Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fireside Chat with Kurtis Wiebe from Green Wake - Part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of our chat with Kurtis Wiebe about his new mini from Image, Green Wake. Yesterday we spoke about what the comic is really about, it's inspirations, and what the characters represent. Today we look at why it holds a similar place on the racks as The Damned, and how Riley Rossmo is drawing the greatest Cronenbergian trip this side of French cinema. Let's dip straight into the next question. If you haven't sampled Part 1 of this interview then shoot back and enjoy.

Ryan K Lindsay: Let's go through the cultural reference street cred algorithm. You name drop Identity, and that's a movie I had thought of in regards to this book (though you seem to want us to know the resolutions won't be similar). I didn't mind Identity it was more a study in tone and style and the eventual story let down in areas but definitely something worth watching. Dark City is one of those flicks that was eclipsed by The Matrix and so is criminally forgotten. It's one of those treasures, like Jeunet's City of Lost Children, that works on many levels but is also an enjoyable flick. And, finally, you mention not having seen Freddy's Dead - I think it deserves points to have steered clear of that one. It's a real turkey, I think Rosanne is in it from memory. Not a highlight on Old Man Kruger's list.

I'm glad you've directed us to the Green Wake blog because it is a bold direction to promote the book. There's some serious information on there and all readers should check it out. I hope you continue to update it as time permits with this title shipping.

I want to discuss working with Riley Rossmo. For me, he encapsulates what this new Image style means today and to today's readers. He's worked on Proof and Cowboy Ninja Viking and I always find his style expressive and yet tonally dark. How do you really end up in a place where he's tapping you to write something for him to draw? What sequence of events led to this glorious union? You've mentioned the Proof back up, how did this all come about?

Kurtis Wiebe: Just to quickly address another title you mentioned. I know Riley was hugely inspired visually by City of Lost Children, and we both mentioned it as a point of interest as an influence in the overall design. I suppose it's evident as it's something you picked up on.

Riley and I met through some mutual friends when I was visiting Calgary a number of years ago. Riley called Calgary home at the time, and if I recall correctly, it was actually the week Proof #1 came out and a handful of people (including Kelly Tindall who's lettering Green Wake, coincidentally... or was it fate?) met at a pub to celebrate. I liked what I saw in Proof, and at this point we were distant acquaintances but after that meeting I dropped him an email with a few comic ideas I'd been rolling around in my head. Keep in mind, this was before I had any publications and was still trying to get a quality pitch together.

I also hadn't learned about attaching artists to stories where you are catering to themes and genres they love to illustrate. So, I was pitching him entirely wrong material, and he kindly informed me as such. (If you've ever received an e-mail from Riley, you'll know there's a bit of facetiousness underlying the 'kindly informed'. You're lucky to get a full sentence, the guy's just too busy!)

We kept in touch and whenever I was in town visiting, I'd stop by Another Dimension, the comic store he worked at, and we'd chat. That's where it all started. As we became friends, I landed a publication with Red 5 Comics, so it added a little to my credibility and he saw I was serious about pursuing publication. I'd like to think that's why he offered me a backup spot in Proof, it's also entirely possible he was just trying to get rid of me! Hah!

Then everything just came together. After writing Green Wake #1, Riley ended up moving to my town this time last year (Saskatoon, Canada) and we ended up hanging out quite a lot. That's when Green Wake really started to take shape as Riley was interested in getting new projects together as Cowboy Ninja Viking was wrapping up and he wanted to follow it up with a brand new series. It's been a great working situation for me, being able to hop over to Riley's place to check on the art as it is completed is a real energizing experience and motivates me to write and raise the bar just like he does with every page.

And you're right, Riley is doing something with his work that no one else in the market is. He's an original guy to his bones, and his style is entirely unique. There is no one else who could do justice to Green Wake, and I think it's the perfect project for us to collaborate on.

RKL: Man, I remember seeing City of Lost Children at the cinema years ago when I first dropped. It warped my little mind and I've never looked back. I'm impressed that I got that reference but also more impressed you guys are using it as a touchstone, though I can understand why you haven't name-checked it much (though you totally should!). I can't believe you get to just randomly bump into Riley Rossmo! The man is quickly becoming a legend and comic artist phenom so that's kind of awesome to see how simply, but randomly, it all came together. It seems like you two collaborate pretty tightly, and with you being able to pop around and hover over the art it seems like it would be easy to shoot the story through together. Are there certain aspects you're letting Riley cut loose on or is it all pretty tightly woven because you two have been working this all together for so long? Also, how did you get him to draw a lead that didn't have sideburns? Was that tough?

