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Conversations with yourself #12: The Proof about Alex Grecian

Written by Eric Ratcliffe on Monday, June 23 2008 and posted in Columns
Yeah, really stretching it with the pun there. I had a very fun conversation with the writer of Proof, Alex Grecian who is an awesome person.

We talk all things proof, pop culture and many, many undead things.

Read on hemopheliacs!

Eric: How'd you get your start in comics?
Alex: That's actually more complicated than it should be to answer. I kind of started in comics twice. The first time didn't work out and I had to start over later.
My first stab at breaking into comics was as an artist. I worked on my portfolio, wrote little stories to draw so I could showcase my sequential skills and took my art to cons. At one con, Phil Hester gave me a shot at doing a two-page story in the back of a comic he was working on. So that was my first published work, but it wasn't great stuff, so the less said about that, the better. Except for the part about how nice Phil is. After that, I did tons of pin-ups for other books, many of which were published.
But I quickly discovered that I was illustrating my own stories because I wanted to write stories, not because I wanted to draw them. I just didn't know any other artists. I was an adequate artist, I think, but never as good as I wanted to be and that part of it wasn't much fun for me.
Toward the end of that phase of things, I pitched a mini-series, which I was going to write and draw myself, to Image. I got a response from Jim Valentino, who liked it, but wanted a few changes before he could green-light it.
As I started work on the changes I got head-hunted by an ad agency and took the job they offered. I stupidly signed a non-compete contract with them that specified that I not do any comic book work. I shouldn't have signed that, definitely shouldn't have honored it, but the time I spent away from the grind of trying to break in actually helped me hone a lot of skills. I wrote tons, got paid to write and basically discovered that I never wanted to draw again.
I eventually left that agency, after doing every job there in the creative department (I didn't go near the sales department), and started writing comic book scripts and pitches again like crazy.
While standing in line at a con, waiting to pitch another mini-series to an editor there, I saw a guy showing his portfolio to the editor. His stuff wasn't what the editor was looking for, but I thought it looked terrific. My wife ran after the guy and got his contact info. That was the first time I saw Riley and I only saw the top of his head.
We corresponded for a while after that and put together the Seven Sons graphic novel, which we pitched to AiT. After it came out, we pitched Proof to Image, which brings us up to the present and kind of brings me full-circle. Finally getting an Image series puts me right back on the track I was on when I got derailed.
Except the art's much better in this series.

Eric: Yeah the art is beautiful on the series, riley seems to have this great noir twist to his artwork which fits not only the series but the overall theme. Speaking of the overall theme of the book and its characters, what inspired this fun idea?

Alex: Just the notion that, if the government is keeping secrets from us (and we all assume they do), would they have explored the possibility of a Bigfoot creature in our country? And if they found something, would they have told us about it? The whole Area 51 thing's been done to death and there are lots of people who think the government's got a spaceship hidden in a barn somewhere, so why not Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster? Of course, the whole thing came from a conversation I was having with friends when someone said "What if Bigfoot worked for the CIA?" That was the initial inspiration.
Once you have that, though, you've got a template for a fun little story about "Agent Bigfoot." But that seems limiting and isn't really my style anyway. Or you can take that same inspiration and you've got an opportunity to explore "Tarzan of the Apes," but in reverse. What if you took a wild creature out of the woods and raised him among humans, put him to work helping you find and talk to other wild creatures, convincing those creatures that humans are okay? At what point does our tame Bigfoot qualify as a human? It's the old "nature versus nurture" question within the confines of a pseudo-horror comic book series.
Eric: Can you actually elaborate on the seven sons graphic novel? I'm not familiar with it.
Alex: Seven Sons was Riley's and my first project together. It's a reworking of an old Chinese fable. In the original fable, there are seven brothers (or five brothers, depending on which version you heard as a kid) who each have a unique power. One brother is super strong, another's invulnerable, another can stretch like Mr. Fantastic, etc. But they all look identical. So one of the brothers swallows the sea and some village children go out on the ocean floor to explore. But they stay out too long. The brother has to spit the ocean back out and he accidentally drowns the children. The villagers decide to put him to death, but each time they attempt it, the brothers switch places. So when they try to burn him, the invulnerable brother steps in. When they try to drown him, the stretchy brother just stretches his neck so his head's on the surface and he can breathe. And so on. They villagers finally give up.
Riley and I adapted that basic story, but set it in the American Old West, using the Gold Rush as a backdrop. The story explores racial intolerance, but in a superhero-Western setting. It came out through AiT/Planet Lar in October 2006, exactly a year before the first issue of Proof came out.

