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R.I.P.D.: City Of The Damned Interview: Jeremy Barlow And Tony Parker

Posted on October 28, 2012 AT 09:05pm

Dark Horse Comics is bringing back an old favorite, with the release of the newest mini-series in the R.I.P.D. franchise, R.I.P.D.: City Of The Damned. With a brand new blockbuster film on the way next year, this installment serves as a perfect jumping-on point for those not familiar with the Peter M. Lenkov series. Thankfully, the City Of The Damned creative team of writer Jeremy Barlow and artist Tony Parker were kind enough to take some time out of their busy schedules to talk about their starts in the comics industry, the current run of R.I.P.D. and a few other topics.

DigitalNoob: Both of you have quite a bit of experience in comics. What got you started in the industry?

Jeremy Barlow: I came in through the back channels. I left college with the intention of becoming a novelist, and took a job in Dark Horse Comics’ editorial department with the idea that if I was going to have a ‘day job’ while I worked on getting the writing career going, making comics beat making coffee.

I ran the Star Wars line with Randy Stradley and under his tutelage started writing fill-in issues under a pseudonym when other writers would unexpectedly drop out, or if we had holes in the schedule that suddenly needed filling. Randy and Lucasfilm liked what I was doing enough to keep asking me back, and eventually my freelance schedule started overtaking my editing schedule, and that felt like a sign. So I said good-bye to the steady paycheck and have been keeping my nose above water ever since. Writing comics is hard work, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. So much so that I haven’t made it back around to the novels yet.

Tony Parker: I got my start in pen and paper RPG books. Those little quarter page illustrations of monsters and adventurers you’d see in the books? That was me. Before I retired from them, I was in somewhere between 130-150 RPG print books and magazines. I never did a complete count, and had some art reprinted in later editions, so it’s hard to tell. One of the last series of projects I worked on were for the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K series. I found out BOOM! Studios was doing a series of comics based on the property, and showed my work. I got some fill in work on 40K, then a 40K miniseries, and that got me work on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I’ve luckily and thankfully been able to keep busy since then.

DN: The comics market seems pretty competitive, but Tony, you’re currently working with more than one company [On Dead Man's Run with Aspen Comics, and of course, R.I.P.D. with Dark Horse], aren’t you? Out of curiosity, how does that work, from a creator standpoint?

Parker: Very delicately. First off, all parties know that I’m working for each other. I made sure to let them all know that I could maintain the schedules that I was hired for. I try to communicate with my editors as much as possible, and deliver what I say I will when it’s due. That means I don’t sleep or get out much. To make it interesting, I’m also teaching two college art courses in comic art, and getting married. Very little sleep. However, my job is to do the best possible work on each, and that’s what I work at for each page. I will also work to stagger everything so that while I’m waiting for editorial or writing on one project, I can work on the other. That doesn’t mean I slack on one project, but may work longer or quicker on it so that the other one doesn’t delay. Working on two projects means that I have two sets of editors, color artists, letterers, and support staff waiting for me, and I respect that tremendously.

If I do my job right, neither really knows that that I’m working on another project at the same time. The reader also doesn’t care that I’m working on two books, two classes, multiple pieces of charity artwork, covers, and prepping a kickass wedding ceremony, all at the same time. They just want each page they read to look prettier than the previous, and it’s my job to make sure that they don’t know that I’m busy. That being said, I’m quite blessed. Not only am I a working graphic novel artist, but I’m working on great projects with great teams. And not sleeping.

Barlow: Freelancing means taking work where you can find it. Dark Horse feels like family—they’ve been great to me and have given me a diverse range of projects, and their infrastructure was designed for creator-owned books, so I haven’t felt the need to stray very far.

DN: Jeremy, you’ve done a lot of work on licensed content, and some pretty popular franchises at that. What’s it like working on a series that was already so popular, and knowing that your work will be compared not only to other work done in the same medium with the franchise, but to the content that made the franchise popular to begin with?

Barlow: It can be daunting. I try to only work on projects or franchises to which I have an emotional connection, which makes it both easier and more intimidating.

You want to stay true to what you love, while finding a new angle or way of looking at it. Fortunately, properties like Mass Effect or Metalocalypse have such inspiring and well-drawn worlds in which to move, it’s not hard to know what sounds and feels ‘right,’ if that makes any sense. I imagine that what I love about those properties is universal, and I try to tap into that. Sometimes it even works out.

Parker: Sounds like when I did Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I just had to realize that I could only do my best, and haters gonna hate.

DN: What drew both of you to this project?

Barlow: Man, where to start? Artist Tony Parker and editor Patrick Thorpe are two of my favorite people—Patrick put us together for a short story in his Savage Sword anthology last year, and it was magic.

Once we got rolling on City of the Damned, we were able to take that fun and imaginative R.I.P.D. framework built by series creator Peter Lenkov and go nuts with it. We were encouraged to run wild, so we did.

Parker: Supernatural ghost cops fighting (deleted due to not wanting to give it away)? How could I say no? I’ve also had a great relationship with Patrick Thorpe, Philip Simon, and everyone else at Dark Horse, and love working with them all.

DN: This is a pretty beloved series. How much influence have each of you taken from the original issues, and what kind of new ideas are being brought to this installment?

Parker: I love the original series. I was particularly attracted to it’s boldness and intensity, and want to maintain that assertiveness.

Barlow: I love what Peter and original series artist Lucas Maragnon started, and we wanted to stay true to that vision while expanding the scope and digging deeper into the R.I.P.D.’s history and mythology. Through City of the Damned, we explore just how far and wide this universe stretches, and the potential it has to run in all kinds of directions.

