NYCC EXCLUSIVE: Pander Bros. Court Their "Girlfiend"

A decade since they last collaborated on a comic project, brothers Jacob and Arnold Pander team once again in April 2015 with "Girlfiend," a new original graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics. While many comics fans will remember the Pander Brothers from their last big collaborative project -- the "Batman: City of Light" eight-issue miniseries in 2004 -- others may know them better for their independent projects like "Triple-X" or "Exquisite Corpse." Although the brothers recently put their comics online at PanderBrosComics.com for new audiences to enjoy -- the duo spent most of the last decade busy working together in film. Their movie "Selfless" debuted at Comic-Con International in 2009, and their short film "Subtext" is currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit.

With "Girlfiend," the Pander Brothers hope to bring readers a new twist on vampires, telling a pulp romance whose roots go back to well before the vampire craze hit with "Twilight" and "True Blood." When a young vivacious vampire girl heads to the big city to find her soulmate, she runs into a young, depressed morgue attendant and the two find themselves entangled in a conflict involving the city's criminal underworld.

CBR News spoke with Jacob and Arnold Pander about their return to comics collaboration, the main focus of "Girlfiend," how their process has changed over the years, their experience directing and developing film projects and more.

Guys, tell me a bit about "Girlfiend" -- what's the core concept of the graphic novel and how did the idea develop?

Jacob Pander: The core concept is a pulp romance in the vampire genre. We always wanted to do a vampire story. We had just written a Batman series and we were wanting to do something back in our core, in a way.

Arnold Pander: An urban story.

Jacob Pander: Yeah, an urban tale, with a classic conflict. We wanted to use the vampire genre as an analogy for a complicated relationship in that the female protagonist is the vampire and the male protagonist as a mortal. They're trying to find their way through a love-at-first-sight instant romance that is, by nature, going to be extremely complicated to sustain. In terms of the setup and the premise, it's about a very bubbly, vivacious runaway vampire who comes to the big city to live a normal life, find a boyfriend and live the magazine life.

Arnold Pander: She wants to find her soulmate, her Match.com ideal mate, almost in idealistic denial of what she is.

Jacob Pander: In that sense, it's like trying to conform to the norms of society. The boyfriend is more the goth type, the depressed, heartbroken loner type that you would think would be the vampire -- but he's the guy who's thrust into this space of trying to figure out where the limits of his moral barometer are, as he's falling head over heels for this young vampire.

Arnold Pander: She basically needs to feed on a regular basis, and without giving away too much, he -- the character, Nick -- works in a morgue, so at the beginning of the story, he tries to facilitate as much as he can without, as Jacob said, crossing that moral ethical line. Like relationships themselves, you can be pushed into areas that are what we might see as compromises, or pushing us out of our comfort zone. This is on a whole new level, though.

It sounds like you're both pretty excited about the book, and rightfully so. This is your first major comics work in nearly ten years.

Jacob Pander: Yeah, well -- together, collaboratively. The last big collaboration we did was "Batman: City of Light" for DC. Arnold has done a big project in between -- "Tasty Bullet" with Jonathan Vankin -- a manga-inspired homage.

Arnold Pander: It was a conspiracy thriller revolving around an energy drink. "Girlfiend" is really us coming back to our core collaboration.

Jacob Pander: For the last four years or so, just with the advent of the digital publishing side, we decided to re-release our back catalogue of work. We started a site called PanderBrosComics.com, and that's kind of re-engaged us with the comic book publishing world, and reconnecting with the core fan base that we had, and helping us re-introduce ourselves in a large part to the comic book world.

I think with "Girlfiend," it's a story that we've really been wanting to tell, so it just felt right.

Arnold Pander: And it felt right to do this at Dark Horse. We engaged with Mike Richardson out at Dark Horse, and they're going through some of their own changes out there. It just seemed like good timing to do a project like this, it seemed like a good fit.

