Rich Koslowski is well-known to comics fans and requires little introduction. He’s the Ignatz Award winning writer and artist of “Three Fingers,” “The King” and “3 Geeks.” Koslowski also freelances for Archie Comics as an inker. For his new book, “BB Wolf and the 3 LPs,” Koslowski has teamed up with writer J.D. Arnold, a comics retailer (Comicopolis in Santa Cruz, California) and first time writer on the new graphic novel coming out from Top Shelf in June.
“BB Wolf and the 3 LPs” is the story of the three little pigs retold as an old blues song. For a story that is so familiar to be as moving and powerful as this book is a testament to the expressive art by Koslowski and Arnold’s script. In this version of the story, the meaning of the original story is subverted to tell a powerful tale of intolerance and injustice. The creators spoke with CBR recently about the project.
CBR News: JD, I know this is your first comic, what’s your background and how did you end up writing this book and connecting with Rich and Top Shelf?
J.D. Arnold: Yes, this is my first major published work, though I have been writing for years. I did a couple of self-published anthology mags a few years back, and have a boatload of ideas and scripts just waiting for the right editor to come along. My background consists of a 2-year business degree from my local community college, a small lifetime working in the wholesale food production industry, and an almost equal amount of time on the retail side of the comic business. I own a comic shop in Santa Cruz, CA—Comicopolis, check us out!—and have been writing and trying to break into the creative side of the industry for a number of years.
I wrote this particular story about 5 years ago. I then sat on it for about a year, maybe a little less, searching for the right artist. It was in San Diego, at Comic-Con, in 2007 I think, that I met Rich Koslowski. I’d just finished reading “Three Fingers.” I have to say that I had not been that impressed by a graphic novel in a long time. I was instantly a huge fan. I knew right away, upon reading “Three Fingers,” that Rich’s style would be perfect for BB Wolf. But if not for my wife Katie, I doubt I would have ever screwed up the courage to approach him. Practically dragged by the hand, she led me to his booth. I’m sure I seemed the typical, sweaty-palmed fan boy. “Hi Mr. Koslowski. I’m a big fan. Will you sign my book for me?” Gah. I’m embarrassed just writing about it. And I don’t even think I had the nerve to ask him to look at my work then and there. It was many weeks later, after constant nudging from Katie, that I finally sent an email to Rich, asking him to look at the script. For some reason, maybe he was bored, maybe he remembered the pitiful stuttering fan and took pity, I don’t know, but he did agree to read it. The rest is history, I suppose. Rich can weigh in more on what occurred next. But it was his connections with the fine boys at Top Shelf that got our feet in the door there.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Arnold: Again, I have Katie to thank for this. She’s the actual brains of the operation. I just write pretty words. So, again, writing many scripts for the many fantastic comic story ideas I have (hint, hint to any editor out there reading this), when, one day, as it does happen to all of us, I hit a wall. For days I was uninspired. Nothing came to me. I panicked. Had the creative juices dried up so soon? Was I destined to stall out before I had truly begun? In a dazed and confused state I went to Katie and said, ‘Give me a writing assignment! Anything! An essay on rising mortgage rates. A discussion on the importance of cheese making to Western Colonialism! Anything!’ She responded with, without missing a beat, ‘Why don’t you write a re-telling of the Three Little Pigs story?’ Within minutes I had the basis of the story. Within an hour I had the three chapters plotted. I finished the script, with the exception of some minor rewrites, in under three days. The story has become richer over the years, with back story written for the website, and song lyrics to expand on the blues musician angle of BB. But the basic story came to me and was finished very quickly. After I finished that first draft I began looking to other classic fairy tales and children’s stories, and have since written updated treatments for several others. I hope to follow up BB with more of my twisted, fractured fairy tales. Can I use that? Does that infringe on someone’s copyright? If so, delete that bit.
The original story is about three pigs outsmarting the cruel wolf and you really subvert what that means in a way that will hopefully resonate with people beyond the pages. Was this idea in the book’s DNA from the beginning or did this possibility creep up on you as you worked on it?
