2011: The Year in Horror—”GREEN WAKE” creators talk Volume One

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Orginally published at Fangoria.com on Dec. 28th, 2011

A visually spellbinding and riveting tale of loss and horror, the trade paperback of GREEN WAKE VOL. 1, is currently in stores. FANGORIA spoke with author Kurtis J. Wiebe (THE INTREPIDS) and artist Riley Rossmo (PROOF) about how the premise of GREEN WAKE was conceived, the importance of colors in the narrative, and the mystery behind the first story arc’s ending.

In the forgotten town of Green Wake, detective Morley Mack is on the search for a vicious seductress, who may or may not be behind a string of grisly murders.

FANGORIA: How did you start in the comic book industry?

KURTIS J. WIEBE: My first publication was with Red 5 Comics (Atomic Robo Fame) called BEAUTIFUL CREATURES in 2009, a supernatural action series. It wasn’t particularly successful, despite some really strong reviews. The entire team was relatively unknown, which can definitely have an effect on sales. I’d been pursuing publication for about a year prior to that, with a handful of pitches that are still sitting on my hard drive.

RILEY ROSSMO: In 2006, I did my first graphic novel, SEVEN SONS, for Ait/Planet Lar. In retrospect, it was kind of crazy. Alex Grecian and I did 120 pages on spec. I was working full time, and doing a lot of commercial work for ad agencies, and magazines. That led into Alex and I doing PROOF at Image Comics, which is what I consider my real start in comics.

FANG: How did you become involved with GREEN WAKE?

WIEBE: Riley and I have been friends since about 2009, shortly after BEAUTIFUL CREATURES came out actually. We met through a mutual friend at a pub, where Riley was celebrating the first issue of PROOF’s release. We chatted awhile and stayed in touch since then.

ROSSMO: Kurtis and I had discussed doing a backup in PROOF at one point. I did a couple paintings for it, but nothing really came out of it. A year or so later I needed another project to experiment in and we came back to GREEN WAKE, revamped the story and visuals, and pitched the project.

FANG: How did you come up with the premise?

WIEBE: GREEN WAKE originally started as a backup in PROOF. It was meant to be a series of short stories that Riley would draw as a sort of exercise, and allow for me to have my work in the more public forum, but after a few weeks of brainstorming, it became much bigger.

We decided to try for something a little grander in scale, take GREEN WAKE into a full series, but he was overextended for the following year working on both PROOF and COWBOY NINJA VIKING. Once both of those projects started to wind down, Riley was looking for a new project and decided to give my first issue script for GREEN WAKE a go. With a few covers and the first five pages from issue #1, we pitched and it was picked up a few days later by Jim Valentino at Image/Shadowline.

FANG: After illustrating such comics as COWBOY NINJA VIKING and PROOF, how did you approach illustrating GREEN WAKE and its premise?

ROSSMO: I needed to make comics that were really purely emotional reactions to the script. GREEN WAKE is all the sadness, passion and anger I experienced and poured out onto the page. PROOF was a traditional comic experience, from script, pencils, ink, colors, and lettering. I didn’t have much input on the script for COWBOY NINJA VIKING. I just handled the visuals. GREEN WAKE is more of me in terms of story and visual expression. Since I do so much of the art than anything else I’ve worked on, I think in terms of the finished page while I work on it, instead of just penciling or inking.

FANG: The forgotten town of Green Wake can be seen as Hell, Purgatory, or an entire imaginary world created from Morley Mack’s troubled mind. Tell me about how you both developed the town of Green Wake.

WIEBE: Originally, the aforementioned short story version was about a town centered on a cult that had kidnapped a young woman. The story would’ve followed a man hired to track down the woman and rescue her. All the while, he was encountering some really weird situations at the hands of the cult.

Honestly, I’m not sure how that transformed into what GREEN WAKE is now, but the weirdness is what made the cut. We wanted the town to be as much a character in the series as the people who lived there, and even if all the characters found resolution, there would be this lingering question of what the hell Green Wake was. We talked for hours about the town, establishing the rules; why it’s there, how people get there, and for what reason.

Since we worked so closely together on the development of the series, it was easy to collaborate on meshing the art and the writing, because we both intrinsically knew what worked and what didn’t.

ROSSMO: We discussed a visual vocabulary at length and I did a bunch of paintings. We watched a number of films (CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, NAKED LUNCH, and DARK CITY), but the biggest single influence in Green Wake’s creation was TWIN PEAKS, and some personal struggles we were experiencing/discussing at the time of inception. Marshall Arisman’s paintings inspired the look of the art, as well as Bill Sienkiewicz’s STRAY TOASTERS.

FANG: Since the first issue, Ariel is seen as the prime suspect of a brutal crime. She always seems to be lost. Is she a victim? Or is she a vicious killer hiding behind her long red hair? Because readers can look at her two different ways, how did you want to present her in the narrative?

WIEBE: Ariel was meant to be a wild card. I wanted her to be scary because of her brutal unpredictability. But as the story unfolded, I wanted to usher in a real sense of sympathy. That obviously hits home in issue #4, because it turns her arc on its head, and suddenly she isn’t fully to blame for what’s happened.

Ariel was also one of the only people in the first arc to carve her own path. She didn’t hide away; she violently sought a way out of the town, when everyone else stewed in their apathy. She stood out because of her determination to change her fate.

ROSSMO: I wanted her to be a symbol of passion. Ariel’s hair is a symbol of madness and violence. To me, Ariel is a victim because her emotional levees have burst and she acts out.

FANG: As a whole, the narrative centers on time displacement. Brown represents the past, purple stands for unreality, and green symbolizes the present. When these colors mixed in issue #3, the tone could stand for another metaphor. How did you and artist Riley Rossmo collaborate on the uses of color in the nonlinear storytelling?

