LA LA LA: Marc Bryant talks 'Shangri-La'

[Shangri-La]What do you get when you mix some rock n roll, social commentary, murder, mayhem and Image Comics?

According to Gail Simone ("Birds of Prey"), Ed Brubaker ("Sleeper") and Brian Vaughan ("Y- The Last Man"), you've got one of the best original graphic novels (OGN) to be released in 2004. CBR News spoke with "Shangri-La" writer Marc Bryant and found out a little more about the story.

"The solicitation copy says it pretty well I think," says Bryant. "When a burned out assassin backs out of a hit on a has been rock star, the two are set on a wild chase across America, forced to do their best not to kill each other before they can turn the tables on the record label that wants them dead.

"The rock star, Correy Stinson, and the assassin Jetta Helm are the main players in the book. Stinson is inspired by the talented rock stars that seemed to start taking themselves more seriously than their music. In my eyes, it's a pretty long list. Still, he's a good guy deep down, as we'll learn along with Jetta as the story cranks up. As for Jetta herself-I needed a foil for Stinson and that was the inspiration to her. She grew into something much more than that as the story came together, but she started out as the opposite of him in most ways."

In the aforementioned press release, it's mentioned that Bryant is somewhat jaded about rock and that, shock of shocks, he doesn't consider Nickelback or Good Charlotte to be the saviors of modern rock music. "I say jaded, because I really hope I'm not just getting old. I think there is tons of great new music being made, but for every Kings of Leon there seems to be a dozen boy bands, generic rap/metal acts etc. If that's your thing, that's your thing. Who am I to judge what's 'good' and what isn't? I think I get just jaded about the state of entertainment in general. It's always been fucked, but the older I get, the easier it seems to be to look at the Wizard back there behind the curtain. See, I made an Oz reference. What the hell do I know?"

With strong feelings on an issue, it can be difficult to translate them into a viable story because there's the risk of appearing to be using the story as a platform, instead of there being an underlying message in the story and so Bryant took a mature approach: don't gripe, just share the love. "I wanted to do a story about rock and roll that showed how much I love it, without looking like a 'wanna be' (which I am). I set out to write a story that I would want to read, and whether or not it turned out preachy I guess will vary from reader to reader. Kind of a dice roll in that department, and if worried about that I'd second guess myself into never getting past 'Once upon a time…'"

Bryant's taken care to include a myriad of elements from rock to assassination, which makes some wonder: is this an action story or a character-centric story? "Again, I try not to set out to write a certain kind of story. I just go for what I'd want to read, and make an effort not to talk down to the audience. I love three-dimensional characters, and I love an over the top action story. I hope that's what I ended up with."

Like many of the OGNs that are appearing in the comic market, "Shangri-La" is creator owned and that means there's a number of places Bryant could have shopped this project- DC's Vertigo imprint, Oni Press or other smaller publishers, but he decided on Image and he has a good reason for that. "I shopped the book around, and quite a few people were interested, but it didn't fit into their publishing plans for one reason or another," he admits. "Image passed on it initially, I'm assuming because I didn't follow the pitching guidelines at the time. And well they should've. Once the whole book was in the can, I sent to Image again and after some discussion, they decided to go for it. I couldn't be happier with the way things turned out."

The artist on "Shangri-La" is Shepherd Hendrix. Think about that- Hendrix. Is there a bigger conspiracy going on here or is there a good reason why someone with the same last name as one of the most popular guitarists is illustrating this OGN? "I had worked with a couple other talented artists during the development stages of the book, but for they didn't work out, for various reasons. I was surfing around, looking for a collaborator, when I discovered Sharon Cho's Web site. At the time, she was acting as an artist's agent, and she had some of Shep's work posted. I contacted him and the Gods smiled on me from there."

But did the last name have any impact? "The last name sure didn't hurt, though I never brought it up," laughs Bryant. "Some of the samples of his work I saw were pages from 'DC's Big Book of the Seventies,' where he'd drawn some rock themed stories. Originally, I was looking for a much more cartoony thing for 'SL,' and Shep's stuff lent itself to that tone very well. But, once I saw his more…straightforward style, and how he could pack a panel with detail without sacrificing anything in the way of energy I begged him to go with that approach."

And while "Shep" may be new to many comics fans, Bryant reveals that his co-conspirator is quite accomplished in a variety of mediums. "Shep likes to do his own thing, and he does it well. He works in video game design, commercial art all kinds of gigs. With his chops, I think he can do just about whatever he wants, in any field of illustration.

"Shep really puts his heart into every brush stroke and he's a perfectionist. He doesn't let anything pass that's not up to his very exacting standards. Like I said above-he really breathes a lot of life into his pages, without slacking on fine details."

The topic of decompression- less panels, potentially more character insight than action- has been a hot topic among many comic fans for a while and though $7.95 for a 72 page story isn't a lot of money, many look at longer comics and wonder if creators are really taking advantage of the space, or just "padding" the tales. "'Decompression' really works well for many types of stories, but with 'Shangri-La,' fast paced as it is, I was trying to pack as much story as I could into each panel. I had a pretty big story, but not a lot of room to play with-for many reasons."

Before anyone gets the wrong impression, Bryant really does like some new bands and is a fan of rock- just not everything associated with it. "I like a little bit of everything, and not a whole lot of anything in particular. I tend to buy a cd and either give it a couple listens, or play it just until I start getting sick of it. The albums I've really dug so far this year are the Kings of Leon-Youth and Young Manhood, The Twilight Singers-Blackberry Belle, the new Coldplay, The White Stripes - Elephant, and the new Nappy Roots."

It's not so common that a comic be so heavily lauded by pros before it hits the stands, but as mentioned before, Bryant's drowning in praise and he couldn't be happier. "It feels great. People like Brian Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, Gail Simone-people whose work I love really seem to dig what I'm doing. It doesn't get much cooler than that-as far as storytelling goes. I try my best not to worry about [expectations based on those comments]. Sure I hope the book sells-who wouldn't? I hope everyone who gets a copy loves it and reads it over and over for many years to come-but that's out of my hands at this point. I wrote a story I wanted to read, the rest is out of my control."

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