Stephen Mooney Takes Comics Fans "Half Past Danger"

"Half Past Danger" marks artist Stephen Mooney's first foray into writing comics, but he's no industry rookie. For the last few years, Mooney has provided art for a number of comics, mostly licensed fare such as "A-Team," "Angel" and "Teen Wolf," but in speaking with him about his upcoming miniseries, one can feel the anticipation and delight that he has in being able to bring his very own vision to bear on a wonderfully old fashioned romp. A heady brew of matinee serial skirmishes and fantastical conceits, the title, released through IDW Publishing, is designed to provide pure unadulterated fun and provide a certain flavor of throwback thrills Mooney feels aren't represented enough in modern comics.

At the first in what is hoped will be an annual event in the Irish Comics Scene, D.I.C.E (Dublin International Comic Expo) event, Mooney and colorist Jordie Bellaire headed up a talk on what to expect from the book. After the presentation, CBR News spoke one-on-one with Mooney about the series, challenging himself with his first comics writing project, the influences behind "Half Past Danger" and what had to be left on the cutting room floor -- until the sequel, at least!

CBR News: For "Half Past Danger" you tap into this completely uncynical movie matinee-era vibe, but how fantastical is the world you have the miniseries set in?

Stephen Mooney: I would say it's quite grounded in the World War II we all immediately think of. I mean films like "The Thin Red Line" and that miniseries "The Pacific," that South Pacific, balmy, sweltering, sweat-drenched, traipsing through the long grass, flies biting their necks, sort of realism. Of course, then there's an element you're not expecting, and if I've done it right, it goes somewhere real left field and turns into something unique.
It has enough familiarity so that people of my generation who grew up on those things could say, "Yeah -- I'd like to read something that touches those bases." It's something I haven't seen represented in comics quite this way before.

You cite a few cinematic examples, but what other materials provided key influences? Anything from the comics world?

Well, I didn't want to lean too heavily on one type of thing, 'cause it's easy for something to become rip off or something like that. I thought about genres of movies more than specific films and comics like "Tintin." In fact, "Tintin" and "Asterix" were my comics when I was a kid, well before I got my hands on any of the American stuff. I only saw those sorts of comics when I was 14 or 15, but "Tintin" has that throwback sensibility of non-stop action. Spielberg captured it very well in the film, that roller coaster ride of action scene, breather, action scene, new characters emerging and the pace never letting up. They nailed the whole attitude of those types of stories. There's a sing-song flow to the characters in that.

With this being your first writing work, was that structure of action scene to character beat and back again a hard balance to sustain?

It was hugely daunting. That is the thing I was most scared of. I never had a huge desire to write because I never thought I could do it as well as some of the people I've worked with. I've worked with Joss Whedon, for God's sake! With him and Brian Lynch on the "Angel" series, so I never thought I could do that better than those guys.

However, I was confident I could do this other thing that I haven't seen them do, and I knew I could do it well. I was still very cautions, though. I rewrote it about seven or eight times.

The tone of the series sounds somewhat banter-y, but does it have elements of screwball?

I wouldn't say screwball, more of a wiseacre banter, something snappy. Every character is very strong in their own right. The female characters are equal to the male, and maybe even more important the story in places. Every character challenges every other character. It does have some balls to the wall moments of humor, but I would classify it as more of a sweeping action-adventure with the occasional joke or quip here or there.

I read a lot of books on screenwriting because I believe comics and films are deeply linked. Some people disagree with that and think comics should stand on their own and not be compared to cinema, and while I see their point, I find it hard to separate the two. I've done storyboards in the past for films, so I see it like they are like distant cousins. Different enough, but still recognizably part of the same family.

The main protagonist shares your nationality of being Irish. As the book has a strong American aspect to it and is being brought out by an American company, How important to you to was it to have an Irish role center stage?

I wanted to write from a point of view I was confident of writing in. There's a lot of classic Americana going on here but I wanted the eyes that we see all that through be Irish and to filter it through our take on the world. There's a mixed heritage here, in that the characters mother is American so he should appeal to both nationalities. Then some of the characters are out and out American. There's someone who is basically my take on Captain America and I'd describe him as like Steve Roger's brother that we just haven't met yet.

The bulk of your comics work until now has consisted of licensed properties where you've had to hew closely to various actors' likenesses. Does that make things simpler than working on a project cut from whole cloth like "Half Past Danger?"

Certainly you lean on reference, more out of necessity, because some actors have say over how they are portrayed and some I won't name can be quite difficult about it. I guess actors by nature can be vain, but some were a little too precious.

While it doesn't involve any real-world actors, "Half Past Danger" is kind of like the ultimate feature film. It encompasses war elements, dinosaurs, ninjas, etc. It's impressive you're able to mix all those genres together comfortably.

Yeah, it could have so easily have become a mess. All these elements, and if you don't corral them properly, it'd be like herding cats and you'd leave your audience thinking, "What is going on?"

Were there any classic elements that you wanted to include that had to get cut?

Oh, there's some stuff I've decided will be in the sequel if we get the chance to do one. I felt if I had too much in this, the different aspects wouldn't be able to breathe and the narrative flow would suffer. A story like this has to have a certain pace.

IDW wanted the book to be 6 issues and I had planned for 7, so I had had to edit it down a bit. At first, I was worried about that. These issues are going to be longer than your standard comic, between 25-30 pages and losing an issue meant losing that amount of potential story but it ended up better which surprised me. The pacing was more even, and the flow improved and that prompted me to ask should I take more out? So I went back over the story again but felt I had struck the right balance.

You've obviously been working with IDW for some time now, but what has it been like working with them on this, a project you own, rather than as the artist for one of their licensed properties?

I'm absolutely delighted working with them, some of the most easygoing but professional people I've ever dealt with. The production side of the comic is hugely important to me and I think they understand that. They have a squad of guys who think about all this sort of stuff -- the right type of paper to use and how to package it. I can't wait until there's a trade of "Half Past Danger," 'cause I know it'll turn out beautifully. They are up there with the best in the business. I think they got the material a bit more than some other places might have. I mean, I've been hugely lucky with all the companies I've worked for, but this was definitely more of an IDW book and they told me they'd push it. I want it to be a real event when it comes out!

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