Not only is “The Private Eye” different than many of his previous award-winning and nominated titles because it’s self-published digitally complete with a pay what you want business model, but his artistic collaborator isn’t a Canadian — it’s Spanish artist Marcos Martin.
During his Eisner and Hugo award-winning career, Vaughan has frequently collaborated with Canadian artists on hit series like “Saga” (Fiona Staples), “Y: The Last Man” (Pia Guerra) and “Runaways” (Adrian Alphona), as well as the original graphic novel “Pride of Baghdad” (Niko Henrichon).
With his latest project from Image Comics featuring the United States invading Canada over a yet-to-be-revealed “inciting incident,” Vaughan has once again tapped into the proverbial maple tree as his co-creator on “We Stand On Guard ” is acclaimed Canadian comic book illustrator and Hollywood storyboard artist Steve Skroce.
Skroce provided art for “Cable,” “X-Man,” “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Gambit” for Marvel and “Youngblood” for Image in the 1990s before transitioning heavily into developing storyboards, primarily for the Wachowskis on blockbuster movies like “The Matrix,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” “The Matrix Revolutions,” “I, Robot,” “V for Vendetta,” “Speed Racer,” “Ninja Assassin,” “Cloud Atlas” and “Jupiter Ascending.”
CBR News connected with Vaughan and Skroce to discuss their upcoming six-issue miniseries, which is scheduled to launch on Canada Day (July 1), and the co-creators discussed their War of 1812 Redux and shared preview pages that will further fuel the industry’s hunger for “We Stand on Guard.”
CBR News: Before we start, congratulations to you, Brian, on your recent Eisner nominations.
Brian K. Vaughan: Thank you! It’s always an honor to ride Fiona’s coattails to some nominations for “Saga,” but I’m particularly happy for Marcos Martin that “The Private Eye” got three nominations, as our weird pay-what-you-want site PanelSyndicate.com was entirely his creation and labor of love. If readers haven’t yet checked out our sci-fi mystery about a future when everyone will have a secret identity, all 10 issues are available right now for whatever price you think is fair, including nothing.
Sorry to plug one book immediately before shilling another!
[Laughs] No worries. Steve, you’re Canadian so this makes sense for you to illustrate a comic book series about a rag-tag team of Canucks protecting our home and native land from the Yankees — but Brian, what are you doing driving Americans over our border?
Vaughan: Well, for much of my life, the United States has been involved in invasions or occupations or wars waged primarily by unmanned vehicles, but I’m an ugly American who knows very little about most of the faraway lands where those events have taken place, so I thought it might be illuminating to move that kind of conflict to a country much closer to mine, both geographically and culturally.
Plus, I just love Canada. Most of my closest collaborators have been Canadian, including artist Fiona Staples on “Saga,” Pia Guerra on “Y: The Last Man,” and Adrian Alphona on “Runaways,” just to name a few. I like to think that something cool often happens when creators from our two countries get together, so I figured something equally interesting might happen if I forced our friendly nations into bloody conflict.
Is United States versus Canada really a fair fight?
Vaughan: Not at all! The Canadians are definitely outgunned in this story of combat with a much larger military power that now controls giant effing robots. But history suggests that asymmetrical wars are not always short ones…â€¨
True enough. Realizing full-well that this series will be widely read north and south of the border, are you expecting different reactions based on whether or not you have multi-colored currency?
Vaughan: I’m expecting Steve to be awarded the Order of Canada and for me to be deported.
Skroce: The Order of Canada would be hugely gratifying but it’s an honor just to be nominated. [Laughs]
And just because it’s America invading Canada, is United States necessarily the bad guys?
No, seriously, the U.S.A. is the antagonist of this story, but Steve and I never wanted to portray them as two-dimensional, mustache-twirling villains.
The six-issue miniseries is set nearly 100 years from now in 2112. What are the Americans after? Has to be our oil or our water, right?
The Canadians definitely believe that we’re after their water, particularly because our futuristic United States is suffering from a severe drought and your country is essentially the Saudi Arabia of H20, but we’ll also see an inciting incident in our first issue that leads most Americans to believe that this is very much a self-defensive war of necessity.
