Prohibition-era gangsters and vampires and aliens, oh my.
These are not exactly the likeliest of ingredients when creating a comic book, but they're the ones that have been selected by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards for "Turf," their five-issue Image Comics miniseries - and judging by the immediate sellout of "Turf" #1, it appears the recipe was a success.
In "Turf," Ross and Edwards tell the story of a high stakes power struggle between various warring parties with varying degrees of unique skill sets, all vying for control over New York City and many struggling to survive. As the second issue arrived in stores this week, CBR News spoke with Ross and Edwards for an in-depth analysis of "Turf" #2, pulling back the curtain on some of the issue's most important moments and the behind-the-scenes construction of the story.
The premise of "Turf" and a recap of the first issue, as explained by Jonathan Ross…
Jonathan Ross: It's set in New York towards the end of Prohibition. It's February, when the days are short and the nights are long. There are various gangs kind of operating with the permission of the police - they're bribing them, this corrupt police force, with some honest police trying to shut it down. But suddenly, the gangs start disappearing and no one quite knows why. The suspicion points to a family that has traveled over from Europe some time back - the Dragonmirs. They were using the gangs to smuggle in, not so much booze, but blood. This gives you a clue that they're not straightforward humans like the rest of us. They're Strigoli, which are the Romanian tradition of vampires and slightly different from the mainstream Dracula we've come to know in modern fiction, but still part of the same mythology.
The cops are wise to what's going on there a little bit, because one of them, a very corrupt cop called Pete O'Leary, kind of knows what these guys are. He's benefiting from them. He's a morally reprehensible human being who kind of likes what they're doing and he kind of likes the fact that they're on the same page as him, somewhat sadomasochistic. He's just a broken person.
One of the gangs that's almost wiped out is headed by Eddie Falco, a gangster who has risen to the top but is a bit tired of his life. In the end of book one, he's lost his right hand man and he's forced to kill his barber, who's been hypnotized by the vampires - that becomes clearer a bit later on. [Eddie and his allies] go to a showdown, which has been set up for them by Pete O'Leary, unknown that it's a trap waiting for them. They have a vampire hostage and they're trying to make him talk, not yet knowing that they're in any way different from human beings - they just think they're kind of weird.
On top of that, a space ship crash lands just outside of Coney Island, which is also where the Dragonmir Mansion is. Stories are beginning to cross together, and linking them all in a way, we have Susie Randall, essentially a society reporter beginning to feel very frustrated by her role which would have been typical of a young woman working in the media back then. She wants to see a little bit more action. She's well connected but kind of maybe a bit too ambitious, to the point where she's prepared to sacrifice most of those around her to get what she thinks she wants. She's stumbled on the truth of [the vampires] accidentally, so she's also heading towards this meeting that's taking place between Eddie Falco and his gang and this vampire guy that they have trapped in a warehouse down by the docks. That's kind of where we left book one.
Of all the plot threads left dangling in "Turf" #1, why start here with Eddie?
Ross: Initially, we ended book one with this. This seemed like a good, dramatic ending to book one, with the guy there.
Tommy Lee Edwards: I think by then, you and I decided to move it a bit and end issue #1 a little earlier, just because of all the bits we were packing into the story. Having it start here made sense, too, because this is where everyone was going to converge eventually. Susie, the vampires and Eddie's crew. Then, we were going to follow Eddie away from this location out to meet the alien later on. This was definitely the best spot to start.
Ross: And it gave us a nice, zingy dialogue action scene to begin with. One of the main bits I enjoyed writing in the previous book - the things I'm really enjoying writing is when there's dialogue zipping back and forth between people. I loved the barbershop sequence in book one when Eddie is talking to his barber and he's worked out that he's not quite 100% himself. Here, you've got some dialogue between Eddie and the vampire, and I think it's quite funny, but it also speaks volumes about what's going to happen and what's motivating them.
Edwards: This scene at the editor's office was another one that we originally tried to fit into "Turf" #1, but I liked what Jonathan had written so much that I didn't want to see it trimmed down for space. That was another reason why [we moved it]. It's only two pages, but it's two pages with a lot of really fun dialogue. In keeping with that snappy dialogue, I tried cutting to some different camera set-ups.
