The husband and wife writing team of Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis have had an impressive spring with Oni Press releasing two very different graphic novels co-written by the duo, "Play Ball" and "The Avalon Chronicles: Once in a Blue Moon." They spoke with CBR News a few months ago about "Play Ball," a story about a teenage girl who wants to play baseball. Meanwhile, "The Avalon Chronicles" is the first of a four volume epic fantasy series.
Their newest book is "Bad Medicine," the first issue of which will be released by Oni as a Free Comic Book Day offering. The book, which they describe as a "sci-fi/horror medical procedural," is illustrated by their frequent collaborator Christopher Mitten.
The writing team spoke with CBR News in advance of the book's FCBD debut, describing what readers should expect from "Bad Medicine," what it's like to team with Mitten again and what other projects fans can look forward to in 2012 and beyond.
CBR News: What is "Bad Medicine?"
Christina Weir: In short, "Bad Medicine" is a sci-fi/horror medical procedural. If you're inclined towards Hollywood style loglines, call it "House" meets "The X-Files." But it's also so much more. It's the story of Dr. Randal Horne, once a hot shot cardiac surgeon, but when he loses a patient on the table -- through his own bad judgement call -- he takes off on a five year trek around the world. That trek becomes a study of all sorts of different alternative medicines and non-western views of science. So when the CDC puts together a team to investigate strange diseases and outbreaks that science can't explain, he's their go-to guy to lead the group.
Tell us a little more about this team that’s been assembled. Who else is on this team and how well do they manage to get along?
Weir: The head of the team is Randal Horne, though that bugs the hell out of one of his teammates, Dr. Alexander Teague. Dr. Teague is a viral pathologist who works for the CDC and is sent in to investigate the Invisible Man case. Partnered with Teague is Dr. Ian Hogarth, a forensic specialist. The dead body guy. These two are sort of yin and yang. Teague's uptight and by the book while Hogarth takes nothing seriously and is a total nerd. Needless to say, Hogarth annoys the hell out of Teague. Detective Joely Huffman is a New York City cop who handles the headless body case that sets everything in motion. She's not our Scully; she's actually more open to paranormal explanations than Teague is. However, she's very much a cop and has no patience for bullshit. Randal's flights of fancy and his emotional baggage drive her nuts. None of these people have any bedside manner.
And that's where the last member of the team comes in. Dr. James Lucas is a former colleague of Randal's and the kind of doctor who is all about the patients. When Randal's career went off the tracks, his friendship with James ended. But when he has to put the team together, he knows James is the best person to round it out. Then there's Rebecca. She doesn't really have a job. She may not even exist. But she is the person Randal looks to for advice the most.
I remember you telling me about this idea a while back. What’s taken so long for it to come together and how, if at all, do you think the added time has changed the idea?
Nunzio DeFilippis: The delay has been in finding the right artist for the book. The book needed just the right person and we never quite found them. It took a while, because maybe we were looking for someone very specific without realizing it.
And ultimatley, Christopher Mitten is drawing the book! You’ve worked with him before. Why do work so well with him?
DeFilippis: And that's the specific someone! Chris is a great collaborator, a talented artist, an incredible workhorse and a really good friend. I think his style and tone fit the book perfectly. I think we -- and Oni -- were looking for someone Chris Mitten-like to do the book, and couldn't find anyone close until Chris himself became available.
Now, this Free Comic Book Day issue isn’t a preview; this is the complete first issue of the book?
Weir: The entire first issue! The whole first half of a two issue story! An alternate cover version of Issue 1 will come out in June with Issue 2 in case people miss it on Free Comic Book Day. But honestly, why would you miss it? It's a no risk proposition. Come, check out the first issue of what is going to be an exciting ride!
Give us a preview of what’s to come. What can we look forward to in the coming months?
DeFilippis: Well, we're plotting the book as a series of short arcs or standalones. No story is going to run longer than three issues, and we only have one story that gets that far. Most are 1-2 issues. We want a real horror anthology feel, as well as a procedural vibe. So our first story, "Unseen," is a two-issue arc that introduces the characters and deals with a headless body (or rather a body with an invisible head) that leads Dr. Randal Horne onto the trail of an invisible man who may be psychotic. After that, we have our one big arc, "Killing Moon," a three-issue werewolf story that assembles the team and looks at werewolves in a way that we don't think anyone's seen before.
