Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fireside Chat with Kurtis Wiebe, Still From Green Wake

The first arc of Green Wake concluded a few weeks ago so I caught up with scribe Kurtis Wiebe to discuss the ethereal finale and preview what’s coming next. Wiebe dropped some hints about the overall arc of the book, the impact it is having on the wider world, his plans to relaunch the Happy Little Elves, and why you should pick up the trade. Hit the jump for all the chatter.

Kurtis Wiebe is the writer of Image sell outs Green Wake and The Intrepids, as well as the upcoming Peter Panzerfaust. He previously penned Beautiful Creatures and Snow Angel. He has a novel coming out before the end of the year and he also hosts a comic writing podcast, The Process.

Ryan K Lindsay: Kurtis, welcome back and thanks for agreeing to chat more Green Wake. The initial arc has just finished, what's response been to you on this series from the readership?

Kurtis Wiebe: Hey, thanks for another chance to talk about myself! It never gets old.

Green Wake has been a strange little beast. The reviews have been nearly flawless from day one, with some pretty strong commendations like best new series of 2011. There has been a fairly solid base of fan support on our Facebook page and from the spike in followers on Twitter, and I've had a few emails here and there from people wanting to thank me for Green Wake. That's a totally rewarding feeling. I read a review this morning from Comics Bulletin by Felicity Gustafson and she said, "Green Wake is a fascinating contrast of fate and choice that will leave you questioning yourself and the crossroads you've taken in your life."

Christ, what can I say about that? To have that kind of impact, THAT's the payoff I want. To be able to really make someone feel something and to reflect in a meaningful way. I'd say I achieved what I set out to do with this series, and that's a huge victory for me.

RKL: Green Wake is an emotionally visceral tale. For a book that started off as an excuse for Riley Rossmo to draw some gruesome pages, how is it that emotion became such an integral part of the story?

Wiebe: It was serendipitous, I suppose. Not in one of those happy, life coincidence type ways, but a matter of the tone of the story and the situation I was going through in life at the time. It's something I've been vocal about, and we touched on it the last time we had this chat, but the themes of relationships, loss and grief were emotions I was actively sorting through in my personal experiences and I was easily able to infuse that into Morley's plight.

The longer the series has gone on, the more I realize I was actively working through some horrible shit in my life. Just the other day I was talking about Morley's last speech in Issue #5, and it hit me that his speech was my own closure coming through to the page. It makes sense why it emotionally affected me when I saw it in print.

Is it possible to write without some kind of pain? Maybe that's what my next series should be about.

Green Wake Vol 1 cover
RKL: You can write without pain - but you'll end up writing the Happy Little Elves In Tinkly Winkly Town, ha.

Green Wake is certainly full of dark emotion - dead wives, strangled girlfriends. The book feels like a male reaction to the ethereal effect women have on us. They make us crazy, they make us violent, they make us love more than we thought possible, and they ultimately inspire us (through their positive and negative ways). Was this analysis of our relationships intentional or am I reading too much into a book about scarred frogs and wicked crazy monsters?

Wiebe: Happy Little Elves in Tinkly Winkly Town is the name of my next series, and you should take that more seriously, thank you very much.

You're definitely right about what you've taken away from Green Wake. I've said from the beginning that this series was soaked in metaphor and all the visual and story design are an avenue for me to really delve into the experiences I was going through at the time. I was really jaded, truthfully, and I think that might come through in the pages, but none of the exploration was angry or coming from a place of hatred, it was simply working through the idea of what a relationship with a lover can do to you. There's all kinds of perspectives on it in Green Wake. Carl and Ariel, Morley and Anna, and beyond romantic relationships, there's also the closeness of friends you can trust which I talk about through Krieger and Morley.

We unleash all of our passions, good and bad, in the closest of relationships because that's where we feel safe and at our most vulnerable at the same time. I was simply looking back at my past and allowing my range of emotions to seep into the story. It made this series the easiest to write for flow, but the hardest because it was difficult to escape that dark head space afterward.

RKL: I'd read Happy Little Elves in Tinly Winkly Town if you wrote it, but only if Scott Kowalchuk (your collaborator on The Intrepids) drew it. Though a Riley Rossmo Elf Town would be pretty sweet.

For all the emotion and therapy of Green Wake there were also some pretty intense monsters. Rossmo cut loose with the visuals and really defined the series. It feels like he was free to design to his heart's delight, black as it might be, so how much impact did he have on the actions of the story as well? You guys live so close together, do you bounce everything off him or just dictate how it's going to be? I guess my actual question is, who would win a fight; Wiebe V Rossmo?