More specifically, I’m throwing everything I have at this one. Unlike in film and video games, budgets don’t hold comics back—we can express pure imagination and really go for it, and that’s the approach we’re taking here.

We start off with a gunfighter and a Puritan riding ghost horses through a warped and anachronistic old west, sent by their police chief—GENGHIS KHAN—to find a hidden clockwork city that’s sucking up human souls, all while they’re being hunted by a smoke monster straight from hell. And that’s just the first issue. (DN Note: Apparently Jeremy doesn’t have the same reservations that Tony did.)

DN: Tony, as far as maintaining the assertiveness and intensity of the original, are there any specifics you can go into as far as how you went about doing that (certain art styles, colors, panel layout, etc.)?

Parker: There are no actual specifics.  As silly as it may sound, I just went with a feel for it.  I didn’t want to copy anything, but more use the original as a framework, and work my art within that framework.

DN: Given that City Of The Damned is a prequel to the film, how much influence does the film have on the series, or vice versa?

Barlow: When I was offered the job, I immediately wanted to do something with Roy (Jeff Bridges’ character in the film). I’m huge fan of European westerns from the ‘60s and ‘70s and have wanted to do something in that vein for a while, so when, in the course of tossing ideas around with Peter and Patrick, we landed on doing a prequel, everything just clicked. Here was my chance to do a skewed western and a horror/comedy all at once. I was born to write this.

Beyond that, we’ve worked pretty autonomously from the film. Our goal is to tell a compelling story that both stands on its and informs the events in the film when taken together. So far, so good.

Parker: I have no idea as far as the story. I pulled from the costume and the original series to create an amalgam between the two, almost as a bridge between the comic and the movie. Beyond that, I’ve been given a pretty free reign to play around with what’s in the script, as long as I maintain the script’s integrity.

DN: Are there any other projects that the two of you are working on that you can speak about?

Parker: As mentioned above, I’ve been keeping busy. My art for Dead Man’s Run will be done by the time this is read, and Dark Horse is keeping me delightfully busy. I’m also an adjunct professor at one of the community colleges in Phoenix, and am teaching classes again in the spring. I’ll be doing one of The Walking Dead sketch covers for the HERO Initiative, and calendar art for Kids Need To Read. I also plan on getting some sleep. Or not. I hate down time.

Barlow: I’m still involved with Dark Horse’s Mass Effect universe. I’m also working with Archaia on their upcoming Hawken graphic novel, which looks amazing. Beyond that, I’ve been pulling together some creator-owned projects for the longest time, between paying gigs, so I’m hoping to get at least one of those off the ground soon.

DN: Tony, since it’s for a terrific cause, can you go more into your work on the HERO Initiative? I know a lot of companies and creators are contributing, and it sounds like a great project.

Parker: I’ve been lucky enough to work with the HERO Initiative for quite some time.  I’ve been in nearly all the HERO Project books, with the Archie one the only one that I haven’t been able to be a part of. I’ve also done sketch cards and original artwork for HERO auctions as well.  I’m a bit proponent of the charity.  It’s important to help out the creators that paved the way that allowed me to have a career in comics, as well as the ones that the ones that are working now.  Most people don’t know that the wages were pulp at best, and they didn’t get their original art back until Neal Adams fought to get it back for everyone.  Even then, there wasn’t a big collectors market for original comic art.

Some people may walk down the aisles of comic conventions, look at the prices for original old school art, and think that old school creators are rolling in fat bank.  That’s far from the facts.  The least I can to is to help out those who made it possible to do what I love for a living.

DN: Alright, last question. Any advice to aspiring comic book creators out there?

Barlow: With the Internet, writers and artists can connect now in ways that weren’t possible when I was starting out—there’s nothing stopping anyone now from collaborating on something and immediately getting it out into the world, which is really exciting.

So if you want to make comics, stop talking about it and just do it. If you want to make comics as a career, first understand that it won’t make you rich but it will make you happy, which is sometimes the better end of the deal. In the early stages of your development, worry more about being “good” than “getting hired,” because once you’ve honed your craft the jobs will come to you.

How do you become good? Put in the time and know that it’s never going to happen fast enough. Everyone has to burn the crappy work out of their systems before the quality starts flowing, and it’s easy to get discouraged. Work through it. Keep going even when you don’t think you’re cut out for it, because eventually you will be.

Parker: First, change it from aspiring to looking for work. There’s a mindset that changes. When you’re “aspiring”, you’re not near as invested in yourself as when you’re actively looking for work. Second, read good comics. I’ve met far too many artists who want to do comics, but don’t even read them. Recipe for failure. Third, draw everything. Fill sketchbooks with everything around you. Too many artists spend years drawing their favorite character, but can’t draw something in one point perspective. Fourth, don’t listen to your friends and family. They’re paid to love you.

Go to artist appearances and comic conventions with a portfolio and notepad. Show your portfolio to anyone who will look at it and will give a critique. Write down all the critique notes. You will forget key points if you go by memory. The notepad will also help you recognize patterns you might not otherwise see. Listen to these notes, and be willing to grow. If you live in the Phoenix area, you could also take one of my classes. Finally, the most important thing is to HAVE FUN WITH IT.

It was great talking to both Tony and Jeremy, and make sure to check out R.I.P.D.: City Of The Damned when the first issue hits shelves on November 28th from Dark Horse Comics.

Russ Pirozek, known as "Noobcrawler" to some, is a gamer and comic book fan who sometimes gets around to writing for DigitalNoob.com. He's also awesome. If someone looked up "awesome" in the dictionary, his picture wouldn't be there, but that's because he's too busy being awesome to pose for a photo.

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