AICN COMICS Q&@: Majin Fu talks with the makers of the DUSTER Graphic Novel and talks about their new Kickstarter, plus a review of the book!
@’s by DUSTER creators
Micah Wright & Jay Lender!!!
DUSTER Vol.1Writers: Micah Wright & Jay Lender
Artists: Jok Coglitore, Christian Mallea, Jorge Blanco
Publisher: Kickstarter page found here!
“NAZIS…IN AMERICA!” It’s a premise straight out of pulp fiction and I can assure you the story is as compelling and entertaining as the idea. Only trouble is, the book’s not finished yet. If there’s one thing the world needs it’s a better perspective on war on the home front, so if this looks even remotely interesting to you, I suggest checking out the project’s Kickstarter page here and making a donation. Remember, large or small, every little bit helps. After checking out over 150 pages of a preview version, I have to say this is a story that really deserves to be told and shared with the world. With less than a week left to reach its goal to fund publication, hopefully the world agrees!
Set in Morton, Texas a little over a week after V-E Day, DUSTER is an account of a small town’s dealings with some Krauts who crash their plane hauling secret cargo to an unknown location. A widowed airplane pilot named Jo is figuring out how to reconcile with her daughter after the loss of her husband. Jo is understandably a little crazy after an embargo on flying endangers the town’s crops with being eaten by boll weevils if she can’t blanket the fields with pesticides. Her blatant disregard for the law leads to Jo’s initial confrontation with said Nazis, and that’s when the shit really hits the fan.
Despite all the action, the story is still really grounded in a world where characters behave like real people forced into a tense situation. All the heroes are off dying in another country, leaving their families behind to pick up the pieces. The ensemble cast of “coots, cripples, and cowards” all behave believably, from the nervous and egotistical draft-dodger to the one-armed deputy with a dirty secret. Even the Nazis come out looking pretty human, except for one sadistic bastard named Horst who you’ll love to hate. There are casualties, and quite a few losses along the way.
It’s not a story lacking in drama, but every character beat is natural and the tension between the action scenes builds nicely, until you final realize around the third act just how high the stakes have been raised. The omniscient narrator adds a pulpy flavor to the whole bloody affair, like one of those super overexcited guys from an old radio serial. At first the narrative struck me as kind of corny, but once I started getting into the story and familiarizing myself with all the new characters, I thought it fit with the story’s style and tone quite well.
The finished pages I’ve seen all look amazing. The color palette makes the Americana feel of the story almost palpable. It’s like you can smell the dust in the Texas breeze and hear the roar of the plane as it soars overhead. Inks are usually thicker, which makes many of the scenes just dripping with emotion and everybody is designed to evoke as much American spirit as apple pie. I also really enjoyed how the lettering flows around the figures and really helps to guide the dialogue and drive the story, including sound effects.
As I became more engrossed in the narrative and dug deeper into the tale, I started to notice a natural drop in tightness of the illustrations. DUSTER is still in the creative stages of its production, so this is by no means a criticism of the work as a whole. What this project really needs is more time to get the rest of the book looking as spectacular as the early pages, and time is money. So get on that Kickstarter and let’s make this thing happen!
I also asked Micah Wright & Jay Lender, the creators of the comic, if they would be interested in answering a few questions and they were kind enough to oblige. Check it out!
MAJIN FU (MF): Could you tell some of the readers a little bit about your background in the entertainment business? How did you get started?
MICAH WRIGHT (MW): I started at Nickelodeon Animation as a temp--that's where Jay and I met. I worked hard, got hired permanently as a script supervisor on “Angry Beavers”, worked hard, started freelancing, got promoted to writer, and was running my own show, “Constant Payne”, within 6 years. After that I wrote a comic book, STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES, for 2 years, then moved into videogame writing mostly for the last 8 years. I wrote a Looney Tunes game, 2 Destroy All Humans games, 5 Transformers games and many, many more.
