THE JASON LATOUR INTERVIEW: PART TWO
Last week, I talked to Jason Latour about his upcoming work on Marvel's "Winter Solider" ongoing series, following Ed Brubaker's critically-acclaimed run. Latour expressed his interest in giving Bucky Barnes room to break out of his sleeper-agent, post-Cold War cycle, and yet still acknowledge the shadows of his past.
The Latour-drawn variant cover for an upcoming issue features the title character making out with a ghost in outer space, and that pretty much sums it up.
This week, we reference "Winter Solider" a few more times, but we explore other lines of questioning like what Latour has learned from the success of his peers and the comics he's most admired in recent years. And we end with a bit of talk about his upcoming work as an artist on a "Hellboy" spin-off project. But first, the most pressing thing on my mind was the status of the Jason Latour/Chris Brunner/Rico Renzi "Loose Ends" series which disappeared with one issue left to go.
I couldn't not ask about it. It was too good of a comic to go unnoticed when it stopped arriving in stores.
Tim Callahan: Okay, last time we provided ample chit-chat about your Marvel work, now let's talk about what matters most: "Loose Ends."
When you titled that series, did you know how fitting it would be? Here we are, almost two years after the four-issue series began, and we've only seen three issues.
For those who can't remember that far back, "Loose Ends" was your ambitiously layered crime comic slash love story drawn by Chris Brunner and colored by Rico Renzi.
What happened? Will we ever see the final issue?
Jason Latour: Well thanks. You've always been a big supporter of the book and that really means a lot to me. I promise you, the title isn't our private little Andy Kaufman bit. We haven't seen issue 4 yet because it's an attempt to do something that's, as you said, "ambitiously layered." The final chapter maybe more so than the rest of the book combined. Couple that with some extenuating circumstances that have arisen on Brunner's end, and that's why we are where we are. It would be a much different circumstance if either of us had the resources of Marvel or DC. But as it is, Chris is working hard on the last issue at the pace he can afford. The hope is when it's all said and done it'll be a story that stands nicely, free of the monthly market.
What did you learn from writing "Loose Ends" that has informed your current writing work? I know "Loose Ends" was something you'd been brewing for years, even before the first issue script was written, and had a very different genesis from something like "Winter Soldier" or "A+X," so is it even the same thing at all? Are there approaches you take to writing that apply no matter the story?
There's definitely overlap. But truthfully, I'm still trying to parse it out. "Loose Ends" is only four issues, but it feels like it was ten times that because at every turn it's been a fight between the logistical and organic needs of the story. Things basically hinge on taking an approximation of real world-ish developments and reshaping them into 100 pages that work as comics. Doing that is sort of the reverse problem of doing a comics movie. So that's really driven home how, while we work in a medium that's potentially limitless in terms of content, there is a maddeningly small amount of real estate in which to create it.
Where that seems to apply in terms of something like "Winter Soldier" is that I really feel like the limitations of my time and the space I have are even more amplified. Editorial input and parameters aside, it requires you to move through the self-editing process very quickly. Fortunately, I know the shorthand of superheroes pretty well, so the process of culling my ideas is now hopefully a little easier because one of the criteria -- understanding mainstream comics -- is maybe more in my grasp than say the complexities of the real world. Maybe it's not. I've been completely baffled by people having arguments over what Thor's hammer can do. But at least, on some level, I know why they care and that's a good start.
Either way, the hope is that whatever doesn't make the cut after I've done my weird alchemical bloodletting has still informed me in such a way that it's created some kind of invisible contour to what you're reading. It's guided me to making a stronger decision because what's on the page fought what's not there to the death. In an ideal situation, what isn't there influences your read as much as what is. Hopefully "Loose Ends" and my experience as an artist have helped hone those instincts. I think they have. But I've also been around the block enough to know that just when you think you've got this stuff licked, it'll jump up and rip the throat out of your shit.
Like Dalton in "Road House."
"Road House." Another TBS Superstation staple. Can we call it "The Canon?" We should.And how about what you learn from other comics? How do you apply those lessons in your own work?
You and I have talked about the way you've been impressed by something like David Mazzucchelli's "Asterios Polyp" and taken to studying the techniques and approaches he employs, but are there other comics from the past few years that have taught you something new -- or made you rethink approaches you might not have fully considered? Like what you learned from watching Jason Aaron launch "Scalped" and develop it into what it became by the end, and then how he adapted to the Marvel audience.