Ross: Here you have a nine-panel page, and you don't really see that much anymore. We're doing that a lot more, which is adding considerably to Tommy's workload, but we have a lot of characters in this, and the only way we're going to get through it with the characters all being given a bit of a voice and space is to have pages like this. I think it will come across as a far richer experience in the end. Some people said they didn't like the first issue because it was a little bit text heavy, and I would agree that it was a little denser than it should have been. At the same time, this isn't anywhere near as dense, I don't think.
There are pages like this one, and pages coming up, that are still a bit dense, and that's very, very deliberate on our part. We could have trimmed it, as Tommy said, but we like this dialogue. We like the feeling that we're offering something that you're not really getting anywhere else on the marketplace right now. You're getting a character-driven, genre comic book. Most of them are genre-driven books, driven by the genre and the conventions of the genre. What we're going for is a fairly rich, fairly deep character piece, and I'm not claiming that we're like Faulkner doing something new with the medium. But we're trying to give you something a little bit meatier to sink your teeth into in terms of why people do what they do.
If the editor's office is dense with dialogue, this page with Squeed Prinn is certainly the opposite.
Edwards: At the point when I was drawing it, I was texting Jonathan asking him, "Why did I make Squeed so complicated to draw?" Then there's him and his mate here, Prinn. That and the ship and everything - I definitely didn't make anything easy on myself here. [Laughs]
Ross: Have you drawn aliens before? I know you've drawn extraterrestrials in the Marvel Universe, for example, like Galactus and those guys. But have you drawn out-and-out alien creatures that weren't already in other fiction? I'm not talking about "Star Wars" stuff...
Edwards: Yeah, I think this is probably the first time I've been able to do my very own, at least in a sequential setting. Mostly it's been licensed stuff for LucasFilms or something, but this is the first time I've been able to do an alien in a story. Coming up with my own design based on other things I like, like Japanese anime and Kirby and all these things - you kind of draw stuff you want to draw, but you also draw stuff you would like to read, like the movies you would like to watch. Sometimes, you just can't get around it. The most complex design ends up being the best design. But, oh well, you've got to stick with it.
Ross: I wouldn't be surprised if by the time we get to "Turf" #4 and #5, the aliens turn out to be stick men to compensate. [Laughs] There will be some sort of invisible person.
Edwards: Yeah, the last scene is they fight in the arctic and he has the invisibility force field. [Laughs]
Susie and Dale prepare to spy on the mob meeting, while Eddie and his men continue their attempt to interrogate their hostage - who is, unknown to them, a vampire.
Ross: I love this whole sequence, especially outside of the warehouse where the sun's going down - and Tommy gets to play with that in different ways throughout the whole series. There's an orangey, pinky sort of hue going on, and up above you have the purple, pinky, orange going on. Then it gets really orange as the sun's going down later, where Dale talks to Susie about his reservations about what they're getting themselves into - which, of course, turns out to be prophetic and tragic for him. But I love the use of color.
I love seeing the gangsters lounging as well. It's kind of business as usual. One guy has his leg over the chair, very relaxed. It's a nice scene that gives you a sense of time and pace and it makes it seem like these guys genuinely do this on a fairly regular basis.
Here's Pete O'Leary, one of the most corrupt cops on the force.
Edwards: O'Leary is such a fun, freaky looking dude. He's actually ended up being one of my favorite characters to draw.
Ross: You know what's funny, Tommy? I'm still not certain in "Turf" #5 exactly what we should do with him! [Laughs] I've got three or four different ideas, so I'm going to throw them your way and let you decide, because you like him so much - even though he's the most terrible human being in our book!
Ross: I love the guy in the foreground with the tommy gun. He reminds me very much of those 1920s and 1930s magazine illustrations that you'd see. It has that feeling, which is obviously very appropriate for the setting and the things we're doing, but also something you don't see so much in American comic books anymore.
Edwards: A lot of the pieces I have on the wall in my studio by Herbert Morton Stoops, a lot of that stuff was done for those pulp magazines. A lot of that stuff was drawn with a brush on board or paper that had a bit of a tooth to it so you'd pick up some of the texture of the paper. I think that "Turf," being in that time period, does help dictate a bit of the kind of the medium - but even then, I wasn't quite happy with the gunfire on this page. It's actually bothering me as I look at it right now.
