Every day, comic publishers receive mailboxes full of submissions from creative hopefuls looking for someone to help their book reach your local comics shop. The odds are stacked against these neophytes, but with a little talent and a lot of persistence, they may eventually get their work into readers' hands.
At the San Diego Comic-Con International in 2006, CBR News met up with two writers trying to do exactly this. Their names are Chris Morgan (screenwriter of "Cellular," "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," and "Wanted") and Kevin Walsh (writer for National Lampoon and Mondo Media), and the name of their comic book was "Salem." The two created a small sample issue, got a booth, received some press coverage, and then all went quiet…until now.
BOOM! Studios recently put out a press release announcing it would be distributing "Salem" as a five-issue miniseries starting with a #0 issue this November. Aspiring hopefuls are certainly curious as to how a pitch "survived" this length of time and emerged with a publisher, and so was CBR News, so we contacted Morgan and Walsh to update us on the state of "Salem."
The last time we saw the two of you with "Salem" was at the 2006 SDCCI. Here we are over a year later, and the book is coming out through BOOM! What happened in between? Have you actually been pitching your book for over a year? If so, it sure shows persistence that the book is finally coming out.
Kevin Walsh: Some might call it persistence…others might call it laziness plus luck. But it was basically Option Two. The SDCC '06 spec book was garnering meetings with a few publishers, including BOOM! That was great, but suddenly we had to choose among different companies, with no comic industry experience to guide us. (I know, I know – when your big problem is "Which publisher should we choose?" you've got nothing to complain about).
But we ducked the issue by focusing on retooling and refining the story – much easier than business stuff. So at one point, Chris and I realized we couldn't let "Salem" languish and we sucked it up and opted for BOOM! mainly because of the great personal feedback we'd had from [BOOM! Bosses] Ross Richie and Andrew Cosby. And lucky us, they were still excited about the project.
Ironically, the long lag actually worked in our favor since we joined BOOM! at virtually the same time as Mark Waid, who's been incredibly hands-on and supportive.
Chris Morgan: I knew my dedication to procrastination would pay off some day!
You are starting off with a #0 issue. Is this the same sampler issue that you put out at the con in 2006? Or is the content different?
KW: Yes and no. We're expanding the half-length SDCCI book out to a full 22 pages. And we're taking the opportunity to polish up the script we used for that book, too. So the end result will be a lot of new material, even for folks who nabbed the promotional book!
CM: The SDCC book was a triumph over a lot of obstacles – an effort we are incredibly proud of. But now with BOOM!'s support, we're able to fully flesh out story, dialogue and action beats we could only hint at before. It's going to be a whole different (and superior) reading experience.
And did we mention that it's in color? Nothing like spider-demon Ichor in color, baby. Believe that.
Mike Hawthorne did art for the sampler – is he on board for the full five-issue series? If not, who is and how did you meet them?
KW: When things happened with BOOM!, we went from zero to sixty in no time, which was both exciting and daunting. We talked to Mike, but he was swamped with existing assignments and our tight production time just couldn't fit in his crammed schedule. He's been great through the whole process, though; a major reason that we even have a book to talk about in the first place. So we'd all love to work together again in the future. Hopefully, people will dig "Salem" and we can re-team with Mike on future storylines. Lots of witches in our mythology…
CM: As for the new artist, BOOM! has been introducing us to some amazing talent, and we're in the final stages of selecting the successor to pick up Mike's torch and run with it.
For those who need a refresher, can you tell us a bit about the story and the main characters?
KW: "Salem" is set during the famous witch trials, which in our version are more pervasive – a kind of American Inquisition. Our hero, Elias Hooke, is a Church Confessor who discovers two dark secrets: 1) he's been condemning innocent people, and 2) "true witches" exist as non-human, demonic creatures.
So he breaks from the Church to hunt a true witch known as the Queen of Thorns. He's driven by guilt for his sins and vengeance on the Queen, who destroyed his family. And he's trained himself to use every weapon – mundane and arcane – to hunt her and her minions. Imagine Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" blowing into town and laying down a Solomon Kane-style beating on every kind of demon you can imagine, and that's basically Hooke.
He's joined by a duo he rescues from Salem – Hannah, a healer accused of witchcraft who harbors a secret guilt of her own, and Wood, a young clergyman whose faith is challenged by the horrors he's seen committed by the Church. Hooke wants to destroy the Queen and bring down the Church. The Queen wants Hooke broken. The Church wants Hooke returned to the fold. Renegade Confessor Hopkins wants Hooke dead and, once he learns of the Queen, begins to covet her vast power.
I remember your "witches" as being quite a bit different from the Wicked Witch of the West variety - can you elaborate?
KW: Well, they're not people at all. They haven't made a pact with the Devil, they don't dance naked in the woods….
CM: They don't dance naked? This is news to me….
KW: And, as any folks who've followed current events over at BOOM! can attest, they are in no way Pagans or Wiccans. "True witches" in our story are things , pure and simple. They're few in number, vast in power, and monstrous and demonic in their aspect. Each is based on a different talisman of power so each is vastly different physically. And they're usually much more behind-the-scenes – the spiders at the center of webs of intrigue, enlisting supernatural minions and human thralls as cats' paws.
For the Queen of Thorns, imagine the Queen from "Aliens" in basic size and shape…then rip away the flesh and render her skeleton in iron-hard thorns and briarwood.