I'm happy to cop to the work of my friends as a big influence. It's really mind-boggling to look at where everyone is. There was this class of us that sort of broke in around '05-06, a group I've been dragged along in the wake of for a long time now, in part because I struggled with how to handle work for hire, philosophically. I was really afraid of being chewed up. But lately I've realized that while I think the struggle to make my own impeccable bookshelf is valid, I'm not sure it's possible for me. My tastes and opinions change too much. If they didn't, this whole discussion would be about the movie "Face Off." That doesn't make the line between giving it my all and getting it done any easier to walk. But at some point I've realized that actually making comics is what it's about for me. So I place a lot of importance on staying invested.
Watching my friends' careers and reading their work is what flipped the switch. Jason Aaron is a good example. Since I've known him, he's grown the beard and gotten those weird Krull eyeball tattoos, but it's not like it's an affectation. It's a natural outgrowth of who he is, and I think it's telling of what kind of writer he is and why he's successful. I believe we'll look back on "Scalped" in a decade and be blown away by not only how elegant and difficult the balance it struck was, but by the fact that the same guy also wrote some amazing all ages books or sci-fi stories. Again, I believe the key to that is his investment. He's surrendered the ego and expectations of being a "tough crime writer" and just worked on the story at hand. He puts himself into the shoes of his characters. I'm sure when he's alone at night, he dances in that glittery skin like Buffalo Bill. Seeing that did help reaffirm what I want to do. I don't believe people are one thing, if you're a writer or an artist I hope to god you're not. Having a point of view is important, but so is having the courage to explore it.
How about recent work that might have influenced you, like "The Nao of Brown?" I think you mentioned something about that book making an impact on you, right?
I'm trying not to ask, "What comics do you like these days?" but instead, "What comics impact your writing these days?"
Yeah, I did love "Nao of Brown." It's got an amazing harmony of heart and skill. Which is amazing, since that's sort what it's about. A big thing about stories like that, or [David] Mazzucchelli's work, is that the drawing has such a stunning vocabulary. Those lines and compositions all mean something to the telling of the story. It's not limited by a lack of proficiency or overblown by the need to constantly guitar solo. These are guys who can draw anything and are very carefully deciding what the story needs. That's really rare. That restraint and that showmanship just bounce off each other endlessly. I'd never discredit collaborations, but it's hard to beat comics like that. It makes me eager to get back to writing and drawing a project. To push that part of myself.
I've also been thinking a lot about those sweet spot Marvel comics of my early 20s. The "Marvel Boy," "New X-Men," "Soldier X" era. There was a sexy yet surly imagination there that seems missing from a lot of the mainstream today. They seemed made under do or die conditions. Maybe that's why. Those and "Kraven's Last Hunt" (which is an essay unto itself). That story was special I think because it was the first time I can recall such a dark, dismantling of a comics icon, that ended up snapping the character back into a stronger shape. Those stories are definitely among the guide posts for me, as I kind of head out into this "Winter Soldier" wilderness.
As a final line of discussion as we bring this epic chat to a close. 2013 isn't just a big year for you with Marvel writing work -- You're also drawing the heck out of some stuff over at Dark Horse in the Mignola-verse. Can you talk a bit about what you have coming up and its relationship to Hellboy or B.P.R.D?
"Sledgehammer '44" is a two issue series I drew from a script by [Mike] Mignola and [John] Arcudi, with color by Dave Stewart, that's due out in March. Basically, it's the story of a WWII battle suit and a team of soldiers who are stuck behind enemy lines for a weird couple of days in France. It's kind of a unique homage to not only old war comics but the comics they lead to -- horror, sci-fi, super heroes.
It was a real challenge. A bit like "Loose Ends" in that the search for the right balance of realism and abstraction was very difficult. I really had to chip away at a mountain of research in order to just to get close to the shapes it needed. I'd wanted to do a real period piece for a long time and lately I've learned just how difficult that is to do. Look -- some of those old timers did amazing war comics. Seemed to literally draw them in the fox hole. But I had to figure out how a 20 foot tall Nazi robot would work. Let's just let history judge who triumphed over the greater odds, okay?
In all seriousness, though, "Sledgehammer '44" was originally conceived for the late, great John Severin. It would have been his last project, in fact. I just have to say how much of a real honor it was to follow someone so venerated. I'm fortunate that this, and most of the stuff I've been involved in lately, has just been so challenging that there's no time to stop and think about who I'm following. But just once it would be nice to follow in the footsteps of someone terrible who everyone hates.
Conan O'Brien tried that.And now he's on TBS.
Boom. Circle complete. I think our work here is done. Go make some amazing comics.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.