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BAKER'S DOZEN for 09/14/2005
Jordan Raskin is a prime example of why Baker's Dozen exists. I met Jordan a couple years ago, and after a bit of prodding remembered his fine penciling on Predator: Race War and Ripclaw, among other titles during the 90s. He was about to return to the fold, so to speak, after a fruitful sojourn into the animation field, and was feeling things out and showing around his new creator-owned project. After taking a but a glance at that new book, something titled Industry of War, and talking with him about it for just a few moments, I knew I needed to feature him in a future BD. Time passes, true, but our conversation and my intent continues.
Now flash forward to a week or two ago, when I receive via mail a disc containing the entire first act of Jordan's newly remastered OGN. As soon as my schedule permits, I sit down to read it...
And am completely blown away. Calling this simply a "gritty techno-thriller" doesn't do it justice, really. It's that, and so much more. Shot through with moments of real humor, tight and believable characterization of even third-tier characters, and moments of humanity which alternate between the deeply disturbing and moving, it's clearly a tightly written action adventure flick. It's also a grim, postmodern morality play pondering the real costs of violent-minded, the personal affects of society rife with the "gangsta" attitude on all concerned, whether it's wearing a suit or proper gang colors. And it's a story of one man's personal search for redemption, among other things. And it's freakin' brilliant. Really it is. But enough of me talking about it.
Here's Jordan Raskin, the four color world's own Master of The Industry of War, to tell you a few things about this excellent book, which is due to hit the stand in just a few months [November, '05], himself.
The Master of The Industry of War
Jordan Raskin on the making better comics by making cartoons and movies, among other things
an interview conducted by Bill Baker
BB: For those who might have missed the first appearances of Industry of War, what's the basic concept, and what were the circumstances that lead to you coming up with this rocket powered rollercoaster of a tale?
Jordan Raskin: Okay. Do you remember the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Remember that enormous warehouse they put the Ark of the Covenant in? What if I told you that all those boxes you saw contained malfunctioning experimental military weaponry? Stuff that the government was developing, but just didn't work right.
Now what if I told you that when the military was downsized in the early 90's, most of what was in those warehouses was accidentally shipped out as harmless surplus goods and ended up in the hands of the general public at large...or worse, the black market!? What if things like the Columbine incident and The Uni-bomber were really cover stories the Government was using to hide the fact that their missing malfunctioning weapons were really to blame for those massacres?
Welcome to the Industry of War. Secretly, the military has covert cells of agents scouring the world, here and abroad, hunting these missing dangerous weapons down. Our lead introduction story follows a cell of two agents, Michael Landry and James Vansanto, hunting down various missing biosymbiotic weapon suits called P.C.A's (Personal Combat Apparatus). But the latest item on their retrieval list will prove to be their most difficult when they discover it was programmed with an assassination mission during the first gulf war...A mission it never got a chance to complete! Over the course of the story, they uncover the existence of the mission through their detective work in tracking it down to Eddie Vierra, a newly reformed New York City gang-banger. Eddie is just being released from prison wanting to leave his past behind him and live a normal life. But that's not going to happen because he's about to accidentally find that P.C.A., and after it attaches itself to him in a parasitic manner, its flawed design will drive him insane while filling him with the desire to complete that long awaited gulf war assassination mission.
Now this particular P.C.A. model is referred to as a "Bodyblade" unit. Basically, its an infantry combat harness, worn as a suit, which fuses itself with you when you put it on. But it can't simply be taken off like your jacket. Once it's on, it has to be surgically removed.
It's called a Bodyblade because it sports various retractable gauntlet and joint blades combined with neurological computer enhancements, providing instant training to the wearer in all hand-to-hand combat and firearms techniques. The intent behind the bladed weapon design was for use as a viable backup should a foot soldier find himself in a close combat situation without firearm ammunition. If the weapon worked right it would be amazing and turn a single soldier into a one man army. But the design concepts for these weapons were more ambitious than current technology would be able to execute and these things malfunction, big time! In general the onboard computer gets confused by the user's strong emotional issues and misinterprets them as combat orders. For example: if you were wearing one while being upset with your mother in-law this week, the Bodyblade would believe its mission would be to take her out. This makes the wearer a threat to everyone around him. Especially innocents.
As for the circumstances which led to the idea: I was watching a 60 Minutes report on the costly storage of military surplus from wars long over--field rations, tires, uniforms, etc. I'm talking like World War II [surplus]! I remember thinking, "What else are they storing that we don't know about? What if it was something really dangerous and what if it went missing?" The rest was a development process which kind of snowballed over time and, well, here we are!
BB: At the end of the book, you wrote a bit about why you brought Andrew Lelling in as your original co-creator on IoW, which made me wonder what were some of the qualities that Andy brought to the book you were looking to add...and how it affected the final script you two came up with?
