [Campanella's] incredible work on it. They strike just the right tone in each book as the mood goes from light adventure to darkest crime story."
And this success means one thing to Dixon: "I'm itching to do more with Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon as young vigilantes."
Of course, a competing vision of Dick Grayson's debut as Robin, the Boy Wonder, has just been published, in the pages of "Batman: Dark Victory" #13 by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. If the details don't all line up exactly right, don't worry about it, Dixon says.
"I don't think any of the Loeb/Sales projects are considered canon. 'Robin: Year One' is continuity inclusive, to coin a phrase. An important 'Nightwing' story arc for next year grows out of events in RY1."
As for the next three issues of "Robin: Year One," Dixon says the book "gets darker. The 'gallows trap' featured in 'Prodigal' will finally be shown in detail. We'll introduce a new villain and there'll be a parade of just about every classic Bat villain ever."
RICHARD MOORE WORKS THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT WITH 'BONEYARD'
Sometimes, going into the family business isn't all it's cracked up to be, as the protagonist of Richard Moore's "Boneyard" will find out early next year.
"'Boneyard' is one of the most straightforward titles I've ever done," Moore told the Comic Wire on Friday. "It's about an average guy, Michael Paris, who inherits some property from a distant relative, only to find that there's a cemetery on the land. And what's more, the cemetery is home to a bunch of monsters, ghosts and demons, whom the local townsfolk blame for a pall hanging over their town. They want the cemetery emptied and bulldozed ... but Paris isn't so sure the boneyard folk are responsible for the curse. Part of it may be that the resident vampire, Abbey, is very cute and sweet, but Paris suspects that the real evil lies elsewhere, possibly in the town itself."
Moore's previous work hasn't always been terribly family-friendly, to use the current term, but despite the nominally dark subject matter, "Boneyard" is aimed at a much broader audience.
"Unlike most of my previous projects, 'Boneyard' is for everyone, of all ages. I liken it to 'The Simpsons,' in the sense that it works on several levels. There are cartoony characters doing funny things that kids will enjoy, but there's a subtext, and references, that only adults will pick up on. Basically, if you like 'The Simpsons' or 'Futurama,' 'Bone,' monsters, pretty vampires and eccentric characters, awkward romance and subtle sex-appeal, or if you just plain like to laugh, 'Boneyard' is for you. (I am SUCH a whore...)
"The emphasis is on humor, but the characters will have an arch-nemesis who simply wants to destroy them, so there's an edge of suspense to it. There's a dash of sexiness in the form of a buxom swamp creature named Nessie, who throws herself at anything in pants, including Paris. There's a sweet little romance between Paris and Abbey, but he's intimidated by her beauty and the fact that she's more experienced than him (by about 2000 years), and she can't believe that such a nice guy would be interested in a 'creature of the night,' no matter how cute. They're obviously attracted to each other, but neither suspects how the other feels. I think we've all been there: wanting someone so badly you're afraid to risk telling that person how you feel. Hopefully I've captured that here, both the awkwardness and the butterflies that you hope never go away."
"It's funny that you say that about Clive Barker. I was at ComiCon in San Diego this year, and a friend, who set up my fan site was sitting in Artist's Alley, watching over my stuff and chatting me up with fans while I was out working the con. I overheard him tell one person that he had noticed a common thread in a lot of my work: that very often it's the humans who are the bad guys, and it's the outcasts -- androids, aliens, genetically-engineered chimeras, or, in this case, monsters -- who are the good guys. I'd never thought of it before, but he's right. Maybe it comes from having always felt like an outcast myself, or my dim view of the way humans have treated this planet and its less evolved -- and more helpless -- creatures. But yes, that shift in sympathies is something I have in common with Clive Barker.
"As for the Buffy question, I'm a big fan of the show (Alyson Hannigan, if you're out there, call me!), but it really wasn't an influence on 'Boneyard.' Buffy goes for real horror much more so than 'Boneyard.' If the two have anything in common, it's that they both come out of a tradition of horror comedy that includes such classics as 'Young Frankenstein' and 'Beetlejuice.' 'Boneyard' is more directly influenced by Jeff Smith's 'Bone,' in which you have a lot of humor, an unrequited love story, and a mysterious villain whose sinister plan drives the story. And of course, for an anal-retentive artist traditionally obsessed (and associated) with detail, Smith's simple, beautiful style was a revelation. I've never copied anything about any artist's style, but certainly there was an inspiration there."