Weir: After "Killing Moon," we'll have three stand-alone issues, with different horror "monsters" each time. We'll have the undead -- a variation on zombies, a demon and a ghost. Writing three standalone issues in a row has really put our commitment to re-compressing comic book storytelling to the test. After those three standalones, we'll wrap the first "season" of "Bad Medicine" with a two-issue arc.
DeFilippis: We're never quite sure about calling it a "season," because we are writing comics, not TV. But the "Buffy" comics have enabled comic writers to adapt the TV season model to monthly comics. We like the model as a way of telling standalone stories that build to something but still work on their own. "Bad Medicine" lends itself to having a "Big Bad," a monster that builds up in the background and draws from the personal stuff we're doing with the characters while they deal with each issue's mystery or threat. So with Issue 10, we'll close out our first "Big Bad." We have ideas for future "seasons" (or we sometimes call them "movements" to keep from thinking like TV writers), but our focus right now is on each individual issue and laying the seeds for Issue 9 & 10.
Why did you decide to tell a series of connected shorter stories like this?
DeFilippis: Well, there are two parts to our approach. The first is the shorter stories. Old fashioned comics were too fast. Too much happened in one panel, one page, one issue. But sometimes I think modern comics have gone too far in the other direction. Too little is happening in each issue. The decompression was a good thing, but it's now gone too far, and with the pricing of modern comics, I think the industry is suffering from not giving enough story each issue. When we started this book, our editor -- Oni's editor-in-chief, James Lucas Jones -- sat down with us to plot the overall direction of the book, and we mentioned keeping the stories short, and he loved the idea. It became one of the things he wanted to define the series. And suddenly, this theory we had about re-compressing the storytelling became a challenge issued to us by James on a monthly basis.
Weir: As to the "movements" of the book, there's something that feels very TV series about this idea, so it became easy to see it as one. We wanted to fight that instinct -- this is a comic, plain and simple -- but we also wanted the arcs and rhythms to take on that feeling of a well constructed TV season. Each issue should feel like it has enough story. Each arc should have a beginning, middle and end. But the characters, the subplots, those should build into something big that can ultimately explode the whole storyline. And then, the story can settle into something new, dive into new stories that stand on their own, and build towards something else. It was one of the great pleasures of watching a show like "Buffy," and that one aspect of TV writing was something we wanted to capture here. Combine that with the re-compression mandate, and we've found a rhythm for this book that we hope is unlike TV but also different from modern comics -- a best of both worlds.
You’ve had a pretty big spring what with this new series plus two graphic novels that have just come out, "Play Ball" and "The Avalon Chronicles: Once in a Blue Moon." Have you received much feedback about the books?
Weir: It's still pretty recent since their releases, so we haven't heard a lot, but we've seen a handful of very positive reviews for "Play Ball." Jackie Lewis' art so perfectly complements that book. I think it really pops and jumps out as a fun book. It's nice having two new books out that are so kid-friendly because we have a small stable of nieces, nephews and godchildren that we like to be able to write for. Also, people seem to be excited for the return of "Avalon Chronicles." It's been a long time in the making and we're so happy to have Emma Vieceli on board to finally be able to tell that story the way we wanted to.
So when will the next volume of "The Avalon Chronicles" come out and what are the future plans for the series?
DeFilippis: Volume 2 of "Avalon" is set for early 2013. The exact release date I'm not sure has been determined by Oni yet. But the plan with "Avalon" is for a four-volume fantasy tale. We've mapped out the entire four-volume arc. We've left ourselves open if we decide to expand it, but if we do, we'll probably open up the middle because we have a grand finale in mind. We've plotted the whole story with Emma. She's a fantastic collaborator, and her contributions to the plotting really need to be mentioned.
Weir and DeFilippis will be appearing at Brave New World Comics in Newhall, CA on Free Comic Book Day, May 5, from 11AM-3PM.