JR: Andy and I just have a great chemistry for brainstorming smart ideas and concepts. It's an intangible thing, chemistry. When it works, it works and you never know who you're going to have it with. Andy's background is that of an attorney and he has a great head for politics and brainy ideas. When we were younger--oh so many years ago--we created our own role playing game called "mutated mammals from mars". It was a spoof game and we used to spend many Friday evenings scarfing down pizza and cracking up at the bizarre and crazy stuff we'd come up with in these character campaigns. It was some really sick and irreverent humor. I can't say exactly what parts Andy has come up with for Industry of War in this interview because it would be a spoiler for things to come. Largely we co-wrote plot back and forth between us. I'd work on a section, email it to him, he'd work on a section and send it back. Lucky for him, his role in this project has been done for quite some time. We finished our initial draft back in the mid 90s, and I've been tweaking and revising it in my free time ever since. It's only in the last couple of years that I decided to take the shot with it and get it published.
BB: Recently, in another online interview [http://www.comicbookresources.com/news/newsitem.cgi?id=5799], you detailed the involvement of another pretty noteworthy writer with the project. What kind of impact did his take on your spec screenplay have on this newer, final version of the comic book script?
JR: Oh you mean Ron Shusett...co-creator/writer/producer of such films as Alien, Total Recall and Minority Report. [Smiles] Ron's great contribution to the project was as a producer. He's got a great head for structure and really, really knows when a script is flowing. Every movie should have a Ron Shusett involvement. He's got great story instincts.
In making structure changes to the spec screenplay, it necessitated changes to the overall story. Some of those changes I came up with, I now wish were in the comic book version of act 1. They're are some great improvements and really built a tremendous momentum into the story. I think future issues will be a hybrid between the script I'm submitting to Hollywood and the script I'm adapting to the comic book.
BB: I've got to say that I was pretty impressed with how you managed to balance the action-adventure genre's "need for speed" of plot with some really solid and often subtle characterization of a fair number of players, main and secondary. How much of a priority was that kind of "fluff", for lack of a better term in this context, for you with this project, and how hard did you have to work to inject that kind of information into this runaway train of a tale?
JR: Well, I wouldn't call it fluff so much as character development. And I think that kind of answers it in a nutshell. One thing most action films lack these days is character development. We have to know something about these people we're watching and/or reading about in order to give a damn about what's going to happen to them in the narrative. As to how hard did I work to inject it? It kind of falls to that structure thing again. The pacing on my book is pretty good, but it isn't exactly the way I would want it to read only because this 72 pager was originally supposed to be two separate issues. A first issue would have ended at page 48 with a 22 page follow up issue. It was really paced for that originally. But after my original issues came out in the back of Mark Texeira's Pscythe, and I was able to read them as individual books, I found myself being disappointed with the amount of story I was providing. It felt lacking and unsatisfying as a read. The last thing I want to do is alienate a potential readership base, so I over compensated by coming out of the gate solo with this 72 pager. I think it's a solid satisfying read that makes you want to know what happens next.
BB: I get the feeling that this isn't just about cool visuals, scary but cool high tech gadgetry and blowing stuff up. Am I on to something, here, or am I way off base?
JR: Oh no, you're on target. [Smiles] There's a larger story going on which was hinted at in this 72 page issue, but we'll be introduced to it in a much larger way in Act 2. As it's looking now, Act 2 is going to be broken up into two smaller issues. It won't be another 72 pager. Act 2 Part One is looking to be a 30 pager so far...which will help me get it into the readers hands sooner. I haven't broken down Act 2 Part Two yet, so I can't say for sure how many pages that one will be. But it won't be larger than 48 pages.
BB: Well, why include that kind of thoughtful material in what is essential a popcorn flick? Is that you trying to stretch yourself and the genre's limitations, or is there perhaps more to it than that?
JR: Well this kind of story was inspired by the braininess of some of my favorite films, [like] Clear and Present Danger, The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State. I like a thinking man's action film. Movies are better when the action is based in plot and story. The action that has a purpose is more satisfying to watch. Even with really out there ideas and concepts, you can still have them grounded in and make them believable. I think limitations to a popcorn flick is a recent--and unfortunate-- invention. I wouldn't call any of the films I mentioned above high art, but they're not brainless either. Just because a story is smart with some depth doesn't mean you can't enjoy your popcorn moments in them. [Smiles].
BB: Of course, all that character stuff is well aided by the dead-on physical acting and facial expressions of the characters. I mean, I remember your earlier work on things like Predator: Race War and such, and those aspects of your work were nicely advanced at that point, but IoW showcases a whole new set of skills in that area. All of which made me wonder just how much influence your time in the animation industry provide you with, art-wise? How did that experience effect not just your storytelling and design skills, but also some aspects which might not be obviously impacted, like your ability to render things realistically?