Wiebe: I've kept the script fairly loose as far as camera angles and how Riley fills out the panels beyond what I've set out. Given that we've built Green Wake together, we know exactly what works and what doesn't in the setting of scenes, both backgrounds and character extras. That allows me to trust Riley to do what he does best, and that's fill the world with lots of interesting visuals. It's the perfect collaboration and when I write the script, I deliberately leave room for him to play in. That kind of creative freedom has led to a lot of amazing panels, and has kept me surprised as the pages come in.

And, if you've seen any pictures of me floating around the vast network of the tubes, you'll notice I often sport a full beard. Riley and I reached an agreement: he can touch my beard as long as Morley remains sideburn free. I think it was a compromise he was happy with.

RKL: Are there instances of you seeing Riley's work and tweaking the script to suit what he's doing and the brain explosions seeing his art must inspire?

Wiebe: Definitely. There hasn't been any reverse revisions where I've gone back to change anything after he's illustrated it, but without a doubt I've been inspired with story ideas based on either conceptual art he's messed around with or small details he's put into panels. On top of that, when he shows me his work in person, we often will sit and talk over coffee about what comes next. I enjoy that we both have developed this world and when Riley has an idea he wants to try, it's in my best interest to work with him because it keeps him 100% involved and that shines through in the final product. I still maintain this is his best work yet, and it just gets better with each issue.

RKL: You also mention your work at Red 5. I'm sure many don't know (I had to do some digging) but you had something published by them before The Intrepids sold out through Image - it was a little comic called Beautiful Creatures (you can get it for a buck an issue on the ComiXology app). It's an updates fairy tale about 4 women who find out they're tied to forces and powers they didn't quite know existed. How did you eventually get that into the hands of Red 5 and has it served as a calling card of sorts?

Wiebe: That actually came about through a connection as well. I'm friends with someone who's really tight with Paul Ens, one of the founders of Red 5 Comics. Through that mutual friendship, I was able to get in contact with Red 5 very early on and was able to get together a few pitches directly into the right hands. Beautiful Creatures was eventually what they chose to publish.

Unfortunately, it didn't receive many orders and barely made it to print because of the low demand. It actually received a high percentage of very favourable reviews but never got much word of mouth after its release. I was happy with how the book turned out, the only thing I would've changed was making it a 6 issue series rather than 4. I had to sacrifice a lot of character development to get the story arc finished in that short space. It was a definite learning experience in pacing and plotting, and I'm grateful for the experience as it groomed me for the work I'm doing now.

RKL: With such a short career, you've really worked hard to write such disparate books. Beautiful Creatures has a fairy tale flow, The Intrepids is retro-pulp spy-fu, and now Green Wake is haunting noir through a sci-fi-horror lens. Is this you trying to find yourself as a writer or do all of these genres construct exactly who you are?

Wiebe: I like experimenting with genre and tone. I'd say the easiest for me to write for a long time were stories that channelled a lot of the cynicism I felt over the years. The darker stories seemed to flow pretty naturally and it made writing heavier material simple, if somewhat draining. When my life turned around and I started to feel optimistic and hopeful about the future, I was suddenly worried about being able to write anymore. What would I tap into for inspiration?

That is when I started testing new waters, and I find I'm pretty flexible in tone and theme. I had to learn to look at each story through a filter, and that I could still use my life experience to add weight or honesty to whatever story I was writing. It happened with Intrepids, which is a light-hearted book that is built on a foundation of analyzing my past experiences. Green Wake is much the same, but the questions I was asking myself were pretty heavy. Even though I'm a happy, optimistic person, I'm still able to write darker material simply by asking myself hard questions and talking honestly about those topics through the characters and worlds I create.

RKL: You've mentioned a bit that as your comic career has risen your marriage descended into a terminal spiral. How much of that experience, and those emotions, have been channelled into Green Wake? And if much has been, has it helped you? The book is so emotionally charged and focussed on regret and guilt and fate, I'm sure you really had to analyse those areas of a man's life in detail.

Wiebe: I think it's pretty much impossible to not have what you write be influenced by the difficulties you face in life. Obviously, something as significant as a long term relationship is going to affect the tone and themes that go into any given story, so my situation was no different.

What I can say most candidly is that I learned from my mistakes, and Green Wake was at the heart of some hard questions I had to ask myself as part of that process. I'm not saying that I agree with Morley's point of view, but he definitely sees things in a way I can empathize with. Morley's emotionally in a place at the start of Green Wake that I'd languished in for quite some time, and his journey mirrors, in some aspects, my own thought processes.

I hope that resonates with people, because I know the questions Morley asks are questions people ask of themselves all the time. He's struggling with a very real, very relatable dilemma.

