Jason Lenox is a comic book artist, an illustrator, an art teacher and a self-publisher. He is very very good at what he does, making graphic innovation. Somebody has to be.
Jason, was their a particular time in your life when you began to realize that living, breathing people were responsible for the comics and movies you were enjoying?
I think when I was in college, I started to appreciate actors in film and started looking for older films with actors I liked. Comics were also around the same time. What I realized was, it wasn’t the property, it was the creators that made it good. I noticed some of my friends that were just sticking to a book with increased dis-satisfaction after the really good creative teams left, when you could just follow the talent.
To give us an idea of your own predilections, who would you say are some under-appreciated talents in the worlds of film or comics, past or present?
Comics? Alain Voss. And movies…Werner Herzog.
Herzog can do no wrong, and Voss was amazing. Your style has a very illustrative look to it, with more attention given to realistic forms than has really been seen in comics in many years, outside of the photo-tracers. It’s very professional stuff. After we did our email intros a few weeks back I knew your name was familiar, and there it was in one of my Viper comic books. Have you ever toyed with working for larger comics publishers, or does it suit you more sticking with self-publishing and indie press?
I’d like to have a foot in both worlds. I think independent comics are a place to do really great ideas that are outside the tights and capes. I’d like to always be making something that I can control with my writer, Kevin Truglio, that we are making because we have passion for an amazing comic story. The financial end of that is secondary. However, I think if you have passion for a book, the money part takes care of itself.
I’d love to do some work for larger publishers, but it’s easier said than done. It’s a very tight group to get into, and a lot of that seems to stem more on reputation, than in some cases actual skill. At NYCC I listened to an editor at a large publisher tell an amazing artist (who was unknown) that he needed to get more popular before they could use him, but his work was great. The same gentleman told me I was “too different” and my work didn’t look like Steve McNiven’s.
I think Joe Linsner had the right idea. He always makes his books, but will cross over into pinups, covers, and an occasional issue in a mainstream book. But his passion is in Dawn, Dark Ivory etc. The mainstream stuff he does in my opinion supports his passion projects. Eventually, I’d like to be able to have the freedom to do something similar.
Thanks for the kind words on my work, I take a lot of time to try to have a true illustrative style that is unique, and I’ve never been a fan of the photo tracers that you see from time to time, some of which are quite popular!
Aside from comics, you’ve also illustrated RPGs and even provided production art for film. Were those just fun experiments on your part, or is either one a thing you’d like to pursue? And for that matter, are there other mediums that you would also like to explore someday?
When my current comic project (Painted Ladies of San Quentin) wraps up next month, I’m getting ready to do some more RPG work for my friends at T.P.K. Games. so I’m always going to pursue more work in that venue. I’ve always loved that kind of work, and draw inspiration from a childhood favorite- Russ Nicholson, who is an amazing artist from the UK that has worked in that genre forever. Check out his work, it’s amazing. The film thing was a wonderful one time experiment, which I’d also love to repeat.
As for other venues, I’d love to work with some bands for tee shirts, LP artwork, posters etc.
What motivated you to teach art yourself? Was it studying under such skilled artisans that inspired you, or was it the desire to help combat the many short-cuts that have been dominating the world of graphic arts (such as the push to mimic trendier styles), or was it more of an economical choice?
I find that I learn a lot when I teach so I enjoy teaching others to get better. My art teacher from private studios sessions was Elaine Renna, and my PGSA instructor (Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts) James Mowery had a huge impact on me, much of which I didn’t realize until years after the fact. I’m old school, pen on board, so I like the classic traditional arts of illustrators and even engravers (Edward Gorey, Albrecht Durer…etc.) more than many of the modern over-produced artists of today.
Much of your comic book efforts have flown under the flag of Ugli Studios, which is more than self-publishing as you are just one of several artists in the mix. How exactly did that imprint come about? And with multiple creator-owned stories under the same logo, who plays the role of editor?
My friend and writer David Paul made that up as a banner for us to create work under. David had to bow out, so it just left me. I got some of my art inclined friends to come along, and it’s just a free-wheeling concept we can rally behind. I’ve been acting as the overall editor/job manager on UGLI STUDIOS PRESENTS #2 to keep the project moving with my new writer, Kevin Truglio, keeping an eye on the scripting as we expanded the original script and story of PAINTED LADIES OF SAN QUENTIN. However, Brian Allen ran THE COURIER independently and Joe Freistuhler was his own boss for THIRTEEN.
Ugli Studios Presents #2 actually has an in-progress crowd-funding campaign, but you’ve had some luck down that road before, right? Do you feel that crowd-sourcing is something to utilize right now before the process wears itself out and disposable incomes run dry, or might the campaigning likely stay a permanent dimension in the realms of printing and distribution?
People will always have disposable income for great entertainment, so kickstarter is here to stay in my opinion.
Herzog and Voss have each incorporated commentary into their respective works before. Do you think Art is better utilized as an escape, or as a mirror? Or rather, is getting preachy a way to attract an audience, or to scare them off?
I love that it can be an escape. Now in with Voss/HEILMAN and Herzog on something like THE WRATH OF GOD- AGUIRRE there was a message, but it was subtle. Look at James Cameron’s Avatar, it was like getting hit with a sledgehammer. Now Avatar was more popular, but I hated it, it was so preachy. I make things for myself ultimately, so I’ll always stay with the way Voss and Herzog handled having a message: “less is more”.
If you had been born say, 300 years ago, would you still have been an artist, a storyteller? Do you consider yourself a product of your times in any regard, or is fate for the losers?
No idea. I’d probably just do art, but maybe more religious art, based on the 1700s. Like Durer, just a tad more contemporary. His religious art is awesome to look at to this day in my opinion!
Fantastic. Thank you Jason, for taking time out to talk it up with the LP. We look forward to where you go next!
I’ll leave you with a quote from my creative guide, and my personal philosopher- the late, great Bill Hicks:
“I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative.”
I love to listen to Bill’s old shows when I work, he always inspires. My work is directly related to Bill Hicks being a personal inspiration. One of the things that inspired me was that some of my favorite creators have fallen too soon (Bill, and also Dimebag Darrell). It sounds corny, but I felt I needed to create with my talents because they no longer can, and by extension, when I create they still are working through me. Thanks Richard!
Paul Bradford is a Scottish writer residing in Australia, a veritable globe-trotter as he makes words dance in comic books published around the world. With a penchant for the fantastic and the macabre, the versatile and prolific auteur is stacking up diverse credits like you would not believe.
Paul, do you recall the very first comic you ever read? And how long were you a fan of the medium before you got it into your head to make a job out of it yourself?
I was born and spent a good part of my childhood in Scotland. I remember reading a lot of the British type comics including The Beano and The Dandy. There were a lot of those types of funny comics. I recall reading a lot of other comics such as Hotspur, Roy of the Rovers, Battle, Action, and Warlord. The most impact on me as I grew older though was 2000AD and I continued to read that when I moved to Australia. The actual first comic I ever read though, I cannot recall. Although I do remember having a 2000AD with the ABC Warriors on the cover which I used to carry around with me all of the time. Just for anybody interested it was Prog 130, 15 Sept 1979.
