Today on Face To Greg is Green Wake's Kurtis Wiebe!
Greg: How are you, Kurtis?
Kurtis Wiebe: I'm doing excellent. Tearing myself away from my busy schedule of balancing script writing with Skyrim.
Greg: For those who aren't savvy, tell us about yourself.
KW: I'm an indie comic writer with a few titles over at Image. Last year I had two series come out, the first a mini-series called Intrepids which was a retro spy series starring a pack of cybernetic teenagers who fight mad scientists and the other is an ongoing series called Green Wake about a mysterious town where horrible things happen.
Next year you'll hear about Peter Panzerfaust and Grim Leaper, possibly a few others, but nothing solid on that yet.
I'm also a new face to the novel business, my first title comes out in a few days and it's called Between Worlds, an urban fantasy noir.
Greg: Yeesh, that is a busy schedule indeed! How do you manage all that?
KW: I recently made a pretty huge decision to quit my day job and focus on writing as a full time gig. It was one of those immensely scary moments where I was questioning my decision right down to the wire, but in the end it's been the best choice I've made. With an extra 40 hours per week I'm able to finally get ahead on projects which means I'll be doing a lot more in 2012.
Greg: What got you into writing in general?
KW: I loved to tell stories. I grew up with an active interest in stories of all kinds; I was involved in high school drama, my favourite subjects were English and History and I read a lot of books. At that time I didn't have access to comics as I lived in a small town, that interest came along later on. I dabbled for a long time in short stories; I posted a lot of my work on a writing forum. It started off as really bad fan fiction until I finally grew a pair and ventured into new territory with original characters and settings. I took it more seriously when I received some really positive feedback on my writing and that eventually led to some very small work with Fantasy Flight Games, an RPG developer in the States.
That was when I really caught the bug and shortly after I was introduced to comics by a friend. I worked on both prose and comics at the same time, writing the novel I mentioned before and then taking off time to drum up a comic script or two.
Greg: How did you get into the comic business?
KW: My first published work was with Red 5 Comics, the company behind Atomic Robo. It was an action comedy called Beautiful Creatures partly inspired by Buffy and Angel that came out in 2009, but went largely unnoticed. It was over a year and a half later that Intrepids came out, but I'd been busting my ass with pitches and networking the entire time.
Greg: Are those projects all Indie based or are you also pitching some ideas with the Big 2 folks?
KW: Well, my first Marvel work actually came out [a few weeks ago] through the Marvel App. It's called Logan's Lost Lesson and its part of their Holiday Annual. I'd love to do more work for them. If they're reading this, I'm leaving a spot in my schedule just for them!
All the other projects are creator owned and all through either Image or Shadowline at the moment. I've always got about 3-4 projects being put together, so I'm sending out content to the indie publishers all the time.
Greg: Intrepids was getting quite some good reviews. Can you tell us more about this book? How'd you come along the idea for this book or what was the process is creating it?
KW: I've actually been getting a huge stack of emails today about Intrepids as we're putting the final touches on the trade paperback that collects the entire run. It's going to be super awesome. Why don't I let the tagline we came up with for the back cover do the talking: Join 4 cyber-teens for a RETRO ROMP, in this high octane, extravaganza as they are pitted against mad scientists, cyberbears, and an atomic squid.
The idea came about when I saw a young woman crossing the street dressed in a very similar fashion as to how the lead character, Crystal Crow, appears. I immediately saw a character in my head and went home and started to make notes. From there, everything else fell into place. I really wish I could meet her to say, "You inspired an entire comic series."
Once I'd written up the world, the characters and the first script, I started shopping around for an artist. Normally I find that process fairly easy because I have a certain look in mind when I create it, but Intrepids was different. I knew the characters but I could not for the life of me think of an art style that would best represent it. I met Scott Kowalchuk at his graduation portfolio review show where he went to art school and after getting to know him a little, sent him an email with all the details to see if he'd be interested. He responded in a really positive way and shortly after sent me the sketches for the cyberbear. We never looked back.
