"Skip to the End" In Holt & Diotto's Nirvana-Inspired Time Travel Tale

The team behind 2014's werewolf comic "Southern Dog," Jeremy Holt and Alex Diotto's have joined creative forces once again to craft "Skip to the End." In the upcoming series, a washed-up musician comes across a mysterious guitar that makes time slip away. The result is an unusual sort of tale based in the world of indy rock that explores not only the logic of time travel, but the perils of addiction as well.

When Heavy Metal announced last week that it will publish the four-issue series in 2016 as part of its growing line of monthly comics, CBR News caught up with the writer to learn more about his and Diotto's music-infused, Nirvana-inspired sci-fi tale.

CBR News: "Skip to the End" is a time-travel story based loosely on the band Nirvana. Can you explain briefly what the premise of the story is?

Jeremy Holt: I think the premise of the story can best be summed up by the series' logline: Music is time travel, and sometimes revisiting the past is the only way to move forward. "Skip To The End" explores music's transportive property through the lens of one of Rock 'n' Roll's most influential bands, and in the process examines one man's struggle with the complexities of addiction.

What is your own personal take on Nirvana? Do you listen to their music while you work?

Nirvana has fascinated me for a while. Not simply because of the rise and fall of Kurt Cobain, but more broadly because of the grunge rock explosion of the early '90s. At that time, there was a very strong and influential DIY music scene coming out of the Pacific Northwest. This was a pivotal moment in rock history because it was local bands like the Melvins, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Heaven To Betsy, Bikini Kill, Alice in Chains, Posies and Nirvana that chose to turn their backs on "Corporate America" by cultivating a community that represented a region of the country that had no ties to mainstream music. Because of this, bands originating from Aberdeen, Olympia, Ellensburg, Tacoma, Seattle and Bellingham had the freedom to produce an independent sound that was not beholden to major label sensibilities. Nirvana's ability to tap into the angst and unrest of a generation allowed them to bring punk to the masses. Needless to say, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't listen to Nirvana. 

As a writer, how do you approach the challenge of portraying music, and the emotions it evokes, on a static, silent page?

Writing a song that evoked Nirvana's sensibilities was an absolutely crucial part of this story. It was imperative that the lyrics not only tap into the emotions of a troubled musician, but more importantly push the narrative forward. Unfortunately for me, I'm not a song writer. Fortunately for me, I have a friend that was my music guru all through college. He exposed me to so much great stuff, and other than being a talented filmmaker, he's also a talented musician. When I pitched him the concept for "Skip To The End," he immediately agreed and sent me the lyrics the next day. 

Time travel can be a difficult concept to convey. What was the most important challenge in "Skip to the End," and how did you deal with it?

That's a great question. Choosing to tell a time travel story was daunting! How many times can that wheel be reinvented, you know? I think for all of us, certain songs exist as triggers that transport us back to specific times and places -- good or bad -- in our lives. In order to keep the story streamlined, I decided to focus on just one song that would serve as the trigger for the protagonist, which I think works on several levels considering the sordid history of this once great rock band. The challenge was to clearly convey the importance of the music and its very complicated relationship to the protagonist. 

Your story includes a matter-of-fact portrayal of heroin addiction and a Narcotics Anonymous group. Why did you include this as an element in the story?

During the early stages of development, I knew I wanted to explore and examine addiction, but more importantly the complexities involved with recovery. Kurt Cobain had a complicated relationship with drugs that will forever be linked to his legacy, and I wanted to explore the devastating effects his tragic death had on the ones closest to him. Through a revisionist history of a fictionalized version of the Nirvana, I was able to give myself some creative license. 

As research, I attended AA meetings to better understand the struggles of addiction. There is a really great infrastructure in place that accommodates people regardless of where they are at with their addiction. As someone that isn't an addict, I chose to attend OD (Open Discussion) formatted meetings as a respectful observer. I was very nervous to do this, but my brother who happens to be a doctor that interacts with addicts on a daily basis, informed me of the different meeting formats, and that OD meetings welcome outsiders like myself. He encouraged me to attend them to gain some much needed insight. 

You took Nirvana as your inspiration for "Skip to the End," and you have also used Harry Houdini as a character and done a story ("Art Monsters") loosely based on Frankenstein. How does using a pre-existing person or story serve as a springboard for your creativity?