I first thought about getting into comics when I was a teenager and living in Australia. I wrote some scripts and forwarded them to a bunch of publishers. I did get a few responses, which I still have, but never managed to take it any further than that. Living in Perth Western Australia probably limited my chances for breaking into the comics industry, especially as a writer and I wasn’t about to head overseas to chance my luck as I didn’t think that would work in the medium of writing. Probably would have been a different scenario if I had been a kick ass artist. However, some 20 years later with the onset of the internet, I have managed to make lots of contacts in the industry and formed some good working relationships with several artists. This has reignited my interest in trying to get my comics out there for all to see. I wouldn’t say that I have made a job out of it as yet, more a way to take up all of my spare time and leave me drained to the core. But hey, maybe one day I’ll actually get some cash out of this comic book lark.
It is awesome that you returned to the dream though. I’d like to think perseverance does count in the end. Much of your published work thus far has been either horror or science fiction- are those genres that really speak to you personally? Are there genres that you would never ever try to tackle?
Yes, perseverance can pay off in the end. Just keep chipping away and see where it leads. Having said that, you do need to be committed to pursuing your dreams and you also have to put some degree of effort in. Things won’t just magically happen and companies won’t be out there looking for you, you need to take your work to them.
I think science fiction is always going to be something that is enjoyable to write and is perhaps where a lot of my early influences lay with comics and movies. sci-fi works well in the comic book medium and it is genre that I enjoy writing and find easy to write. Horror is something that I started writing in comics because there was an opportunity to have it published. At this stage, if there is a guarantee for the work to get published, then I can turn my hand to any genre or theme. I guess it is just coming up with the ideas. I have a few things about to get published soon which have Vikings and Ninjas in them. Not in the same story though, although that could be cool. Everybody loves Vikings and Ninjas.
Where did Astral Crusaders come from? Was it something that slowly built in your mind’s eye, or was it born from a wildly productive night of inspiration?
The Astral Crusaders essentially developed from an idea that I had to somehow have a space based sci-fi story incorporating medieval knights. I liked the idea of a story containing knights clad in armor being set in the future. The original idea dates back many years when I wrote a synopsis for a story that I submitted to a publisher. The story was based on my characters at the time, but I changed it to suit characters that the publisher was using. Anyway, it was not accepted for publication and it was shelved for a while. Over time I developed the characters based on the idea of the Crusader Knights and the fact that they set out to conquer new lands. As a similar ethos, the Astral Crusaders are expanding through the universe to conquer new planets in the name of the human race. The Standard Bearer script was written when I started to make contact with a few artists and I thought that I could get the scripts fleshed out with artwork. Unfortunately I stalled a few times with different artists until I made contact with William Allen Reyes, whose style I really liked the look of. I sent him the script and the first installment of the Astral Crusaders came to life.
Did the premise call for much research on your part? And how far ahead do you plot the story in general? I mean, do you have an ending in site, or it is something that could run for some years?
When I first started developing the story, there wasn’t a lot of research carried out. However when it developed fully into the Astral Crusaders, it was then that I started to do a little bit of research on the medieval Crusaders. I have weaved some of the research into the storylines and this is why the Astral Crusaders chant the words “DEUS VULT” as a way of preparing to engage in a fight or to head off on a mission. These words were used by the medieval Crusaders and essentially translate into “God wills it”.
Also, ladies would often present Thyme-embroidered scarves to medieval Crusaders as a way of lifting the Crusader spirits and to inspire courage within them. The Astral Crusaders also use “THYME” (Therapeutic Health Yielding Medicinal Elixir) as a boost before battle and to speed recovery after battle.
I have outlines and breakdowns of story ideas and how I see the Astral Crusader Universe developing and progressing. So there are a lot of plot lines locked into my head and written down on paper. At this stage though, I do not have a timeframe for how long the story will run or to actually end it. Essentially I am still trying to get the whole thing started, so there are no real thoughts of ending it at this point in time. Just want to see where it leads as it has the potential to develop into bigger and better things. Having said that though, I do have an idea for how I would end it or how I would write my final chapter to the story.
That’s very interesting. Are there aspects in the writing of others that turns you off, either as a fan or a fellow creative thinker? I mean, are there tropes that you just cannot stand to see utilized so often? And do you feel that mainstream culture is more prone to blandness than indie culture?
To be honest, I have not read a lot of comics in recent times and have only just started to pick up some random comics to read in the last year or so after many years of not reading comics at all. Often, you can see that a comic is just filling story space in order to make up the page count. I have read comics recently where I have finished an issue and not really gone anywhere with it and nothing has actually happened in the story. I suppose that sort of thing could be considered a turn off for me. The rehashing of old characters over and over again without any new ideas being brought to the story is something that tends to happen with characters that are popular and is something that doesn’t keep me interested. Also killing off characters to then have them somehow come back is always a bugbear for me.
I think that mainstream can be bland at times, but there is some really good mainstream stuff out there. Possibly, they play it safe and work within a set of specifications relating to the character or the universe or the publisher. However there is a lot of bland stuff within the indie market as well. There are often crossovers between the two, when an indie title becomes popular, it may then be considered mainstream and this may lead onto the style changing in order to conform. I think in both cultures, I see a lot of good stuff and a lot of bad stuff, so it pays to always keep checking out different titles from different publishers.
You are one of the early headliners for the new Emerald Star Comics label. Does it feel like there’s safety in numbers, in signing on with a collective like that? Had you crossed paths with any of the other creators previously?
I saw Emerald Star Comics looking for submissions and got in contact with them. I did not have a full issue or a series of works to submit and inquired to see if they were considering putting an anthology together. They decided that they would put together an anthology which is now Emerald Star Comics Presents. The first issue of which is now out digitally and contains my Astral Crusaders: The Standard Bearer story as well as a Hierophantom’s Poeticorner entitled Ghost Train. I am constantly on the look out for comic book companies that are looking for submission for any anthologies they are putting together. So if there are any out there, get in touch and I will see if I have a submission that suits.
As far as safety in numbers goes, I’m not really sure about that. It’s good to get involved with companies, new or existing and work with them to put together interesting stories. I think anthologies are great because they can showcase a variety of creators all in one place and you can have a smaller page count story rather than a full issue and you are still able to submit. Also, Emerald Star Comics seem willing to put the time in to promote and get the end product out to the readers, which is a credit to them as a company. As far as the other creators that have been submitting to Emerald Star Comics, I have to say that I have not crossed paths with them before. Hey it’s a big world and there are lots of creators out there.
So what else can we look forward from you in coming months? Will there be more of your Hierophantom’s Poeticorner especially?
