In-Depth with Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir

Wed, January 14th, 2009 at 9:57am PST

Comic Books
Alex Dueben, Staff Writer

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The married writing team of Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir have been working in comics for years. They’ve written a number of graphic novels for Oni Press including “The Tomb” and “Past Lies,” both illustrated by Christopher Mitten. They’ve also written “New Mutants” and “New X-Men” for Marvel, “The Outsiders” and “Checkmate” for DC.

Last year the pair concluded their series from Seven Seas, “The Amazing Agent Luna,” adapted the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and have been writing “The Ninja Diaries,” a weekly one-page comic from Seven Seas and Metromix papers, which is being concluded early this year.

2009 will be an especially busy year for the duo. They’re writing an upcoming arc on “Batman Confidential.” Their Seven Seas series “Destiny’s Hand” comes to a close with the third volume, and they have two projects coming out from Oni Press: the ongoing series “Bad Medicine” and the graphic novel “All Saints Day.”

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CBR: Congratulations on wrapping up “Amazing Agent Luna.” Your original plan was for the series to be longer, what was the line of thinking from your point of view and the publisher about why to craft a shorter series?

Christina Weir: Thanks. We're sad to see “Luna” ending as it's been a blast to write the series. We had originally planned for it to be much longer and take her all the way through high school. The decision to shorten the series was purely a business one. OEL manga doesn't sell as well after the first couple of volumes. But we're not necessarily done with Luna yet. The final volume brings the school year to a close and wraps up a lot of storylines. But it also introduces some new elements that we will hopefully get the chance to pick up on in the future.

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The ending is a very deliberate wrap up of many threads on a certain tone that clearly sets up a new status quo for a sequel. Was this the original ending you always had planned?

Nunzio DeFilippis: Not entirely. Some of the things in there were always planned, but planned as part of the natural evolution of an ongoing series that spanned three years of high school. Other things, like the final resolution with Von Brucken, were sort of new - they evolved over time. Our first plan was to have the Von Brucken story run all the way through all 3 years of the Luna story. But somewhere along the line, we knew we wanted different villains, and thought about bringing Von Brucken's Project Scion plot to a close, allowing the series to evolve. When we decided to wrap the series (yet leave the possibility for a not-too-distant return), we decided to wrap that plot, to give the story closure. What we did with Von Brucken at the end, that was pretty new - decided once we committed to ending the series in Volume 5.

Obviously, the rhythm and pace of a book is different than a 22-page comic, but how hard has it been to pace out a series of multiple books?

CW: Not too terribly hard. In many ways there are similar principles at play, just on a grander scale. It does require you to think ahead about where you want stories and characters to go. But we didn't plot each book in detail at the start. We had benchmarks we wanted to hit, or over-riding stories that we knew would dominate a book. So we probably had maybe a paragraph on each book at the start. Then before we sat down to write each volume we would break down the chapters in detail. The trickiest part came when the decision was made to change “Luna” from a twelve-volume series to a five-volume series. We had to make major plot decisions about what to do with the bad guys and all the other various players. But, if I recall correctly the decision was made around Volume 3, so we had two volumes to wrap up the story rather than rushing to fit everything into one final volume.

When you found out that you had two volumes to wrap up “Luna,” how did you go about the process of rethinking the plot, deciding what elements were important and needed to be included?

CW: Well, the big trick was giving the series a sense of closure. You want the reader to feel satisfied. We had originally planned for the series to cover all of Luna's high school experience. But it made sense in the shortened time frame to take her through the end of her first school year. Obviously, the villain plot would need to be wrapped up. So we had to juggle how that would play out. But just because one villain's plan was thwarted doesn't have to mean the end of the story. So we reworked what happened there and left seeds for potential future plots and bad guys.

Did you end up abandoning a lot or was what was lost largely a result of compressing the time, taking place over one year instead of three?

ND: Strangely, a lot of what was lost was lost due to other reasons. Oliver and Francesca were supposed to end up dating. But we lost that when we pursued the character of Timothy. Another thing we cut, and this is related, is that we had originally planned to cross our series over with “Last Hope.” In that series, the characters jump from one alternate reality to another. The author (who used a pen name) is a friend and he had pictured a point in his story where all his characters got scattered to different realities. We had wanted Alvin, his boy genius character, to wind up in Luna's reality. The story that was there for Martin and Timothy came out of the Alvin plans. Alvin would be forced to work for Von Brucken.

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But that series did not come out as regularly as ours (bless Shiei's hard-working heart), so our story kept moving forward while Lost Hope did not. So we cut that story, which led us to create Timothy, which ultimately led to cutting the Oliver/Francesca romance.

There was an omnibus version of “Luna” -- collecting the first three volumes -- released in spring. Has that done well?

CW: We don't really know what the sales have been like on that, but we do know that between our omnibus and AOI House's something has prompted the bookstores to request more collected editions. On a personal level, everyone I've talked to has enjoyed having the bigger collection. I believe there is a plan to collect the last two volumes together. But I'm not sure about that.

