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Winick Journeys to “A Town Called Dragon”

by  in Comic News Comment
Winick Journeys to “A Town Called Dragon”

Dragons are one of the most iconic touchstones of fantasy. In literature, film and television, dragons have played a key role in many of the most memorable fantasy stories. Now, comics scribe Judd Winick is set to bring dragons back to the comics medium in a big way with Legendary Comics‘ “A Town Called Dragon,” which expands and details a new type of mythology for the reptilian creatures that goes all the way back to ancient Norway.

The series opens up with the ancient Vikings eradicating all the living dragons, with only a single egg remaining. Unable to destroy it, the Vikings send Leif Erikson across the world to what would become America in order to dispose of the egg, sealing it in such a way that it will never hatch, unless somehow disturbed. For hundreds of years, it remains dormant, while Dragon, Colorado arises around it. When the dragon hatches, it spells certain destruction for the town and its denizens.

Along with series artist Geoff Shaw, Winick has crafted a self-contained five-issue miniseries that explores what humans would actually do if a dragon showed up in real life. We spoke with the writer about “A Town Called Dragon,” in stores now, and its explores the mythical creatures, the importance of establishing rules in a mythical world, how the series evolved from its original vision and much, much more.

CBR News: Judd, tell us a bit about “A Town Called Dragon” — it’s certainly an evocative title.

Judd Winick: It’s exactly what it sounds like! [Laughs] It’s about a town that is named “Dragon.” The basic plot of it is that we begin hundreds of years ago in ancient Norway, when the Vikings were defeating the last of the dragons, of the thousands that ravaged the world. They had one last dragon egg, and as it turns out, dragon eggs are absolutely indestructible. Rather than deal with this problem, they send Leif Erikson — which is why Leif Erikson came to America — and tell him to go to the other side of the world and drop this there, leave it there, and run.

Our story picks up today after hundreds of years. [The townspeople] have found many, many dragon and Viking artifacts, and they’ve named the town “Dragon” after all the crap they found to drum up tourism. It’s not unlike if you went to Salem, Massachusetts and everything you step on has a witch on it. These folks are trying to make a buck off the dragons. Of course, that dragon egg finally hatches, and then we’re off to the races.

You’ve worked with the supernatural and the fantastic many times during your career. What makes “A Town Called Dragon” a different challenge than some of the other projects you’ve worked on in the past?

Well, I think there’s the fun of doing it for Legendary and being able to do a story that had a full-on beginning, middle and end. This is not an ongoing — we can probably tell more stories after this, but for the most part, this is five issues: Beginning, middle and end. We did it old school — the first issue is double-sized and the last issue is double-sized because it was just going to be fun that way! [Laughs] It was something Bob Schreck and I were kicking around, thinking, “What if we did big issues to bookend it? 50 pages and 50 pages, like when we were kids.” With that, because it’s self-contained and it’s original material, you get to play for keeps. Big, big, big story plots can happen, big story moves can happen, terrible things can happen to characters. No one is safe because we’re not interested in what’s going to happen when they have a crossover. This is just a story that has a beginning, middle and end — also, it’s a monthly! I didn’t want to do it as a graphic novel. I wanted to do it coming out every month, I wanted to have those breaks and I wanted it to feel different, issue to issue. I’m giving away a little bit, but the dragon starts out small, so things are kind of insular and creepy — more like “Alien” — and then it starts to expand into your big monster movie.

From issue to issue, things change — from creepy to the big, giant set pieces. In a graphic novel without the breaks, you don’t get the feel for it. You get the page turn, there you are. I like the idea that you wait 30 days and then getting something that feels like a whole different comic with the story leaping forward. It’s really a story with five acts. I dug that in a big way.

Does the series build on some existing lore and mythology for dragons, or forge a bit of new ground?

With any stories like this, you have to set up rules. You really do. You know when you’ve been sitting in a movie or reading a book and things are just kind of ill-defined? A buddy of mine used to refer to it as, you could hear the rattling in the engine. It just doesn’t feel right. Going into it, I had some very established rules — maybe too many rules. I know in one issue, Bob said, “You’re explaining away way too much. They don’t need all this. They don’t need to know how it all works, they need just as much as the story needs to move forward,” and he was right about that. But there are things that are set up that makes it interesting and makes it really, really clear, beginning from the jump, that dragon eggs are indestructible. When they’re very, very young, they’re at their most invulnerable. When they’re bigger, you can hurt them, but they also do much more damage. It was a small device, but it was also the catalyst of the story. Why do they want to take this egg to the other side of the world, to the undiscovered parts of North America, which hadn’t even been named back then? Well, because when this thing hatches, they’re doomed. They can keep it from hatching and get it away from themselves.

I wanted to set up some parameters for the story that were really crystal clear. As far as fighting dragons, you’ll see — part of it is they have to fight dragons with the old stuff. [Laughs] They’re going to have things that blow up, they’re going to have machine guns, they’re going to have a lot of stuff — which does a certain amount of damage, but fighting dragons, you need the original stuff you fought the dragons with. It’s the fun of the story because they have all these dragon artifacts — shields, swords, spears — from when the Vikings fought them the first time around. It’s what they named the town after when they found all this crap. Said crap, which named the town and gave it its identity, is going to be the very thing that saves their lives.

Who are the main players in the series, and how do they handle the fact that dragons are coming to their town?