That's an interesting question, because the books you mentioned were created at early moments in my career. Early on, I was specifically focused on pre-existing characters as a writing exercise in an attempt to develop high-concept pitches; a "this meets that" kind of setup. It was very helpful, but I've since progressed beyond that because I think it was becoming more of a crutch than anything else. However, I deliberately chose to incorporate a fictional version of Nirvana as my way of paying tribute to them. Some of my all-time favorite cover songs stand the test of time because a band will take a pre-existing song and transform it into their own. "Skip To The End" is to Nirvana what Nirvana is to Bowie's "The Man Who Sold The World". 

Let's talk a bit about your journey as a creator. You have been writing comics since 2009. What are the challenges of breaking into comics as a writer, as opposed to an artist or a writer/artist?

The challenge for me as a writer in comics is trying to produce enough work through big enough publishers that gets my voice heard. To do this, I have to churn out creator-owned pitches and hustle to find them respectable homes. To make things more complicated, I'm not only responsible for writing my projects but also for overseeing editorial and production. This requires a lot of juggling between an artist, colorist, letterer, and designer. Also, sometimes -- not often -- I have to mediate disputes between members of a creative team to ensure production deadlines, which artists or writer/artists don't have to deal with. 

How has your storytelling style evolved over the years? 

Over the past seven years, I've had the opportunity to work with some extremely talented editors, who have helped me refine my craft. My storytelling style hasn't actually changed a whole lot. I still gravitate towards a particular tone and pacing with all of my stories. What has changed is my approach to character development and dialogue. 

What's the most important thing you've learned?

The most important thing is having confidence in my ability as a writer and collaborator. From there, I've become much better at managing expectations with every project I develop, and have learned to put more trust in my collaborators, which has resulted in far less micromanaging and overall better (more fun) working relationships. 

A few years ago you made some comments on Twitter, which I criticized in a ROBOT 6 post, about the relationships between artists and writers. While the article stirred up some debate, I respect your statement that what works best for you is for the writer and the artist to be co-creators who are equally invested in the work. Is that how things are working for you here?

I'd say so. Contrary to my tweets from three years ago, I do pay colorists and letterers because they don't share in the IP. As for my co-creators who do, I've come to view these professional relationships as, well, relationships. As such, they develop on a very personal level, especially in creator-owned comics. I'm of the belief that there is no correct method of how to conduct your creative affairs. As long as everyone involved agrees to a particular set of terms, that's all that matters. From my experience, I've produced more successful comics by sharing the risks and rewards with my co-creator than from the work-for-hire arrangement. 

How do you collaborate with your artists?

Each collaboration is slightly different, but for the most part I submit completed scripts to the artist. I don't partake in the visual development of my projects. That would be like me signing an artist's work. I choose to work with the artists that I do because of their visual style. It's their style that is the visual yin to my narrative yang. By operating this way, I like to think that it provides them with plenty of freedom to create and truly contribute to the project. I'm never married to my scripts. As long as the artist maintains my pacing, they're free to revise the story's visual components. 

I noticed a Melvins poster on the first page of "Skip to the End." Who is responsible for little details like that -- you or the artist?

Typically, I am, but Alex and I are so simpatico on "Skip To The End" that that detail was all him. 

What is your goal as a comics creator? What genres interest you the most? What do you want to do that you haven't tried yet?

My goal as a comic creator is to continue to produce engaging comics that excite pre-existing readers as well as completely new ones. The day I write a comic that served as a gateway for a non-comics reader is the day that I know I've "made it." 

The genres that most interest me range quite a bit, but I tend to gravitate towards historically rich stories. Stories that either explore a very real side of history that no one has seen before, a revisionist history that never existed, or a more contemporary examination of current events. I've recently been inspired by shows like "11/22/63" and "The Man In The High Castle," and comics from Brian K. Vaughan, Brian Wood, Ed Brisson, Michael Moreci and Curt Pires. 

Do you want to continue to make creator-owned comics?

Absolutely. Over ten years ago, I graduated college without discovering a medium of art that spoke to me more as a reflex than a conscious decision. It took four years after that to accidentally stumble upon creator-owned comics, and seven after that to be making them well enough to garner interest from publishers. In a way, comic books saved me from the despair of believing I would never live up to my potential. Making creator-owned comics is a reflex that I will never ignore, nor would I ever want to.

"Skip to the End" Debuts August 3 from Heavy Metal.

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