Jesse Negron: Superhero Mythology Begins a New Arc with DRAVNA comics interview article by: Richard Caldwell
Jesse Negron is a filmmaker and teacher whose DRAVN property is being unveiled in the current issue of Heavy Metal Magazine, by way of a full issue of inter-related tales of science-fantasy twisting around with history and legend, illustrated by artisans from around the world.
Richard Caldwell: Jesse, was there a specific moment in your life where you knew that the creative path was the direction you wanted to go in life?
Jesse Negron: From the very beginning it was just an intrinsic thing. It was a given. I was sketching as far back as I can remember, making music with computers (boy it was bad), anything creative. And I think there is an odd way a creative brain looks at the world and I sort of always knew I was stuck inside one. I come from a broke Puerto Rican family, as in me and my six brothers jammed into a green station wagon, so I knew I had to make a living or it was the weed eater. I went to college and studied Media Production as a means to a legitimate career and that was when I discovered film. I was hooked on story telling with pictures, sound and music.
Then, on a fluke, I got into the grad program at UCLA Film School. And that was when it really started coming together. I was learning story structure, mythology, and honing my visual chops. And at UCLA some serious talent would drop by. Even the likes of Francis Coppola showed up to teach a few classes. In addition, I got some classical piano training on the side. It was a great time. Since then, I've been obsessed with story and involved in everything from film to comics to gaming.
Caldwell: You have quite a bit of experience working in different mediums, and your imdb page suggests a very diverse range of film projects especially. Do you think technology might be leading us to a point where the concept of mediums will someday be archaic? Could there ever be a limit to the evolution of creative means?
Negron: I wish there were some method to bouncing around within different mediums. It has been a bit accidental and sometimes has really sucked. But what I've learned is that all the mediums are tied together with story. Even something as abstract as sound design when done correctly is about moving the story forward. I think of that scene in the Godfather where Michael is in the restaurant to kill Sollozzo. At the climactic moment when he is about to pull out the gun, a train comes by with a loud rumble and squealing brakes making the tension excruciating. That is full up storytelling.
So whatever I am working on, it comes down to story. That is where the convergence is and that is what is so exciting about DRAVN. DRAVN is a full universe. It is many character stories from different time periods that are related in a very strange and scary way. DRAVN is such a large and compelling myth that it can only unfold across multiple mediums. So in some way my bouncing around in the past has paid off, because now I find myself on the brink of a project that is going to blur a lot of mediums together.
As far as long term, it seems like all mediums have something in common. They are simulations. The simulation can exist on paper, celluloid or within a computer, but it is really the same thing - a controlled version of reality. So maybe one day we will literally manipulate people's reality as a means of creative expression and immersive storytelling.
Caldwell: In DRAVN you seem to have taken the idiom of alternate history and applied it to mythology. Do you consider yourself a student of history, of theological lore? And how long has the premise been building in your mind's eye?
Negron: We've had a running mantra about DRAVN, "History on crystal meth." History can be rich and full of depth, but it can also be dry. We dug deeply for those emotionally riveting moments in history and set out to recast them in an entirely fresh, controversial and even disturbing way. Great story is always disturbing. I think it is worth mentioning some of the historical research we have done because it really shows what is to come. For the AKILEZ (our Achilles) story, I read Achilles in Vietnam, a book written by a doctor who saw parallels between Achilles' behavior in the Iliad and the behavior of Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD. I read a scholarly journal about the sexual abuse Vlad and his younger brother Radu most likely suffered at the hands of the Turk-Ottomans. I read all the letters Erwin Rommel wrote to his wife. I also read the entire transcript of Joan of Arc's trial for our J'ARC story. But it takes more than just history to bring compelling story to a modern audience. It takes an injection of crystal meth, and that is where myth comes in.
I've been obsessed with myth since I started reading Joseph Campbell at UCLA and now I teach it at the university level. Myth is humanity's subconscious and within it lies our darkest secrets. This was the fuel for the DRAVN myth, which begins in prehistory with something unknown coming down to influence man. This interaction creates a "race" of people that are more than just human. They are the shapers of man. They are the authors of the turning points of history. They are essentially god-man. Even though they live in different times, they are all connected as one. They have been living among us all the time, hidden within fairy tales and holy books.
All those unbelievable stories- a greek warrior who has godlike speed on the battlefield, a bat-like creature who skulks across the rooftops of Wallachia taking blood from his prey, a tank commander whose enemies say that he must have had the ability to be two places at once- in the DRAVN universe it is all true. There is an ongoing battle beginning in the epic tales of the gods, moving into the crevasses of secret religious orders and later evolving into black military projects.
Unlike the superheroes in modern myth who usually help man (I find it highly unlikely that this is what people with super powers would do), the DRAVN conflict has caused the world to go wrong. AKILEZ is tortured by PTSD. Camelot is a police state. J'ARC refuses to burn at the stake. D-Day is lost and the Nazis occupy the United States. VLAAD wants to be a good man, but if he does not impale forty thousand people at the battle of Vaslui, there is no Reformation. At the center of the DRAVN conflict is a little girl in our time. She lives in a trailer park of a dying desert town. She has the power to reach across the ages and return the world where it should be, but this burden is brutal.