I have been working on a few projects in recent months, some of which will be seeing the light of day very soon. I have also had some of my previous works reprinted in various anthologies. Keep a look out for the following, some of which are available right now: Astral Crusaders: The Standard Bearer, available for download (CE Publishing’s Megabook M2 and Emerald Star Comics Presents #1), Astral Crusaders: Fields of Death (Emerald Star Comics Presents #2), Witch Hunters (soon to be published by Evil Moose Publishing within their Moose Crossing Anthology #1), Communication Meltdown (soon to be published by 8th Wonder Press within their Uncanny Adventures Anthology), The Last Knight (soon to be published in Indie Comics Horror #2) and Silent But Deadly (available later in the year in Indie Comics Magazine #7). Although I have a few other Hierophantom’s Poeticorners ready to go, I have not placed them for publication. However, I do have a couple of illustrated poems coming out in the next couple of months. They are The Night Errant and Ultimate Man (soon to be published by Source Point Press in Alter Egos volumes 1 and 2). To keep up to date with new releases and info about my comics, please visit my blog at Inertia Publications.
Paul, thank you so much for chatting it up with us at the LP. Your stories are filled with incredibly strong characterizations, something any medium could certainly use a bit more of. Please, don’t be a stranger!
Thanks to the Lottery Party for taking the time to do this interview. Hopefully some more of my work will get out there to a wider audience and we will see where that may lead. At this stage I would like to thank all of the small press companies that are taking the time and putting in the effort to release anthologies. These are a great way for new creators to get work out to the masses. If any other companies are producing anthologies in the near future, then please get in contact with me as I am always looking to contribute to this format of comic book. Also, I am always looking to find new artists to work with. Check out some of the comics that I am producing and if you think that your work would suit my writing then get in touch for sure. Who knows what that may lead to. I would just like to give a thank you out to anybody who has picked up a comic book with one of my stories in it. Your support is greatly appreciated.
Just to everybody else out there, please give independent and small press comics a go, you never know what gem you may uncover. Most of all though, just keep reading comic books and supporting this medium of storytelling. Cheers.
Nick Piers is a Canadian writer and author, whose debut novel The City of Smoke and Mirrors has just been released. It is an exceedingly brilliant book and I am bitterly jealous. Regardless, Nick was awesome enough to stop and trade some words with the LP about the times and life of a young wordsmith in the modern world. Seriously, Nick is an outstanding new voice and most certainly one to watch, but only if you like your fiction both wise and witty.
Nick, You are pretty vocal on your blogs about how much comic books mean to you, and your desire to one day write them yourself, but I’d like to start with your other influences. In researching you for this interview, I read that your first bit of fiction-writing was a crayon-scrawled Gizmo story in grade school, and in the afterword for your book you mention showing Gremlins to your nieces and nephews as a Christmas routine. I can actually see a bit of Joe Dante influence in how you pass the surreal for the everyday in your stories. Is that at all intentional? And what other film-makers appeal to you personally?
Huh, you know, I never considered Gremlins to be such a major influence on my writing style before, but now that you mention, that makes sense. Dante’s work has a willingness not to take its property 100% seriously and to just sit back and have some fun. Even the Howling movies were like this, I believe. Scarier than Gremlins, to be sure, but still a lot of fun. For me, I grew up on horror flicks, especially slasher flicks, and most especially the mouthy ones like Freddy and Chucky. As you pointed out in your review, I love cheesy one-liners. Freddy was the king of those, right alongside his 80s movie counterpart, Arnold Schwarzenegger. God, I love me some Arnie.
I don’t know if any specific film-maker appealed to me, specifically. My creativity is certainly a product of the 80s, thanks to things like Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. As you said, they passed the surreal or astonishing as everyday even there. Ghostbusters had these average, out of shape schlubs fighting spooks and slimers. Back to the Future had some kid happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But by god, those movies were FUN with a capital F. I’d also blame several shows and cartoons from those days, like the Muppets, Dog City, and Inspector Gadget. Most people look back at those and shake their heads at the horrible one-liners and puns. I gleefully revel in it. Those shows wore ‘lame’ like a badge of honour and just had fun.
That’s what I try to bring to my writing. So many works of fiction today are dark and realistic. I’m all like, “Psh! Screw that noise. My crime boss is an ancient dragon, suckers!”
While you’ve had at least a couple of short stories actually published before, you have many more stories scattered around the intrawebs. It’s surprising to see how so much of it really is connected, whether directly, or as alternate points on a sort of evolutionary scale for your own creative awakening. Are you the sort to look back on your earlier efforts and cringe, or is there room for everything in your universe?
By “connected” do you mean my writing style or the connections between Dill’s universe and other superhero stories I’d written before? If you mean the former, honestly, I don’t think there’s a single writer out there that feels they take a step back in their creative endeavors. What I mean is, writers, or at least good ones, should constantly seek to improve themselves. Only in the last few years, for example, did I realize that I should have used em-dashes instead of parenthesis for many sentences. I actually learned that about halfway through writing Dill. “Dill,” by the way, is the shortened way I refer to City of Smoke and Mirrors, and its sequel that I’m working on now. But I’m constantly trying to improve my writing, either by reading books like Eats, Shoots, and Leaves or simply practicing.
If you mean in terms of my previous superhero stories? Ehhhh, not really anything cringe-worthy. The two novellas on Metahuman Press, for example, were written a good ten years ago. Since then, I feel I’ve improved as a writer in just about every aspect. My dialogue is snappier and more natural, the characters’ motivations make more sense, and just general quality of writing. At some point, I plan on revisit those novellas, possibly re-writing them altogether. Right now, I wouldn’t consider them fully canon to what I’ve got planned. A lot of my original plans for the SSU (Spectacular Stories Universe (a working name)) have changed quite a bit.
But cringe? Nah. Shake my head and pat my past self on the head. The only way Past Me would reach Today Me is by writing those stories and making those mistakes. The only story I think I’ll leave untouched is The Never Ending Battle. A lot of people consider it my best work, but I look at the writing and can see lots of room for improvement. That said, it’s published now, even if it was in a small print magazine. It might sound weird to some, but it would just feel…wrong…to go and vastly change it now.
I think I would agree with you there. You’ve mentioned elsewhere that once you began work on The City of Smoke and Mirrors that it really wrote itself. But how true is that? Did you ever feel the need to draw a diagram in order to keep track of all the timetables and assorted motivations and reveals? I mean, there are twisting plots in there that would make even the great Max Allan Collins a little green.
Well, the funny thing is, when I started writing the book I only had the faintest of ideas what the overall plot and mystery was. I mean heck, when I wrote the first couple of chapters, Don Komodo wasn’t even Don Komodo. He was Don Quasimodo, some sleazy little hunchback guy. But then I realized I had a much better villain in Komodo, a character I’d played with a little bit on City of Heroes, that fit the mold much better.
Basically, all I knew going in was Dill fought a Batman archetype and some of his rogue gallery. I knew the big secret as far as who The Buzzard was, but that’s it. A lot of what I wrote was completely on the fly and then edited after to make more sense. Originally, for example, Alana was going to be more of a femme fatale who had an obsession with diamonds. It was going to play with mirrors and reflections and such. I considered having the big, final showdown at her mansion and she was actually in on the whole thing. She wound up becoming a much different character in the end, though, and for the better, I feel.