Greg: Nice. Now following Intrepids came Green Wake, a much more bleak and horror based book. It's a series ripe with mystery and overall weirdness and has also been garnering fantastic reviews. What would you say Green Wake is?
KW: Green Wake is a horror mystery series about a small town on the edge of reality that people can never escape from. Its dark corners harbor monsters and the citizens are slowly being transformed into frog people. It's a scary, sad, strange tale about lost love and crushing guilt. If that's not enough, it's like the movie Se7en on acid.
Greg: How'd this book come to be in that head of yours?
KW: It started off as something pretty small, actually. Riley Rossmo, the series artist, had asked me to do some short stories to fill in the back matter for Proof, the comic he was working on at the time. He wanted to do more horror focused narrative, so I went to work on building a small creepy town where a young woman disappears and someone's been hired to find her. As I started developing it, things started going wild and by the end of the conceptual phase, I'd built a massive mythology that begged for a much larger story.
I asked Riley if he could see himself working on it and when he seemed interested I wrote the entire first issue script. We had to wait a year because Riley was taken on board for Cowboy, Ninja, Viking not long after, but things came together nicely in a very short period of time. From the pitch development to a green light it was only a month or so.
Greg: Wow, just a month? Riley works fast. How is it like working with Riley? What is the working routine?
KW: Up until August of this year we lived in the same town, so the process was a little different. We used to meet once a week and talk about the series; plot, characters, and design. By the time I actually sat down to write the script, we'd already fleshed out a lot of the story. It made it a lot easier because I could reference our conversation in the actual script. It was definitely one of the reasons the writing and art work together so seamlessly because we'd established very clearly between us what would fit in Green Wake and what wouldn't, which allowed Riley to fill the scenery and backgrounds with little hidden nuggets of information without the need for me to clearly lay it out in the writing phase.
Now that he's moved, it's a little different. I generally write the script and send it to him for a response, then make any adjustments after we talk on Skype. Something that I routinely do is write the first 3 pages which are always our flashbacks to make sure he likes the tone and direction I'm going with it before I do the rest of it. It's worked well for us.
Greg: One common work that seems to regularly come to mind when it comes to Green Wake is David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Why and what about Twin Peaks that brings out the themes you're working with for Green Wake?
KW: It's the idea of ordinary people going about their business in a town that clearly has a very old history and bizarre mythology. The town itself is using the inhabitants as a pawn in some ancient game between good and evil, and I really love the idea. Green Wake isn't tonally the same, we don't have a lot of quirky humour in the series, but I definitely see a lot of connections to the big picture.
Greg: Who are the main players of Green Wake?
KW: Morley Mack is definitely the main character. The first arc dealt with his past and the death of his wife and while he was dealing with that grief he was also attempting to figure out who was murdering people in Green Wake. We've already established that Morley will be playing a very pivotal role in how the rest of the series pans out, especially in Issue #7 where Ishum gives him some interesting insight into the heritage of the town.
Another player that seems to be getting a lot of love is Krieger, Morley's frog man friend. Like everyone else, he has a secret past that has led him to the streets of Green Wake but he isn't ready to talk about it, not even to his closest friend. We drop a hint about his past in Issue #8 and I'm excited for people to finally see a bit more about his motivation and what makes him tick.
Greg: In the first arc you introduced us to a few civilians of this town, some only in a few pages. Issue #6 introduced us to quite a few others and so on. Do you see this expanding into more of an ensemble of characters than just a complete focus on Mack and Krieger?
KW: The main narrative will always feature Morley. He's the central figure in the series and we'll get to know Green Wake through his filter. That said, each character will get their spotlight and as evidenced in Issue #8 which comes out in December where we show a brief snippet of Krieger's past before his arrival in Green Wake. I know a lot of people have been hoping for some insight into his life, so we're finally stepping up to the plate.
We'll also be developing a few more characters like Esther, the Senator and obviously Micah as well, as he's a focus in this second arc.
Greg: How has the reception for this book been for you? It's been highly acclaimed, did this all come as a shock?
