Ellis' Artist Entourage: Talking With The Artists Of Apparat

Fri, November 5th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Seth Jones, Staff Writer

Leave it to Warren Ellis to want to bring something unheard of to the comic book world -- four issues from a comic line that doesn't exist on a fifth week that isn't there.

Ellis announced his plans to do the "Apparat" comics line -- or "Apparat Singles Group," depending on his mood -- at the Avatar Press Web site back in August. You can read Ellis' introductory remarks on the project on the Apparat Web site.

The black-and-white 32-page one-shots are due in comic stores on November 17. The four books are inspired by the old pulp novels of the 1930s. In Apparat, Ellis takes a comic line and shows the world what comics could have been if they hadn't been led down the superhero path from its earliest days. Each issue includes a full-length story and extra writings by Ellis.

CBR News caught up with the artist crew working on the Apparat line and got their thoughts on this imaginary adventure.

Jacen Burrows of "303", "Scars," and "Bad World," is handling the art duties on "Simon Spector." The Doc Savage of the group, Simon Spector is here to take drugs and kill people in an unplugged version of the early pulp heroes like Savage, the Spider and the Shadow.

CBR News: Jacen, tell us about your Apparat book, "Simon Spector" -- what's it about, what's your personal opinion on it, and how does your style fit in with the character?

JB: "Simon Spector" taps into the pulp noir roots. It takes some of its inspiration from Doc Savage and the Shadow. Simon takes a drug that speeds up his mind and body to superhuman levels, but it costs him a week of his life every time. He's intensely driven and the book has a really dark edge to it, which excites me. I'm approaching the page and the environments in a new way for me. More shadows and mood. I love experimenting with this style and it fits the book perfectly.

CBR News: How did you end up on "Simon Spector?"

JB: I was promised a monkey, but it hasn't arrived yet. Where is my damn monkey?

CBR News: Tell us a little bit about what it's like working with Warren Ellis? What's your favorite Ellis story?

JB: Warren likes to make me draw really disturbing things. This story is much more pop than our past work together, but I'm always excited to see what the sick bastard comes up with.

I'm biased but I still think "Scars" is as good as it gets for a detective story.

CBR News: Warren is very clear about his mission with this -- pulp feel with imaginary, imaginary, imaginary. What are the biggest challenges for you? Any concerns?

JB: I am a bit worried that my monkey man-servant might be imaginary.

It actually is a challenge to try to make the readers feel like they are in the middle of something bigger. I want them to get a sense that this world is established and unique, not just something thrown together and that requires some real effort in the art direction and character design.

CBR News: Did you guys shoot "Simon Spector" straight from the script, or were you able to put a little bit of your own spin on it?

JB: Warren kept my script pretty open. The meat is all there, but he's allowed me a lot of freedom to personalize the experience and look. He mentioned at one point early on that Simon's office would have a deco influence so I decided to really run with that and try to instill a deco flavor to the whole book. Things like that make the project more personal, which I hope makes readers enjoy the experience better.

CBR News: Give us the 30-second sell.

JB: For $3.50, readers will get a complete, stand alone experience with a fully realized, unique concept and top notch production values. Take a chance on something different. Batman and Spider-Man will still be there next week. Re-envisioning where today's comic market might be if the pulps had maintained their dominance is a great concept for a comic line. At the very least, it will be refreshingly different.

Laurenn McCubbin ("Rent Girl," "XXXLive Nude Girls"), a stylized indy illustrator, takes on "Quit City." This book is the tale of a woman who tries to leave her magical past behind her and return home to the days of normalcy.

CBR News: Tell us about "Quit City," and how does your unique style fit in with the character here?

LM: I would describe it as a light-hearted romp through one woman's screwed up psyche. How do you stop being a superhero? How do you pick up where you left off? Ellis tells us, and sets stuff on fire. Because that is the kind of man he is.

My style is great for the book because it is all about psychosis, and I am psychotic. No, okay - I think our styles are meshing well in this piece because Ellis is not telling a typical comics story here, and, you have to know from looking at my work that I don't do typical comics.

CBR News: How did you end up on this book?

LM: Ellis asked, I answered. We have always wanted to work together, and this was just a great opportunity.

CBR News: Since this is your first time working for the man, how's it going?

LM: Working with Warren Ellis is a pleasure. Plus, everyone gets all excited when you mention his name, which is entertaining in it's own right. I, like everyone else, love "Transmetropolitan." C'mon... it's election season. Don't you miss Spider Jerusalem?

CBR News: We're still trying to get him to write for us here at CBR. What other projects do you have upcoming?

LM: Well, Michelle Tea and I are still touring to promote "Rent Girl," and we are also working on another book together, more along the lines of a comicy kind of comic -- you know, one with word balloons and panels and such. That one is called "Carrier" -- we are talking to a couple of different publishers about it. Plus, I have a super secret upcoming project with Steve Niles. Oh, and my magazine, "Kitchen Sink" -- I am just about to go into production on the third volume of that. And, I have a gallery show opening in January at Varnish, in San Francisco.

CBR News: Busy! How were you able to get in character for this series? Was it difficult? You know, Ellis has this "imaginary fifth week, imaginary comic line..." Was it hard for you to imagine?

LM: It was in fact, very, very easy for me to imagine. Because, you know, I used to be a superhero. Yeah, before comics, I had this whole other life -- a life of danger and intrigue. And then I quit and gave it all up for art. And then I gave all that up for comics.

