While plans are underway for Sidekick to debut at San Diego Comic Con this summer, and Alone and Protectors, Inc. in the Fall, the first book to roll out from J. Michael Straczynski's Joe's Comics imprint is Ten Grand #1 (MAR130432), with art by Ben Templesmith. In this exclusive PREVIEWSworld interview, Straczynski talks about how he's now doing for Image what he first started doing under Top Cow: making comics that move the needle.
PREVIEWSworld: Ten Grand appears to be quite a departure from what fans are used to seeing from you in comics. Not that you're limited to just writing superhero fare (Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan, Superman Earth One), but demonology seems like the road less traveled for you. What was going through your head to make you want to craft such a story?
J. Michael Straczynski (JMS): I've always been kind of a mutt in terms of storytelling; I like to go where the story takes me. The supernatural and the interplay between humans and demons or the like may also not necessarily be where I've been working lately, but I've been in this world before. My first several published novels (from E P Dutton and others) were supernatural in theme and dealt with demonic forces. It's a topic that interests me on a lot of levels, but in particular I like it because it allows me to ask the big-picture questions: why are we here, what's on the other side, what is the nature of hell, and what are we willing to sacrifice in this life for the guarantee (or at least the promise) of joy on the other side?
There was a good amount of that in Midnight Nation as well, and I've been looking for an opportunity to explore that world again for some time.
Ten Grand seemed the perfect place to do it, and I'm excited to be able to play in that universe again.
I've also had a long and kind of weird fascination with the "hardware" if you will of demonology of a classic nature...the kind of stuff covered in Arthur E Waite's Ceremonial Magic, the Lemegeton, and other books on necromancy and demon conjuration. I have a rather substantial library of books from the medieval period onward, some of them ridiculously hard to find, covering this subject.
PREVIEWSworld: Tell us a little more about Ten Grand, like what people might want to know outside of the write-up they'll see in the March PREVIEWS catalog. And how many issues have you plotted so far?
JMS: The first arc is twelve issues, and we started way early on this; our first lettered, finished issue was in hand last October for a book that's not due out until May. I wanted to have as many issues done as possible before we hit the ground running to ensure that we didn't miss any pub dates. All of the issues have been plotted out, and the writing is done on a lot of them, and we just sent another issue off to the letterers mid-February.
PREVIEWSworld: You're not only a comic writer but someone who is also involved in film (Thor) and television (Babylon 5). Does this background make you think more about how to bring multimedia to your future projects, like Ten Grand? Or do you think some comic stories are best left alone, as media treatments on an I-pad could detract from the story?
The good thing about being involved in film and TV is that I don't have to go out and create a comic book in order to sell it to, or get the attention of, either of those two areas. If I want to write a movie, I just write it, spec the script, and sell it. I'm writing these comics to be good comics first and foremost. I know too many people who go at it the other way around, and I think that diminishes the work because you have to write it from a perspective of what works in a book, and sometimes that's not the same as what works on the screen, and you shouldn't compromise the former to ensure the latter.
We're also looking to experiment with the comics format in various ways. For instance, an audio version (just the dialogue and some music) will be made freely available to those who buy the book so that they can just read the book as it is, or listen to the audio and sit back and enjoy Ben's amazing art. We used some of the best voice actors in the business for this, so it's not just somebody reading the dialogue out loud, it's a staged dramatization by professional actors. We're also looking at other ways to experiment with the form.
PREVIEWSworld: Have any author's works or past films helped inspire you to write horror like Ten Grand? Any sort of Top Ten list you might be able to ramble off as to what could help get the creative demonic juices going? Things like an all-night marathon of H.P. Lovecraft or Hellraiser films?
JMS: I grew up reading all of the classic works of horror: just about everything HP Lovecraft ever wrote, plus vast swaths of Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, Stoker, Poe, Blackwood...and eventually got into the more humanistic, emotional writing of folks like Richard Matheson and Bob Bloch. So what I've tried to do with Ten Grand is to mix up some of that classic storytelling with a more edgy, streety approach to the subject matter, back alleys and underground clubs instead of the more typical venues for this sort of thing.
PREVIEWSworld: Ben Templesmith is renowned for bringing dark and gloomy atmospheres to comic stories (30 Days of Night, to name only one). Was he someone you brought into the fold yourself, or did the people over at Image decide on Ben as the series artist? How is Ben the right fit for Ten Grand?
JMS: I've been aware of Ben's work for some time, and very much wanted to find an opportunity to work with him. Most of my work has been with very realistic-styled artists -- Chris Weston, Gary Frank, Shane Davis, others -- and I wanted to go outside the box, and outside my usual comfort zone, with a much more impressionistic style of art. Consequently, this book looks like nothing I've ever done before, and that's a good thing. I can't imagine living a life spent doing only the things I know I can do, in the way I've done them before. Finding opportunities for experimentation, where you can do things in different ways, is hard at the big two companies, which is the whole reason for doing Joe's Comics: taking chances.
On a side note, I’d add that in all of my work, I try to hew to the emotional core of the character, and explore who that person is. With Ten Grand, we're telling a love story inside a murder mystery inside a supernatural story, and the core of that is the question: how much is the person you love really worth to you? How far would you go? Would you endure death a hundred, a thousand times over, to have those moments in-between with the person you love? Who would take that deal? And maybe just as vitally, who would offer that deal, and why? What's their agenda? Those are the sort of questions I love to explore as a writer, and which I hope readers will come on board to explore alongside us.