Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fireside Chat with Kurtis Wiebe and The Intrepids

Kurtis Wiebe is your next big favourite artist, I’m sure, so get on board the ground floor as he accelerates to stardom. His latest comic shipped last week, The Intrepids #1, and it got good reviews and might have also sold out. He has Green Wake with Riley Rossmo later in the year but for now he sat down with me to have a chat about The Intrepids and discuss why it would make a great Saturday morning cartoon, why it channels Vincent Price and shares a history with Josh Brolin, and how blogs can help spread the word. Hit the jump to get the scoop on this quality pulp title and its creator.

Ryan K Lindsay: Hi, Kurtis, it's really nice to have you with us today. There are probably a few readers out there who don't know who 'Kurtis J Wiebe' is, what are three things they should know to truly understand who you are?

Kurtis Wiebe: Thanks for taking the time to chat! Well, let's see, three things that completely encapsulate the entity that is me? I'm a Canadian, I live in the currently frozen over hell of the prairie provinces where we have been braving -45c temperatures for the past week. It has tempered my spirit and made me a hardened warrior against the harshest of winters. As part of existing in the city of Saskatoon, I am a civic bus driver by day as I pursue launching into a full time writing career. It's employment ripe with stories from everyday encounters. And a final tidbit is that I've been writing for about 5 years and actively hunting for comic publication for 4 of those years, and have also completed a novel and screenplay to kill whatever free time I had in between. I write a lot.

RKL: Wow, an inspirational, and frozen, bus driver, the world needs more of those, surely. You say you've been writing for 5 years, so this brings me a three-headed beast of a question; what sort of things have you written in that time? Do they vary from media type and genre or can you already see your wheelhouse to work within? What projects have you dumped time into only to see them not go much further than your desk?

Wiebe: I've tried many different avenues of writing to really round out my ability. I started writing as purely a trivial way to waste time more than five years ago, actually. It began with short stories where I really learned to experiment with strong characterization in a short space of time. I think the earlier years really helped me nail down some important skills that played into my comic writing. I've also written one novel, but I've found the process pretty laborious. There's something to be said about comic work in that when you write a script, you see immediate results when an artist puts a visual spin on your concepts. It's an exciting process. I'm not saying I would never write another novel, it's that the time investment is more than I can afford right now.

Last year I completed a screenplay, one I think that is very strong and benefited greatly from my years spent learning pacing in comics. I'd love to work in television or film, and maybe someday it'll be where I end up, but right now I'm completely happy writing comics. I believe it's the perfect balance of atmosphere and character that caters well to my strengths as a writer.

With that, there are always failed experiments. I've had a few projects that were my initial foray into comic writing; a Viking era tale called Wode and a sci-fi cyberpunk story called Wrench. Wode was actually a decent story, but I was so fresh to writing comics that it stuttered significantly in its pacing. Wrench suffered from my inability at the time to take big concepts and narrow it down into a clear concise story. I've recently rewritten Wrench and taken the core concept of the themes and characters and made it a modern sort of spook story. I've attached an artist and we're building a pitch at the moment.

My taste in genre is so varied, sometimes I have difficulty knowing what to do next. This year alone I have a pulp action series (Intrepids), a horror/mystery series (Green Wake) and a crime noir graphic novel (Snow Angel). I've always pushed myself to try new things, and Intrepids was definitely a wide departure from my status quo. I tend to lean towards stories with strong emotional themes and, in general, heavier messages and content. Obviously Intrepids is more light hearted, but is still rooted in those same sensibilities of tying it together with a relevant theme I'd like to touch on.

Of course, I have a folder full of untouched ideas that I will get to eventually. That's the beauty of this amazing start to 2011, I'm hoping that my success with two Image books coming out side by side will ease the pitching process and help build a fanbase that will support my work.

RKL: That's certainly a lot of writing to get through, do you have any training in a literary background? It feels like you've definitely experimented to see what style of writing best suits you. You mention that novels are time intensive, and they certainly are, but it means you get complete control. Working with an artist on a comic means you have to give up 50% of the storytelling, at least, to the artist. It's a give and take and you've seen both sides of the coin. I like a writer who is prepared to attempt different media and see what works for them, or sometimes best for the story. How do you decide which form to write a story in?

Wiebe: Does having a good grade in high school English count?

Because if it doesn't, then the answer is, no, I don't have any formal training. I've committed myself to the craft, whether through flipping through Strunk and White's Elements of Style or reading every comic I can get my hands on. I've noticed definite improvement in my pacing, characterization and dialog even in the last year, and that comes from constantly pushing myself to be better. I hope it's evident for people coming to my titles as a new writer, that the last 5 years has paid off and they are getting a solid read. I feel I've accomplished that.

