Welcome to my weekly column showcasing up and coming or undiscovered talent, bringing to your attention creators that I feel will be break-out stars in the near future. Some are already well on their way to super stardom, while some are just on the outskirts. Everyone has a favorite comic book creator. One they’ve discovered recently, or maybe followed from the very beginning of their career. Some have so many favorites it’s hard to choose just one.
It is a well known fact around this little island we call the internet that I love the Dark Horse Comics’ series Furious, a psychological treatise posing as a superhero comic. And before that came Mice Templar, another book that was far more than it seemed from the basic concept.
Bryan’s writing is full of big ideas, always masterfully implemented. He says more with a single word balloon than many more seasoned writers say in an entire issue. This may all sound rather hyperbolic, and it is to an extent, but it is also all true. I recently had the chance to ask him some questions about his life, as well as his insights on writing, friendships, and of course comics. Mild spoilers ahead, unless you’ve been reading Furious. You have been, haven’t you? HAVEN’T YOU!?
Many comic creators were comic readers long before they professionally put pen to paper, as it were. Have you always been a comic fan? What was the first comic you remember reading?
I was introduced to comics at probably just shortly after I entered double-digit age by a neighbor who had a huge assortment of partial-cover to outright cover-less comics. This was from the era of newsstands and returning unsold stock by ripping covers off to trim the weight from shipping costs. This was how I discovered mid-70s Avengers, Teen Titans and Legion of Superheroes. But then I got a mint copy of Marvel’s Star Wars #1 and two fandom passions were born simultaneously.
And the first comic I ever bought with my own money was Micronauts #8 that made me a Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden fan for life! I guess by now, savvy readers will be able to pinpoint the exact decade of my most influential influences, and how it was filled with names like Miller, Simonson, Moore, Claremont, Wagner, Wolfman and Byrne!
My very first published comics work ever was in 1992 for B&W indy publisher Comic Zone Productions founded by comics industry inker Rich Rankin. It was called Freaks of Nature #1, and it featured three stories where I adapted the real lives of mostly turn of the century human oddities. Within the constraints of the short comics story medium, I still tried very hard to approach the stories with dignity for the historic persons whose lives I was adapting. And the first of the tales featured my very first comics collaboration with artist Michael Avon Oeming—but we can talk more about how I got creatively involved with him a bit later.
Within months, Comic Zone took on my absurd creator-owned parody comic: Lycra-Woman & Spandex-Girl: Adventures of the Aerobic Duo. They produced 7 issues of that ridiculous book before going out of business. And that is probably the only thing that saved me when the DuPont Corporation sued me for trademark infringement over my use of Lycra®
Following my immolation by the fires of corporate America, I rose from the ashes in 1994 as self-publisher Lost Cause Productions. My only claim to fame were my absurd superheroines patterned somewhat after Batman ’66, but far more so by ElectraWoman and DynaGirl—the Sid & Marty Krofft live-action Saturday morning TV superheroines of 1976 (themselves a gender-swapped homage to Batman ’66)—so I removed the corporate offense and re-launched my series as Spandex Tights! I ultimately produced about 25 issues worth of material before the late 90s collapse of the comics industry itself forced me to close up shop and leave those dreams behind…that is until Oeming dragged me back in 2003!
You are familiar to most comic readers as the writer, as well as co-creator alongside Michael Avon Oeming, of Mice Templar. You have worked with him for many years now. How did your working relationship/friendship come about?
Mike Oeming and I were definitely friends with each other years before we ever officially worked together. I was in a roleplaying game group in the 80s with Adam Hughes…yes, that Adam Hughes! We had just lost one of our players and needed another to fill the adventurers’ void. Adam was working at a small comic shop in New Jersey at the time, and he would tell us about this young teen wunderkind he was quasi-mentoring. He asked the rest of the group if he could invite “Mike” to join us…and that’s how Oeming was introduced to me back in 1989 by our mutual pal AH!
So when you have Hughes and Oeming in your RPG group, the creation of art is nonstop throughout the gameplay. Not only were our adventures being visually chronicled, yet new concepts were being doodled all the time.
But it was after Adam moved from NJ to Atlanta, GA to join Gaijin Studios back in ’91 that Mike and I really clicked as creators and brothers! Mike brought me into Comic Zone where we developed Lycra/Spandex together! Mike helped out all the time when I was self-publishing my re-named Spandex Tights for my own Lost Cause Productions! Mike brought me to Caliber for our series Ship of Fools, which then jumped to Image Comics! Mike got me back into comics in 2002 by offering his artwork and name to my novel Quixote! Mike offered me Mice Templar! Mike recommended me to the Dabel Bros., which got me attached to the Magician adaptation, which then jumped to Marvel Comics! And then…Mike introduced me to Jim Gibbons at Dark Horse Comics that ultimately paved the way for Furious!
