ECCC: Marz & Sellner Saddle Up with "Deadlands"

It's time to brush off that duster and clean those six guns -- this June, a new western comic will be moseying your way based on the world of "Deadlands," a roleplaying game that mixes the elements of the traditional western with horror, fantasy and steampunk. With such a robust world, "Deadlands" makes the perfect setting for a series of comics which is what the combined forces of Visionary Comics, Pinnacle Entertainment and Image Comics thought when planning out a series of monthly one-shots set to come out between June and September. Creators like Ron Marz, Bart Sears, Steve Niles, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and more have all signed up to take turns telling cowboy tales, whether in each installment's 20 page main story or the 5 page back-up tale.

CBR News spoke with Marz, who fills the roles of both writer and editor on this project, and Visionary's Creative Director Chuck Sellner to get the dirt on the creative teams, Marz's story in particular and exactly how much you'll need to know about the game going into the first issue of "Deadlands."

CBR News: How would you explain "Deadlands" to comic fans who might not be familiar with the roleplaying game?

Ron Marz: I don't think there's a need to explain it to comics fans who haven't played the game. Everything they're going to need to know is going to be in the books. That was one of my goals in getting involved, making sure that these were accessible as comic stories, that you didn't need to bring any knowledge with you to the table. To be perfectly honest, I've never played "Deadlands" and will probably never play "Deadlands." I'm not that much of a gamer, period. So, I felt like my job here was to make sure these were completely accessible to everybody, to comic fans, to "Deadlands" fans and fans of the western genre, period. It's a bit of an alternate history western with the supernatural involved. You don't need a handbook and you won't have to go to Wikipedia to know what's going on.

Chuck Sellner: It's definitely western, it's horror, there's some steampunk mixed in. Ron hit it right on the nail; we're introducing the world to everybody.

Last year saw the digital release of a previous "Deadlands" one-shot. What was it about this license that convinced you it was worth pursuing now and would make for a compelling series of comics?

Sellner: Actually, the one shot came out in print several years ago and was digitally put out last year. 

As for why? The time seemed right. When the opportunity came up and we were offered a shot at the license we at Visionary took a look at the current market. [David Gallaher and Steve Ellis'] "High Moon" had won a Harvey, "Jonah Hex" was one of the best titles every month from DC, "Desperados" by Marriotte was collected by IDW...

The one-shot in print several years ago did well, and we figured the people who were making the Weird West more popular then ever matched with the game that embodied the genre was a no-brainer. Based on the response so far? I'd say we were right.  

Ron, was it the mix of genres that drew you to the project?

Marz: Yeah, it actually was. I've been wanting to work on something with a western flavor for years, but obviously, doing mainstream comics, there's not that much of an opportunity. Jimmy [Palmiotti] and Justin [Gray] have that wrapped up all by themselves [with "Jonah Hex"]. Your chances of doing western comics in the mainstream are pretty slim unless you want to make somebody gay. That was definitely part of the lure to me, to work on some stuff that's guys in dusters shooting each other.

What can you tell us about your one-shot, specifically?

Marz: It's really good. [Laughs] My story specifically is really just the one I wanted to write. It's about a gunslinger who comes into a town, and the town isn't quite what it appears to be. Without giving too much away, I really wanted to do the gunslinger archetype, the Eastwood/Sergio Leone character. That's what Bart Sears and I are doing. It seems like all the other teams, without any prompting, ended up going in different directions with the characters they're working on. It just happened to be that we all covered the necessary bases organically. It wasn't like we were hard pressed and had to say, "You have to tell this kind of story." Everybody got to do pretty much what they wanted and it all dovetailed so that we've got a pretty good mix of character types and story types.

Were you in regular contact with the other writers in regards to plots, or did it just happen to work out that there was no overlap.

Marz: There's interaction in as much as I'm supposed to be editing this stuff and I went about finding the teams. We all kind of kicked around stuff, but one of the real beauties of it is, if you hire the right people and let them do their jobs, everything kind of works out the way it's supposed to most of the time. You might have read that in my CBR column recently. To be perfectly honest, we kind of kicked around with who wants to do what, but there wasn't a lot of comparing notes in terms of, "You cover this aspect and I'll cover this aspect." It really kind of shook out that everybody wanted to do something a little different, everybody got to do basically their first choice in terms of character choice. I think the four one-shots give a pretty broad view of what the "Deadlands" game is like without us having handed out marching orders to that effect.