RKL: With such universal themes and emotions on display, what sort of reaction from readers are you looking for when Green Wake drops? Obviously, you want adoring attention and monetary gifts, but do you want us to be interested or appalled? Just how much fear do you want to instil in us?

Wiebe: I'm going into the launch of Green Wake with much different feelings than with Intrepids. I think because Green Wake was a much more emotionally charged writing experience, I feel like more is on the line when the eventual reviews come in.

Still, my priority with this series is to inflict an emotional bite that sticks with the reader long after they put the last issue down. I think there are enough threads in Green Wake that each person will walk away feeling something different. For some it might be Morley's turmoil, for others the shock of the mutilations that grow more grisly with each incident. I want people to really feel this story.

That's my end game with Green Wake.

RKL: The murders get grislier, sign me up. Just from reading the first issue, I think readers are going to walk away with plenty of feelings within themselves to ponder, as well as lots of story to allow time to soak in. This is one of the few books that really feels great reading more than once. I'm also interested to see reviews and what other people take from this book. What would the soundtrack to Green Wake be?

Wiebe: Hands down, Apocalyptica covering Metallica for the series soundtrack. A blend of old world instruments meeting modern day rage.

RKL: Metal on metal. I agree. By halfway through the issue (and I do this with lots of comics), I was thinking about the score. I heard plenty of metal as an ambient noise. Have you ever heard the Russ Pay Cronenberg tribute album The New Flesh? It's metal (as in the material, not just the genre) and it's a painful and intense experience. It would fit this book perfectly.

Actually, this book is very Cronenbergian. It has a strangling tone and it's mysterious in content. There's a central throughline to the narrative but it's also steeped in metaphor. I've seen you mention Naked Lunch online but I'm getting a very overall Cronenberg vibe from this book. It's somewhere melded with the tone of The Brood and the body horror of the New Flesh flicks - Krieger and his frog ways are totally the New Flesh! Is Morley going to put a VHS tape into his abdomen? And believe me when I say this book is Cronenbergian I mean that as the highest honour, the man is a genius.

Wiebe: That's interesting, I haven't heard someone reference Cronenberg when talking about how Green wake resonated with them. I think Cronenberg understands on a very deep level what people fear. The idea that we are the own instruments of our demise, that we hold inside us the keys to our undoing. Those are definitely themes that simmer quietly in the background of the series, so I can see how you'd draw the comparison. I've enjoyed his work, but have always found his films extremely uncomfortable to watch. Naked Lunch had this way of using really bizarre imagery to unsettle the viewer, and the way he melds inanimate objects with flesh is so unnatural and weird it makes you want to stop taking it in, but you're so awestruck that you can't look away.

Riley seems to be influenced by that method, as there are some very strange characters ahead. Krieger is only the beginning. In issue #2, there's a character that, when Riley sent me the first page of his appearance, I actually felt a little grossed out taking it in.

As of yet, no plans to use Krieger as a video player.

RKL: Ah, there's nothing better than your own work disturbing you. Having seen some sketches of Riley's, I'd almost draw some comparisons to pan's Labyrinth, and the usual Del Toro warped view of fear, but enough of the comparisons. It is clear you're up there with the masters on this work but Green Wake still stands on its own.

I'm tempted to know, this is a 5 issue mini, are you going to leave it as a done-in-one tale? It has a feel, even after just one issue, that this isn't the sort of thing that needs to be milked but I'm interested to know if there is any possibility this could go further? Good noir usually leaves everyone dead or broken at the end, so maybe this will have to be the one tale.

Wiebe: People are going to start to think I'm paying you for these compliments. By the way, how much were you asking per compliment again?

Riley and I have talked about a follow up should there be a lot of interest or desire for more Green Wake. We're building a very deep mythology with the town where, really, you could tell a hundred stories and they'd all be interesting, unique pieces set in the heart of a town full of mystery. What I mentioned earlier about tying up all the loose ends means that every question we ask, either through the characters or through the storyline, will be answered. That doesn't mean, however, we are revealing every single detail about the town. There are probably at least a dozen mysteries we very lightly will touch on in this 5 issue mini that could very well be explored with another plot.

We've even discussed further plots and characters. Really, we could take any character from this first series and focus on them, or we could continue to follow Morley. If he survives this series, of course.

RKL: Ha, I'm sure some troll will take me to task for being such a gushing fanboy. I will hereby state that I have no connection to you, this book, or its publishing company. We only met online for this interview and though we both rock a very decent beard that's about all we've got. As for Image, I've had a few pitches declined by them so that won't buy my love of all they do, surely. However, many will see me gush about this title in particular here on TWC in a Top Ten Tuesday post, and in reviews, and on Twitter. That's because this is my favourite comic of this year and I'll bend anyone's ear for an hour to explain exactly why. It's very rare I petition for people to just pick up one issue but I'm putting out a blanket campaign with this ne. If you try only one new series this year make it Green Wake. You won't be disappointed. Guaranteed.

