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"Death" Rides Again with Patrick & Beranek

Last year, writer James Patrick introduced readers to an avatar of Death as a gunslinger in the Old West in Silent Devil's critically acclaimed "Death Comes To Dillinger." The book was a success, and the original creative team has returned with "Death And The Man Who Would Not Die." CBR News sat down with James Patrick and Silent Devil Publisher Christian Beranek, who told us what Death would be up to in the highly anticipated sequel.

The latest installment in the "Death" franchise finds the title character missing one of the watches from his satchel. "Someone gets their hands on their very own watch, which essentially means they have the power to not die," Patrick explained.  "And, well, it causes a lot of problems because it's not exactly Abe Lincoln that steals the watch and will use it for good.  It's an outlaw with an agenda.  Death is on his trail.  Death and another man I can't reveal."

Patrick had been shopping the property around before he found his way to Silent Devil, when Beranek jumped at the chance to publish "Death Comes To Dillinger." "We're always on the look out for great projects, ones we can believe in and really get behind," Beranek said. He'd had met Patrick at a comic convention a few years earlier and had been impressed by the writer's versatility. "When [Patrick] brought us 'Death Comes to Dillinger,' I was thrilled. Great concept, great pages from [series artist] se7enhedd. But something was missing. The coloring was a little off. So I called up my good friend Josh Medors to help me direct some of the art. That's when James discovered [colorist] JM Ringuet and the rest is history."

"The sequel came about because I realized more stories could revolve around the character of Death and could take place in this world," Patrick explained.  "I had an idea that was perfect within the mythology of that world I had created, so I used it as a starting point and I jumped from there. I have three books planned, but I have a ton of ideas and I could do more if I wanted. I could do a regular series if the demand was there. As it is now, it's more spaghetti western than anything, and that works in small doses, but it would fill out more for a series."

James Patrick came into the process with his eyes open, knowing full well the uphill battle indie books have to fight to find readers. But it came as no surprise to Christian Beranek that "Death Comes to Dillinger" performed as well as it did. "James and company constructed a top notch piece of work and we did our best to promote it," Beranek said. "Critics and readers seemed to dig it, so much so that we can tell more stories in that world. That's victory in my mind. Everything else, such as movie deals, action figures, etc., it's just bonus stuff. At the end of the day we made a great graphic novel."

Patrick is of course thrilled that the numbers on "Death Comes To Dillinger" warranted a sequel, but he is of two minds on the issue. "Some days I wake up and I think that, for my first non-humor and more widely released book, we did really, really well for a bunch of people that most people haven't heard of," Patrick said. "In the very least, we put out a product that was great to read and professionally done -- which isn't a norm in any industry -- and that in the very most we put out a kick ass, moody story that we thought could connect with people.

"And then some mornings I wake up and wonder why we didn't do better.  So I guess it comes down to which of these mornings I have the most, and it's that I'm not surprised the book ended up right where it did.  The product is good, there's an instant appeal to the art, and yet it's a genre people are shy to in this hero-dominated industry."

Patrick realizes that as in all industries, success comes on a sliding scale. "'Death Comes To Dillinger's' success is graded on a curve because of the landscape," Patrick explained.  "So we only did well because we expect to fail in that landscape, or we expect to be a pebble in it; to not do as well as we did." While critics heralded the book, sales figures didn't even approach those of a book at the Big Two. "People do comics at this level because they love them and they hope to someday make a living at it or have their work recognized in a way that's pleasing to them.  But until then, you expect to fail at this level, economically.  Most of us expect to put out a book that's going to succeed in opening doors and turning heads and even if it seems to do well to everyone, in most cases, it's still failing economically."

"More than any other industry, in comics, good product doesn't exactly mean success," Patrick continued.  "The gap is just farther in comics because 90% of the people here seem to be left over from the '80s when superhero comics peaked.  It's so fucking bad if you're not at Marvel or DC or one of a few books at some other publishers, that we're fucking waiting for another industry, the movie industry, to float us." And while Patrick recognizes that the success of comic book movies in Hollywood could lead to a boon for the comics industry, he cautions that creators should still make comics for comics' sake. "Otherwise, when the movie people go away, and most of them will at some point, there's not much fucking left outside of superheroes again. Anything that doesn't make comics better comics is not inspiring people to read them for the rest of their lives."