Reading through “Luna” again, one can’t help but think of your other projects -- especially “New Mutants” and “New X-Men” at Marvel, and you wrote a couple episodes of “Kim Possible.” Is “Luna” a culmination of a lot of ideas and themes you've been playing with?

ND: Absolutely. “New X-Men” is dear to our heart and we liked the chance to revisit teen drama with action thrown in. “Kim Possible” was a job we actively pursued because we enjoy that genre. And the key influence lurking behind all of this is “Buffy.” We don't ever want to directly ape “Buffy,” but it serves as a role model for a lot of our high school writing.

Your other Seven Seas series “Destiny’s Hand” comes to a conclusion in 2009 with the third volume. Was the plan for “Destiny's Hand” to always be three issues or did that change?

ND: Yes, it does, though that won't be until late 2009.

CW: “Destiny's Hand” was originally plotted to be twelve books, if you can believe it! Again, sales being what they are on OEL, we had to readjust our plans. Ultimately, I think streamlining the story made for a more action packed, thrilling ride. So in the end, it all worked out for the best.

The book was really inspired by Nunzio’s love of pirates and talking like a pirate. Has writing the series gotten that out of your system or do you write the dialogue in pirate-speak?

ND: I'm not allowed to get all pirate-speakey when writing this. The voice amuses Christina for about 10 seconds, then starts to bother her, and then eventually drives her completely nuts. So in order for us to write it in sessions longer than 10 seconds, I had to give it up. I still do the voice when we go to Disneyland and ride Pirates of the Caribbean, though.

You’re also involved with “The Ninja Diaries” at Metromix. How did this project come about?

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CW: Jason DeAngelis had been approached by Metromix and asked if Seven Seas wanted to do a one page weekly manga. Jason then came to us and asked us about pitching ideas. There were very specific criteria. It had to appeal to Metromix's prime audience - the twenty-something L.A. crowd, it had to appeal to the manga crowd and Jason was interested in looking at stories that could potentially become a movie as well. We all brainstormed and came up with “The Ninja Diaries.” They pitched it to Metromix who loved it and we were off to the races. Unfortunately, in this bad economy, the L.A. Times has cut down the number of pages given to Metromix and as a result, Metromix shrunk our comic to a 1/4 page size. We all talked and decided that with Elmer's (the artist) busy schedule we would pull the project. We're currently writing the last few pages to try to bring it to a good closing spot. We won't be able to wrap up the story entirely. But we are hoping to bring it to a good close of a first act (for lack of a better phrase).

What has it been like writing “Ninja Diaries?” To what degree after you and Jason has worked the story out and got it approved, did you have a free hand? Were you writing a longer story just one page at a time and did that affect how you wrote it?

ND: We worked out a lot of the broad strokes of the plot with Jason before even presenting it to Metromix, and then reworked those broad strokes based on their notes. Once that was finalized, Jason gave us a pretty free hand at working the plot details. He's been very involved with the series, but because of the one-page-at-a-time format, his notes are often about smaller things - specific lines, costuming, page pacing, that sort of thing. Now, as to the actual writing one-page-at-a-time, well... it's a challenge. But the longer we worked on it, the more of a good thing that became. It's another form that we get to play with, and it has its own needs and obstacles, and we'd like to think we've gotten better at handling it.

The biggest trick is that despite being printed on a large page, we had to work with a manga-sized panel count, because of the possibility of collecting the pages and publishing it at typical manga size. That meant we couldn't do higher panel counts, which we first tried to use to offset the one-page format.

Do you have any other project with Seven Seas in the planning stages?

ND: Not at the moment. But we want to do more with Luna, and maybe push “Ninja Diaries” into a full manga form, so we'll see. Seven Seas is open to exploring the Luna future. And everyone involved is very excited about “Ninja Diaries,” so we're hopeful there's more to do on both fronts. As for “Destiny's Hand”... you never know. But since it is one big epic adventure, once the third volume is out and it wraps, we plan to let it sit for a while. We had a story to tell, and we told it. We may revisit the crew, but not for a while.

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You've written both ninjas and pirates. Who would win in a fight?

ND: It depends. A pirate versus a ninja? The ninja wins. But ninja often travel alone, and pirates usually have a whole crew with them. And cannons. So, I think the pirates win myself.

CW: Sigh... I want to say ninja because in the ongoing Ninja vs. Pirate debate, I like to pick ninja. But I have to lend some credence to Nunzio's logic.

You adapted the short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” How did that come about? Did you have free reign over the story? Did knowing of the upcoming movie change what you did?

ND: Our literary agent brought us to the attention of Quirk Books, and after a discussion with Jason Rekulak at Quirk, we were brought onboard to write the graphic novel. When we first started discussing it, Quirk's intentions weren't set yet. They knew they wanted to stick to the original story instead of changing timelines and making the kind of wholesale changes that it appears were made for the film. But we weren't sure if that meant adding more structure to the scenes, adding scenes to flesh out historic moments for Benjamin, that sort of thing. But in talking with Jason, we started to get the idea that the closer we stuck to the original, the happier he'd be. So we all settled on the idea that our job would not be writing the graphic novel, per se, but adapting it.

