We just talked to Kurtis Wiebe in January, but our chat with him and his artistic collaborator Tyler Jenkins at February’s Image Comics Expo was so fun and interesting that we had to talk to him again. I think you’ll really enjoy this interview, which covers children’s hospitals, Apocalypse Now, World War II and shitty sales for great comics.
Kurtis Wiebe: Riley Rossmo and I loved working together, and there was no doubt that we were going to do something else when Green Wake ended. We lived in the same town for a good majority of Green Wake. He moved away we were finishing up like maybe issue six, while we were moving onto the next arc.
So we got together every week, and we were friends as well so we’d hang out, and we’d party together and stuff. I mean, it was a real natural friendship as well as a collaborative process. We knew we wanted to do something else. It was funny because it was this new project, Debris. That night we talked about it.
Riley had this old image that he would use for the Emerald City Comicon, as part of their Dames and Monsters book, and basically this character- same kind of design – sitting on top of this dragon made out of garbage, and inside its mouth it had like a big jet turbine, and its body was made of airplane casing. It was really cool, so I said to Riley, “You think we can do something like this?” “Yeah I think.”
So I wrote up a paragraph. I said that “this is kinda what I think we need to do with the story”, and I just temporarily titled it Debris because I couldn’t think of anything else. I emailed it to Jim Valentino that night, I told him this was something worth doing, and he wrote me back saying “Yup, this is coming out in July.” and I was like “No, I haven’t written it yet, I just wanted to see if you’re interested.” And he was like “Yup! July’s good!” I haven’t even started writing this yet. I’m still trying to catch up with Panzerfaust, and my new one in May, Grim Leaper. So anyways, it’s busy but it’s fun.
Kyle Garret for Comics Bulletin: It’s awesome. Honestly Green Wake is like nothing else on the stands right now.
Wiebe: And that’s why it didn’t sell. It was one of those things where the first issue came out, and we did sell out. The first issue sold out, but the problem was that it’s a really weird book. So if you’re into a psychedelic, emotional roller coaster, and you’re into that kind of stuff; you’re into the mysteries and that slow burn: those people loved it.
CB: Actually before Felicity stole them off of me, I reviewed like the first one of the two issueson the site, and that was one of the things. I was like “I really do not know everything that is going on right now.” But I am happy about that fact, because I love comics where you really don’t understand what’s going on here, but I know enough to know and like the characters, and I’m willing to let that go so I can learn more about what goes on.
Wiebe: That’s the thing, not everyone felt that way. Everyone was like “this is so weird and bizarre. I don’t care.” It divided the crowd. Peter Panzerfaust was built to sell out, but it seems like it’s a lot easier. People can imagine what’s coming out, and that brings people back for more.
CB: A number of people that I have seen said “I can’t wait for this one to come out, I’m going to buy this book.” and I’m like “I know you didn’t buy Green Wake.”
Wiebe: Peter is an easier sell. People still ask me what Green Wake is, and I don’t have a pitch. Take a deep breath, and here we go. But Peter Panzerfaust is Peter Pan meets World War II. And there are people that haven’t even heard of it before that just bought it. Just because they love the idea, it’s an easy sell. It’s an elevator pitch. Word of mouth is so important. If you guys like the book, you’ll want to tell your friends.
“Oh, well what’s Green Wake about?” “Well… do you like this? Oh you haven’t seen that.” In one word if you could tell them what it is, it’s exciting. People will get on board, right? So that was the plot behind making it very clear for what Peter Panzerfaust is about and for this other one, Debris. You know, it’s basically Red Sonja fighting Transformers. People can envision that, and go “Oh okay, I can see what that’s about.” I’ve learned a lot about marketing myself, that’s for sure.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: But that means you can’t create anything that’s complicated or unique?
Wiebe: Well you can.
Tyler Jenkins: Not until you become Grant Morrison. Then you can do whatever you want.
