Today is a day during which we traditionally find out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, and that’s all well and good. But in 2012, there’s going to be another day which celebrates the difference between the naughty and the nice in a very different way. Avatar Press has designated March 12, 2012 as C-Day: that day will mark the premiere of Crossed: Badlands #1 by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows in comic shops worldwide, along with in-store promotions and C-Day Survival Kits for retailers, devised to celebrate this very special day in a style befitting the Crossed.
The first arc of the Crossed: Badlands biweekly, ongoing series reunites Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows on the title they started in 2008 in the immediate aftermath of a viral contagion spread over the face of the Earth, turning much of the populace into sadistically evil psychopaths. How are they going to top that for the C-Day debut of Crossed: Badlands? Ennis and Burrows seem to have a few ideas…
Keith Davidsen: How do you feel about your return to sequential storytelling in the CROSSED universe you created together with Garth Ennis?
Jacen Burrows: Since I finished my work on the first series, the CROSSED world has been pretty active with David Lapham coming on board to write the two series which immediately followed, and now Simon Spurrier doing the CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE webcomic. Watching that world stretch and get further defined has been a lot of fun. I’ve done covers on all of them, keeping a toe in that pond.
That being said, I definitely missed telling the stories of the Crossed. You can only do so much with a cover. The real strength of the Crossed stories is capturing that dread and fear that comes with living in that world and the spirit of survival that somehow keeps people moving forward. I’m pretty excited to be exploring that darkness again. I think there is a lot of rich material to mine that real horror fans are dying to see.
You’ve contributed cover artwork to every single CROSSED release, from the original series through FAMILY VALUES and PSYCHOPATH (and even the CROSSED 3D original graphic novel). How does it feel to be responsible for more scenes of terror from throughout that universe than any other creator?
I like doing the covers. The world of CROSSED is ripe with opportunities to satirize or parody the absurdities of the real world, as well as chances to be genuinely unsettling and horrific. You can be shocking, you can be subtle and atmospheric. No matter how many cover assignments I get with CROSSED, I keep coming up with ideas because of how versatile the concept is.
As you can tell with both CROSSED and NEONOMICON, I have been heavily influenced by classic horror comics. EC Comics and even classic DC Comics did amazing work in the genre, and I’m always trying to capture a bit of that vintage horror cover spirit with the apocalyptic edge of the Crossed. I see what we’re doing as kind of a spiritual continuation of the Golden Age of horror comics.
Have you found the design of individual Crossed characters to be challenging or liberating?
Garth defined the key characters pretty well, including the main Crossed characters, but there were always extra characters that I could see having an opportunity for repeat usage – and that gave me the idea to try to expand on them a bit. I didn’t just want to fill the background with generic Crossed. I figured if I gave readers enough interesting detail, it would be like a reward for looking deeper, for the more attentive folks.
With the members of Horsecock’s gang, for instance, I made up a little back story to give them unique visual cues, weapons or specific wounds to hint at their back stories. Then each one eventually got their own cover. I don’t know that readers even notice this kind of thing, but I spend so much time with these stories that it helps me stay interested and usually delivers more interesting-looking pages. I’ve always felt that it is beneficial to make every character you draw, even minor background characters, as visually different and interesting as you can. There is so much variety in life to reflect.
You were fresh off your work on Alan Moore’s NEONOMICON when you were called back to the CROSSED universe with BADLANDS. How do you approach the art chores on a Garth Ennis title, as opposed to an Alan Moore title?
Aside from the genre, there is very little that’s similar about these projects. The settings, the tone, the style of the writing and pacing, the structure of the scripts… everything is different. NEONOMICON had a rigid horizontal panel grid and very specific stage directions (to borrow the term). The rigidity of the project was a big challenge, but it was used for a reason that fit in with the themes of the plot.
CROSSED: BADLANDS is far looser. The layouts are open to me except in specific instances, so I get to play a lot more with camera angles and composition. I’m not doing anything particularly wild, since it wouldn’t really fit the tone of the story, but it is nice getting to stretch my legs and run a bit after the intense nature of NEONOMICON’s production.
Let’s talk about the first story arc in BADLANDS. Who is the protagonist of the piece, and how do you define him in your art?
Ian is an “everyman” from Glasgow. I believe that he runs a bookshop when the outbreak destroys the world. We’ll get a bit of the initial outbreak in flashbacks, but most of this story takes place a few years later as Ian and a group of survivors make their way down from the Scottish Highlands to range for supplies. I’ve tried to design him with a face that contains a subtle emotional pain, coupled with a clear strength that’s gotten him through some harrowing times. He’s not an action hero-type. He’s the kind of guy who’s clever enough to know when to get the hell out of Dodge.
In CROSSED, you’re called upon to illustrate some very disturbing scenes of violence, some so extreme that they can unsettle even the most stalwart of readers. How do you handle the grisly and grotesque artistic needs of this bleak universe?
From the beginning, it has been important for us to handle the violence of the CROSSED world fearlessly. The horror genre has been through a lot as it has gotten more and more popular in the mainstream. There are countless examples of movies, television shows, books, and comics that have taken the basic concepts, and then homogenized and sanitized them in an effort to reach the widest possible audience. Horror has been abused and defanged by charlatans out for a quick buck, those who make one dimensional, generic, formulaic product.
We wanted to do real horror that pushed the envelope so we could explore the extreme limits of the human condition. It isn’t about the violence so much as showing the stakes the characters are facing, and it is our willingness to go to that edge that makes the world so affecting. I get just as much satisfaction as an artist getting a brutal, macabre scene right as I do an awesome action shot. The goal is always to affect a reader in the writer’s intended fashion and those violent moments do that. As long as I’ve done my writer proud, I sleep well at night.
Avatar Press announces the launch of a new, ongoing CROSSED comic book series on March 14, 2012, with a bi-weekly release schedule and its first story arc reuniting the creative team of superstar writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, The Punisher) and original series artist Jacen Burrows (NEONOMICON). Concurrent story arcs will be spearheaded by well-established comic book writers such as Jamie Delano (Hellblazer) and David Lapham (Stray Bullets). The worldwide release of CROSSED: BADLANDS will be marked by a special “C-Day” in-store event for comic shop retailers.
To promote the launch of CROSSED: BADLANDS, Avatar Press is working with Diamond Comic Distributors and retailers in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to celebrate “C-Day,” an in-store event meant to expand readership and drive sales for comic shops. C-Day Survival Kits will be available to retailers, containing promotional goods including posters, counter displays, temporary tattoos, buttons, posters, masks, and rare Bonus Edition comics. As a tool for retailers, Avatar Press will simultaneously release the CROSSED: GET INFECTED C-DAY EDITION comic book, a special reissue of the first-ever CROSSED story that serves as a perfect introduction to the entire series.