Rob Levin, writer of the 5-part mini-series, Bushido -- a Samurai vs. Vampires genre smoothie filled with action, love, battle, honor, dignity, family, violence, and MORE was cool enough to give The Outhouse an interview.
You were an editor with Top Cow for a long time, but left a few years back. How is freelancing treating you?
Obviously as an editor you work primarily with freelancers so you hear some of their stories (good and bad), but I was definitely not fully prepared for what a grind it turns into. You spend as much time, if not more, chasing work as you do actually working. That said, there's also a tremendous amount of freedom, and for properly motivated and organized individuals, it's a great way to make a living. The toughest part has probably been balancing time between paying gigs and the projects I do for myself. It's hard not to feel guilty about working on something that doesn't pay (possibly ever) when you could be doing something that puts food on the table and a roof over your head.
How did the collaboration between Top Cow and Heroes & Villains Entertainment happen?
Mikhail Nayfeld, who is one of the three partners at HVE, knew Matt Hawkins at Top Cow, I believe from his agency days. Once he and his partners knew they wanted to enter the comics space, they reached out to Matt about a partnership. This was still when I was on staff at Top Cow, so I actually went to the first meeting before any details were hammered out and Mikhail pitched us on what the HVE vision was. I remember we talked a little bit about their first series, "Tracker," at that meeting, and then a few months later the lawyers got out of the way and we started making comics together. I've always had a good relationship with HVE and they've been very supportive of me as I transitioned away from editing full-time into doing more writing.
What’s the feeling like seeing Bushido in it’s final form? How long have you been chewing on this series?
I actually haven't seen a printed copy just yet, but I'm headed into Top Cow tonight to sign a metric ton of issue #1, so I'll have to get back to you. I'm pretty sure it'll be immensely gratifying because this is a series that began, in one form or another, in early 2010. That's when Heroes and Villains first told me about the project, and I was on board fairly quickly. There were some hold ups that prevented any actual work from getting underway, and then we opted for painted art so it's been a long road to get here, and hopefully fans who didn't even know they were waiting will think it was worth the wait.
Can you take us through your writing process of Bushido? Did you have an idea in mind for the whole 5 issue series, or did you work on it one step at a time?
When Heroes and Villains comes up with a concept, which is how the majority of their projects start, they really bring you a full tool box. Here's what we want to do, here are the characters, and here's a detailed version of how this story can go. But the great thing is, when they hire writers they're bringing in a collaborator, not a puppet. So as much as the story is there in their outlines and the only thing really missing is dialogue, if you want to tear down the outline, rework the plot and change the characters, they're always willing to listen. Having that freedom, not to mention getting to work with some really fun concepts (and some great guys, including the unsung hero of HVE, Robert Watts), is something pretty special.
What was it like working with Bryan Edward Hill with your previous work?
Bryan's fantastic. We met at Comic-Con International a few years back through Nelson Blake II, who I hired at Top Cow, and immediately hit it off, even if I kept wanting to call him "Joe Hill" at first, which quickly became Joe-Bryan (alcohol may or may not have been involved). I didn't know much about him as a writer, but he followed up with me and asked if it would be cool for him to pitch me something. Top Cow wasn't really looking to break any new writers (even though Bryan had written a movie for Dolph Lundgren and had sold and developed material with various studios) on regular titles, but this was during or right after the second Pilot Season when we started launching original concepts. He sent me the pitch for 7 Days From Hell, which remains one of the best pitches I've ever received, and as things came together on that we actually ended up co-writing the one-shot.
Bryan was originally involved with Bushido when HVE first talked to me about it, but when the project actually moved forward he was much deeper into the screenwriting game and just didn't have the bandwidth to devote to the book, so I decided to go it alone. Our collaboration worked so well because we both knew we could break off and write something on our own at any point, and it wouldn't feel like half of the creative weight was missing. It was fun working together, and maybe our collaborative work is better than our solo work, but chances are I was just bringing Bryan down. He remains one of my favorite writers, and I always look forward to reading whatever he comes up with, and I'm sure we'll work together on something soon. We developed quite a few concepts that are in various stages, but nothing is close to being something I can talk about just yet.
How exciting is it to have your first solo published mini-series? I’m sure it was great working with Bryan Edward Hill, but do you feel like you get to show off your writing chops, or is there still unfinished business?
It's very exciting. Some people don't understand the concept of co-writers -- they always assume one guy has the talent and the other is just riding their coattails, and that's at the editorial level, not just fans assuming this. As I mentioned before, Bryan and I never felt like we were missing anything without the other, we just liked the work we did together. But it's nice to have Bushido finally out there so people don't assume I'm riding anyone's train to comic book glory.
I did get to show off some of what I'm about, but I still have plenty of unfinished business. For one, this series had a big story to tell and only five issues within which to do it, so the next project I work on I want to continue to hone my pacing skills and try to make sure the story moves at the speed it should and we're not rushing through anything that deserves more space. The other thing is, outside of 7 Days From Hell, which was Bryan's concept to begin with, I have yet to put out any creator-owned material. Bushido is very much mine in the sense that I'm the sole writer, but again it's a collaboration with HVE based on their ideas, so it's not something I can claim total authorship of. I've wanted to work on my own concepts since I broke into comics and unfortunately getting one off the ground just hasn't come together as a completed project just yet. I always have a lot of different things percolating, so I would guess that by this time next year I will have something to talk about… but maybe not what people are expecting out of me.