Arnold: The idea of twisting the focus of the story, of playing the wolf as the victim of the pigs, was there at the beginning. It was in fact my first thought after receiving the assignment. What if the real tale behind the fable was just the opposite of what we have been told? History is written by the victors, as they say. And in this tale it is ultimately the pigs that triumph. So naturally they would paint themselves as the heroes of the tale, victimized by the evil, murderous wolf. But the truth is rarely as neat as we want to believe. The good guys don’t always wear white, the bad guys black. And in this case it is just the opposite. The classic tale is widely known, and has been told in countless forms. I hope that I have brought a fresh, unique perspective to the story.
By the time I reached the third part of the book, I knew how the fairy tale ends and I had this sense in the back of my head how it was going to end, and it really gave the story a tragic inevitability. What was the key as far as knowing that people would know the story but still finding the right tone and way to tell it?
Arnold: Well, again, this is a tale that is widely known. And I wanted to play on that familiarity, take advantage of it. So I really didn’t want to change the large strokes of the story, the way the story flowed and ended. I was really not trying to hide the ending from the reader, and I even drop a few hints, through BB Wolf’s narration, of the tragic end that was awaiting him. The twist I was trying to achieve, and hopefully did achieve, was telling the story from a different perspective, and with an unexpected back drop. The very simple theme of the original tale is; hard work is rewarded. The lazy pigs who build their houses from sticks and straw easily fall victim to the wolf, whereas the hard working, clever pig, building his house from brick, is spared. Here, in our tale, I address themes of racism, social injustice, and revenge. And, knowing the fate that will befall BB, I believe these themes are emphasized. This is what I think will resonate with the reader. It is less about the actions of the characters than the issues being addressed through their actions.
Rich, you usually write your own books. What made you sign on to draw a project?
Rich Koslowski: Well, as JD hinted at above, I have been approached numerous times over the years by fans with pitches but his initial email and outline was really very impressive. He approached me in the right way...a nice hello at the con followed up with a nice email re-introducing himself and asking if I'd be willing to take a look at his stuff (and the proper amount of praise towards me, of course, without being overly gratuitous).
The initial short pitch was impressive enough that I wanted to see the full script. And the full script knocked me out. JD did his work. It was well-crafted, paced and gave each character the life they needed for me to easily visualize what he was going for.
All that and he was willing to pay me! I say that only half-jokingly...and by that I mean he was willing to put his money where his mouth was. And that's an admirable thing to do and I respected his commitment to his project. He believed in his story.
JD, I guess the flip side of that question is what made Rich the right guy to draw it?
Arnold: He’s a genius. And very sexy. But seriously, as I said, I was a big fan of his work. And not to belabor the point, I was writing my butt off, but not making great headway towards getting anything published. The common response I got from most editors was ‘Get a book out.’ Most of them did not want to see my scripts. They wanted to see a finished work. And up to the point of working with Rich I was having a terrible time finding a good artist who was dedicated enough to finish a project. I knew that, being the professional he is, Rich would have the talent and work ethic to get the book done. And I was lucky that Rich found the project worthy of his time and talents.
Koslowski: It's true, I am sexy.
Was anything changed or altered or adjusted when Rich came on board?
Arnold: Very little was changed in terms of story and dialogue. Rich, I think, was a big fan of the story from the start and respected my vision. There were small changes in visual flow, a few added images, sound effects, and such, but the story stands largely as it did at the beginning.
Koslowski: Yeah, I added a splash page here and there for impact and to give certain pages more room to breathe. I also added a bunch of little sound effects just cuz they're fun to do. And rookie writers often neglect the poor little SFX. I know I did when I first started writing. I invoked my SFX hero, the GOD of SFX, Don Martin.
JD was also extremely cool with giving me carte blanche on character designs, settings, layout, everything! He was an artists dream editor!
Rich, what was the biggest challenge for you as far as illustrating the book?
Koslowski: Y'know...I can honestly say that the art process of the book was almost completely challenge-free. Having free reign to do the art was so enjoyable and JD was so amiable and trusting that it was pure joy. The only real issue was fitting it into my otherwise busy schedule. But even so I think I managed to get all the art done in under 6 months. I'd usually do it in 10 page chunks--work a week on BB, work a week on other gigs, going back-and-forth till it was completed.
