Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fireside Chat with Christopher Golden

Today we are chatting with long time writer and creator, Christopher Golden, who has recently been getting a lot of attention for his amazing work along with Mike Mignola on the Lord Baltimore comic book series.  What initially began as an illustrated novel between the two made the switch to comics two years ago and hasn't looked back since.  The newest issue, Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar's Remedy #1 hits comic book shops everywhere TODAY, so you should race out and grab yourself a copy right now!  And once you get back, you should check behind the cut for Golden's thoughts on Baltimore, writing, and more, with a few preview pages from the first issue interspersed along the way!

Christopher Golden has been in the writing game for a good long while and has quite the impressive resume of novels, short stories, and comic books.  While you'd certainly recognize some of the tie-in materials he's written, including a number of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellboy, and even Uncharted novels, he has also has a large number of creator-owned works to his credit.  In 2007, he co-authored Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire with Mike Mignola, a work which has subsequently lead to the Baltimore comics that I sat down to talk with him about.

Grant McLaughlin: Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down and speak with us, Christopher.  Let's start things off with a real general question: how did you first encounter Mike Mignola and where did the idea for Lord Baltimore come together?

Christopher Golden: I've known Mike for a lot of years now. I first interviewed him shortly after Hellboy started being published. Over the course of those many years, he told me a hundred times about a vampire graphic novel that he wanted to do someday. One day, out of the blue, he rang up and told me he'd finally realized he didn't think he was ever going to get the time to do the vampire graphic novel he wanted to do, and would I be interested in working with him on turning the idea into a novel. We discussed it at great length and he sent me a bunch of notes and I hammered out an outline based on all of that. About 85% of the plot of the finished novel came from Mike. Then I went and wrote the novel and sent him chunks of it as I went along. He would come back to me with suggestions on things he'd like me to tweak and meanwhile he was also doing the illustrations.

GM: Wow, that's quite the lengthy series of events to even get us to that initial novel.  From there, how did you end up making the leap from novel to comics?

Golden: We talked about doing a sequel, but in the end what we both really wanted to do was to tell some of the stories that fell in the large gaps of time that are in the novel, and comics seemed the perfect place to do that. Mike's main home in comics is Dark Horse and they were on board from the minute we suggested it.

GM: As someone who's been following the series, I can certainly see why!  But how do you explain Lord Baltimore to people unfamiliar with the series?

Golden: Baltimore is doomed. He’s damned. He’s a creature of rage and vengeance and total single-mindedness. Through sheer bad luck, he helped to set in motion a pair of plagues—one of disease and one of vampirism—that is spreading like wildfire around Europe and beyond. It’s so bad that it put a stop to World War One. The war caused all kinds of ancient evils to awaken and they’re popping up all over. But Baltimore doesn’t care about them and he doesn’t really care about other vampires…he only wants ONE. The one who murdered his wife and family and turned them into vampires for him to kill again. Yes, as he journeys from place to place seeking Haigus, that one vampire, he will stop monsters who are preying on innocents…but he resents all such delays deeply.

GM: That's a pretty good pitch.  I see that you've clearly done this kind of thing before.  In all that, what would you say appeals to you the most about Lord Baltimore?

Golden: Haigus took away everything he had to live for, so now all of that is burned away and what’s left is this one final thing he has to do—kill Haigus. The story grows larger than that later, but right now that is his entire focus. Oddly enough, I think most people—parents especially—can understand that kind of focus. Recently, I think in Texas, a man walked in on someone molesting his four year old daughter and proceeded to beat the molester to death. It’s awful and ugly and tragic, but I understand. Baltimore is an open wound. He considers himself damned. Already dead, really. So you ask what appeals to me? What appeals to me is the question of what happens to someone like that if somewhere down the road we were to give him something to live for.
GM: That sounds pretty darn cool.  I'd definitely be interested to see how that plays out.  When it comes to your collaboration with Mike, how does that generally work?

Golden: Most of the comics we’ve done—not all, but most—are still springing from a kind of vault full of ideas that we put together when we were first planning to move Baltimore to comics. Generally I take concepts that we’ve had or discussed and do outlines for them, shoot them to Mike, and then we talk about them some more. We get [Dark Horse editor] Scott Allie’s feedback and then I script it, and the script goes through the same process.

GM: Not too shabby!  How did Ben Stenbeck get tapped for the artwork on this title?

Golden: There are always artists who are interested in working for Dark Horse. At the same time, Scott and Mike are both always on the lookout for guys whose work intrigues them. I’m honestly not sure which of these Ben was when he first did BPRD: The Ectoplasmic Man, but however it happened, I’m insanely glad to be working with him.

GM: And how do you keep convincing him to come back? His work is amazing!

Golden: It is. First of all, I do think it’s a sweet gig, and I know that Ben really loves the series and enjoys working with us as much as we enjoy working with him. (Either that, or my mother pays him to say these things.) That said, honestly, as a writer, I try to keep him entertained. If I can write something I think will make him look forward to sitting down to draw, then hopefully he’ll stick around.

GM: Seems like a good philosophy in my books - especially because the added bonus is that the reader gets to experience it all in the end.  When Plague Ships came out, I thought it might be a one-shot deal, so I was pleasantly surprised when The Curse Bells started coming out last year. With Dr. Leskovar's Remedy dropping this week, it seems clear that there's more Baltimore in store. The question is how much Baltimore do we have to look forward to?

Golden: I can’t give you a concrete answer to that. I can tell you that Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy is part of a five issue third volume that we’re doing right now. Leskovar is two issues, and three one-shots will follow that. Beyond that, we’re plotting out volume four. When that’s all done…we’ll have to see where we are.