Eric: I'd say reading the series as a whole so far, Proof is probably more human than some of the protagonists we've met. Which I'm sure you did on purpose?
Alex: Protagonists or antagonists? Either way, yeah, Proof is the guy I'd like to be if I were a little more conscious of the world around me. Of course, being that careful and that humane has its downside. We haven't hinted much at a romantic life for the big guy.
But as far as our antagonists go, we've got some stories coming up that I'm working on now that kind of humanize a couple of our established "villains." I'm really not interested in writing about stock characters and once a character's developed to a certain point there's lots of room to explore what makes him tick. I think you'll be surprised by how Dachshund or Nadine would act in completely different situations than the ones we've seen them in so far.
Eric: Lets talk about my personal favorite character for a minute, the dover demon. Just how much fun is a character like that to not only create but write for?
Alex: Lots! And he seems to have become a sort of fan-favorite character. Which is weird. Issue two introduced two "throwaway" characters that ended up becoming important to the series. I've talked a lot about how I meant to kill Elvis until he turned out to be cool. The Dover Demon was kind of a device to clue readers in to the fact that we had a lot of stuff worked out and we were going somewhere. He predicted a couple of things for Ginger in that issue, but it was really about saying "Hey, keep reading. More stuff's gonna happen."
But then I saw more that we could do with him and brought him back in issue three. By then we had some response to him from friends and family and he started popping up in just about every issue. We've got big big surprising things in store for him. There's a reason he predicts stuff and it's going to turn out to seem perfectly logical and creepy and shocking all at the same time.

Eric: Wait, you were going to kill elvis? Thats it, i'm dropping the book ;p Seriously though, I take it the original plan was to have the chupacabra take over his body?
Alex: Yeah. He was a generic small town sheriff in the script, but Riley drew him with that skinny Elvis body and that tall Elvis hair and he suddenly had a personality. I decided he didn't look like the kind of guy who would go into the womens restroom. So he sent Nancy the paramedic in instead. Poor Nancy.
But once I knew Elvis wouldn't go in the ladies room, he became a pretty interesting guy and we both wanted to keep him around. We're glad we did.

Eric: And speaking of chupathingy (I don't like butchering its name when I can't spell ;p) who or what was it talking about when it hinted at something looking for proof and ginger, will we be seeing this person or creature in the first year of the series? And no saying wait and see sir!
Alex: Just wait and s-- Oh, um, well... Okay, you're talking about Mi-Chen-Po. And, no, we won't exactly see him in the first year, although you've seen some of his handiwork already and you'll see more of him, sort of indirectly very soon. He did send Nadine, the chupacabra to find Proof. And he's done other things that have affected The Lodge already. But he'll make a huge splash in person about halfway through our second year (probably around issue 19) when we start ticking down to the end of our status quo.
Seriously, Mi-Chen-Po's gonna change everything. You don't want to see him too soon. ;)

Eric: mi-chen-po is obviously asian in origin? Or am I just thinking too much into the name? You obviously can answer that with a yes or a no without having to spoil anything.

