Small Town Villains: Ben Raab talks "Living In Infamy"

Cover by John Cassaday

Federal Witness Protection Program. Four rather ominous words that most of us are familiar with thanks to depictions in film and television, but hopefully none of us have ever had to take the Government up on an offer to place us in it. It's reserved for those who testify against high-profile criminals where by doing so puts their own lives in jeopardy. But what if that program existed in a world with super-villains? Next Spring Ben Raab & Deric A. Hughes explore that question in the four-issue mini-series "Living In Infamy" coming from Ludovico Technique. CBR News caught up with Raab to learn more about this creator-owned series.

"'Living In Infamy' is about an ensemble cast of characters - both normal and paranormal - residing in a Federal Witness Protection Program town created specifically for reformed super villains," Raab told CBR News. "Our first storyline focuses on The Blackbridge family - Tom, Shana and Tyler - as Tom's and Shana's sordid past comes back to haunt them, threatening to destroy not only their lives, but those of their friends, neighbors and ex-fellow rogues. After forty years under the radar, the secret of Infamy is about to be exposed and it's up to the bad guys to protect it."

With "Living In Infamy," Raab is exploring characters who may just be trying to get on with their lives, yet they all have in common a very dark past. The writer contends that fact doesn't make them any more challenging to write sympathetically than your average, upstanding hero.

"Their dark pasts don't preclude them from being likable," said Raab. "It just adds another layer to their personalities that makes them all the more unpredictable. The more skewed a character's moral compass, the more fun you can have with them."

While the series will begin with a four-issue mini-series, Raab said he's already planning more stories for the citizens of Infamy.

"Our goal is to keep things freeform and allow the stories we want to tell dictate the format, rather than vice-versa. Like Mike Mignola does with 'Hellboy' or Kurt Busiek does with 'Astro City.' Sometimes it may take a maxi-series to tell a tale. Sometimes a one-shot may be enough. But in the end, all these disparate pieces will fit together to form a much greater, more intricate whole. That's the beauty of comics. You have that kind of creative freedom."

The inspirations for "Living In Infamy" are many, including film and television programs which depicted criminals who themselves went in to the Witness Protection Program, just one of which is the 1990 Martin Scorsese film "Goodfellas."

"That image of Ray Liotta at the end was the inspiration for our first cover! But the biggest inspiration was simply our love of costumed characters and the idea that whether good or evil, a person's past can -- and will -- always come back to haunt them when they least expect it. A theme we're seeing a lot more in comics these days. This is our take."

The idea for "Living in Infamy" came to Raab earlier this year as he was finishing up his run on "Green Lantern" wondering what he should be doing next.

"It was 3 AM and I was up watching a repeat of Conan O'Brien and all of a sudden the title 'Living In Infamy' pops into my head," said Raab. "After several minutes parsing and deconstructing this name, the concept was born.

"As excited as I was about the idea, I figured I'd put it on the back burner while I returned my attention to screenwriting, as I've been doing for the past couple of years with my writing partner, Deric A. Hughes. But when I told him about 'Living In Infamy,' he quickly sparked to it and started talking it up to Ashley Edward Miller, the VP of Development at Ludovico Technique. A writer on 'Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda,' a supervising producer on UPN's 'Twilight Zone' and the co-writer of the first 'Agent Cody Banks' movie, Ash instantly saw the multimedia potential of the concept. He pitched it to his boss and fellow über-fanboy Robert Meyer Burnett - the director/co-writer of the cult classic 'Free Enterprise' and co-producer on both 'Agent Cody Banks' films - who gave an on-the-spot greenlight. Our series was officially in development.

"We showed some of our initial character designs to lots of people in both the comic book and entertainment industries at Comic-Con International this past summer and the response was overwhelmingly positive and very gratifying. And seeing how Witness Protection is popping up these days in high profile super-hero genre projects like 'The Incredibles' only further validates the fact that we're on to something really cool here. But the big difference between the two is that 'The Incredibles' is a comedy about heroes. This is a drama about villains and the repercussions of their evil deeds. It's a much darker take on the genre."

