Tuesday, February 14, 2012

PING! Kurtis J. Wiebe PING!

Kurtis J. Wiebe is a Canadian writer who broke onto the comics scene two years ago with his book Beautiful Creatures for Red 5 Comics.  In the short span of time since, he's become one of the hottest new creators in comics.  Kurtis sat down with PING! Mother Box PING! one day before the release of his newest series, Peter Panzerfaust.

Do you remember your first comic book and what it was about it that really hooked you?

KW: It was Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith. I never read comics growing up, I lived in a small town and there wasn’t a good place to hear, let alone buy them. A friend of mine bought me a few comics for my birthday, I can’t remember what some of them were, but one was definitely Walking Dead. It was a light bulb in the brain moment because I never considered that comics could tell stories outside superheroes. A few days later I went to my LCS and asked for some recommendations. Non-Superhero, please. Fell was on the list and it was my very first series that I put on a file.

PMP: You were a copy writer for Fantasy Flight Games before breaking into the comics industry.  Were you a big RPG fan growing up and was that an industry in which you actively sought work?

KW: I definitely loved RPG’s. I still do and, let it be known to the masses, I play a fairly regular game even now. There’s something exciting and entertaining in telling stories with friends that you can’t replicate in any other medium. I can’t say it was an industry I deliberately fell into. I’d always enjoyed writing and I sort of stumbled onto writing for FFG through a community I was part of that communicated on a forum dedicated to one of their RPG settings. 

That community was a strong resource for FFG and ended up recruiting newcomer writers from that group to write the content for expanded universe material. I somehow ended up as part of that crew and did some minor writing for Fireborn and Midnight.

Fireborn RPG Campaign Setting

PMP: Did your experience at FFG help you make connections in the comics industry?

KW: Not at all. They were two entirely separate beasts and I wasn’t even reading comics at the time I had been writing for FFG. In fact, I’d only started reading them a year or so later and I found the medium to be an exciting one to write for. I enjoyed script writing and the thought of another creative type bringing my story to life was what made the focus change. I still find short stories and longer form prose rewarding, but comics is my main love affair.

PMP: You broke onto the scene with Beautiful Creatures for Red 5 Comics.  Tell us a bit about that story and how you managed to break into the industry and get it made.

KW: I was lucky, very much “friend of a friend” type of situation. Paul Ens, the co-owner of Red 5 Comics, and I shared a friend and I was able to have contact with him through the mutual acquaintance. I’d put a few pitches together with two different artists, but it was ultimately Beautiful Creatures (Then titled The Reborn) that they decided to go with.

Beautiful Creatures
I’d met the creative team (Ash Jackson and Frank Zigarelli) through Comicspace and the project came together rather quickly, especially with a publication date 4 months on the horizon. Keep in mind, while it was only a 2 issue series, each comic was 48 pages.

PMP: A lot of people in comics seem to come from a design or advertising background.  While design certainly teaches tools such as layout and perspective, what bearing, if any, did working as a copy writer have on your ability to write comics?

KW: Probably a succinctness to get the story across. You have to be able to accurately tell exactly what it is you are trying to either sell or promote in as short a space as possible. That was a lesson that applied to dialogue as it’s a totally different style to novels and short stories. With that medium you can really let loose with dialogue, but comics is different. It needs to be more subtle, more played down so that the art can sell a lot of the mood and atmosphere.

PMP: Do you have any background as an artist yourself?

KW: None. I sketched for a while one summer and I actually improved a lot. I could replicated some drawings in fantasy books with decent detail but I got frustrated and haven’t picked up an illustrating pencil since. I leave that to the real talented people out there.

PMP: Talk a bit about your process.  Are you a more fast and loose script writer, leaving a lot up to the artist’s interpretation, or do you create very detailed and defined panel descriptions?

KW: Both. I mix it up a lot in the scripting process and depending on the scene take more or less control of camera and detail. It also greatly depends on the artist I’m working with. In general, if I’m working with an artist for the first time, or, I’m writing a script without an artist in mind, I am a lot more descriptive in the panel direction. If it’s an artist I’ve worked with before or I’m familiar with their ability, I entrust more to their skill and allow the illustrator a lot of freedom to make the script come to life.

That said, I rarely direct layout. Unless there’s a specific story point that relies on how the panels are pieced together, I keep it simple and leave that up the artist.