In that process, I've been able to see what works in comics and what doesn't. Sometimes a concept or scene needs to be developed slowly, or has a lot of character interaction that wouldn't necessarily be strengthened by having the image do the work for the reader. Those ideas often turn into short stories, though, truthfully I haven't written a short in quite some time. I've really focused on getting my comic writing in the spotlight. It's where I place my most energy so the time I spend brainstorming is strictly for new comic series.

I really enjoy the process of creating concepts and seeing how another creative person interprets what they read. That's one of the best parts of writing comics. Connecting with a fellow creative and concocting something really special out of the simplest ideas.

RKL: No, high school English does not count, ha. A self-taught writer, I can dig it. The last craft specific thing I want to know, and then we'll dig into your latest offering, is when and where do you find the time to write? Do you have a writer's cave hidden in the home? Do you pull the bus over to get a notebook out and get the ideas down? What's your writing schedule like?

Wiebe: I write whenever the bug bites me. I find that the more I plan for setting aside time to write, the less productive I am. It's a frustrating thing, really, because I seem to get these bursts of inspiration when I don't have the time to sit down and write a script. In that case, I make a memo of my idea on my cell phone so that I don't forget it throughout the day.

That said, most of my writing comes sporadically, usually after a shift or during the day as I work a lot of split shifts. My days off I usually commit to promotion and marketing. I do a lot of daily searches for news updates, reviews or articles about my projects so I can post them on the website and Facebook.

And my writing pad of choice is my laptop that I usually carry with me. I have tried writing old school with a pen and paper but I don't have the patience, truthfully.

RKL: I have to say, I like creators that spread the word on reviews and articles, and even comment on them, politely. It opens up that creative community that comics has so effectively right now. You can so rarely discuss a flick with its director but comic creators are always so open for interviews, be they email or podcast, and I think that's one of the biggest selling points for this area of entertainment - everyone is so connected but actually wants to be.

As far as smart phones go, they are the greatest invention being used by everyone right now. The internet at your fingertips, the ability to communicate through a variety of social networks instantly, writing capabilities in different platforms, and you can even record your voice for a memo or film something you see. A writer not using a smart phone in these incidental situations is quite possibly missing out on a lot of fodder, in my opinion. Though, I'm a notorious note taker, it helps structure things in my mind before typing them down, with pens and pads all over the house, and in different bags, but when you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea/thought/line/character you can't risk remembering it in the morning (you never, ever do) and turning on the light might not be the best idea so a phone that lights itself up and provides me with the opportunity to jot down a quick note is golden.

I want to discuss The Intrepids with you now, if'n you don't mind. The moment I came across this title I was won over because it looks like so much fun. For those who don't know, sell them on The Intrepids.

Wiebe: Intrepids will fill the void in your life and make you feel loved and inspired. For $3.

If that isn't enough, Intrepids is a high octane pulp action series that ties together elements of Goonies and James Bond. How on Earth is that possible?

With this series in particular, I wanted to do something pretty far in flavour and theme from the other projects I've worked on. Light hearted action with some strong character arcs holding it all together. It allowed me to come up with some pretty ridiculous concepts and, really, there is no limit to what I can put in the Intrepids. Even if it isn't a perfect fit, Scott (my artist co-creator) somehow makes it fit in a wonderful, perfect way.

Each issue offers up some form of ridiculous invention and I'm hoping that people come back for more just to see what else we can throw at them.

RKL: If those first two lines don't sell people then I don't know what will. Golden.

The debut issue of The Intrepids just launched, how do you feel it went, are you happy? Did you get the response you were after? Do you feel this strange beast found its audience? Is it too early to call any of that?

Wiebe: Funny you ask, I just saw an internet rumour that Intrepids #1 already sold out at distributor level and is going to a second printing. I haven't heard anything from Image, so take that information with a grain of salt.

As far as what the launch means to me, it's a very, very exciting time. I've been working so hard for the moment I experienced yesterday with Scott; signing my first major publication at a local comic store. It was almost surreal and I'd have to say it hasn't fully sunk in yet. Right now I'm in Seattle, the day before the big Emerald City Comic Con where I'll be sitting at the Image table doing signings alongside some major creators. I mean, John Layman is going to be at the same table as me! And I'm part of the Image panel tomorrow. Looking back a year ago, I never imagined this is where I'd be, even though I've done everything I could to get here. I feel like I've earned it, but at the same time, I'm feeling lucky that everything happened how it did.