JAY LENDER (JL): After studying animation for 4 years I lucked into a training program at the now defunct Turner Pictures, which led to a job drawing pixie dust a for horrible movie called “The Pagemaster”. But my career really began when I got a job at Nickelodeon, first designing backgrounds for “Hey Arnold”, then doing storyboards. From there I moved to a writer/storyboarder job on the original run of “SpongeBob SquarePants”. I spent several years writing videogames with Micah, then did a three year stint as a director on "Phineas and Ferb" where I was responsible for half the shows.
MF: How has your background in other stuff helped you on DUSTER?
MW: It’s impossible to do good work in animation and not think visually. That skill translates immediately to comics. The videogame stuff doesn’t come into play so much, except in the “show, don’t tell” mode which every writer should always be in, and in the “no one wants to hear your characters blather on forever” mode which should also be second nature for every writer.
JL: Ditto about animation. I have the added bonus of having worked for years as a storyboarder, and while I don't draw the book I do draw, so I can give our artists visual notes in a visual way. I wrote for years on “SpongeBob” and “Phineas and Ferb”, and while the tone may be different, storytelling is storytelling.
MF: How did the idea for the project germinate?
MW: I had a dream while attending San Diego Comic Con in 1994. I was on my grandparent’s farm in Enochs, Texas during World War II, and a plane full of Nazis crashed on the farm--and my grandmother had to kill them all. I told Jay the dream the next time I saw him at work, and he said “You should make that into a movie sometime.” Years later, we were looking for a project to do together and we suddenly remembered that story.
MF: The style of DUSTER recalls the old radio serials from before the dawn of television. What were some of your inspirations for the project?
MW: I’m a huge WWII buff. I’m the kid who was ordering the Time-Life series of books about Nazis off of TV in the 5th grade. In comics, the inspirations are the DC war books of the 1970’s; Joe Kubert’s work on SGT. ROCK and ENEMY ACE. The old UNKNOWN SOLDIER books. They were all before my time, really, but my older cousin had collected all those books, so I spent hours reading and re-reading them at his house.
JL: We have lots of guns and military and some aerial battles in this book, so those Kubert and company books were invaluable. But our main character isn't a soldier, so there's some other DNA in there, particularly from movies like “Die Hard” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, both because of their ultra-tight pacing and their penchant for villains who have genuine personalities and not just craggy faces and a pet on the endangered species list.
MF: What was your favorite part about working on DUSTER? Were there any difficulties in the creative process?
MW: Favorite part? Easy. Seeing how the art team would interpret the words...watching our characters spring to life on the page. I always write with a picture in mind, but everyone sees those pictures completely differently, so watching our words get turned into pictures is a thrill every single time. As for difficulties, well, Jay snores a lot. I would constantly drug him so he wouldn’t complain about the changes I was making to the book behind his back, and his labored breathing was really loud.
JL: Every second of this project has been a misery, but I DID enjoy the drugs. Well, that and getting to work with our insanely talented artists: Jok Coglitore, who does the page breakdowns, and Cristian Mallea, who does the finished artwork. When I send them script pages I usually have very specific images in my head. But when these guys have a different thought they have the guts to put it on paper and send it back to us. Sometimes we say no, but sometimes they come up with pure gold. It's why collaboration is so great--you stand on each other's shoulders and reach higher than you ever could alone.
MF: Why is this project important to you?
MW: We think it’s a great story... we’ve worked on it in one form or another since 2002. 1995, even, if you count the original dream and conversation. We’re thrilled that it’s finally taking solid form.
JL: And we like to think it's about important things. On the surface it's a rip-roaring, run and gun action piece, but just below that it's about sexism, women's rights, interracial relationships, and the consequences of greed, indifference and aggression.
MF: How has working on DUSTER impacted your interactions with the rest of the comics community?