PMP: In just a couple of years in the industry you’ve had the opportunity to work with some very talented illustrators.  How did you develop the relationships you’ve had with your collaborators?

KW: A lot of the talented people I work with are friends or I’ve met through those friendships. At least, that’s where it all started. Now that I’m putting new pitches together, I’ve discovered a lot of the artists through conventions or via Twitter or other social networking sites. Every comic convention I go to I set aside one day to stroll through artist alley and take business cards and chat with creators who really catch my eye. I find that time spent to be some of the most enjoyable.

PMP: Most of the work you’ve done has been through Image Comics. Most people in the industry are familiar with the Image model and how it benefits creators.  Still, a lot of the promotion and legwork involved in publishing an Image book is left up to the creators.  To what extent did social media play a role in getting the word out about your various projects?

KW: Image is great because they are a really hot commodity right now, so quite often there are media sites that are chasing after them for promotional and marketing material. Image always has previews and promos available (which we put together and supply for them) but, in general, we’re left to follow up all those leads and get the interviews and other promotional material to the public. 

Twitter has been great for that and I’ve managed to book signings, reviews and interviews with people I never would’ve met otherwise. It’s probably the most important networking tool I can think of and I strongly urge any creator, published or otherwise, to be involved.

PMP: On that same note, to what extent did the classic “pound the pavement” convention season approach play a role in getting the word out?

KW: I made 4 appearances last year and I definitely learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t for the level I’m at with my career. The shows that benefited my career most were definitely the smaller ones. Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle and Calgary Entertainment Expo were my best shows as I sold a lot of merchandise and made some great connections with creators and fans. 

NYCC was an amazing experience because of the trip itself and spending time with friends but the show was so massive I was just a face in the crowd. I only had two small signings and wasn’t able to do a panel appearance, so my ability to talk about new or current projects simply was limited.

PMP: You recently spread the news that your horror title Green Wake, which you do with the wildly talented Riley Rossmo, was being cancelled.  In my opinion, Green Wake was the best horror comic being published and rivaled books like Hellboy and B.P.R.D. for compelling readability.  How do you deal with a book like that being canceled and how do you stay positive and keep working after the fact?

KW: Wow, thanks. That’s a very high compliment and means a lot to me. Green Wake was everything it needed to be for me personally and professionally. I know that, despite its early ending, I managed to connect with some very supportive fans and at the same time, work through some personal struggles through the themes and characters of the story.  

It was frustrating to be forced into a position where we simply couldn’t afford to do the series anymore, even with all the great reviews and lists we made. That said, I’m extremely proud of what Riley and I were able to do with the series in its short life and it’s paved the way for new projects and opportunities that simply didn’t exist anymore. That’s how I stay positive, see all the great moments that have come about for me because of how well it was received.
Green Wake by KJW and R. Rossmo

PMP: You say Green Wake was a very personal story.  What events in your life led to its creation?

KW: The themes of Green Wake are centered on guilt and loss, about how we often take those feelings and turn them inward and let them fester. After awhile, those emotions can change us and the longer we leave it, the more they shape who we are.

When I started writing Green Wake, I was going through a very difficult time in a marriage that simply wasn’t working. I’d known it for some time but was so wrapped up in the thought of hurting that person and disappointing people around me that I just kept on with life as it was. Eventually there came a breaking point and it all came apart. 

That’s where Green Wake came from and it was through the series I was able to understand my decisions.

PMP: You always hear, “write what you know.”  For years I agonized over this, thinking that everything was supposed to have some shred of autobiography to it.  Recently, I’ve determined that “write what you know” probably means what you do will always be informed by what you’ve done and who you are.  Would you agree with that?  How much does your past inform what you do?

KW: I  believe my strongest writing comes from an honesty with where I’m at in life and being brave enough to put it out there for the world to see. We are all products of our experiences and every event, from minor to major, shapes our point of view and how we interact with the world around us.

Some of us are lucky enough to be able to express those experiences through stories and characters. It’s why writing is the best therapy, we infuse our viewpoints into fictional people so that they are believable creations, fictions that a comic reader can identify with and understand.

The Intrepids by KJW and Scott Kowalchuk
PMP: What’s going on these days with the Intrepids?

KW: Not a heck of a lot. Scott is booked solid with a few projects at Oni and he’s half of what makes Intrepids the series it is. We’d talked about visiting the characters again in the future, but there hasn’t been anything solid on that in awhile.

