The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Such a statement isn't an adequate reflection of "Proof," however, as it would imply that the Image Comics series is in something of a sticky situation. Nothing could be further than the truth as "Proof" hits its milestone 25th issue at the end of October, proving that creators Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo's recipe for success has a lot less to do with cooking a messy dessert than it does with crafting memorable comic book fare. CBR News spoke with the creative duo about their plans for "Proof" #25 and beyond.
"Proof's" premise is simple enough: a real-life bigfoot named John "Proof" Prufrock is the lead agent at The Lodge, a joint agency between the United States and Canada dedicated to tracking down Cryptids – or, monsters that lack concrete proof of existence. Alongside rookie agents Ginger Brown and Elvis Chestnut, Proof has come face-to-face with a vast number of these Cryptids, including massive thunderbirds and a flesh-stealing Chupacabra. But their greatest foe has yet to fully reveal himself: he is Mi-Chen Po – a Tibetan-based Yeti with mysterious ties to Proof and Ginger – and his secretive plans could very well come to the doorstep of The Lodge in the long-awaited Cryptid War.
But before readers see how the battles play out, they'll first be treated to a glimpse of future events. Issue #25, titled "Aftermath," launches "Proof's" story a full year ahead, in which a devastated Lodge has been torn down the middle between two warring factions: one led by Wayne Russet – the caretaker of the Lodge's Habitat, which shelters endangered Cryptids – and the other led by Colonel Werner Dachshund – a poacher and eater of Cryptids, most recently seen by readers as a prisoner at The Lodge.
"The Lodge has been virtually destroyed, and these two are locked in a long-running battle for the remaining denizens of The Habitat," writer Grecian said of "Aftermath's" story. "Each man has an army of soldiers, and the big surprise for long-time readers is going to be in seeing who's ended up in which camp. New readers, meanwhile, will have a chance to be introduced to some of the coolest 'real' monsters in comics and see what makes them tick."
Of course, fans will want to know which side of the battle Proof has landed on – but this issue will offer no closure on that question. Grecian teased: "The three main characters in 'Proof' – Ginger Brown, Elvis Chestnut and Proof himself – are conspicuously absent, and there are good reasons for that, but it'll be up to readers to speculate as to just why they won't be around a year from now."
As for the destruction of the Lodge itself, there are several possible culprits to consider, though artist Rossmo points out the most obvious: "We're assuming somebody fell asleep with a lit cigarette."
"Actually, The Lodge has burned – although not completely, there are still parts of it that are still intact and in use – as a direct result of the upcoming 'Cryptid War,'" Grecian said. "The opening salvo of that war was the Tibetan Yeti recruiting a former Lodge member to his side. Exactly what he has planned is still a mystery, but clearly, the war will be taken to the front door."
Still, fans shouldn't get too cozy with this leap forward in time – according to Grecian, it's a one-time deal. "'Aftermath' is a one-time-only look into the future," said the writer. "We'll see a very different side of Wayne and some of the other characters, and then, with #26, we'll be returning to the present and beginning a new status quo for the book, which will be very new-reader friendly. Then we'll begin ramping up to the reasons for all the changes we've seen in #25."
Following "Aftermath" – which Grecian emphasized takes place one year later in relation to the story, but not the book's release schedule – "Proof" will kick off a new arc titled "Who Killed The Dover Demon." It's a very loaded title for fans of the series, as The Dover Demon – a mouthless Cryptid with the ability to predict the future, albeit confusingly at times – is undoubtedly a much loved character, though the very nature of his abilities could make him a tricky one to write.
"If The Dover Demon gives some hint as to what's coming, then it might be possible for Proof to change things between now and then, but it seems unlikely," Grecian said. "For starters, that would be a little bit of a cheat. Once readers are invested in a story, it would be like pulling the rug out from under everyone if they're speculating about something that'll never happen. There's also the fact that it doesn't really sound like The Demon will be making many more predictions after this next arc."
In all fairness, it's not completely unreasonable for fans to question Grecian and Rossmo's roadmap. While "Proof" has provided plenty of carefully laid twists and thrills since its opening issue, the creators have gone on record with some on-the-fly changes they have made. Elvis Chestnut, for instance, was slated to die in the opening arc, but was given a last minute reprieve when Grecian fell in love with the character.
"Elvis was famously supposed to die in the first issue he appeared in," Grecian admitted. "But he was such a nice guy that he wouldn't go into the women's restroom where the monster was waiting to eat him. He just hung outside and the monster got someone else. It was the first time in this series that a character started developing independently of our plans and the series really started to come alive for us. Since then, he's kind of become the heart of the series, the really good guy at the center of everything. He's not innocent or simple – he's just sincerely nice."
Even a more meticulously planned character like Proof has deviated from Grecian and Rossmo's original outline. "Proof has shown himself to be more thoughtful and more of a pacifist than we'd originally intended," said the writer. "Proof's the soul of the book, but looking back on his history, he's always kind of run away from difficult decisions and fights. He's a people-pleaser, and there are good reasons for that, but as we approach the Cryptid War, we'll be giving him an excellent reason to become more proactive."
Indeed, the book itself is becoming more proactive thanks to "Aftermath's" glimpse of the future. "There's quite a bit more action and violence than we usually get to highlight in 'Proof,' and jumping forward in time gives us a breaking point," Grecian said. "It allows for us to take a deep breath and reward the readers who've been with us from the beginning and who are starting to piece together the clues we've dropped along the way. We're going to stop giving clues now, and start heading toward the big crisis we've had planned. So if you've been following the progress of events from the beginning, there's a richness there that you can draw on."
At the same time, "Proof" #25 offers a good starting point for new readers. "'Proof' has been a very continuity-driven series – everything that's happened has built on things that have happened in previous issues and in Proof's hinted-at 200-plus-year lifetime, and everything's been driving toward specific events in the future," Grecian described. "By showing some of those events and then stepping back to start fresh down the road toward them, we're inviting people to join us on that road. We're sort of starting over now. This is a level playing field now for new readers as well as established readers."
The aim is clearly to bring a new audience to "Proof," but certainly not at the expense of the important groundwork that longtime fans have enjoyed. If anything, Grecian described this next phase of "Proof" as the one that fans have been waiting for.
"This is where it kicks into gear and things start to come together. Now that these characters have defined themselves, we can do the things we've always planned to do and it'll all mean so much more. We're going to surprise you," he said. "Everything we've ever promised or hinted at is about to happen. Everything that's gone before has been building to this. If you've read 'Proof' and liked 'Proof,' we're going to break your heart, make you gasp and maybe even smile."
"Proof" #25 hits stores on October 28, 2009 courtesy of Image Comics.