Interview: Matt Wagner & Bob Shreck

john elliott speaks to two legendary comic book figures…

Film production company Legendary Pictures made its first foray into comics last year with Frank Miller’s Holy Terror, a tongue-in-cheek, high-bombast story about a familiar “caped crusader” tackling terrorism in the Middle East. Legendary has had a hand in producing several successful genre films, including The Dark Knight Rises, Watchmen, The Hangover and the upcoming Man of Steel.

Earlier this fall, Legendary released The Tower Chronicles: Geisthawk — Volume 1, the first in a series of new graphic novels. Written by Matt Wagner (Grendel, Mage), drawn by Simon Bisley (2000 AD and Lobo), it’s the story of a supernatural bounty hunter with closely guarded secrets and a shadowy past. We had an opportunity to chat with Wagner and film and comics producer Bob Shreck about the comic, working with Simon Bisley, and the increasingly digital world of comics creation and distribution.

Pop-Break’s Jonathan Elliott caught up with Wagne and Shrek earlier this fall to talk about their latest creation.

Pop-Break: I read the Comixology preview of The Tower Chronicles this past July. The partnership with Comixology in distributing The Tower Chronicles demonstrates a strong commitment to online and new media as the future of comic book publishing. When creating a work for digital distribution, what new concerns have to be taken into account? How does the process of making comics change? What creative opportunities and challenges do you foresee as this method becomes as popular as traditional print comics?

Bob Shreck: The technology has advanced so quickly, that the digital world has actually caught up to the comic book world. This is great for me, because there’s very little that I have to do to make that transition over from the printed page to digital display. Comixology has an amazing crew who understand comic book storytelling and how to translate that and make all the necessary tweaks to drive the reader’s eye through to the next panel. They’ve adjusted things to make it as natural and as similar as possible to the actual the experience of reading a traditional comic book. In terms of working with Matt Wagner and Simon Bisley, my goal hasn’t changed. We’re making great comics. Comixology then comes in and they do whatever they need to do to translate it over to a fun digital read. That suits our process perfectly and they do a phenomenal job.

Matt Wagner: It all starts with good stories and good narrative. The rest is technology. Really, even print is technology. At onetime, print was the new kid on the block–that was many centuries ago, but its really the same thing. You can dress up the most boring tale in the world with technology, and it won’t engage people.

Bob Shreck: When Matt and I started in the business, every book was drawn on art boards made of real paper and shipped around from penciller to inker, to letterer and sometimes books were hand-painted. Now, with the advent of the computer, I can tell you that FedEx isn’t happy, since everything is on FTP. It saves a lot of money and a lot of time. These are good things. If you’re not prepared to embrace change, you’ll be run over and left for roadkill.

Matt Wagner: Taking that back even further, when we were really young, it was impossible to have a career in comics without living in the New York area because that’s where all the publishers were and there was no overnight delivery at that point. All of the people who worked in comics physically came into the office to pick up the boards to do their jobs. Even that’s a more primitive stage from when we started in comics.

PB: Mr. Wagner, you have a history of creating strong, complicated protagonists in your work, with Hunter Rose, Christine Spar, Grendel Prime, and Kevin Matchstick as prime examples. How does John Tower fit into this tradition?

Matt Wagner: Very similarly, I think. In almost all of these scenarios, I tend to work in a long format. I like epic storylines. I tend to like fairly singular characters and John Tower is very singular and complex character. We learn more about that as the story goes on. In the first volume particularly, he’s extremely aloof, in the tough as nails Clint Eastwood mold of hero. With these sorts of portrayals, you often find that once you peel back the layers of defense that these characters have built around themselves, there’s usually a pretty passionate soul at the core of that personality. Then you start to wonder what is it that made this character like that? What events, what trauma has happened to him that have driven him to such desperate means as going out into the middle of the night and accepting money to confront the most dangerous supernatural creatures you could imagine? If you like my work in other narratives, I think you’ll find a very similar sort of approach and payoff in The Tower Chronicles.

PB: How does working with Simon Bisley as an artist fuel the writing process?

Matt Wagner: It’s terrific. I will say there was probably a short learning curve, but we quickly got into each others grooves and now were a well-greased machine. I’ve gotten better and better about knowing what to ask for from Simon and he’s gotten better and better at delivering what my scripts delineate. In fact he said to me at San Diego Comic-Con this year, this just feels like you’ve written it exactly for me. I think it shows in how quickly hes been producing it. This is definitely the longest narrative Simon has ever done and he’s a little over 200 pages into it which is a lot of work! Its been a terrific experience, and I think everyone associated with the book agrees that we cant imagine anyone except Simon drawing it at this point.

Bob Shreck: When we get the penciled pages from Simon, sent all the way over from England, it fuels Matt. His e-mails back to him are—well, some of the words we cant repeat, but were both completely blown away and totally excited every time we see another batch of pages.

Matt Wagner: I’ll say as a writer and artist myself, I’ll get in pages from Simon and say Oh my god, that’s better than how I wrote it! He’ll take what I described and kick it that extra 10 steps to making it something really awesome. I just had this sequence in the third volume with these nasty little imp-like creatures. I described them as pretty grotesque and boy he just took that and ran with it. They were just so fabulous. There have been many instances like that and Im just overjoyed about my collaboration with Simon.