Recently, Michael Colbert had the chance to pick Denis Faye’s brain about Studio 407’s Helix. This interview provides good insight into the workings of a writer, and especially how Denis goes about his craft.
This is Part One of a two part interview discussing Helix. Next week Michael sits down with Stefano Cardoselli, the artist on the Helix title to see how the artist approaches the project.
[The interview will also be the second interview for Comics Bulletin to include Cardoselli’s unedited native language responses.]
-Alex Rodrik, Features & Interviews Editor
Michael Colbert: “The curious case of Denis Faye” the abridged version. Or in other words, what got you to where you are now?
Denis Faye: Hmmm. I spent my teens as a geek who loved any work of fiction not based in reality. I spent my twenties living around the world and drinking too much because I thought I wasn’t good enough as a creative writer post-college to make a career of it. I needed some life experience. I’m spending my thirties writing the coolest stuff I can and doing my best to live the dream. And then I totally had sex with Kate Blanchett and she kept a diary about me. Is that what you’re looking for?
MC: How did you get involved with Studio 407?
DF: Alex [Leung] really liked a couple of my spec film scripts. High Midnight, my vampire western currently in development with Treasure Entertainment (I’m contractually obligated to add that last part) and Crown of Thorns, which is a crusades-era thing Alex wants me to be hush-hush about because we’re working on some super secret development stuff. Don’t tell anyone.
MC: Did Studio 407 put you together with Stefano Cardoselli or did you find him on your own?
DF: That was their connection. Cool though, huh? I’m incredibly stoked to work with a Heavy Metal/2000AD artist.
MC: How would you describe your writing process?
DF: I’ll spend a little while batting the ideas around in my head and taking my dog Bruce for long walks. Then I’ll make a super detailed outline and get as many notes as I can re: structure from publishers/editors/producers/girlfriends. I’d rather rework an outline than a finished script, so I try to get the structure pretty tight at that point.
Once I have something I like, I lock myself away until I have a first draft of a script. It always sucks, so I leave it alone for a few days, then go back and fix it. And the whole time, from start to finish, I pull out my hair, beat myself with blunt objects and tell myself I’ll never be able to finish the job. Self-loathing is a big motivator for me.
MC: Exorcists… demons trapped in a glass eye… Mcaber stones… how did the whole idea for Helix come about?
DF: A lot of that came from Alex. He had all these heroes he wanted fleshed out, so he sent me a stack of brief descriptions and asked me which one I wanted to play with. I was really sucked in by Helix — this idea of a good guy who literally has inner demons turned me on. My big contribution was to make him more tormented and really establish his relationship with his internal “friends.” I specialize in tormented protagonists.
MC: How much evolution has there been since the initial concept to the refined, finished story?
DF: Quite a bit, I suppose. I mean, how else do you write a story? I always find that once you start writing, you learn all kinds of things about the people you’re writing about that you can’t when they’re just concepts.
MC: Father Amorth comes off like a Hard-Boiled P.I. in training — the tough guy narration, his personal story arc, the moral compromise forced upon him. Was that tone always planned or did it sneak in as things developed?
DF: It just made sense. He was this rock star exorcist who got knocked off his perch, so I thought he’d be really bitter, but savvy enough to see the irony in it and from that would come that dark sense of humor. As for the tough guy part, well, I don’t think you can harbor a legion of demons in your soul without being a bad-ass.
MC: Each demon must have a distinct personality, we just got a taste in issue one, here is a three part question: (a) how many are there? (b) how do you plan to make them distinctive and, (c) juggling that in your head has to be a pain, right?
DF: I’m not 100% sure how many are in there. Because we’re dealing with the supernatural, I don’t think conventional math need apply here. I think I’ll let them evolve and come out as the story goes along. But I don’t want to spend too much time messing with them as characters because ultimately, this story isn’t about them. If we get too focused on the demonic McHale’s Navy in the priest’s soul, we’ll lose sight of Amorth’s journey.
MC: Hell is real so odds are Heaven is too. Are things within Helix setup how the church claims or can we look forward to some twists and turns?
DF: Oh yeah. Ohhhhhhh yeah. The Church pulled some nasty crap on Amorth after he absorbed those demons, he resents it and he’s not going to get over it in the near future.
MC: The set-up seems ripe for potential, a lot of mythology at your disposal, where do you plan to go with it?
DF: Well, I suppose the best way to answer this is to go into more depth on your previous question. The forces of hell are going to do everything they can to mess with Amorth because they want their boys back. At the same time, the Church wants to keep Amorth at arm’s length. He can’t really officially be a priest when his soul is so tainted, but he’s still pretty useful to them. So what’s going on here is this incredible sense of loyalty coming from hell yet this duplicity coming from the Church and our hero’s caught in the middle. It should be a cool dynamic to play with.
And, for the record, note that I say “the Church” and not “Heaven” or “God.” I have no issue with the guy with the white beard upstairs, it’s the way humanity distorts him that bugs me, so that’s what I’ll comment on in this series.
MC: What have been your largest influences when coming at this project?
DF: I could be really hoity-toity and mention William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist and talk about how I interviewed a couple priests and stuff, but instead I’m going to let it all hang out and admit that I kept thinking about what Bruce Willis would be like as an exorcist. While I love Hellblazer, Doctor Strange, Sandman and all the rest of the metaphysical superheroes, I tried t
o avoid thinking about them because I didn’t want to be compared to them too much. Except maybe Hellblazer, actually. I wanted Amorth to be the anti-John Constantine in that he’s a good person forced to do selfish things.
Beside that, I really like to do what Mike Mignola does when he unearths weird, old folklore and gives it a bubblegum twist. I’m not going to rip off Hellboy, but I’m certainly going to mine thousands of years of oddball Christian and Jewish superstition and fiddle with it.
MC: If you could have a soundtrack to Helix what would be on it?
DF: What a great question. I always have to listen to music when I’m writing. I did a lot of spooky Hans Zimmer soundtracks, like The Da Vinci Code. And Iggy Pop worked, for some reason, so I listened to The Passenger a million times.
MC: How about some teasers for what’s coming up in Helix?
DF: Well, I’ll tell you that we’ve shown it to a few very fancy Hollywood types and they’ve been pretty impressed.
MC: Parting shots, thoughts or shout outs?
DF: Write. If you have an idea, stop telling me and everyone else that you have that idea and write the bastard down. I know hundreds of fools who tell me every day about their great idea for a book or a comic or a screenplay. I know precious few who do something about it. It narrows the field, believe me.