The response has been all over, but so far people are exciting and liking what they see. There are, of course, those that don't like what we're doing or don't get what we're trying to accomplish with Intrepids, but that's a reality in the creative market. My hope is to connect with comic readers, in the way I write Intrepids and make myself available to direct conversation with them. That's an important part for me, being approachable to people who appreciate what I do.

It may be too early to call anything, but there's an aura of success floating around Intrepids already and I know it's because Scott and I have made something unique and fun as hell.

RKL: You heard it here first, kids: "The Intrepids Sells Out First Printing, Could Be The Next 'Chew'!"

Ha, maybe I shouldn't put the jinx on you but I will say John Layman is probably chatting with someone right now and gushing that he gets to spend his weekend with Kurtis Wiebe!

I ran a Jumping On Points column with Intrepids listed and many commenters said this was the comic they were keen for. It's a solid premise with eye catching art, that's what every comic reader should be looking for. I've read the issue and it does feel unique and fun as hell. There's a certain something about the comic that has a real opportunity to break open wide, I think.

You've mentioned your co-creator, artist Scott Kowalchuk, how did you end up working with him and what's your collaboration process like?

Wiebe: Haha, that's a head swelling thought, but I suspect it isn't the case. Thanks for the confidence boost, anyway!

I used to be editor for a self-published magazine called Vehicle a few years ago, around the time I'd written the first draft of Intrepids #1. Being editor got me into the Alberta College of Art and Design graduating class portfolio review exhibition. That's where I met Scott, he had a fantastic portfolio and was one of the most approachable students. We chatted briefly, but he made an impression. I pushed for his work in the second issue of Vehicle and he put together a piece that was an amazing amount of fun. (you can download Issue #2 at and find Scott's comic short "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" there)

I'd never considered a more retro art style for the series but somehow I felt Scott could make it happen. I pitched the concept to him and a few days later he sent me the concept for the cyber-bear and I knew I'd approached the right artist. Scott's put such a unique spin on the concept that Intrepids wouldn't be the success it is without him. People are raving about the art in this series, which makes me happy for him. I think Scott's going to be a very successful artist in the comic world and it's an honour that I got to be the first to work with him.

Our collaborative process is pretty different from the standard, at least from what I hear about the indie industry. I'm very open to hearing ideas from the people I work with; characters, concepts, plot ideas. To have the artist invested heavily in the development of the story pays off in a huge way in the passion they bring because they feel part of the series on every level. Scott and I talked for months about this series, and in the year since Image picked it up, we've finetuned the series over Skype and in person when we can arrange a meeting (we live 6 hours apart).

I think that is evident in the upcoming issues, because a lot of the ideas that start to surface are both of ours and the further into the story we get, the more excited and zany we are.

RKL: So, basically, your collaborative origin story is that you were some skeevy dude combing the local design colleges looking for impressionable young pups to lure into drawing your cyber-bears and crazy ideas. Nice... If only it were so easy all the time.

As Scott's first major comic publication, I think he's going to get some massive attention for it because his work reminds me a little of that faux-Kirby style you see Tom Scioli and Dan McDaid using, but it's also got a bit more looseness at times that make me think of the Brazilian twins Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba. When reviewing this issue on CBR, I likened the page where Crystal takes down the cyber-bear as something you could find in Casanova. It's simple storytelling, uses composition and white space to amazing effect, and just has an air of bad ass that isn't actually forced. That is one of my favourite pages of this year so far. Brilliant.

Did Scott bring anything to the table, while preparing this comic, that really blew your mind or changed the course of a story point or character?

Wiebe: I'll be sure to let Scott know about your kind words!

It's happened a few times, actually. The one I can mention without spoiling anything is the character Darius Dread who will appear in Issue #2. I had a pretty particular idea of what was going to happen when the Intrepids encountered him, but hadn't written the script yet. I told Scott about the character so he could start designing him, and when he began sending me concepts, his role changed. Originally, I'd imagined him as this badass, death dealing mercenary, but, as you will see, he's much different than what is expected after what's hinted at in Issue #1.

RKL: Ooh, teaser alert! I'll be sure to look for out for this guy who isn't a badass, death dealing mercenary.

I want to discuss Crystal Crow. Is it fair to say she'll be the main character in this otherwise ensemble piece? She seems like a conflicted character, when we first meet her in the action sequence introduction she's pretty cool and calm, and she admits that Dante saved her from a life on the streets yet, when we see her interacting with Dante back at HQ, it feels like she almost hates this man who is ostensibly in charge of her life. We see in the flashback that she felt like she wasn't special, and maybe let him down, when he brought more orphans into the mix. He diluted his attention and thus his love. There's some very subtle and loaded back-and-forth between the two, is this now-toxic relationship going to provide an equal share of the drama with the more action oriented mission plot lines?

