AICN COMICS Q&@: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy talks with Justin Jordan, Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro, the team behind THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE!
@’s by The Creators of THE STANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE
Justin Jordan, Tradd Moore, & Felipe Sobreiro!
Henry Higgins is My Homeboy here. A common criticism of origin stories is its tendency to repeat the same tropes. The basic "high school nerd is gifted with powers" angle is a horse long since beaten to death, and it shows. Which is why it's nice to see a comic every once in a while presenting it with a new approach. Headlining the August PREVIEWS for an October release, THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE is a new take on the classic plot. I'll review the comics proper soon, but it's well worth the read. I recently spoke to the creative team behind the new Image series.
HENRY HIGGINS IS MY HOMEBOY (HHH): Obviously, you lot are being featured on the August PREVIEWS cover. How did that even come about?
JUSTIN JORDAN (JJ): Mildly horrifying admission: I’m not entirely sure. I know Eric Stephenson has been hugely supportive of the book both publicly and behind the scenes, and I’m pretty sure the cover was his doing. It’s just about the coolest thing ever.
HHH: How did you get the gig at Image?
JJ: Sent the pitch in and they said yes. This is my fourth or fifth pitch to Image, but I’m pretty sure they had no idea who I was going in. But I emailed it in and Eric Stephenson said yes almost immediately. Like I said, he’s been behind us all the way, something I’m really grateful for.
HHH: The book is very graphic and VERY gory. What got you lot to take it that far down the line? Was it a conscious choice, or did it sort of just grow out of the story?
JJ: I’d say it was both. We’re doing a kind of tribute to old school slasher movies, where gore and creative kills are pretty integral parts of it. Plus, Tradd and Felipe make it look so damn good.
The other, more writery reason, is that what the book is at least partly about is the difference between what people think violence is and what it’s really like, and the ultraviolence is there to highlight it.
The only thing that concerned me was a practical one – we might sell less copies than we would if we toned it down a bit, just like R rated movies tend to make less than PG 13. But, you know, it was always meant to be a blood bath, so we just went with it.
HHH: The framing of the bound man killing with his tooth was especially, well, cool. Same goes for the other few action set pieces we've seen. For layouts and sequences like that, is it more the writer or the art team that comes up with it? Or is it more collaborative then that?
JJ: Honestly, that’s mostly Tradd. I mean, yeah, the panels are there in the script, but he has a great eye for staging a scene and if he can think of a better way to do it, that’s what we go with. This is especially true as the book goes on and we get into a groove.
Tradd and Felipe both have the uncanny ability to get what I have in my head and put it on the page, which is especially impressive when you consider how sparse my panel descriptions tend to be.
The sequence with The Bound (which is what those dudes are called) was one of those cases where I kept grinning when I wrote it, because I knew Tradd was going to kick ass with it. And then he did.
TRADD MOORE (TM): Justin typically writes out specific action or killing sequences and I'll follow them directly, but he's also good about leaving a lot of things open for me to be creative with. I always love it when I get to a part of the script that simply reads "Luther kills a guy" or "there are dead people in there." Those parts are usually followed by Justin saying,"Let loose, Tradd." Then, once I'm done, Felipe proceeds to knock it out of the park by adding a whole lot of red everywhere.
HHH: The way Luther’s powers work is well done, and gives him a very alien feel. Between his habit of seeing people via x-ray and their upcoming motions, it definitely sets him apart from most hero protagonists’ P.O.V. Is there a special reason for these added abilities? I'm hoping you say yes, and then reveal to me every twist in the series run.
TM: There is! But I can’t tell you, you need to read the whole thing.
HHH: FUCK this is a cool looking comic. I have to give the art team credit, it's very impressive. How did you two get partnered up for this series? Did you guys know Justin beforehand, or did you just find the script somehow?
JJ: Well, I’ve known Felipe online for a few years now, and I’ve always been a fan of his work. Tradd, on the other hand, I didn’t know before I approached him for the project. I spend a goodly amount of time looking for artists, and I was trawling DeviantArt when I found Tradd’s account.
And it was love at first sight. He was the first artist I pitched for this, and the only one I considered. Luckily, he said yes. Likewise, I approached Felipe and as soon as he did the first page I knew he was perfect.
Basically, it was one of those great, lucky things where everything just synched up. We work really, really well together and it’s pretty much impossible to imagine doing the book with anyone else.
TM: Justin did all the heavy lifting here. He found me via DeviantArt and emailed me about putting together a pitch for this book of his. I thought the story was great and figured the subject matter would be right up my alley, so I jumped on it. Plus, I was still in school at the time and on summer break, so it was good timing on Justin's part. Then he worked his magic and found Felipe about a year later. Lucky for us, we all get along and really enjoy making comics together.
FELIPE SOBREIRO (FS): I was the last one to join the team. A couple of years back I was coloring EARTHBUILDERS for Zuda Comics/DC Digital, and Justin had written RUMORS OF WAR, which was featured on the website as well, so we both knew of each other's work...when he and Tradd got the ball rolling with LUTHER STRODE and were looking for a colorist, Justin remembered about me and got in touch. When I saw the script and Tradd's linework, I was immediately sold.