I guess one of the "challenges" might've been creating unique looking characters. But my drawing style is different enough, I guess, that that kind of naturally happened. A cross between cartoony and realistic.
Writing about subjects which are much discussed, which often become polemical, but you’ve really found a way to tell it in a way that doesn’t come across like that. Do you think making this allegory make it easier to address these issues, tell these stories, than doing it in a purely realistic manner? Instead of say, creating a comic book that would tell the story of Emmett Till, to whose memory the book was dedicated.
Arnold: Well, I’m not sure if it makes it easier to address, or to tell the tale, but perhaps it makes easier for the reader to relate, to digest. I just recently read "Nat Turner" by Kyle Baker. Fantastic book, and if you haven’t read it, it is the true story of Nat Turner and the slave uprising of 1831. The book is told from Nat Turner’s confessions to his lawyer while awaiting sentencing and eventual execution. A powerful, moving, disturbing tale, addressing racism, slavery, and murder. I would highly recommend this book, but be warned; it is a hard book to get through. I’m a new dad, and there are at least a couple of scenes in this book that nearly brought me to tears. My point in bringing this up, maybe, maybe, by using the fairy tale setting I chose to use, I can address similar issues in a way that is more easily digestible to more people. Not to say that I at all ‘dumbed it down.’ I sincerely hope I did not, and that was not my intention. But I do hope that the familiarity of the story would draw more readers, and that perhaps I could say something important using a form where it is not usually expected to see such heavy issues addressed. Now, as to the Emmett Till dedication…this comes partly from the themes addressed in the book, the events of the book, and the location. I chose Money, Mississippi because the events involving Emmett Till occurred there.
So what else are you guys working on right now?
Arnold: I am currently working on another graphic novel with Eisner-nominated Jon 'Bean' Hastings ("Smith Brown Jones," "Mad Science," "Terrabella Smoot," "Haunted Mansion"). As mentioned a few times here, I have many stories in various stages of development, most ready to go and just waiting for the right artist. Specifically, I have rewritten a few classic fairy tales, as I did with "BB Wolf," and hope to follow up "BB" with one of these. I have one particular story in mind that I would love Rich to draw. (Rich?) I also have a few ongoing comic series ideas and scripts, most horror- and/or crime-based. I've also got a couple kick ass TV ideas. Anybody listening, I'm ready to go. Let's do this!
Koslowski: Well, I've always got 6 to 20 "active" ideas that I'm working on, developing, pitching. As far as concrete releases planned I am excited to mention––and I hope the "3 Geeks" fans will be excited to hear––that a new "The 3 Geeks" story will be out this spring/summer! I was invited to contribute to the upcoming "Zombies vs Cheerleaders" comic that's produced by Moonstone and 5Finity. I'll be doing a 12 page feature in the issue and it's going to be FULL-COLOR! which is very cool. I'm also slated for one of the covers. Keep your eyes peeled on my website for updates.
I'm also publishing a novel under my 3 Finger Prints banner for newcomer novelist Russ Colchamiro that'll debut this Fall at the big New York con. I met Russ several years back at Comic-Con where he asked me to read his proof copy of his debut sci-fi novel "Finders Keepers" and give him some feedback. I was blown away and offered any help I could provide with promotion, pull quotes, contacts, etc. We struck up a mutual friendship and pondered my helping him publish the book. The rest, as they say...
Anyway, it's a fantastic read and I'm also going to be doing the cover art...which is spectacular by the way.
I'm also planning a new "3 Geeks Halloween Special" for this Fall. There's a good possibility it'll also be full-color and graphic novel length.
And yeah, JD wasn't entirely unpleasant to work with so there's always the possibility that we work together again. I'm sure that after "BB Wolf" comes out the fans will be demanding it!!! Excelsior!
And finally, I'm working with a new management company that'll be helping me promote my properties to the studios. So if you're one of those Hollywood High Rollers gimme a shout...or as "they" say, "Give my people a shout!"