Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 08/25/2004
Something Wicked from the West this Way Comes
Robert Tinnell on The Wicked West
In case I've neglected to mention it before, one of the best parts of regularly attending conventions is that it all quickly becomes less like work [although work it is, and hard at that!] and more like a very expansive and essentially all-inclusive family reunion for those working in the field. Each show is an opportunity to not only catch up with friends, but to make new acquaintances. Even better, what with the increased cross-over between medias, and between comics and films, especially, there's a lot of creators from a wide variety of mediums that have begun to regularly attend these gatherings.
Which brings us to the subject of today's column, Robert Tinnell. If that name seems a bit familiar, it's probably because you've either heard about or actually read his freshman effort, The Black Forest, an original graphic novel released by Image a while back to some very well-deserved critical notice and solid sales. Well, I had the good fortune of getting to meet and know "Bob" Tinnell during the course of this year's con season, which was a real pleasure. And it's another kind of pleasure to be able to report that, if the previews I was lucky enough to see are any indication, the latest effort that Bob and his cohorts have whipped up, The Wicked West, promises to cause even more of a stir as the first.
Bill Baker: What's all this wickedness in the West about, who's being threatened, and who or what is perpetrating it?
Robert Tinnell: I gotta come up with a different tagline - because I feel we've been running this one into the ground. But - imagine the outlaw Josey Wales drifting into Salem's Lot. I use that one a lot because it's a pretty direct compression of the story. However, there is a whole 'nother level to the piece that we deliberately do not discuss as it would spoil an important aspect of the story. I should also add that the lead character, Cotton Coleridge, has a mysterious past - one that will be explored in a future book. But that past directly influences the events in the book - he's something of a lightning rod for supernatural phenomena. And I just don't want to say much more about him or what that past is. I'd rather just shout, "Hey kids! Cowboys and Vampires!" and leave it at that! All the while hoping our core audience on The Black Forest will take a flier on this thing based on their happiness with the last book. That and the fact we decided to take a chance and price this thing as a real loss leader. I mean, 96 pages in color for under $10?
BB: Well, what can you tell us about the folks who helped you concoct this tale, and how'd this evil brew get distilled in the first place?
RT: Oddly enough, this was supposed to be the first graphic novel that Todd Livingston and I were going to write for Neil Vokes to draw. In fact, it was written while Neil was drawing Parliment of Justice (which is a great book and you should buy it if you haven't because not only is the story top-notch but Neil's art is breath-taking. End of pimping). Neil got it in his head he wanted to adapt our screenplay of The Black Forest and The Wicked West went on the shelf. The funny thing is that once Neil got back to The Wicked West he actually told me on the phone one day, "What the hell was I thinking? I love this book!" And it shows in the art work. Mike Oeming said it best. Neil may not be a writer - but he's damned sure a storyteller. And that becomes abundantly clear in The Wicked West.
But it was over drinks at a Fanex horror film convention in Baltimore that Todd and I first told Neil about this idea we had for a TV series. And Neil was like - hold on! Let's do it as a comic. And being as Todd and I are rabid comic fans the rest is history.
BB: So how'd you boys create this tale? Did you and Todd and Neil sit around drinking cold ones and telling tall ones until this particular yarn caught all of yer imaginations, or did one of you come up with the basic concept before bringing it to the attention of the other fellas, or ...?
RT: Well, the Cotton Coleridge origin and ongoing adventures were already mapped out. The idea of this particular story came out of the conversation with Neil. So this book was written to be a book. I think we were inspired to some extent by Salem's Lot. To a great extent Horror of Dracula (the 1958 Hammer Film classic starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing). We are all big fans of westerns and horror films and it fell together rather effortlessly.
But there's another layer to the story that would most likely never be allowed in a film version that we were able to explore that I think elevates the material. On its own the story works as a kick ass little horror story. But this other layer really makes you think - leads you to ponder how we romanticize the past, how we elevate mythologies - okay, enough on that...
BB: As you mentioned earlier, the three of you were also responsible for The Black Forest. Well, that just leads me to wonder if there's something about the horror genre that particularly appeal to you as a writer, and why?
RT: Well, my partners aren't here to speak for themselves but I think they'd agree with my assessment. We all were raised on horror. And we respond to it still. Partly because it takes one back to childhood. That delicious fear you got from a good scary film or book. And as an extension of that, I don't think we've outgrown our need for a good frisson. For me personally, I love the trappings of Gothic horror. The Germanic sensibilities that infused much of The Black Forest. I love the mysticism and the otherworldliness. Hell, I love the rampant sexuality that permeates so much of the horror milieu! Without being all pretentious, I think horror lends itself naturally to metaphor - not that you are necessarily conscious of it whilst you are creating. Look at how much has been read into something like Night of the Living Dead - and yet ask Romero and he'll say at that point he was just looking to scare people. But by Dawn of the Dead he'd figured out how to transcend the basic story and have it operate on two levels - visceral and intellectual.
One of the great things in The Black Forest was to take the iconic monsters and set them against the backdrop of the war from which much of their imagery was born. I mean it - James Whale, the director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man among others, was profoundly influenced by his experiences in World War I. It isn't difficult to view photos from the war - photos of the terrible wounded - and then look at images from his films and and subsequently draw parallels. So again, taking these monsters and the "art direction" of their cinema world back to their roots was extremely gratifying.
