Nerdlocker.com

Nerdlocker Exclusive: R.I.P.D. City of the Damned Artist/Writer Interview

The era of comic books turned films is still very much in full swing and one that has recently been brought to my attention is the upcoming R.I.P.D. starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds. R.I.P.D. stands for the Rest In Peace Department. The R.I.P.D. are a kind of undead police force acting on God’s orders to maintain law and order in the afterlife. Apparently the undead don’t always follow the laws on the “other side” either. The film is based on Peter Lenkov’s comic series of the same name that was released in the early 2000’s. The story is such a great idea and I can’t wait to see director Robert Schwentke’s (Red, The Time Traveler’s Wife) take on it when it comes out in July 2013. I mean, Red was freakin’ awesome! Gimme more!

But I’m not here to write about the film. I’m here to tell you about Dark Horse Comic’s new R.I.P.D. comic series written by Jeremy Barlow with artist Tony Parker. Dark Horse sent us six sample pages from the new series that is due out Wednesday, November 28th, and they have super peaked my interest. It’s called R.I.P.D. City of the Damned. Nerdlocker recently chatted with the writer and artist of the much anticipated series and here’s what they have to say about it.

NERDLOCKER (NL):  How exactly is the story in RIPD: City of the Damned related to the original Peter Lenkov series? Is it a sequel? Prequel? Do the uninitiated need to go back and read the original series? Or is this more of a reboot type situation?

JEREMY BARLOW (JB): City of the Damned is a prequel, though no prior knowledge is needed. We’re creating it to both stand on its own and to inform the film’s events when taken together. They exist in the same world, but are a century apart.

The story opens and closes with a modern day bookend sequence featuring Nick Walker and Roy Pulsipher, the characters in the movie, then the bulk of it takes place 100 years prior and shows how Roy came to join the Rest in Peace Department, how the horrific events of his first case helped to shape him, and how that connects to what’s happening now. It’s set in an anachronistic old west and follows Roy and his Puritan partner, Crispin Mather, as they chase a clockwork city not found on any map. I always try to write the comics I want to read but can’t because they don’t exist. So I have to make them.

Cover for original RIPD, 2003

That said, everyone should read Peter’s and artist Lucas Maragnon’s first series because it’s great. Scary, but also full of heart and a lot of fun.

NL: Did you have a different take on any of the characters than was originally conceived?

JB: No, it was important that I honor Peter’s vision and stay true to the world he established. So the characters stay true to who they are — while I get to dig deeper into Roy and show what makes him tick. We have a full cast of new characters surrounding Roy in the R.I.P.D. and beyond.

NL: How long have you been in the comic industry and what are some of your previous titles our Nerdlocker audience should check out?

TONY PARKER (TP): I’ve been working in comics for a few years now. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a great title and something I’m very proud of. As far as I’m aware it’s the only time that a full novel has been translated word for word in to graphic novel form. I also did a two part western story in Savage Sword. Dead Man’s Run, from Aspen Comics, is also a great series. The series is almost done and there are some amazing page in there. Greg Pak’s writing is intense and doesn’t let you get a break. It’s done in production with Gale Ann Hurd and Valhalla Entertainment (of The Walking Dead TV series).

JB: I’ve been writing comics full time for a little over four years now. Before that I was an associate editor at Dark Horse Comics. I started writing fill-in Star Wars scripts under a pseudonym to help maintain the schedule. I was learning the craft as I went, and it was a lot of falling down in public, but Lucasfilm and Dark Horse liked what I was doing enough to keep asking for more. Eventually freelance overtook my day job and I made the leap.

Along with Star Wars I’ve written a range of licensed books – Mass Effect, Metalocalypse, KULT. I’ve been involved with Archaia Entertainment’s Hawken project, which rolls out in early 2013 and looks amazing. 

NL: For those unfamiliar with R.I.P.D. what other work might you point them to that would be in a similar vein, either in story or style?

TP: Hellboy and it’s family of books from Dark Horse, or Haunted City from Aspen. High concept supernatural fun.