As for the Coven, they are a product of God rather than the devil. Imagine an infinite God as infinite in every aspect (good and bad) and the devil as the embodiment of God's pride. In that vein, our true witches are God's wrath. They draw from the same pool of power and don't always agree, which is really all that's kept humanity alive over the centuries. Of course, if a witch is destroyed, the others grow that much stronger, and mankind's clock ticks one more minute towards Armageddon.
CM: Primal, elemental, utterly inhuman beings bent on the destruction of humanity…kinda like producers in Hollywood.
What has been the thing that's surprised you most in trying to break in to the comic industry?
KW: You mean aside from the fact that BOOM! picked up our spec book, agreed to publish it and put us in a room with Mark Waid to personally oversee it? Nothing at all. Isn't this how all comics are made? I just had a friend of a friend ask me how to break in to comics and all I could tell him was "Step on…get very, very lucky."
CM: The passion the industry has for character and story. I come from a background in films where the first question is usually "What are the big set-pieces?" There are always exceptions, but in general, I've discovered that comics won't let you slide that easily. It's all about the character journey, and if it ain't there, neither are readers.
KW: BOOM! is awesome. The vibe is great. Everyone's incredibly supportive and if there are any smirks or sidelong glances at the newbies posing as comic book writers, they at least save them for when we're out of the room.
And Mark Waid has been heavily involved from the word "go." He's been very hands on as we've outlined and broken down the different issues. He also didn't throw us out when he told us our initial outline was more like twelve issues of material than five and he's been instrumental in developing our current breakdown – six total issues crammed with action, adventure and horror.
Also, I've managed to avoid asking for his autograph even once, but wiping the goofy fanboy grin off my face has been a little more difficult. But having the guy who wrote "Kingdom Come" sitting five feet away trying to make your book better? It's fair to say it doesn't suck.
CM: We! Love! Boom! And! Exclamation! Marks!
Ross, Chip and the guys are incredibly supportive and inventive. They handled a budding "controversy" a small number of misinformed, but genuinely concerned, Pagans had with our title with a tact and grace that I truly admired. Theirs is a company that embraces all opinions and reaches out to all cultures with a single, unifying love of story.
And as for Mark Waid, the guy is a superhero. When you meet him in any kind of social setting, he's kind, soft-spoken with an easy smile and a quick joke – but the second you get down to story, he's the Terminator. Not the "Fuck-you-asshole" Terminator laying waste to your world without pity, or remorse, or fear, and who absolutely will not stop, ever , until you are dead; but the "Hasta-la-vista" Terminator who's here to protect your characters' future from an endless army of T-1000 story snags. He's an editor that understands writing, world-building and supporting. He's one in a million, and he makes the story better every day.
Do you have any comic book plans yet after completing "Salem"?
KW: Well, the Queen of Thorns is not the only witch in the Coven. And they're a timeless, patient bunch. So the door there is open to any eras and characters we'd care to explore. Plus, we've got a few other non-witch ideas that we'd love to bring to the comic book format, too. It all depends on how things go with "Salem."
CM: This whole process has inspired us. There are several other ideas Kevin and I have considered. Worlds and storylines that are too big for feature film and too edgy for TV. There's one in particular we're honing in on that involves a town where people start dying in droves and…well, you'll just have to wait and see.
Moving outside of the comic world, are there any other projects either of you are working on?
KW: Specs a-plenty with a few different friends. I'm just a writing whore, I guess, and I don't fuss about genre. Action, adventure, horror, comedy, I love 'em all. In fact, if anyone needs a collaborator on a Merchant-Ivory costume drama or disease-of-the-week MOW (movie-of-the-week), drop a line. I'm not fussy.
I've also just co-produced some comedy shorts that are due to show up on Sprint and a few other outlets. So if you see Evil Genius Entertainment on your Sprint phones give us a click and check it out. Ideally, a few million times.
CM: Well, "Wanted" just wrapped production in Prague. I'm putting the finishing touches on the final pre-strike draft of the next film in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise. This one's going to be the real deal. We're bringing Vin Diesel and Paul Walker back together and the story kicks ass. I'm also finishing up a historical action epic in the vein of "300" for Universal that could possibly be the best film I've ever written on.
[ NOTE: The "strike" to which Chris refers is a potential Writers Guild strike in Hollywood, set to begin on October 31]
Chris, I've got to ask about "Wanted," or all our readers will yell at me. I know you did your draft, and then it looks like others have come aboard and touched the script since then. Have you been kept in the loop at all on the story or filming developments? Is there anything that surprised you about the production? Can you tell us anything at all about the movie that won't get you shot by Universal?
CM: No. Yes. Yes. Now reverse the order and you have your answers.
Brandt and Haas, who wrote the adaptation of "3:10 to Yuma," and who did the first pass on "Wanted," came back on to even out Wes's voice, which they had established in their first draft. I'm a huge fan of those guys. They have a way with dialogue that I think is brilliant.
Having worked for Universal on my last five projects, I was indeed kept in the loop during production and have seen bits of dailies and action bits throughout. I was surprised when they cast Morgan Freeman – that guy is the man – and I can't really tell you anything else other than prepare to be blown away.
Chris, you were also working on an adaptation of James Hudnall's "The Psycho" – any developments there?
CM: The heat just got turned up and it's on my front burner.
What can fans look forward to in the first issue of "Salem"?
KW: Gunplay. Swordplay. Knife fighting. Blood. Ichor. Magic. A masochistic madman. A giant thorny demonic witch. A big dude with a big coat and a ton of weapons under it. And demons with frickin' spiders for heads.