What happens when you give uber-creative types like Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Daredevil), Shane Davis (Superman: Earth One, Superman/Batman), and Max Brooks (World War Z) nearly complete creative freedom to make a kickass, standalone graphic novel? Well, if your luck is anything like Legendary CEO Thomas Tull’s, then you may wind up with Shadow Walk, the brand new title from Legendary Comics that was announced at last night’s SDCC Preview Night press event. We were lucky enough to catch up with the creative team behind the forthcoming book and we think that you’re going to be glad that this title has emerged from the shadows.
Nerdist News: So, Shadow Walk, tell us about it. Is this Legendary’s take on Brigadoon? What can you tell us about the project?
Mark Waid: [laughs] I’m going to regret using Brigadoon now in my examples because this has come back to me over and over again. It’s this idea that there is this thing, this place, if you will, that we’ve all heard of, that we don’t really believe is real, but it shows up from time to time. And when you start connecting the dots through history, you realize, oh man, that thing has shown up more than once and every time it does, the world gets a little worse for the wear and this may be the time when we’re not going to be able to walk out of it on the other side. We need to assemble a specific team, not just your Army Rangers, your Navy SEAL guys, but a specific team that was psychologically profiled and assembled based on their knowledge of science, their knowledge of human history, religion, anthropology, and bring those guys together. Yeah, they’re flanked by guys with big-ass guns, but that’s the core team who’s going to go in and investigate this realm that shouldn’t exist, but does exist. No one has ever walked out of there alive, except for one man. That’s the last guy on the team. He’s the one guy who’s ever survived.
NN: Is he the ostensible protagonist of the series?
MW: I don’t know if he’s the protagonist; he’s a protagonist.
Shane Davis: He’s a man of the cloth who they brought in. And he’s the one guy without a gun when he needs a gun. [laughs] He does have something, but it’s not a gun.
NN: This sounds like the ultimate bar trivia team.
MW: [laughs] Yes!
NN: So, Max, you were brought on to help with the world-building and to flesh out the universe of Shadow Walk. Max, what was your role in this project? Mark, what was it like for you?
Max Brooks: Basically, [Shadow Walk] seeks to answer the question, “What if a mythical place was real?” What if all of the mythology surrounding it had its roots in reality? That’s why Thomas brought me on. I think that way and try to demystify everything. I bring a Tom Clancy-esque level of research to everything I do. I’m always curious about how stuff works, and I think Thomas likes that. Basically, whenever he gets an itch for something creative, we hop around a world together. What I try to do is base everything in reality not only from a technical standpoint, but I’m a history major, so what I do is try to find stories through history and tie them into this. I try to bring in real people from the past to tie it together. We’re up against the Google generation, so when I bring the story to Thomas, I try to make everything Google-able. That way, as kids are reading, they can say, “Wait a minute, that was a real dude. He didn’t just pull that out of his ass.” That’s what I like to do.
MW: It was great. Thomas Tull and Bob Schreck came to me at San Diego last year and presented this nugget of an idea to me, which played into a lot of things that are interesting to me in terms of history and mythology. Then, Thomas, Max, and I sat down in Thomas’ office a couple of times and had long conversations. I’d never met Max before, but I knew his work, obviously. And, oh, my god, I was impressed because he’s the smartest guy in the world. More than that, he thinks through all of the history of this, all of the back story. At the end of the day, what’s delivered to me is like a rural phone book, like a small town phone book, full of content that I’m free to pick and choose from. He has a whole imagined history of this thing and these people. At the end of the day, I used a lot more stuff than I didn’t use because it was so good. Then, after a couple more conversations, Max said, “Go with God. I’ve done my part, which is to build a world. You make the human interaction happen.” From there, it was outline, outline, outline, and then we brought in Shane to not just be an art robot, but to be a collaborator on a visual level.
SD: I’ve never had to do so much design work in my life on any project. First of all, I knew there would be different environments and different situations, so the first thing I did was design bio-suits for them. For the survivor, I really wanted to give him a mark from being that survivor, from surviving that catastrophic experience. Looking at the team, you always know he’s the one that came out alive. Besides that, there were so many “what’s the craziest thing I can draw” scenarios. I came up with some pretty crazy scenarios, one of which involves bugs in the brain. [laughs] It was like letting the kid out of the box, you know? It was great because all of that got collaborated on and worked in. Somehow, this was all organic. We came to the ending and it was totally natural. To use Thomas’ words, it was like peanut butter and chocolate. Really, it was one of the most creative processes I’ve worked on. A lot of my design notes and crazy ideas were worked in to those visuals, so when it came time to script that story, Mark could use all of my capacities as an artist. It wasn’t like the old Marvel way, but it’s got some charm to it.