NL: What attracted you to working on R.I.P.D?

JB: It hit all the right buttons. It’s not only an opportunity to collaborate with Tony (Savage Sword) and Patrick Thorpe (editor) again, but I also got a lot of creative leeway in building the world and moving the characters around. RIPD creator and original series writer Peter Lenkov gave us a really fun, really diverse sandbox in which to play, and we’ve been allowed to go nuts in it. So I’ve been able to indulge in all the things I love — sinister and absurd characters traveling through wholly unique worlds, grappling with big themes and fighting monsters.

TP: So much attracted me to it. I had a great time working with the writer Jeremy Barlow in the Savage Sword two part story, and jumped at the chance to work with him again. After that, it is a veritable laundry list: action, adventure, high concept, supernatural, comedy, an incredibly fun property, and over the top intensity.

NL: What inspired the design of the interior of the R.I.P.D. HQ?

TP: I started with the idea that this structure is thousands of years old, and wildly diverse. My understructure was the Roman Colosseum exterior. It has a strong structure that has stood the test of time and has an epic feel. From there I just started cobbling on other cultures and advancing the timeline. Japanese temples, Mayan tombs, the column of Marcus Aurelius, Chinese lanterns, French Victorian iron bridges, modern electrical wiring, western wanted posters, and anything else that came to mind. It’s one of those locations that I could spend a week doing a double page spread of, just adding and modifying structures and doing unique police partnering.

NL: Your portfolio seems to have a dark edge to it, with a very noir kind of feel in many instances. Is that where you pull a lot of inspiration from? What would you say informs your style the most?

TP: I do love me my noir films and comics. I also love heavily spotted blacks and tonal artwork. I was artistically trained with heavy emphasis on charcoal tonal works, so I love being able to using a full tonal spectrum. I love Wally Wood, Jim Steranko and Will Eisner for their draftsmanship and storytelling, and have a lot of their reprints and black and white work. Currently, I love JH Williams III, Lee Bermejo, JG Jones, and the fine art work of Richard Friend.  They all just make it look so easy.  It’s quite frustrating.

NL: How much of R.I.P.D’s style was left up to you and how much was dictated by the previous comic and upcoming movie?

TP: I tried to create the designs as a bridge between the original series and the upcoming movie. I also loosened up the panel layout in order to keep it more in line with the original comic series. Beyond that, Jeremy just threw crazy descriptions in the script, and let me go crazy from there. They’ve been great about letting me play around, but I’m always incredibly respectful of the source material. I just want to try to make the visuals as good as the story.

NL: How much collaboration occurred with Jeremy on R.I.P.D. in order to create each page? For instance, was there much input from him about the content of each scene or were you free to come up with the majority of the visual material yourself?

TP: I worked with Jeremy on a two part story about the Sonora Kid in the Savage Sword anthology, and had a great time.  Jeremy’s great about telling me what needs to be there, but allowing enough freedom to play with it as well. I also try to earn the trust of both him, and my Dark Horse editors. That way, they are more comfortable giving more play and freedom on the script. I only try to add to the script, not change it in any thematic way. I only try to work on the visual storytelling, bringing what I can to the table and trying to keep up with the great scripts.

NL: Was City of the Damned conceived after the script for the film was written? Were there certain parameters you had to follow in order for it to remain consistent with the story in the film?

JB: We started our series after the film’s production was well underway, which gave us the advantage of knowing what was coming. Since we’re set a hundred years prior, we have a lot of room to maneuver, but we’re very conscious about staying in the lane and not contradicting anything. Again, Peter’s been involved at every step, and if anything needed clarifying, he was right there.

NL: Did you have the actors in mind when writing the dialogue for the comic, thinking of how you’ve seen them talk in previous films they’ve been in? I suppose I am referring most specifically to Jeff Bridges.