But I wouldn’t say that the whole book wrote itself so much as Dill wrote himself. Many times, I would just throw him into a situation and let him figure it out. For example, the big action sequence with him and Bison. Those chapters, The Head Honcho and especially Drag Race, have commonly been the reader’s favourites. But once Bison started dragging Dill by a chain around the city, I actually had no clue how Dill was going to get out of it. I just thought it’d be fun to do an Indiana Jones-style dragging from the back of a car (or motorbike in this case). But Dill proved he had the cajones to get out of it.
Are you conscious of your audience? Like with the Dill book, did you feel like you were writing to a certain crowd? Or rather, is there anybody out there who you feel maybe shouldn’t pick up the book?
I definitely don’t think it’s for anybody and everybody. A few weeks ago, I promoted the book on Reddit just to get word out a little more. One person commented that they stopped reading after the first paragraph of the book mentioned a trenchcoat and fedora, saying it was too cliche. He also admitted to not being a fan of the superhero or pulp detective genres. What he doesn’t realize is that tropes and cliches are part of what makes both genres so much fun. To me, anyway. I love coming up with “Chandlerisms” as one of my English professors called them, referencing Raymond Chandler. Those are the lines you hear like, “The rain hit the rooftop like Skittles falling into a glass bowl.” I love that stuff!
Would it be okay to say I wrote for the nerd crowd like myself? I tell people that if they love Simon R Green’s Nightside series or John Zakour’s sci-fi detective novels, then they’d love Dill. Having read the first novel recently, I can also say that people who enjoy Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels would also love Dill.
One thing’s for sure, though, is that it’s not for kids. I’ve had a few people assume it was safe for a younger audience because it’s like Ninja Turtles. Two things, there. One, the original Mirage comics were definitely not kid friendly. Two, I’m sure you can say yourself that there’s far too many euphemisms and innuendos that make this not-so-kid friendly.
Definitely. Discerning as I strive to be, I got even more from my second reading of the book, to be sure. Are you settling into the notion of continuing to build your own thing, or are their commercial properties you wouldn’t mind taking a crack at down the road? For example, the thought did hit me that while Steve Gerber was the only writer who could ever “sell” Howard the Duck, it would be fun to see you have a go.
Both? Can it be both? I’m saying both. I have ideas for at least a dozen more adventures for Dill. Some are more fleshed out than others, but the core plot ideas are there. I have ideas for other projects, like books that take place in the same universe as Dill, but not star him. There’s a semi-biographical piece focusing on my battle with depression, a short teen novel series and, believe it or not, a children’s book, all rolling around in my head. I’m also playing with an idea for an extended comic book series (roughly 70-80 issues), but I can’t draw to save my life, so I keep hoping to find that right artist who’d work beside me on it. They’re all just ideas rumbling around in my head at the moment.
As far as other commercial properties? Abso-flipping-lutely. Even though I’m not a fan of DC comics since their reboot, if they were to call me tonight and say, “Hey listen, we read your book and would like to have you write this comic series,” I would shout, “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY SIGNATURE!” and demand a contract. To have my name on a comic book? Holy crap, I would love it. I mean, every writer has their own Superman story (or stories). I have mine. But if I were ever given the opportunity, I’d love to take some little-known character, have my own self-contained series for X number of issues, and just run with it like Grant Morrison did with Animal Man or Alan Moore with Swamp Thing. Just as long as the book isn’t forced into some stupid event that breaks the flow of the story.
I don’t think I’d feel comfortable writing Howard the Duck, though. That was Steve Gerber’s baby. As you said, he was the only writer who could ever sell it and for good reason.
You mentioned depression. How much of the real world creeps into your work? And do you have on opinion on whether Art in general should serve as a mirror, or as a window of escape?
I’m sure if someone were to deconstruct my work, they’d see it. Maybe more than I realize. Dill, for example, mirrors me in some ways. He has anti-social tendencies like myself and he’s got some serious low self-esteem issues. The world doesn’t see him as much and it’s tough for him not to look at himself like that, too.
As far as art goes, I don’t see why it can’t be both. It can serve as a mirror to society, ideals, hopes, dreams, fears, and all sorts of other things I can’t think of right now at four in the morning. While I doubt a book like this is meant to be deconstructed and studied by university students, I’m sure there are things about it people can relate to or emphasize with. I have books and comics that are very strong, heady works and others are meant for just reading pleasure. It’s the same with other forms of entertainment, like movies. You’ve got your great, deep thinking movies with messages and such like Cloud Atlas. Or you have your boom fiestas to shut off your brain for two hours like The Avengers. There’s room for both.
Excellent. Thank you for talking with the LP, Nick. We look forward to eventually reading another 50 Dill novels.
Heh, thank you. I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions.
I’ll finish up with some further shameless self-promotion. Those reading this are welcome to follow me on twitter. I also have a blog that I’m starting to update semi-frequently via wordpress. And of course, you can get your own copy of The City of Smoke and Mirrors at Amazon or Smashwords.
Daniel Boyd is a writer, film-maker and teacher, perhaps best known for his horror classic CHILLERS from Troma Entertainment. A humble student of the world himself, he is currently adding to his list of chores by bringing the CHILLERS property to the realms of comic books through Transfusion Publishing. He very kindly took time out from his crazy crazy schedule to discuss the roads he’s been down, lessons learned and dreams for the future. If you appreciate candid storytellers, this should be your cup of hell yes.
Danny, what was the first story that really captured your imagination, whether film or book, etc? Did you know that you wanted to be a storyteller when you were young, or did that come later on?
The first stories that captured me were from cinema and TV. Coming from semi-rural West Virginia, I thought I had a better chance playing for the Yankees than creating in the entertainment industry. Just didn’t seem to be in the realm of possibilities. But man, I loved cinema of the fantastic (horror, SF)! And I had the most wonderful parents who allowed me to consume a steady diet of it from a very young age. I was slow to learn to read, so in my pre-reading years, my first big at the cinema memories are Pinocchio, Journey to the 7th Planet, and Mr. Sardonicus (family Drive-In outing). But I still think my first, greatest influence came on late night TV, when my dad quietly woke me to get up to watch the original Frankenstein (thanks dad!). Rocked my world! Became a Universal monster nut after that. Still am.
Also on TV, the original Invaders From Mars. Even with its low-budget blemishes it still affects me today. And the TV biggie – The Twilight Zone! I credit Rod Serling as my greatest influence. Still today. Especially with CHILLERS.
As I said, I was slow to learn to read. But I remember when I finally had my breakthrough. I loved DC Comics but it drove me crazy to not be able to understand the text. Thanks to a patient neighbor boy (David Quenzel), and Bob Kane’s Batman, I finally learned to read. Being a horror nut, I later expanded to Creepy and Eerie in the comic world.
