This year, Radical Publishing will take readers to a dystopian future with a new re-imagining of classic western hero Wyatt Earp as the only honest man in the city of Las Vegas in "Earp: Saints for Sinners."
Conceived by "South Beach" creator and producer Matthew Cirulnick and "Stay Alive" producer David Manpearl and written by "Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising" scribe M. Zachary Sherman, "Earp: Saints for Sinners" is one of the newest titles to hit the Radical library, detailing the life of a futuristic family of Lawmen as they struggle to maintain control in a United States increasingly spiraling towards complete chaos.
To get a better idea of how the Old West came back to Sin City, CBR News spent some time with writer M. Zachary Sherman who revealed how writing video games helped his comic book scripting and why going to Las Vegas with Wyatt Earp is more than a sure bet.
CBR News: Tell us a little bit about the story you'll be helping Matt Cirulnick and David Manpearl tell in the pages of "Earp: Saints for Sinners."
M. Zachary Sherman:: It's a futuristic dystopian retelling of a classic tale. What if the economy were to keep collapsing, and all across the country, conditions just kept getting worse and worse and Americans had no where to turn to for economic support? The government's pretty much bankrupt and useless and people have started to take matters into their own hands. Life quickly becomes more disenfranchised for normal folks, with major amounts of violence and crime on the rise. People are gunned down in the streets over groceries, not Rolexes. In a desperate hope to control random acts of violence, dueling to protect yourself and property, as well as settling petty differences, becomes perfectly legal and now we have social conditions akin to the Old West. People are armed all the time and will "skin that gat" to do their talking for them, ahem, as it were.
Soon, people are so deprived that criminals who "stick it to the man" by robbing banks and doing what they feel needs to be done to live become nationwide celebrities. Now you've got wanted felons, bank robbers and murderers, sharing the spotlight on "Entertainment Tonight" and "TMZ" with movie stars and musicians. But the people that put them away, the Lawmen who track and hunt them down, become equally as popular, and that's where Wyatt and his brothers come in.
The book is about the relationships between the people in the story. They're deep and intertwined, and it's more their story than is about the plot (though I promise there is one). I don't want to give too much away, but as we get deep into it, we learn about what drives good men towards impossible odds, why people take up arms against one another and how you'll do whatever it takes to survive.
Can you expand a little more about the characters and settings that will be gracing the pages of "Earp: Saints for Sinners."
With the economy in the crapper, people feel their last ditch effort to make any kind of real financial freedom and forward movement is by trusting in luck. Las Vegas is the new Mecca and people flock there by the thousands hoping to hit it big in the city's annual 50-billion dollar jackpot, the Mega-Lotto. This stroke of marketing genius is the brainchild of Vegas' last standing tycoon and mayor, Edward Flynn- and tickets can only be bought at his casinos along The Strip.
People come to buy a ticket and stay for the available jobs or whatever their vice demands. Besides, it's better to stay once there than make the expensive trip annually for the Lotto drawing. Gasoline is nineteen bucks a gallon, that is, if you're lucky enough to own a car.
In many ways, this Las Vegas is a Wild West boomtown, except porn flyers are the new tumbleweeds. Ferraris are the stagecoaches and instead of horses, outlaws and lawmen ride motorcycles. Instead of revolvers, they pack automatic assault rifles. Instead of Stetsons and spurs, they wear Ed Hardy and Armani.
While the look of the Wild West town may have changed dramatically (and for the better), its classic denizens - beloved for generations - are still the same...
As for the people, we have the staples of the legend: Wyatt, Virgil, Doc Morgan and a cast of others.
Doc and Wyatt are actually old NYPD Special Case Squad partners who have gone their separate ways. On his own, Doc has done a few..."questionable" things that have made him more screwed-up and self destructive than ever, but Wyatt has chosen the higher road and become a celebrity lawman, becoming a Federal Marshal. But after an unforeseen circumstance (no, I'm not going to spoil it!), he and Doc are reunited. He convinces Wyatt to give up the law-trade and move to Vegas where they can open a small casino/restaurant and live like kings, away from the scum of the earth. After almost 20 years of putting bad-guys behind bars only to re-arrest them multiple times, this appeals to Wyatt who agrees.
Morgan (Wyatt's younger brother), on the other hand, sees it as sign of being afraid at first, but finally understands his brother's need for a normal life and joins them.
But a new location doesn't mean trouble is left behind and a whole new breed of bad-guys crops up. This time, in the form of corrupt cops and local businessmen that do everything in their power to run Earp out of town while extorting money from him.
Previous to "Saints for Sinners," you've done quite a bit of varied work, including Radical's "Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising." What sets "Saints for Sinners" apart from your other series?
I'd say that unlike some of my other work, especially "Shrapnel" or "America's Army," this one's not military-based at all. Whether that's sci-fi militia or real Army heroes, this is all grounded in a possible "what if" scenario with real people. For me, this project has been a really nice chance to branch out from that and show the fans what else I have in me. Don't get me wrong, sci-fi is my passion, and one I continue to explore in other projects, but this book was something completely different thematically and a project I was excited to jump on.
