It was while listening to country supergroup the Highwaymen that writer Shannon Eric Denton first conceived of the supernatural Western that's come to be called "Graveslinger." Denton is penning the four-issue Shadowline/Image Comics miniseries with Weird West veteran Jeff Mariotte, with John Cboins on artwork. CBR News sat down with Denton and Mariotte to talk about their story of the undead in the Old West.
"'Graveslinger' begins in Gila Flats, Arizona Territory, 1873 as undertaker Frank Timmons accidentally unleashes 117 executed killers from their graves at Arizona Territory's Gila Flats Prison," Shannon Eric Denton told CBR News. "When those undead killers go on a murder spree that claims the life of his beloved-- and a sinister, mystical being enlists him to reclaim the killers' souls-- Frank knows he's in for an adventure he might not survive."
Timmons, Mariotte says, "is kind of jaded, kind of a klepto, and also, oddly, deeply in love with a woman in the town of Gila Flats. He works as the undertaker at the Territorial Prison there, and it's at the prison that his thieving ways get him (and everybody else in Arizona Territory) into a lot of trouble. He and his mule Lucifer are the main recurring characters-- everybody else will be people he'll meet for one story arc or another, as he's on the hunt. And of course there are the 117 undead killers, who are fully developed characters in their own right, and you'll see them depicted in the back of each issue even if they don't appear in that issue."
Denton says Timmons is far from your typical protagonist. "He's an ornery cuss who is prone to whisky, being a little past his prime, and is a bit of a kleptomaniac… but only from the dead, mind you," Denton said. "The rest of the cast consist of the ranchers and such Frank meets along his way in tracking down the undead escapees from the Gila Flats Territorial Prison."
Denton had long been a fan of Jeff Mariotte's "Desperadoes" when he met the writer at a convention a few years back. "Jeff and I had been trying to find another project to collaborate on and I called him up right away to say I think I'd found it."
"We've known each other for a while, get along well, and we both love Westerns-- movies, comics, etc.," Mariotte said of his partner in crime. "We also both wear cowboy hats in our daily lives, which makes us fairly unique among today's comic creators. With 'Graveslinger,' the concept was immediately engaging-- the kind of thing you can sum up in a sentence, and get behind. The basic concept was Shannon's, and we refined it through e-mails and those kinds of phone calls that start off talking about the book but then delve into Clint Eastwood and John Wayne and Robert Duvall, monsoon rains and vintage cowboy shirts. I'm sure everybody has those."
Mariotte characterized "Graveslinger" as "a little bit more over the top" than his work on "Desperadoes." "There are 117 dead killers, after all, so maybe it's way over the top," the writer remarked. "'Desperadoes' isn't as high-concept, and each miniseries involves a different sort of supernatural threat. In 'Graveslinger' the basics of Frank's mission won't change with series to series-- he's trying to re-kill the undead executed murderers-- but the circumstances in which he finds himself will. There's more black humor in 'Graveslinger,' too."
Denton said his collaboration with Mariotte has been like drinking good whisky. "We pull no punches but we have a helluva good time," Denton laughed.
Mariotte expanded on the metaphor: "Goes down smooth, burns when it hits bottom. Seriously, it's been remarkably conflict-free. We both kind of hung our egos on the hat rack and decided to put out a book we'd want to read if anyone else had written it."
Denton had nothing but praise for Shadowline's Jim Valentino and Kris Simon. "Working with Kris and Jim have been very rewarding," Denton said. "Kris keeps all of us on track. With all of us balancing day jobs and other projects that's been a crucial part of this book."
Denton and artist John Cboins go way back, and the writer has long been a fan of Cboins' work. "[Cboins] illustrated an upcoming Alan Grant 'Actionopolis' novel for us so wrangling him for 'Graveslinger' was easy," Denton said. "I knew he also loved Westerns and since he lives in Texas it would have been against the law for him to turn this down."
Mariotte's interaction with Cboins has been minimal, but he's is more than pleased with the fruits of the artist's labor. "For my part, it's just a delight to see the pages show up and look so great," Mariotte said. "On the rare occasions I've asked for changes, he's been gracious. And fast. Gotta love that."
In the coming year, Mariotte, who's also a prolific novelist, is slated to write a Spider-Man novel, the third "30 Days of Night" novel with Steve Niles, and his own original horror novel called "River Runs Red." "In comics, I have a couple of original graphic novels coming out next year from Atomic Pop Art, high-concept horror books, but it might be a little early to reveal much about them yet," Mariotte said, adding that maintaining the Flying M Ranch he calls his home is no easy task either.
Denton is keeping busy, too, serving as a writer/producer on the "World of Quest" animated series and listed a number of upcoming comic projects: "'Zapt!' Volume Three from Tokyopop; 'The Revenant' and 'Gutwrencher,' also from Shadowline/Image Comics' the release of the 'Common Foe' TPB (Desperado, aug073545, ISBN: 978-0-9795939-6-3); the 'Grunts' TPB (Arcana); and we're getting ready for the next wave of 'Actionopolis' books from Komikwerks as well as updating the Komikwerks site."
Additionally, the comic "10" that Denton co-created with Keith Giffen is being adapted for the big screen with Ice Cube attached to produce.
"Graveslinger" is currently in Diamond (order number aug071984), and look for more info at www.graveslinger.com. The first issue hits stands this October, and even though "Graveslinger" is only a four-issue miniseries, with 117 souls for Timmons to collect, there are enough stories to keep the creative team busy for a long time.
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