Question: When is a superhero comic not a superhero comic? Answer: When the protagonist may be on the verge of losing his mind, and the story you read may be one that’s whispered through a crack in the wall, because the guy on the other side of the wall might be wearing a straight-jacket. Hey, it can happen. It’s one of the many possibilities for the new Image Comics series Reality Check (JUL130410). In this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview, writer Glen Brunswick reflects on the importance of one fanboy getting a grip.
PREVIEWSworld: The story opens up: Bam! Our main character lives in the middle of Hot Chicks Central, i.e.: North Hollywood, California. He’s sketching gorgeous women to make a comic book character, and when his inner thoughts are discovered, he gets in trouble by the women he sketches. Oh, and one of his books was optioned for a film that never got produced. Hmmm. Sounds like a day in the life. Is this the part where you smile and say “Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt?” How does Glen Brunswick relate to the main character, Willard?
Glen Brunswick: How do I relate to Willard? I've definitely spent some time pouring my soul into screenplays that were sold or optioned by studios with high hopes and promises of seeing the light of day that never came to fruition. Not so much writing about beautiful women that smack me around when they discover that I'm writing about them.
I guess that my character and I share the theory that it's better creatively to create for comics where your words not only come out as written but a few months after the work is complete they're actually been published and touch your audience. As opposed to a few screenplays for which I was well paid, but fifteen years later the stories still haven't seen the light of day. Okay, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I can exhale again.
I also don't sketch my own characters. In my case, I was lucky enough to connect with the extremely talented Viktor Bogdanovic who brings all these idiosyncratic characters to life with all their quirks and expression that truly allows the book to flourish. This is his first Image Comics series, and believe me when I tell you that Image fans are in for a special treat with him. His work on Reality Check absolutely rocks!
PREVIEWSworld: There’s a renewed interest in superhero comics, as they’re obviously doing well as box office properties. And you touch on that theme in the first issue of your book, with the carrot for Willard’s success being to prove just how good he is as a writer. Do you think his predicament is a universal problem for comic book writers? If we were to look at Man of Steel as an example, would it illustrate the conundrum? The challenge of writing a story that may not necessarily be original, but doing it in such a way that it fits in with the times?
Glen Brunswick: I think that some writers are lucky because they have such a strong vision of what they want to accomplish that they can afford to completely ignore the marketplace and forge ahead with their work. And these are the writers that carve out their own unique niche. Then there are the writers that try and pick an area of passion that overlaps with subject matter that is commercially appealing. This is what Willard is attempting when he comes up with the idea of a hero that is more focused on finding love than serving justice. He refers to his hero, Dark Hour, as libidinal Batman.
Man of Steel is a perfect example. How many years did that franchise languish simply because the studio didn't think that the take was relevant enough with the times to justify the massive financial outlay? How many talented individuals’ ideas went down in flames — Kevin Smith and Nic Cage among them? It took the Christopher Nolan dark template that had worked so well on Batman in order to assuage Warner's concern that the take would appeal to a modern audience — and yet, at its core, it is still basically the same story beats of Superman.
What Willard doesn't expect is that he does such a good job imbuing his Batman-like hero with his new take — consisting of relatable human frailties — that he creates a situation that actually brings his character to life in the real world. And now that he's here, he's not going back until he finds love with the perfect woman. Willard could live with this situation if it hadn't caused a form of writer's block that's wiped his memory of his story clean from his mind. And if he doesn't get Dark Hour to return to the book he may never be able to continue the only hit series he's ever had. And if that weren't bad enough, the homicidal maniac from the book has come to life to threaten him in his world as well.
PREVIEWSworld: So what does Willard covet? Granted, his brother has had a huge impact on his life, but is Willard really just trying to live the American Dream, or is his character The Dark Hour an extension of his ID that any shrink would love to pick apart in a doctoral thesis?
Glen Brunswick: Willard wants the big hit and recognition, but it's not for the sake of fame. Everything he does is to honor his brother whose death he feels responsible for. He feels that his act of creation is almost an act of resurrection for his brother. He has a chip on his shoulder that his brother was the talented one — the kind of guy who was able to just float through life's difficulties making things easier for the rest of his family. His death left a huge hole in his heart. When Willard is focused on his art, it actually brings him closer to his brother. He's striving to make him proud. You could say that since his brother passed, he's been trying to live his brother's life. The problem is that he's forgotten to live his own.
PREVIEWSworld: The classic underdog who wants his shining moment is basically what we get from issue #1. But Reality Check, by the issue’s end, does have us lead up to critical mass. The book’s title is appropriate because by the end of the first issue we don’t know if Willard is a schizophrenic mess, or if the story will take us on a rocket ride between parallel Earths. So what investment do you have in such a plot? Is this you paying homage to past head-game classics (Alan Moore’s “For The Man Who Has Everything”), or is there something else that you’re trying to drag into the sunlight?
Glen Brunswick: Willard clearly thinks that he's going crazy, but this isn't a parallel world or a bridge to one. Everything that happens in the book happens in his real world. He's just brought elements from his fantasy world into the “here” and “now” where they will have a lasting impact on him and everyone else that they touch. Will Willard get what he wants in life is actually not as important a question as will he get what he needs. In Moore's "For The Man Who Has Everything," Superman's granted his heart's desire and it all goes horrible wrong.
In Reality Check, the characters that enter our world are actually here to further their own mischievous ends. But it's the takeaway during all the chaos and havoc caused by the characters Willard created that may actually give him a vision of what should be important in life. When chaos comes, if you’re lucky, it can sometimes be your mentor. Willard better hope that that's true because things are falling apart in his world. And he better get ready to deal with it.
PREVIEWSworld: Glen, if people want to learn more about your work and stay in touch with you as you develop Reality Check, where should they go online to get more details?
I'll continue to do updates as I have on my Facebook page. I'm also at @glenbrunswick on Twitter. And in the next few weeks I'll set up a Reality Check blog which will update teasers for the series. Our first issue launches on September 4th.