KW: Yeah, it really did. Whenever you put yourself out there in such a public way, you have to brace for the eventual feedback from completely neutral viewpoints. Truthfully, Green Wake #1 really divided the audience. People loathed it for the exact same reason people loved it. For the fans who understood and appreciated what we were doing with the story, the response has grown stronger with each issue.
I expected the series to resonate with some people, but I never expected Green Wake to receive the acclaim it has. All I know is that I'm enjoying my part of it and it's been a therapeutic experience for a lot of reasons. That people really love it is probably the most I could ever ask for.
Greg: This book is steeped in horror, from the writing, the artwork, the dark cracks. Why do you think horror works so well with this story you're attempting to tell?
KW: I believe there's something inherently scary about being completely honest with our guilt and fear. It's the strangest thing that every little experience we have actually changes who we are, from small bumps on our path to major life changing events like failed relationships or the death of a loved one. If we let it happen, it can totally change our life's compass and set us on a path of destruction or redemption. To use Green Wake as a metaphor instantly lends itself to a horror setting. The scariest things are what we can identify with, and we've all felt loss and guilt and tried to forget it or move on without actually dealing with it.
Greg: Have you always been a fan of horror?
KW: Not in the contemporary way. Whenever I hear the term horror thrown around, images of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street spring to mind. Basically, a lot of people think slasher films and I've enjoyed those for different reasons but I'm not a massive fan. There have been a few movies lately that have really scared me or left me disturbed long after the credits rolled. Rec, 28 Days Later, Martyrs, just to name a few. While there are monsters in those movies, it's more the idea that I could see myself in that situation, or I can empathize with their plight and that's what scares me.
Greg: How do you view horror comics of today overall?
KW: There seems to be a new found love for horror comics in the last few years. Steve Niles has been the unofficial champion of horror comics for much longer and I think he's done a wonderful job of keeping that genre alive in the indie world. Lots of great titles like Witch Doctor, Severed, and American Vampire have brought a more general audience to the horror table and that's a great thing.
Greg: Tell us about your new book, Peter Panzerfaust.
KW: It's a series I've been thinking about for nearly 4 years now with my co-creator, Tyler Jenkins. Tyler and I worked on a graphic novel together called Snow Angel about 3 years ago (though it only came out this Spring) and we've been wanting to put together a project for years now, but the time wasn't right for either of us. We'd put together a different pitch for ECCC this past year and it made an impression but never got picked up. We talked about what else to do and suddenly it clicked: Peter Panzerfaust.
What's it about? It's a World War 2 action adventure series about a pack of French orphans and a mysterious boy named Peter who fight the Nazi's. I'm also blending in the Peter Pan mythology, so I've been pitching it as Red Dawn meets Peter Pan.
Greg: Very interesting! Why Peter Pan? What is the intrigue?
KW: If you take a look at the whole premise, Peter Pan and the pirates have been at war with each other for a long time, but Peter and the Lost Boys treat it like a game. There's something really interesting about the idea of boys playing at being men and being totally unaware of their own mortality. Their viewpoint is disconnected from the reality that at any moment, it could be deadly. Obviously they don't delve much into that concept in the book and I feel it's worth exploring.
Greg: How did the idea of mixing Peter Pan and WW2 come about? That's not something that instantly connects when one thinks of the other.
KW: Tyler and I had been batting around some original ideas over email a few years ago. Most of them were joke concepts, and this one in particular started off as the same. He came up with this idea of a bunch of kids being pulled into the Vietnam War, and he pitched it as The Lost Boys in Apocalypse Now. We laughed at first but the idea stuck. I'd been researching World War II at the time and suddenly thought about taking the basic idea and transporting it to that era of history. I was also researching the French Resistance and everything started to blend from there.
Greg: So how do you plan to mix Hook into the plot? Is Hook Hitler's right hand... claw man?
