We here at Girls Like Comics have been very impressed with the books that Black Mask Studios have been releasing recently, from Kim & Kim, to 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, to We Can Never Go Home, and more, it has been hit after hit!
And now, adding to this ever-growing list of impressive titles, full with the immersive story and stunning artwork that we have come to expect from Black Mask, we have The Dregs!
Written by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, with art by Eric Zawadzki and colours by Dee Cunniffe!
Last week we reviewed #1, and we loved it so much we had to go back for more!
Having read #2, I caught up with the series writers Lonnie and Zac to chat about the series…
1. First of all, I have to ask, why THIS story? The story grabs you hard in the first issue, and continues the pace into #2, and as you guys have said yourselves, it gets weird. What made you guys decided “this is it, this is the tale we want to tell!” and how did it even come about?
Lonnie Nadler: Zac and I are interested in telling stories that are not only original and work to push the medium, but are strongly grounded by themes that hold weight for us personally. This allows us to get at a certain kind of truth through our fiction, regardless of how weird or absurd it may get as the narrative unfolds. It’s the idea of storytelling being made up of lies that in the end tell a truth about the human condition, and this is something we really strive for in all our work. When we were building the story for The Dregs it was about finding what we were passionate about and focusing on those elements. The Dregs is obviously inspired by our experience living in Vancouver as people who are not originally from the city. Being outsiders in this regard, we think, gives us a unique perspective. I think people in the city are faced with the huge issues of homelessness and affordable housing on a daily basis but often ignore it, and we wanted to a hold a lens up to those things to really explore them. It also happened to work out that the themes we were exploring allowed us to dive into the history of crime fiction, and as such we were able to simultaneously write a love letter to the genre, which was a big plus for me. It’s a strange mix, I suppose, but that’s exactly why it works and why we love writing it.
Zac Thompson: The Dregs has always been an exploration of mythology. From how we mythologize the homeless to how we mythologize fiction. We wanted to deconstruct both of those things by using the social issue of gentrification as a backdrop to pull at the threads of noir fiction. I know it’s a strange approach but when you look at the downtown eastside of Vancouver it’s clear there is a community of people there that take care of one another. We felt the need to explore that community because honestly affordability in this city is bonkers. So it felt palpable to talk about themes of gentrification and change by using the people who it affects the most. From there we became entrenched in the idea of grounding this story in the reality of the homeless of Vancouver. It does get weirder, sure, but that’s because we really wanted to take apart our preconceptions of noir fiction and the homeless.
2. How do you guys handle the writing responsibilities? Having two writers on a series isn’t massively uncommon, but it’s an interesting way to tackle a story, and no writing team seems to do it the same way as another, how do you two make it work? And how do you think it enhances and benefits the story itself?
ZT: I suppose we do it the Coen brothers way. We quite literally sit in a room together with a shared Google doc and type together. We spend a lot of time discussing the scene that we’re in and we share a lot of influence before even a single word hits the page. But it’s a fluid conversation where things are discussed, picked apart, criticized, enhanced, and committed to the page. It’s as if you’re writing with an editor in the room beside you. We make every effort to question one another and find a happy medium with every line of description and dialogue. There’s not a single page in the book that wasn’t written by both of us.
LN: It’s also about creating a safe space where neither party is afraid to throw an idea out, no matter how shitty it might sound, because we understand there’s no judgement coming from the other person. You never know when a shitty thought might spark something great in the other person’s mind. At the end of the day we both have the same goal of telling the best possible story and that’s what we focus on. I certainly don’t advise writing in teams though. It can be very trying if you’re not one-hundred percent comfortable with the other person and receiving criticism. I think Zac and I are seriously fortunate to have found one another, to have similar influences and a similar work ethic.
3. This book ticks all the boxes for an impressive series, and generally these kind of books are the result of a very in-sync and fluid creative team. One of my favourite aspects of this series is how the story, artwork and the colours flow together so perfectly, the tone of the story is conveyed very clearly in every aspect of the creative process. How closely does the full team work together? And what makes them the best creative team for this title?
LN: Thank you for saying that, it really does mean a lot to us to know that our work connects with people. We made it pretty clear from the beginning that we wanted this to be a fully collaborative experience for everyone involved, and that meant that while Zac and I are ultimately the ones that construct the narrative and set the tone, Eric and Dee are able to come in and add to our blueprints. It takes an entire team to build the tower, to continue the metaphor. Zac and I have a very clear tone in mind and we try our hardest to offer detailed descriptions that not only communicate to Eric and Dee what is seen in the panel, but the overall mood of a scene. We write rather long panel descriptions that almost read like prose because we feel that if we’re able to invoke a certain mood for Eric, it helps him to visualize and translate our words into visual atmosphere.
We work really closely with Eric. We have so many email threads going on about different aspects of the book, and it allows us to be on the same page, which we hope translates into a cohesive experience for the reader. Eric works really closely with Dee on colors and everything he turns in is incredible. For our first published book, I don’t think Zac and I could have asked for a better artistic team.
