Kurtis Wiebe: Kicking Nazi Ass with Peter PanzerfaustA comics interview article by: Felicity Gustafson
Kicking Nazi ass and taking names. That's what Peter Panzerfaust does best. Kurtis Wiebe recently took a step back from his busy schedule to give Comics Bulletin an inside look at his upcoming new series, which blends the classic fairy tale legend with action-packed historical drama (you can read our review of the first issue here). Just how do you mix Peter Pan mythology with a 1940s war story? Wiebe explains the challenges it presents, his inspirations and what makes Peter Panzerfaust stick out from the rest.
Felicity Gustafson: What interested you in doing Peter Panzerfaust? Is there anything in particular you relate to?
Kurtis Wiebe: I've been itching to do something fun and adventurous since early 2011, and while Intrepids was a series that had both in spades, it was still a little heavy on the underlying theme of identity and loss.
I wanted a huge departure from that, and -- because Tyler and I had talked about this series for almost three years at that point -- we decided it was the perfect time to put it together.
As far as relating to it, I've always loved Peter Pan, it is the epitome of the classic fairy tale. High adventure, magic, fun; the story has grown with me and it's never lost that sense of wonder. To be able to play in that sandbox is really exciting.
Gustafson: What aspects of the story do you like the most?
Wiebe: The adventure. I am really excited for the issues to come out because it's a much more straight forward story and the hooks for each one are going to be nail-biters as opposed to mysteries. Don't get me wrong, I do love writing a mystery or twist cliffhanger, but Peter Panzerfaust is a totally different game.
I'm enjoying writing the characters and, while I'm doing my very best to make them believable, relatable people, I'm also taking care to focus on some really intense action sequences where I throw them into some pretty precarious situations.
Gustafson: What exactly is "Panzerfaust?" What are the origins of the word? How did you come up with it? I'll admit to having extreme curiosity on the subject.
Wiebe: The title for the series is obviously a play on words with Peter Pan, which is right in the title, but given the World War II setting, we had to do a little bit more. The Panzerfaust was a German anti-tank weapon, [and the name] meant armor fist or tank fist. There is a plot around the weapon as well, one that perhaps eventually coins the nickname for Peter as Peter Panzerfaust.
Gustafson: Is Peter a fun character to write or do you prefer writing one of the kids? What makes them stand out?
Wiebe: I love writing Peter, but it's a tough line I'm straddling. In the [Peter Pan] book and film, he's not only brave and daring, but he's a bit of a cocky bastard. I wanted to make this version my own and I felt that in order for people to really root for him, he had to be a bit brash but also less absorbed with himself and more aware of the world around him.
Especially given that this takes place in World War II, Peter is going to be a leader and it's his natural charisma that, despite some of his more insane decisions, inspire people to follow him. I've had to do a number of rewrites on Peter's dialog, as it's very easy to slip into a cocky braggart mindset when writing a character like him.
I also love writing Felix (Slightly) at the moment. You'll see very soon in the series that this kid is COLD and that he shows no remorse for a lot of his rather cruel actions. There is a reason of course, one that will come out over the span of the series.
Gustafson: Peter Panzerfaust is set in the 1940s. Is that a time period you're interested in? Have you wanted to write a war story like this for a while, or is this a recent development?
Wiebe: I'm a huge WWII nut. I've also been a fan of history growing up, but that era of time has always held special interest for me. I've written a few short stories set in the 1940's, but I have always wanted to do a comic as well. I think it can be difficult to translate to a comic because a lot of the themes or morality lessons on war in general have been fully explored in previous films or books. There's a lot of content out there.
That's why I wanted to do this blend of fantasy and reality, so I can infuse my love of history with my love of fairy tales.
Gustafson: As an author, what's the hardest aspect of writing Peter Panzerfaust? Is it challenging in any way?
Wiebe: Right now the biggest thing I'm concerned with is being careful not to use too much Peter Pan and stay within the boundaries of homage. We are using the characters and a few of the events, but the plot is entirely its own thing. People coming to this series will be getting a brand new story, totally fresh, but with small hints of a story they may be familiar with.
I want to keep it subtle enough that readers are rewarded for their knowledge of Peter Pan, but I'm very committed to making sure they also enjoy this story on its own merit.
Gustafson: Since you're writing a multitude of different characters for this series, is there something you do to get into the mindset of each character before you start writing?
Wiebe: I've written a character arc for each personality in the story. I had to -- there are going to be so many characters, that I realized early on there had to be some sort of guide to keep everything on track. Every piece of dialogue a character speaks should somehow be connected to that outline I've written so that I never lose their voice or motivation. That is going to be key in making this series work.
Gustafson: You've worked with artist Tyler Jenkins before, correct? Were you excited at the idea of starting a new project with him again? How did he join the Panzerfaust crew?
Wiebe: Tyler and I are good friends and we've been waiting for years to do this, but the time was never right. He was either swamped with freelance work or I simply didn't have enough time between the day job I used to have and writing Green Wake and Intrepids. When I quit the day job to focus on writing full time and Intrepids had come to an end, I saw a hole in early 2012 that I wanted filled with a project.
Tyler and I talked and knew that it was the time to finally do this series.
Gustafson: I've heard that Peter Panzerfaust can best be described as a cross between Peter Pan and Red Dawn. What inspired a crossover like that? Does it take after one more than the other?
Wiebe: Red Dawn is a film about communists invading America. On the surface, it's nothing like Peter Panzerfaust, but it's more [from] the story behind it that I can draw a few connections. For those who haven't seen it, it follows a group of teenagers who flee into the mountains and wage a guerilla war against the communist occupiers.
It's a cheesy movie, but it spoke volumes to me as a young boy. Obviously, the connection is that Peter and the Lost Boys end up with the French Resistance in Paris and join in the fight to send the Nazis packing.
Gustafson: What are your plans for Peter Panzerfaust? Can you give us any hints in the direction you plan to take the story? Are you planning for a long series or a miniseries?
Wiebe: Honestly, I have at least 30 issues planned, but as you can see with the recent news about Green Wake ending 15 issues early, it only happens if people buy it and the money allows us to continue. I have a HUGE story prepared -- one that will have a massive payoff when the final arc begins -- that I am desperately hoping this series takes off.
The first arc is all about their escape from their home city of Calais when it's taken over by the Germans. They get caught up in endlessly dangerous situations and, by the end of the arc, are hopefully safely on their way.
From there, the story will really open up with all the characters you know from Peter Pan and the giant mythology I'm creating will begin to take shape. I can promise readers that the first arc is only a small taste and that if they get the word out, support us and help us keep the sales on course, they will be rewarded for sticking it out. It's going to be epic.
Gustafson: Peter has a duality of character that you don't see often. He has a strong confidence matched only by his fun-loving, boyish charm. He's actually what got me hooked on the series. In your words, what does Peter Panzerfaust as a series bring to the table that separates it from the rest of the comics out there? What are you hoping for readers to get out of it?
Wiebe: This is a feel-good adventure story about the everlasting bonds of friendship. It's about how we band together in times of crisis and bring out the best in each other to rise above our circumstances. It's different because we're confident and proud of being, above all else, an old school adventure story without the need for gory violence or racy language. It's like being a kid again, curled up with your family watching Indiana Jones.
Except, this time around, with Peter Pan kicking Nazi ass.
Peter Panzerfaust comes out February 15, so keep an eye out! You can read Felicity's advance review of the first issue here.
For more information, check out http://www.facebook.com/PeterPanzerfaust.