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 09/15/2004
Fear the Reaper
Chris Mills spills his guts concerning Gravedigger: The Scavengers
I've known Chris Mills for about a decade now, and while we sometimes lose touch with each other, we alway manage to meet up again eventually. Originally, we met when I was interviewing for an Assistant Editor position with a long-defunct publisher about which the less said the better. No, really. But one of the good things that did come from that misadventure, however, was meeting Chris and getting to know him as both a pro and person. I left that place happily and didn't look back, but with the intention of staying connected with Chris and few other good folks I met there.
Flash forward a few years and many miles later, and I'm now a comics journalist, and attending MegaCon for the first time. And who do I see for there first time in who knows how many years? Yep, Mr. Mills, sitting next to the exceedingly fine artist and his sometimes creative partner, Joe Staton. Since then, Chris and I have maintained contact, and it's been a real pleasure to not only have the occasional electronic conversation with Chris, but watch him play in diverse genres with a bunch of crack artists in a variety of projects online and elsewhere. Now one of my absolute favorites by Chris and Rick Burchett is hitting the page, courtesy of Rorschach Entertainment, and I gotta tell ya that if you don't order one of these beauties for yourself, you're committing a major crime...
You're robbing yourself of the sheer enjoyment and terror that comes of going along on one of the more entertaining headlong dives into the darkness that lies like a chancre on the heart of the Great American Dream.
Bill Baker: So who's this Gravedigger character, and what can you tell us about him?
Chris Mills: "Gravedigger" McCrae is a professional criminal. His nickname, which, incidentally, he's not particularly fond of, refers to the number of people who have died violently during their association with him. He's a thief, a liar and a killer...in short, an irredeemable bastard. Rick Burchett calls him "Conan in a suit."
BB: What can you tell us about what you've got planned for our antihero?
CM: In The Scavengers, "Digger's" fresh out of the stir and desperate for cash. He's getting older and retirement is looking good to him. One big score would set him up pretty. So, against his better judgement, he signs on to a risky heist South-of-the-border, only to have his baser instincts get the better of him. Before long, he's hip-deep in blood and betrayal... you know: the usual.
BB: What sparked the creation of the book, how did you develop it, and what was that journey like?
CM: I've been a fan of tough-guy crime fiction since I was a teenager. Lurid, gritty old paperback pulse-pounders by Mickey Spillane, Donald Hamilton, Richard Stark - the stuff those guys wrote hit me like a pair of brass knuckles. Home video helped, too. My buddies and I gorged ourselves on Eastwood and Bronson (and even Norris) flicks all through High School. It made a deep impression.
I've always championed crime comics. Since my earliest days in the indy comics field - circa the early Nineties -- I've edited and written comic books in the genre. A few years back, I made a pitch to a small, now-defunct publisher, for a series of standalone crime tales called Murderer's Row. Each issue would have told a story in a different sub-genre of crime fiction: a heist story, a PI story, a police procedural, a hitman story, etc.... The Scavengers was the first - and ultimately, only -- script that I finished writing before the project fell apart.
It lay dormant on a computer disk until about two years ago, when I was involved with a short-lived online comics site called AdventureStrips.com and wanted to do a crime strip. Being lazy by nature, I simply dusted off the The Scavengers script rather than starting from scratch. In the original draft, the character had a different name, and the ending was quite different.
BB: So how'd Rick Burchett get involved in the project, and what about his work makes him the perfect artist for the book?
CM: Rick Burchett and I share an interest in what he calls "smart pulp." We're also both fans of hard-boiled crime fiction and film. Some years ago, I was editing a crime fiction magazine, and Rick did some illustrations for it that were simply outstanding.
When I initially approached Rick about drawing Gravedigger, I had no doubt about his ability to capture the mood and tone of a gritty crime piece. I also knew that he was an accomplished storyteller, and I was looking forward to working with a pro who would be able to help me through whatever rough patches there might be in the script.
Rick improved almost every aspect of the story. His instincts were dead-on, and his "casting" was impeccable.
Unfortunately, after more than a decade as DC's go-to guy on the animated version of Batman, I think Rick's been unfairly typecast. While certainly a master of that Bruce Timm style, Rick can do so much more. His storytelling, his sense of design... he's just head and shoulders above a lot of today's more popular artists. I hope that his work on Gravedigger: The Scavengers opens some eyes and minds, and I plan on working with him as often as possible.
