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Conversations with yourself #4: Breaking the mold

Written by Eric Ratcliffe on Monday, April 28 2008 and posted in Columns
This week I interview creator Jason M. Burns of Viper comics. Who is responsible for Dunny's guide to danger, the expendable one, borderland, the sleepy truth and the underworld railroad.

We discuss everything from his role at viper to his upcoming work.

Eric: My first question is probably the most asked of you: How did you get your start in the comic book industry? Have you always had the interest in comics?

: It was all by accident actually. I had always read comics and was a lifelong collector, but the idea of making a living writing books was never in the cards. I was an entertainment journalist at the time (this was about five years ago now) and was also writing screenplays in my spare time. I ended up doing a feature on independent comics for a magazine I was working with and stayed in contact with Viper Comics founder Jessie Garza. He ended up reading some of my scripts, gave me a shot doing a short story in a Dead@17 book, and then the rest is history.

Eric: You're the assistant publisher of Viper comics, what exactly does that job entail?

Burns: Well, I’ve actually been transitioning out of that position and focusing more on my own creative and writing. When I was acting Assistant Publisher, I would look for new material, edit existing books, handle some PR duties, etc. It was a jack of all trades kind of gig, with an emphasis on finding new material to publish.

Eric: Your work seems to change tonally from noir storytelling, horror, dark humor, science fiction and even has some religious overtones exactly what kind of stuff inspires your work?

Burns: For me, it’s just whatever peaks my interest at the time. An insignificant detail from a news story may inspire a book, while other times it may be something as simple as wanting to write an homage to something I loved growing up. The Sleepy Truth was for me, my own Goonies. And then in some cases, it may be something even less significant that inspires me. With A Dummy’s Guide to Danger… That entire idea came out of a ventriloquist puppet my sister had in our basement when we were kids. So really, it’s no so much a profound source that tends to inspire me, but a random spec that fuels me to turn an idea into a story.

Eric: How is production on the expendable one movie coming? Do we have any names attached yet? Or is it too early to mention anyone?

Burns: Based on what I’m told by the producers, we’re real close to looking for directors, so, stay tuned!

Eric: And speaking of the expendable one, when can we see a third volume coming our way?

Burns: I already have the concept and overall story read to roll, so I’m just waiting for the greenlight from the publisher. My guess is, once we get some headway on the film, the publisher will move forward with another installment.

Eric: Each one of your main characters whether it's twigs, the watsons, Bruce Boyd or a certain detective with his "dummy" partner all seem to be normal people that have been pushed into extraordinary circumstances. Is this done purposely for your style of writing or do you just find that the underdog types write themselves?

Burns: With me, I always prefer the regular Joe that gets him or herself caught up in an extraordinary situation. It’s a very interesting question because I don’t think anybody has ever really asked me that, but even looking at my upcoming body of work, it tends to be an underdog type of protagonist who winds up in the mix of things… And if there is a “special” person in a story, he or she tends to be the villain. Hmmm… Maybe a therapist would have a field day with me. haha

Eric: What titles do you yourself currently read and enjoy?

Burns: Growing up, I was primarily a super hero guy like I think most of us were during the 80s, but now I tend to skew towards anything that is interesting. I’m always into Walking Dead, and I like anything Whedon writes, but lately, I have to admit, I just don’t have the time like I used to read. I’ve currently been working my way through my old Excalibur collection, and after that, I anticipate working my way through my Exiles run, but, I do anticipate getting back into buying more newer material. It’s on my list of things to do.

Eric: Do you find with each new artist you work with its easier to collaborate? Or does each new partnership bring something new to the fold and help you evolve as a writer?

Burns: I prefer working with people I already have existing relationships with, just because, in my experience, there’s a 75% chance that if you’re working with someone new… They won’t end up finishing the book. Unfortunately, I think a lot of new artists think drawing comics is an easy endeavor and that they’re going to get rich off of it, but then they’re three issues deep and it’s four months later and they panic and jump ship. It’s happened to me at least two dozen times, and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is as a creator when you… A. anticipate something being released, and B. see so much potential in an artist and then they just throw it away. Not to mention that the publisher gets screwed cause they pay for something that never gets finished. Haha

Eric: Do you listen to music while you write and plot? If so, what seems to be the recurring thing that always plays to help your ideas flow?