Storytelling is commonplace growing up in West Virginia, part of our heritage. And I hear now from family and old friends that I was quite imaginative from a young age, but I think much of that is revisionist history. The first homegrown products that I remember creating were hand-drawn Mad Magazine, National Lampoon influenced 1-2 page parodies during my Junior High years. Funny, irreverent stuff. Or we sure thought it was. In electronic media, me and my neighbor pal, Rusty, wrote and produced parody radio shows on our 1st generation cassette tape recorders. Everyone around us seemed to enjoy.
I think it was those homemade radio shows that gave me my first professional aspiration – To be a radio DJ. Don’t get me wrong, I was never a pessimist, I just figured that being on local or regional radio was as far as I could possibly go in the entertainment world. And I was fine with that. Funny thing is, when I got my first shot on commercial radio I sucked balls! I was so nervous, and uninformed about Country music at that time, that I played a Dolly Parton 45RPM record at 33 1/3 by mistake and just assumed it was a man singing. So my radio dream was short-lived.
At university I started playing around with cameras. My hometown pal and roommate, Steve Hedges, got a 35mm still camera and we made a parody educational slide-tape show (remember those? BEEP!) for a senior project. It was a big hit in the Communications Department. I think it was then that I first realized I could make consumable entertainment.
At the same time, I was very lucky to get a work-study position at the university PBS TV station (WWVU, now WNPB). That was around 1977-78, and you know, I’m still working with some of the filmmakers that I met there now. Just one of those lucky moments in time where I found myself around amazing talent. I was like a kid in a candy store. Learned so much. Made such good lifelong colleagues and friends.
That would lead to film graduate school (after a short stint as a carpenter), where I would begin storytelling through film in earnest…but getting ahead of the question. See, Richard, I warned you! No short answers when you ask a hillbilly a question.
Ha! Were the public television projects your first real indulgence in professional film-making then? And did you begin teaching right out of school? For that matter, was teaching ever an economic thing for you, or were there always the ulterior motives of spreading artistic leanings?
It was my first professional experience in television, but I was nothing more than an entry level Production Assistant. Most of our work centered around a live, nightly state-wide news broadcast, which was the most exciting thing ever for me. I quickly worked my way up to Floor Manager and eventually Camera Person. It was the early days of portable video so I would go on as many field shoots as I could. The young wizard of this new medium then was John Nakashima, who would later co-edit the CHILLERS movie, and we remain great friends today. Years later when I would tell people the story of going out with John for my first field shoot, he confessed that he didn’t even remember me. Ha! So that’s the level I was at. But I was in the biz and loved it!
This is how I got into teaching: It was very much economic, not altruistic (although my eventual methods would be a sharing, mutually beneficial, student-teacher approach). I needed to make a living. After my first semester in grad school (summer 79) at the University of Arkansas, I made my first real film, a documentary about contemporary hobos, “Homeless Brother.” It wasn’t a great film technically, but the subject matter was catchy. And ballsy for us to make. We rode freight trains around the south, stayed in homeless missions, partied in hobo “jungles”. Got some pretty rich stuff. The film got good shine, even playing regional PBS. So that launched my film-making career.
During grad school, thinking about my future, I though the best case for me would be to become an AV (audio-visual) person at, at best, a college. I could play with the toys, and hopefully make my own films.
In the summer of 1980, I was very lucky to get a production internship with the National Park Service film division, in Harpers Ferry, WV. Which just happened to be close to my hometown of Martinsburg. Man, that was Hollywood for me! These folks were some of the best of the best of non-fiction creators. That is where I really learned the professional side of film-making.
I married in August of that year, and was working minimum wage jobs, looking for something in my field. By chance, I found a listing for an AV Head position at Southern West Virginia Community College in Williamson, WV. Smack-dab in the southern coalfields. Hatfield-McCoy Country! Back then it was truly the West Virginia outback. But getting that job was another of those very lucky things that have happened to me. The job was perfect for me at the time. Basic college AV needs, plus programming their Public Access TV station. I made some crazy-ass TV shows like “Homegrown”, and “Talking Heads”. Rather “out there” stuff for a, shall we say, isolated region. But the people seemed to dig it. And I dug them for sure. Plus, I had equipment to work on my films.
The place had a profound, lasting effect on me. Kinda hard to explain. Very isolated. Radically different views on the “good ‘ole boys, politics as usual” and especially, the lifeblood of Mingo County – Coal! There was this very interesting mix of pro-environment, anti-strip mining…I guess you could say radicals. Because those views weren’t very popular with the traditional powers. This group of guerrilla journalists, ex-nuns, hard-drinking poets, artists, photographers, traditional mountain musicians…all came together around an underground newspaper that they were somehow able to fund. It became my political/environmental living laboratory. Especially when it comes to Mountaintop Removal (strip mining). Bad shit, man. In fact, nearly 30 years later, it (MTR) is at the center of my upcoming epic graphic novel, CARBON. I became the filmmaker in the group. You will see a piece of Mingo County in nearly everything I would create from then until now. A very rich, nearly two years of my life! And a time/place when I honed my film-making skills.
During this time I became friends with some of the instructors at the community college. I thought, man, that would be the life. Work 9 months a year, summers off, leaving me much more time for film-making. A professor friend helped me craft a query letter and an academic resume (my technical writing skills were for shit) and I began looking for teaching positions in film/TV. I can only remember applying for 2, although I’m sure there were more, and was offered both.
My first official teaching post was at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia. VI is a small, private Christian college in the southern Virginia mountains. They had excellent art and photography programs and were interesting in expanding to film-making. I was proven as a guy who could do quality work on a low budget, so I was hired. Good students, good experience there. Made some good films, and developed as a teacher.
My wife and I were forced to live separately that year in order to both keep work. She had decided to move back closer to her home of Charleston, WV, finding work there. I joined her that summer, and again with a stroke of great Danny luck, a film/TV professor job opened at nearby West Virginia State College (now University). Department head, David Wohl, had a vision to build a real film-making academic program in West Virginia. I started in the fall of 1983. At the time, I thought it would be something I would do for a year or two. I’ve been there since (with exception of 2 sabbaticals, 1 year abroad), and hope to last a few more until retirement. I think I owe more to Wohl than anyone who helped me along my career journey. We made the feature films together, and remain great friends today.
So Richard, after all that blah-blah, back to the teaching question: I have to say it was/is more self-serving than altruistic. Yes, I’ve generated scores of talented, successful students with my “learn by doing — Directly involving students in real-world projects to learn their craft” approach. But really, 1) I needed a job. 2) The students are a quality, available labor pool (not to mention cheap to free!), and 3) Yes, I’m still being thanked by my darlings of some 30 years for being so giving, and yes I tried to be that, but I really think it was more ego motivated than anything. It makes me happy to engage and involve seemingly ordinary people and see evolve into extraordinary human beings and professionals. And I have cherished the role of serving as an “ordinary Joe” who made it into the game, so, so can they.
How did the first kernels for CHILLERS take shape for you? Was it just a sudden need to channel the creative energies around you to try and one-up Rod Serling? And do you have a particular fondness for anthology formats?
