Learning The Hard Way: Christopher Long talks "Easy Way"

"This four-issue mini-series illustrates that there is nothing more pathetic than when drug addicts come up with a brilliant plan," says Christopher Long, describing his new four-issue series "Easy Way" with artist Andy Kuhn coming from IDW Publishing in April. As you might have guessed from Long's remarks, the pages of "Easy Way" will feature a story unlike most comics published today. Also unlike that of most recent comics is "Easy Way's" inspiration. CBR News sat down with Long to learn more about his first foray into comics publishing.

"'Easy Way' follows a motley crew of four men that steal a drug-sniffing dog and cruise storage units in San Diego, hoping to find one where drug traffickers have stashed their merchandise," Long told CBR News. "They find a unit that is loaded with bricks of cocaine and a chest that contains severed thumbs in various stages of decay.

"Duncan, the protagonist, is a man who finds himself once again back in rehab. His wife, Natalie, informs him that she and their daughter, Macy, are packing up and moving to Utah to live with her parents. She explains she can't afford to continue living in Orange County, California while Duncan struggles to get his life back in order. He frantically tries to figure out how to salvage his marriage and keep his wife and daughter in Southern California.

"That night, Raz, a slick con man and Duncan's roommate in rehab, pitches a plan…"

So Duncan and Raz have their plan in place and that catches the attention of the story's protagonist.

"Marcus, a bad mamma-jamma, recently released from prison, goes on a rampage as he whacks every two-bit thug, back alley hood, and bottom-feeding criminal in his effort to find the people responsible for boosting his drugs."

In issue two of the series things get stranger, but not just in the way you might expect. Long told us that IDW Publishing's own Editor-In-Chief Chris Ryall makes a cameo appearance in the book!

"Actually, it's more of a threat by Andy and me," said Long. "We told Chris, 'Hey, if we don't get free passes to the San Diego Comic-Con this summer, this is going to be you!' I'm afraid to say that Chris meets his demise in the comic. We're hoping to bully him into submitting to our demands."

Long said that "Easy Way" is best classified as noir fiction. "In literary and film noir, through the course of the story, the protagonist recognizes that the conflict confronting him/her can't be made right in a rational manner. There is no simple solution in noir. Deceit and betrayal are the stock-in-trade. The tone is dark, and the mood is dreary.

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"In 'Easy Way,' Duncan is a 'normal' guy that finds himself in over his head. He reacts rather than acts to the situations that confront him, and he doesn't know who to trust. Only when it comes to a point where all hope is lost does Duncan respond to violence with violence."

The story of "Easy Way" came to Long during a stint in drug rehab a couple of years ago. Long spoke about what he was going through at the time and how the story presented itself to the writer.

"I'm pretty forthcoming about my past transgressions," said Long. "If a drug could be smoked, swallowed, or snorted, I was all over it.

"I checked into rehab on November 22, 2002, and I was there a little shy of three months. It was, indeed, a dark period in my life. My wife, Jamie Reese, threatened to divorce me the few times she'd actually talk to me. I was penniless, desperate, and scrambling to find an easy way out (thus the title of the mini-series).

"The rehab I checked into was a halfway house for men who'd opted for early release from prison in exchange for submitting to drug treatment. I was the only person in the facility that didn't have a criminal record. My nights consisted of sitting around with my roommates and scheming how we could score some quick cash. Not one of the ideas tossed around was legal. Desperate and hopeless, I found myself thinking, 'That's not a bad idea. What's the worst that could happen?'

"I soon had an epiphany: I remembered what I wanted to do with my life - I wanted to be a writer that wove goddamn good yarns. Alcoholism and drug addiction will take a person to places that they'd never go in a normal state of mind, and I found myself consorting with unsavory individuals that would have no problem if I ruined my life and destroyed my dreams.

"Soon after my moment of clarity, I spent my nights in my room on the bottom bunk writing the story that became 'Easy Way,' and I've remained sober ever since."

Naturally, Long has a uniquely personal connection to the story he's written, noting he relates best with the character of Duncan and his desperation to make something positive happen in his life. "Being hopeless and demoralized tends to make people do outlandish things," explained Long. "It's dangerous when you feel like you have nothing to lose.

"Writing this story was my way of playing 'What if?' What if I'd gone along with my roommates from rehab? I recognized that nothing good comes out of trading in your long-terms goals for short-term payoffs."

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As is the case with most any story containing depictions of drug activity, there are some who might charge the story in "Easy Way" glorifies the world of illegal drug abuse. Long says that's not the message of "Easy Way" and has a strong response to any who'd make the above argument.

"God, if there's anyone that reads this mini-series and believes that I'm glorifying drug use, they're fucking high!

"It is conceivable," Long continued, "that somebody might read 'Easy Way' and think, 'Well, Christopher was an alcoholic/drug addict, and he's apparently doing just fine. What the hell, I'm going to chalk up a couple lines, swill some booze, and write a story someday.'