CBR News: Good choice -- much safer. That's how I got into journalism, actually. All right, did Warren let you get some of your own personality into this book aside from the art?

LM: Ellis is great about listening to suggestions and ideas - he has a very visual style, and he is very open to you taking his words in a whole new visual direction, or adding your own flourishes. I talked to him about how to bring Emma's past into her present, visually, and he was very receptive. However, he doesn't like it when you tell him to "add more space aliens, for the kids."

CBR News: Gotta please the kids. But why should they fork over their $3.50 American for "Quit City?"

LM: Because not only is it entirely different from what they have seen Ellis do before, it is freakin' beautiful. If I do say so myself.

Carla Speed McNeil ("Finder") is the penciller for "Frank Ironwine." A tip of the hat to the crime drama aspect of pulp novels, Frank Ironwine is a man who realizes no crime in New York City is original -- somewhere, there's a pattern to be found, a puzzle to be solved, and a murderer brought to justice.

CBR News: Tell us about Frank Ironwine... How did you visually come up with the character?

CSM: I'm drawing a drunken, debauched detective. I'm using my ten-month-old child as a "model." I find this endlessly funny.

CBR News: How did Warren approach you on doing this book?

CSM: Warren sent me an e-mail to the effect of "If I asked you to do twenty-two pages and a cover work-for-hire, you'd tell me to piss off, wouldn't you?"

CBR News: What's it like working with Warren Ellis? Besides, of course, this current book, what's your favorite Ellis story?

CSM: "Transmetropolitan." Can't help it.

What's it like working with Warren... sort of like having really tiny bombs dropped on the house at random intervals. Great, in other words.

CBR News: What other projects do you have upcoming?

CSM: More "Finder," definitely. A collaboration with "Ninety Candles'" Neil Kleid about Samurai in San Francisco, possibly. A collaboration with "Amy Unbounded's" Rachel Hartman, probably. But more "Finder," certainly: I'm wrapping up a nasty crime-drama about child abduction right now, and I'll be doing what amounts to a prequel for the series next.

CBR News: This whole Apparat line is an imaginary comic line on an imaginary fifth week. So, was this book hard for you to imagine? Did you talk to an imaginary friend while drawing it? Will the paycheck be more than you imagined?

CSM: a) Nobody told me anything about that. b) No, not once I realized that a baby flopping around in a crib looks remarkably like a drunken adult trying to climb out of a dumpster. c) Sure, if you count the Internet. d) I try not to do much imagining when it comes to paychecks.

CBR News: How much influence were you allowed on the book?

CSM: Filthy detective: check. Filthy city: check. Young, blonde, female detective: check. I did them the way I'd do them, sure; but I think the most I had to consider was whether to make Frank Ironwine's half-destroyed car an El Dorado or a Pontiac Bonneville. I did give the poor man a hot-pink snakeskin tie. I've been wanting to draw that thing for years.

CBR News: Finally, why should readers pick this book up?

CSM: Funnier than panties with built-in butt-cheeks, if that's possible.

Juan Jose Ryp ("Robocop") balances out the remainder of the Apparat entourage... Ellis describes Angel Stomp Future as "Me and Ryp, making some noise." Special thanks to William Christensen, EIC at Avatar Press, for the translation from Spanish to English... we trust William, so we're taking his word that this is what Ryp actually said:

CBR News: Juan, how has it been working with Ellis on this project? What do you think of the title character of "Angel Stomp Future?" What's the best thing about this book?

JJR: It is very interesting to work with Mr. Ellis, I wanted to work with him in a project since I began to collaborate with Avatar Press. The character is without a doubt interesting and complex. I think that Angel is a character very rich in emotion, but I think that the theater, the decoration, the world that the characters walk is so much important and more interesting that the characters.

CBR News: How is it that you ended up drawing "Angel Stomp?"

JJR: Wanting to work with Mr. Ellis in other projects!

CBR News: Fair enough. Besides "Angel Stomp," what are your favorite Warren Ellis comics?

JJR: I must say that at the moment I don't read many comics, I don't have a lot of time, also, I don't know English, I fight every day with the translations of the scripts! To also read comics in English would be an exercise of masochism! But of his older work I liked "Transmetropolitan," I especially liked "The Authority," and I loved "Planetary." Of his work for Avatar Press, I found "Scars" to be very powerful and is my favorite.

To work with Warren is a great pleasure, he is a great writer. I think that he belongs as one of the best comics writers in the world. The only problem is the language, I need to improve my English a lot to understand the whole context of the history behind some of the material. But I consider it a privilege to work with Mr. Ellis.

CBR News: How does your language barrier work between you and Warren? Can you add your own touch to the characters, or is it hard enough to get everything translated right?

JJR: At the beginning, when I was learning the character, Mr. Ellis was more rigid in his opinion of the artwork. But as the story was taking form, and I was better understanding the things that Mr. Ellis meant, he was giving me more freedom for my creativity. I usually take freedoms when I draw. I think that it is important to find the balance among the different points of view in a story, the writer's point of view and of the illustrator.

CBR News: Why will comic buyers want to seek out "Angel Stomp Future?"

JJR: Because it is a great story full of complexities that the reader should discover and I believe that Mr. Ellis enjoyed making it. It is written by one of the best writers in comics of the moment and because it is drawn by a small artist that needs the publisher to be able to pay the big invoices! I hope you all like our work.

CBR News

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