This is how CHILLERS came about – And yes, I was very much influenced by anthologies. I had pretty good success with documentaries in the early 80s, but I really wanted to tell original stories through narrative film. I began writing and directing short narrative films in the mid-80s. There was still a good market for short films then, before MTV pretty much killed that. It was the early days of cable TV and the hottest national shows on for indie filmmakers were “Night Flight” and “Radio 1990” on the upstart network, USA. Remember, there were only a couple national cable networks then and these two shows were the coolest of the cool, a mix of eccentric short films and cutting edge music videos. They took a silly, little short film that my good pal, Steve Gilliland, and I made in Williamson (WV), COAL DUST/ FAIRY DUST. Between the 2 shows it was aired dozens of times. Great national exposure!
My dream all along was to work my way into feature films. So the shorts were a stepping stone to that. I began writing feature screenplays in the mid-80s, literally teaching myself by looking at other feature scripts that I could get my hands on. Around this time I signed up for a short low-budget film-making workshop in New York, presented by the darlings of indie film, John Sayles and Maggie Renzi. In an incredible stroke of luck, they were soon to come to West Virginia to shoot their masterpiece, MATEWAN. We became friends. They are truly caring, giving people. When the production came to the state I was a full time professor and could not take off to work it full time. Knowing this, John and Maggie gave me all the day work I could do. Swear to god, I learned more on the first day of that shoot that I think I did in all of film school. But the most important thing I learned was that I could do this. I owe John and Maggie so much. MATEWAN premiered in August 1887, and CHILLERS went into production less than 2 months later.
These are the reasons for CHILLERS as my first feature: It was in the middle of the home video boom. A brief window of time where the Majors were mostly staying out and smaller indie films had a shot at national/international distribution. I loved horror but also realized that audiences were more forgiving of low budget in this genre. And we would have to be low-budget in spades to pull this off! Secondly, I knew I would have to get the handful of film pros in the state at that time to pull this off. I didn’t have money so I couldn’t ask them to take off 3 weeks of work. They were my pals, but I couldn’t ask that. So I designed a film that could be shot on weekends over a series of months. For continuity reasons, I thought anthology would work best. We would shoot a complete, stand-alone story each weekend and not have to worry about continuity the next month we shot. And lastly, I wasn’t confident enough in my writing at the time to write a single, feature length story. But I thought I could write 5 good, shorter ones. I knew it would take more actors, but that was an amazing time for local (Charleston) theater, thanks much to my boss and good friend, David Wohl, who was pulling some amazing talent together for his innovative plays.
And back to your original question, yes, I was very much influenced by horror anthology movies. Especially a Hammer film I saw as a kid, DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS. I loved the use of a train as the wrap around in that film. With my budget and backstory, I thought a bus more appropriate for CHILLERS. Plus, I had a crazy, crazy bus move from West Virginia to Arkansas in January 1979 that would have a profound effect on me, and eventually CHILLERS. But that, Richard, is another story.
And the film has held up well. I for one am also glad to see it live on as a series of graphic novels. It’s like how the Buffy writers made the transition to comics to continue their series, they realized that the new medium could allow so much more (and much cheaper at that) than what film can do. But was the first CHILLERS book really your first comics work?
Thanks, Richard. I’ve had the opportunity to watch the film more than I’ve wanted recently with the CHILLERS re-birth as graphic novel. And except for some 80s hairstyles, it seems rather timeless for me. Of course, my pals and I marvel, “Look how young we were!”
No, CHILLERS was not my first work in the graphic narrative world. I tell this story a lot now, but I got into comics by accident. A lucky accident. In 2006 or 07, I was directing the feature film, “DEATH FALCON ZERO VS THE ZOMBIE SLUGLORDS,” inspired by a story from my good friend, and pro wrestling tag-team partner ( a whole other story!), Bill Bitner (also one of my core CHILLERS graphic novel writers). We had actually shot the foreign scenes in the Czech Republic and Tanzania. I tried to fight it, but eventually came to the realization that it wasn’t going to be as good a film as I wanted. Bill and I were traveling a lot together at the time on the wrestling circuit. We sadly agreed to scratch the film but wanted to salvage the story that we were so invested in. I hadn’t read a comic in over 30 years but knew that Bill had kept up with them. We decided to adapt it as an “illustrated” novel, like the classics we read as kids. Bill is a fantastic writer, and with our co-written story, I also saw this as a opportunity to get him on the radar as novelist.
During the production of the book, I began studying the medium and market, which involved reading what I had missed in over 3 decades. Man, it was like being born again! I quickly fell in love with the graphic narrative medium, and realized it was a more appealing storytelling medium for me than film. I had already lost much of the passion I had for motion picture production. I’d made over 30 films of nearly every genre. It was a time in my life when I realized that telling the story was the most important thing, not the medium. And that was liberating! Still is.
Most people who transition between mediums generally go from comics to film. I did the reverse. It was a 3 year process to re-tool, and write a few books in the new medium, but I thought the transition easier coming from a screenwriting background. Both tell stories in pictures. I now teach it at my university with a “cinema on the page” approach.
Story first- I love that. But you do know that Rad Serling was a praised boxer in the Army, right? So your “dalliances” into wrestling would seem well in keeping with the habits of truly great writers, just like Charles Bukowski’s daily bar-fights! Ha! But how did you sign on with Gary Reed’s Transfuzion? CHILLERS certainly fits well into his catalog, almost too well. Was it fate, or a poker match gone wrong?
Thanks, Richard. Very flattering to be in a question that includes Serling and Bukowski. More commonalities than, A: Rather not answer as I think disrespectful to compare myself to the “positives” of those 2 greats. And, B: Many similarities to their “negatives” as well. I think best to keep that to myself. One of my favorite African proverbs is, “The forest of the heart should never be cleared of all the wood.”
So, here’s how I connected with Gary Reed of Transfuzion Publishing. Another example of Danny good luck. When I was beginning to re-tool in graphic narrative, I only knew 3 guys in West Virginia who worked in the comic biz. They all would, and continue to be, great help to me; Robert Tinnell, Jason Arthur, and especially Jason Pell.
Arthur, a nationally known letterer, is here where I live (Charleston, WV), and was lettering my big book, CARBON (at publishers now for consideration). I was telling him that unlike the movie biz, I knew no one in the comic publishing end to pitch CHILLERS. He sent me a website (I wish I could remember which) that had a general list of comic and graphic novel publishers with contact info. I decided to swallow some ego and start at step 1, like anyone else beginning in the business. Target a few that seemed to be a right fit, and send a general query letter with finished examples. Bottom floor, baby! Of course I pitched my past success in cinema, especially CHILLERS, and that Troma would continue to support my efforts.
I narrowed the list to around 10 publishers, and blind emailed my pitch. Now in movies, this is always pissing in the wind. But I thought I should at least make the standard effort before exploring more “insider” methods.
To my surprise, I heard back from most. A few lead to offers. The most detailed and thoughtful response came from Gary Reed of Transfuzion. And I don’t mean, “love you up,” thoughtful. More of tough love, the true state of the business. I was impressed that he would take that much time to “smarten me up,” as we say in the wrestling biz. Even if it was somewhat discouraging.
