Ryan Thomason

An Interview With the Crew Behind the Brimstone Comic

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After reading the new Brimstone comic, I had to talk with the guys behind it, thankfully, Zenescope made that happen! In case you’re wondering what I’m referring to, read my review of the first issue, or be a classy person and just go into your local comic book store and demand that they give it to you. You’ll thank me later, but for now, the interview! I want to thank Zenescope, Brian, Michael, and Hyunsang for taking the time to do this interview with us! First off, the writers, Brian McCarthy and Michael Lent.

WPR: How did you get you start on writing for comic books?

ML: I loved horror and super hero comics as a kid but put them aside while going to college and then film school. Luckily, in 2005, I got an assignment to write a magazine article about the convergence of comics, movies and video games. Talking to writers who were so passionate about the medium rekindled my own interest which was how Prey, the graphic novel I co-wrote for Marvel on the DB imprint was born. That book came out in 07, and in writing it, I was literally learning the medium on the fly on a book destined for Marvel. How nuts is that??? Luckily, I had a great teacher in Mike Raicht, former editor at Marvel turned writer, who has worked on some big books. Still, it was like being thrown into the deep end on your first day of swim class.

BTM: Like Michael, I really enjoyed comic books as a kid, although more of the superhero variety than horror. I got back into reading comic books in the late ‘90s but didn’t start writing for comics until Brimstone. I had ideas that I always wanted to develop for comic books, but this was my first venture down that path.

WPR: Has comic books always been your goal or do you want to write novels and other stories?

ML: Guess I have to wear that mixed media hat because besides comics, I write movies, games, animation, book books and even radio plays. I’ve also done some copy or advertising writing and ghost wrote a sci fi novel, so maybe schizo writer is a better description. The thing I especially like about comics, though, is that your creativity isn’t limited by budgets. Meanwhile, collaborating with artists, colorists and letterers is an intense, amazing experience that I can’t get enough of. Some of the experiences are subtle, too. For example, I’ve worked with letterer Bernie Lee on two titles and nine books and have learned so much from him.

BTM: I’ve always wanted to write, period. I love writing comic books (I’ve written several others since we started Brimstone), but I also love writing plays, film, short stories, etc. I do fantasize about writing a novel but I love short form writing like comics and movies because of the speed fo the process. I kid around with friends, “Novels just have so many words!”

WPR: As I read the comic, I just kept thinking Spaghetti Westerns and Grindhouse movies from the 70’s, was that your intention?

ML: Wow. That’s really on the money.

BTM: Yeah. We actually watched several of Clint’s classic films before we started writing this.

ML: There’s also a 28 Days Later twist.

BTM: Definitely. We wanted to take some of the genres we love and play with the conventions. The quiet gunman meets supernatural creatures? It was the best of both worlds.

ML: Brian and I both went to grad school for film and really love those genres. Coincidentally, I mentored under Paul Lazarus, III, who produced some seminal movies of the 70s and 80s like Westworld, Futureworld and Capricorn One. The robot gunslinger in Westworld was my first introduction to genre mashups.A few years ago, I got to interview Larry Cohen who has a 50 year career writing b-horror movies in the 50s, blaxploitation and grind house in the 60s and 70s. Nowadays, he writes mainstream suspense thrillers and still loves to write every day.

WPR: What was the worst thing you’ve ever written? I’m talking your teenage angst stuff.

BTM: I have to pick one? Jeez… well there was some poetry that I wrote that I thought was pretty deep but probably wouldn’t have made it past the editor of Hallmark cards. Thankfully that’s all been destroyed. You know, when I was in high school I tried to write a play about an assassin and his prison psychologist. It was a terrible, terrible waste of trees called, “The Judas Principle.” I don’t think I ever finished the draft. Michael? What about you?

ML: Oh, man. There have been some clunkers. I wrote, directed and produced a short film about a guy who worked in a donut shop who was so influenced by what he read that after reading Ecclesiastes he stops putting sugar and holes in the donuts, and after Camus, he only churns out black donuts which gets him in trouble with the cops (for some reason, the police don’t like to eat sugarless black donuts while on stakeout).

