Peter Facinelli is an actor and a familiar one at that, from theTwilight saga, Can’t Hardly Wait, Six Feet Under, Damages, Nurse Jackie… well, a lot. But he’s also the co-creator wioth Rob DeFranco of BOOM! Studios’ comic Protocol: Orphans, along with Day Men/Supergirl writer Michael Alan Nelson, who we’ve chatted with about the project, and artist Mariano Navarro. The book is about young orphans raised by the government to be spies, and what happens to them once they’re adults.
We had a chance to talk to Peter about the genesis of the story and the process of working with his partners:
PETER: I had this idea before Alias, actually, that’s how long I’ve had this idea. Before the Mission: Impossible reboot with Tom Cruise and I just didn’t know how to tell the story. At first I thought I wanted to do this as a television series, then I thought, no, it should be a comic. I was a big fan of the Spider-man comic growing up, so I thought it would be really cool to do a comic book first.
N: So you had this idea when you were still early in your career?
P: Yeah, it was 15-16 years ago, was when I first had the idea for it. I had an outline that I had done 15-16 years ago, and I was thinking of doing it as a television series, and Alias came out and it was in that vein, so I never did anything with it and in the last two years, I kind of found it. I thought I should do something with this. And then I thought the comic book is the best way to tell the story, and then I connected with BOOM! comics, and they really liked the idea.
N: When you were coming up with the story and you were dealing with the idea of these orphans being trained to be super spies, what kind of references were you looking back on? Spy organizations always have certain things that need to be there; what kind of models did you look at to create your organization?
P: I looked at the Guinness Book of World Records a lot. I was really interested in taking human ability and taking it to a height to where human ability can go. I wanted to see what humans have actually done and how much can they do. A lot of the time in the comics, I would look and say, what is the record for holding your breath under water — let’s make her orphans be able to hold it for twenty. Also SEAL trainings; in lots of Navy SEAL training documentaries, there was a Navy SEAL that would sit in a coal tank where in 20 seconds a normal person would die, but they were training to sit in these coal tanks an hour. Those things inspire me. It isn’t a comic about superheroes, it’s about humans doing heroic acts and being able to take the human abilities to the highest extent they could get. If you could take a kid who was 8-12 years old and they were training them like Olympic training every day at some kind of facility, what would they be when they were 18-20 years old? That’s what really fascinated me, and that’s wehre this world spawned from.
N: How is your relationship with your partners on the book — you overseeing the book and working with the writer. Do you feel like you’re editing or co-plotting? What is that relationship like?
P: I’ve never written comics before, so I wanted to make sure we got a great writer, and Michael was fantastic and BOOM! does comics really well, so I was really happy to partner with them. I had a basic outline of the story and of all the characters, and that’s what I gave over to Michael. Michael took that and went to town with it and created this whole bigger picture with these kids. It’s fun for me to see the original outline and say hey, it’s really cool because he took all the characters I had and put them into this comic. Then it became him doing an outline for each one. I had an outline for the whole story, but he had them for each comic, and it was more talking through with him and shaping it and he would write the dialogue and I would go back and give comments and notes. It was a really wonderful process. It let people who know best, who know what they’re doing, let them do their job, and I was able to oversee it.
N: You and Bill Paxton had a similar thing where you guys had these wonderful ideas, but you’re smart enough to know that maybe you should let someone who’s comfortable in this medium take the reins. How is, as a creative person, letting go of something that you know you had a very specific idea for and being able to trust somebody with that?
P: It’s scary at first, because you never know if they’re going to take it in a whole different direction. I was very fortunate that everybody was on the same page with what I originally outlined. It’s exciting for me to be able to collaborate, I am a collaborator, I’m an actor, I work with the director, I work with the writer and the script and I collaborate to inform my character. In the same way, it was almost like directing, where a director has a script, a story that he wants to tell, and he has actors and he kind of oversees it; That’s what it kind of felt like with this. We got this great writer who is really good at what he does, and we had this amazing artist who knocked it out of the ball park. We had these images that were gloomy, and it all came together.
N: I actually wanted to ask about Mariano. One thing I noticed about the art: It works really well with the series, because it’s orphans and younger. There’s an animated style to it, but it was also detailed and I thought that was a great balance for the story you wanted to tell. How did you find him?
P: Originally we had an artist who was good, and actually he had some issues and he couldn’t finish it. So we had to start over; We got another artist and the images came in, but they were a little too adult-drawn and I thought it had the wrong tone. Then we got Mariano. We had a long process, but we landed with the right guy. The images fit what I was trying to accomplish. What I liked about the Spider-man comics were that they were youthful and colorful, and when you opened the comic, the colors drew you to it. And that’s what Mariano hit, his images were youthful but realistic, and those were the comics I grew up loving. There are comic shops that go a lot darker and the colors are a lot darker, and I thought it wasn’t the right fit for this because it was supposed to be fun and hip and colorful and that’s the world I wanted for the audience to read, to (have it) pop off the page and be exciting. They are ordinary kids doing extraordinary things. And I think that’s a wish fulfillment for everyone.
N: You’ve got some great visual storytelling in this book and you steered clear of too much exposition. Was that a concious decision?
P: Film is a visual medium, so are comic books. I was always a big fan of the visuals telling the story so you know they pretty much would send me these materials once it was outlined and send me the drawings and they set the pacing and it’s just spot on so there wasn’t much I had to do with the pacing of the book or dialogue. I went back and did more work on the outlines, talked about where this story was going and what this story was and what it should become and talked about the dialogue. Some work I would give comics suggestions and you know there’s a lot of fun when people know what they’re doing, it makes my job easier. Working collaboratively with Michael and Mariana made it an easy and fun process for me.
N: You’ve had a lot of experience with comic cons now, was being part of that hold over the past few year and being able to grow. Was that any part of the drive for you to continue to be a part of that culture?
P: No, I was always excited to go to Comic Con and I love Comic Con, I love the fans there. For me, it was more about what’s the best medium to tell the story. REPEATED INFORMATION. If the comic is successful we can maybe turn it into a TV show or a movie. That was what my thinking was and I’m hopeful that the fans like the book and that one day we can do it as a show.
N: There’s one trend that’s happening in comics right now which is old television series that are turning into comics. There’s going to be a Miami Vice comic and a Saved by the Bell comic. I was always a fan of Fastlane, would you want to see Fastlane as a comic?
P: I love that show so I’d say yes. I loved the visual of it but I totally didn’t see it as a comic. These were two characters that Van Ray and Deaqon, Bill Bellamy’s character, had such a great rapport. I had so much fun playing those characters. I was sad that it had to come to an end.
N: Do you see yourself overseeing a line of comics or just overseeing one?
P: I don’t know, I love comic book stories whether it is through film or television. Right now I’m writing a Young Adult novel with Barry Lyga. I haven’t done a young adult novel so I’m tyring to partner up with people who know what they’re doing. It’s more about what story I want to tell and what medium I can best tell it in. I have comic book idea that I’m working with BOOM again.
Protocol: Orphans is available in your local comic shop now!