November 27, 2013

, , ,   |  

Interview with Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride About Never Ending

Never Ending is a brand new mini-series debuting today from Dark Horse Comics. It features a heroic protagonist named Chuck (no code names for him) who has seen decades come and go, battles fought to the point that they lose their meaning.

It scares him. It bothers him.

And he intends to do something about it.

With a script that shows the hero as being just as fragile as before his transformation and looking at what it's like to be the immortal in the room as your loved ones die one by one, this series may look bright and shiny on first glace, but when you realize just what Chuck is considering--and the ramifications of doing so--it strikes a subtle serious chord that doesn't beat you over the head.

Instead it makes you think, with the first issue reveal giving the reader plenty to mull over as the series continues.

I had the great pleasure of conducting an extremely dark and serious interview with co-writers Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride about their writing style and new series. Here's what they had to say:

Panel Patter: For those unfamiliar with the two of you, talk a little bit about your creative history, either together or separately.

DJK: Adam and I are two pairs of purple tights away from being The Wonder Twins. We've both been writing since before we could grow beards but got into comics via anthologies and have been toiling away for about six years or so. Our first ongoing comic was AMELIA COLE from MonkeyBrain (single issues on ComiXology, print trades from IDW), which is still very much ongoing. NEVER ENDING is our first foray into the superhero game, and we're excited to be working on it with Robert Love and the gang from Dark Horse.

APK: Yeah we met on-line, enjoyed each other's output and then had this crazy idea of merging our collective powers into one giant laser powerful enough to destroy a moon. I spent years and years working only in prose until D.J. convinced me to try writing comics, actually. Always wanted to but until we started writing together I hadn't given it a full shot.

Panel Patter: Who are your creative influences?

APK: For me the core is always Mickey Spillane and Mark Twain. Spillane with his harsh economy of words that could fool by describing the physical and emotional content of an entire city in the space of a paragraph. He had a musical rhythm to it, as well. Twain, of course, because well - what didn't Twain bring to the table? Those two are, on various levels, at the core of everything I ever write.

DJK: In terms of comics, I grew up on a diet of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Marv Wolfman. The work of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis definitely influenced Adam and I in terms of how we work together and how we live our very lives! I also devoured Hardy Boys when it was age-appropriate, and Stephen King when it was very age-inappropriate. I was way too young when I read IT! Michael Chabon, Russel T. Davies, David Eggers, and Adam P. Knave are also some major influences.

Panel Patter: How did you come to be co-writers?

DJK: I discovered TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN MAGAZINE one afternoon at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica, CA. There was an interview with a Klingon in it that Adam did with Shannon Wheeler that just made me laugh a lot. I wanted to get on board the magazine, so I contacted the editors and started working. Adam was very friendly, welcoming the new guy and suggesting we do something together. The issue I was working on ended up being the issue, uh, AFTER the LAST issue, so it never happened, but a friendship and writing partnership with Adam was forged. We ended up working on each other's writing websites, and then when I started fiddling around in comics, I asked Adam if he wanted in on the fun, which, thankfully, he did.

APK: All right, I have to set the record straight. The Klingon interview wasn't me interviewing Shannon, but it was me interviewing a guy who spoke Klingon with the rule his answers had to be IN Klingon. So I had no idea what he said to any of my dumb questions. Just… to make that story even stranger.

DJK: It was funny, that's the main thing I'm getting at here!

Panel Patter: Describe the co-writing process. How does it work for you?

APK: I call D.J. on the phone and say "We need a comic." then hang up. I like to nap, so I do that a lot. A few days later D.J. sends me a script and I just hit delete. Then he sends it again and I hit delete again. Eventually he sends it to an artist and it gets drawn. Then I add my name at the end.

No, wait, that's totally not it. We have a five step process! Step one is the phone call where we discuss the overall story and get the central ideas and plots in shape. Step two is the issue breakdown where we start to delve into the pacing and what actions need to go in what issues. Then we trade off steps 3 and 4 every issue. But I'l let D.J. go into those - see? Teamwork!

DJK: The first part of Adam's answer is the cold, hard truth. The second part is just a P.R. stunt to make us look like good an productive humans who work well with others, including each other.

APK: …teamwork… D.J. tell the nice man the rest of our process. I need a beer.

DJK: This is starting to feel like our co-writing process now. Okay, enjoy your beer, Adam! ...Uh, anyway, yeah, steps...So, after the pacing and action pass or breakdown, one of us does a more detailed breakdown of a specific script, telling the individual issue's story and general page length of each scene and whatnot, but not getting down to actual scripting. That's the fourth step, which is up to the other one. Then said other one also does the detailed breakdown for the NEXT issue. Is that step 5?

