Friday, October 9, 2009

Zuda Week Interview: Seven Questions with TONY LEE

All this week we've been looking at Zuda Comics and their smorgasbord of webcomic delights. To cap things off, then, we're happy to present an interview with pro comic writer and current Zuda contestant Tony Lee. Along with artist Stefano Martino, Tony is the power behind the supernatural war yarn Where Evils Dare, which has managed to rake in over 24,000 views in just the first four days of competition. As the writer of such comics as Doctor Who and Hope Falls, there's a ton we could have asked, but instead we decided to respect the theme and stick to our metaphorical Zuda guns.

Let's go the tape!

1. You currently have, along with artist Stefano Martino, a comic in competition at Zuda – Where Evils Dare. What can you tell us about this project and how did it come about?

Where Evils Dare is something I've had brewing about for a long time - to give you an idea how long, artist Sam Hart was looking to do a version of it back in 2005, before he took on the book that eventually became Outlaw: The Legend Of Robin Hood (out now, Candlewick Press). And after that an artist friend named Jim Boswell was going to do it, but took on a larger project as nothing seemed to be happening with this.

But then Stefano came along late last year - I'd been talking to Zuda at this point, David Gallaher had discussed the whole thing with me and suggested that Where Evils Dare might be a good fit - and I'd just done an issue of Doctor Who: The Forgotten with Stefano, thought he was a brilliant artist, and couldn't understand why he wasn't getting more work. So I spoke to him, explained what the situation was, that if we won we got the DC gig, but more importantly either way, he had a ton of exposure on his work. And so Stefano came on board. From there we just created the pages.

2. As a fan of war comics, particularly some of the more offbeat DC books from the 60’s and 70’s that often featured supernatural plot elements, this story was right in my wheelhouse. As the creator, what kind of influences prompted you to create this story and where are you hoping to take it in the future?

I've always had a fascination with Dracula - the fact that I have a book out in November that's an almost direct sequel to the book (From The Pages of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula': Harker, out November by AAM/Markosia) should show that - and War movies have always been a favourite, so putting the two together wasn't exactly an original idea, but I hope that establishing a solid link between this and Dracula is! Added to that we've added several more famous literary creations, like Frankenstein's Monster, shown in this as reanimated Nazi corpses... the list goes on. And if we won, we have a ton more along the same lines to bring in, including an Allied soldier named Jekyll...

But we've got a whole wealth of back matter to play with. We have Nosferatu, we have Golems, we have American Indian totems, we have demons, Werewolves that are dead that have been re-animated back to life, so yes - Zombie Werewolves, and a whole load of additional stuff we can tap. The thing with pulp genre is that it's there for everything you ever want. And we'll be using it all! Well, if we win...

3. One thing that stood out to me about Where Evils Dare was the pacing, which seemed to be specifically tailored to the eight page tease format that Zuda presents. How did you go about crafting your submission and how is it different from the longer form comics you’ve worked on in the past?

Most comics when they have an issue one start with the build up, explaining the characters - and I learned the hard way that this can be an issue - I wrote a series called Stalag 666 for 2000ad right before I started on this and it was a Great Escape style of story - and of course you have to guild up to the escape. I took a lot of criticisms for that, and I realised that I'd probably have done better starting with the escape and just leaping back, so when I started these eight pages, I knew I had to start with some action. But that said, I couldn't just go 'Boom! Here's a fight!' as that would just be confusing.

I knew I had to, in the first eight pages a) introduce the main baddies. (People like to see who the monsters are. And with Dracula and Von Frankenstein, we needed a page at least to introduce them. I also realised that a full page page 2 would steal space, but also give the reader a full view of the horrors the heroes faced) b) show the baddies at work - in this case a small pitched battle where we also introduce Helena, one of the three survivors - and the guide for the troop. She's bitter, injured - and a nice foil for the heroes. On that note c) we have to introduce the heroes in such a way that we know why they're here, what they're doing and how they're going to do it. Here we show the tidbits of the back story, that Captain Harker is of THAT family, etc etc, how he doesn't trust Renfield, etc etc - and then d) we need to end the story with a page that just screams 'read me! vote for me to read me more!'

I think it works, but the biggest difference between this and my usual comics is the end decider. In comics, it's an editor who decides, maybe even a publisher. But here it's thousands of readers. And each one needs to be excited enough by this to register an account and vote.

4. To follow up with another technical question, how important to you are the structure and format of the medium when crafting your stories? And how might this affect your story if you win the competition, where readers will be seeing new material in four page increments instead of traditional, longer forms?

I tried to keep the style to the same amount of beats, of panels that I would usually use. But yeah, the styling is different - having a half page wide screen isn't as 'square' as it is in a comic, it's wide yet short. This changes the angle you describe a scene. It's easier to have three panels along the top, it's not so easy to do a two by three grid. But I have to say, although I write it, Stefano takes the story and runs with it. Most of the layout design is all him. The guy's a genius.

As for how we'd continue? I'd have to check with Stefano. But I'd hate to be one of these 'page a week' comics. That would just kill me. I'd rather build a backlog and throw out four solid pages a week. But this is something I don't even have to think about until the end and, judging from my competition, maybe not even then!

5. One thing that I find is a challenge working with Zuda is trying to think in terms of a horizontal page layout instead of the vertical form comics have traditionally been printed in. Did this present you with any challenges, or was this something that your artist Stefano Martino dealt more with?

As I said above, I tried to keep my pages basic in design. allowing Stefano to 'do his thing'. He's an artist, I'm not. he knows the best way to lay out a page. If he didn't like the way something flowed, he'd look to make it better, and I'd just re-edit here and there when I did the lettering. Often it made a better comic.

6. Of course, beyond Zuda you’ve done quite a bit of work for various comics publishers like Marvel and IDW. What kind of feedback have you received regarding the idea of having established pros competing at Zuda, either from the fans or other pros?

People think I'm mad, and they don't understand why I did it. To most, Zuda is an almost ignored subject, they go 'sure, it's a DC Contract, but it's not a real DC contract' and I have to explain that no matter what they think, yes, it is. People think I'm in a lose / lose situation here. If I win, people go 'of course he did. he was a ringer'. If I lose, people go 'look at that guy. Lost to [insert name here] and he's supposed to be a name?' And yeah, they're right as I already get that a little.

I'm here because I was invited to have a play in the sandbox. I'm in the competition because I want to gain awareness for Stefano and for Zuda itself. We hit more views in three days than some previous winners did in the entire month. That's great news for Zuda, for DC and for Stefano, and more people see his work. Of course, it's great for me. And of course, I make a point of repeatedly pushing viewers to look at other strips and yes, I know I've lost votes because of that attitude - but I'm NOT going to be one of those douches who yells 'VOTE FOR ME' at everyone and badmouths my competition on public forums in an attempt to lose them votes, so it's great for the competition as they get more views and votes by default from the new people looking at their work.

If I win? Great. Because we always want to win. It's Human nature. But if I lose? Ah well. I did my best to build the brand and more people will visit Zuda every month, with luck.

But wait til the third week when I'm second and THAT close...

7. Finally, I like to close my interviews by asking every creator the following question: what’s one specific storytelling technique you use that you could share with new creators to help them hone their craft?

Letter your own comic. Even once. I know writers who put stupid amounts of words in a balloon and just expect the letterer to magically sort it. But when you letter your own page, you're that letterer. You gain a new respect to how words go on the page. You learn the flow of dialogue. And you'll learn the joys of brevity in a script!

Bookmark and Share