What does Bart Sears bring to your story, in your opinion?

Marz: Violence. Bart is a great action artist. I think that's what everybody associates his stuff with: people with muscles doing things to each other -- in a violent manner, not the other way. When I talked to Bart about doing this job, he was absolutely like, "Let's do a gunslinger thing where we don't see his eyes for most of the issue." He's got an ankle-length duster on most of the time. We really want to play into those conventions of the genre and then try to turn them on their head a little bit with the horror elements. One of the aspects of the character we're doing is that he doesn't talk, because that's easier to write. [Laughs] He doesn't talk, but he does have a way to communicate that I won't give away, that we'll actually see in the story. That whole thing came out of conversation with Bart and knowing Bart is a really good storyteller and knowing he's really good at conveying some stuff without words. I knew I could write this kind of character without words if Bart was going to draw it. Any writer with half a brain plays to his or her artist's strengths. Essentially what our story is about is letting Bart loose and letting him do the things he's really good at.

Can you talk about the horror aspects of the story, or would that be giving too much away?

Marz: Like I said, the town isn't what it appears to be, so you can draw your own conclusions from that. The desire was for Bart and me do a western, but also to include those horror and steampunk elements that are part and parcel of the game, giving all four of these issues a personality of their own.

Speaking of the other books, what are the creative line-ups for the rest of the one-shots?

Sellner: The first book we'll be releasing is David Gallaher and Steve Ellis [in June] with Steve doing the full art. Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Lee Moder are on the second book [out in July], Ron and Bart are number three [in August] and then the final one-shot will be Steve Niles and Francesco Francavilla [in September].

Will this lead into an ongoing or a series of minis?

Sellner: We definitely want to do more "Deadland" stuff, so we want to see if the guys on these have a good time. If the books go well, we'd be more than happy to have them come back and do follow-up miniseries' based on the stories. We're hoping that the back-up feature can warrant enough interest that we can spin that off as well. Hopefully in the second year we can expand and do maybe three miniseries'.

What can you share with us about the back-up feature?

Sellner: That is one Ron has actually let me write and is being drawn by an artist by the name of Oscar Capristo. We're kind of keeping a tight lid beyond that, because the first story is kind of a surprise reveal of who our hero is.

Marz: Chuck showed me [Oscar's] stuff, and he's terrific. He's kind of cut out of the Eduardo Risso mold, if I had to compare him with somebody. This back-up feature that will run in all four books is kind of a bonus to reward somebody who picks up all of the one-shots. The back-up story is actually a continuing story with five pages every issue, so if somebody is picking up all four of the one-shots, they're going to get a complete story in addition to the main features.

What else do you want readers to know about the "Deadworlds" project?

Sellner: One of the things I've been hearing, like with Ron and Bart, is that the guys who are doing the books are having fun. David Gallaher just told me he and Steve have been working hard on theirs and he says it's something they've never done before. That's good to see. I think it's going to be great work from these teams.

Marz: I think there's something to be said for giving pros a chance to do something they maybe haven't done before in quite this way and letting them loose to tell their story. Obviously, Jimmy and Justin do "Jonah Hex" every month ,which I think is one of the top five monthly books. I think they do a hell of a job telling single issue stories with a beginning, middle and end every month. So if there was anyone we wanted to get to pitch in on this, those were the obvious names. The rest of the creative teams have worked together before, they all know each other, they all have a similar taste in what they do. Jimmy and Justin and Lee worked on "Painkiller Jane" together, Bart and I have worked on a bunch of stuff together before, Steve Niles and Francesco Francavilla worked on some of the Frazetta stuff together, so all the teams are already familiar with each other. I think that helps because everybody knows everybody else's strengths and weaknesses and I think you get the best work out of people who have that rhythm together. Mike Atiyeh is the colorist on Lee's issue and Bart's issue. He's colored over both of those guys, so there's a familiarity, which is one of the reasons I reached out and got these teams. They know what they're doing, they've worked together before and so far, it's panned out.

Sellner: We should mention Troy, too. He's been doing the lettering on the front features.

Marz: Troy Petrie, Top Cow's in-house letterer, is lettering the lead features. So again, everybody's familiar with each other, everybody's really good at what they do. That's why I went out and got them to participate. Image seemed like the proper home for this because we're pretty much handling everything ourselves and then Image publishes it.

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