Since his introduction on MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco back in 1994, writer-artist Judd Winick has remained a fixture of American pop culture, crafting his acclaimed graphic novel memoir Pedro and Me, and enjoying memorable stints on comic-book titles like Green Lantern and Green Arrow; while producing animated series like the Cartoon Network’s The Life and Times of Juniper Lee and Hulu’s The Awesomes. His just-released latest project, for Legendary Comics, asks the question “What would happen if the last dragon egg was found in modern-day Colorado?” In the following interview, Winick welcomes us to A Town Called Dragon.
NERDIST: How did A Town Called Dragon begin?
JUDD WINICK: It was a story that I’ve had cooking in my head for a while. I really wanted to do a dragon story, and I wanted it to be contemporary. It was all about cracking the nut of how that was going to work. I had actually been thinking about the basic story tropes, y’know, like a ragtag group of misfits fights a dragon. I kind of wanted to make it work. [Laughs.] It’s a dumb idea but there’s something about these old story tropes that can work and do work and are why we use them over and over again. It just fell into place when I thought of the idea of the very last dragon egg, meaning the last dragon, then mixed in this “Northern Exposure meets Jaws” thing. This idea of this town being stuck with this dragon that they have to kill. It both intrigued me and made me laugh at the same time. As they say, from there it was off to the races.
N: The book is scheduled to run five issues – do you see it as a finite story or one that could yield a sequel?
JW: It does cut both ways. First and foremost I will say this is a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is five issues. It was created that way. It was created to come out as a monthly. It was designed and conceived to come out every month, and also a little bit old school, with a double-sized first issue and a double-sized last issue. Because I always liked that when I was ten years old and I wanted to do that again. There’s something fun about that. You get something extra up top, a little something extra when you finish up. [Laughs.] Because of the finite nature of it, each issue is really very different from the last one. The story gallops forward. We begin with a dragon hatched out of an egg, and the story has sort of a creepy, insular Alien-like feel, because the dragon is small. But the dragon does not stay small so it turns into a giant monster movie. But it’s closer to Jaws than it is to Godzilla or something.
Each issue is something different, and because it’s finite we get to do that. We’re playing for keeps. Big moves, big stories, big things happen to characters. There is some wiggle room. I have ideas about how to revisit a lot of this material, this setting, these characters a bit later. If people dig it, if it’s working for everyone, then we’ll examine that. But for the most part it is a standalone and I’m very happy with it.
N: You mentioned Northern Exposure as one inspiration…
JW: Part of it came from the fact that I originally conceived of this as being longer, a bigger story. We have about five or six lead characters and I thought I would spend more time with them. I thought I would do this treatment kind of ala Lost, where we would take an issue or two with various characters and get some back story. Like really get into who they are and what brought them here. But as we got into it, just talking about it, [we realized] once the dragon egg cracks open it’s like the biggest ticking clock in the whole world. To cut away from the action to learn about where these characters come from and not get back to the matter at hand, it would feel like we’re just dragging our feet, that we’re just dragging our wheels. You kind of want to keep moving.
I really worked out the backstory for these characters. It informs how the characters act, what they do, how they talk, what they say. They seem fully formed because I had to think about them a whole lot. They’re not little random characters. Everybody’s got their own story. So even if they’re speaking just a little bit, I feel there’s a lot there, and I would hope they’re telling more story than just characters who just happen to be floating through.
The Northern Exposure aspect of it was there, the Jaws aspect of it was there. These characters inhabit a small town. They had their lives long before a dragon shows up. [Laughs.] And they have a reason for being in Colorado in the middle of winter. Either they live there or showed up or what have you.
N: The art looks extraordinary. How did you come to work with Geoff Shaw?
JW: It took about a year of looking around to find someone that really worked well with us. Bob Shreck is really particular. We had a lot of names come and go and no one actually felt right. Then Geoff was working on another project with Legendary, and as he got into it Bob said, “This is the guy for the dragon book. So you have to wait for him to finish this one and then he’ll come to the dragon book. Because this is the guy for the dragon book for sure.” He was right.
Geoff is like a quadruple threat. What I love about what he does is everybody looks different. He really fully designs characters. You can’t look at one and then look at another and get confused. The way their bodies are shaped, there’s so much work that goes into creating these characters, which you don’t see often enough. Then on top of that he does all this amazing acting. With every frame you can see a different reaction from these characters. They’re reacting to one another. The dragon, the action — sometimes those things are a given when you’re doing comics like this. Those are great, then on top of that there’s these terrific designs and acting. So Geoff’s gonna be a monster. He’s gonna be a really, really big superstar in comic art. I guarantee it.
N: Were you a big dragon fan as a kid?
JW: Yeah, as a kid I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Dragons always sort of occupied this unusual space. I was a huge fan of Dragonslayer. I really enjoyed that. That was a strange movie. As a kid I was deeply confused about how things played out. Looking back, that is still one that holds up. The effects were what they were back then. Trying to create a giant lizard on screen? Forget it, it was impossible. But I always thought they did a really great job. A really good dragon story was hard to find, I thought. I just wanted to tell one that was contemporary… I really enjoyed Reign of Fire. I thought it was a terrific movie. But the best part of the movie was covered in the first five minutes – when they show this war in which dragons take over the world. That’s actually more interesting than when they actually took over the world. You almost want to see it happen. So I always wanted to see the beginning. That’s what this one is — it’s the beginning.
N: What’s next for you?
JW: I’m still a writer and producer on The Awesomes, which is an animated superhero comedy on Hulu. I’m almost writing and drawing my own graphic novel series for Random House called Hilo. Hilo comes out next fall. The first one is done and I’m working on the second one. It’s a big ongoing graphic novel series for kids from Random House. I couldn’t be more excited about getting to do cartoons again. That’s a big thrill.
N: Can you say what’s next for The Awesomes?
JW: Well, there’s gonna be a season 3. I don’t want to give anything away. I don’t even know which episode just came out. [Laughs.] I will say this – at the end of this season of The Awesomes… We like doing big, giant superheroish, everybody-in-the-fight endings. So that’s what we got. We have good guys facing up with the bad guys. One super team versus another super team, head to head. It’s what you want in your big finale. It’s the big fight at the end. And I wrote that one. So there. [Laughs.]