EXCLUSIVE: "Arrow" EP Marc Guggenheim Tracks LA Crime in Oni's "Stringers"

With so much free time on his hands, what with that incredibly easy gig executive producing a little show called "Arrow" and its hotly anticipated new DC heroes spinoff CW series, why wouldn't Marc Guggenheim kick off a new comic book built around an original concept right about now?

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"Stringers," scheduled to debut on Aug. 5, is the latest work from Guggenheim and his frequent collaborator Justin Greenwood ("Resurrection"), reuniting them once again at Oni Press. As Guggenheim explains to CBR in an exclusive first interview, the story follows a freelance video crew trolling through the Los Angeles night looking for street crimes, car crashes and other "if it bleeds, it leads"-style footage to sell to the local TV news stations. But when they capture a murder on video, they draw the interest of forces others than their usual clientele: the police, FBI and worse, as Guggenheim explains.

CBR News: This project has been gestating for a while -- long before the film "Nightcrawler," which is set in a similar world, came about.

Marc Guggenheim: Yes! Thank you for noticing! Can you repeat that, 'cause I think it's important.

Of course! This project has been gestating for a while -- long before "Nightcrawler," which is set in a similar world, came about.

Thank you.

Tell me about the earliest origins of the project, that thing that made the light bulb above your head turn on and your research into the world of freelance news video reporters.

I'll tell you: Several -- several -- years ago, I was listening to NPR and they did a story on video news stringers. I live in Los Angeles, and there are lots of car chases and fires and accidents and whatnot. This piece was about the freelancers who drive around with a police band radio in their cars, tracking down this footage to sell to local news stations. Basically, these guys are video paparazzi who go after news stories rather than celebrities.

I thought that was immensely fascinating and I ordered up the transcript of the story, which I found out was titled "Video Nightcrawlers." In fact, my original title was "Nightcrawlers." However, I thought that wouldn't fly as a title because of, y'know, Nightcrawler of the X-Men. So I preemptively changed it to "Stringers." Who knew, right?

How easily did this concept and the story you're telling come together for you?

Good question. I would say easy-ish. It's strange -- for me, at least -- to back into a story from a general world. I knew I was fascinated by the world these guys lived in, but I didn't have a story at first. Around the same time, I was interested in doing a movie like, say, "Collateral," one where Los Angeles is a character and the entire drama takes place in one very long night.

So now I had a world and a framework, but I still needed a story. Then I hit upon the idea of my characters -- Nick and Paul -- catching something on video that they shouldn't have. It felt right that their job -- catching things on video -- should kick off the drama. And then I got the notion that maybe they didn't know what it was they'd filmed, and I was off to the races...

Tell me a little bit about your lead characters.

Nick and Paul are partners and best friends. Paul is married and aspires to be a "legitimate" journalist. Whereas Nick is reckless and wild and, well, maybe a little bit crazy. These guys are like the "Odd Couple" of the freelance video journalism world. Their dynamic and fun banter is at the heart of the story.

How important is Los Angeles as the backdrop for your story?

It's very important. I really wanted L.A. to be a character in the story, not just a backdrop. Part of this stems from the demands of the story we're telling, but it also really depends on our artist, Justin Greenwood, to sell it. The script contained so much reference, it was easier for me to separate it all out as a separate file to email Justin.

Why was now the right time to get "Stringers" out there?

Honestly, we found a way to make Justin's schedule work. This project was conceived with him in mind, for him, and I couldn't fathom doing it with anyone else. But there were other gigs that demanded his attention at Oni Press and Image. I credit James Lucas Jones coming up with a clever scheduling solution that enabled us to -- finally -- get this out into the world.

You've previously enjoyed successful collaborations with Justin. What were the specific strengths you knew he'd bring to telling this particular story, and how did he surprise you this time around? Did you get a sense Justin was challenging himself on "Stringers? "

Yeah, this script is like hazing for artists. It's completely insane, befitting the tone of the story. The first page contains a gajillion number of word balloons. Like a Bendis-esque number of word balloons. And then pages two and three make up an eleven-panel double-page spread. And that's just the first three pages. I wanted the tone of "Stringers" to match Justin's kinetic, almost out-of-control, artistic style. So much of the character of the book is because of his art.

The pages I've seen are filled with action. Give me a sense of the pace of the series as a whole -- is the entire story this action-packed? 

Mostly. There are most definitely quiet, character moments, but the pace of the entire thing is what I would describe as "breakneck." That's the speed at which these video stringers live, and I wanted the book to convey that. I wanted it to read fast.

The teaser for the series indicates that your characters run afoul of the police, the FBI "and worse." What can you say about the "and worse" at this point?

Let's just say that Los Angeles still has something of a, ahem, gang problem. Nick and Paul are gonna meet a few gentlemen.

At this stage of your career, working in various media, what do you specifically love about creating for the comic book form?

At this point, I would say the creative freedom. There's much less of a barrier of oversight between you and the audience, you and the execution of your vision. There's just you, the editor, and the artists (including the letterer and colorist). It's a more intimate creative experience. Plus, I've always loved comics. My whole life. So every time I write a comic book page, the ten-year-old me gets a thrill. And it's such an incredibly exciting time for comics. You have books like "Saga" and "Sex Criminals" that aren't just reinventing what kinds of stories can be told in comics, but the way those stories can be told.

With your position in Hollywood, have the meetings for the "Stringers" film or TV adaptation already been scheduled? Or is this something you're happy to keep in the comics?

I haven't even told my agents about it. I suppose maybe I should. It probably couldn't hurt. But I don't conceive of my comic book projects as a springboard for TV or film. I work in TV and film as well, and if I want to set up a TV show or pitch a movie, I do it. I don't need to do the runaround of producing a comic first.

That said, I think "Stringers" would make a very good movie, and perhaps a good TV show. Make me an offer. [Smiles]

"Stringers," written by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Justin Greenwood and colored by Ryan Hill, is set to debut from Oni Press on Aug. 5.

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