GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ Interview: Comic book and YA Writer Dan Jolley | I Smell Sheep

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Interview: Comic book and YA Writer Dan Jolley

Hello Dan! Welcome to the Flock. Gef is our go to comic reviewer and the only guy on the I Smell Sheep staff. He wanted to ask some very thoughtful and serious questions about comic stuff. He has no idea I am dropping in on his interview to ask my type of questions <G> Easier to ask forgiveness, right? His thought provoking questions are first…then mine, sorry ahead of time.

Gef's Review issue #1
Gef: Bloodhound saw its resurgence last year with Brass Knuckle Psychology released as a graphic novel through Dark Horse, after quite a few years since its original debut through DC. Now, we have this new five-issue series, Crowbar Medicine. I assume the working relationship with Dark Horse has been agreeable thus far?
Dan: It has indeed! It’s funny, Dark Horse was one of the first companies I sold anything to, waaaay back at the beginning of my career, right around the time the last dinosaurs were dying out. I did a few projects for them, but when both of the editors I knew there left the company, I pretty much did too. So I hadn’t worked for Dark Horse for about fifteen years. Then I got the chance to do some promotional comics to support the video game Prototype 2 (I was lead writer on that game), and the game studio approached Dark Horse, and all of a sudden I was back in the saddle with them, so to speak. That opened the door again, and I showed them Bloodhound, and they really went for it. Bloodhound is a much, much better fit at Dark Horse than it ever was at DC, and they really just let me tell whatever story I want to tell, so yeah, it’s been great.

Gef: It seems like Bloodhound is one of several series to be resuscitated in one form or another, Joss Whedon's Serenity and Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars springing immediately to mind. Was Bloodhound's resurgence prompted by some outside force that got your wheels turning, or have you been clamoring for this for some time?
Dan: I don’t know that I’d say I’d been clamoring, but I definitely had not let go of the property in my head. It took a while to get the rights back from DC, but I finally reclaimed the property outright, and I was determined not to do it any disservice if I ever took it back to comics. So when Dark Horse offered to reprint the original series, and then do a whole new mini-series--AND had the budget to hire back the original creative team--I knew the time had come. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever truly step away from Clev and Saffron. If there aren’t more comics, I’ll most likely start writing Bloodhound novels.

Gef: Despite his lack of superpowers, Clevenger seems like the LAST guy you want to mess with in this universe. Is there something particularly appealing to the idea of an "ordinary" man curbstomping superpowered foes? Sure, Batman does it, but Clevenger pulls it off minus all the nifty toys.
Dan: Definitely. The older I get, the more appealing I find telling stories about just plain ol’ people. I think about some of my favorite movies and TV shows, for instance, and I love stuff like Sling Blade and The Usual Suspects and The Wire. Not a hint of anything genre in any of those--just people faced with extraordinary (often extraordinarily bad) circumstances. I first designed Bloodhound to fit into the DC universe, and it’s really easy for an ordinary human to be a massive underdog in that world, when you’re facing people who can set your face on fire with a thought. So my goal, in creating Travis Clevenger, was to build a non-powered guy who could stand up to superhuman criminals. So Clev is big and intimidating, but the things that really set him apart are 1) he’s really smart, 2) nothing intimidates him, and 3) he takes a lot of punishment without giving up. (Practically every case he solves ends with him in the hospital.) But those are qualities anybody can have. You don’t have to be an orphaned alien with magic jewelry and billions of dollars to be intelligent and determined.
Gef: Up here in Canada, we can't help but marvel at the fetishism of firearms down south, and reading Crowbar Medicine, it's hard not to notice the gun control debate as an undercurrent with the ability to gain superpowers made available to everyday Americans. An AR-15 is one thing, but shooting fireballs out of your fists is quite another. When introducing politics like that into a comic book, are you tempted to offer your personal biases as the viewfinder or do you strive for a "fair and balanced" approach?
Dan: Well, first off, I don’t actually see much difference between an AR-15 and the ability to shoot fireballs out of your fists. Both can cause massive destruction and loss of life, and both can be horribly misused. That’s the thing that I find so profoundly disturbing about the gun situation in this country: you’re giving people the power of life and death. It might as well be the freaking avada kedavra spell from Harry Potter. You put an object in your hand, point it at someone, twitch your finger and a human being dies. Now, I know there are responsible gun owners out there. Do I, personally, think anyone should have guns outside of the military or the police? No. But I know there are people who respect them and know how to use them. My problem lies with all the bone-stupid homicidal lunatics who have the same access to that power of life and death as anyone else.
But that’s my own personal bias. Crowbar Medicine does have a point, yes, and if I’ve done my job properly, it’ll come through, but the last thing I want to do is just flatly tell someone what they should think. No one wants to be lectured to. So my goal with this mini-series is to entertain, and engage readers emotionally, and present them with a set of circumstances that, given the world it’s set in, could plausibly happen. They can draw from that whatever conclusion they want.