I can now see that there were seeds of DRAVN all throughout my life, but it has been in official development for about four years. We took a much different path than what is usually taken for these kinds of projects. We decided to spend the time and money to fully flesh out the universe and the story arcs before taking DRAVN public. There is nothing more frustrating than a project that begins well and has no follow up. DRAVN knows the path that it is going to take.
Caldwell: Was it daunting to find just the right artistic collaborators for such a grand premise?
Negron: I would sure have to say that in the beginning it took a very special talent to help us realize the DRAVN warriors. I knew the moment I saw the work of Keith Thompson that he was the one. He has such an attention to history but at the same time a dark, twisted craziness to his style. Those were the two forces that needed to collide for DRAVN. Our central character who ties all the ages together is Britny White and Camilla d'Errico really helped us find this character early on. It was important that Brit be vulnerable and accessible because she is our window into the DRAVN universe. It also helped that I physically built many key props, costumes, weapons, etc. as reference material. As the rest of the art started to unfold, we almost began to believe that these characters really did exist and this lead to an interesting place.
When there is a real character who reaches the level of myth, he or she is drawn differently by different generations. Look at the artwork for Santa Clause or Superman or dare I say Jesus. There are many different takes on these characters based on the sensibilities of the time the art was created. So we started to embrace the idea that different artists would have different takes on our characters and world, but at the same time maintain a cohesion with the overall universe. This would make the DRAVN warriors and universe even more mythical.
Caldwell: So what exactly is the long-term plan for DRAVN? Kevin Eastman's Heavy Metal crew are playing linebacker, but where would you like to have the goal aimed?
Negron: As you might imagine after so many years of development, we have big plans for DRAVN. But we have to earn our stripes with an audience by creating great material. Our goal is to make amazing stories with amazing characters. We aren't motivated by turning a buck and there is no corporate gorilla in the mix. What's missing in today's market is great story, and that is what DRAVN is all about. The immediate plan is to create a few more short comic stories and release them in book form. Next year we plan to release our first full DRAVN comic series.
I can tell you that the whole DRAVN saga begins with a mysterious box dug up at an archeological dig in Tunisia; and what is inside is pretty shocking and this sparks a precipitous series of events that crash into a little girl from a trailer park. We are also in discussions to unfold significant parts of the DRAVN myth within other mediums. You'll have to stay tuned to our website and Facebook to keep up with what is going to happen.
Caldwell: With so many characters and such diverse settings, is it even possible for you to have a personal favorite? What has surprised you the most in the overall evolution of the story?
Negron: Yes, that is a really hard question to answer. I can tell you which two characters I am continually drawn to, even though I don't really know why. First, there is RIKTOVN. I love the World War One era because it has such an odd blend of ancient and modern. There were horses and airplanes in the same war and pilots wore ornate uniforms in the cockpit. At a deeper level, there is the real historical character of Richthofen. I recently read an article written by one of his granddaughters which said that no one has been able to read his real story because the official memoir was altered with nationalistic propaganda and jingoism. She said his real diaries paint the picture of a man that was profoundly sad and deeply disturbed by war. His last words were, "All is Broken."
These sound like the words of someone who has given up on humanity. That has really haunted me. The other character I am drawn to is SLY (one of our villains). He is based on Napoleonic Naval Officer Pierre Charles Jean Baptiste Silvestre Villeneuve. A French guy with that many names is already a whole lot of awesome. In our story he is given mysterious technology that allows him to design and build a covert underwater squadron to attack the English fleet. Underwater warfare in the late 1700s sounds like an awful lot of fun.
As far as a surprising aspect of the overall evolution of the story, there is certainly one fact that has to be mentioned here. DRAVN did not start out as a "universe" style project. It began as the story of a little girl in a trailer park who thought she had mental problems because she could see and experience other time periods. But very quickly the stories and characters she was glimpsing became as interesting as her and thus a whole universe was born.
Caldwell: The debut of DRAVN in Heavy Metal Magazine 262 has just hit the finer shoppes. Could it be said that this is the perfect time in history for this exact tale?
Negron: Existing super hero mythology is based on fifty-year-old intellectual property. From a cultural perspective, it feels like we are at the end of that arc (Watchmen the graphic novel probably ended it). In a strange way, DRAVN is all about where we are right now - wiser, more skeptical of power wielders. We want to believe in heroes more than ever, but they terrify us. As soon as anyone starts talking about creating a formal movement for good, we get queasy. DRAVN crashes head on into the super hero myth.
There are far more sophisticated "abilities" such as being able to "broadcast" one's will or being able to see two different futures and chose one. There are far more complicated conflicts like what evil must be temporarily endured in order to bring about the printing press and whether it is a good idea to upload human consciousness to machines. To be a DRAVN is to exist in your own time, but also have awareness of the whole timeline via a connection to the other characters. It really is a terrible burden to have the ability and technology to tinker with existence. DRAVN is going to offer all the fun and energy of a super hero story, the escapism of a fully immersive world and the depth and nuance of a good novel.
For more information, check out the official DRAVN website, and follow them on facebook and twitter. And of course, scope out the Heavy Metal Magazine official website for all things beautifully gnarly.