PMP: Tell us about your new project, Peter Panzerfaust.  From what I’ve read, the series will re-imagine the classic JM Barrie Peter Pan tale in a very pulp-style Nazi germany.  Sounds awesome!

KW: That’s exactly what it is, but it’s actually a lot more than a retelling of the mythology. It’s inspired by and recreated through a filter that is entirely me and Tyler. While the cast of characters from Peter Pan make appearances (and a lot of the key scenes), we’re taking those and throwing a complete new spin on them that is appropriate for the occupied France of World War II. 

The story follows a mysterious American boy named Peter who saves a ragtag group of French orphans during the Nazi siege of Calais. The series will follow their adventures as they escape Calais, attempt to get to Paris and, eventually, get caught up in the French Resistance. 

Peter Panzerfaust #1

PMP: While titles such as Green Wake certainly appeal to an adult audience, I’d say you could be comfortable putting The Intrepids or Peter Panzerfaust into the hands of a younger reader. As someone who works in an industry that seems to do very little to garner new, younger readership, is writing a book like Peter Panzerfaust a direct move on your part to try and create something that ALL readers of ALL ages can enjoy?

KW: I definitely think it could appeal to a younger audience. I grew up loving the light hearted adventure movies of my childhood. Indiana Jones, Princess Bride, The Rocketeer; all great examples of high action adventure stories with a fun lead character and amazing action set pieces. That’s the fun we’re going for with the series, but at the same time, we’re striving to make the characters more real, more relatable. I always want to have a compelling arc for the people who live in the world I’ve created so that the stakes are higher and people care about what happens to them.

That does mean sometimes our series will go a bit darker, but not the extent of alienating a younger readership. We’ll never have gruesome violence or inappropriate language, but there will be some mature themes.  

PMP: What advice would you give writers trying to break into this industry right now?

KW: Honestly, I’d point them to the writing podcast I’ve been doing for awhile now. We’ve had some amazing special guests on the show who talk about their process and I talk with my co-hosts about the industry and how I broke in, tips and advice, everything you could want to know about my personal journey and the career path of other established professionals. It’s called The Process and you can find it on www.imageaddiction.net  or by going right to our Facebook fanpage here: 

PMP: You seem to be content doing your own creator-owned work on the indie scene.  Is there a desire to write mainstream books and mainstream characters, or does your path into comics lead you far away from the confines of Gotham and Metropolis?

KW: I had my first Marvel work published in the 2011 Holiday Annual and it was a really fun experience. I’d love to do more work for them, but at the moment I’m snowed under with my personal projects that are a hell of a lot of fun. There’s nothing like total control over your stories and characters. 

PMP: Which creators in the industry do you look up to and which books are you enjoying right now?

KW: A lot of them are Image colleagues, truthfully. Many of the people I know and keep in frequent contact with are putting out material that inspires me, or, more often, they are people whose passion and energy keep me motivated and encouraged.

Jim Zubkavich of Skullkickers, Justin Jordon of Strange Talent of Luther Strode, Sina Grace of L’il Depressed Boy and a stack of others. 

As far as reading, I find that I’m actually going back and reading comics that were around before my discovery of the medium. I recently read Black Hole by Charles Burns and loved it, and Riley Rossmo (my Green Wake co-creator) got me hooked on the Swamp Thing run by Alan Moore. 

PMP: Lastly, what’s your convention schedule look like this year?

KW: Busy for the first half. Busier than I’ve ever been, actually. How about a bullet list?

Alpha Comics Signing, Calgary, Alberta. February 15th
Image Comic Expo, Oakland, California. February 24th-26th
Third Eye Comics Signing, Annapolis, Maryland. March 17th
Emerald City Comic Con, Seattle, Washington. March 30-Apr 1
Calgary Entertainment Expo, Calgary, Alberta. April 27th-29th
Readers Comics Signing, Regina, Saskatchewan. May 5th, Free Comic Book Day
Strange Adventures Signing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 2nd
Saskatoon Blitz Comic Convention, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, June 9th
Vancouver Comic Con, Vancouver, B.C., September 5th

Thanks again to Kurtis for taking the time to do this interview.  I’ll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on Peter Panzerfaust #1! Also, be sure you visit Kurtis' blog at http://kurtiswiebe.wordpress.com for more advice on writing and the comics industry!

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