HHH: Going to go in a very obvious direction with this one, but where did this idea come from?
JJ: Like any writer, I’m at least semi certifiable, and I have a lot of random ideas floating around--sometimes enough of them mash together that something like Luther Strode appears.
Probably the first idea was that some superheroes could be, from the point of view of the criminals, a lot like a slasher. Batman doesn’t kill, but he stalks these people through the night, picking them off one by one, appearing out of nowhere, creating terror. He’s a horror movie monster.
Likewise, The Punisher has an official body count of like 2000 people. He takes bullets, stabbings, beatings and just keeps coming, and he kills without pity or remorse. He’s a slasher, albeit one that uses guns.
So the idea was to take that and make it more overt. But it was one of those things that didn’t really go anywhere, until I had idea number two.
When I first started reading comics, back in the eighties, they were still running ads for X Ray specs, UFOs and the Charles Atlas courses. The Atlas stuff is the famous nerd getting sand kicked in his face, gets the program, kicks some ass. And I started thinking (always dangerous) what if it worked? What if it really worked?
You’ve got this kid who has been kicked around his whole life, and suddenly he can kick anyone’s ass. What does he do with it? It’s got to be a temptation to bust some heads, but imagining getting revenge on the bully is a whole different animal than actually doing it.
Which goes back into the ultraviolence thing from before. There’s what Luther expects being able to bust heads and be a hero to be like, and then there’s what actually happens when someone who can bench press a Buick punches a dude.
HHH: Luther has a small fantasy early in issue 2. Now, there's a lot of directions one could go with that beat. Will it become something of a recurring anomaly?
JJ: It’s definitely important. Again, it’s something I’m going to play coy about because I want people to read it. But it does come up again.
HHH: The dialogue is well written and it's a nice change of pace to see "high school snark" that actually sounds like something I heard in high school. How did you go about writing/creating these characters?
JJ: Thanks! That’s a tough question. I know it’s cliché to say that the characters write themselves, but after a certain point, it’s actually sort of true.
Luther is the nucleus of the whole thing. I knew that the kind of story I wanted to tell required him to be a certain kind of person, so I started with that. He’s a nerd, and he’s had a hard life, but he’s fundamentally a good guy and is actually already pretty tough and brave in his own way. At the same time, he’s got some issues to deal with in terms of anger and feeling like he doesn’t measure up.
Pete, on the other hand, is there as both a foil and, to certain extent, comic relief. He’s one of those people who gets waaaaaaay too excited about everything and can’t shut up even when he should. At the same time, he’s a good friend to Luther and he’s got a good heart.
Petra came up when I started thinking about what the love interest in these things is usually like, and whether there should be a love interest at all. Getting the girl is part of the Charles Atlas sand kicking fantasy, so I knew she needed to be there. At the same time, I wanted her to be more than just an object. So she’s the girl that can’t really be gotten. She might get you, but she’s not going to be anyone’s trophy.
The Librarian is there because I always wanted to have an evil librarian. He’s someone who is completely, utterly convinced that he is following his purpose in life. So he’s having a wonderful time in this book. He’s practically on vacation.
But getting back to that writing themselves thing, once I get a little bit written for a character I start to be able to hear how they talk, the rhythms of their speech and how they react. If I’m doing my job, by the end of the first issue, I should be able to show you a line of dialogue you’ve never seen and you should be able to identify the character.
Dialogue wise, I was actually channeling my inner Elmore Leonard. Now, I realize an 85 year old writer is not an obvious inspiration for writing teenagers, but he’s got a way of showing character through dialogue and saying things in an interesting way that I wanted to ape. There’s probably more than smidgen of Whedon in there, too.
HHH: The comic works best, to me at least, when it feels like an odd mash up of THE BOYS and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. It presents the atypical origin story, but with a certain edge and style. What, if any, other series inspired your take on the story?
JJ: I hadn’t actually read THE BOYS until last week, and I’ve been finished with the scripts for this for a while. I love, love, Ennis--but I’m not a huge fan of his more slapsticky stuff, which considering the nature of THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE is a little ironic.
But Spider-Man is probably the main superhero I’m drawing from. The basic set up, bullied nerd gets super powers, is classic Spidey. Peter Parker and Luther Strode aren’t a whole lot alike as characters, but they share some of the same narrative DNA.
There’s actually a bit in the first issue that’s an homage towards the Raimi Spider–Man movie, as a way of nodding to the inspiration. But obviously, Luther’s path goes a lot differently. I blame the lack of Uncle Ben.
TM: I think that THE BOYS meets ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN mash up actually works pretty well. There isn't a series that directly inspired my take on Luther Strode, but there have been a few that I feel have succeeded in the same territory that we're treading. INVINCIBLE, KICK-ASS, and J. Michael Straczynski's revamp of SUPREME POWER years back all took tried and true superhero formulas and, like you said, gave them an edge and style all their own. I think that Luther Strode does the same; hopefully readers will agree!
HHH: Only two issues in, and we already have three (possibly two, given the odds of what happens to the jock) interesting rogues. The Librarian in particular reads very interestingly. Do you have any other villains set up to come into play soon?
