CCI: McCool and Templesmith Gag on "Choker"

What do a disgruntled former detective, a woman nicknamed "Dick Puncher," a bottle of lube and Darwyn Cooke's head have in common? It's hard to say for sure, but writer Ben McCool and artist Ben Templesmith just might have an answer for you. The two Bens are joining forces with Image Comics for "Choker," an all-new miniseries that was announced at Comic-Con International this weekend. Templesmith and McCool spoke with CBR News about the upcoming comic series, describing the naughty details and entrails that "Choker" entails, not to mention the genesis of the series forged by teeth in Mr. Darwyn Cooke's skull.

Judging from the colorful names in these promotional images, it's pretty clear that we're not looking at an all-ages adventure here. What's the premise of "Choker"?

BEN TEMPLESMITH: I'm not touching that one and will leave it to McCool, lest I face early deportation for what I could say...

BEN MCCOOL: I guess I'd better lay down the disclaimers, then: language used is dastardly goings-on are repellent, and the characters are so lewd you'll feel like only an industrial-strength jet wash will be able to rinse your tarnished conscience clean. Put simply, we're hoping to give Bill O'Reilly a Rush Limbaugh-resembling hernia.

Okay, okay, it's not all depravation. In a nutshell, it's a hard boiled noir fable set on an unconventional backdrop: Johnny "Choker" Jackson, an ex-Shotgun City police detective who lives in his own rendition of hell. His case of Alien Hand Syndrome has manifested into the most psychotic entity on the planet, he's stuck working at a deadbeat detective agency, and he's engaged in a squalid and involuntary amour with an otherworldly creature that dwells beneath his bathtub. That, believe it or not, is just for starters.

But there's prospective light at the end of the tunnel: a high-profile con Johnny once put behind bars is at large, and not even the city's elite has been able to track the sleazebag down. The police department has offered Johnny a deal: put the rogue back in his below regulation-sized cell and he's got a job for life. However, it comes at a price, and it's one nobody will see coming. But if you want something, and want it real bad, what would you be willing to do to get it?

How long had the idea for "Choker" been percolating in your minds? Was this a fresh collaborative idea, or was it a germ of a story you'd had for some time?

BT: My best guess is there was some unfortunate incident in Ben's past involving a beloved family dog and a large cucumber or something. I can tell you that when I heard what he was planning, I knew it was right up my alley subject matter wise. Yeah, I'm a classy guy. 

BMc: The idea's been festering away for some time, and the longer it stayed idle the more it evolved; I guess I had to unleash it before it manifested into something impractical. Lighter incarnations of the actual story exist, and nearly came to fruition on a number of occasions. It never quite happened, but "Choker" was always in the back of my mind, waiting for the big breakthrough. Through some spectacular luck I met a certain Mr. Templesmith, and after he declared interest in the project I began cultivating it meticulously, trying to make it everything it could be. Fingers crossed, the final product will showcase that.

Production-wise, how'd "Choker" get from concept to full-fledged comic at Image?

BT: Thus far we've got through the treatment/character design phase and I'm getting down and dirty with the preview story that'll run in "Liberty Comics" - more about that in a bit - before the series truly kicks off. It's really a bit of a grand experiment for me. I want to raise the bar on my work - yes, many will argue that won't be hard, I know. Haw haw, etc. - really take my time on it, also in the promotion and taking advantage of the Image model of doing comics, which, if done properly, can be great.

BMc: As I touched on before, the transition from original idea to physical product was somewhat fragmented. By the time I started talking to Ben I knew what I wanted to do, but not quite how I wanted to do it. The actual creative process, at least on a collaborative level, started with me sharing my breakdowns, treatments, character bios, etc. Once we established a like-minded mindset we started constructing "Choker" into a fully-fledged physical entity.

Can you describe Choker as a character?

BMc: Johnny's our protagonist - our personal tour guide of Shotgun City, the most loathsome snotball of a metropolis ever sputtered into the handkerchief of reality. Once a hotshot cop, he's degenerated into a hate-filled slob, his former guise as crime-quashing maestro a vague and very distant memory. Well, at least it starts out like that. Once the cruel hand that life has dealt him becomes apparent we'll understand him a little more, and dare I say, relate to him and his motivations. "Choker" is about Johnny's own personal redemption, and with it comes some startling revelations about him and the world in which he dwells.

Even if Choker is in the spotlight, it looks like he's sharing it with at least three other important characters - "Dick Puncher," "Chief," and "Worm." Who are these people in relation to Johnny?

