Matt Funk talks to Kurtis J Wiebe for Bleeding Cool from ECCC;
Kurtis J. Wiebe is the author of the Image Comics series’ The Intrepids, the critically acclaimed Green Wake, the recent sell-out debut Peter Panzerfaust and the upcoming Debris. I caught up with him after his “Writers Unite! Pitching Your Own Creator-Owned Comics” panel to discuss his work.
It’s been a pretty huge year for your career. You’ve had both The Intrepids and Green Wake come out as well as your novel. How does it feel to have your career and profile in the industry move so quickly?
Wiebe: [Laughs] Well thanks! It’s been good. I’ve worked so hard, y’know, and sometimes I feel like I’m really lucky that it’s going so well for me and I haven’t had any books that have been critically torn apart. I just feel lucky that I’m at this place but at the same time I work really hard and sometimes I don’t take that credit. Sometimes I’ll have a whole day where I don’t feel like I do much and I’ll say “Oh I’m so lazy” but my girlfriend will tell me “You work all the time.” I have to remind myself that I really worked hard to get here. I’m really appreciative, but I have worked for it as well.
You recently decided because of sales to cancel Green Wake how challenging was it to make the decision to end it?
Wiebe: I try to make it very clear in interviews that it wasn’t cancelled, we made the decision to end it because it wasn’t making money, and that’s kind of the unfortunate reality of creator-owned comics. It was hard. We had a lot more story, but we had a two and a half hour long conversation on Skype about the future of the book and we just couldn’t take the risk to do another arc because Riley [Rossmo] might have been doing it for free. We couldn’t do that. So in that two and a half hour conversation we decided to wrap everything up. I t was hard at the time but you can probably tell by the nature of the book that I wrote it while I was in a pretty messed up place. So I felt good and life was pretty good, and I think that while it was tough that we didn’t get the full run, the timing was good. It was time to move on to something new.
Now in terms of actually writing that last issue—I know that personally, when I read it, it felt really natural and if I didn’t know otherwise, I would’ve assumed that’s what you had planned—
Wiebe: Oh good, well that was the goal. I mean, number nine was already done—the art and the writing for nine was completely done—when we had to make the decision. I basically had to make a tough choice. Do I just finish number ten and put it on hiatus and see if we get more fans? Which, the likelihood of us getting more fans when we weren’t putting out a book was not likely. So basically I just asked Jim [Valentino] if I could get an extra six pages—because I really needed it [Laughs]—I asked if he’d give me them and he was really gracious and he did. I was worried. I really had fifteen issues that I’d planned that I had to summarize into 28 pages. So yeah, it was scary. But I just approached it in the way that the really important parts for me were the emotional resolutions for the characters. And you know, there were some changes in issue nine, where we had Krieger, and they found him in the snow. Originally he wasn’t going to die, he was going to be seriously injured, and that was going to lead to this whole huge arc we had planned. But I just wrapped it up. But the emotional arc was there and it brought Morley to the place he needed to be and that death brought him to do what he had to do to end Green Wake. So yeah, it was difficult, but I felt there was a lot of resolution there and I was really happy with it.
What originally attracted you to working with Riley on Green Wake, and then again on Debris?
Wiebe: Oh well, his stuff on Proof. Also I’ve known Riley for about four years now and we’ve been friends, and I saw his work on Proof. He’s a nice guy, he’s approachable, really friendly and I liked him and I wanted to hang out with him. And so I’d written Green Wake about a year prior and he’d actually asked me to do an eight page fill-in for Proof in the back—just like a five page short story that would be in every issue. So he offered that to me and then I wrote Green Wake and I showed it to him and it got so much bigger and I had so many ideas and so I just said, “Look, I know you’re busy, so I’m just going to write this. If you want to illustrate it, I’m writing it for you.” It took him about a year to come around to it and we got the pitch together. It was awesome working with Riley. I’d wanted to work with him for a long time at that point, and it was exciting.
You have Debris coming up as well. Was that something that you two came up with together or was that another idea you had on your own?
