What is it exactly about pirates that we find so fascinating? Whether it be the real life adventures of pirates on the high seas, the doomed pirate sea port of Port Royal or the more fictional stories like last year's feature "Pirates of the Carribbean" or the short-lived "El Cazador" comic, audiences have historically been attracted to those swashbuckling adventures.
Next March Rick Remender and Kieron Dwyer will be spending some time on the open seas, infusing it with a bit of classic horror and a lot of twists you won't see coming in the new Image Comics series "Sea of Red."
The series is co-created by Remender & Dwyer. Remender and Dwyer worked on the story together while Remender wrote the script and Dwyer provided breakdowns. The duo are joined by artist Salgood Sam who'll tackle the finishes and color washes for the series. Package all that up with covers by Dwyer and Sam colored by Tony Moore and you've got a pirate-themed book with silver-screen style that's unlike those that have come before. CBR News sat down with Remender and Dwyer for an exclusive chat and first look at "Sea of Red."
"Here's the skinny. The back-story takes place in the year 1533, when a ship is sunk under mysterious circumstances deep in the night," Remender told CBR News on Friday. "Marco Esperanza, a twenty-three year old seaman and the sole survivor of the vessel, is left adrift with only a plank of wood to keep him afloat. His prayers are seemingly answered when he is brought aboard a strange ship, but Marco is quickly horrified when he learns he is on the dreaded pirate ship, The Black Galleon. Marco discovers there is more to these evil men than mere piracy; these men are damned, these men are vampires, and Marco is forced to join them.
"But wait, that's not all," added Dwyer. "The story is no mere pirate story, nor just another vampire tale. There's a modern twist to the whole thing, which will surprise many readers. In fact, we plan for there to be many twists and turns throughout the series. Our goal is to keep folks guessing, like a good Coen Brothers film. Just when you think you know where we're heading, we'll take a left turn and go somewhere else."
Both writers noted that the focus of the stories in the beginning is on Marco and that it's told from his point of view. Remender said, "We open our story in the present as a long undead Marco has spent the past 5 centuries clinging to (half-)life tied to the bow of a sunken vessel in the dark, briny, deep. Surviving on the cold, sour, blood of fish, Marco has waited for release and a chance for revenge that he has no guarantee of.
"So it's Marco who guides us through the back-story and it's his perception of events that we are dealing with," continued Dwyer. "Who he is and how he got to be in this situation is the meat of the first story. From there we'll be dealing with Marco in the present day and his hunt to find if the men who turned him into a vampire are still around, which they are."
"Without giving too much away, there are some modern day characters who are just as colorful as our pirates, and a few who are even more evil," added Dwyer. "In keeping with the surprise aspect of the story, we want people to question who they are rooting for, if in fact, they can root for anyone, since everybody thinks they're doing the right thing."
"Sea of Red" was born one summer day in 2003 when Remender & Dwyer were taking in a lunch. They got to talking about working on a new project together and thus "Sea of Red" was born.
"My recent success with the 'Doll and Creature' graphic novel had me thinking on new horror ideas that would be worthy of our time," said Remender. "I think KD had also been working on 'Remains' for a little while at that point so his head was also in the horror genre. We both wanted to do something with horror and another genre, though what that other genre would be neither one of us knew. Kieron and Fraction had a hit in 'Last of the Independents' and he really wanted to stick with something that had some grit and tooth. I agreed. We shortly discussed a horror/crime book. Somehow we got onto EC and how great the pre-code line was when vampires and pirates came up. From there we spent the entire afternoon and night writing an outline for 'Sea of Red.'"
"I also threw together an image to try and sell the idea to a publisher, but Rick and I both got deep into other projects and paying the rent, you know, so the image was just sitting unused," added Dwyer. "I threw it up on my website as one example of my graphic illustration styles, and our manager came to us to say he'd already gotten some queries about the idea from the image alone. We sent our treatment to him and he has some very interested parties now, so far all we know, folks may see a 'Sea of Red' movie sometime soon."
With "Sea of Red" Remender & Dwyer have fused elements of pirate tales and horror stories with a classic tale of revenge. Remender said the pirate genre is nearly untapped in modern comics.
"I think a bit of the inspiration for me comes from the Pirate story in 'Watchmen,'" said Remender. "Alan Moore's revision of the 1950s as a time when pirate comics were all the rage seems like something that really could have been. The Pirate story in 'Watchmen' is equally as strong as the content of the main tale. There is something intriguing on a base level about what the human mind must come to terms with to spend your entire life at sea on a vessel dedicated to pillaging and murder. It taps the same vein as mob stories. People are fascinated by the amoral elements of human nature and pirates personify that."
"On the revenge angle, we want to address the amorphous nature of vengeance, and the slippery slope aspect of hatred," said Dwyer. "Anybody can feel wronged given any situation, even if they don't have all the facts or whatever. Therefore, anybody can seek revenge. It's like when someone does something to you as a kid and you hold onto the memory of it for years, and it grows and gets darker until it's something much worse than what actually happened. Then you meet the person who "wronged" you and they don't even have a recollection of the event. It meant nothing to them, but to you it's been the defining moment of your childhood or something. We're playing with some of those concepts here, too."
With horror's recent renaissance in comics and pirates fascinating millions of movie-goers world wide, you have to wonder if "Sea of Red" is simply a perfectly-timed project or one purposely looking to capitalize on renewed interest in both genres. Remender said it's just a happy coincidence, adding, "I think we've both shown with our bodies of creator owned work that we tend to do projects we like regardless of broad appeal."