Gef: Bloodhound has a great look to complement the writing. How did the collaboration with Leonard Kirk, Robin Riggs, and Moose Baumann come about? Who takes the lead in that aspect of the book, you, Leonard, or one of Dark Horse's muckety-mucks?
Dan: Originally, Drew Johnson was supposed to draw Bloodhound, but before he could do more than a few character sketches he got yoinked away and given Wonder Woman. So I spent the better part of a year fleshing out the characters and the world and writing scripts all on my own, while my editor, Ivan Cohen, looked around for the perfect art team. He finally came back to me, months later, and said, “How about Leonard Kirk?” I was all for it, and I basically just trusted Ivan to fill out the rest of the team as well. So Ivan can take credit for assembling the Bloodhound artists.
The way I go about writing scripts is that I try to put in every bit of description that needs to be there, and none that doesn’t. I’m not of the Alan Moore school where, if you’ve got a scene in a library, you list all the titles on the shelf; I’ll just say something like, “They’re standing in an old-fashioned, very well-stocked library,” and let the artist interpret it from there. So once I knew Leonard had the right feel for the characters, I was basically able to just write the scripts, hand them over and watch Leonard and Robin and Moose do their magic. I have immense trust in their art and in Rob Leigh’s letters.

Gef: What other irons are in the fire for you through 2014?
Dan: Starting this month, I’ve got a six-issue Terminator mini-series coming out from Dark Horse, called “Enemy of My Enemy,” drawn by the hugely talented Jamal Igle and Ray Snyder. I’m also starting a couple of new projects at companies I haven’t worked for before, so that’s really exciting, but it also means I can’t say anything about them yet. (Typical for freelance work.)

*hands Dan a Moon Pie and some Kool-Aid. Cracks knuckles*

Sharon: Not only do you write horror comics, you also write young adult fiction and graphic novels. You have a YA series called Alex Unlimited about a young girl. Tell us a bit about the series and how you tap your inner girl?
Dan: Mmmmmm, Moon Pies…
Um. Yes! Alex Unlimited. That’s a story about an eighteen-year-old girl who works for a secret government agency, and who has the ability to summon different versions of herself from alternate realities. She can pick and choose, too, so whatever situation she’s in, she can find the version of herself best suited to handle it. Need a nuclear bomb disarmed? Alex can find a nuclear physicist with bomb squad training. Need an ancient language deciphered? She can summon an Alex who’s a brilliant linguist. The problem is that all of these alternate versions are super-smart, beautiful, tough, and talented, while Alex herself is a scrawny, thoroughly mediocre girl (at least in her own opinion). So she’s always stuck being her own sidekick.

Alex Unlimited started out as a pitch for a comic book at dear departed Tokyopop. Not only was it supposed to be a comic, but the main character was also originally a boy. Tokyopop loved the concept, but asked me if I’d be willing to change the protagonist to a girl. I said “sure.” Then they had trouble settling on an artist (Mike Norton did some character sketches, and I really wanted to work with him on it, but for some reason I don’t remember, Tokyopop didn’t go for it.) Eventually I just said, “Would you rather I just write this as prose?” They agreed, and suddenly I was a YA author.

I had no idea at the time how I was going to write a young female protagonist, but as my (now ex-) wife pointed out, apparently my inner child actually is a thirteen-year-old girl. Everything just sort of came naturally, and the books got a lot of praise from actual teenage girls who identified with Alex. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a male or female thing, I think I just wrote the character from the perspective of someone who spent a lot of time as a teenager being insecure. I do know a lot about that.