Wiebe: The same conversation we had that night when we decided to end Green Wake we wanted to do something else. Riley actually sent me this image he did—it’s actually the one in the ECCC book [Monsters and Dames] for this show—it was a girl riding a dragon made of junk airplane parts and he asked me if I could come up with a story around this. I really loved it so I came up with a temporary title and wrote a paragraph about what the story would be and sent it in to Jim at Shadowline and he was like “Yeah, we’re going to do this. Let’s do this in July.” And I told him “I haven’t even written this yet! I was just seeing what you think about it!” He said “Yeah, July.” [Laughs] So it was just an image that Riley did and we’d been wanting to do something that would be a bit more accessible, because I think part of the reason Green Wake didn’t do well was because it was hard to get into. So we just wanted to do something fun, adventurous, really colorful—just an experiment. Try something different. And that’s where it all came from.
And that’s a four issue miniseries, correct?
Wiebe: Yes, that’s right, starting in July.
Most recently you had Peter Panzerfaust come out and both of the first two issues have sold out now. Have you been surprised by it, going from ending Green Wake from low sales to two sell outs?
Wiebe: It is! But to tell the truth, the pre-sales for Peter Panzerfaust were really bad, actually, and I got those numbers about a week after I decided to end Green Wake. I was really hoping that Peter Panzerfaust would be a book that sold for me unlike Intrepids which didn’t have good sales and Green Wake which didn’t have very good sales. I was getting pretty frustrated and I e-mailed Jim and just said “I’m done. I’m not doing this anymore. It’s a waste of my time.” I was getting really really frustrated. Then all of a sudden, like a week before the book came out, all this buzz happened. It was featured on IGN, it was on iFanboy, it was their pick of the week, it was all over the place, and I don’t really know how that all happened. Everyone was all of a sudden talking about it and I was really surprised. The reviews have been really good, and now I’m just really excited to see where it goes. I just need people who are reading it to tell their friends about it, because that’s really what we need in independent comics. It’s a family, if you get them reading it then you get things changing.
Do you have any particular part of the Peter Pan mythology that you’re looking forward to playing with in the future of the series?
Wiebe: [Laughs] Yeah, I’ve got a lot of really cool things. Obviously, a good one—I guess it’s a bit of a spoiler but I don’t really care—but Hook is in issue three and I’m really excited about the encounter he has in issue three. There’s a later arc where they join up with the French resistance and that’s what I’m really excited about. And we’re going to be re-inventing characters like Mr. Smee, and there are lots of parts of the mythology that we’re going to touch on that I’m excited about that I’ve told a couple of people that have said “Oh I love that, I never would have thought of that idea.” We’re not going to bang you over the head with it, they’re going to be more nuanced homages in subtle ways and you can always look forward to that. Some issues will have more Pan mythology and some issues will just be more straight up stories like number two which didn’t have a lot of Peter Pan references. Number three will have a lot, number four we’re scaling it back again. So it’s always going to be a balance of an action adventure and the Peter Pan mythology that people know.
Obviously, the majority of your work has been at Image, you’re continuing to work there and Image is even bringing in a lot of established talent now like Morrison, Brubaker and Hickman—who’s returning to the company again. What keeps you working at Image and what do you think is attracting bigger name talent to the company?
Wiebe: I think it’s two things. I think for me, it’s the ability to do whatever I want. There’s no editors telling me that I can’t. And everything we do matters. There’s no retconning. We’re not going to say “Oh, Peter dies in this issue” and then say “oh we changed our mind we’re going to bring him back.” No, everything we do in our stories is permanent. I just love the ability to have full control of my stories. I think the major players are coming back because the deal is better than anywhere else. You own your property one hundred percent, whereas I think Icon and Vertigo, they take a percentage of your property. So they get a cut of that, or they get a say in it. So Image doesn’t have anything to do with that. You have full control. So if you want to do other things like merchandising, it’s all on you and you control it. And at the end of the day, that’s what creator owned comics are about.
Thank you very much!
Wiebe: Thank you, man.