The story seems like it lends itself really well to the graphic novel format. How long has the idea been in development? How has it progressed since its inception?

Jacob Pander: It's funny, we've often got multiple stories that we're constantly writing and fueling that we can go and push forward on more heavily, and the initial genesis of this story happened around 2004. Ironically, it was really conceptualized before we were even aware of "Twilight" or "True Blood." We took it to these different iterations over time.

Arnold Pander: I think we sat on it for a while because the whole vampire genre had been oversaturated and we felt like maybe there wasn't a place for this story -- particularly when "True Blood" came out, and we felt like it was moving more and more toward our take on the genre. Really, in the end, we felt like "Girlfiend" is its own universe. It does really echo some of the classic noir stories like "Gun Crazy" or "Bonnie and Clyde" in a way, but in a more contemporary sense, it's more like [Quentin] Tarantino/"True Romance" and some of those more contemporary vampire stories.

Jacob Pander: Part of what we wanted to do is bring in a grounded element -- a lot of the vampire stuff we're seeing right now is hyper-supernatural. For this, we wanted to get it really gritty, but also take it out of the context of the European gothic zone and make it a very urban, very city-driven tale. It's really a mash-up of a crime thriller and love story.

Arnold Pander: It's really pushing the envelope on the genre in that we really wanted to explore the notion of vampire tribes and the evolution of vampires in a way and how they might, in their adaptation to modern society, how their own chemistry and biology might evolve with that. We've introduced interesting new ways in which the vampires become vulnerable.

Jacob Pander: There's a few twists on the myth that we play with. We kind of skew some of the expectations.

What was it like coming back together for a comics collaboration? How does it compare to how you worked on projects ten years ago?

Jacob Pander: The collaboration has continued, but it's just been explored and pursued in different genres. Over the last ten years, probably around the time we did the Batman project, we were also really shifting gears into our passion for filmmaking. We were doing a lot of writing in that medium and I think we ended up -- around 2007 -- getting financing to produce our first independent feature film. A lot of what we've been doing is in that space. We've done a fair amount of commercial directing for brands, and right now, we've got a new short film in the festival circuit: "Subtext" just had its world premiere at the Palm Springs International Short Film Fest.

Arnold Pander: We should mention that our film was called "Selfless" and we premiered it at Comic-Con in 2009. So, that was a big step toward an arena we wanted to enter for quite a while. That was a big step for us in terms of our creative process as well -- from the screenwriting side to the making of the movie to the post into the market. That dominated a lot of our time between 2005 and 2010. It was really focused on this movie "Selfless." That opened up opportunities to direct, working with agencies here in Portland and California as directors. We came back to doing more personal work in film, like this film "Subtext," which is told entirely in texting. It's a live film, but there's no actual speaking dialogue. It's all text between characters. It's currently having its festival life.

We go between these two worlds, but more and more what's happening -- especially with the Marvel franchises -- we're seeing a lot of connections between comics and movies.

Jacob Pander: I think for us, one of the reasons we wanted to do ["Girlfiend"] as a graphic novel is that film projects tend to take a long time to get off the ground. We've got these stories that we're really excited to tell, why don't we just look at it as telling them as a graphic novel.

Arnold Pander: It should be said that we'd written "Girlfiend" as a screenplay. Once we got the financing for our other film, we were really thinking about "Girlfiend" as a motion picture that we would shop in Hollywood. At the same time, "Twilight" really kicked in and changed the landscape for the genre. Like I said, we sat on this for a while. This is a story that's bursting at the seams waiting to be told. Let's tell this great story and not let it sit another minute. For us, it's a timeless story. When you have a great story and you've actually written it and it's waiting to be told, it's just a matter of getting it out there. We're excited not only to be telling the story, but to be visualizing it as well. We're in the middle of it, and we're trying to get it done. We're on the final big stretch.

