Editor's note -- This story contains adult language.
"I was at a point where I was very bitter," recalled Matt Cashel, writer of "Paradigm," when speaking with CBR News. "I was sitting at home and I was supposed to be going on a blind date, I didn't even want to go on it, so I just went and bought a bunch of beer. I was just sitting there drinking... we went and saw 'Enemy of the State' -- I was so fucked up. I called Jeremy (Haun, 'Paradigm' artist) and left him this long-ass message on his answering machine. God only knows what I said."
Whatever he said, it led to the birth of "Paradigm."
The duo, which met at a Joplin, Mo. bookstore, had been bouncing ideas around for a comic but hadn't gotten very far. The drunken message said something about encapsulating everything that interested them in a single comic: women, pop culture, loneliness, life in general...
"That was a Friday night. I didn't hear back from Jeremy for a while," Cashel says. "I thought, 'Man, I must have left him a really bad message.'"
But this wasn't a call to an ex-girlfriend begging for forgiveness, this was a moment of creative truth that did not fall on deaf ears -- Haun was simply out of town at the time. When he returned the following Monday and got Cashel's beer-slurred message, he decided that his inebriated colleague was right, the time was now. "Paradigm" was born.
Two Irish guys
A black and white photo-realistic series from Image, the book made its debut in 2001 under Cashel and Haun's creator-owned imprint of Two Irish Guys Press. After issue one, Image Comics contacted the two and snatched the book up, giving them the freedom to concentrate on the content rather than the publishing. A new number one was released with added content.
"We had to change our trousers after Jim Valentino e-mailed us," says Haun with a laugh.
The comic is about the city of Bogsdale, and is what would seemingly happen if Twin Peaks slept with the X-Files. While the book starts out like a regular day in a regular town, reality is quickly turned on its ear when a new world is exposed behind a shower curtain, leaving readers unsure of, well... everything.
"It's a story about one city where reality is wearing thin for a particular reason we haven't revealed yet," says series artist Haun. "Things are starting to happen that wouldn't happen anywhere else. An event at the beginning of the story where destiny isn't followed is the cause of a downward spiral that will lead to the destruction of mankind as we know it."
Sounds dark, eh?
"Then there's the group of people that are being pulled together and they're going to try to stop the spiral."
Thank goodness for the good guys.
The story is rife with mysterious figures, talking cats, gun-wielding bitchy girlfriends and reads like "Seinfeld" gone noir. "I don't care how endearing she may be, some girl tells you 'Jurassic Park 3' is a good film, you dump her on the spot, take back the house keys and hide the pets," a character says in issue one.
Apart from the talking cats, the comic has a real world vibe that not many comics capture. From a fire hydrant in the background to the thermostat on the wall to the slobber spraying out of a character's mouth, the city of Bogsdale has a pulse of its own, and is itself a major character. But just when everything feels normal, a Smurf-like character will appear and offer up a game of Scrabble.
There's a good reason the characters in Paradigm look so real. They are real.
From Cashel and Haun themselves to brothers, friends, fathers, a wife and ex-girlfriends, the characters in Paradigm are played by people the two know.
Haun takes a complex approach to illustrating each issue. He gathers his cast, then gives them an explanation of the look of the panel he's wanting, and starts shooting them with a digital camera. Haun keeps a prop room in his house, and the production of the comic is like a meticulous storyboard for a movie. When he gets the photo he wants, he plugs it into a panel of the comic. Then it's on to the next shot. When he gets the whole page photographed, he gets out the pens and paper and draws everything he just shot.
"I always hear people say, 'Oh, photo reference, that cheapens (a comic).' I don't think so, if you go into it expecting that you're trying to create the art, all the way from point A to point to point B," Haun says. "Photography can only go so far, then you have to extrapolate."
Haun says that movies are a bigger influence on his art than comic books, and it shows. "The Man Who Wasn't There," a Coen Brothers movie, is tops on the list, with "Return of the Living Dead" way up there, too. Haun watches movies through what he calls the "Paradigm filter," as in, what is the director of the movie showing him that he can use in the comic?
Cashel, who on this day is toting around a copy of "Everything You Know is Wrong," cites people sitting at downtown bars as one of his main influences.
"From the time I get up, I think if I have to be in this situation, what can I take out of it to put back into the comic book and make it worthwhile?" Cashel says. "Ignorant people are a huge influence. They give you a reason to want to write. Different jobs, when something happens and I might not be able to put it into the right words at that moment, but I can go back and put it exactly how I would have liked to in the comic."
"I hate fucking rednecks! " Haun screams in ridicule, mimicking Cashel from a run-in at a small town bar with a local the night before.
"Oh yeah, that guy could get his ass kicked in the book," Cashel says with a grin. "Stuff like that happens all the time."
All in the family
Something that seems to have been lost in many comics but thrives in "Paradigm" is a community network that lives in the book's letters pages. It isn't at all uncommon for the comic to run six pages worth of reader reaction and answers to questions.
"When I'm responding to readers mail, let's just say that I know that I'm very fucked up," Cashel says. "The community is super-important to us. It gives you a chance to hear what the fans are saying immediately. They'll call you out, make you think about stuff in a different way."
"Plus, we don't shy away from printing hate mail," Haun adds. "In the past, a lot of companies print letters that just said 'You guys are amazing!' It's never their intention to print anything critical. We're not going to change the book but we do listen to people, if they ask for us to shed light on a topic, we'll try to add it to the narrative."
The first chapter of "Paradigm" recently concluded with issue twelve. Image is now releasing the series in trade paperback format, beginning with issue 1-4, "Segue to an Interlude," that was released in late 2003. The next chapter is due out this summer. The regular series will fire back up with issue thirteen in late 2004.
"No new number ones or spin-offs for us," Cashel says. "Not while I draw breath or Jeremy draws boobs.