It was also an opportunity to create a new reality that's based on a historical event; I've never done that before. These characters are heroes, crooked cops, drunks, whores, casino owners and villains who are based on people of legend and who really existed so it was extremely important for me to do the research, to dive into those people. I really wanted to pull out their core being, who they were and what made them tick during the periods of their lives I showcase. Now, I will say I use these people as the archetypes for the characters, but I do not do direct translations of them, so we won't be getting just a recycled version of history. It's a new slant on an old classic.
On a separate note, you did game design on one of my favorite platformers ever, "Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow." How do you feel work like that has helped you in writing comics?
Whoa - flashback time! You actually played that game?! That's awesome! I think the only other people that bought that game were the producer, Patrick Gilmore, and me! Thought I didn't get to see that one through to completion, that was a fun project to work on. I love "Magnum P.I." and Donald was perfect for that!
What I find video games teaches us about writing, and not just comics, is that in a world of A to Z storytelling, there are many different branches a character can follow based on their internal devices and what's presented to them at the time. Every decision is a crossroads, no matter how small the decision is. Using that as a guide, there are multiple ways a person can react to a situation based on who they are and their life-experiences up to the point of this new conflict. All of these elements are explored much deeper in video games, like the "Heavy Rain" and the "Mass Effect" series, because they allow a person the ability to make multiple decisions based on who they are and what they think the character needs to do to progress the narrative.
Most comics don't allow you the same freedom for a plethora of reasons. Mostly because they're hampered by space constraints for dialogue and page count, unlike in a game, but game writing makes you understand the glut of choices your character has to react to something or a certain situation. Try this - watch your friends play games and see how they make different kinds of decisions than you would in a similar situation, and ask them why they did it. The reasons can be eye opening as a writer - same characters, but different people controlling them. All based on the player's personal choices for the character.
On the other hand, creator-owned comics are very similar to games, mostly because you have the opportunity to create robust and varied background to your characters and you're not locked into years of jumbled and sometimes contradictory continuity that you need to pick up and follow. "He wouldn't talk like that" doesn't seem to come out David Wohl's (EIC at Radical) mouth much. That's a big difference and has allowed me to create some pretty interesting people.
What do you think makes "Earp: Saints for Sinners" well suited to both the Radical library and comic books in general?
Radical is great at taking something that we see as commonplace mythos and twisting it into a new fable. A new way of looking at an old classic, like "Star Wars" was a re-imagining of "Hidden Fortress" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was a retelling of the movie serials Lucas grew up with, Radical has captured that same tradition. With books like "Caliber" (a cowboy slant on the Arthur Legend), "Hercules" and "Aladdin," they're reintroducing legends to a new audience of readers in their own way. And creating new, exciting properties too, like "Shrapnel."
What did you find to be the biggest challenge in writing this project?
Pleasing everyone is always a challenge. With a book like this, the brainchild of two amazing writers/creators in their own right, I needed to find the right groove that not only paid homage to their idea, but the source material as well.
Radical felt, given my skill set and my "voice," I matched what Matt and David needed as a writer. But anyone who knows me, or my work, knows I want to impart myself into what I work on. Strategically, merging the two was difficult at first, but working on something collaboratively is also a learning process that takes patience and a certain amount of bending on both sides. Once you master the ability to compromise, creativity is given a chance to flow. We all want what's best for the project and that's a fantastic driving force.
What do you think is most appealing about a story like the one you're telling in "Saints for Sinners?"
The depths to which man will go to fight for what he believes in. I'm not saying it's right, but we're seeing it today. Americans blowing up IRS buildings, people bulldozing their own homes so the banks can't repossess them - life comes to a head and sometimes you need to fight for you and yours. That's what this book is about - good men pushed to the brink and fighting to maintain their dignity and honor.
What kinds of comics do you read? Do you have a favorite series or character?
Me? I'm a huge sci-fi fan. Right now, I'm reading "Green Lantern." I love that book; very inspiring as a writer to see the continuity placed back into a semblance of order as well as the watching Johns keeps track of all the multiple character arcs and storylines. Very, very hard work and something he should be commended on. "Buck Rogers" from Dynamite is a personal favorite and a book I'd love a shot at one day, as well as "Robocop."
Superheroes are always fun, like "Batman" and "Superman," "Ultimates," "Ultimate Avengers," "Captain America" and "Punisher," these are always on the pull list.
Those, and "G.I. Joe." It's always a favorite and Chuck Dixon can do no wrong in my eyes ("Nightwing" was awesome!), though I would love to arm-wrestle him over writing that book! Ha! Maybe one day...!
"Earp: Saints for Sinners" will be hitting stores soon - what has you most excited about the series' impending release?
I'm hoping to open a door to other exciting projects like this, showing other editors and my fans that there's more to my writing than just M4s and camouflage. Character is at the heart of all good stories and this is the best one for me yet, I just hope the people out there agree.