KW: We'll get a chance to see him soon enough, but he is tied into future plots where the boys are caught up with the French Resistance. He's an SS officer charged with hunting down the resistance and eliminating them. We've redesigned his origin a little, with a specific nod to how he lost his hand. It does harken back to the crocodile, but I think people will be really pleased with how we reinvented it.
Greg: Can you tell us about Grim Leaper?
KW: I'm super excited about the series, and it should be coming out in May if all the ducks line up. Grim Leaper is a black romantic comedy, and as the tagline says, it's a love story to die for. It follows a man named Lou who's got a wicked curse: he dies in ridiculously gory ways and then is transported into a stranger's body. It's sort of like Quantum Leap meets Final Destination. In the first issue he meets a girl with the exact same curse and so they begin dating while managing their very bizarre situation.
Greg: Haha, that sounds great. But when the two die, do they know how to track each other? Are they usually separated and need to reconnect to re-kindle their love?
KW: That's part of the storyline after they first meet, and definitely part of the fun. They eventually learn how to reconnect once one (or both) of them die. Then it's sort of like speed dating from there, getting to know each other as best they can before one of them gets horrifically killed.
Greg: Where the hell did this idea stem from?
KW: I'd been watching Quantum Leap a lot at the time, a show I watched growing up and decided to revisit for nostalgia sake. It's such a great show, for the most part very excellent writing and compelling stories. It was a great concept because it allowed for a 'story of the week' format, so they could tackle any time in any place. Genius really. Anyway, I have to admit that it was inspiration, or at least the first kernel of the concept. Originally I'd fleshed out the concept as the main character going through the experiences alone and just trying to figure out what the hell was going on. As I was writing everything out I began to feel like there could be more to the hook and it hit me that he finds another Grim Leaper. Obviously it all came together from there.
Greg: Also, you've mentioned an earlier a Marvel that came out a few weeks back. It was an X-Men short.
KW: I was approached by C.B. Cebulski (talent scout for Marvel) a few weeks after the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle about doing a short holiday themed piece for their upcoming Holiday Annual. I'd actually met C.B. at the same convention in 2010 and gave him a copy of my portfolio and I later found out that he was really impressed with it and he was simply waiting for me to get a bit of experience before getting in touch. I'm pretty sure it was The Intrepids that got me the job.
Greg: In this particular X-Men script, you brought back the downtime between the mutants when they would get together and just hang out and play. Do you feel this type of narrative is missing in comics, especially team focused books?
KW: It had more to do with my own selfish motivation than any actual intention. I'd just come off writing Intrepids and was in the middle of Green Wake. If you've read the latter series, you know it's pretty dark and heavy. I was looking to do something a little more light hearted and given it was Christmas themed it was the perfect opportunity. I'm a big Wolverine fan, so when Marvel agreed to the concept, I was pretty stoked. I learned a lot about team writing from Intrepids and then writing Logan's Lost Lesson prepared me for more intense character work with Peter Panzerfaust, which by Issue #3 I'm dealing with a cast of 10 unique characters. I'm still a little concerned about that to be honest.
Greg: I'm sure you're gonna be fine! Any advice you can give creators out there trying to break in to the biz?
KW: Be professional. Treat comics like you would apply for the most important job ever. If you can treat it like a career and do everything you possibly can to approach writing or illustrating like you're willing to do whatever it takes, you've got a shot. Obviously you need some talent, and to that I advise surrounding yourself with family and peers who are honest in their criticism. If every script you write or page you draw gets accolades, there's something wrong. That honest critique will hone your craft and make you stronger.
Greg: What's one thing your fans don't know about you?
KW: I plan my beards for conventions. Three weeks prior to any convention, I completely shave my face.
Greg: That's definitely a "What the eff" tidbit, haha. And finally, what makes Kurtis Wiebe a happy man?
KW: Life. Where I am now and looking back where I've come from and seeing that people really can pull themselves out of a hopeless situation and attain the life they want. That is happiness.
Greg: Be sure to check out the many of Kurtis Wiebe's works, including his new novel Between Worlds!
Written or Contributed by: Greg DAE