Space Cowboy: Wagner talks Fiction Clemens

Fiction Clemens is not your typical Old West hero. His daily travails bring him into conflict not only with vicious gunslingers, but also blind bounty hunters and alien conspirators. CBR News spoke with writer Josh Wagner about Ape Entertainment’s “Fiction Clemens,” a psychedelic three-issue sci-fi/western comedy illustrated by Joiton that promises to drag the Old West kicking and screaming into the future.

“This Old West world just can't seem to shake loose from its old ways,” said Wagner of the strange and comical setting of “Fiction Clemens.” “But rumor has it that there may be a secret alien conspiracy brewing to launch this backwater world into the Space Age.”

At the story’s start, we find the titular hero stuck in something of a rut, with murderous tycoons out for his blood. “Fiction Clemens has been reliving variations on a theme all his life,” explained Wagner. “And the theme is this: his old friend falls for a girl; Clemens is caught in a seemingly-compromising situation with this girl; his old friend seeks bloody revenge; rinse, repeat. Needless to say they aren't friends anymore.”

Fic’s one-time friend Tiberius Kitchens is a character Wagner describes as a cross between Shakespeare’s Romeo and Kieth Giffen’s Lobo. “He's not the brightest bulb in the box, but he's passionate,” Wagner said. “And his dad is one of the leading tycoons of the Toothpick industry.”

To avoid detection from his arch enemy, Fic sees fit to disguise himself as a woman. “When Kitchens catches up with Fic, the disguise works too well!” Wagner said. “Kitchens falls head-over-heels in love with the female version of Fic.”

These and even more bizarre circumstances collude to place Fic in the middle of an alien conspiracy to change the world as he knows it.

The saga of the creation of “Fiction Clemens” is a long one, and it all started with a name. “The main character was conceived about ten years ago when a friend of mine came up with the name, Fiction Clemens, and demanded I write a story about him,” Wagner said. “From there Fiction Clemens found his way into my first novel, 'The Adventures of the Imagination of Periphery Stowe.’”

Wagner expanded the original “Fiction Clemens” short story into a feature-length screenplay, fully intending that he and his filmmaker friends would put the film into production. “By the time I was finished, it was clear that we were way out of our depth. I seem to be cursed with writing screenplays that require million-dollar budgets.” But all the pre-production work he’d done on “Fiction Clemens” was not in vain: the tight script, storyboards, and “Fiction Clemens” teaser put the character on the map. “By the time page production began it was clear that comics was where Fic had always belonged.”

That said, Wagner would still love to see the saga of Fiction Clemens adapted for the big screen. “And I'll tell you who I want to play Fiction Clemens: John Turturro,” Wagner said. “So just in case you're reading, John, you've got the job.”

Though mainly a Western on the surface, “Fiction Clemens” takes its inspiration primarily from science fiction. “I've been crazy about Robert Heinlein since I was in junior high,” Wagner said. “He isn't typically Western, but his attitude is very Old West in a lot of ways. I've been inspired heavily by more psychologically motivated films like 'Blade Runner,’ 'Twelve Monkeys,’ 'Deadwood’ and 'A Clockwork Orange.’ But I also love gut-level stuff, such as 'High Planes Drifter,’ 'Yojimbo’ and 'Tombstone.’”

Wagner discovered “Fiction Clemens” artist Joiton on the comics talent search engine known as Digital Webbing. “At the time I was just looking for a storyboard artist, and from the moment he sent the first sketches, I knew he was the man for the job,” Wagner said. “I was very lucky to find him, not only because of his amazing talent, but because right off the bat, he really got the story and the world. There's nothing in the world better than working on a project with like-minded people. Meshing personalities is so important. More often than not, Joiton would do a rough storyboard for a page and it would be exactly what I was after. And a lot of the times he had ideas that went beyond what I'd hoped for. The man's a gem.”

“Fiction Clemens” is not the only project on Wagner’s horizon. “At least three of my short comic stories will be popping up in anthologies over the next few months (one of them in 'Negative Burn 19’), and I'm spending as much time as I can working on some new prose novels. I'm also doing a new clip-art-esque webcomic with my buddy Steve Saunders called "Orcusville.”

The first installment of “Fiction Clemens” is scheduled to hit stands this May, with issues 2 and 3 following in June and July.

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