BTM: Wow, “Judas Principle” seems tame now.

ML: To add insult to injury, we made a Making Of… documentary about the short and discovered that when you name a character “Smitty” there’s nowhere to go but down. After college, I kept trying to write the great American novel which never made it past about 37 pages. The stories were about guys commuting on the subways of New York and I could never figure out how to get them off the subway.

WPR: For people like me who can’t draw beyond stick figures, writing becomes very important. How do you write a comic book so that your artist is basically painting what’s in your head?

ML: Growing up, we were the kids who weren’t allowed to watch anything but public television so I developed photographic memory for Thundercats and Scooby Doo plotlines. Actually, film school is really helpful for thinking visually. Our actual writing technique is to be extremely detailed at the beginning of the script so that the artist can dial in on what we’re trying to do, then ease up when we feel like everyone is on the same wave length. In the case of Michael Cho, that occurred really quickly and the book and the art took flight from there.

BTM: Michael’s right, school really helped. I also do a lot of photography and have for years. I took it up when I was a kid because I couldn’t afford to buy a video camera. I figured it would help me learn how to tell a story visually on the cheap. I have to say I was right on that one!

WPR: What made you two get together to create Brimstone?

ML: The short answer is that we wanted to work together for a while so it was just a case of finding the ideal project which turned out to be Brimstone.

BTM: Exactly. I think it also hit at the right time. We were both had finished some big projects and were looking for the next thing. We had lunch with Lance Laspina, our good friend who became the art director for Brimstone, and this came out that meeting. Michael had just one image from the story, but I thought it was pretty arresting and knew we could build on it.

WPR: How hard is it writing from two different people, did you guys find yourselves crossing over each other when it came down to direction and how some scenes were to play out?

ML: It’s hard to write with a partner if you or your processes are essentially incompatible, or if your skill sets are too similar. I think Brian and I work well together because we do a lot of the heavy lifting before we put pen to paper, i.e., extensive research and working out the predominant themes and exactly what the hell we want to say. We also tough on the result and give the process its due. We’re not afraid to go back to the drawing board on elements that are marginal.

BTM: In some ways it’s easier to write with two people — so long as you’re of like minds as Michael mentioned. It’s harder to get stuck because you always have someone to bounce ideas off of. Also, we get competitive. Michael would have an idea for a scene that would be cool and I knew I would have to better it. It wasn’t enough to agree. Every time he came up with something cool I had to try to up the ante. So did he. That makes the process infectious rather than combative.

WPR: Why zombies and undead, what draws you to create something for this genre?

ML: The concept first came to us – holy crap – four years ago. At the time, we didn’t really predict the current zombiepalooza. I just had this image of an impossibly quick gunslinger fanning his six shooter at something moving supernaturally fast along the ceiling, which turned out to be a berserker zombie. The idea of blind greed turning men into soulless monsters was also on our minds. In discussing a possible story with Brian, we both loved the idea of mixing iconic images of the West with its panoramic vistas, and the crap your pants short depth of field of horror, literally something right behind you. We did a lot of research on the West and decided to give our characters a retro-modern sensibility which is where the grind house elements came into play.

BTM: Right. Zombies have always been a metaphor for something else in popular fiction — communism, immigration, consumerism, so-on and so-forth. We wanted to take our own shot at the genre and paint the evils of humanity with our own brush. We were talking a lot about greed at that time — corporate greed and personal greed. But greed isn’t a “slow” emotion so we didn’t want to have lethargic stumbling zombies. We wanted creatures that were wickedly fast with insatiable appetites. That’s where our creatures were born.

WPR: Since we all know that comic book writers are big money ballers, what was the first thing you purchased/will purchase with your new found fame and fortune?

ML: Some new socks and fresh tighty-whities would be nice. Actually, I always have a wish list of comics and books I want to buy.

BTM: More pens. You can never have enough pens. Seriously, like Michael, I’ve got a list of books and comics I’d like to pick up.

WPR: What has been your influences in your work?

