I recently had the chance to chat with indie comic icon Matt Wagner about his newest work. Wagner, famous first for the genre-busting comics Grendel and Mage, has just begun work on a brand new horror comic called The Tower Chronicles. The story follows John Tower, a man one can hire to kill all sorts of nasty monsters. We spoke about the the plot, backstory, artwork and the influence of horror in his comic.
Tell us a little about Tower Chronicles and its hero, John Tower.
John Tower is a supernatural bounty hunter, he is a very mysterious character. He seems to be willing to work for anybody regardless of their moral considerations. In the first volume we see him work for a private citizen, we see him work for a gangster, and he also takes a private contracting job from the government. So he's picky about who he chooses to work for but he doesn't put them through some moral test. At the same time you get the feeling that there's more to his character and more to his mission than meets the eye. He continually says money isn't his object and yet he accepts money at a pretty hefty price tag for the hunts he goes on. So why is he doing it?
You also get the feeling that eradicating monsters isn't his point either, he's not on some crusade to wipe out all evil on the face of the earth. So what is it? And that's the whole point of our story: why he is what he is and why he does what he does.
And the artwork, by Simon Bisley, is really eye-grabbing. Can you speak to how that partnership started?
It happened almost by accident. Tower Chronicles was still in its formative stages, so we had my story outline and we had a little bit of scripting but we had no art yet, we actually had a logo, we generated a logo. So we needed a piece of PR art and Bob Schreck, the editor in chief at Legendary, had worked with Simon Bisley on covers for Hellblazer when he was still at Vertigo and Simon did some covers for Grendel way back in the day. And so we reached out to Simon to do just a single painted piece of the character and he just knocked it totally out of the park and so aptly and vigorously captured everything about the character in a single image - which is just so hard to do. So Bob and I started knocking heads and said it would really be great if we could get him to draw the whole thing. Which was sort of an unknown venture because this was pretty much the longest sustained narrative Simon's done in his entire career.
Ultimately the entire project is a collective title for a trilogy which will equal a little over 800 pages. Luckily for us Simon was totally into it, loved the idea, loved the characters, loved the concept and he said yes and boy, he's flying through it and it just looks terrific.
He actually said to me at one point "this feels like you're writing it distinctly for me." The further we go, we get more in synch with what's happening with each other and we get used to working together and it becomes a lovely partnership and now we're just flying right along.
I'm an artist, I'm constantly trying to write for what I see in my head and also trying to match it to what I see as my partner-artist's visual strengths. And of course, as I've said, you've got a cool tough as nails main character and he fights monsters of all shapes and sizes and that's just Simon to a T.
You'd previously illustrated some of your best received works. Was there ever a consideration of doing both the writing and the art yourself?
The last few years I've done mainly writing and that wasn't really by design, I just kind of happened into that. I will still be drawing my own stuff at some point, but I'm really good at knowing which ones I ought to draw and which ones would be better drawn by somebody else. And again once we saw the initial piece by Simon it was just like "Oh god I can't imagine anyone else drawing this but him." And that's even more true now that we're this deep into the pre-production of the project.
The story is definitely chock-full of horror, thriller and dark fantasy elements. How much horror have you infused into Tower Chronicles?
There's quite a lot. If I'm working on a project that I started from the beginning I tend to be something of a genre masher. So in Tower Chronicles obviously he's a costumed adventurer - but he's not a superhero - and he pursues monsters, and there's bits of fantasy in there as well. But there's definitely a horrific aspect to the entire story-line, horror infuses his motivations and he confronts horror all the time.
One of the reasons we elected to make it such a big saga is that we didn't want to scrimp on his backstory but we also didn't want to scrimp on his contemporary adventures. If he's out hunting monsters we want to see a lot of that, we want to see a lot of the big nasty beasts that he goes after. And in fact I had to make up a chart for myself to make sure I wasn't getting repetitive with what types of horrors he confronts and the ways he confronts them. We really wanted to keep it new and fresh all the time because this sort of character could get repetitive.
And I'm a big horror fan as well. I love monster tales and I love them even better when Simon draws them. And in the course of writing this that's occasionally the motivation, like "Oh god wouldn't it be great to see Simon draw this!"
And are there any future projects in the pipeline, or is it Tower, Tower, Tower right now?
With a project that's this long - 800 or so pages - this is keeping me busy for now. Because of the way I entered the industry from the independent side of things I'm involved with every stage of this. I approve every stage of the inks, the colors, the lettering. There's little tweaks that happen at every different stage. So it's not like I just turn in a script and forget it, I really don't know how to work that way. So I'm thoroughly enmeshed in the John Tower narrative for quite some time to come and I'm having a blast at it!