Alex: Yes.
Eric: Lets get on to the lodge though. In the office we have a very famous wardrobe, will we be seeing more famous pop culture nods like that wardrobe in the series?
Alex: Sure. Riley and I love to include that kind of stuff. Riley drew a TMNT head and Hellboy's head in the background of one panel. There are lots of pop culture references... Like, the baby fairies are named after the three spider babies in "Charlotte's Web." Nobody wrote in to say they noticed this, but the twin bad guys in "The Company of Men," one of whom gets his ass handed to him by Proof, are named Dupont and Dupond. Those are the original names of the Thompson Twins from "Tintin." We have a back-up story coming up with a very special bear named Edward. That's Winnie-the-Pooh's formal name, of course.
Whenever there's a chance to make something resonate for readers or for ourselves, we love to go ahead and throw in a reference, without necessarily making it obvious. We want to have fun with this series, but we don't want to date it by using current stuff that nobody's gonna remember in five or 10 years.
Eric: The preview at the end of the trade, all of that is in the future of the book right?

Alex: Yes, every one of those panels is something coming up. Well, except for the dodo's panel. That's one's pretty much a done-in-one-panel story. Most of those images are things from Proof's and/or Ginger's future, but one is from Proof's past. We'll be telling selected tales from Proof's long history as we roll along.

Eric: I'm really enjoying talking to you, which is great because the series has definitely been one of my favorite reads since I started with the second arc. And awww on the dodo, I liked him. He should become a returning character.
Alex: I'm having fun with this too. Thanks for asking me to do it. Glad you're digging the series. I take it you backtracked and read the trade?

Eric: Of course I did man, the trade of the first arc of the book is only 10 dollars, how can anybody refuse such a deal. And when as a fan you see how pretty the trade is from a design standpoint, its even better as a deal. Wait....I'm whoring the book just as bad as you now! And when talking about the trade i'd say some of the strongest scenes in the first arc involved what happened to elvis, poor guy. I like how you've set up both him and ginger as such great folds for a veteran like proof. Are they both his partners now or just ginger?

Alex: Ginger's officially his partner, but Leander assigns agents according to whom he thinks will be most useful on a mission, so it doesn't make much difference who's supposed to be partnered with whom. There are lots of Lodge agents, though, and Ginger & Elvis seem to be Proof's favorites. At least they end up paired with him a lot.

Eric: Whats on your pull list? The titles that your really enjoying currently?
Alex: Oh, boy, can I add to this list if I forget stuff? I'm gonna forget lots of stuff. Let's see... Criminal, BPRD, Umbrella Academy, Firebreather, Young Liars, Fables, Savage Dragon, All-Star Superman, Screamland, Transhuman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ultimate Spider-Man, anything Grant Morrison's writing, The Boys, Ex Machina... Tons of great comics coming out right now. Too much to list here, really. It's probably the best time to be a comic book collector ever.
Eric: What music are you currently listening to?
Alex: It depends on what I'm writing. Right now I dumped a whole bunch of Pixies, Eels and Radiohead into an iTunes mix and hit shuffle, but for the current Proof arc I'm listening to some Nine Inch Nails and angrier stuff off and on too. I like pretty much all sorts of music, except maybe Christian Pop. Earlier today I was listening to the "Walk Hard" soundtrack and I just went to see Will Whitmore play recently. He has a fantastic voice, really bluesy stuff.
Eric: And are there any talks on a proof movie with every other comics property getting picked up by different studio's lately?
Alex: Um, yes. Nobody's signed anything yet, though, and these things fall apart all the time, but there are some pretty big people interested right now. Nothing to brag about yet. ;)

Eric: And will we be seeing another golem character? Like the one that ginger encountered?
Alex: The third arc, "Thunderbirds Are Go," is partly about Ginger's return to New York. We touch base with her old boss, Belinda, see that old Rabbi again and finally meet Ginger's boyfriend, Marc (she talked with him on the phone in the trade). Ginger has to track Joe, the golem, down through the sewers of New York. (The sewers of New York, incidentally, are filled with alligators. That's not an urban myth.) This arc ties up all the loose ends from Ginger's solo story at the beginning of the "Goatsucker" trade. And, since Riley and I have repeatedly said that there's no hard-core magic in Proof, we'll reveal what the hell Joe actually is. He can't really be a giant man made out of clay and brought to life with a magic word.

