Night Terrors: Creators talk PopGun's "Wide Awake"

What do you do if the monsters you conjur up in your dreams have the ability to escape into reality? If you're Amanda Carter, you do everything within your power not to fall asleep. Writers Brandon Jerwa & Eric S. Trautmann and artist Eric Messina delve into Carter's dreamland in "Wide Awake," a new short story featured in Image Comics' massive 400-plus page full-color anthology "PopGun" Vol. 2, on sale now.

A troubled young woman, Amanda learned at a young age that the demonic entities and apocalyptic landscape she sees in her nightmares are actually real. Worse, if she doesn't defeat these monsters in her dreams, they will follow her into our world. Said co-writer Trautmann, "Amanda's power to bring creatures from the land of dreams into the corporeal world has made her the focus of a powerful being called The Messenger, who is intent on using Amanda's gift to 'dream' an end to the world, one custom-tailored to his needs and those of the shadowy masters he serves."

The creative team hopes "Wide Awake" has a life beyond the acclaimed "PopGun" anthology, and CBR News caught up with Jerwa, Trautmann and Messina to talk about the sleep-deprived life of Amanda Carter.

CBR: Tell us about the genesis of "Wide Awake."

Eric Trautmann: I had this scene pop into my head years ago, about a young girl -- a toddler -- sitting in her bed, while a creepy Santa figure talks to her, and tries to lure her out of bed. Over the conversation, he continues to morph into the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc., until we realize he's a monster from under the bed. I never really knew what to do with it, but another concept of a girl who could make her dreams real intruded at some point, and the idea that there's a supernatural battle going on between this character and a horrible demonic Bad Thing started to take shape.

Brandon [Jerwa] was the one who pushed the piece in a more Lovecraftian direction, and, with the secret origin for Amanda we cooked up, it makes the Lovecraft-inspired material work really well. And then David [Messina] was involved and he draws very attractive women, so the young girl became a young woman, and the rest sort of fell into place. I hope we get a chance to delve into it further.

David Messina: I had her looks clearly in my mind, as she resembles Chyler Leigh, the actress from the Marilyn Manson video "Tainted Love."

What can you say about your lead character, Amanda Carter?

DM: I hope that she's someone that both male and female readers can identify with. Visually, I wanted to draw someone attractive, but she's more than just a pretty face. As for the looks of the other characters appearing in the book, I took some inspiration from Guillermo del Toro visual concepts and from the Japanese illustrator Ketsuya Terada.

Brandon Jerwa: Amanda is a horribly flawed character, which I just love. I think she's easy to understand, though, in a "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of way. If I had to handle a life of monsters and sleep deprivation, I don't think I'd fare as well; I'd be a pair of stubby, bloody legs hanging out of the mouth of a giant demon-pig or something equally made of fail.

EST: Brandon fares quite poorly just at the whole "getting out of bed" thing on a good day, so adding monsters to the mix seems to be an excellent recipe for utter disaster. Oh. I'm sorry. You were saying?

BJ: What can I say? He knows me too well. Pardon me while I defy all logic and grievously injure myself with a pillow or a kitten.

Back to Amanda: from our point of view, she's quite multi-faceted, but we know things you don't! Having just a handful of pages [in "PopGun" doesn't really allow much in terms of character development, so we had to keep it straightforward and show Amanda on a particularly bad day. Hopefully we'll have a chance to tell her story in long-form soon, and show you why we love our little nightmare monster-killer so much.

Tell us about Image's "PopGun" Vol. 2, and how "Wide Awake" wound up being a part of it.

BJ: It started with an IM conversation between Thomas Mauer and myself. We don't really talk on any sort of regular basis, but we ended up chatting one day and, in discussing current projects, he happened to bring up "PopGun." One email introduction to [editor] Mark Andrew Smith later, and we were rolling... sort of.

Mark said he still had space available, so I called up Eric and said, "Hey, let's come up with some ideas for this." We sent one batch -- I don't know, six or seven pitches -- but we didn't manage to connect with those. There was one pitch that Mark liked -- and it was our favorite -- called "Ronin Go!" which was about a group of Japanese teen girl superheroes who masquerade as a J-pop group, but because his book "Amazing Joy Buzzards" is about a band, there was some concern about overlap of story content. I guess I can understand that.

So we went back to the drawing board and sent a few more pitches along, having decided that we'd just move on if it didn't work out this time around. "Wide Awake" was the one he chose, and here we are.

You hope to do more with Amanda Carter. Can you tease any future plans for the character?

DM: Is planning to tell as many "Wide Awake" stories as possible teasing enough?

BJ: Obviously, we want to do our part to help promote "PopGun," but we're also showing off the story to anyone who cares to see it in the hopes of garnering some interest. I'll concede that on the surface, "Wide Awake" might seem like a one-note concept, but we really have a huge story that we want to tell. Amanda Carter's existence is of massive importance to the whole of reality, more so than even she realizes. I can give you a couple of hints: the number 46 and H.P. Lovecraft himself are part of the big picture... but only part.

EST: One of the "joys" of the 8-page format is that a fairly detailed origin and long-term arc, which I personally enjoy as a reader, are patently off the table. There's an entire pantheon of adversaries arrayed against Amanda, and a complex long-term assault on the fabric of reality that needs to be dealt with -- hopefully we'll get a chance to spin that yarn soon.

BJ: We're going to shop "Wide Awake" around and see if we can find a home for it. I think we all believe that it has the potential to be a long-running series -- or at least a series of minis -- that will allow us to tell the story of our heroine from birth to death and all the things in-between. We're not done with Amanda Carter yet.

Keep in mind, too, that we put this story together almost eight months ago. Since that time, Eric and I have signed a contract for a massive huge awesome project that we absolutely cannot talk about, and we're developing another property that will allow us to work with David again as well. We have a good partnership all around and I think our best work is still ahead of us.

EST: Yeah, absolutely. It really is a fun collaboration. We get together occasionally for "story meetings," which turn into these kind of elaborate, ever-escalating, "let's see who can top who" idea jams. It's great. Except for when Brandon drinks. He... he hurts me sometimes.

BJ: I think Eric meant to say, "I fell down the stairs." Didn't you, Eric?

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