JR: Glad you liked the work I put into it. In truth I feel like I'm capable of doing better, but I'm sacrificing some things for speed purposes. There's a lot I'd like to go back and tweak and change, but that's the perfectionist in me. This whole book has largely been an exercise in "letting go" for purposes of getting a the story told. It can be the most gorgeous book in the world, but at the end of the day, it's really a visual storytelling medium and you have to get it done or no one will see it. And if no one sees it, what's the point of doing it? Drawing a perfect eyeball means a lot artistically, but a reader is still going to look at that panel for a moment and move on as they read the story. You've got to draw what services the story and move on.
Working in animation was really a great learning experience for me. I had to draw a lot and get it done really fast. In comics you can hide bad drawing with surface techniques and style or great photoshop coloring and get away with it. But in animation, your structure really has to be spot on because it's all structure and no rendering. When I started in comics, I didn't really go to school so I never had training in the basic fundamentals of drawing. I just went on instinct or what looked right to me. Working that way was very problematic and time consuming because it meant I was erasing more than I was drawing. Now I know what needs to be right about the structure of a drawing before I start noodling it and its a much more efficient way of working. That's helped with my speed tremendously.
BB: You're doing just about everything on the book at present, from my understanding. How do you go about creating a typical page of art, and how long is that same page taking from start to completion?
JR: Believe it or not, I spend more time on the layouts than any other stage of working on a page. The storytelling is where I do all my work on the acting of the characters and scenes as they relate to the script including the flow and composition and basic drawing structure. I do that in thumbnail size first. Once I have my layouts done, I use a photocopy machine to blow up the thumbnails to full size pages--which for speed purposes are smaller than standard comic book pages. I then use a light box to trace my own drawing to the full size boards. After the layouts are done, It takes me about two days to do a completed page of pencils, inks and tones. A majority of the finished art takes place in Photoshop. Photoshop is a great productivity tool and I'm happy with the distinctly gritty art approach for this book. With a majority of the industry using Photoshop, I wanted to find an art approach which would separate it from the pack. The idea being, if someone in a comic store were to pick it up, it wouldn't look like everything else sitting next to it. I hope I succeeded!
BB: The current solicitation is for the first, quite hefty chapter of the tale. Obviously, with everything you describe above, this isn't going to be a monthly--or even bimonthly!--project. So, inquiring minds were wondering how long do you think it will it be before act 2 hits the stands?
JR: Well right now, I'm splitting my time between doing the book and going through re-writes on the Hollywood script. I think a follow up issue will be forthcoming this Spring. Depending on finances, I'll probably look to have someone else letter future issues so I can concentrate on getting the artwork done.
BB: What else are you working on that you can talk about at this point?
JR: Well, I'm an aspiring film director and I have a horror short I'm developing to use as a sales tool for a feature version of the horror short concept. I had a great experience on my first short and I'm just about done with post production on it. There's a rough cut trailer for it on my site; [basically] pre-finished post production work. I'd say between working on the book, the feature script for Industry of War, editing a short film and developing another, that's a pretty full plate. I sleep once in a while and have been known to even go to the bathroom every so often. Other than that, I'm busy! [Laughter]
BB: Is this the kind of stuff you'd like to do for the foreseeable future--your own, creator-owned projects--or are there some characters or titles that you've always wanted to have a crack at, be they at the House of Ideas, its Distinguished Competition, or any of the other companies?
JR: Right now I'm happy doing my own book. After this story arc, depending on sales, we'll see where it goes. If I can continue to do my own book, then I'd rather just do that. But if I was offered a really great mini-series of some of my favorite characters like Daredevil, Punisher or Batman...
Well... I'll cross that bridge if I come to it.
BB: What would you like to say to those readers out there who might still be on the fence about picking Industry of War up?
JR: Get off the fence! [Laughter] Seriously, I worked really hard to create a good read with some decent artwork. You won't feel like you wasted your money if you buy this book. And for those people who might be thinking "I'll wait for the trade", well, please don't! [More laughter] What fans need to keep in mind is creators who do their own book don't get paid to work on it in advance. It's all a gamble and a financial hardship for anyone to do their own book because they only get paid from the sales of the book after costs are covered. If readers don't support the book as it comes out, there won't be a trade to wait for. So if you like the book, please support it so I can keep it going. Tell your retailer you like the book, tell a friend about it. Spread the word my brothers and sisters! [Smiles]
BB: Amen, Brother Jordan! Amen! [Laughter]
Anything else you'd like to add before I let you spread the good word elsewhere?
JR: Just that I thank everyone who's supported my efforts so far. I'd like to thank Joe Pruett and April Doster at Desperado Publishing for including me in their wonderful stable of books. If you haven't checked them out, go do so at www.desperadopublishing.com. They've got some great stuff coming out. For more on me and my work, go to my website at www.jordanraskin.com. The book is available for order right now and can be found in September's Previews under the Image Comics section--on page 135, I believe. Oh, and the Reorder code for Industry of War # 1 is SEP051667.
Thanks so much!
<< 08/31/2005 | 09/14/2005 | 10/26/2005 >>
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