Patrick pointed to the collapse of the comics industry in the '90s, and cautioned that when the movie deals dry up, comics could be bound for another depression. On the other hand, Patrick suggests that because comics is such a relatively small industry, a depression wouldn't be that bad. After the comics market crashed, "People who loved comics made comics again because there was no money and you had to love comics to make them.  You expected nothing, so that weeded out everything else.  And hopefully, we'll see those fans sticking around.  But the problem is that 90% of books outside the Big Two are nothing more than movie pitches. And then you have all the movie and TV people coming in saying 'I want to make comics,' but they're not making good comics because they don't know how.  So that's the product.

"Of course, on the other hand, all of this means, since there's no demand in comics and not much money even for people who are good. Making comics is cheap. You can make a comic for a fraction of the cost that you can make a movie, and make just as good of an experience.  You can do it yourself.  And maybe it won't sell shit but you can still make the next American masterpiece.  And you can make something that will live forever and may be appreciated 100 years from now.  That's what's great about novels, and that's what's great about comics right now.  It should be expensive to make them, but it's relatively not because of the state of the industry.

"And you know, I don't want anyone thinking I have animosity toward the Big Two. They have that percentage of the market because they earned it in the '80s.  Those are the fond memories people have.  And hopefully other companies will earn it or continue to earn it down the road.  Who knows, if 'Seduction of the Innocent' [a 1950s book claiming comics were a cause of juvenile dilenquency] hadn't happened, maybe we'd have seen the '50s inspire a larger share of horror comics now.

"Dillinger's success in all of that is because it's a good book. If you make a good book, some level of success should be found.  Even if it's an adjusted one."

Beranek agreed, stating that for Silent Devil, money is not the be all and end all. "Silent Devil is not competing against other companies for market share, we're out there fighting to tell great stories and in turn pick up readers along the way," the publisher said. "Whether they be high concept, comedy or slice of life, they have to be first and foremost amazing stories with appealing art. And not just art that looks good, it has to fit the story. Don't send me any cloned bullshit. I can smell blatant money making ventures a mile away. Shoot from the hip and speak from the heart. Always go balls forward and you'll have a shot here at Silent Devil."

"There were a lot of companies interested in us, but SD pulled the trigger," Patrick said of the publisher. "The long, hard road sometimes in making a good book is that you're trying to make the best book possible with the resources you have, like an indie film.  Luckily, it goes back to what I said about being able to make a great product in comics with next to nothing. SD has just been great with the creator-owned rights, and that's why it ended up there."

When "Death Comes to Dillinger" was still just a pitch at a major company, Patrick had no creative team to speak of. But when that company pulled out, Patrick forged ahead and put his own team together. "I got lucky when I found Jay Brindley (AKA se7enhedd), because I knew he was perfect for 'Dillinger,'" Patrick said. "Finding a colorist was the hardest thing, and then JM sent me samples after I had just seen samples that weren't right, and I knew he was the only one that could do it for the resources I had.  He was just coming out of video games and was awesome, but nobody knew it yet."

Patrick was fortunate enough to get the same team back together for the sequel. "I'm not sure I would have done it without them," the writer admitted. "My collaboration with se7enhedd and JM is wonderful.  Anyone that puts up with me is wonderful. I definitely like working with both of them, and they seem to like to work with me."

As far as Patrick is concerned, the prospect of working on the second book in a franchise is scarier than rolling out something new. "I'm terrified people who loved the first book are going to hate this one," Patrick said.  "I just feel all this pressure and like I'm going to disappoint people who loved the first one and I feel so obligated to them.  But in the end I have to tell it to the best of my capabilities and hope people enjoy it. I'm very proud of the book as a whole."

"Death And The Man Who Would Not Die" isn't the only project on James Patrick's horizon. The writer is also working on "Planet of the Dinosaurs," which juxtaposes "the politics of the '50s with iconic 1950s pulp and science fiction," and a project called "TV Dinner Assassins."

Look for the first installment of the four-issue "Death And The Man Who Would Not Die" to hit stands this May from Silent Devil.

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