WIEBE: It was something we decided on very early into the development of the series. It ties directly into what I was saying before about the rules and realities of Green Wake, and we wanted to be able to use the comic medium specifically to get certain points across with the art. I made the call on the use of sepia/brown for the past, but Riley really made all the color choices for everything else, although I would indicate a need for an emotional shift in the scene.

ROSSMO: Kurtis and I made the color decisions pretty early on. We had started the book with a colorist. We lost him after the first 5 pages, so I decided to take the coloring on myself. After I restarted the first 5 pages, we discussed color as a storytelling device and the palettes just grew out of that. The color decisions developed fairly organically.

FANG: In the climax of issue #4, in an unsettling sequence, a monster touches the face of Ariel’s ex-lover. Suddenly, Carl’s face is covered with blinking eyes. Then the eyeballs are popping themselves, like pimples, spewing blood into the air. How much was from the script or from the artist’s perspective?

WIEBE: I wrote it in the script about the eyes coming out of his flesh, but all the gory details were from Riley’s depraved mind. That scene in particular is a perfect example of the level of collaboration we were able to achieve in this series.

Issue #5 also had a disgusting transformation sequence in the early pages, and the script was written in the way it was illustrated. However, Riley took it in an entirely different direction than I’d imagined. He made it organic and grotesque, whereas I imagined it more of a spiritual blending. What came out on the page was a melding of both, and it’s one of the strongest sequences of the series.

ROSSMO: I’d say a lot of the more violent stuff is from my imagination. Whatever Kurtis writes, I try to take it to the farthest extreme possible. There were a couple of scenes that were too graphic that I revised. I think it’s pretty important that the violence and gore be as disturbing as possible. Kurtis gave me a lot of room to interpret his scripts.

FANG: In issue #5, rarely seen in police procedurals, the narrative focuses on what happens after Morley Mack solves the crime. What could be seen as a short story in itself, Morley faces his fears from his past. Kurtis, tell me about the narrative’s themes of loss and mourning as it veered into this coming-of-age tale? And Riley, was it difficult to keep the panels interesting, because the conclusion became dialogue-driven?

WIEBE: Wow, that’s a heavy question. I’ve never hidden the fact that GREEN WAKE dealt with the breakup of my marriage. While I was writing the series, I was beginning to understand a lot about myself and what events led to that major transition. Despite it being a positive decision for my life, I felt this lingering sense of hurt and guilt, like even though I knew I was moving in the right direction, I left a trail of suffering for others.

I really analyzed that. That theme is what pervades the first arc of GREEN WAKE and I suppose, how I really feel after looking back and gaining perspective on my life. I came to understand that regardless of the choices we make; good or bad, there are consequences and no one comes out clean. It’s whether or not we can forgive ourselves and at the end of the day, really move onto a new part of our lives.

The final page of Morley standing at the tree, as the paper blows away is the answer I found at the end of the journey. So, it was a resolution for the both of us, I suppose.

ROSSMO: Nope. I love drawing talking heads. Slow-moving dialogue is one of my favorite things to draw. The colors took longer in that scene and after spending so much time in Green Wake, the real world was a bit harder to draw than it used to be.

FANG: What can readers expect from GREEN WAKE VOL.2: LOST CHILDREN?

WIEBE: Well, I’m still a messed up guy, so just as much horror and weirdness in the first volume. The focus now is going to be on the mystery of Green Wake, what exactly the town is, and why people are there. There’s a new series of murders that are happening and on top of that, a new arrival named Micah has been taking the townspeople under his wing and preaching to them a message of hope. But, not everything is as tidy as it seems; there’s some dark purpose behind all motivations in Green Wake.

We’ll also meet familiar characters who will be given a bit more story time. No one is safe from the lurking danger. We’ll be introducing a few new characters, including a young woman named Esther, who has an interesting connection to the title: LOST CHILDREN.

ROSSMO: The introduction is the most fun I’ve had in ages drawing a page. It’s gross but more than that, it’s really surreal!

FANG: What are you working on now?

WIEBE: Lots. I recently quit my day job to focus on writing, so I’m finally able to put the time into my comic work I’ve always wanted. Alongside GREEN WAKE, which is an ongoing series, my next project is called PETER PANZERFAUST, and it comes out from Image/Shadowline in February 2012, which is also an ongoing series. I’m billing it as RED DAWN meets PETER PAN, but there will be more details about that series coming very soon.

I also have two more Image limited series coming out in April and May. The first is called GOBLINETTES, about a goblin punk band, sort of a LORD OF THE RINGS meets JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS. Following that is GRIM LEAPER, a black romantic comedy that blends QUANTAM LEAP and FINAL DESTINATION. Those are a little ways off yet, but I’m already writing the scripts for both, so it’s enough to keep me busy for quite awhile. Lastly, I have a novel coming out November 18 called BETWEEN WORLDS, from Bundoran Press, which is a modern fairy-tale noir.

ROSSMO: I’m doing a little work at Marvel. I’m hard at work on GREEN WAKE: LOST CHILDREN, and I’m working on a graphic novella for spring or summer next year called WILD CHILDREN, which will be from Image too.

FANG: Where can readers find out more about your work?

WIEBE: I constantly update my Facebook fan page with news and articles about my work. I’m also prevalent on twitter, @kurtisjwiebe, and I love talking to fans and answering questions, as well as promoting my work.

And for people who like podcasts, I host a bi-weekly podcast, with some fellow writers, that focuses on the writing method for comic writers called THE PROCESS. You can check it out here or find us on Facebook.

ROSSMO: I just made a new website, which has my art work and I keep it updated. I twitter at @rileyrossmo1 and can be found on the Image Comics forums.