MW: It’s forced us to engage with comics fans and sites for the first time in a long time. It’s interesting to see how much it’s changed since I last worked for DC in 2004. So many more fan sites and podcasts and stuff... nerd culture has really completely taken over.
JL: I did sporadic comics work for Nickelodeon Magazine and SpongeBob comics, but that stuff was pretty much invisible except to kids. This is the first time I've had my name on the front of a book, and the first time that something which is truly my creation has been offered for sale. People whose work I've read for years are now going to know I exist, and hopefully they'll read my work. I haven't had a congratulatory phone call from Stan Lee yet, but I'm expecting one. Stan?
MF: How’d you get guys like Howard Chaykin and Kurt Busiek involved in the project?
MW: We asked. I first met Howard in 1993 or so when I attended my first San Diego Comic Con. He was there giving a panel talk called “Howard Chaykin Teaches You How To Make Comics” — he was mostly working in Hollywood by that point and hadn’t been doing much in comics except for POWER & GLORY, if I remember correctly. I learned more about genre writing from that 90-minute panel than in every writing class I’d had in college. Three years later I had moved to Los Angeles to work in television, I was standing in line at the Fatburger in Burbank on my lunch break, and I turned around and standing before me was Howard Chaykin. I introduced myself, we started talking, and I just made sure I continued to cultivate the relationship. Howard is brilliant and opinionated, and I’ve learned more about how to (and not to) make comics from Howard than I would have thought possible. He’s a fantastic resource, a tough critic, and when we decided to do this book, he was nice enough to lend us use of his name and provide some art. As for Kurt, he was likewise very gracious...I asked him if he’d like to read the 150 pages which we had finished, he agreed, and upon reading it, he gave us some insightful notes and a great recommendation.
JL: I didn't want to read DUSTER until Kurt endorsed it, but now I'm totally sold.
MF: $26,000 is a lot of dough. Could you elaborate on where exactly the funds for the project are going? Is it mostly for getting the book published, or are there other factors to consider?
MW: Well, it’s a 215-page book, 240 once all the extras and pinups and stuff are in there. I mean, if you figure it’s about $7000 or more to print the book, and then start dividing what’s left over by 215 pages, you quickly realize we have more money in this book than we’re actually trying to raise via Kickstarter. Our $26,000 goal was about $10,000 short of what we’ll have spent when it’s all said and done, but we didn’t want to set an insane goal for ourselves. This $26,000 will allow us to finish paying the artists to draw the book, the colorist to fill in all the empty white stuff on the pages, and then account for the printing and shipping. When the dust has settled on this special edition we'll talk to traditional publishers.
MF: Do you think crowdsourcing is the future of publishing comics or just another facet to the industry?
MW: I certainly think it’s part of the puzzle of indie comics publishing. It’s just too expensive to make comics yourself and hope that you can break through the attention stranglehold DC & Marvel have over traditional comic shops. SULLIVAN’S SLUGGERS didn’t get 200 orders through Diamond Comics when it was first solicited, so Mark Smith and James Stokoe put it out via Kickstarter and found 2800 customers that the comic store owners didn’t think existed...and that’s just people who are already Kickstarter users. Can you imagine what the real customer base must be like?
MF: If and when DUSTER is a success, what's next? Are there any other projects from members of the team to keep an eye out for?
MW: IF DUSTER is successful, yeah, we have more ideas...and we love working with our artists, so if people like this book, then they’ll hopefully like the next one, also. I want to do a few books in every genre. I don’t like being pigeonholed with my career; the “Oh, he writes giant robot comics” trap. I want to do a horror comic, an action book, and maybe someday even another superhero book.
JL: We also have a few movie and TV projects we're hoping to get off the ground, in both animation and live action. And, god help me, I'm kicking around a young adult novel idea. We have many, many irons in the fire. Big fucking fire.
MF: I want to thank Jay and Micah for their time and for sharing their great book with me before it was actually finished. Remember, the project only has a few more days to nab that funding so if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, here is that link one more time.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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