Wiebe: Most of the design comes from Riley's tortured mind. For some of the monsters we'd sat down prior to him illustrating specific scenes, but in the script quite often I just put, "a monster appears!" and he ran with it. Trust me, I was as surprised and disgusted as the readers most of the time. That final panel of what happens to Carl was entirely Riley, but it was a perfect image for the arc of that character.

As for the rest of the series, we have talked a lot. Given he lives in town, we'd meet once a week for coffee and discuss what was coming up and what we felt needed to happen next. I generally held the reins for the story, but we work shopped the entire arc together. We met a few weeks ago to discuss the second arc and came up with some great concepts that tie into the original 5 issues. I really love that kind of in depth collaboration. So many reviews have attributed the strength of the series on how well the writing and art complement each other, and I'm convinced that's a testament to our process in developing Green Wake.

And I would win in a fight. You heard it here first.

RKL: You mention Carl, I'd like to go into spoiler territory a little bit. I liked Carl as a character. Whether it was his aloof style with the headphones, or his fish out of water status in the town, he didn't seem like a bad guy, yet his arc is absolutely brutal. You see him having murdered his girlfriend (I won't even ask what dark emotions you're working through there) and then the town of Green Wake turns him into one of its many monsters. Is this the town's way of punishing him for his transgressions? And will we ever see Carl again, kind of like a Sloth from The Goonies role?

Wiebe: Carl and Ariel's arc was set in stone from the beginning. It was the very first plot thread we wove when trying to come up with an engaging murder mystery, so there wasn't a single change to that when we heard about the upgrade to an ongoing series. I actually grew to enjoy writing Carl, and I was so happy with his arc because I think it was an atypical twist. The expectation that he would try to murder her all over again in Issue #5 was totally turned on its head when it was revealed all he wanted was redemption.

How can you be redeemed for killing someone you love? It's a pretty meaty topic, and I'll just say that Carl's story isn't over. He still has a fairly important role to play in all this Green Wake business, and I'm pretty sure people will be surprised in what capacity that will prove to be.

RKL: That surprises me, I really didn't expect to hear Carl would have anything left to do. His arc feels like it is over so I'm prepared to be surprised and impressed with what comes next for him.

Moving on to Ariel, she was a great visual draw for this series. The lady with the red hair that almost looked like it was alive. She always gave me this Sienkiewicz vibe and it made her immoral and dangerous behaviour seem to stem from her core. She started the arc as the apparent villain of the piece, the violent monster tearing people apart that needed to be stopped, but she ended up the ultimate victim. Her boyfriend, Carl, had murdered her in real life and this sent her persona in Green Wake to 'lose her tether' and act out. Is her ending a happy tale or is she consigned to the woes of Green Wake?

Wiebe: I think there's a fair amount of ambiguity with Ariel's arc, which is fitting given the overall nature of Green Wake itself. I tried to paint as clear a portrait as possible with her story, to use her character as a way to explain how Green Wake and the real world are connected. Still, I think her demise and her fate in connection to Carl was tragic - I wouldn't call it a happy ending. Neither she nor Carl find true resolution to the feelings that brought them to Green Wake in the first place, rather the town resolved their arc for them in a gruesome manner.

RKL: The concept of true resolution is an interesting matter haunting this book. I certainly felt like Ariel had her case closed but it was far from a happy ending. Carl's arc is one more brutal and something that could never end well once we know all the information. But Morley, our leading man, gets so close to his light at the end of the tunnel. From how I see it, the accident that caused the death of his wife was something he could not get over, and for which he blamed himself. He was never going to forgive himself but once he does, once he sees you have to, he is released from Green Wake and put back into the real world (is that right so far?). Annoyingly enough, though, he comes back just in time to be at his wife's funeral - that's gotta hurt. It seems he wasn't gone for long, then, and the man at the funeral (Jake) mentions seeing Morley through the window of his house but being unable to contact him. So did Morley's 'real' body shut down and once that occurred how does time work between the real world and Green Wake?

Wiebe: You've summarized pretty accurately what I was trying to say with the finale of the first arc. My main concern was that it was going to get a little convoluted at the end, but I think I found a way to tie everything together and, more importantly, let Riley handle the biggest emotional punch of the series. I was pretty affected by what he crafted, and I was exceedingly happy with how everything resolved in the end.

A lot of the questions you're asking about the duality of Green Wake and the real world, how the two are connected and especially the concept of existence between the two is going to be further examined in the upcoming arc. Now that we have the space to do it, we've got an excellent amount of time to build the mythology and reveal it to the reader at the pace we've always wanted. The great part about it is that Riley and I know all the angles. We wanted to have a solid base for the first five issues, before ever hearing it was upgraded to an ongoing series, so the transition was a natural one. The fun part will be capitalizing on some panels that would've been sort of 'throw away' pieces that will now play a larger part, something we'd planned a long time ago.

Again, I'm being slightly cryptic, but the answers to all those questions are coming, I can promise that.