BMc: Oh, he'll find himself in some interesting company, that's for sure. First up is Seaton "Worm" Price, who's unlucky enough to be Johnny's secretary. Smart, reliable and as dorky as can be, he was hired after City Hall banned Jackson from ever again employing a female member of staff. Though a manic-depressive with a Russian literature problem, he'll find himself with a role to play in the story that not even Vladimir Nabokov would see coming.

Flynn "Dick Puncher" Walker is unfortunate enough to be a female police officer working Shotgun City's streets. But she's not one to shirk a challenge, especially if it pisses off a few guys along the way. She caught her husband in bed with her mother, sister and best friend - three separate incidents would perhaps have cushioned the blow - and thus implements a deep insatiable rage into her work. Flynn is handed the responsibility of overseeing Johnny in his temporarily reinstated position, and before long things start to go a little pear-shaped.

Last but certainly not least, Milton "Chief" Ellis is Shotgun City's Chief of Police, and to be fair, he was never likely to be much of a humanitarian. True to form, he's not. Cold, demeaning and a firm believer in corrupt justice, Ellis is the free thinker's worst nightmare. To be blunt, he's Mr. Burns on crack.

Mr. Templesmith, while your projects always tend to focus on the horrific, they come in varying degrees - "30 Days Of Night" is pretty straight-up horrifying, while "Wormwood" is almost a horror comedy. How would you describe the tone of "Choker" in comparison to your other works?

BT: I'm probably more inclined to say, rather than horror, the things I focus on tend to be the quirky and the dark. Even the lighter things I've worked on tend to have those qualities. Straight up horror is something I can do I guess, but it's expected. It's not really my personality to just do things straight though. I think I get much more joy from the work when at the same time as repelling people with the horrific elements, if I can make them laugh as well, it's even more devious.

"Choker" really should hit the mark for me in both respects. There's going to be some nasty, nasty stuff in this that McCool is going to make me draw. I really want to call this book "Fell," but with its face ripped off and a severe case of gonorrhea. It's got elements of all the previous stuff people who've read my own work or things I've drawn for others seem to have liked. It's going to be dark, sickly dark. You should feel bad for liking it, hopefully. 

What are some of the themes at play in "Choker"?

BMc: At its nucleus, it's what might've happened if Raymond Chandler took as many drugs as Hunter S. Thompson. "Choker" takes a hard-edged yet insightful look at the underbelly of post-modern and technology-ravaged society. But it's also about revenge, greed, motivation, and eventually, redemption. All blighted by the downright fucking peculiar, of course.

Can you guys talk a bit about how you met and decided to collaborate together on "Choker"?

BT: Here's my version, you can compare it to McCool's to see how bad liars we both are: we actually met at a little pre-con party I threw just before San Diego Comic-Con last year. Just got talking to this utterly mad bloke with an English accent, who obviously knew how to drink properly. We got chatting away and I definitely made a mental note that if this guy could write the same way he talked, I'd definitely want to do something with him in the future.

Then after the con, Mr. McCool's teeth had a slightly unfortunate incident with Mr. Darwyn Cooke's head. So, as we tried to take his mind off the tooth pain with a few beers before he headed back to New York City, we hatched some plans for the future. Been planning them ever since. It's a collaboration born in the fire of Comic-Con, hardened by Darwyn Cooke's skull and inspired by a mutual love of alcohol.

BMc: A cool origin if ever there was one! My fiance has actually known Ben for some time, and at one point even worked with him. Prior to last year's San Diego Comic-Con Ben arranged a get-together for the Con's first flurry of arrivals, and thus I was inadvertently invited. We hit it off, exchanged a few crude, utterly appalling jokes and decided to hang out some more. We touched on the possibility of working together; I relished the prospect, and promptly sent Ben a "Choker" synopsis. Luckily, he quite liked it and the rest is debauchery-plagued history.

And yes, Ben's bit about my teeth accidentally meeting Darwyn Cooke's head is remarkably true. They've made up since, mind.

Nuts and bolts... when can we expect this to be released?

BT: One of the big things for me about doing this, and my new way of working, is I want to have basically almost the entire book done before it's even solicited, so I can make it as good as I can, working to my own schedule and so we can devote proper time to showing it off and getting people enthused for it. So often all I do is manage to battle immediate deadlines and lose all sense that the work I did two months previous is actually coming out or being solicited and that I should be letting people know etc. If it were up to me, I'd say Q1 next year the fun should begin.

BMc: Yeah, we've got issue one penciled in for release sometime in the first quarter of 2010 - it'd be nice to get it out in time for the year's initial batch of conventions.