Wiebe: I’m many, many, many years away from that. So yeah that’s kind of what I’ve been learning about, and I think that’s also why my marketing for Peter Panzerfaust has worked. Because I’ve learned so much from the frustrations of trying to market Green Wake.
CB: Yeah, because that’s what Jim Valentino told me about Peter Panzerfaust. Two sentences, “It’s there, I get the idea. Oh, that’s pretty cool, I can visualize that.”
Wiebe: Exactly. It’s great. Jim’s real excited about the book, and we when got our pre-order numbers, and they were actually not that good. I was like “Oh here we go. It’s another bomb.” But all the word of mouth came out the week before it came out, or the week it came out. It seemed like everyone was talking about it. It was really exciting.
CB: When Green Wake came out, for whatever reason Image released a bunch of color book at the same time. There was Green Wake, Blue Estate, and The Red Wing. All of them came out in the same one or two weeks.
Wiebe: And I hadn’t heard of any of those projects either, so I was like “Ah yeah, I’ve got a unique name- No.”
CB: I think we went out and bought all of the color books at the same time. “Yeah I want the red, blue, and green books. Of all the color books I love the green one the best.”
Wiebe: Yeah, it was pretty funny. I totally remember how everyone was making a joke about that. Rich Johnston on Bleeding Cool may have pointed that out. He took a good shot at us for doing that. It wasn’t planned.
CB: Peter Panzerfaust. He’s Faust and he’s possessed by the devil basically? It’s a book with an elevator pitch for a change.
Wiebe: Yes, we were talking about that a little earlier. Yes it’s something that you can say in one sentence, and people immediately know what it is. Peter Pan retold in World War II. Pretty straightforward.
CB: But the book is not pretty straightforward, it’s got a unique twist of mystery to it.
Wiebe >: There’s a bit of mystery to it, but it’s still a bit of an action/adventure book. There are quite a few layers to the story, and actually what I realized when someone was talking to me was that I forget that there’s the interviews in the book, which aren’t just interviews. They have a story that revolving in that as well, and then there’s the main story. It kind of just seems like a narrative tool that’s just like “Let’s have a flashback.” But there’s actually a purpose to that, and the interviewer himself is important.
Jenkins: That itself is a story.
Wiebe: Anyway, yes! Elevator pitch. It has one.
CB: When I think of Peter Pan I think of the Island of the Lost Boys, and a man trying to recapture his lost youth by running off with the Indians. Is there the same kind of thing here? When you think of pirates, they’re a little less threatening than World War II…
Wiebe: What we’re doing with the story is we’re basically taking the mythology and we’re doing it a subtle way. Would that be the word?
Jenkins: Yeah, the mythology is coming in real subtle. It’s allowing us to springboard for all this really cool stuff.
Wiebe: Peter Panzerfaust is its own story. If you come at it without reading Peter Pan, or don’t know much about it, you can still read it. It has its own story.
Jenkins: It’ll still have its icons. The characters will still be the same icons. You can expect the same important messages that they did. They, themselves are icons. You don’t need all the Peter Pan history to know what these characters mean, and where they stand.
Wiebe: We’re taking mythology and making it fairly subtle. We’re not copying the Peter Pan story. We’re taking some scenes, we’re taking the characters. Re-imagining them, but we’re still telling our own original story.
Jenkins: It’s really an homage to most of those scenes. It’s not really those scenes per se.
CB: So it’s not Fables done with Peter Pan and World War II?
Wiebe: It is its own thing. Right.
Karyn Pinter for Comics Bulletin: Peter Pan is still, I think, owned by the Children’s Hospital of London. Did you guys ask them before creating this series?
Wiebe: We didn’t ask. Don’t quote me on that!
CB: Bill Willingham said he could not use Peter Pan because he couldn’t get permission to use it.
Wiebe: I don’t think it was the permission. I think he could. I just think he made a choice not to do it. It’s completely open in North America. The rights for it are completely open. It’s been that way for about ten years now.
CB: It’s definitely not a public domain character.