Jacob Pander: Getting back to that core question of what it's like collaborating in this genre, this is actually the first book that we decided to produce totally digitally. The projects we'd done, like Batman and all the projects previous to that were just all drawing on crystal paper with pencil and inking. This thing we're doing all digitally. We've got two Cintiq tablets here and we're drawing on screens. It's been an interesting process. In many ways, we're so trained over time in the formalism of drawing on paper, so we're utilizing a lot of the techniques we've grown into. But this digital process is making things go faster, it's opening up new opportunities to do cool, complex perspective drawings.

Arnold Pander: What's interesting too, that Jacob and I are really regimented methodology in terms of our collaboration in terms of getting the work done, even though in a lot of ways, it was complex. A lot of the work we did particularly in books like "Triple-X" where there were these elaborate environments that Jacob would illustrate, and seeing this layered storyline that we're about to create, these books took a very long time. As a result, we had pretty big gaps between projects, which I think at times made it hard for us to get traction with a fan base because there would be these gaps.

What's great about this, and what's re-inspiring us, is not only is it making it go quicker, but it's allowing our collaboration to vary and have more flexibility. Jacob is doing more on the layout side and the aspects of the book. I'm taking a lot of those and building the figure art around those. You're really seeing more seamlessness between compositions and my figure art becoming more symbiotic. Even with the environments, I'm doing more of that as well, with Jacob building more of the core environmental framework and look. We're crossing over more into each other's roles. In that way, I think it's making it even more seamless. It doesn't feel like there's two different hands on this.

Tell me a bit about your interest in vampires. Where did it come from and why did you think you had a unique take on it for comics?

Jacob Pander: Well, I think in a way what's alluring about it is there's a sensuality to it, there's an eroticism to it, there's a danger to it. There's an intriguing mythology to it. In a way, we were drawn to this notion of these two characters in a very extreme way coming together from the other side of the tracks. That's at its core. But the mythology around the vampire enabled us to heighten this whole experience to this very inventive and imaginative space. That was one of the things that was very exciting for us in terms of the book. Also, just the notion -- a lot of the work we've done we realized has these strong female protagonists, and this time we also wanted to explore an intriguing, complex female character that also had this power and danger, but also this desire to be seen as vulnerable or to express her vulnerability. Just the complex nature of that.

Arnold Pander: It's really a relationship story, too. The vampire aspect, what's great about that side of it, is that it allowed us to real explore creatively and have fun with it and allow ourselves to take the genre and tweak it a bit, but still honor the classic traditions of like, two of the characters are pulled into this blood spree that's taking place and one has history with vampires. There's that vampire hunter character, there's the family of vampires that are out there. I think we took the theme we recognized in traditional vampire tales, but put it in this modern context. We have this interesting combination of elements that's familiar but also new and uncharted. All of that motif combined with this really complex relationship story because where the characters are trying to find out about each other, there's that honeymoon phase, but then the stakes evolve and change and get higher at a fast rate. It pushes and challenges the relationship from all sides. That's really where the palpable nature comes from.

Can fans expect more from you guys in comics in the future?

Jacob Pander: Yeah, I think so. We've got a couple of projects that we're writing and developing that would lend themselves very well to graphic novels or series. We're definitely going to be more active in the medium and I think now that we've also retooled the way in which we create these books, it's enabling us to consider doing that as well. A lot of it is -- to do the stuff with the amount of elaborate environments and backgrounds we're doing with it, it just takes a lot to draw. Finding these ways in which we can do it more efficiently is helping.

Arnold Pander: We're having talks about that, like what kind of projects allow us to get work out there more frequently without compromising the level of quality, the bar we've set for ourselves. What's great about the digital approach is that it's fast, but it's giving us new inspiration to do this thing that really is very natural to us. Part of what is inspiring about working together on this level again is -- yes, it's a lot of work, but we realized why we loved doing comics in the first place. Being able to do them more often would certainly be something we'd like to be able to accomplish.

"Girlfiend" hits stores April 2015. For more information, check out the Girlfiend website, Twitter and Tumblr.

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