I didn't take into account the town itself. Of course, Green Wake could be the setting for plenty more tales, that make's so much sense. Even if the characters all changed the landscape, and the rules, would remain the same. It would be like having an all new crew land on the island from LOST. I'd totally watch that show.

Do you think there are any comics out there Green Wake shares a sensibility with? Is there anything readers out there could source out to prepare for this book?

Wiebe: I think some of the surreal aspects and maybe the narrative flows could be compared to Pizzeria Kamikaze by Etgar Keret and Asaf Hanuka. Riley had read the graphic novel before starting on Green Wake and suggested I give it a go as well. I enjoyed a lot of the ideas they worked with and how they used a lot of metaphor as well as referenced straight up real world events and people.

The Damned by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt could also be used as a comparison with a sort of noir feel in an otherworldly setting. It shares some similar concepts of blending human and near human characters in a seemingly normal town that hides a lot of secrets from everyday eyes.

RKL: I'm interested, what comics did you read as a kid? What are your favourites and what do you read now?

Wiebe: I actually didn't grow up with comics. I lived in a small town where there wasn't really access to them, but I did inherit a huge box of collection type comic books of a Sunday newspaper type. It had dozens of titles, everything from Andy Cap to Garfield. I remember being a huge fan, but ultimately I had no way to get my hands on more.

It wasn't until recently when a friend bought me a single issue of Walking Dead. I'm pretty sure it was issue #18, just out of the blue and I gave it a read. That was my first step into the comic world. I started buying what I could afford at the time, I remember Fell by Ellis and Templesmith being a huge hit with me.

Right now, I follow a few different series, and take on any reading projects Riley has for me. I usually read a comic according to who's writing it, I enjoy Brian Wood (DMZ in particular), and Brubaker is consistently one of my favourites. Criminal made a huge impact on me and I recommended it to anyone who hadn't had a chance to read it.

Currently, I'm about half way through Daytripper, and I recently finished Sixth Gun and Skullkickers. That's a fun series, by the way. I had a chance to hang out with Jim Zubkavich at ECCC this year and he was a real inspiration with his great attitude and unending levels of energy.

RKL: The Walking Dead drew me back in full time, too. It was the first trade. Now I'm also a massive fan of DMZ, Criminal/Incognito, and Daytripper is phenomenal, enjoy the chance to finish that. As a father, that final issue dropped me (I actually read it a handful of days before my son was born - synergy). From the sounds of what you read, you seem like much more of a creator owned type of guy. Do you plan to stick that way for a while or are there characters at the Big Two you'd love to pitch for?

Wiebe: The reward of working on creator owned material is the full control you have over the story and characters. You can do with them whatever you want, which allows for a much more personalized story. I'm so new even to this part of comics that it's hard for me to say what I want to do long term.

I'm seriously thrilled to have the opportunities that have come my way this last year, and working on my own titles has been an immensely rewarding experience. The trade-off is that, I do this on my time, in between the days when I work my regular career. I can't dedicate as much time as I'd like and it can be difficult to focus when the time is available. Writing stories for the Big Two would be an immediate financial reward, at the cost of complete control.

It's a conundrum, as I'd love to write full time but the finances aren't there yet.

RKL: I guess if you find work you enjoy you'll never work a day in your life. And that is so damn true. I guess the only question left to ask is; The Intrepids sold out with its first issue so if Green Wake manages a similar coup do you have any specific way you're planning to celebrate being the latest Image sensation?

Wiebe: You know, I think I'll be so busy trying to stay ahead of Riley with scripts I might not have time to celebrate!

I'd obviously be pretty thrilled if Green Wake sold out. Riley and I have worked so hard on this project, and I feel confident that it's something new, original and excellent. If it resonates with readers as a whole, like it impacted you, I'm happy. All the better if there is such a demand they can't keep them on the shelves. I suppose that's the two ways I can measure success on this book.

I'm happy to tell this story, to put my ideas and characters out into the world and see who loves them, or who doesn't. I'm happy for the opportunity, I just have to sit back and hope everything else falls into place.

RKL: Kurtis, thank you so much for your time. It's been an absolute pleasure chatting with you and I wish you every success for what is already my favourite comic of 2011.

Wiebe: A pleasure, once again. I've enjoyed the conversation and you asked some really great questions that made me think pretty hard about this series. You might even have instigated an epiphany for how I'll end Green Wake.

Thanks for your time, Ryan.

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