Wiebe: Peter Pan? He’s definitely public domain.
CB: Is it now? Maybe the 100 years is up.
Wiebe: Yeah, it is. Yeah, trust me, I looked it up because I knew there would be legal ramification to it. So yeah, he is in public domain. In the UK it’s a bit different in that the Children’s Hospital gets proceeds from films and stuff. I mean, if it comes up, I’m sure we’ll work it out. But we’re not going to be taking millions of dollars from children.
We’ve got our butts covered. We’re good.
CB: So how did you guys approach creating the story? You said you took the original stories as a starting point. How did you see the story around that? Was it based on ideas that you’ve had for a while, and built it up?
Wiebe: Yeah. Tyler came up with the basics four years ago, almost, and it was an email conversation that we had. We were just trying to come up with some ideas. You can tell this part of it.
Jenkins: I had watched Apocalypse Now and I thought it was do druggy – all fucked up, that movie I thought it could be interpreted as magical. So we thought why don’t we stick the Lost Boys in that? When I told Kurtis he thought it was retarded. I agree because I don’t think most of the pieces of the story would not fit in. Some would have a completely different message. Like, in this one it could be a fight against depression, and he can be a brave and heroic character that is an icon that is larger than life. Whereas Vietnam, I think that would be impossible to pull that off, on top of selling it to an American audience as Canadians depicting the Vietnam War. That would be a little awkward.
Wiebe: He sent me that idea and I wrote him back saying “No.” But then I was researching a lot of World War II, at the time, and I’ve always been a World War II nut. So’s Tyler. And I was reading about Nancy Wake.
Jenkins: I just so happened to be in a Vietnam kick that week.
Wiebe: Yeah, you did. So I was reading Nancy Wake, the White Mouse. She was part of the French Resistance. I was reading about that and basically I felt it would adapt well to the Peter Pan story.
From there I really just started studying the area really in detail, and taking pieces of history that I can blend in. I could re imagine this character in this way, and tie it in to this event that happened in history. It just all came from there. And it’s basically been developing all that time.
Tyler and I are friends, so we’ve been hanging out for the last three years. Every time we’d get together, we’d bring it up every once in a while, trading ideas It’s been in development for four years now.
CB: This is totally close to you guys’ hearts. It must be nice to finally see this thing in print.
Wiebe: It’s weird. I mean, it great because we’ve talked about doing another book before we did a graphic novel with Arcana called Snow Angel. So we have done work before. We’ve done paid work together, but this is the one that we own. It seems like something we’d want to do; we just have never seemed to have the right time, the right story, and the right idea. And we just weren’t ready artistically, and as far as being a writer- to be able to tell this story, we weren’t ready until now. It is very rewarding to see it coming together.
CB: So what liberties have you taken with the characters, instead of just translating directly Peter Pan to World War II? Captain Hook here is a Nazi.
Wiebe: The change there with him is very dramatic. I think that Peter is a little more subtle, but it’s more his attitude. I always thought that in the original story, he was a bit of a spoiled brat. He was kind of selfish. He as obviously created as a rebellion against oppressive society, which is appropriate for him to be selfish.
But here we’re trying to create him as an icon against depression, and terrible evil forces. So we can make him that pure boyhood adventure, exciting character that we would want to follow. The guy that everyone would have liked Peter to be, but couldn’t have been in the Victorian age. Whereas this is pure adventure. This pure, exciting guy that loves life, and loves all that shit.
9;s a subtle change, which I think is what will make him so endearing and lovable. I hope. I make no promises!
As far of the story, the mythology is fairly subtle. We’re using all of the characters. Every single one from the original story of the book is going to be in the series. If we get the full run that we want, we have 30 issues in mind. And if we get that then everyone will be making an appearance. The Indian braves, Tiger Lily, Smee, Hook – all of them will be adapted into the environment of the story I’m trying to tell.
CB: I read some of it. Peter was looking for a woman, but it wasn’t Wendy. Who was it?