Eric: A fellow radiohead fan? Did you like in rainbows?
Alex: I've only heard the single, so far. I'm way way way behind in getting CDs. There's been lots of cool stuff released the last few months (including the new Flobots and the new Weezer), but I've had my head buried in research for Proof. It's gonna make catching up really fun, though. I've been hinting to my wife that I need some CDs for my birthday.

Eric: A question about the fairies, how soon before we see the males waking up like leander was seen talking to in the preview? This year or are we going to be waiting?
Alex: That scene was from the "Cryptid War" arc, which will occur at the end of the series as it currently stands. So it'll be a while. We will definitely be seeing those giant fairies again soon, though. I'm drawing a special issue that deals with them.
Eric: And speaking of fairies, the scene with the chupacabara adopting some of them wasn't just a throwaway gag was it?
Alex: Nope. It sure wasn't. And, not coincidentally, we'll be revisiting Nadine and her fairy children in that same story I'm working on. We'll tie up some loose ends, show just how quickly fairies grow, what kind of mom Nadine is and drop some clues about where that particular subplot may be going.
Eric: And what kind of movies do you dig? B horror movie stuff? Like Army of Darkness and Reanimator or just anything?

Alex: The best film I saw last year was Michael Clayton. I've watched it twice without the commentary and once with, so far. Juno was probably my second favorite. The characters in it were so well-written and well-defined. I also really dug The Hunting Party and No Country for Old Men. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was nicely done too.
I saw Army of Darkness once and it wasn't really my kinda thing. It was okay, but once was enough. I've never actually seen Reanimator at all. I'm dying to watch The Orphanage and Cloverfield. I've got them both here, but they're not films I can watch with my son in the room, so they'll have to wait. And they probably don't qualify a B-movie horror.
This is gonna sound stupid, but part of the reason I like to watch movies is to learn from them. I pay close attention to how they're written, how they're structured, whether the dialogue works. Special Effects don't do much for me. I usually pick movies based on who wrote them and whether I admire their work or have heard good things about them.
My one guilty pleasure when it comes to genre stuff is zombie movies. I can love even a bad zombie movie. There's just always been something appealing about zombies, even before they became so hugely popular. In fact, the first comic book pitch Riley and I worked on was a zombie mini-series. But it was set in a prison and, by one of those weird coincidences of synchronicity, the Walking Dead cast moved into a prison right about the time we finished that up and got ready to send it out. Looking at that and the likelihood that we'd be accused of ripping off Robert Kirkman, we decided to abandon that project and move on to another story.
Maybe someday our zombie book will see the light of day, but I doubt it, since there's such a glut of that stuff.

Eric: Yeah you're definitely not the only guy who digs zombie films. I think as you grow older you appreciate them for quality more then scare value. Have you seen the latest George Romero flick diary of the dead? If you love zombie movies, I can guarantee you'll love it. That and I just watched a really bad one the sequel to Uwe Bolle's house of the dead....why they made a sequel, I don't know.
Alex: I get the feeling there are a lot of us who have always liked zombies, but comics and Hollywood just suddenly caught on to that fact and are releasing more of this kind of material to appeal to us. Not sure why it took so long though. I haven't seen Diary of the Dead yet. That's another one of those films you can't watch with a four-year-old. I'd rather spend time with my boy than with zombies. I'm still waiting to watch 28 Weeks Later too. It's sitting here, patiently demanding my attention.
Eric: And you guys wrote a zombie series set in a prison? This I am very intrigued by. Was it one of those "inmates have to fight their way out of a zombie infested prison deals?" The kind where the lead character is some poor guy who's falsely accused?

Naw, Riley and I aren't that predictable. It's more of a Clint Eastwood movie set in a prison, which is then set in a zombie-infested world. Anyway, I shouldn't make it sound intriguing since no one will ever see it.

