Cleaning up after a crime scene, one might assume, is dreadful and thankless work. But for would-be trauma scene cleaners with enquiring minds, mopping up spattered blood and gore may just be the prelude to greater adventure. In November, Dark Horse launches "The Cleaners," a new series by screenwriter Mark Wheaton and Joshua Hale Fialkov with artist Rahsan Ekedal. CBR News caught up with Wheaton to discuss the new series, demon barbers, and making the jump to comics.
"The Cleaners" is about a team of Southern California trauma scene cleaners, led by a former surgeon named Robert Bellarmine, whose curiosity into the natural world drives them to take on cases that more typically would slip through the cracks. "With the sprawl of Los Angeles making it more and more of an unpolice-able city, it's easier for non-serial crimes to go get brushed under the rug, particularly if they're not solved quickly," Wheton told CBR "Bellarmine and his crew come in after the police and thereby have a pretty good idea if law enforcement has a line in on the perpetrators. Though they spend most of their day on their sometimes rather lucrative contracts cleaning up crime and accident scenes, at the same time they're always seeking out the inexplicable and unsolved cases in order to put them at rest. They refuse to believe that even the most outlandish occurrence cannot be explained scientifically."
Readers of MySpace Dark Horse Presents have already been introduced to "The Cleaners" through an eight-page story by the full creative team of Wheaton, Fialkov, and Ekedal. The short story, titled "Body Colony," finds the cleaners investigating a bloody scene at a pharmacy that appears to have been perpetrated by an angry plant. Rather than the series spinning out of the strip, though, the MDHP story was intended more as a teaser. The MDHP strip dives right into the supernatural, whereas the first issue of the series merely hints that something beyond the scope of ordinary homicide is going on.
"I didn't want to create a heightened world with 'The Cleaners' that might set readers up for a anything goes-universe where you figure monsters lurk behind every corner," Wheaton said. "I like the idea of making everything look as every day pedestrian as possible so that when the impossible happens, it's hopefully that much more of a shock to the system. After six years of placid co-existence with your barber, he turns out to have a constant body temperature of 128 and his spinal fluid is combustible with a flashpoint of 129 -- that kind of thing. I'd like readers to get a sense that if what's considered the supernatural exists, it's just part of every day life - we just don't notice it until something unprepared for happens and can't be explained away otherwise."
Contributing to the sense of "every day" is the setting of Los Angeles, which is familiar to both Wheaton and Ekedal. "One of the many reasons that I really like working with Rahsan is that he is also here in Southern California and when we're talking about Malibu, Sun Valley, various stretches in North Hollywood or even the county morgue, this is an environment he is living and breathing every day and I believe that shows on the page," the writer said.
Mentoring Wheaton, a screenwriter who is relatively new to comics, is Joshua Hale Fialkov, who is credited as "Director" of the first issue of "The Cleaners" and receives a title credit on the MDHP strip. "I met Josh when 'Elk's Run' was pitched to me as a feature," Wheaton told CBR. Fialkov's "Elk's Run" was published as a comic series by Speakeasy, with a TPB available from Villard. "We became friends and, at one point, he wanted to get into screenwriting so I brought him on a TV-movie I was writing for a friend that eventually aired on the Sci Fi channel. He knew that I was a big fan of comics and offered to help me get a book off the ground in return.
"I pitched him 'The Cleaners' and not only did he get it in front of Dark Horse and help pick the artist, he also taught me how to write comic book script pages--editing the drafts of the first issue and answering a lot of Rahsan's questions, so little did I know. That said, Josh is a pretty busy guy (check out 'Lonely Girl 15!') and though he lent his name to this our first arc, starting with 'Body Colony' Rahsan and I ended up working only with Shawna. If 'Cleaners' goes forward, that's how it would continue."
Though there are currently no plans for "The Cleaners" beyond the first miniseries, Wheton would enjoy returning to the world he's established. "I have ideas I would love to explore for a next dozen or so arcs, he said. "A handful of them having already been researched and a number of others at locations that I've visited and crawled over--particularly as Los Angeles evolves as a character and more about the backstories of each of the characters are revealed--but that will depend on if the marketplace reveals a desire for more arcs, certainly."
"The Cleaners" #1 is available November 12 from Dark Horse. The strip in October's MySpace Dark Horse Presents can be read for free at this link.