ML: Maybe we might not be the best judges working from the inside out. I know we’ve been told our work is filmic which makes sense given our training. As for comic book writer influences, definitely Gaiman, Moore, Ellis. I tend to get really intense about a certain writer, then read as much of their work as I can. So I went through periods of Tolkien, Poe, Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy, Graham Greene and even Hemingway.

BTM: Yeah, that’s always a tricky question, isn’t it? I agree that Gaiman and Moore were big influences. Even Gaiman’s literary work like American Gods. Jae Lee really influenced my feeling about what the artwork should look like as did the Sword of Truth series.

WPR: Are you guys working on anything else besides Brimstone, either individually or as a collaborative effort again?

ML: We juggle several projects as a team and as individual writers. In 2010 and earlier this year, we wrote four graphic bios for Bluewater Productions. The first, Stephen King just came out. Tolkien, Keith Richards and Stephen Hawking will be out later this year. For me, Prey was optioned to be a 3-D movie which would be cool. I was a writer on a 3-D online MMORPG called SCAPS Agent (scapsagent.com) that is just coming through its alpha testing. We’ve also started working a new series together which is really exciting. Bottom line, we love what we do and would do it for free, but don’t tell our publishers that. *-)

BTM: I’ve got a couple of projects in film and TV. One is a post-apocalypic thriller and the other a spec pilot about a modern day biblical figure. We’re also toying around with a few ideas to collaborate on, so we’ll let you know.

And now for my little talk with Hyunsang Michael Cho, who does a really awesome job with the artwork on this comic, just look at the damn thing for yourself, it’s good.

WPR: What were your influences for the art in Brimstone?

HMC: A great plot and story to begin with, it really provoked my imagination. Also the timing was perfect for me since I’ve just moved to Tucson AZ, where there’s lots of similar mood to the book.

WPR:When did you decide that you wanted to do artwork for comic books?

HMC: I started studying art when I was fifteen. It started with a dream of being a comic book artist, but I wasn’t set to it. I’ve been focusing on many things, and being a comic book artist is one of them, along with a concept artist, an animator, and a game designer, which I either am doing or pursuing.

WPR: Has there always been a character that you just find yourself drawing with the hopes of doing them in a comic?

HMC: Not a particular character. But I often find myself drawing a heroic type, but with a bad attitude. Someone who tries to ignore others’ trouble, but ends up saving them. I really liked Victor a lot in this story.

WPR: What is the process like trying to take what the writers put down and turning them pages for the comic?

HMC: I mark every word that is significant to the story, or panels. Using those words, I decide what needs to be shown, and what can be muted. Then I make rough pages. I try to think the shots as flowing motions rather than sets of still shots. They are quite like storyboards. Up till this point, it can be a pain in the ass. Tons of decisions to make. When that’s done, it’s all fun. I develop the sketches further and paint.

WPR:I hear that some artists like to do warm up sketches before they settle into drawing, is that something that you find yourself doing?

HMC: That’s not the case for me. My sketches are loose, and I don’t really care if I get them right, because ever since I started using digital media, I can always fix them later on. Besides I figured it can be bad for me to be stuck with forms or shapes in the early stage. But I’m always trying to improve my sketch, so I’d try doing that.

WPR: Has comic book art always been something you wanted to do, or was it something that you branched into?

HMC: Like I said, it’s one of many things I wanted to be. I think of it as a part of a greater project. These days, people can produce lots of entertainment based on one form. That’s how I see comic book. If Brimstone was a game, a movie, or an animation, I’d still want to be in.

WPR: Your artwork in Brimstone is visually a huge treat to look at, does doing a comic that way take more time?

HMC: I’m not really sure how much time other artists take, but I would guess it takes about the same amount. I can save time in sketching stage, I can make it super rough, since most of the sketches are to be covered with colors anyways. The only downside of painting this way, is that I can’t share work with anyone else. I have to pencil, ink, and color myself, since I need to recognize the forms from my own rough sketches.

WPR: Is there anything else that you’re working on beside Brimstone?

HMC: I’m writing a story by myself. it’s just a concept right now, but I’m definitely making it into a comic book and a game. At the moment, It’s called Outland. Besides that, I’m always looking for stories I can turn into a comic book.

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