With a short story, everything is described in prose. But we had Kevin Cornell doing the art, so we knew his work would do so much of that for us - he'd bring the world to life, remove the need for some of the descriptive prose. So our job was to decide what information would be conveyed visually by Kevin and what would remain a part of Fitzgerald's narration. It was a puzzle of sorts - how to build a comic from a short story using only the words of the author, but not all of the words. It was also intimidating. In a sense, we were editing F. Scott Fitzgerald! As a side note, we also decided to ask Jason to credit us not as writers, but as adaptors, because we weren't creating anything new, we were just helping to bring Fitzgerald's story to a new medium.

How does the “Benjamin Button” job compare to your work on the “Jumper” comics tie-ins?

CW: It was a much smoother process. But I think that's probably the difference between working with a movie studio and working with a book publisher. As Nunzio mentioned, Jason Rekulak and Quirk Books decided they wanted to do a completely faithful adaptation of Fitzgerald's work. That meant we had our blueprint in black in white in front of us. There were unique challenges presented in tackling such a project. But when we did “Jumper,” we had to constantly inquire about plot decisions and reshoots and had they nailed down their special effects, etc. Plus, there were character likeness concerns. I think this would have been far more similar to the “Jumper” project had we been trying to adapt the “Benjamin Button” film.

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You’ve also got two big projects coming out from Oni next year. First, what’s the story behind “Bad Medicine?”

ND: In terms of the story, it's about a doctor who has a crisis of faith when his own arrogance and his ties to big pharmaceutical companies get a patient killed. He is literally haunted by this patient, and when he tries to kill himself, she's the one who saves him. He disappears with this ghost, only to return five years later having studied all the things that modern medicine considers junk science. Things ranging from holistic medicine to witchcraft. He is contacted by the government to look into things that science can't explain, and assembles a team of scientists, working for the Center For Disease Control. Their job is to look at the paranormal through the eyes of science, and we see werewolves, invisible men, zombies, and many horror story favorites, but through the eye of science and medicine. How did these things happen? And can they be treated or “cured?”

In terms of how it came about, Oni has a growing presence in Hollywood, and a famous TV producer met with the editors and publisher. He wanted to help develop a comic with an eye towards making it a series. He asked if Oni had any ideas or projects that were medical procedurals with horror elements. They did not, because there aren't many projects of that type around. James Lucas Jones, Editor in Chief at Oni, figured that, since we had done so many genres with them, we might be good people to ask. We didn't have an idea like that, actually, but we came up with one in a couple of days. We sent it to Oni, and soon afterwards, the producer moved on, no longer interested in comics, I guess - from what we understand, he never even read the proposal. But we had a story idea that we liked, and James liked it, so we decided to do it as a comic, TV producers and their short attention spans be damned.

Then you have “All Saints Day,” which is a sequel to one of your previous Oni books, “Past Lies.” What's the story?

CW: Amy Devlin is finishing up her time in Detective Duggan's office and is almost qualified to become an officially licensed P.I. But in her last few months there, she stumbles across some cold cases that may or may not be related. And if they are related, it means she has a serial killer on her hands. Can she figure out the links and solve the mystery before the serial killer strikes again? And will the screenwriter who has decided to write the story of “Past Lies,” though with Detective Duggan as the lead, meddle in Amy's investigation therefore allowing the killer to get away?

Christopher Mitten drew “Past Lies.” Who’s drawing “All Saints Day?”

The webcomic "The Ninja Diaries"

CW: Dove McHargue is the new artist, though Chris Mitten did character designs. Dove is a teacher at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) and a very talented artist. Unfortunately, when he signed on to the project he became the father of triplets as well. This has kept him a very busy man and the book has taken a little longer to come out then we all had initially thought.

When are “Bad Medicine” and “All Saint's Day” coming out?

ND: That's a good question! Dove McHargue, our artist on “All Saints Day,” teaches and has triplets. So it's taken a while to get the book together. But if all goes according to plan, it'll be out before All Saints Day. As for “Bad Medicine,” Doug Dabbs, our artist, is doing a graphic novel first, so we're waiting for him to come off that project and dive into this one. Once he's up and running on this, Oni will put it on the official schedule.

One of your early graphic novels at Oni was the fantasy book “Once in a Blue Moon,” which you intended to be a series. Are we ever going to see Volume 2?

ND: That's a question we ask ourselves often. When Jen Quick left to do her own work, we were left without an artist, and there hasn't been a good fit yet. It's frustrating, because we wanted that story to be ongoing, and the logistics of production and collaboration just haven't complied.

TAGS:  nunzio defilippis, christina weir, amazing agent luna, ninja diaries, oni press

 
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