GM: Sounds good.  With the first two series being 5 issues long, what spurred the decision to release a two-part story this time around with Dr. Leskovar?

Golden: When Mike and I first had our big idea session for the comics, we had a lot of them that didn’t work as big arcs. Since then there have been a few more that also really don’t work in that longer format. Also, we wanted to shift the spotlight a bit, so we have one story that’s very much about Haigus and one that’s about Judge Duvic…though the Duvic one also is a way bigger deal than you would think, with it being a one-shot. It brings together characters who’ve never met and changes a couple of them in irrevocable ways that will have a lasting impact. And not in a “change the DC universe forever!” kind of way.

GM: Haha, I look forward to seeing some of these lasting changes when they come our way!  Each series has had a specific focus thus far. What's the focus this time around in Dr. Leskovar's Remedy?

Golden: For the most part, I’d prefer that readers discover it for themselves. But we open on the coastline of Croatia, with a bunch of people who have been driven out of their town and have been forced to turn their overturned fishing boats into a settlement of sorts. They live in a delicate balance with the monsters back in their town and with Dr. Leskovar, who toils night and day in his lab. And then, on this particular day, a plane appears in the sky, leaving a trail of smoke and flames, and the balance is profoundly altered.

GM: Fair enough.  Even from that summary, it's immediately evident that Baltimore is some pretty dark stuff, so I'm curious to know what your influences are. What books, comics, movies, etc. would you say are really formative for you?

Golden: Hmm. TV would have to be Twilight Zone, Kolchak the Night Stalker, and all of the movies I watched on Creature Double Feature. Movies…there are too many, everything from Blade Runner and Jaws and The Godfather to Them! and Carpenter’s The Thing. A thousand movies. Same with books, although Stephen King would be at the top of the list, along with the anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant in the 80s and the Doc Savage novels. Comics…I was a Marvel kid, but the one that influenced me the most was and is Tomb of Dracula.

GM: You've been in the writing game for a pretty long time, but the leap to comics is a bit more recent. What motivated this jump to the medium of graphic storytelling?

Golden: I’m lucky, actually, in that I started young. I turn 45 next month, and then a month or so later I celebrate twenty years as a full time writer. And, actually, I’ve been writing comics for as long as I’ve been writing novels. I just had a lot of very bad experiences with the comics industry and with certain editors and publishers, so that at a certain point I gave up pitching. But I love comics. Of the comics I did prior to Baltimore, the ones I’m proudest of are Talent (Boom), The Sisterhood (Archaia) and Batman: Realworlds (DC), all of which I co-wrote with Tom Sniegoski.

GM: I hadn't realized that you had so much comic book experience.  My apologies for missing that detail.  Fortunately, that will potentially make this next question a little easier for you - what would you say is the biggest difference between writing for prose and writing for comics?

Golden: It’s totally different. Night and day, really. The disciplines are related when it comes to plotting, but structurally they’re not at all alike and they require different skill sets, which is why you see a lot of people who can do one well but not the other. Writing prose, you’re creating a picture with words alone and counting on the reader to bring it to vivid life in his or her mind. Writing comics, you’re giving shape to a story and providing words, but you’re communicating how you see it unfolding to the artist, and it’s up to them to really make it come to life and to add their own vision. When it works, it’s wonderful. But when it doesn’t, it’s depressing as hell.

GM: True story!  Your bibliography seems to be a healthy mix of creator-owned and licensed work. What would you say are your favourite parts about working with both types of properties? Anything that is less appealing about either?

Golden: When I’m doing something that sprang from my own imagination, obviously its more intimate and more from the heart. It matters more, and in a way, is more a product of my adult, mature self. Doing something that’s a media tie-in requires a certain passion that harkens back to the kind of love you can only have for something when you’re a teenager. So I always figure if my fourteen year old self would have approved, then I should do it. I love working with properties that I have that passion for, and there are certain things that teenage me would never forgive me for turning down, but I’d always rather be doing my own thing.

GM: And are there other comic book projects that you're interested in pursuing?

Golden: Several, but the only one I can talk about right now is CEMETERY GIRL, a trilogy of graphic novels that Charlaine Harris and I are doing for Penguin Books. Don Kramer is doing the art, and it just looks amazing! The guy does beautiful work.

GM: I'll have to keep an eye out for it!  Beyond Cemetery Girl, what other projects do you have on the go right now? Anything that we should be looking forward to in the near future?

Golden: Mike Mignola and I just had a new novel out, JOE GOLEM AND THE DROWNING CITY, but we also have an original novella hitting in October called FATHER GAETANO’S PUPPET CATECHISM.

GM: Awesome!  All that's left is the Literary Rorschach Test. I'll throw some words your way and you have to respond with the first thing that pops into your head for each one – it can be a word or a full blown paragraph.

Horror – Alzheimer’s.
Fantasy – Olivia Wilde.
Vampire – Mitt Romney.
World War 1 – An age when the battle lines were clear.
Nobility – A rarity.
Golden – Chinese food.
Past – Preamble.
Future – So bright I gotta wear shades.
Deadline – F********k.

GM: Excellent!  Thanks so much for taking the time, Christopher.  It's much appreciated!

Golden: My pleasure, Grant. Thanks.

Some pretty exciting stuff, eh?  I know I have a copy of Dr. Leskovar's Remedy waiting for me in my pull box, but what about you?  Have you been following Baltimore's ongoing quest to find and vanquish Haigus?  Or has this book somehow slipped under your radar up until now?  Let us know down in the comments!

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googum said...

Mignola books make up the bulk of my pull list now. Dr. Leskovar's Remedy is in my pull box, too. Still need to find the Baltimore novel, though!

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