As he mentioned above, Raab's not writing "Living In Infamy" alone. He's joined by Deric A. Hughes whom he met on his weekly visit to the comic shop.

"Deric and I met at DJ'S Universal Comics on Ventura Blvd, here in Studio City," said Raab. "It was Wednesday and Deric had come in looking for the latest issue of 'Planetary' during that seemingly interminable span when the book was delayed. Like many industry outsiders tend to do, Deric blamed the flaky artist and preceded to vent to the store owner. But I knew for a fact this wasn't the case. Cassaday was waiting on script from Warren and since I couldn't just sit back and let this fanboy dis one of my closest friends, I told him so. The more we got to talking, the more we realized how much we had in common creatively. At the time, Deric was working as the writer's assistant on 'Andromeda' and I was looking to break in to TV. A couple months later, we started collaborating on story ideas and within a year were hired to co-write an original screenplay called 'Jet' for one of the producers of 'Agent Cody Banks.'"

While "Living In Infamy" may be Raab and Hughes' first published writing collaboration, the duo have been working for almost three years now. They're joined by Montreal based studio GrafikSismik ("Blade of Kumori") who's providing the art for the series.

"I met some of the guys from Grafiksismik back at San Diego Con a couple years ago and was really impressed with their work," said Raab. "That, and the fact that their studio provides a 'one-stop shop' for art and color made them the ideal choice for this project."

In addition, Richard Starkings' Comicraft will be providing lettering and design and the covers will be illustrated by an all-star cast of artists. The first issue - which is pictured above - will feature a cover by Raab's friend John Cassaday and colored by José Villarubia. The cover to issue #2 will be illustrated by Howard Chaykin with colors by Michelle Madsen. "Issues #3 & #4 also have famous names attached, but we'll leave those a surprise for now," said Raab.

But who exactly is Ludovico Technique? From their Web site you'll learn they're a "full service entertainment company, specializing in a variety of media, including feature films, special edition DVD content and comic books." Raab provided further explanation.

"Company founder and C.E.O. Rob Burnett took this name from Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's 'A Clockwork Orange,' in which the 'Ludovico Technique' is a brainwashing process utilizing movies and controlled substances to alter behavior. Which is exactly what this company does with their creations… (Sans the prongs prying your eyes open forcing you to sit up and take notice).

"Though most people probably don't realize it, Ludovico Technique is already a household name. Anyone who bought the special edition DVDs of 'X-Men 1.5' and 'X-2: X-Men United' has seen the superlative quality of this company's work in the documentary extras they produced for those films. Before founding Ludovico, Rob was involved in the editing and direction of the DVD extras content for Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring' and 'The Two Towers,' which were both awarded 'DVD Special Edition Of The Year' by the DVD Exclusives Academy in 2003 & 2004. In addition to the 2-disc Special Edition re-release of 'Free Enterprise' in May 2005 - and its feature film sequel, 'Free Enterprise 2' - Ludovico is currently involved in the production of the 2006 release of the Special Edition DVD for 'The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe,' Disney's feature film adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic. Not to mention a certain top-secret comic book-related project fans are going to be very excited about.

"Ludovico is publishing 'Living In Infamy' and all our other projects - including an as-yet-'Unidentified' licensed property - independently," continued Raab. "Being such a voracious comic book fan and action figure collector, Rob Burnett has decided this will be the first in a long line of properties whose destinies we can control. It's no secret that success in the current market is a difficult proposition, especially for new publishers. That's why the books we're creating are all being developed with an eye beyond the constraints of the publishing industry. Whether it be film, TV, toys, video games, apparel, etc., Ludovico already plans to diversify their interests as much as possible."

Look for more with Raab Friday here on CBR as we talk with him about his new DC Comics mini-series "The Human Race."

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