Then the roles are reversed, and we go like that for the whole storyline, also revising and tweaking each script to the point where we're not entirely sure who wrote what, and it becomes just a script where every word really is written by BOTH of us. Is that right, Adam? Also, can I have a beer...?

Panel Patter: There are several creative pairs who often write together, like Giffen and DeMatteis, Palmiotti and Gray, Van Lente and Pak--and that's not going into artists and writers who almost always work together. Why do you think we see this, and do you think the number of co-writers will increase as time goes on?

DJK: Power in numbers. I've only successfully co-written with Adam, where as he has other collaborators, so that shows which one of us is a better team player. We also both do solo work, but in regard to our writing marriage (which is what I call it, much to Adam's chagrin), we either come up with an idea together (as with AMELIA COLE, which also included Nick Brokenshire right from the start), or one of us brings and idea to the other, as with NEVER ENDING.

It was a story I'd been kicking around for a while in my head, and I think Robert Love and I were talking about it, but the story wasn't clicking right. I loved the concept, but the tone was off. I asked Adam to help. He told me to bounce and leave him be. Then I mailed him a burrito. It was a mess by the time it got from California to New York, but he appreciated the effort and joined the team. The book that exists now is very much created by Adam, Robert, and me together.

Anyway, as for co-writing, I often joke that we're just two people doing the work of one person -- but that's just my self-deprecation. In all honestly, while co-writing does make some things easier, it also adds some work. Adam and I both have had to work harder to get some ideas through than we would've if we were just going solo, which can add to the workload in a way -- BUT it also helps us see the story differently and come up with ideas that we wouldn't solo.

A book written by Knave and Kirkbride is VERY different than a book written by either of us solo or with someone else would be. I'm not sure if we'll see an increase in it, though, because two writers have to split the same pay one writer would get. It's not sound financial thinking.

APK: Yeah I think co-writing is a fundamental concept in comics when you don't write/draw because you're already co-creating with the artist. Adding another writer makes the whole thing even more fun and playful. It also lets you learn. I learn from D.J. all the time in his writing and notes.

DJK: I learn a lot from Adam, too, I must admit. Not just in regard to writing, but also about proper beard maintenance.

Panel Patter: I learned Adam just drank my last beer. How he got it from me over e-mail, I'll never know. Moving on...

Panel Patter: Let's talk about Never Ending. This is a guy named Chuck, a mechanic turned into an immortal, and the futility of his life is wearing on him. How does an idea like that get started and turned into a full-fledged story?

DJK: Part of it came from my fear of death and then realizing I'm also terrified of living forever, either on earth or in Heaven or Asgard or wherever (no disrespect intended to anyone, just covering bases). I thought exploring that through a superhero would be cool, and, more specifically a very pure and good Superman-style hero. And then what if, after losing too many loved ones, he decided to team up with his arch-nemesis to find a permanent cure? It's essentially superhero assisted suicide, which, uh, yeah, it's very dark...yet the book really isn't somehow.

Panel Patter: Yeah, I noted that above. The fact that you didn't go for the default choice and give it a dark tone across the board couldn't have been an easy call. This is a book that makes you stop and think, which means a surface examination of it won't reveal its best qualities. That's what makes this one so good to me.

DJK: Also, we ended up looking at immortality not how your normal vampire or Doctor Who-style tale would, with living thousands of years and whatnot. Being the same age for almost ninety years might not sound like a lot on paper or in a comic book story, but outliving your life partner and child? Knowing you'll outlive your grandchildren? That's more than enough in my mind. I don't think humans were designed to live forever, and Chuck is, more than super, HUMAN.

Panel Patter: I have to ask about this--what made you dive into the "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" debate?

APK: Never Ending is grounded in such humanity it had to come up. But, I think, it was less about the old super powered baby making debate than it was something any young couple goes through with their first child - will this child be safe? Is this world safe for it  and is our situation safe for it. It's something people think about and so does Chuck, of course. Just, in this case, it is magnified, due to powers beyond most people's imagination.

DJK: Yeah, it's just a valid concern. I have concerns of any future children I may have inheriting my premature gray hair and big ears -- let alone crazy superpowers that could harm the mother! How could he not wonder these things?

Panel Patter: This issue moves about in time, with some great little touches, like the costume changes that match the artistic trends of the time. Will we be seeing more of Chuck's past in this mini-series, and are there any hints you can give Panel Patter readers about it?