RKL: Oh, one of those "I can't answer right now!" answers - and here I thought we were friends, ha.

The last thing I'll say about the finale of Green Wake is about the apparent backslide of Morley after returning. He doesn't seem to last long in the real world before he blames himself again. He thought he could go on, be happy, but when Jake gives Morley a piece of paper he starts blaming himself all over again and then the panels cut away and we're left with the image of the solitary frog. Morley has slipped away again, hasn't he? That would explain his reappearance in the final panel - or at least who I assume is Morley. Is Green Wake like alcoholism, or a drug addiction, and the slightest thing can cause a relapse? In regards to what caused it, what was on that sheet of paper? It seems to be the picture of somebody, but whom? In the montage earlier, Morley is seen holding a baby. Does Morley blame himself all afresh again because of the kid and what he's done to its future?

Wiebe: You and your spoiler questions!

If you imagine that Green Wake was only meant to be 5 issues, that finale (excluding the Krieger scene) was always how it was going to end. I know Morley inside and out, and I felt that from day one he wouldn't ever truly forgive himself. Riley and I had talked early on about how we could still have a very strong emotional journey and end it on a very sad note, and it was a comfortable fit for the world we'd created.

Morley is able to face his fear in the final issue. It's what gives him the power to return to the real world, but the parallel is that he has no choice but to face Anna's casket. We jump back and forth between the real world and Green Wake in the final issue for a reason; we're showing that the two worlds are completely connected and that the events in the real world have immediate bearing on the happenings in Green Wake. As Morley drank his courage to go to Anna's funeral, he began to understand the means to escape Green Wake and slowly things converge until both 'sides' of Morley are united at the pivotal moment.

There is still a lot of ambiguity here, and I always intended that. I didn't want this to be a straight forward, easily explained experience. I wanted it to be interpreted in a few ways, allow the reader to make assumptions about what exactly happened. With that said, Morley found the real world to be as miserable a place as Green Wake, because he couldn't have the woman he loved in either of them. Jake gives him the memorial pamphlet from the funeral, and it's the ultimate reminder, a piece of tangible proof that she's gone. The sequence you mention of the baby, it's a collage of the past, present and things that should've happened, but never did. I'll leave it at that.

Is Morley back in Green Wake? We hint strongly that he's been drawn back in, but the next issue we set out strong with some serious answers. If Morley is back, he's going to have a lot of information, isn't he?

RKL: You spend an entire mini showing the lead how to forgive himself over however much time he'd spent in Green Wake, only to drop him back in right after the moment that initially crushed him. That's harsh, man. Harsh. Though, if Morley is indeed back in Green Wake I wonder what's going through his head. If he has all this new knowledge will he share it or not? Excellent questions to ruminate with the upcoming arc about to start.

The final panel hints at the next arc and it's called "Lost Children" is that a reference to the great Jeunet flick we discussed last time (The City of Lost Children)?

Wiebe: I'm not a very nice person, my characters are my greatest victims.

It's a nod to it, for sure. Riley and I both loved the film, but it also plays into the plot for the upcoming release of the next arc. Some of the teaser art has been showing up online, and the cover for Issue #7 makes the subtitle a little bit more clear. I think I can safely say that there is going to be an element of Green Wake people may not have considered: children. In the early pages of Issue #6, we begin with a sequence of children walking across a frozen over lake, poorly clothed and desperate. I'll leave it at this: it doesn't end well.

The kids are a story element we're going to be slowly infusing into the main plot, and their background, why they're in Green Wake and their connections to other characters will be something Riley and I develop over a long time. Probably even longer than the second arc. It's all delightfully diabolical.

RKL:About time somebody thought of the children, ha. That sounds like an interesting tangent to go down and one most likely rife with more heartbreaking guilt and sadness. Bring it on.

The solicit for the next issue, the start of "Lost Children" talks about boats arriving on the shores of Green Wake full of only blood. My question to you then is; what's wrong with you? That's one sick visual (which I love completely).

Wiebe: Truthfully, it was a solicit I'd written with only a small knowledge of where I was going with the next arc. Remember, we're writing those short blurbs almost 4 months in advance. Riley and I were only just starting to talk about the next arc at that point, so I had a vague idea at best of what was coming up.

On top of that, you have to sell an issue in two or three sentences. I hate to disappoint, but it's not just boats of blood showing up, but there is another string of murders that are going to happen in Green Wake, but this time there is no obvious suspect, and, as an exclusive to our interview, there's a good chance this murder mystery could span a few arcs, not just a few issues.

RKL: Very interesting look into the solicit writing process, cool. It must have been hard to plan ahead on a title that was only initially a miniseries. You tease that this murder mystery will span several arcs, does that mean you've got a pretty tight future plan finally established? What are your plans for Green Wake long term in relation to structure? Will it be one big cohesive arc, like all seasons of The Wire, or are we looking at disjointed arcs within the same landscape like Criminal?