Eric: And I actually see eye to eye with you on the reason you watch movies, I can't get enough of the behind the scenes material myself. I wish there was more comic material like that where we could hear really cool stories from production. Any plans for a "directors cut" of any proof material?
Alex: We're thinking of doing something like that for our second trade. We prefer to put extra material in the single issues to reward our regular readers, but there's just not enough room to do some things in the 1-8 pages we have available in any given issue of Proof. The back of the trade gives us almost as much room as we could want, but then we're putting stuff in the trade that our regular readers weren't able to see and that probably sends the wrong message. We're still trying to hash that out.
Eric: I know the short story is coming out with the rest of image's "monster books" in august, any hints as to what its going to be about? It's original material right? 

Alex: Absolutely. Okay, Image Monster Pile-Up is a one-shot, featuring four brand-new five-page stories by the regular creative teams of The Astounding Wolf-Man, Firebreather, The Perhapanauts and Proof. It's meant to be kind of a sampler, so that people who haven't tried some of these books, but are curious, can pick this up for $1.99. It's an inexpensive introduction to four of Image's monster-related ongoing series.
Todd Dezago (Perhapanauts) and I dreamed this baby up and, after selling Image on the idea, invited Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester to participate. We're hoping this generates a little cross-polllination. We first talked about a true cross-over, but it's really hard to figure out a cross-over with Proof. There's just no way to do other dimensions and superheroes without ruining the vibe of the book. So we hit on the sampler idea instead.
Then, of course, Riley and I got ambitious and did something that probably negates the whole idea of a sampler by showing Proof's first encounter with human beings, way back in 1805. He's young and nothing like he is now. So it's not going to give possible new readers a very good idea of what the actual series is like. But hopefully it's memorable and interesting in its own right. Riley and I would very much like to tell the story of Proof's education and early life with some of the famous people who were responsible for making him who he is today (one of whom is revealed in #9). So the feedback we get from Monster Pile-Up will help determine whether we can move ahead with a separate project that chronicles that early stuff. There's just no way to fit it all into the regular series without getting rid of the supporting cast for a year.
Eric: Speaking of issue 9 it's the one shot right? The vacation/downtime issue?
Alex: Yeah, I'm kind of indulging myself with this issue. My favorite thing to do is just put these characters together and let them talk to each other. So that's basically what goes on in issue nine. Elvis gets to spend the day with Proof and Wayne and learns a bit more about them both. Ginger meets the staff psychologist, a new character who'll be playing a big part in future stories. Her name's Isabella Bay and she and Ginger talk a bit. We tie up a few loose ends in terms of Ginger's relationship with Proof, some tension because of things that happened in the first two arcs, and we gear up for the next arc with a couple of short peeks at "Thunderbirds."
Eric: And inviting Phil to do the sampler with you must have been interesting, bringing your career full circle having the man who gave you your first real break involved in the same project?
Alex: Oh, yeah. Phil's an incredible creator as both an artist and a writer (so's his frequent collaborator, Ande Parks). I'm not exactly working with him on Monster Pile-Up, but it's great to have Firebreather back on the racks and I'm proud to share an anthology with him.

Eric: And whats next for you, the future of proof and possibly other material? Please Plug Away.

Alex: After we finish exploring Proof's past a bit, in the arc after "Thunderbirds," we'll be getting down to business and moving toward our big climactic two-arc story. It'll still be quite a while before we get to that, but by then Mi-Chen-Po will be revealed and some of the Lodge's secrets will start being answered. I'm much too excited to get to some of these huge revelations, but I'll be sad once we tell those stories. It's kind of like Christmas, I guess.
I've got a couple of non-Proof miniseries in the works and I'm working on an original graphic novel with frequent Proof contributor Kelly Tindall. It's a fun story. I'm superstitious about talking too much about projects until they're a little closer to coming out, though. You won't be able to shut me up about this stuff in a couple of months, but until then... :)
Eric: This has been a blast honestly, your definitely now one of my favorite creators and I hope to talk with you more. :)
Alex: Yeah, thanks so much for inviting me to do this. It's been a lot of fun. Let me know when you wanna do it again, okay?

Proof is monthly from IMAGE

Posted originally: 2008-06-23 17:21:32

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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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