Kurtis J Wiebe has been ridiculously busy over the past few years. He's churned out a novel, video game concepts and 6 comic titles with a seventh, Debris, coming out at the end of next month.He took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for CBNAH.
I'm looking at the list of books you’ve written over the past 2 years – Snow Angel, The Intrepids, Green Wake, plus a novel, your Sky Pirates of Neo Terra stuff, and 3 comics on (or soon to be) the stands – I guess my question is how did you get to be so awesome?!
KW: It’s been a very nice combination of insanely hard work and bits of luck here and there that have all come together in a very short space of time. I’d been working on my craft for 5 years before I ever saw any success and had the honour of 30 rejections letters before that.
CBNAH: Seriously, though, how do you go about balancing your time between multiple books?
KW: That’s been a difficult learning experience for me. I went into 2011 with this insane idea that I wanted to have 5 comics out within a year and thought it was a manageable goal. I suppose it has been, in a way, but it’s a constant struggle to stay ahead of the game and keep up with my various collaborative partners. I’ve decided to dial down things a little for 2013, but that in no way means I’m going to stop writing.
CBNAH: I’m loving Peter Panzerfaust at the moment. I imagine it would be trickier adapting a classic like Peter Pan compared to just writing something original. How do you discern what plot points to keep and how your story should relate to JM Barrie’s?
KW: The main focus for me is to retain that sense of adventure and wonder I experienced when first introduced to his amazing world. From there I also wanted fans to connect with the characters they’ve grown to love but in a completely new and original way. That for has always been the most important aspect of Peter Panzerfaust; characters. You can have all the action in the world, throw them into insanely entertaining situations, but if you don’t care about their plight, nothing matters and interest will be lost.
That’s why issue #4 and, even more so, issue #5, focuses on the characters and what the reality of loss means to them. I’ve had a few people comment on how #4 made them tear up and I feel that’s the payoff. People really care about these poor kids stuck in a horrible place.
CBNAH: Both you and Peter Panzerfaust artist Tyler Jenkins are into World War II. How much research did you guys do in preparing for the story?
KW: Lots. I mean, we’ve both been into WWII for longer than we’ve known each other, so we already had a basic knowledge just from our own interests. When sitting down to actually get this project going, I had to do some serious digging to make sure our series was framed in historical accuracy. I’ve established a time line of events that coincide with the movements of the characters and Tyler has his brothers, who are all WWII fanatics, to keep him in line with gear and machinery of the specific time period.
CBNAH: Shifting gears for a second, you mixed horror and romance in Green Wake and in Grim Leaper, you’re doing the same thing, albeit with a very different approach. Where does the fascination of these two seemingly opposite things come from?
KW: I’m divorced.
Oh, you want more?
I think love is something that can be terrifying. I’m not saying that in a joking way. If you really look at it, when you are in a long term relationship, there’s a level of vulnerability that is present nowhere else in life. You are an open book to that partner and anything… from death to betrayal, can be a catastrophic experience because you are entirely connected to that person. It’s one of the scariest things we can experience. For me, I’ve gone through some pretty painful and hilarious things the last few years with a failed marriage and dating again in my 30’s. It’s been a very bizarre path that has led to stories like Green Wake and Grim Leaper and I enjoy writing about them because so many people can empathize with those experiences.
CBNAH: Grim Leaper and your new series, Debris, are both 4 issue minis. Is that because it’s easier to pitch and sell a mini rather than an ongoing, or are the stories you want to tell better suited to that format?
KW: It’s more scheduling than anything. Currently, with Peter Panzerfaust an ongoing, I didn’t want to tackle more than one long form story at a time and I felt with Debris and Grim Leaper they were stories that fit succinctly into a short run. Grim Leaper was actually going to be five issues but I cut it back by one because I felt that going another issue might water down the theme and impact of the story. Yes, it’s about a dude who dies in hilarious, disgusting ways, but it really is about his arc as a lonely man trying to find something in the world that gives him purpose.
That said, I have a pretty awesome idea for a follow up for the series, but we’ll just have to see.
CBNAH: You’re working with Riley Rossmo again on Debris – what can we look forward to when it comes out on July 25th?
KW: First of all, can I say how excited I am about this series? Seriously.
Riley Rossmo is one of my favourite artists and also a great friend who I’ve come to greatly admire over the last few years. To be able to work with him so closely since last year has been a dream come true, as I’d been trying to get him to draw one of my scripts since 2009.
Debris is a high action book set on future Earth where the spirits of the world have returned to exact revenge on us for the damage we’ve done. As they are spirits, they can only harm us in physical form, and to do so they take bodies from the garbage strewn across the world. It’s one part Hayao Miyazaki, one part Final Fantasy and a nice blend of Red Sonja and Shadow of the Colossus.
CBNAH: Riley is one of my favorite artists at the moment as well. Looking at preview pages, Riley’s work is very different to his stuff on Green Wake. What was your reaction when you first saw the pages?
KW: I have to make sure everyone knows that the final art you’re seeing is a smashing together of two amazing artists: Riley Rossmo and Owen Gieni. Riley is doing something very new with his art style for our project, he’s drawing lighter, cleaner lines and inks then handing it over to the stellar colour style that Owen has made a name doing.
Honestly, when I saw the preview pages, I was amazed. We’d talked about the look of the series long before we started it, we wanted to have a far departure from the dark, bleak world of Green Wake and really surprise people with a gorgeously rendered and coloured world. It was even more beautiful than I had expected.
If I could work with these two gents forever, I would.
CBNAH: You seem to work with artists that fit so perfectly with the story you’re telling – Riley, Tyler, Aluisio – Do you have much say in who you work with? Talk us through that process.
KW: Completely. I write a script, I find an artist I believe will best tell the story. I’ve been very fortunate to have friends who are very talented people and pretty much every single project I’m working is with people I consider close to me. And, interestingly enough, I met Aluisio through Riley, so there’s this community that I’ve somehow managed to become part of.
CBNAH: You seem fairly open about the fact that you’re writing is often very personal. What attracts you to writing stories that are an expression of yourself and where you are in life?
KW: There’s no other way. I can’t help but infuse my current emotional state into the stories I tell, and believe me, I’ve tried. Those stories always seem to lack heart or punch, they just sit there and do nothing for me. When I let my opinions or experiences paint the canvas of my scripts, it becomes entirely its own thing. There’s more on the line for me, personally. I have to make sure that everything is just right and it allows my characters to come to life because they are speaking about things I believe to be true.
CBNAH: You’ve talked a lot in other interviews about Green Wake’s premature cancelation. The industry is seems to be heading more towards a digital and trade paradigm, and I wonder if comics like Green Wake would be more or less successful under such a model. What are your thoughts on that shift?
KW: I still think we’re in a very interesting transition and have given it a lot of personal thought. I still don’t have any answers but I do know that single issues in print are a vital part of the equation. As indies we often suffer from a lack of readership and it’s a real battle to keep the numbers up to get that all important trade paperback, but it’s the singles that entice people to invest long term.
Some people at Image have had success with increased trade sales when releasing their series online for free a year later, but I can’t speak to that personally. I haven’t noticed a huge benefit.
CBNAH: What comics are you reading at the moment?
KW: Saga, Secret History of DB Cooper, Conan, DMZ, Batman, Animal Man and there’s a pile of local Canadian comics all sitting on a table by my bed. (Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, The Terrible Death of Finnegan Strappe by Jordyn Bochon, etc)
CBNAH: Finish the sentence: Comic book nerds are hot because…
KW: they’re people, and we’re all hot in some fucked up way or another.