No other way to say it than…Oeming is my Huckleberry!
I believe Neil Gaiman is quoted somewhere saying that both he and Terry Pratchett wrote 75% of their shared novel Good Omens, though I might have just made that up. Was Mice Templar like that though, a true collaboration between you both?
This has definitely been chronicled before, so I’m not making up a new version after the fact…
Oeming developed Mice Templar in the 90’s as his own take on a Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey about a young mouse who restores a fallen order of knights in the wake of a civil war sparked over the support of an ultimately corrupt king. All the original fantastic concepts were there: Wotan as an owl; the Readers of the Wheat at the Fields of Gold; mole goblins, Pilot the betrayer, audacious Cassius, and One-Armed Leito. But when Mike got serious about the series in 2003, he looked at his old notes and realized how beat-for-beat it was of Campbell’s premise. He realized it wasn’t enough to replicate a heroic formula, but his anthropomorphic adventure needed to resonate with its audience on a more modern level. And that’s when he asked me to come aboard his baby and “build me a world…make it resonate—you’re good at that.”
The first question I asked after reading his notes was “How did the Templar fall?” Mike had no answer. A world where the Templar have fallen was just a setting to support the adventure. I told him we needed to know how it happened or any restoration would prove meaningless—if it happened once, why won’t it just happen again?
Answering that one profound question ultimately took three years of my development and a steady growing of the tale from a six issue miniseries to the 40-issue, multi-volume epic we’re enmeshed in now. Mike’s job suddenly became questioning and approving all of my wild ideas. I took the latter half of Mike’s tale and relocated it as part of the backstory of legendary Templar founder Kuhl-En, thereby opening my version of Karic’s adventure to an all-new ending, and a completely different purpose.
Concepts I brought to the mythos were: Sun & Moon as the Eyes of Wotan; the Bright Realm and the Shadow Time, and the flesh-eating Guardians between worlds; Karic’s family; Deishun; Captain Tosk; the histories and mythology; Donas and the demonic Diabhlan; the Pantheon of gods; the palace intrigues between rat, weasel & druid, as well as the competition for the heart of king Icarus engaged between Lorelie and Alexis; Ronan, Llochloraine, Aquila and Isaac.
1. Mike’s outline had a throwaway reference to “Black Anaius, the Druid-Witch of Kildre Hill.” I asked Mike about it, as it appeared to be some unknown threat Pilot evades with Karic early in their journey together. Mike said he intended her to just be a boogeyman to be avoided, and make the world seem to “resonate” with a history beyond the confines of the main story. The next thing you know, I’m developing her backstory and how the Druid-Witch ties into everything; and how she suddenly becomes a character or entity that Pilot seeks out with intent rather than avoid. And all inspired by a single line in Mike’s original outline.
2. Mike water-colored a piece of random art I saw when I visited him one afternoon: Karic sitting atop a cat skull. Again, I asked him what it was for. He said it was a doodle he decided to watercolor because it just looked neat. I told him I wanted it for the story. From that one visual inspiration came the Haunted Wood, and Karic’s battle against the Serpent, which if you’re up to date in the reading, paves the way for Volume III in its entirety!
3. I provided an issue #2 description of a rat Captain that needed to be visually unique and memorable. After being referenced solely as “Rat Captain” in only two scenes of my initial outline, I named him “Tosk” in the script, and described him as having one long misshapen tooth like an elephant or walrus tusk. Mike ignored the description and made him your average rat…except he had this Hellboy gauntlet, as Mike’s visual homage to the influence of artist and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola on his work! I took one look at that page and immediately started developing an origin of the gauntlet, increasing Tosk’s presence throughout the series, and culminating in the Volume IV issue “Tosk’s Tale.”
In the end, most of Mike’s ground work for the series was adapted by the time Karic was knighted at the climax of Volume I. Most of what has followed these past five years are either things Mike approved of back in ’05-06…or just brand new inspirations I’ve developed along the way in telling such a tale, aided and abetted now by the designs of Victor Santos, and Mike is often just as surprised as the fans by the twists and turns I’ve applied to his original proposal. Even he doesn’t know how it actually ends any more…which has proven way too fun for me!
You’ve written for both major publishers/characters, as well as your own creations. Do you find that characters you own are more rewarding to write, or do you feel all writing has its own rewards and challenges?