JB: Yes, and that was nice. You always try to create characters with unique voices and perspective, and when it works you can hear them in your head — you know exactly how they’d react to any situation you put them in. Knowing Jeff Bridges’ and Ryan Reynolds’ voices, their diction and cadences, is a golden. I’m a huge fan of both of those guys, and I stay as true to them as possible.

NL: Did you find that once you started writing the story that it started going in an unexpected direction that made you change your original plans for it?

JB: Actually, it was more a case of the story growing beyond my page count. I can’t start scripting until I know the story’s ending — my road trip needs a map — so I create fairly detailed outlines built around theme or emotional beats or whatever argument I want to make. Once that’s down I revise it as I go and as the story pulls in its own direction, to make sure I’m still aiming at the right target. Some leeway is essential; you want everything to feel organic and have space to breathe. Comics are different from other mediums in that you’re dealing with physical space — only so many panels can fit on a page, and there are only so many pages per issue — so you have to use that real estate wisely.

NL: As a writer what would you say your primary influences are?

JB: Patrick McGoohan stands at my creative epicenter. At age fourteen I accidentally encountered a middle-of-the-night rerun of The Prisoner and it changed my brain. It was so different and challenging, absurd and smart; I’d never seen anything like it, and I’ve been trying to catch up to it ever since. I’m a very different kind of writer than McGoohan, but in terms of striving to create meaningful works that can operate on different levels my goals are the same.

My favorite authors all follow that pattern of intelligent and emotionally honest genre writing — Richard Matheson, Alejandro Jodorowski, Naoki Urasawa, Brad Bird, Stephen King, Rod Serling, the Wachowskis, Joe Hill, Osamu Tezuka … I’m not near the talent of any of those people, but they light the way.

NL: Of all the work you’ve done in the past, which do you feel is most representative of your style? That you are most proud of?

JB: “They’ll Bury You Where You Stand!” — a short story my friend Dustin Weaver and I created for the Image Comics’ second Outlaw Territory anthology. It’s a ten-page tribute to a lot of those references I mentioned above, in the form of a (surprise) anachronistic western/horror story. So far, that’s been truest representation of who I am and what I want to do.

Beyond that, City of the Damned comes closest.

Otherwise, I’m never satisfied with my writing. I start every new project striving to make it better than the last, to be the best work I’ve ever done, and I finish feeling like it’s fallen short of what I wanted. That drives me to keep improving, though. You have to keep chopping away at it — you only fail when you give up.

NL: What was the most challenging thing about RIPD for you?

JB: Getting it in on time!

TP: Time. With how amazing and dynamic the scripts are it’s hard for me to continue on to the next page. I just want to add payer upon layer. The time is also a factor, as I’m penciling, inking, and washing a monthly. Thankfully I’m having the time of my life doing it.

NL: What are your top three favorite comics?

JB: Doc Frankenstein by The Wachowskis and Steve Skroce, GrimJack by John Ostrander and Tim Truman (and others), Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

TP: Watchmen, Planetary, and Promethea.  They all just scream out what great things can be done with the medium.

NL: What are your top three favorite genre films?

JB:  The Fall, directed by Tarsem Singh,  The Matrix, directed by the Wachowskis, The Iron Giant, directed by Brad Bird

TP: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Avengers, and Lord of the Rings:Return of the King. And just for good measure, my top three classic films are Seven Samurai, Citizen Kane and Pulp Fiction.

Nerdlocker would like to thank Tony, Jeremy and Dark Horse and we are all super excited to read  R.I.P.D. City of the Damned when it’s released in a few days. In the meantime, check out the sample pages below and make your own judgements.

RIPD sample page 1

RIPD sample page 2

RIPD sample page 3

RIPD sample page 4

RIPD sample page 5

RIPD sample page 6

I grew up on Kung Fu theater movie weekends, a lot of Top Ramen Noodles, G.I. Joe's, Evil Knivels Stunt Cycle and Stretch Armstrong. My Movie reviews and Artist Interviews have been a regular around Nerdlocker.com. Follow me on Twitter @arainbolt. or email me aaron@nerdlocker.com