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Kickstart Comics: The Philip Eisner Interview

Kickstart Comics: The Philip Eisner Interview

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by EJ Feddes November 21, 2010



Our coverage of Kickstart Comics continues this week, as we interview Bad Guys writer Philip Eisner.  Eisner is a screenwriter by trade, with credits like Event Horizon and Mutant Chronicles, but he also really knows his comics.  Also, and this is a first in my short career as an interviewer, I think he threatens my assassination.  It’s a pretty great interview.

EJ:  Thanks for stopping by.  You’re known as a screenwriter, and this is your first comics work.  What motivated you to try out a whole new medium?

PHILIP: I collected from 1985 to about 1998.  Had to quit, cold turkey.  I was up to about $250 week, and that was before the slipcased $100 editions of Sandman came out.  I culled the chaff from my collection, but still have about 8 wooden boxes, sealed in plastic.  I have the original print runs of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen; the original appearance of The Elementals in Justice Machine.  Damn near all of Sandman, including no. 1.  A lot of the Marvel Epic imprint that Archie Goodwin edited — I loved Alien Legion, and the craziness of Moonshadow and The Bozz Chronicles.

Now I just pick up the bound hardback volumes, 3-4 times a year.  They’re expensive as hell, but it’s very expensive for me to even pass by a comic book store, much less go inside.

So I’ve always wanted to do a comic.  I just never had an idea where it made sense to do the comic first.  Most of the time, I’m writing for hire on the movies, or I’m writing ideas on spec, and I’ve never heard of a spec market for comic scripts.

EJ:  I loved the way the rat and the scorpion would show up at key points in the story – was it scripted that way, or is that something the artist added?

PHILIP:  That was me.

I wanted to do a variation on the old “Frog and Scorpion” joke — how can you trust someone, when it’s to their advantage, if not their nature, to screw you over?  Which is the situation our “heroes” are in, to a certain extent.

I also wanted a way into the “aliens” ship, and I dislike omniscient point of views.  Rat and Scorpion gave the reader a specific way in, as well as having a little story of their own, to prevent those scene of John From becoming purely expositional.

EJ:  Some of the characters in Bad Guys seemed to have elaborate backstories that we saw in glimpses.  Did you come up with more history for any of them that didn’t make it into the book?  And would you ever revisit any of the characters, either in prequel or sequel form?

PHILIP:  We didn’t get into Tina as much as I would have liked — an 80 page graphic novel must be even tighter than a feature script.  Tina’s that fast ALL THE TIME, at least as conceived.  You know that one relative you have, who talks real slow, and you just wish they’d get to the point?  For Tina, that’s the entire human race.  She’s BORED out of her mind.  I was going to play with her being a drug addict, taking massive amounts of opiates and benzodiazepams just to approach normal speed.  We just didn’t have the page count to do it.

And The Russian.  It would be a ball to play with a character who’s the truth behind the legend of the guy I won’t mention because he’ll bite my face off, but begins with “D” and rhymes with “Blackula.”  And he’s in an excellent position to come back, to face his never ending battle against ennui.

I think our three survivors are all good for more stories.  And I’d love a prequel for Melvin.

I love Melvin.

EJ:  Usually when a writer sets up a new superhero universe, you can kind of go down the cast and see who each character is “supposed to” be.  This guy’s supposed to be the Hulk, that one’s supposed to be the Joker.  But the cast of Bad Guys really are originals, as opposed to stand-ins.  Are there any comic or movie villains who really inspired you?

PHILIP:  They’re original, certainly, but fit within comic book archetypes:  Black Knight is a gadgeteer, like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne.  Melvin is a “tank,” like Colossus, or Ben Grimm, or Juggernaut; only insane.  Tina’s a speedster like The Flash.   The Geek… well, he’s got the body of Reed Richards, but not his brain.  Which makes sense, because if nothing hurts you, you don’t need to be smart.   Unlike Zen.  Zen’s the brain, like Lex Luthor, but was also inspired by Mark Salzman’s novel, The Soloist.

Femme Fatale’s a little harder to pin down.  She’s the “magic girl” like Jean Grey, but her power’s very subtle, until the big kiss…

I guess the short answer is, when you’ve been consuming comics as long as I have, there’s going to be plenty that’s familiar to readers.   The trick is spinning the characters 90 degrees.  Kinda of like John From.  We could have made the villains of the piece an alien species… but how many times have we seen that?  As Tina would say, “Bored bored bored bored bored…”

EJ:  If you were making a big budget Bad Guys movie, who would you cast?

There’s a LOW budget version?

That’s a dangerous question to ask a working screenwriter.

Any answer will piss off any actor I don’t mention.    It will also piss off any potential director, because casting is — for the most part — their responsibility, and they don’t need the writer mucking it up.

And this would piss off all the producers — Jason Netter and Samantha Olsson, and Dana Brunetti and Carter Swann.

And the next thing you know, Keyser Soze has killed me, my family, my friends, my friends’s friends, and my cat.

And you, for asking me the question in the first place.

That said, the advantage of casting Michael Clarke Duncan as Melvin is, he’s physically large enough to do the role without resorting to special effects.

Come to think of it, the same goes for casting Johnny Knoxville as The Geek.

EJ:  And now I’m frightened.  Finally, do you have anything else coming up that you’d like to tell us about, or am I unwittingly putting myself in danger again?

PHILIP:  I’ve worked in the film business too long to talk about anything that isn’t in production.  Until the director says “action,” nothing’s happening.

But there is a whole lot of nothing going on, and I look forward to talking to you about it when it becomes “something.”

EJ:  Well, we’d be happy to talk to you anytime!  Good luck with the book, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that Melvin prequel.

Bad Guys is in stores now, and it’s great.  Check it out, and go find our friends at Kickstart Comics on Facebook.