While exploring the other options, I researched Gary’s long body of work. Man, good stuff! What I really liked was his use of scholarship in works of the “fantastic”. Smart stuff in genres that are often dumbed down. I found we had even more in common; both middle aged professors, and research nerds. Ha! Gary had been in comics as long as I’d been in film, and I figured that there was a lot I could learn from him (as became the case).
I continued to entertain other offer options, some seemingly higher-profile than Transfuzion, but my gut Spidy-sense, kept bringing me back to Gary. I was getting all the show-bizzy BS from other publishers, reminiscent of my movie years dealing with distributors. I appreciated Gary’s no-nonsense, “just the facts, Ma’am,” approach. So we shook hands via email. One, maybe two phone conversations, and that was that. One of the best decisions I ever made.
So is the plan, economy providing, to keep CHILLERS books coming out every so ofter? (Yes, please!) And what else can you share about your new thing, CARBON? I gather it’s a sort of science-fantasy plot with some strong ecological themes, but how long has the setup been forming itself in your cranium?
We don’t have it in writing, but Gary and I have always been thinking of maybe a 5-book run for CHILLERS. With all the different people involved because of anthology format, it is a bit of a Magilla to produce. And we do pay our artists so it takes a hunk of change to cover the production nut. But I’ve gotten good support from my university (WV State U), as they see the value in student involvement/educational/career advancement. We’re just now talking about Book 3. I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to pull it off, but I always seem to come up with a way.
There are certainly no shortage of ideas. I have notebooks full of my own. Thinking of 3 stories right now that I’ll start in the next few days, now that the semester is over. And my ringers, Pell, Bitner, Tinnell, and Reed, always seem game, so I see a book every 10 months or so. And using as a teaching model, I see more and more opportunities for my “creme de la creme” students.
And until the world becomes a perfect place, I’ll never run out of motivating material. I know this sounds indulgent, Richard, but CHILLERS is really my way to address issues that really piss me off. I’m not a politician or a soldier, I’m an entertainer. CHILLERS my weapon. Maybe that’s BS in the bigger picture, but sure works for my spirit. Makes me feel good.
About my upcoming CARBON book: Straight up, CARBON, is the main reason I got into graphic narrative. It is my 100 page-plus epic of Gods, Monsters and Evil Coal Barons. It is a story I’ve wanted to tell for well over 10 years. When thinking about coal issues, It all sprang from the realization, we’re all carbon. Plants, animals, and we humans, are the ingredients of this fossil fuel. What if you put the process in reverse?
It was cost prohibitive as cinema. With my re-birth in comics, I now can, and have, created CARBON. 3 years in production, it is now in the hands of select publishers for consideration. Coal is the epicenter of climate change. And CARBON’s setting, West Virginia, is the epicenter of coal. I believe CARBON will get extensive (positive and negative) attention when published. Maybe do some good by bringing these issues to a new audience. Fingers crossed!
Climate change is one of those topics that almost everyone seems to have an opinion on. But I really like that Aesopian approach, of having deeper meanings to the stories than just some action and adventure. As CHILLERS was begun on film and moved to sequentials, would you ever like to see CARBON doing the reverse, and moving from funny books to a feature-length film? Or is it one of those cases where the medium will help define the work itself?
Oh yeah, I dream of CARBON as a feature film! (Being sickeningly superstitious I am doing my anti-jinx ritual as I say this. Hell, I don’t even have an acceptable publishing deal yet.) And I designed the book with that always in mind. I came to terms with myself that I would be happy if I could just get the book out, and hopefully the trilogy – CARBON – SALT – GOLD – if I have the good fortune to continue. But I still feel in my heart of hearts, it would make great cinema. Big/flashy/sensational, on a contemporary environmental canvas. And with American coal miners as the heroes, and a splash of the only American sport that approaches mythos, baseball, it’s my, “all things Danny,” opus.
Of course that still leaves one big question: Is it good? That will be up to the public. (Still doing anti-jinx ritual) But I swear, Richard, CARBON is my, “I have to do this,” no matter how it turns out, top bucket-list things.
Well there is no accounting for good taste. I know I dig the premise, as I’ve traveled through many ghost-towns here in Kentucky with those special kinds of gigantic and jarring flat-top monoliths in the distance that come only from mountaintop “clearing”. But as you have been fortunate enough to work in multiple mediums, and considering the same can be said for the company you keep, will the world ever see a lengthy novel from you, whether fictional or non?
I have a novel on that short bucket list. Historic fiction, also set in the West Virginia coalfields. Outlined out, just need to get the time. Besides that one, I’d be quite happy to spend the rest of my writing career in comics. At least that’s how I’m feeling now.
And I think any medium should love to have you, if it knows what’s good for it. Thank you so much for chatting it up the LP, Danny.
With pleasure, Richard! As I communicated in a personal email to you, this new world of interviews via typed responses is odd to me. My publisher explained, that’s just how it is now. The problem for me is it zaps a hunk of my writing lifeforce, which is a valuable commodity in my life. Writing still doesn’t come quick or easy for me.
It was that thorough, intelligent review that you gave CHILLERS Book 2, and then exploring LP more, that convinced me to do it. Again good-smart stuff! Refreshing. And I must admit, the interview process was therapeutic. I haven’t thought about much of this stuff in years. Nice again to be reminded how lucky I’ve been, and what great friendships I’ve had because of this crazy business. My 20-something daughters were home this weekend and I told them, “Daddy doesn’t have to tell you his back-story now for family history. Richard got it for us!” Me and my girls thank you!
Nicolás Alcalá is a Spanish film-maker soon to release his debut feature, el Cosmonauta. The stirring story of a Russian cosmonaut not returning to the world he left aside, the film is unique for not only being crowd-funded, but also for being completely open source under Creative Commons licensing. This means that every fraction of his team’s four years of hard work will be available online to the artistic community, for fans to re-edit the film as they see fit, to even sampling the score or shots of the film for their own uses entirely. If art is indeed a hammer, then Nicolás is sharing his hammer with the world. He was kind enough to talk shoppe about his past and future here.Nicolás, your film el Cosmonauta began life approximately four and a half years ago, but how exactly did the seeds for the film first take root in your mind’s eye? Have you long been a fan of history in general, and/or aeronautics in particular?
It all started with a fake project developed by Spanish photographer Joan Fontcuberta. It was about lost cosmonauts and I started to discover a whole world of stories and black legends about secret accidents and cosmonauts lost in space, never being able to return to Earth or dying during reentry.
The idea of a human being, alone, 400,000 km away from home, knowing he is going to die… just blew my mind. I wrote a lot of stories with cosmonauts in them, began to read Ballard and a bunch of historic books…and I ended up falling in love with the space race, especially the soviet part, and decided to tell my story in that period, with all those incredible achievements and conspiracies and epic stories.
Was there a specific point in your formative years when you knew that becoming a filmmaker was to be a great passion?