MW: Yeah, in the sense that, sometimes you say to him, “This is a very dialogue-heavy scene and there’s exposition we have to get across here and it’s very structured. Here is a scene with things that need to happen and, oh my God, just go nuts and we’ll go back later and worry abut the balloons.”
NN: Max, were you involved in the writing of the comic or were you more involved in strictly a world building capacity?
MB: No, I helped to develop the world and Mark is writing the actual comic. This is very much a passing of the baton. And, this is also part of Thomas’ genius. He assembles these teams and everyone plays their own position, so they all get their chance to do their own thing without too many cooks spoiling the soup. You know how it gets, especially in Hollywood when there’s like 87 writers. What he likes is everybody to have something they’re really, really good at, and he lets us go. He gives me all the time in the world. We work it out and we’ve created an actual world. Then we assemble it and pass it along to Mark, so that way he doesn’t step on my toes and I don’t step on his. The throughline is Thomas and it’s a great way to work.
NN: Will this be a monthly ongoing series or will it be a standalone graphic novel?
MW: It will be one giant graphic novel, like a big, fat 120-130 page graphic novel. You sit down one afternoon and it’s a day’s reading.
SD: There’s no chapter breaks. It goes straight through. It’s an action graphic novel. And I really want to stress this because a lot of graphic novels aren’t this action graphic novels.
MW: We can take advantage of the things that make it a comic
SD: Which some graphic novels throw out. This is kind of like the summer movie blockbuster graphic novel.
MW: But with the explicit instructions from Thomas that it is not a movie pitch. It is not a treatment for something. We want this to be a graphic novel first and foremost.
NN: That’s refreshing to hear. When I spoke to Bob Schreck at C2E2, he mentioned that the goal of Legendary Comics was not to make comics that were simply vehicles for movies, but to simply make good comics.
MW: We knew right off the bat, because Thomas described to me how he saw the first scene unfolding. If this were a movie, it would absolutely be the way to do it, but for a comic, it was like 6 pages of guys sitting around, having a conversation around video screens.
SD: Which would not work for a comic.
MW: If we’re going to dispense information, we need to do it in a lot more visual way. And I was a little nervous about it the first time, but after that conversation I knew we were in good hands.
SD: My number one concern is that I didn’t want any limitations visually. When you see the suits, I wasn’t worried about grounding it in reality, but I came up with really cool faceplates, weaponry and even the monsters, which you won’t see in this. We have an ecosystem of monsters and things they do that are very fresh and new. I really wanted to let in the game industry, to bring gamers to this book. I don’t think that’s necessarily a two-way street. There’s lots of avenues for comics guys to go into games, but not vice versa. But this is still very much a comic book from a design point of view.
NN: Legendary Comics is a relatively new entrant to the comics game. What is it about them as a publisher that excites you?
MW: I was into comics, so when Thomas called me and said, “I’m forming a comic division, I want you on the team,” I was like, “Hell yeah!” What I love about him is that he’s a legitimate nerd. For example, on an upcoming project, which I can’t tell you about yet, we were discussing a certain scene, and I was thinking that it was a lot like that scene in the 1970s King Kong where Jeff Bridges is talking about the island and all the different historical events that happened there. Literally as I finish thinking that, Thomas says, “You know, like that scene in the 1970s King Kong…” I was floored. He’s not just a capitalist producer; He genuinely cares about this stuff. If this guy wasn’t making these comics and movies, he’d be watching them, and that’s really cool.
SD: You can totally quote me on this, it’s something that Thomas said, “I like this and I like this and I want this in there. I hired you guys because you know what you’re doing. That’s why I hired you.” I hate to say this, but that doesn’t get thrown around too much in comics today.
MW: But it was nice to hear.
NN: Certainly. A vote of confidence like that must always feel good.
SD: And then it was like, oh crap, you want us to just do what we think is right? [laughs]
MW: That never happens!
SD: And it kinda happened. That’s the only way I can explain it.
Want to learn more about Shadow Walk, Tower Chronicles and other exclusive announcements from Legendary Comics? Be sure to attend their SDCC panel at 5 pm Thursday in Room 6A. Need more convincing? It’s moderated by our very own Chris Hardwick, so bring your burritos and enjoy.