A "Choker" short story features in Image's second "Liberty Comics" anthology, alongside an abundance of talent including Neil Gaiman, Jim Lee, Dave Gibbons, Paul Pope, Cameron Stewart... need I go on? The book benefits the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, so there's even more reason to pick it up. It's out at the end of September or beginning of October.

What are we looking at length-wise for "Choker"?

BT: Right now, Ben's written a six-issue miniseries, which suits me fine. I'm not a fan of locking myself into ongoings in the true sense, but a series of miniseries where I get breaks to stay fresh is definitely my thing. It's how I work on "Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse," after all. If there's more "Choker" after that depends on how things go and on Mr. McCool, of course.

What can your fans expect from you on "Choker"? What are you doing that's similar to your older work, and what are you doing differently?

BT: Like I said, "Choker" should have elements of much of my previous work about it. I was conscious of that fact for sure and can say "Choker" and working with McCool was really something of a natural fit. 

Differently? Backgrounds. No, really, I want to spend a little more time if I can on this one. It's our baby, so to speak, rather than "just a job." As part of the next step I want to take, I really want to get my hands dirty in the print process, the promo side and such. I don't want to be one of those guys, no offense, that think you simply have to do your book, solicit it and maybe do an interview with CBR or Newsarama or some such the week it comes out to support it and that's it. I think if that's all you do, you're possibly in for a rude surprise as a more indy guy.

BMc: I'll be seen as "the new guy" upon "Choker's" release, and so it'll be interesting to see how Ben's fan base responds to the book. I've done a few bits and bobs here and there, but I consider this my "grand entrance" into the industry as a writer.

What's the single-most exciting aspect about "Choker" for you?

BT: It's odd, the more I'm delving into it, and now that I'm working on the special preview that'll first hit in the Liberty Comics thing, I can honestly tell you I feel this one is going to be a little special. You never want to kid yourself obviously, but it's the way I felt when I had the honor to start doing "Fell" too. No, I'm not trying to talk utter wank just because I want people to check the book out, I think Ben McCool is going to be one of those guys you'll be hearing a lot more from in the future.

I guess what "excites" me - in a way that won't get me arrested I mean - is that I get to work on this thing my way and take a real nuts and bolts look at how this thing is going to take shape more than most of my work in the past. I really needed to change my work-to-life ratio and general lifestyle. Work too hard and it eventually affects your health. Hopefully this project will show how it's been a change for the better.

BMc: It's difficult to pinpoint one thing that excites me most, to be honest. I'm delighted to be able to write such an atypical yet personal story, with Image - bless their little cotton socks - offering a very generous amount of creative control. And as for the fans, they'll have a good solid yarn to get their teeth into, along with plenty of high-octane outlandishness and some truly gorgeous art.

Out-of-context scene time... what are some of the most ridiculous, obscene or just generally upsetting things you've written, drawn or conjured up for "Choker"?

BT: I'm going to leave that one for McCool. Suffice to say he's already had me gagging and reaching for the bucket in the special prelude I have to draw. You'll never think about Cosplay the same way again. 

BMc: Blimey, there's plenty to choose from. Good ol' "Dick-Punching" Flynn has a gruesome pair of trophies hanging from her rear view mirror, and appallingly, they were once a factor in her ex-husband's wedding tackle. Johnny's a little intimidated by their presence. Can't really blame him.

Speaking of Johnny, he gets to exact revolting revenge upon a villain who once upset him a tad. Without giving too much away, it involves a wraithlike and impossibly endowed freak of science, a tiny hint of lube, and some saucy Internet streaming.

Gross. Any final teasers for the folks at home?

BT: Well, I guess by the time this interview goes live, "Choker" will have been announced at SDCC if I haven't cocked it up too badly at the Image panel. I might try and do my best Billy Mays impersonation.

No doubt everyone will be swamped by all the other much larger things going on around with con news, so try to commit this one little thing to memory... there's a book coming called "Choker." One we're going to work our guts out on and will without a doubt see at least one of us put into a mental institution over. Once things really get kick-started, I plan on really giving everyone a lot of peeks into the creative process as I move forward with pages on my blog over at templesmith.com and various places.

BMc: It's as much aimed at fans of "Sin City"-esque crime noir as it is readers of horror, sci-fi and the downright kooky. As a teaser, one subplot involves an ultramodern drug dealer selling a very unique product. The aftermath spawns an epidemic that not even a superhuman police force can handle, and once Johnny finds out exactly what the "drug" is his whole world gets turned upside down - especially once it gets dark out...

Keep an eye out for "Liberty Comics" #2, which contains a preview story for "Choker." The first issue of "Choker" is expected to ship in 2010.

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