BB: Is this a one time deal, or might we see the futher adventures of Gravedigger in the future?
CM: Right now, it's just a one-shot. In today's market, I can't reasonably expect a small publisher to take a chance on more than that. But I'd love to do a lot more Gravedigger books. If we could find a publishing deal that would make it worthwhile for him, Rick would, too.
I think there's a lot I could do with the character -- not every story would have to be a caper. There's a hundred ways I could go with "Digger"...and I'd be very happy chronicling them. In fact, I have several other stories that I've actually plotted out, all very different from each other.
Ideally, I'd love to do Gravedigger in the same format as Greg Rucka's Queen & Country series: an ongoing series of story arcs with different artists that can be collected into graphic novels as they are completed.
BB: So what else do you have going on?
CM: I'm currently writing a weekly webcomic (well, more or less weekly) called Femme Noir, which is drawn by Joe Staton. It's a overt homage to old pulps, B-movies, newspaper comic strips and Saturday morning serials, featuring a mysterious female detective/vigilante who fights crime and solves mysteries in the dark city of Port Nocturne. It's chock-full of gangsters, mad scientists, zombies, robots, hard-boiled cops and even a gorilla or two. It appears every Friday at Kevin Smith's Movie Poop Shoot website (www.moviepoopshoot.com), and on my own Supernatural Crime site (www.supernaturalcrime.com).
Joe and I are also working on a Femme Noir print miniseries for 2005.
I also have two other online adventure strips that will be making their debuts around the end of the year. One is a fantasy barbarian strip (drawn by Sergio Cariello) and the other is a romantic comedy/spy adventure (drawn by Rick Hoberg). I can't name the sites yet, 'cause the contracts aren't quite signed.
BB: So, aside from all of that filthy lucre we know is in webcomics and indy publishing, what do you get out of working in the variety of formats - be it comics on paper, the Web, or prose work -- that you don't get from your other endeavors? And what does being a writer and creator do for you, generally?
CM: People get paid for this stuff? That's news to me! I keep plodding along, doing my own thing, just hoping someone will eventually notice...
I've spent twenty years trying to break into comics. Maybe I haven't tried hard enough, or maybe I'm just not good enough, but so far my success has been negligible. Yet, I can't stop writing comics. I've tried to quit, to refocus my efforts into prose, but there's something about comics as a medium that makes it irresistible to me.
Maybe it's the combination of words and pictures, or maybe it's the collaborative nature of it (I love working with artists), but comics are in my blood. They're insidious that way.
I do comics on the Web because there's no editors to pitch to and no substantial financial barriers to publishing them myself. Web publishing has low overhead and a vast potential audience. It allows me to refine my craft and work in genres that print publishers may have deemed unprofitable (like crime, for instance)...and slowly, people seem to be noticing.
In the last couple of years, three of the projects I've done online have garnered inquiries from Hollywood producers. Nothing's come of it yet, but it encourages me to know that people are reading these things and liking what they see.
BB: What do you hope readers get from your work, be it Gravedigger: The Scavengers or one of your other projects?
CM: Hopefully, the readers will enjoy a white-knuckle ride outside the law, with twists and turns and lots of action. I'm not the kind of guy who wants to write deep, meaningful comic books. Basically, I like comics with cool characters, lots of action and adventure, violence and sex. Other people aren't giving me enough comics like that, so I'm writing my own. With luck, I'll get to do more.
BB: Anything you'd like to add before I let you get back to it?
CM: Gravedigger: The Scavengers is in the September issue of Diamond's Previews catalog, on page 331, under Rorschach Entertainment. The Order Code is SEP042851. Rick and I would encourage anyone who's interested in reading it to pre-order it through their local retailer, because in this market, if you don't ask for it, they probably won't stock it. I have a promo website dedicated to the book at www.gravediggercomic.com and the publisher, Rorschach Entertainment, has a page devoted to it at www.rorschachentertainment.com.
I'd really like for this book to do well. I'd love the chance to tell more stories about the guy.
I'd suggesting doing exactly as the man says, folks. After all, Mr. Mills is someone who has certain friends who can make it in your best interest to do just that, and he doesn't strike me as an individual who has a whole lotta self control over his, shall we say, darker impulses? After all, no one wants a visit from the Gravedigger before their time, now do they?
<< 09/08/2004 | 09/15/2004 | 09/22/2004 >>
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