Somebody gave me a camera as a birthday present when I was 7 or 8 and I made my first stop motion short film with Lego. Later, when I was twelve, I saw an ad in my city promoting a workshop for directors. That’s the first time I was conscious about the guys behind the camera I ended up convincing the workshop director to allow me to participate even though I wasn’t 18, which was the minimum age, and giving away flyers for him to be able to pay for it.
That summer I made my first short film and…here I am, finishing my first feature film and trying to make a life career about it.
What influences outside of film-making have most affected you?
A whole ton of them. I read a lot and I’m a music and art lover. All of that inspires me in many ways. I’m constantly writing down references to go back to them later while I’m writing or directing. For example, I always write with music, trying to set up the correct mood for what I’m writing at that moment. And I try to be very visual so advertising, music clips and fine art are an important part of my everyday inspiration.
This movie has journeyed down a long and eventful road, but was there ever a moment of particularly divine providence on the set? Were there signposts that you were indeed creating something special?
That happened the fourth or fifth day into the shooting. The first had been awful, with tons of different problems and delays and everybody was really pissed off and with a bad mood. But that special day we shot one of the longest scenes in the film: a bunch of generals and engineers playing cards. They were all wearing their uniforms…smoking…playing music and eating caviar while throwing coins and cards to the table. It was a 4 hour scene, pretty intense, and every member of the team got out of the set with the goosebumps- they had been so absorbed. In that moment we all understood that we were finally making a film. A real and very special one.
As el Cosmonauta has maintained a highly original business model, was it especially difficult in finding just the right performers willing and able to bring these characters to life?
It didn’t differ a lot from a traditional process. We hired a casting director, we ran together over 500 reels, selected a hundred actors and did 5 casting sessions in London until we found our perfect actors. The only difference is that we told them they were going to need to differ their salaries like everybody else…and because they loved the project all of them said yes.
One would imagine after this production period, that you would be a firm advocate not only of crowd-sourcing efforts, but of online social networking as well. While any success on the part of your team is greatly deserved, what in your opinion are the biggest drawbacks, if any, of these systems?
I’m not an evangelist of crowd-funding (on the contrary, I do believe in blindfolded crowd-sourcing). The worst part is that it is exhausting. It consumes a loooot of time to find money, unless you are the Veronica Mars producer and you are able to raise 5 million in a week. And then you need to produce the merchandise you are giving in return, ship it over, it’s challenging. In our case, it was even more difficult since we never got paid from production money and we worked 8 hours a day on The Cosmonaut and then another six on advertising to pay the rent. But hey, I wouldn’t change a single second of my last four years.
Are you concerned that increased efforts by assorted law-enforcement agencies to further manipulate both privacy and security online might restrict such creative efforts in coming years? Or that proposed internet taxes might complicate crowd-funding pursuits? Or are you more of an optimist by nature?
I’m optimistic. Creativity finds it way. Always. I just hope we can keep enjoying this freedom and that we become better human beings in the future thanks to the internet, not the other way round.
Obviously, it’s the largest and most important thing that has happened to humanity in centuries, and we need to be really careful.
Have there ever been any awkward moments from Soviet officials concerning your knowing adoration for the accomplishments of Yuri Gagarin, or your inference of the concept of the lost cosmonauts? Any KGB knocking on your door late at night?
Yes, unfortunately, yes there were. At some point during the shooting we received a letter from one of our greatest heroes from the space race. A VERY important guy that was even a character on the film…and the letter was everything but nice. Actually, the nicest thing it said about us was that we were a bunch of drunken Spaniards with no respect whatsoever and why did we dare to talk like that about Russian heroes as we were absolutely insignificant in the sphere of space exploration.
These things happen. Although we had a huge respect for the Russians and their achievements and although we tried to be as accurate as possible…that’s not always good enough and you can’t keep everyone happy.
After finally viewing the finished film for the very first time, what surprised you the most about the experience? Being a professional aside, did you get chills at the sense of accomplishment, the sense of completion and closure?
Totally. It was an incredible experience and, since I’m a big sick perfectionist, the feeling of having done something which is at 100% what it could be, something that is almost perfect given the odds…it was incredible. I still laugh to myself sometimes thinking about it. It’s like a dream.
The release of the film will involve hosted screenings around the world. Have you done much globe-trotting in the past? Are there locations that you are really looking forward to seeing in person?
I have traveled a lot, yes. We’ve been invited to a lot of conferences and master classes and that has been exciting. It was great to connect with audiences and to have feedback to build our model. But I guess the big globe-trotting will come now, with the film being finally released. After all, I was invited to all those conferences for a project that didn’t even exist, but now is real. We made it, so I guess it makes much more sense.
I really hope the film works in Asia, because there are like a hundred places I want to visit there that I haven’t known yet.
Does your creativity spill out into mediums other than film-making? How do you unwind and relax?
Well, I have written since I learned how to. Along with the transmedia experiencia there’s gonna be a poetry book written by one of the characters. But that’s it. I can’t play music and definitely I can’t paint. Funny enough, my father is actually a great painter: www.manuelalcala.com).
I love to travel or read to relax but I must admit I spend a lot more time watching series and going through information on the internet than doing those things. It’s amazing how our habits are changing and our attention span gets reduced more and more every day.
Is science-fiction a genre close to your heart, or are there other genres that you are eager to also explore in the future?
It’s the one I like the most, even though The Cosmonaut is not a strictly science fiction film. But I’m really willing to explore other genres and to also break them and mix them if I can. I believe storytelling is evolving more and more every day and now, with the possibilities that transmedia brings you, you don’t have to think in structured narratives or genres any more.
The fact that this film is open source under Creative Commons licensing is just astounding. What would you most like to see from such a widescale sharing of information? Does it feel like your producing team are trendsetters in this? Or does the idea of putting your child in the hands of strangers intimidate or worry you at all?
For me, this is the real change we are making with the film. We are re-inventing how things work and that’s hard but also very rewarding. In the end, if our model proves to be right (or at least parts of it) we would have proven one thing: that you can make a film with creative freedom and then give it to the audience the way they want to watch it, where they can choose how much to pay or if they don’t want to pay at all. That you can create a trustworthy relationship with your audience. A relationship for the long term.
All the people that have trusted us to make this are pioneers. We are all there, re-thinking how will the film industry work in the next decade. And it’s very exciting. Besides, we are making art. When we put online more than 140 hours of raw footage and people start remixing it, using them for their short films or music clips…all of those pieces will be new things to enjoy. Isn’t that beautiful? to inspire?
For me, this is how the future of creativity should look like. And it won’t change a bit the fact that I made the film that I wanted to make.
Where would you like to be, professionally or spiritually, when el Cosmonauta celebrates its tenth anniversary?
Hahaha, no idea. And I think an important part of being an artist is not knowing such things. Ideally, I will be telling stories and having fun. That’s all I’m worried about.
Nicolás, thank you so much for sharing with our readers. The future looks very bright, and we cannot wait to see what you do next!
The film, written and directed by Nicolás Alcalá and produced by Carola Rodriguez and Bruno Teixidor, will meet its world premiere from Spain on 14 May, 2013.For more information, please scope out the film’s official website.