Also in keeping with the work of Barker and the Buffy characters, "Boneyard" features a fairly colorful cast of characters.
"First off, we've got Michael Paris, an average guy who hasn't been terribly successful in life, either professionally or socially. Not that he's a loser, exactly, but let's just say he didn't have a lot to leave behind when it came time to move to the tiny town of Raven's Hollow. Paris never knew his grandfather, who left him the cemetery, but what he learns about him as the story unfolds is a real eye-opener, especially for a guy who's lived a very ordinary, even boring life ...
"Abbey is a nearly 2000-year-old vampire who is basically the voice of reason in the cemetery. She's the most grounded (no pun intended), and until Paris came along, she seems to have had a monopoly on common sense. I actually created Abbey years ago, and she's been in several titles that never saw the light of day, including one of her own. When I came up with 'Boneyard,' she just belonged there. She and Paris are the emotional core of the book. She's also going to be in a series called 'Scream Queens,' in which she's part of a group of female 'monsters' who tackle supernatural crises. Abbey's seen some amazing things in her life, and it'll be fun playing with that as elements from her past keep popping up ... mostly to plague Paris. I have to admit, I love Abbey. She's just such a sweetheart, and so smart, and there's a wonderful contradiction in such a petite character being the most powerful member of the cast. She could easily toss around Ralph or Brutus, who outweigh her by thousands of pounds (as we'll see during a charity boxing match in an upcoming issue), yet she would never use her strength against an innocent.
"Then there's Ralph, the huge werewolf who's always in wolf form, since it's always a full moon over Raven's Hollow. Ralph is hip and laid back, and favors leather jackets, motorcycles and sunglasses at night. By direct contrast, his best friend, Sid, is a cigar-smoking, suspicious, ill-tempered Type-A personality. Sid is a walking, talking skeleton, whose obsession with poker is matched only by his absolute belief that he only loses because everyone cheats him.
"Another of my favorites, Glump is a fat, ugly little demon who's been kicked out of Hell for reasons he won't divulge. He's completely amoral and constantly schemes to take over the world. He is subject to sudden, extreme mood swings, and prone to delivering long, dramatic monologues that usually continue long after everyone has left. His schemes for world domination include the creation of a Frankenstein-like 'Doomsday Frog,' which quickly escapes his control, and hypnotizing the populace through subliminal ads placed in a swimsuit special featuring the 'Boneyard' cast ... and unfortunately including himself and Ralph in Speedos ... Glump is also deathly afraid of socks.
"Nessie is the sexy, well-endowed swamp creature who wears a fishnet skirt and strategically-placed clamshells, and Brutus, her husband, is a green, ten-foot-tall man-made monster with bolts in his neck. He rarely even grunts, and it's debatable whether his creator remembered to include a brain. Nessie is eternally man-hungry, and flirts shamelessly, even in front of Brutus ... which terrifies Paris to no end. Paris's greatest fear is finding himself alone in a room with Nessie.
"There's also Hildy, a short, fat witch who's all giant nose and scraggly hair, Edgar, the intellectual raven, and Leon and Boris, the talking gargoyles, among others."
"The initial, establishing story is four issues long, and elements from it will carry over into subsequent issues. There will be major story arcs that span several issues, and shorter side stories that tie up in a single issue. There will also occasionally be single-page shorts such as 'A Moment with Glump,' a semi-regular feature in which Glump directly addresses the reader, usually with disastrous consequences, and 'Dreadful Living, with Karla Newirth,' a horror-themed parody of a certain well-known home-care author."
In the current issue of "Previews," a few pages away from the "Boneyard" solicitation is Radio Comix' listing for "Deja Vu" #2, also by Moore.
"'Deja Vu' is a title with a lot of facets, from humorous to deadly serious to just plain horrific. Deja is a modern witch with a complicated past, and she's a magnet for all things supernatural. This means that stories vary widely in tone. This current mini-series, 'Blood War,' is very serious and dark, with a lot of pathos and a bittersweet ending. To demonstrate the character and title's range, a couple of months after this storyline ends, radio will be running a one-shot showing more of Deja's lighter side. If you like the humor in Deja Vu, especially the banter between Deja and her familiar, 'Wulf, then I definitely think you'd like 'Boneyard.' Monsters, laughs, pretty witches and vampires -- what's not to like?"
HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD:
'THE BALLAD OF UTOPIA'
The Good, the Bad and the Deeply Morally Ambigious.
Barry Buchanan's western, "The Ballad of Utopia," doesn't have any clear-cut good guys and has more in common than film noir than it does the optimistic western tales many people associate with the genre.
"Not believing that any of the basic genre labels fit our book we had to come up with our own," Buchanan told the Comic Wire on Thursday. "So, the covers read 'A Gothic Western' which is how I go about explaining to people our approach to the story. It's a murder mystery that takes place in an old southwestern, American town named Utopia. As my two protagonists, Brigham and Sam, dig for clues to find the murderer they start unveiling some of this town's darker secrets as well as some of their own. … It's not your basic shoot'em up western by any means. I lean more towards gothic literature and crime fiction than I do towards Zane Grey and John Wayne and the book reflects that undoubtedly."
This isn't the first time "The Ballad of Utopia" has been told.
"I had previously written and drawn the first five issues of this series. I even went so far as to print the first three issues of this endeavor. Diamond was on me as to how they liked the writing but the art wasn't up to their standards. Of course, they were right my art leaves a lot to be desired so I was always on the lookout for an artist. Finally, I ran into Mike [Hoffman] at the Wizard World convention one year and he was looking at taking up a western as his next comic project. So, Black Daze decided to 'reboot' the series with Mike handling the art and the end product looks spectacular. Mike is by far one of the best artist working in comics today and it makes me unbelievably happy to be working with him. Also, we seem to really gel well together in making this book and I think it shows."
There was a time when western comics were a dime a dozen, but with a few noteworthy exceptions, they've vanished from the stands in recent decades. Buchanan was intentionally swimming upstream with "The Ballad of Utopia."
"I love the idea of genres," he said. "People complain about things being labeled into one category and how most genres are stale and over used, but I see these as reasons to wade into certain genres hip deep. Westerns, among most other 'played out' genres, have so much back history and so many predetermined expectations on the readers part that I see that as fodder to play around with and alter the story and characters accordingly."
"The Ballad of Utopia" isn't the sort of Western Roy Rogers or even John Ford would be likely to sign off on.
"This goes back to what I said above about playing with established genres and peoples' preconceived notions. It also has everything to do with how I've kind of always seen the 'real' west. To me it had a very morbid side to it. All those black and white photos of women and children standing around the bullet ridden, fly covered corpse of a downed outlaw and such. It was a hard and cruel place. In my extensive research I've found things that actually happened that are so disturbing that Edgar Allen Poe would get the shivers. I think that the old American west is pretty much the United States version of mythology. Which is were some of our story's denseness stems from. We try play up this aspect of mythology by sprinkling other cultures' myths among the tale we are weaving. It's working admirably well taking two much maligned things, comic books and westerns, and layering them so that the entire story resonates with many deeper meanings and themes. Our tag line for the book is 'THE OLD WEST AIN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE' and people are finding that out as soon as they read a few pages of the story."
Of course, at the moment, a few pages is all there is to the series.
"At the present, 'The Ballad of Utopia' is on hiatus while Mike and myself concentrate on other things. Issue one through three are in print. Issue four is in the can and Black Daze is considering collecting the book into trade paperback form sometime late next year.
"Black Daze has a one-shot book out: 'Mike Hoffman's Tigress.' It's written and drawn Mike and people should be able to order it right now."
THE COMIC BRIEF IN BRIEF
Friday saw a Comic Wire Extra, with Steve Englehart weighing in on his take as to what happened with the first issue of his miniseries "Big Town," to be released by Marvel Comics on Wednesday. You can read the story here.
And for those of you who don't check it daily -- for shame! -- here's our usual the round-up of CBR's Comic Brief since the last edition of the Comic Wire:
- WB Network to air teen Richie Rich show
- Radio Comix solicitations for items shipping February 2001
- Viz Publishings solicitations for items shipping February 2001
- Mainstream press writes about CrossGen
- PREVIEW: Witchblade/ Aliens/ Darkness/ Predator: Mindhunter #1 (of 3)
AND FINALLY …
A special thank you to Rob Harris and Charles Lyons.