I’m a print guy. I love having a tangible piece of work in my hands. But I read the digital version of this, and I have to say, it was beautiful. You can blow it up pretty big and it still looks great. I know you’re a fan of digital, be truthful; Did you do that on purpose just wave the digital flag?
It's not that I'm not a print guy -- I love printed books of all kinds, I love oversized hardcovers with the art at glorious size, I love old pulp novels -- I just don't have the space to do it for individual comics anymore, so my own collecting has gone entirely digital outside of nice collections. Not to mention that the potential audience for digital is anyone with a computer or a smart phone, which is way bigger than the… I don't even know how many comic stores there are anymore. If you're here in Los Angeles, we have tons of great shops, but even in Atlanta where I grew up, I used to drive 25-30 minutes across town to get to Great Escape Comics & Games (Hey, Paul!). I know plenty of people have much longer commutes to their shop, and some don't have any shops within a reasonable distance. Digital is so easy and convenient that you can get your fix wherever and whenever you need it. Everyone's talking about the latest issue of "Batman" and you hate spoilers -- BAM! Digital to the rescue. You can buy it and be reading within seconds. How is that not a great thing?
As much as I am a huge advocate of digital (and have yet to disagree with anything the great Mark Waid has said on the subject), I don't want print to ever go away. I want my projects to live in both formats, though I will happily (and very likely) do some digital-first or digital-only projects if it's the right fit. And while I've love to take credit for Bushido's digital rollout, I had nothing to do with it. That plan was already in motion by the time I even found out, so credit to Top Cow and HVE (and possibly Image as well, who is doing some interesting things with their DRM-free digital initiative).
The art is stunning, it feels alive in nearly every panel. How was working with Jessada?
Jessada is great, and I'm even more thrilled that he was a guy I had never heard of before we started working together. I've spent almost a decade combing the dark corners of the Internet and the hallowed halls of many conventions looking for new and established talent to collaborate with, and then sometimes someone sends you some jpegs and says, "What about this guy?" Heroes and Villains has a vision for each of their books, so they're actively involved in the artist hunt, but like everything else with them, that part is collaborative as well, and when Filip Sablik (the book's initial editor) found Jessada and the team at Studio Hive we knew we found the right man for a very dangerous mission. This is not the easiest book to draw. It has a lot of story crammed into five issues (almost more than I could fit), but I think Jessada handled it like a pro. He and the team at Studio Hive were really easy to work with, my only regret is that we didn't clone Jessada before we started to get the book out a little quicker. Beauty (and paintings) cannot be rushed, it seems.
Without giving much away, what can we expect this month in Bushido, besides him kicking (as I’m calling them:) “vampirates” ass?
That's a great pun, and you, sir, have made me jealous that I'm not the one that came up with it. I'm guessing if we had done a series called "Vampirates" I would be crazy rich right now. Can I just say, "Vampirates," drop the mic and walk away?
Samurai fighting vampires. Action. Love. Betrayal. Redemption. Carnage. Epic battles. Lost love. Betrayal. Redemption. Vampires fighting samurai. Vampirates™.
The great thing is the first issue is out now, and if you like it you can pick up the next one next Wednesday, and the next one the Wednesday after, etc., etc. Of course, if you want to get it digitally, you can do that too, and I believe the first four are available now. Five should be in stores and on sale digitally on October 30 -- just in time for Halloween.
What are some future projects for you? I know you’ve written often about your desire to break into the TV & film industry. Can you tell us anything about the pilot you’re working on?
I actually finished the pilot I think you might have seen me reference on my blog (www.roblev.in) or twitter (@roblevin), but it definitely needs another draft or two before I can really walk away from it. It's not something I can talk about yet, but I will say that it started as a superhero concept and I realized a lot of what I wanted to do just didn't work unless it was more grounded. I stripped away all the super trappings and put a magical spin on things, which led me down an interesting path. So what I first came up with is not what I sat down to write, and what I sat down to write is not entirely what the current version of the script looks like. I need to decide which direction to push it when I do my re-write. And if I go the wrong way, I'll just write it again the other way. And then eventually I can talk about it.
Anything else you’d care to plug for the future?
The only stuff I can talk about right now is some of the work I'm editing. The fantastic Mind the Gap by Jim McCann and Rodin Esquejo continues every month from Image, and today's issue #15 is a huge moment for the book. It's the end of Act I, with Act II beginning in December's #16, so definitely catch up on that. We've put a lot of mysteries to bed but there's a ton of story left to go. I also just came onboard Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari's digital series "The Bunker," which is amazeballs. If you haven't checked it out, you're missing some great, great comics. And it's all-digital, so you can actually buy it seconds after reading this interview at www.thebunkercomic.com. Issue #3 just came out and it's only getting better. Also, Joe does everything from art to lettering to design, and he is the find of 2013 if you didn't know his work before now.
Thanks again to Rob Levin, who was gracious enough to write these excellent answers. It was an honor to interview him & I'm excited to read the next issue. Go out and get Bushido from Comixology for 99 cents, or get it from Top Cow or your local Comic establishment if you like print as much as I do. It's only 5 parts, and it comes out weekly from Top Cow. I will be posting a preview every Friday & giving reviews before it comes out every Wednesday.