Ross: Yeah, it looks terrible, Tommy. [Laughs] It looks great! I was just thinking how much I like that page.
Edwards: I was thinking that it's too Photoshopped, it's too fancy. I should've done it...I don't know. I do that, though. I'll be ripping this thing apart until the day I die.
Ross: You can't do that! It looks great.
Poor Dale. He's off to that big bar mitzvah in the sky.
Edwards: We had a few different fan letters saying, "I love Dale, I can't wait to see what he does next!" [Laughs] Well...
Ross: Yeah, we knew we were killing him early. I was thinking of bringing him back for the big battle scene in "Turf" #5 and her seeing that he'd been vampired, but that felt a little too neat and a bit too pat. I don't think there's really going to be time for that kind of thing in "Turf" #5. I do think, unfortunately, this will be the last time we see poor Dale.
You also see Eddie and George figuring out how to battle the vampires.
Edwards: George has a bit of an action moment here with the two guns. I think it's cool, kind of the way we set up Tony in the first issue. "This guy's great, I really like him!" Like the way that we really like Dale. But a few pages later, George bites it as well. He buys the farm in the car. I just really like that kind of stuff.
Ross: I wanted these vampires to have their own set of rules. Hopefully people will like it. We explain by book three how they fly a bit, we explain here that it doesn't need to be a wooden stake, necessarily, just a big enough wound through the heart. Maybe taking off their head. But the gangsters figure it out in a much more organic way. I think it works in the heat of battle, they're shouting out to each other, "Do this, do that!" When they're trying to escape, there's more of that dialogue.
It's funny. I was talking to my wife the other day, and she's writing ["X-Men: First Class"] right now. We were talking about the conventions of comic books. One of the things I think Stan Lee perfected was this whole idea of putting dialogue in character's mouths during action scenes. It became kind of twofold, serving to establish what kind of characters they were - Spider-Man is this wisecracking teen who is perhaps hiding his own insecurity and fear during the fight, and at the same time, he couldn't help showing off his powers. But it's also a chance to move the story along while we the readers are looking at these great action scenes and fights, rather than having them talk elsewhere.
That's the kind of storytelling you get in comic books more than any other sort of fiction. If you're working together properly as a writer and artist, you have a chance to make dialogue which serves maybe one or two needs, and also the art that serves two or three needs: looking great, being action-packed and exciting and it tells you a little bit about what's going on in the characters' heads. I think we're getting closer to doing that successfully in book two than in book one, and hopefully we get it even more right in book three.
Ross: This fabulous sequence here with the three guys in the car - Eddie lost his ear earlier, and now his eye is bleeding. George is driving in the front. They're trying to make sense of what's happening and then these vampires are flying after him and finally get to the car. One gets smooshed in panel four by a car coming from another direction. I asked Tommy if we needed sound effects there - like a "sma-smoosh" or something - or should we just leave it as is? Tommy was very keen, quite rightly, to leave those without effects so you get a real feeling for the moment. You're following that lull. I think he's right. Although I rather enjoy writing different sound effects - and I've come up with some crackers for book four - I think you were right about not going for it there, because you really follow the geography of the scene.
Ross: Then there's that lovely still panel where the car goes "poom" right off the hill, but we don't write "poom" - it's just a quiet, still image in the air. It's really lovely pacing with beautiful images to soak [in].
Edwards: In comics, the size of the panel can really change the timing, you know? If it were a film, I would see that as a quiet, slow, silent moment.
Ross: Oh really? I thought we'd put Benny Hill music over it. [Laughs] That's what you're saying, right Tommy?
We should talk about what's under the ground here...
Edwards: I read a funny comment from a reader for number one that said, "I really liked it, but that was so cheesy the way Tommy Lee Edwards drew that tree that looked like a hand. That's just going way too far!" [Laughs] Thinking that was just a thing I did for no reason - but now we're seeing that maybe there's a reason why this tree looks like a hand!