Wiebe: Crystal is definitely the lead, and it's through her personal lens in which we see the world. She was the first to be taken in by Dante, the first to be trained. The remaining issues will be told through Crystal's perspective.

I'm really glad that the narrative was clear and you picked up on the tension and Crystal's conflicted feelings about Dante.

That conflict, and why Crystal seems ticked at Dante is slowly revealed throughout the entire series and is the major emotional arc that holds the entire story together. I wanted there to be a strong story that resonated beneath the surface of all the wacky hi-jinks and ridiculous characters. The nice thing about this series is that people can take that storyline or leave it entirely and enjoy it for the more pulp aspects.

However, I'm putting a lot of my heart into this story and I think that honesty will really connect with readers.

And I think what is yet to come will really surprise readers because even though some of the early reviews are saying this is a 'been there done that' book, just wait until I stop pulling my punches and unleash the story in full. It's got some fun, interesting twists ahead.

RKL: If you don't mind us getting a little personal, in the back matter of the comic you write about how this title and its evolution ran alongside your marriage. It was a rough time and at the end you had a comic published, but a marriage dissolved. Are you channelling some of those feelings and emotions you've experienced into the story and characters? Do you feel like this type of writing is then a form of therapy for you, and how overt will it become on the pages?

Wiebe: A lot of the perspective I gained through that experience finds a place within the framework of the story. What I learned about the importance of family and how I saw relationships fitting into my life, I reveal, if somewhat subtly, through the characters.

I'd say it was definitely a form of therapy, but since the content of Intrepids is fairly light, it wasn't the series where I really delved into those emotions. That I saved for Green Wake.

RKL: I love back matter in comics. I think it's like a Director's Commentary on a DVD, it's a peek behind the curtain, and good back matter can lift a comic from being a trade wait to a monthly investment. I was pumped to see you slot something into the back of the debut so I'm wondering if you'll have space to do it again in the series? Is it something you'd even like to do, connect to the audience directly instead of through the story?

Wiebe: That's exactly what we were going for was an extra features feel. We'd like to continue to put a few commentaries, in some form or another, in each issue to give insight to the inspiration behind some of the ideas for that issue.

That said, we're constantly putting up new content on our website ( and in the extra features section so that fans always have something to look at while they wait for the next issue to come out.

RKL: LINKS! Nice. If people like The Intrepids then they really need to check the site, plenty of great art on offer to look at. Many creators in comics are using technology to their advantage, do you think it's something everyone should try to use? And if so, how?

Wiebe: Every single independent comic should have a website when their book hits Previews, if not before. There is no reason to hide your project for fear of giving away too much, too soon. Intrepids has had teaser art up since October, and we've put a lot of content on the site way before it even hit Previews and I think that has helped with the buzz. We're trying for the same with Green Wake, getting a website off the ground well before it hits the shelves. I've also been writing a blog that is taken from the perspective of the main characters grandson who's found an old box full of Green Wake mementos. He's going through a journal entry by entry and giving his thoughts on the man he never knew very well.

The more content you can make available for your readership, the more value.

RKL: I think that's both an excellent and commendable approach to getting an independent comic up and running. Is there any chance that blog content might be collected for the HC or trade collections? Is anything even thought about for that far ahead?

Wiebe: It's possible, but there's never a guarantee of a trade if the sales of the singles don't warrant it. It's important to focus on those sales early on, so if my editor at Image Shadowline likes the idea of it, we might include those blogs at the back of individual issues. Might even be a good idea to make it exclusive to the singles so people have to support us to ensure we get a trade.

It's all about marketing, I'm afraid.

RKL: I'm all about single exclusives; screw the trade-waiters! Ha. This is a 5 issue mini, was it created that way because it's an easier premise to sell instead of an ongoing or do you just have this one tale for The Intrepids? Any chance, sales willing, you'll come back to this rag-tag bunch?

Wiebe: Intrepids is actually a 6 issue mini-series [Editor's Note: Ryan failed here at the basic rules of journalism. Loses 4 Gonzo Mana points.], and we originally marketed it as a standalone 6 part story but with the option for more 6 issue follow up series if there was demand. Scott and I talked a lot about the idea of continuing the series after this run ends in August at the Emerald City Con this weekend, especially after finding out Intrepids sold out in one day.