I enjoy the chance to write characters I’ve grown up with an affinity toward, but nothing beats the satisfaction derived from bringing your own baby into this world—which is why Furious is so important to me! She marks my first published creation whose entire origin and development begins with me! Victor Santos now shares creative ownership because I believe in sharing credit with the visual partner, giving them a stake in the property as well. And I’d be remiss not mention editor Jim Gibbons who really held my feet to the fire and made me justify every creative and storytelling choice. Now I’m champing at the bit to get more of my creator-owned work out there, and hoping Furious and Mice Templar together can pave the way for it!
You mean there are readers out there that escaped our furiously unrelenting hype machine?
Well, there are two ways to introduce Furious to the unwary: via the original hook that got Dark Horse Comics’ attention…or the spoiler-free version I’ve been touting since her announcement last September at Baltimore Comic Con that preserves her issue #1 reveal! I’ll start with the latter, and you just stop me when you think I’ve said enough!
Furious the character is the first super-powered being in her world, and that is one as close to ours as Victor and I can make it. But while that approach has been done ad nauseum, we use it as a starting point: Furious may be the first, but she definitely will not be the only or last. Furious is also about a different need for the superhero’s mask, the old tried and true secret identity, adopted in this case not to protect our heroine’s loved ones from danger…but because our heroine’s true identity is already notorious. If the redemption she seeks via super-heroics is to have any lasting impact then the world can never know who she really is. As a hero, she is already her own worst enemy.
Furious is also about fame and our instant gratification, media-soaked culture, and how it might react upon the emergence of a true super-powered being, as well as what impact it might have upon that being.
I guess that’s a good enough place to stop for those who haven’t read issue #1 yet to discover what the remaining four issues are really about beneath that surface veneer I just laid out.
Though only on its first issue, Furious is already proving to be an interesting and thought-provoking book. Where did Furious come from? Is this a new idea, or a story you’ve been waiting years to tell?
My original inspiration for the story and character that ultimately evolved into Furious was 1986’s Daredevil Born Again by Frank Miller & David Mazzuchelli that concerned itself with the deconstruction of Marvel Comics’ famed horn-head that Miller had elevated to new heights a few years earlier. My first creative instinct was to apply that same formula to a character I deemed least likely to have a dark layer beneath their veneer. Nearly 30 years later, as the creative impulse is wont to do, the deconstruction of super-stardom has replaced super-heroics, and then added super-powers back as window dressing. Maybe. I run the risk of spoiling all over again.
The unfortunate passing of singer Whitney Houston two years ago also directly influenced this current incarnation of my character, particularly in how her tragic loss shone a spotlight on the phenomenon of celebrities self-destructing before our very eyes—that the media both chronicles and enables the very disintegration they report. That was the key I needed to make Furious and her alter ego stand above so many other superhero concepts in a medium already filled to bursting with every other idea under the sun. It’s been immensely satisfying to be acknowledged as one of the creators of a genuinely new approach to this time-tested genre.
Yet again, it all comes back to Mike Oeming, that rascally rapscallion! Mice Templar Volume I was produced amidst a major rough patch in Mike’s life, and the fact that the series was ever produced at all is testimony to Mike’s commitment to his friends. He knew this book was my primary shot at making a name for myself in the comics industry. But Volume I proved too much at the time for him to continue. And although he’d long ago told me he could never imagine anybody but himself drawing the book, he didn’t want to leave me adrift, knowing we’d only scratched the surface of what I’d built out of his original ideas.
Mike had met Victor Santos, and become mutual fans of each others work, at a convention in Madrid, Spain several years earlier. During my visit with Mike for his wedding, he pitched the idea of asking Victor to replace him, and wanted to know if I was OK with that. In truth, I was terrified. I had such a rapport with Mike after working on so many projects together and for so many years—decades! And now to consider completing the epic saga without Mike felt like sacrilege.
But history has now proven how needless any of those fears were!
After Victor passed the audition with an original test story (which became the short bridge tale between Volumes I and II), I asked him if he wanted me to alter my script to take our language barrier into account—I didn’t speak Spanish at all, and he spoke very little English at the time. But through translation, Victor assured he wanted me to change nothing. He already had his sights on conquering the American comics scene even then. His English radically improved, while my Spanish remains woefully inadequate… and yet we remain fantastic friends, and now collaborators on this wonderfully furious new project together!
Definitely! Victor’s desire from the very beginning was to make Furious a book that was visually his own, and I’ve conceded to that as much as I’ve been able to while still retaining my own sense of pacing and storytelling. But all of the designs have been Victor’s, as well a lot of neat little layout touches. Victor’s really knocked it out of the park on action scenes… and that issue #2 sequence with the bullet to the head—just WOW! I love working with Victor on this book. I’m also hoping to allow him even greater room to flex his visual muscles if we can make it to an ongoing series!