Wiebe: In the story he says he’s looking for a woman named Belle. So people are assuming it’s Tinkerbell – like that’s how we’re adapting it, and he is looking for a girl named Belle but who she is, that’s going to be one of the mysteries. There’s going to be a few small mysteries that are going to be stretched out throughout the entire series, so that’s going to be one that we’ll slowly reveal. The woman that he’s been looking for: is it a girlfriend, is it a lost love, is it a parent, who is it to him? We’ll reveal that throughout the story.
She may be Tinkerbell. But if she is, it’s an adaptation of it. She’s not going to be a little woman flying around. Hopefully.
Wiebe: Definitely. We will say yes. There will definitely be a crocodile.
It kinda tick tocks. It makes a tick tocky-sound. We’re not giving them any answers, I know. It’s part of the fun, people imagining how we’re going to reinvent it. That’s part of the excitement for people to come back for more. We’re going to keep doing that.
Issue three is where we drop some major, major events. We introduce some new characters. We take a scene from the book that’s iconic, and I think people are going to be really happy with it. He’s illustrating the scenes right now. It’s so awesome. I’m so excited to see it really done.
CB: So you’ve got at least three books that are really different from each other. You’re one of those writers who’s not pigeonholed in one area or another. Is that something that’s important to you, to discover your different sides of your imagination?
Wiebe: Well I think the people who can do one genre really well, I’m jealous of that. I wish I could do one genre really, really strongly. My books are usually influenced by the things that are going on with my life.
Green Wake obviously was not a good time. But with Peter Panzerfaust, things are really happy now, and I want to write fun, actiony, adventures stories. My writing is totally influenced by my life. So you can kind of see where my life’s at from the stories that I’m writing. It’s a little window into my messed up life. I like doing all kinds of really different stories, and I really like to challenge myself and try things that are maybe a bit scary for me. My next book is a comedy, and that scares me because I don’t think I’m that funny.
Jenkins: I don’t either.
Wiebe: He’s my biggest critic.
It’s a comedy series, so that’s going to be a stretch. It’s really difficult to write funny things, and I really want to try it. Really challenge myself to see if I can do it. Always trying something new, and that’s fun. Keeps me on my toes, you know.
CB: You guys had a book out through Arcana, this weekend is Image Comics, the triumph of individual creativity over corporate dictated product. What does Image mean to you?
Wiebe: It’s my career. I’ve got the biggest start with these guys with Intrepids, and they gave me the freedom to do exactly what I wanted. They never said “No you can’t do that with your story, no your character wouldn’t do that.” Nope. They’re my characters, and I can do whatever I want with them. At the same time we couldn’t do Peter Panzerfaust with Marvel.
Jenkins: It just gives you a little space to kick some ass.
Wiebe: And we do what we want with these characters. The danger is always present, because the consequences are always permanent. There’s no five years later “Nooooo that bullet didn’t kill him!”
Jenkins: When we kill folks, they’re toast.
Wiebe: The danger is there. Image in general has given me so many opportunities, and they’re completely supportive, and Jim Valentino, who does Shadowline, is the man.
Jenkins: He’s there for us.
Wiebe: He is the man. I love Jim dearly. He’s given me so many opportunities, and he’s really behind my career, and I feel completely supported by him. It’s awesome, they’re great. I have nothing bad to say about them.
CB: Jim has a rule. He likes a five-page pitch that grabs people. What do you think it was for any of these books that grabbed people?
Wiebe: For Peter Panzerfaust, I believe it was this one single image of Peter standing in the rubble and the line of “He loved a grand entrance. That was Peter’s way.” That sold it. As soon as I saw it from Tyler, I knew it was it. I sent it to Jim, and him and our editor said back right away, “Yes. We love this.” And that’s it. I always think to me that’ll be the most iconic image of the entire series. It’s the best. I love it. You can never get any better than that, Tyler. There’s some good stuff coming out, but this is definitely the image I love.