JJ: This is another question where I’m going to give a vague answer, but you do see the possible rogues again, and The Librarian continues to make his presence felt.
HHH:It's a new series; let's say everything goes right and the series is a hit. Where do you want to see it go?
JJ: We’d like to do sequels. It’s partly inspired by slasher movies, and they always have sequels. While THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE tells a complete story on its own, there’s a bigger story that would be a trilogy. We’d follow this with THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE and THE LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE.
We all want to do it; the only question is money. Tradd and Felipe have this strange attachment to food and shelter. Weird, I know, but there you go. Me, I always have my back up career as an anti–stripper*.
If I really want to dream, I’d love to see a movie version. I realize the odds are really against it, but I think it’d make for a cool movie. I may be biased.
*People pay me to put my clothes back on.
TM: Man, as long as people enjoy reading it and it supplies me with enough money to keep buying ramen noodles and hot dogs, I will deem it a massive success. I'm thrilled to be a part of the series and whether it hits or flops, I'm proud of the work we're putting out and of the story we're telling.
HHH:It's still early in the comic, but you must have a couple ideas for the series. Are there any characters that stand out to you in terms of enjoying writing them?
JJ: The Librarian is a horrible, horrible character and I really love writing him. Basically any horrible thing I can think of, and apparently I can think of lots of them, he does. I really enjoyed writing Petra, too. She’s such a cool character.
There’s actually a character who appears in this book for all of six pages and has precisely one line that I am really fond of. If we’re successful enough to get those sequels, he’ll show up more in them, as he’s pretty essential to the mythology.
HHH: The comic has a very twisted sense of humor, especially in terms of the Librarian. When did you decide to go in that direction with one of the more obvious antagonists?
JJ: He’s actually modeled a little bit on Jeeves of “Jeeves and Wooster” (which is a series of very funny books and a very funny British television show that Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry did) so some of his humor comes from a dark version of that.
Plus, this is a person who is absolutely certain that his purpose in life is ending it. So when he’s merrily ripping his way through the supporting cast he’s doing it with a song in his heart and a twinkle in his eyes.
The humor overall is pretty much just because I’m a bit twisted myself. I’m one of those people who can’t help but see the funny parts of horrible situations, although I have just enough tact to keep that to myself. It comes out here. It’s actually harder for me to write stuff without that sense of skewed humor.
HHH: This is more for my sake then any interview purposes, but I'm always curious: what are you guys reading right now?
JJ: Let me see: DAREDEVIL, PUNISHER, BATMAN, UNWRITTEN, CHEW, SKULLKICKERS, BLUE ESTATE, GREEN WAKE, WALKING DEAD, RED WING, PROOF, WITCH DOCTOR, BUFFY, BPRD, CRIMINAL, SCALPED, BUTCHER BAKER.
I’m forgetting stuff, I’m sure, but that’s what I’ve been grabbing. My favorite comic is 100 BULLETS.
FS: right now I'm reading LOSE #3 by Michael De Forge, ARZACH by Moebius, RANT by Chuck Palahniuk, THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD by Mike Mignola and VAMPIRE BOY by Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso.
TM: This may get me shunned, but I am kind of a trade kind of guy. Ah! I just prefer finite stories with definitive endings, you know? So yeah, I usually end up reading things completely out of real world continuity. For example, I'm currently reading THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY and AKIRA and am In a constant state of re-reading PLANETARY, SANDMAN, and 100 BULLETS. That being said, I do still buy regular ol' floppies somewhat regularly. I always try keep up with INVINCIBLE. THE MIGHTY THOR and AMERICAN VAMPIRE have both been very, very cool lately. Oh, and Remender and Opena's first arc of UNCANNY X-FORCE was one of my favorite mainstream superhero books in a very long time.
HHH: My deepest hope is that the follow up to this series comes with 3D glasses. THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE is due out October 5th from Image Comics and is available through pre-order from Diamond this month.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
Going to be in Chicago this weekend? Chicago’s got two conventions of note worth checking out! FLASHBACK WEEKEND CHICAGO HORROR CONVENTION will be at CROWNE PLAZA CHICAGO O’HARE, 5440 N. River Road, ROSEMONT, IL 60018! Join Robert Englund, Malcolm MacDowell, Sid Haig, Lance Henricksen and more to see all of the sights, frights, stars, and nightmares there are to see at this Chicago’s premiere horror convention this Friday-Sunday! Be sure to click on the image to the left for ticket info, a full schedule of events, and more goodies!
And if it’s comic books and stars you’re looking for, WIZARD WORLD CHICAGO 2011 is going on just a few blocks away at the DONALD E. STEPHENS CONVENTION CENTER, ROSEMONT, IL 60018 this Thursday – Sunday! Bruce Campbell, Patrick Steward, Felicia Day, Vivica A. Fox, and many more stars are set to be there this weekend! Be sure to click on the image to the right for scheduling and ticket info! Ambush Bug and the Chicago @$$Holes will be bopping between these two conventions all weekend. No self respecting genre fan would miss these two events. See you there!
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