APK: We will see more of his past, yes. I think we can safely say that. We're exploring his life, all of it, backwards and forwards, to untangle and reveal it layer by layer. And we're just started!

DJK: Yep! While the framework of the story is linear, we bounce around in time a lot, just following Chucks thoughts as he moves forward on his, frankly, tragic plan.

Panel Patter: I really liked Robert Love's work on this issue. He has a very Erik Larsen look about the designs and layouts, which fits because Larsen also homages different periods of comic book history. Can you talk about working with him and the role he plays in making the world of Never Ending?

DJK: Working with Robert Love is a dream come true. First of all, he's one of the nicest guys in the world, and I just like having reasons to talk with him and hang out. He's also a genuinely terrific illustrator and fine craftsman. He knows comics and can make any image look exciting and dynamic. He is, frankly, one of the best superhero artists around, so he was a no-brainer when it came time to figure out who to approach for this superhero tale. He understands panel layout and action very well, but what I also love about his work on NEVER ENDING is how he's able to use that powerful style and approach in the quieter moments. Fans of his work on NUMBER 13 and other books might be surprised by some of the subtle tweaks he's made to his style with this comic. It is modern but has a very classic feel.

APK: Robert has been indispensable to the project. He brings such vitality and humanity to every scene the emotion lands harder, as does the action. He has that classic, wonderful, ability to hit both notes strong and keep the story human while also being superhuman.

Panel Patter: There are a ton of comics out there. Why should readers pick up Never Ending?

APK: Because it's awesome? Robert Love's artwork is amazing and the story is something, at its core, I think we all struggle with. What is our purpose, when is enough actually enough, how long can you fight for and why should you in the first place? Chuck isn't someone born to be a great man, he has a life thrust on him and has to adapt and struggles with the reality of it. There isn't a world of capes and wonder around him, either. It's just… him, trying to work this out. But for all that it isn't grim and mired in grit. It's also got a big light of hope in it, because we do that a lot. The story is very personal, full of our fears and hopes. It also has a ton of big fight scenes and action fun!

DJK: It really is a very personal story for me, and then to share it and have it interpreted and adjusted and revised by working with Adam and Robert, plus our colorist Heather Breckel and letterer Frank Cvetkovic has been an interesting and rewarding experience. I can still see what was essentially a very dark idea and moment for me at the core of this book, but it's become something different. It has such fun superhero action along with a nice depiction of true love and so many shades of gray that comes from the belief that calling someone "evil" is too simple and that hope is, in the end, all we have...I'm getting emotional. Honestly, I get very emotional about this book and hope that the book generates similar feelings in readers as they're enjoying the cool superhero action.

Panel Patter: The book definitely registered with me when Chuck look at his life, so I think you hit the mark.

Panel Patter: You have a history of working with a range of publishers. What made Dark Horse a good fit for this story?

DJK: We're still pretty new at this whole comics thing, and we want to work with as many people and publishers as we can. MonkeyBrain and IDW have been terrific with AMELIA COLE, and we hope to keep working with them on that project and others. Dark Horse is one of my all-time favorite publishers, and to have a project with them is a dream come true. That came from Robert and his relationship with them. When we were talking about who to pitch to, he brought it up as a possibility, and Adam and I just started jumping up and down and screaming and asking for autographs. I think I fainted.

APK: While I like the idea of having a single publishing home, this is a freelance world and there are so many great editors and companies out there who wouldn't want to work with more of them? Comics is an industry full of smart, creative people and that's just addictive to explore.

Panel Patter: A reader picks up Never Ending and loves it. Where else can they find you, either in terms of current projects or future ones? 

DJK: Well, that reader is a reader of great taste! Adam and I have the aforementioned AMELIA COLE with artist Nick Brokenshire from MonkeyBrain on Comixology and IDW in print. He's also doing a books called ARTFUL DAGGERS there with his "other co-writer" Sean E. Williams and artist Andrew Losq, also at Monkeybrain on ComiXology and soon to be in print from IDW. As I mentioned earlier, Robert did a wonderful book with his co-writer David Walker called NUMBER 13. The trade of that is out now and highly recommended. What'd I miss, Adam?

APK: Well we both also have secret stuff in the works we can't talk about and D.J. has a book of Ninja Poetry out while I have a few prose novels laying around. More than just comics, we're full service storytellers. When do we sleep?

Panel Patter: Probably after you're done stealing my beer. Thanks to both of you for your time.

Never Ending #1 will be in comic shops today and should hit the Dark Horse digital store shortly thereafter. If you like stories where there's real emotion and deep concepts explored within the world of heroic comics, this is going to be a great fit for you. Check it out!