"We just thought we had some cool stories to tell with these characters, and a nifty way to combine some fun genres," added Dwyer. "Personally, I was dreading 'Pirates of the Caribbean' because the whole 'let's make movies out of Disneyland rides to hype the theme parks' angle kind of made me sick. From a financial standpoint, I suppose it made sense, but it just seemed crass. There was no way in hell I would see 'Haunted Mansion,' but I have to say that 'Pirates' was a terrific popcorn movie. I saw it by myself one day, and I had a great time. I thought Depp was brilliant in it, and the swordfight in the blacksmith shop was one of the best-choreographed fight scenes I've ever seen that didn't involve Jackie Chan."
The long-term outlook for "Sea of Red" is bright. Currently, eight issues are plotted and Remender said there is a resolution, but not an ending. "We've got story ideas for 100 issues with these characters, the stuff writes itself," said Remender.
Remender and Dwyer have a long history of collaboration, but in the past when they've worked together it's often been Dwyer providing the pencils with Remender inking over Dwyer's work, as was the case with Marvel's "Avengers" title. As we noted above, that's not the case with "Sea of Red."
"For my part I'm happy to plot/script on this book," said Remender. "KD and Salgood are an amazing team and perfectly suited for this story. Plus I'm retarded busy - I'm currently penciling an unannounced mini series at Dark Horse as well as finishing up a four-issue run on 'The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' with inkers John Beatty and Mike Manley, writing 'Fear Agent' (with 'Sea of Red' cover colorist Tony Moore on art) and another unannounced book at Image, I've got a couple of projects in the docks at IDW, one with Kieron and one with Mr. Show's Brian Posehn and I'm storyboarding on a new (top secret!) video game for Electronic Arts. If I can make it to the San Diego show with my marriage intact I'll be jazzed."
"Anybody who has seen my work over the years could probably guess that I don't like to do any one thing for too long, and I like to switch up my art style to suit the project I'm working on," said Dwyer. "With several projects going at once, and having a new baby to take care of (6 months old!), I couldn't possibly draw every single thing I have on my plate, but generally I need to keep myself interested by doing several things at once, so this arrangement seemed to make a lot of sense. Salgood's stuff is terrific, and he puts a lot into every page, more than I could do right now. Doing the layouts lets me have a hand in the storytelling, which is something I really enjoy about comics. Co-plotting lets me have my say as to the direction of the book and the events. It's ideal for me in every way, and I think people will find it to be a seamless - and thoroughly satisfying - collaboration."
Remender and Dwyer share a studio in their hometown of San Francisco. Working in the same space together gives them the opportunity to plot out their stories while working on the various projects they have to tackle.
"Kieron's the only person I can ever see myself co-writing anything with, we think alike and compliment each others storytelling," said Remender. "It's also a nice change of pace from writing alone. On the other three books I'm writing now it's me locked in my studio fighting out the broad strokes alone. With a co-plotter finding interesting ways to deal with conflict and structure come quicker and with less pain.
"Rick and I spend way more time together than is healthy for two heterosexual men who are married to other people, but it does seem to yield some very funny, imaginative results," said Dwyer. "We share most of the same views on things and have a lot of laughs while we hash out ideas, whether for projects we're working on together or separate projects. It's good to have someone in your workspace who's entertaining and creative and funny, but for now I guess I'll have to settle for Rick. ;)"
If you were to take a look at the artwork on Salgood Sam's Web site, you'd find yourself convinced that Dwyer and Sam were born to work together at some point. Their art styles compliment each other in an almost eerie fashion. Sam first contacted Remender & Dwyer years ago when they were hard at work on the "Black Heart Billy" graphic novel.
"When we talked about the breakdown of duties on 'Sea of Red,' [Sam's] name was the first on the list for doing art," said Dwyer. "Lucky for us he was available and excited about the project. Within days of mentioning it to him, Salgood was already churning out beautifully rendered sketches of the characters (see images) and collecting all this great pirate reference, and Rick and I were very happy he was on board."
"Sea of Red" will be the second horror book to come from the mind of Rick Remender who said reaction to "Doll and Creature" helped inform his views on writing in the genre.
"I think the trick to horror is not to write it as horror alone," said Remender. "Gore for gores sake is some boring shit (and I'm not just talking about our former Vice Pres.). You need real story, real humanity, you need characters that people are invested in, it's like any other genre it's just a vehicle for story and if you don't have a message or voice you're going to sink. In 'Doll and Creature' I peppered a horror story with political and religious observations and that was what struck a chord with people who've read the book. With 'Sea of Red' we're going to focus on the theme that no one ever sees themselves as a villain. No one thinks they are the 'bad' guy and that their opposition is 'good,' though many of us manage to manipulate reality to suit that purpose. It's all perception and perspective, there are no truly good or evil people and it's childish and lazy to tell stories involving mustache-twirling villains with only nefarious motivations."
Dwyer's also spent some time in the horror playground as well, having recently teamed with writer Steve Niles on "Remains." Dwyer says working with Niles helped rekindle his interest in horror.
"As a teenager, I loved the slasher films of the 80's and I've always been a fan of timeless tales of terror, like 'Exorcist,' 'Omen,' 'Alien,' et al., so now all I can think of are horror ideas, it seems (curse you, Steve Niles!). Aside from 'Sea of Red,' Rick and I also have a project lined up at IDW that's a terrific psychological terror series. More on that later. I also hope that Steve and I will get another chance to work together too, maybe on a nice romantic comedy, or a Merchant-Ivory type story. ;)"
Look for "Sea of Red" in the Image section of the Diamond Previews catalog in January and on comic stands in March of 2005.