Skroce: And while oil and water are important resources, please don’t overlook our maple syrup reserves, too. [Laughs]
I grew up in Tecumseh, Ontario — a town named for the Shawnee leader that played a major player in the War of 1812. Does the history (and results) of the War of 1812 play into this series? And what about the First Nations of Canada and the United States in general?
Vaughan: Yes to both of those questions, though I’ll say that you certainly don’t have to know anything about Canadian history to enjoy the hell out of our adventure.â€¨
What’s life like in Canada and the United States in 2112? Were we getting along prior to this conflict?
Vaughan: We remained very close allies, but friendship is a tenuous thing, especially when it comes to nations.
From the pages that I have seen and what I have read about “We Stand on Guard,” there are some awesomely incredible robotic animals roaming the countryside. Whose side are they on?
Vaughan: Unfortunately for our brave Canadian freedom fighters, those giant robots were all built in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Steve, can you talk about the design of the robots? I’m not sure where you are from in Canada, but were you able to go out and see some moose and caribou for inspiration? That said, I guess there are robot gorillas too, so there isn’t too many of those roaming the Rocky Mountains.
Skroce: We wanted to conjoin the fun of popcorn movie robots to a more grounded sci-fi war story that’s bloody and has real stakes. This America has been bred on decades of Hollywood films and those influences are visible in their war machines but we’re interested in making the world recognizable and plausible in many ways, as well. Moose and caribou do inspire me but in a general kind of way.
What can you tell us about your lead, Amber? She’s from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, which holds a special place in your heart, right Brian?
Vaughan: Yeah, my wife is very proud to have been born in Ottawa, though she actually became an American citizen several years ago. When she did, she literally had to vow to take up arms against her birthplace if her new homeland ever demanded it. We always joked about what hilariously unlikely scenarios would have to arise for our countries to ever go into battle against each other, but then I started researching something called War Plan Red, and it turns out that the United States has been seriously considering just such a possibility for a very long time.
Anyway, Amber is a resourceful young woman who was just a little girl when the invasion happened, and I like to think she makes for a pretty relatable audience surrogate, regardless of where you were born.
And what about ‘The Two-Four’? Love the reference to the size of a Canadian case of beer, but what can you share about the Wolverines of “We Stand on Guard?”
Vaughan: You know, I love “Red Dawn,” but the only character I related to when I first saw that movie back in the ’80s was the poor sap in the classroom who gets wasted the second parachutes start landing outside his school. When I saw that dumb dead kid hanging out the window, all I could think was, “Yep, that’ll be me.”
So for this project, I personally took more inspiration from movies like “Das Boot” and a scarily relevant old film called “The Battle of Algiers,” both of which challenged me to try to understand and even sympathize with ‘the enemy.’ Hopefully, the crew of the diverse Two-Four will reflect that.
Steve, you’ve worked on major motion pictures like the “Matrix” trilogy, “Speed Racer” and “Jupiter Ascending.” What inspiration did those sci-fi epics and other blockbusters like “Transformers” and “Pacific Rim” have on the building of this world?
Skroce: Working on big budget movies encourages you to think big in terms of action and scale and I hope I’m bringing some of that to the page but the great thing about comics is that you don’t have to deal with visual effects budgets or actors’ schedules.
One of the things that I’m enjoying most about drawing comics again is the sky’s the limit approach you can take with the drawing. You can do it the way you see it on the first pass.
“We Stand on Guard” is solicited as a six-issue limited series. If this series proves popular, and there is no reason why it wouldn’t, is it a series that could expand to more stories?
Vaughan: Steve and I are already talking about what we’re going to work on after these six issues, but I don’t want to spoil the end of our story, so I won’t yet say if it will be a continuation of the Two-Four’s campaign or something else altogether. I will say that whatever we do next is pretty much guaranteed to be through Image, which continues to be the best publisher I’ve ever worked with. I’m so grateful for how supportive they are of strange new ideas like this one, so I hope readers on both sides of our border and beyond enjoy it, too.
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