We try something a little different in The Wicked West but it too was very satisfying as a sort of rumination on the evolution of fictional characters.
BB: Do you plan on mining this particular gory vein for the rest of your career, or do you have any yearnings to wander into other literary pastures, so to speak?
RT: I have always been and always will be a horror guy. I simply love the genre. Now that being said, on August 30th I have an online strip that starts on www.sunnyfundays.com - free for the taking. And it's a romantic comedy called Feast of the Seven Fishes and is being drawn by Ed Piskor, who's currently also working for Harvey Pekar. And I'm also adapting the first film I directed, Kids of the Round Table - which is a kids' adventure - as an online strip with artist Ben Dale - and that's most certainly not a horror story. But the rest of it? Yeah, it's horror. Todd and I are working with Micah Farritor on a horror GN called The Living and the Dead. Mark Wheatley and I are doing a horror book called "D". And Adrian Salmon and I are doing a series of projects under the umbrella The Terry Sharp Stories - sort of like The Saint meets Curse of the Demon. Lots of horror. Next year my brother Jeff and I are teaming up with a cool artist named Chuck BB to do an online strip called Hell Hollow. Am I prolific enough?
I love to write. And I love to write horror...
BB: Now I've heard tell that you also work in Hollywood. So what, exactly, is it you do there when you're not making scary funny books?
RT: Well, I've directed four features and I'm supposedly shooting my fifth this winter. Believe it or not, it's a horror picture. I just finished adapting the novel The Bobby Gold Stories for the producers of Cold Mountain. The Hollywood thing is going well. I wanted to get into the studios and it finally happened. So I'm happy...
BB: Well, if it's going so well out there, why do you want to also play in our little bit o' the entertainment world? Does creating comics feed a need that your other work doesn't?
RT: Well, there really wasn't a plan when I got into comics. I mean, I've read online these ridiculous assertions that Todd and I did The Black Forest to make a film deal. Hell, the minute we read about Van Helsing we knew there wasn't going to be a film deal. But we loved the story. And for me, someone who collects Comic Book Artist and Write Now - someone who deeply loves comics and the history of comics - well, why wouldn't I want to be involved?
Graphic storytelling has proven more satisfying to me than anything I've ever done. Particularly given the caliber of talent I've managed to surround myself with.
And as I mentioned before about The Wicked West - I can explore things that films aren't going to necessarily let me explore.
BB: Do you have to change horses, in a manner of speaking, when you go from your Hollywood work to writing for comics? In other words, is it all writing to you, or is there a difference in doing the work itself depending on the medium you're workin' in?
RT: It's all writing for me. The toughest is actually the daily strips. Those are a bear. And I feel humbled about it - especially when I read compilations of people who are really good at it. So readers of Feast of the Seven Fishes, for example, are going to see me learning on the job. Because it is tough.
BB: What about the much-debated assertion that "comics are just films on paper"? What's your take on that conundrum? Do you see funny books and flicks as being kissin' cousins, or are they completely unrelated?
RT: Hmm. I think there are things comics can do that are far superior than almost every other medium. And conversely there are things that comics fail at. I mean, trust me, it's hard to create a truly scary sequence in a comic. In a movie you can do a million technical things to achieve it. In a novel, you have the mind's eye - the most powerful medium of all - how can we compete with that? But in a comic you have some hurdles there...
What irritates me are films that don't get the comics they are adapting. People utterly missing the point. Spider-Man - both of them - got it right Because Raimi understands the spirit of the book is what's important. I think that's where X-Men 2 got it right. Whereas in some other instances... But hey, I got work in that town so...
BB: What do you get from pursuing this craft of storytelling, be it printed on paper or projected on a screen?
RT: I think I'm a compulsive storyteller. I know for a fact that writing is therapy for me. I can deal with all kinds of stuff - just get it out of my head. Feast of the Seven Fishes (have I mentioned it enough?) is really doing it for me. Just capturing what it's like to be from this loud Italian family partying their asses off on Christmas Eve. And how it sucks not to have a girlfriend on Christmas. Stuff I can relate to. I was also in a very romantic mood on Christmas and created a lot of personal mythology there. This strip helps me deal with that.
Other times it can be like in The Black Forest - going back to the source of that imagery. Getting some of that stuff out of my head.
BB: What do you hope your audience gets from it?
RT: In the case of The Wicked West we really are trying hard to create a book that is both scary and fun. Plus we want the audience to appreciate this whole underlying thing we're going for. I want them to appreciate the effort we put into it and the fact that we know we're still earning their trust and building an audience. That's why we're taking a beating on the price. To say to people, "Hey, The Black Forest wasn't a fluke. We will continue to deliver good books. And to prove it we're putting this out as cheaply as humanly possible." That's what's important to us right now. Earning an audience.
BB: Anything else you'd like to add before I let you get back to it?
RT: Yes sir. I want to invite everyone to visit us at www.thewickedwest.com and check out the art and the ultra cool online trailer. And they can also trip over to www.theblackforest.net and see all the stuff we have there - including the online radio show that dramatizes events that occur just prior to those in The Black Forest. And they can email us and just generally find out what sort of trouble we're getting into.
We are building our base one reader at a time. And it's critical to us that we know how folks are feeling about what we're doing. And that's why we put so much effort into the website and all our various promotions.
And thanks to you Bill for taking the time to let me beat my chest a little. It's very much appreciated!!
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