ZT: Lonnie’s right, we’re totally indebted to Eric and Dee. Honestly we’re just trying our best to write a very moody script that invokes the noir themes but those guys really take it to the next level. Eric has been incredibly in tune with our storytelling goals from the beginning of the series. There are plenty of times where he takes our script and elevates things by making his own decisions that completely enhance what’s going on in the scene. There’s a particular moment in issue #2 where he took a scene and layered it with a subtle reference to one of our favorite inspirations. It’s the type of thing that makes you feel totally inspired to do better work. We’ve all been pushing ourselves to treat this like our one and only opportunity to make a comic book. There’s no holding back.
4. What made you feel that comics was the right medium for this story? What could comics provide for this particular tale that the likes of a novel or tv show couldn’t?
ZT: This sort of relates to what I was just saying. We decided early on that we’re not interested in making comics that could easily translate to TV or film. Instead we focused heavily on making this the type of story that really works best as a comic. We accomplished this by taking inventive approaches to page layouts and story structure. The Dregs is a comic book love letter to fiction and film noir. While it could be translated to another medium there are certain things that happen toward the end of the series that clearly declares “this is not a fucking movie.” It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how people react to the latter chapters, that’s when it really becomes clear that comics were the only suitable medium to tell this story.
LN: As I said before, we like pushing the boundaries of the medium. There’s so many people in the industry who are just writing comics because they couldn’t get their film or TV projects off the ground so they translate it into a comic book, but I think that’s pretty detrimental to the medium. In my opinion, every story demands to be told in a certain medium, or should at the very least be influenced by the medium. “The medium is the message,” and all that stuff. While we’d love to see this adapted to film or TV, it would have to be re-worked, as Zac said. It’s definitely possible, but it would be a completely different experience from the reading the comic, and we’re proud of that.
5. Comic book playlists are becoming very popular, is there any particular band or music that you listen to while you’re writing The Dregs, or that you think would suit the ‘soundtrack’ of the book?
LN: More often than not Zac and I are writing in coffee shops (typical hipsters, I know), so the soundtrack is mostly bad pop tracks, people talking about exams, and the unrelenting din of the coffee grinder. It’s more conducive for creativity than you might think. But when we do write at one of our homes we’re both big fans of film and video game soundtracks and some of the ones we went back to again and again were LA Noire and Red Dead Redemption. We also listened to the new Nick Cave album, Skeleton Tree, a couple times.
ZT: On top of that some late nights were spent listening to some noir like music to inspire mood. Some classic jazz like Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis along with some jazzy noir. The dark and weirdly experimental tones worked really well to inspire the series. I’m also pretty sure I threw on the soundtrack to Diablo II more than a few times.
6. A common thing I have heard is that it’s much easier for an artist to break into the comics industry than it is for a writer, do you feel that this is true? There is no one set way into comics, but what advice would you give to aspiring writers out there who want to break in?
ZT: Keep showing up and keep making comics. We’re only really here today because we refused to go away. We went to cons and we were always working on something. It’s important to finish the work you start but it’s most important to just make comics yourself. Don’t wait to be given permission by a publisher because honestly no one’s going to pay you to do something unless you can prove that you’ll do it without being asked or being paid. Tell the stories you want to read and the door will open.
LN: To expand on what Zac is saying, some of the best advice I ever got about breaking into creative industries was, “Nobody breaks in. You cut a key for yourself and you open locked doors.” I think that rings especially true for comics. “Breaking in” whether you’re an artist or a writer is difficult, neither route is easy. You have to be disciplined and willing to do the work on a regular basis. You have to do it yourself and you always have to be creating. If you don’t feel the need to write or draw every day, then consider doing something else. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth as far as I’m concerned.
Also – and this is probably just as important as writing – read. Read everything, not just comics. Go out of your way to read things other than comics. Seek out literary classics, philosophy, history, biographies, and whatever else you can consume. That’s the best way to learn about life and storytelling.
7. Now, the cliched interview question of the century, what would be your dream gig to take on in comics, and why?
LN: It’s funny, Zac and I were talking about this the other day and really debating it, but it’s not like our phones are ringing off the hook right now. For me personally, I’m interested in telling unique stories that are my (our) own and trying to push the medium to new places, and working in creator-owned comics allows you to do just that. It’s a freeing space without many constraints and that’s what I love about it. I’m not saying that I’d turn down any for-hire gig that came my way, but it would have to be the right project. It would have to be for a character that I truly believe I could tell a good story with, a character whose world I understand and have an affinity for. With that in mind, my ideal gig would be writing some of DC’s darker characters. I’d kill to write a Swamp Thing or Deadman book.
ZT: Yeah, to echo that for a moment. I’m incredibly interested in telling stories that evoke a love for the weirder things that inspire me. Most of these things are not directly from comics. The creator owned space is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced because there are really no limits to what you can accomplish. Eventually I’d like to tackle a strange body-horror take on Animal Man for DC. That character has always been close to my heart and I’d really love to channel my love for David Cronenberg and throw it all into DC’s dark universe but we’ll see.
8. And finally, because we are all so hyped for the release of #2 this Wednesday, what can you tease for the rest of the series? How weird can we expect it to go?
ZT: Cities grow and change. They are indifferent to our humanity and they’ll swallow you whole.
LN: Follow the symbols, see the shapes, but don’t mistake them for purpose. It all comes together where the lines meet…
Tara is a punk that aesthetically sways toward the goth side a bit too often to not mention it.
Currently working in comics publishing for Titan Comics.
Formerly working in comics retail in Big Bang Comics in Dublin.comments powered by Disqus