Wild Wild West: Dan Curtis Johnson talks "Moonshine"

The old west represents an important time in American history. It was a period of expansion, a time filled with strife and one of the most exciting times in our history. Gunslingers were the rock stars of the day and their stories were legend. Next Summer, writer Dan Curtis Johnson and artist Jeff Johns take a look at the old west with a twist in the AiT/Planet Lar graphic novel "Moonshine.

"It's about a town called Hard Rock, in Wyoming of the 1870's," Johnson told CBR News Wednesday afternoon. "It's about a gunfighter, a bartender, a prostitute, a ranch hand, and a drunk who find out a terrible truth about what's going on in their town. It's about drinkin' stuff you probably shouldn't. It's about distrusting strangers and hallucinating like mad."

AiT/Planet Lar's Larry Young described it as a bit like the 1988 John Carpenter film "They Live," where the main character in the film receives a pair of sunglasses and see the citizens of his world aren't exactly from Earth. With "Moonshine," instead of aliens you've got Lovecraftian style robots in this horror/western graphic novel.

"It's definitely one of those stories where our hero sees something that nobody else seems to know about, and it's up to him to either convince everyone else or take care of it himself.

"It's not exactly Lovecraftian, but H.P. is never far from my thoughts. My wife likes to read a little before bed and she tried to read my script one night, right after I finished it. She had to quit, like, a third of the way in-- before it even gets really messed up-- because it was going to disturb her sleep. I don't think she's managed to finish reading the script yet."

The story for "Moonshine" has been percolated around Johnson's mind for some time.

"The town and some of the characters are actually something I originally came up with way back in 1991, when I first thought about writing comics; I wrote about 40 pages of ideas and then it sort of ground to a halt. Then it mutated into a role-playing game campaign instead, which I ran with some friends for a while. Then that got shelved and it sat around for a long time alongside a hundred other sets of notes on my hard drive until Matt Fraction and I had a conversation at Comic-Con International last year about the director John Carpenter, and about westerns, and he convinced me to pitch the gist of our conversation to Larry. And it just so happened that I already had a pile of setting and characters lying around from twelve years earlier, just waiting to plug into a story.

"For my part, I like the Old West more than I like 'westerns'... that is, what appeals to me about the genre is the time and place: a vast landscape acting as the canvas on which a young nation felt free to paint just about anything it could think of. Manifest Destiny is paying off in a big way and nobody can tell anybody else what to do. So many of the things we take for granted, the things that make our modern world-- rapid communication, long-distance travel, mass-produced consumer goods-- are just coming into existence, so it feels like a world we can directly relate to (moreso than, say, just a decade earlier in the Civil War) but it's still a rough place, uncertain, and mostly empty."

Johnson is joined on the book by artist Jeff Johns, someone that Larry Young discovered as part of his "Proof of Concept" column over at Comic World News. The two have been e-mailing ever since, planning the graphic novel, and have discovered they both have a number of unusual things in common, like their Mormon upbringing.

Johnson has taken some time off from comics for a while, but is back next year with "Moonshine" and possibly a Batman project once it gets scheduled.

"I have to confess, I'm a really lazy writer and the main reason y'all don't see more from me on the shelves is that I expend almost no effort trying to get projects on shelves," admitted Johnson. "Couple that with the fact that I have a pathological inability to sell myself, to push myself on people, and my terrible inclination towards procrastination, and it means that I generally have like one project going at a time at most. It's entirely my fault. I have a day job that I really enjoy and I recently got remarried; it's easy to let those default life elements use all of my time and attention, and it's only when I make a conscious effort to take time away from them that writing gets done.

"I did a five-issue story arc (co-written with JH Williams III and drawn by Seth Fisher) for 'Legends of the Dark Knight' that is probably some sort of record for slow-boat projects: pitched in 2000, plotted in 2001, scripted in 2002, drawn in 2003... It's all done now and waiting for DC to decide when and how to publish it. It will see print eventually, I'm sure-- it's 110 pages of Seth Fisher art that's completely done and in the can, so there's no way they're going to sit on it.

"I have to say, though, that so far 'Moonshine' has been a terrific experience. It's my first creator-owned project. Larry's editorial demands have amounted to a single sentence suggestion that was spot on. AiT/PlanetLar's books always look great; I know 'Moonshine' is going to be another quality production. So I suspect I'll be doing more work with Larry and Mimi; now that we have Jeff lined up for 'Moonshine's' art, it's time for me to turn my brain onto the next project, and I suspect I'll be talking to Larry at the Con about something."

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