Burns: Not really. Sadly, the television is on most of the time. I tend to write all of the scripts longhand first in a notebook, and then type them up when I’m finished. So, I carry my notebooks around, whether I’m watching television with my fiancé or sitting behind my desk… and it tends to just happen that I’m pecking at the writing while I’m answering Jeopardy questions or watching baseball. Haha

Eric: Working at Viper comics an independent publisher, could you ever see yourself working on something for some of the bigger names and their characters? Or do you find that working for a smaller publisher allows you to get your full idea's across without editorial constraint?

Burns: One of my goals as a writer is to start working on established properties and characters as soon as possible. Not only do I think it will be a great challenge and experience creatively, but I know it will also help build my brand and get more people interested in my independent work. It’s a win/win situation in my opinion.

Eric: In the Dummy's guide to danger: lost at sea, I know you mentioned to me while working on issue 2 you were on a cruise. Did this help you research wise for having the characters taken out of their element and thrown into this new environment?

Burns: Absolutely. I ended up taking notes during the cruise and keeping all of the programs that they slipped under our door… Just so that I could get as much of the research done while I was on vacation as possible. I plotted out the majority of the story while I was there, and then when I got home, I hammered out the scripts and pitched to the publisher. I’m a firm believer in writing what you know, so for me to have been living essentially what Alan and Mr. Bloomberg were in the story (minus the murder of course), it made it an easy story to tell.

Eric: Borderland says it was based on a true story, care to elaborate? After reading the book itself, i'm a bit skeptical of the true story aspect.

Burns: Well, the film (released by Lion’s Gate) was based on a true story, but the comic was based on the film, so there’s more fiction in the printed version I’d say. But, sadly, the parts that seem the least believable are the parts that were true. There was a drug cartel that would sacrifice humans to protect their drug shipments into the United States, and many believe the man behind it had supernatural powers… Which was no doubt fueled by the public’s fear of him. It was a really dark, horrible story that crippled the border towns of Mexico… and cost a handful of American tourists their lives.

Eric: What kind of advice can you give to aspiring journalists/comic book writers out there?

Burns: Just do the work and write. So many people come to me and pitch me on ideas, and I say, “Sounds cool, but we’d need to see scripts,” and then they never do the work and write the meat and potatoes. At the end of the day, if you have a great idea and a good voice to tell the story, you’ll get published with hard work, but you have to pay your dues. Nobody gets a 12-issue run on Spider Man to start their career, but unfortunately, that’s how a lot of people think and their ego gets in the way of them being successful. Do the work… Come up with unique ideas… And then just have fun with it. After all… It’s comics.

Eric: Finally whats coming up for the rest of 2008? Please, plug away.

Burns: It’s going to be a busy year. The Dummy’s Guide to Danger: Lost at Sea series continues through June, while I also have The Rabid (will hit stores early May), Imaginary Friends: The Rise of Shit Valentine (June), Gypsy Joe Jefferson (July), Serpo (August), the sequel to The Sleepy Truth (October) and a number of projects I can’t yet discuss due out later this year. People can keep up on what’s coming up by visiting the PROJECTS page at my web site www. jasonmburns. com. There they can see what the above mentioned titles are all about, and get a peek at the art.

Dummy's guide to Danger: Lost at Sea #2 is slated to hit stores this month.
Posted originally: 2008-04-28 17:38:22

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About the Author - Eric Ratcliffe

Eric Ratcliffe is the host of The Why I Love Comics podcast, as well as the writer of the long running and award winning webcomic New Comic Day! When not interviewing the biggest names in geek culture, Eric writes the occasional column about something he is enjoying or informing people about webseries, podcasts, gadgets or many other cool things. You can also find Eric on Email / twitter / facebook / youtube / steam / x-box live and many other social media avenues on the internet. 


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