There are a few things I’ll haggle with him over (far less than on Mice Templar) because I often conceive of story progression visually, and I like layouts that push the medium. But Victor is still the guy who has to bring my often crazy visual ideas to life, so I try not to push it, and allow him that freedom to make this book his as well as mine!
Cadence Lark is a complex, multi-layered, and profound character, yet so human in her inner frailty. Is it challenging writing a character this nuanced, or does she just write herself once you get going?
I’m drawn to broken characters. Not those languishing in self-imposed exile, but those struggling against themselves, their baser natures, their genuine or merely perceived weaknesses… so that I can see the eventual triumph. Am I spoiling anything here? I don’t think so, because any long-term happy ending is far, far away. As a miniseries, think of Furious the character as searching for little victories in her battle against herself, while on the outside the stakes will grow ever higher. That’s the plan. Cadence Lark fights a battle on two fronts, and the way those tales will harmonize with each other, each one aiding or thwarting the other is what makes you care for the woman at the heart of the maelstrom.
Hear that? I love this stuff. So yeah, once I know what the various ticks are that make up her past, Cadence, Furious, or any other character shows you, their creator, just where they’d go. And it’s my job to make that journey as passionate, traumatizing, exhilarating and inspiring as I possible can.
The answer to the question you raise is also not limited to real world humans posing as super or otherwise, but fans of Mice Templar have taken any number of emotional rollercoaster rides with my sword wielding rodents! I’m a firm believer that the journey of a story must be worth taking. I delight in making midnight as dark as I possibly can before revealing the dawn… and in Mice Templar, the coming of dawn can be terrifying!
I’ve said before that you have an excellent ear for dialog. Other than Cadence herself, who is your favorite character to voice? Are there any characters that are going to be surprising us along the way?
Thank you! I think my years of writing for theater performance have really helped me refine those skills. Editor Jim Gibbons does wrestle with me sometimes on a phrase I write for someone’s dialogue that I know exactly how it sounds delivered in my head, but he knows that comic dialogue is an often subjective medium, and that many readers won’t read it the way I “hear” it on the page.
I love giving characters unique speech patterns. Again using Mice Templar as my example, fans have long noted that individual mice have specific speech patterns that go the extra distance in identifying the many non-human figures. Karic doesn’t speak like Cassius, who doesn’t talk like Leito or Rat Captain Tosk… or batshit crazy King Icarus!
In Furious, I’ve given Cadence one style of speaking voice that is hesitant and uncertain, while as the Beacon or Furious she is performing a role, embracing the “character” of a superhero the way a performer might for the performance of a role. And then her inner monologue bounces back and forth between the two because that’s where her internal demons are fought.
My absolute favorite characters to write in Furious are the two comic book fans Dwayne and Rich—and yes, they’ll be back! I haven’t based them off of anybody I know, but they are definitely inspired by types I have met. For Dwayne, he has a pure love of his fandom that is contagious and he just wants to share it with everybody around him. While Rich is a bit more like “Jim” from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, still enjoying his childish pursuits while at the same time growing interests beyond those of his more innocent friend.
You had a prequel published in Dark Horse Presents, and now the miniseries. How has it been working with Dark Horse? They seem to really support you and the book.
Having a creator-owned series published by Dark Horse Comics is a dream come true. I mean, these were the guys who first showed how franchise licenses should be treated with titles like Aliens, Predator, Terminator, RoboCop, and Star Wars! I ate all of those books up in the late 80s! And then you couple that success with their heavyweight creator owned series like Mignola’s Hellboy and Miller’s Sin City! And now I get to sit at their booth doing signings? They’ve even got all the Whedon-verse titles now, so I’m simply in awe that I’ve been given the chance to add something of my creation to their stable!
This world you’ve created is so rich and full of possibility. Do you have more stories planned after this miniseries?
I definitely have a lot more in store for Cadence Lark, Furious and the world she inhabits. If I get the chance, you will see that work slowly and subtly transform through the introduction of super-powers. The entire miniseries is sprinkled with elements intended for future story arcs, while hopefully never leaving the reader feeling like I’ve forgotten which story I need to be focusing on. In many ways, this first arc is providing the backstory for the tale I really want to tell.
Do you have any last words for our readers?
Those four portrait photos hanging on the wall in Cadence’s apartment? Yeah, each one of those has their own story to tell.
Thank you again Bryan! I can’t wait to see where your stories, as well as story goes!