Wiebe: Riley and I know the final page of the entire series. We're really hoping it continues to sell well so that we can tell the entire story as we plan to. That's the difficult part, especially with independent comics, we have to consider our time investment and the finances that follow. Green Wake has always sold decently well, but it's at that benchmark, a little less might make it very difficult to continue. Sad, really. We both hope the TPB renews interest and has a new following hop on for the second arc.

Speaking of, the second and following arcs are all going to be weaving a story that connects and winds down into the finale. There will be unique stories to each arc, but we're building the mythology to its conclusion. I'm taking my time with that crescendo; my plan is to take exactly the amount of time I need to tie all the threads together until the reveal at the very end. It's going to be a very satisfying finale, I can say that much. I'll give you a teaser. The mystery we've revealed so far is about only 25% of the story. There is a huge backdrop to what we're doing, and it's going to be a wicked ride.

RKL: For a book that's been so mysterious so far, to know it's only 25% of the big picture so far is indeed a great tease. Sounds like this could be one of those epic runs where the whole book means something. I look forward to the future omnibus. But if it does start to falter with sales and you can't tell your whole tale do you have some early exit points where you could wrap it up relatively successfully? And do you have a plan for how many issues it should be in total or are you a little more fluid with overall length?

Wiebe: For sure. In the same way the first arc could easily have been the end, so it will be with each arc following. We'll continue to reveal the mysteries of the town in the background, but each arc will have a definitive end point: resolution with a few teasers for something more. It worked very well with the first five issues and I can see that formula continuing that tradition.

Right now, Riley and I have plotted and planned for five arcs of five issues, so 25 issues in total. It's not a gargantuan run, but it's sufficient space to play in our sandbox and still tell a really great saga.

RKL: I'll happily sign up for 25 issues of Green Wake if the quality remains throughout. I have to ask a very spoilery question, so feel free to avoid it, who or what is the centre of this major story arc? When all is said and done is this the tale of Green Wake, or Morley, or Sawyer, or someone else entirely?

Wiebe: Morley's story was told in pretty solid detail in the first arc, but his journey is far from complete. The remainder of the series is going to be a tale of two characters, with a host of others who fill in the spaces between. First and foremost, it's the story of Green Wake. The town has a history, it has a purpose and, like was hinted at by Carl in the finale of the first arc, it's alive. That was probably the biggest reveal of the entire first part of the series, but one that might've been casually discarded because of all the other madness going on. What 'it's alive' means, exactly, will be explored in greater details, and it's a concept that weighs heavily on both Morley and Krieger.

Just as important is Morley's role. He's a person of special note; an intelligent man with an unending thirst for answers. He will be the guide through which we see Green Wake revealed and, ultimately, the character who sets everything right. That's a huge spoiler as far as I'm concerned, but the real fun is in the details and those will only be revealed throughout the continuing story of this fucked up little town.

Green Wake #6 cover
RKL: This book is part narrative and part historical document. The sense of place for Green Wake is astounding both in how it feels, how it looks, and now how it acts. I view Green Wake as being this force of nature rather than a sentient creature. I won't ask about that because it feels like an obvious spoiler and I think you've already given us enough.

I will close this chat with some questions about the trade which drops soon. When can fans, and those about to be converted, expect the trade (collecting issues #1-5) to appear in their LCS? And are there any extras included in the trade that will entice us to purchase it?

Wiebe: The first volume of Green Wake comes out September 21st, but I recently received an email from Jim stating he's received the prints at his office. He said it looks really great. There's going to be a huge incentive, even for those who purchased the singles. Riley did a stack of paintings for covers that were never used in the series, and they will all be collected in the TPB. There is some seriously messed up imagery, Riley really let his imagination run wild. It's the only place you're going to see the unused covers.

There's also the excerpts from the What Is Green Wake? blog that I'd written as a prose tie in to the main story. Plus, any missing lettering will not be missing in this volume!

RKL: Hopefully some people will go check the trade out. I believe the issues are also available on ComiXology for those interested in digital comics instead.

Thanks for the chat, Kurtis, it's always a pleasure. I'll let you get back to writing but only if you'll tell me something secret about the page you're working on today.

Wiebe: I just finished the first few pages of Green Wake #7, and I flesh out the 'villain' in a really significant way. My goal is to craft a character that people can empathize with, so his background is a fairly sad one. Surprised?

I like sad things.

Thanks for the interview, fun as always!

RKL: No problem. What say you, readers, have you checked out Green Wake? What did you think of the book? Anyone going to check out the trade toward the end of the month? Let us know in the comments.

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