Scott is already getting a lot of interest and it looks like his schedule is filling up fast. We're both quite willing to do another series, but it'll become a matter of scheduling. In the meantime, I'm really focusing on getting more titles of differing genres out there to test my skills and keep readers guessing as to what it is I'll do next.

RKL: I think the "Hellboy Method", as it has been coined, of doing standalone minis whenever the fancy takes you is a damn fine method. If it's just rolling minis then you might as well make it an ongoing but with minis you can both go off and experiment in varied ways elsewhere. It never feels forced, you clearly come back together because you want to be there.

You have Intrepids underway, Green Wake coming, is there anything else you're pitching on the horizon? Are you going to become another Image stable horse of creativity?

Wiebe: I'm currently waiting to hear back on a pitch that sounded like it's been greenlit, but until that happens I'll have to keep it under wraps. I'm currently putting together 4 pitches with various artists, one of whom I met at the Emerald City Con this past weekend. It was a great opportunity to network with fellow creators and run some ideas past them.

RKL: You let us know when they get greenlit, with some teaser images, and we'll certainly help you out with spreading the word. I guess we should end with The Intrepids, so, just a few more on this kooky bunch. I have to know, which one of them is your favourite?

Wiebe: I really enjoy Chester, I find his dialog and characterization the easiest. It was a real pleasure to hear in reviews that people enjoyed the humour I injected into the series through Chester. It's always so hard to know if what you're writing is only funny to you. I can sit there and think "Oh yeah, I nailed the timing on this", only to have it fall flat.

RKL: If there had to be a soundtrack to this comic, what would it be?

Wiebe: As far as a soundtrack? Wow, I've never thought of that. It'd have to be something retro, I think, or modern with old school sensibilities. How about an album that combined Beach Boys, early Beatles and a dash of big band style music.... Brian Seltzer? Good question, I'll have to think more on it.

RKL: What was the meaning of the alternate title 'Rat Bastards'? To be honest, I prefer The Intrepids, it just matches the tone of the whole book.

Wiebe: Rat Bastards was me trying to make a pseudo-superhero book more indie. I was concerned that with Fantastic Four trappings, I had to make sure the book had indie edge to it. There is actually a hidden meaning as well, one that would've been revealed in the plot, but, like you, I prefer The Intrepids. Also, when I first started writing the series, it was a little bit darker. You can see that with a few pages in Issue #1 where Rose kills someone and Crystal and Doyle discuss the ethical dilemma of murdering people. That's as dark as the series ever gets, and we decided to make the series lighter in the upcoming issues. That's not to say Intrepids loses that strong familial theme, though.

RKL: Can you sell us on one zany idea, like the cybernetic bear, that's going to appear in an upcoming issue?

Wiebe: Issue #2 is even better than the first. If you can believe it, Scott's art is even better and the story really starts to open up. As far as what you can expect in the zany department, how does a team of trained battle baboons that serve a badass mercenary sound?

We promise to have something unique each issue, be it adversary or otherwise, that will really make people think I'm on some kind of drug. I'm excited to unleash the creations upon the world.

RKL: After the way the first issue sold, I think it's safe to say people are excited to read your Intrepid creations. It's great to hear your enthusiasm and passion for this project come through. I have to say, I liked the sequence of Rose slicing those guys up, it was brutally effective. This being an Image comic, are you expecting a TV option to be picked up any time soon? Who are your top casting choices?

Wiebe: Wouldn't that be the dream? I'd love to have Intrepids come out as a movie or TV series. I think it could make a pretty strong Saturday morning cartoon, actually. Like a kid friendly version of Venture Brothers.

Again, I'd have to think about who would play the characters. Dante could only be played by Vincent Price, though not really an option obviously.

RKL: I wish you the best of luck with this series, and maybe we can chat again as the series winds down. Before we go, we have to do the Literary Rorschach Test. I throw out a word and you respond with a word, sentence, essay, whatever come to mind, go:

Noir - Done right in the movie Brick.
Razor - The only Battlestar Galactica related spin-off I haven't seen.
Winning - Not as important as trying.
Typewriter - Antiquated.
Atlantis - Wasn't there a Stargate spin-off called this?
Spy - vs. Spy
Sandwich - Too much work to make.
email - Consuming a lot of my time lately.
Shadow - Gate, the best Nintendo game ever made.
Pulp - Orange Juice, Extra.

RKL: Thanks for the chat, mate. Catch up with you next time.

Wiebe: Thanks for all the fantastic questions, hope to do another with you in the future!

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