I think what I lucked into is the fact that I was originally going to do this as a longer series — around 12 issues — and we have about four or five principle characters I was planning on delving into more — a little like “Lost.” I was planning on taking a breather every other issue and doing an entire backstory and learn about these characters. But when I was talking to Schreck about this — and I knew all about the story, I knew about the characters and where they came from, these really interesting character pieces from different parts of the country and different parts of the world — Bob pointed out, “I don’t know if we can go there, because once the dragon egg opens, that’s the biggest ticking clock in the whole world. You have to stay with the dragon. If we take a break and go to New York City to learn about how Kelly came to live in Dragon, Colorado, all it’s going to be is, ‘Get back to the dragon, man!’ no matter how interesting her life will be. We want to see that.” That was a really good note and it gave me the advantage that all the characters we were dealing with were really fleshed out in my mind. I knew who they were, where they came from and to a degree, a lot of it was cut out and left on the floor. It really informed the story.

I think each of them is a very, very fleshed out character — from Cooper, who runs the local restaurant and is basically our protagonist and hero, to this old dude Garvey, who I won’t tell you about, to Mickey, who feels like a homeless guy that’s obsessed with climbing the mountains. Kelly is a waitress who just got to town not too long ago. There’s a pair of twins that like to blow things up — a couple of teenagers who look like they shop at Hot Topic — and some guy that has his nose in a book in his late 20s that looks like a grad student, because he is. Each of these people plays a small but important part to the larger whole. Again, I was lucky, because I had thought it all through and got a good note from a good editor! [Laughs]

Tell us a bit more about exploring dragons from the human perspective. How do the people in the town change once the dragon shows up?

Well, I think part of it is looking at it from that exact perspective. What would it actually be like to confront a dragon? I wanted to blow past the whole first act and a half of “Jaws” where no one believes there’s a giant shark out there. Let’s get past this quickly where nobody believes there’s a dragon. Everyone sees the dragon and nobody needs to be convinced. Dragons are real. It was outside, setting things on fire. So, everybody believes. Then, you’re left with, “What the hell do we do?” That’s kind of what the story is about. It’s about blending those two things: The incredibly human aspect of what it would be like in reality along with the fantastical part — they’ve got all these artifacts, which aren’t magic, but they’re ancient swords and shields. Why would they be any more effective than a machine gun we happen to have? Well, because this shit was actually made from dragons. It’s made from dragon skin and bone and teeth. It’s not magical — it’s just old and made for this purpose from a long time ago. There’s not a lot of magic in the story so much as a look at, what if they were real? What if you had something that had a gestation period of forever, given the right circumstances? Animals hibernate for very long times, and at some point, they’re going to bring a woolly mammoth back. We just know it. In this case, a dragon egg that was frozen and kept in the dark for hundreds of years was fine and safe until it got a little hot.

I really wanted to take it from the most realistic point of view, and in today’s society — people with cellphones and machine guns and cars as well as happening to have a spear that can actually make its way into a dragon.

Moving to the art, what was it about Geoff Shaw’s work that you thought made it a good fit for your story in “A Town Called Dragon?”

We were actually looking around for the better part of a year. Bob and/or I were not exactly satisfied — none of them really quite fit. Geoff was working on another book for Legendary, and when they first started, that’s when Schreck said, “Judd, this is the guy — now you’re going to have to wait for him.” [Laughs] I looked at his stuff and said, “Yeah, he actually is the guy.”

Geoff is a superstar. He’s going to be working on very, very big books for the rest of his life. He’s really amazing. He just draws so damn well. All his people look different, there are no cookie-cutter characters. Actually, he’s an incredible designer. Cooper does not look like Mickey who does not look like Kelly. Everybody has a different body shape, body type, head, hands, what you put them in, their posture — and then it comes to the acting, which really makes a good comic book artist a fantastic one. These people are alive. From frame to frame and panel to panel, their facial expressions are changing. There’s emotion, and it’s rare to get a quadruple threat like that: A guy that does terrific action, which he does, designs great-looking characters in realistic settings — which are properly stylized, too, the characters are characters — and he’s funny, which is a miracle. So often I have, unfortunately, worked here or there with people in the past who just don’t get comedy. Geoff actually knows how to tell a joke. There’s a lot of jokes in this, there’s a lot of comedy — in a natural way.

It was worth the wait, because it looks phenomenal.

Why do you think there’s a lasting appeal for dragons in fantasy and, to a certain extent, in popular culture?

Because they’re dinosaurs that fly and breathe fire! What else do you need? [Laughs]

But I think they’re at the heart of sword and sorcery. They always have been. If you have guys and gals running around in armor with shields and swords and there’s a magician there, the story writes itself. There’s going to be a dragon. That’s what we do. It’s an expression that we’ve always had, “slaying the dragon.” Even if the story’s not about it, it’s about fighting that big bad. “Jaws” is about killing the dragon. Any monster movie is just that — some creature comes in here that shouldn’t be in here, and we all have to band together and destroy it; something that’s bigger than us, something that’s otherworldly.

Godzilla — Godzilla is a dragon. You can call him a dinosaur, but he’s not. He’s a giant, fire-breathing dragon. I think it becomes a part of our geek DNA to dig these creatures that are so dangerous and so magnificent. They are the earliest monsters. It comes back to that. The ones that have bad dragon stories, you just know it — they just stink. “Dragonheart,” that movie with Sean Connery as a talking dragon? He talks in the wrong way! Smaug, they got it. “The Hobbit,” you get it. He’s terrifying! With “Dragonheart,” it was a buddy film, a buddy comedy with a dragon. That’s not working for any of us. We want our monsters to be monsters. So there! My dissertation on dragons.

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