Ross: It was intentional! Whether people liked it or not, I don't know, but we put it there for a reason. There aren't silly flourishes here that aren't necessary - everything you see here will mean something.
Eddie and Squeed come face to face here for the first time.
Ross: Once again, I think Tommy's work with faces - after Squeed has helped Eddie finish off the vampires, you get a little bit of this "Okay, you helped me, can I help you?" Then he helps him with his eye, and Eddie's going to help him back. I think it's a really nice sequence. It's like acting, almost.
Edwards: Yeah. These are two characters who can't really talk to each other. It was a fun drawing challenge.
Ross: I hope people like [the alien angle]. It kind of broadens out in issue #3. Squeed obviously becomes a very important character, both in terms of the overriding storyline, but also in terms of Eddie's involvement with things and where he winds up finishing up as well. This is kind of a big sequence here. This is the beginning of a whole new chapter for Eddie. I can't wait to see Tommy's layout, but I think [that relationship] works really well in book three. We now spend a lot more time in the company of Eddie and Squeed as that story is now maturing and coming into its own.
Ross: Here's this hopefully unexpected moment between Squeed and Eddie.
This poor guy. First you cut off his ear, then you cut open his eye, and now this - what else can you do to Eddie?
Ross: I don't want to spoil it, but something else happens to him at the beginning of book four. [Laughs]
Edwards: Yeah, that one, even though I knew it was coming, I laughed out loud when I read the script.
Ross: I very much enjoyed coming up with [this scene], but there's a reason for him doing it. He's not just hungry! He isn't measuring him for a new hat! [Laughs] Tommy, did I put it in the [next] script that we should have [Eddie's] hair missing in a big line around the top?
Edwards: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. There's going to be - Eddie will lose some hair from this. [Laughs]
Ross: He's going to look pretty weird by book three. He's got an eye missing with an alien creature over the eye and an alien creature over the ear. He has this big, round, bald head, so whenever he takes his hat off, you'll see that.
The continuing adventures of Eddie losing body parts. It's an underlying theme of "Turf," it seems.
Ross: I love seeing these pages, the next issue page. We did it with issue #1, and of course we're doing it in books three and four as well. And we could do it in five as kind of a next issue question mark, whether we do go on for more. The series as written always had a cliffhanger ending. All of the immediate storylines develop but we're throwing in something at the end that might or might not happen to New York afterwards, which would give you reason to revisit the characters and the story. Well, some of the characters - the ones that are still around.
Give us a teaser - what can we expect from "Turf" #3?
Ross: In "Turf" #3, you'll see Eddie and Squeed grow a little bit closer and you'll see Squeed show his hand a little bit. A whole new gang is introduced. Eddie is looking for foot soldiers now to try and wipe out the [vampire] gang, so they go up to Harlem, up to 125th Street. You'll follow the Dragonmir brothers as Vaseli manages to successfully plant the seeds of doubt in Stefan to oust Gregori from leadership. You see Gregori and Susie's storylines intertwining because Susie has been captured now. She finds herself in a very different situation than the one she might have imagined 24 hours before. With the cops and Pete O'Leary, you'll see the cops going in intending to teach the Dragonmirs a lesson, but instead being met themselves a little earlier than they'd hoped. An ambush plays out, perhaps rather dramatically. And what's going on under the turf is beginning to become a little bit more perky as well - the possibility of the Old One waking up after all.
Edwards: As you can see, even in "Turf" #2, all of the different storylines are starting to converge.
Ross: Another thing we should mention, Tommy - I've drawn a cover for "Turf" which I sent to Tommy for his appraisal. He was very honest with me. I'll be honest, he was a little too honest perhaps. [Laughs] "It reminds me of the kind of stuff I used to do before I learned to draw." [Laughs] It wasn't quite in so many words. We might put that in book five.
Edwards: At the very least, it's going to be in the collection. [Laughs]
Ross: What Tommy doesn't know is that I'm going to Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson to ink it and redraw it for me. [Laughs] Then it's going to look smoking!
"Turf" #2, written by Jonathan Ross and illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards, is currently on sale. Ross and Edwards will appear at Comic-Con International this year at The BLVD Studio booth (#1223) as well as the Image Comics booth.