"It's not hard for me to believe that it's possible because I was guilty of that kind of thinking, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 13 years old. All my heroes were alcoholic and drug addict writers. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Poe, Burroughs … and the list goes on and on. At a young age, I rationalized my drinking and experimentation with drugs with, 'Well, they did it, so I guess I can, too.'

"Hemingway stuck a shotgun in his mouth and blew his brains out. Fitzgerald died believing himself a failure. Poe disappeared for three days after a drink at a birthday party and turned up in a delirious condition in a Baltimore gutter, dying shortly after. Burroughs killed his wife when he used a revolver and attempted to shoot an apple off her head. When I was kid, I seemed to have ignored these events in my heroes' lives. I was picking and choosing what elements of their lives I wanted to emulate, which was drinking, taking drugs, and, if time permitted after getting loaded, writing.

"I thought for many years that I was going to drink my way into being a great writer. To any aspiring artist out there that might be harboring the same misguided thinking that caused me and my loved ones so much pain - save yourself the anguish that is caused from being an alcoholic and drug addict and just write, draw, play music, or whatever it is you want to do. Don't fall into the trap of following the path that someone you admired decided to take."

Long said that since leaving rehab a little over two years ago and keeping sober he's been more prolific, improved his craft and accomplished more than he has in all his years of living combined.

"First and foremost, I'm a storyteller who has just happened to have lived a life that has put me around people and in situations that make - I hope, anyway - good stories," said Long. "I want people to enjoy 'Easy Way,' and I hope I give them a glimpse into a world that they'll never have to visit."

Long came to the attention of IDW Publishing by way of his friend, inker Danny Miki of Crimelab Studios.

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"I was chumming around with [Danny] at last year's Wizard Con in Long Beach," said Long. "I saw the IDW Publishing booth and told Danny that I would love to work with them, but I knew they weren't taking unsolicited pitches.

"Well, Danny knows [IDW Publisher] Ted Adams, and he introduced the two of us. Danny asked Ted if he'd read something of mine if I sent it to him. Ted smiled and said, 'If it comes from you, Danny, I'll look at it.'"

So, IDW took a look at Long's script and two weeks later Jeff Mariotte, then IDW's Editor-In-Chief, sent an e-mail to Long indicating IDW's interest in publishing "Easy Way."

"I owe Danny a lot. We've been working on a few projects that he's actually penciling and I just believe he is one of the most talented artists in the industry."

Long is joined on "Easy Way" by artist Andy Kuhn ("Firebreather," "Lobo Unbound"), who along with colorist Bill Crabtree are working in sepia tones after jettisoning their original idea of doing the book with blue duotones. Long's only spoken to Kuhn over the phone and e-mail, never meeting face-to-face.

"I think I might have scared Andy in the beginning after he read the outline for 'Easy Way,'" Long confessed. "He was a little nervous about how 'dark' the project came across in the outline. I had to assure him that it wasn't all death, dismemberment, and drug use … there was some humor in the finished scripts (albeit dark humor, but I didn't tell him that.) Also, Andy laughed nervously when I informed him that the font of the title better be top-notch, because I was going to get 'Easy Way' tattooed on me, which I did."

One of the challenges Long faced writing "Easy Way" was not knowing who the artist on the project was going to be. The few comics projects he'd worked on previously came with the benefit of knowing who the artists were ahead of time and writing to their strengths. Long said knowing an artist's style ahead of time helps him visualize the story. In this case, he's discovered in Kuhn a collaborator who can take his work in directions that hadn't even occurred to him.

"In issue one of 'Easy Way,' I wrote the scene of Raz pitching the heist, and I wrote it with the instruction that it be colored in a sepia hue," explained Long. "When Andy came on board, he had other ideas on how he wanted to color the project, and that scene wasn't going to work as I'd written it. I wish I could take credit for how Andy did the scene, but he illustrated the pages in a simplistic style, almost childlike, which really fleshed out that portion of the story. Andy grasped the narrative and brought something to the table that helped move the story forward. He is a wonderful storyteller and artist. I'm proud to be working with him on this project."

While new to the comics industry, Long's not completely green. He's had comics published in Flaunt Magazine, a comic-style interview with animator Don Hertzfelft in Anthem Magazine" and a comic called "Blaine: Personal Assistant" that ran for two issues in "Lemonade Magazine." And he's worked on some projects with his friend Danny Miki, but nothing's seen publication yet.

"Basically, IDW Guys Publishing has popped my comic book cherry by publishing 'Easy Way.' I'm a rookie who is hoping for a bright future in the industry. (I'm banking that your article will allow me to scare editors into giving me a gig, so make me look mean and tough.)"

Special thanks to Andy Khouri for his assistance with this article.

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