Sharon: That is an incredible premise (grabbing an alternative ‘you’) would make a great TV show for either SyFy or Disney and helpful in household chores.
Dan: Funny you should mention that! ...Wait, let me check my NDA...oh. What I meant to say was, "Thanks, I really appreciate that." *ahem*
Sharon: Be sure to keep us updated on...nothing ;)

Sharon: When switching between the adult horror comics and the action YA stories, do you need to clear your head so you don’t have Travis (Bloodhound) wanting to get a facial or Alex decapitating an annoying version of herself?
Dan: Yeah, it’s kind of a mental gear-switching thing. It happened a good bit when I was writing the video games Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and Prototype 2 at the same time. The urge to have Optimus Prime refer to Megatron as a “motherf***ing son of a b****” got pretty strong.
Sharon: That would be so hawt…I mean cool…

Sharon: OMG! You wrote the Transformers games. Everyone here knows I have an unnatural attraction to Optimus Prime. You wouldn’t be able to hook a girl up? Maybe just get me an interview…make him declare his love for me in the next game?
Dan: I don’t know about hooking you up, but I am an awfully big Optimus Prime fan myself. I had a massive fanboy moment when I went out to L.A. to help with some of the voice recording sessions for the Transformers Prime game. Peter Cullen was there, and let me tell you, that guy is basically the voice of my whole childhood. He was Venger on the Dungeons & Dragons, cartoon, he was Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, he was Commander Hawkins in Voltron (which I wrote for a while as a comic book for Devil’s Due), and there he was in the booth, recording Optimus Prime dialogue THAT I HAD WRITTEN. It was surreal. I got a photo.
*and now Sharon has a photo too! (do NOT judge me!)*

Sharon: I would have been all “say my name!” (You probably don’t get the Barron’s reference from Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series, but let’s just say I would melt into a puddle right there) I had no idea he did Eeyore…that is disturbing considering the thoughts I have about that voice…
Dan: When you said, "Say my name," I immediately went to "Breaking Bad." ;)

Sharon: What is your guilty pleasure? Listening to Miley Cyrus? Eating French fries dipped in chocolate milkshakes? Dressing like Freddie Mercury (who rocks by the way!)
Dan: Sometimes I do find myself listening to some really horrible pop songs. It has a lot to do with the rhythm, I think; when I need to come up with ideas, I like to drive around aimlessly and listen to loud, aggressive music, stuff like Disturbed and White Zombie and Avenged Sevenfold. It does something good for my brainwaves. But now and again something like Katy Perry or Ke$sha or Lady Gaga finds its way in, and I’m thinking, “Ugh, Lady Gaga, time to change the channHEY THAT’S A CATCHY SONG.”

(Also, who DOESN’T like French fries dipped in chocolate milkshakes?)

Sharon: I knew I liked you. I have a driving play list with all of the above on it. I keep a notebook in my car because all my best ideas happen when I drive.

Sharon: At Christmas time do you have to endure Holly Jolly jokes? My daughter is named Holly. She feels your pain if you have.

Dan: Oh, not just at Christmas! I mean, definitely at Christmas, yes, but it’s not limited to that--I get a lot of Jolly Green Giant (don’t know if you have that Up North -- it’s a brand of canned vegetables), and Jolly Rancher (don’t know if you have that Up North, either -- if not, it’s a kind of candy), plus near where I grew up there was a restaurant called The Jolly Ox. It was a pain in the keister when I was a kid, all the way through high school, pretty much, but as soon as I got to college it was like someone flipped a magical switch somewhere. Instead of poking fun at it, I started hearing a lot of people say, “Wow, that’s such a cool name!” So now I’m fine with it. I was at the airport not long ago, and the TSA guy looking at my ticket said, “Are you JOLLY today?” And I grinned and said, “Yes I am!”
Sharon: Gef is from Canada. I am from NC, hence the Moonpies. I have a case of double decker ones in my pantry. True story.

Sharon: Thanks for much for taking the time to talk with us. Grab a weapon from the box, we’re going to give you a tour of our dungeon. Just don’t make eye contact with Jake…our dragon…

About the Author:
I'm Dan Jolley. I write novels, comic books, children's books, video games, and the occasional screenplay.

Currently I'm working on my creator-owned comic book Bloodhound as well as a new Terminator mini-series called "Enemy of My Enemy," both at Dark Horse Comics. (You can read the first issue of BLOODHOUND for free by Clicking Here.)

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