Some people have all kinds of rotten luck. Rock, the star of Daniel Freedman and Sina Grace's upcoming three-issue Image Comics miniseries "Burn the Orphanage: Born to Lose," is one of those people. Not only is young Rock an orphan, but one unlucky enough to have his home set ablaze. Now on the streets, Rock wants nothing more than to find out who put him there. Luckily, he's made a few friends in Lex and Bear who will help him navigate a hyper realistic world influenced by the look, idea and themes of pop culture from the '80s and '90s.
Longtime friends and comic book professionals Grace ("Not My Bag") and Freedman ("Undying Love") shared the writing chores with Grace also drawing the series, all while both held down their comic book "day jobs" of editing and coloring books, respectively. While the contents of "Burn the Orphanage" act as a standalone story, the creators were quick to point out this is but the first installment in the "Born to Lose" trilogy which will continue with "Demons" as its next chapter.
CBR News talked with Grace and Freedman about their colorful cast of characters, the influence pop culture played in the series and how their friendship led to this collaboration.
CBR News: How did the two of you come together to work on "Burn the Orphanage?" Did one of you approach the other with the idea or did you come up with it together?
Sina Grace: This is either the worst or best origin story in the world, depending on how seriously you like creators to take themselves. Our agents at CAA set us up for a creative pitch meeting -- KIDDING! We have been pals for a long time, and our love of the band Sleigh Bells led us to chanting a random lyric in a song: "Burn the orphanage!" That exclamatory phrase progressed into us joking about it being a comic, which progressed into me doodling off of random tumblr gifs he'd send me, which progressed into the comic you're hopefully going to buy in August.
Daniel Freedman: Yeah. What Sina said. Also, the thing grew organically over many months. It's still evolving as we tap into various childhood influences and inspirations.
What is the collaboration process like with the two of you working on the story and Sina drawing?
Freedman: One day we were talking about this project and what the story might be, then the next, Sina shows up with the book laid out and I was like, "Wait, there's no script yet." And Sina was like, "It's all up here," and gestured toward his head and the brain behind his crazed eyes. I think he'd been up all night cracking "BtO" open and playing with its guts.
Grace: Daniel's forcing me to take more credit on this than I'd like. For fans of Michael Turner, I'd like to say it's the "Fathom" model: yes, there's a writer named Bill O'Neill on the project, but people checked into the comic because of Mike. Daniel and I birthed this together, but there was literally a day I came to him with a sketchbook full of layouts and the flow, and he was like, "I've got chills, man." We bat ideas back and forth, break down the major stuff together, but I've sort of steamrolled the rest of it. Daniel checks everything out and lets me know if it's all on point. He had me scrap an entire spread because it was cruddy, I would only listen to him on that. With this book, at least.
What can you tell us about Rock? Obviously, he wants to discover who burned down the orphanage he lived in, but what else drives him?
Grace: To me, Rock is sort of this guy who never had an easy life, and rather than complain about it, he shrugs off pain as a given. Even before his home burned to a crisp, he was orphaned. You never see him once gripe about his lot in life, he just gets through the best way he knows how. I draw him to have that dumb stoicism you see in "Drive." He's poor, certainly does not have a cell phone or a checking account. When readers get to the end of "Burn the Orphanage," they'll see that he's looking for a little more than the face value answer of "Whodunit?" but you'll have to wait 'til August to find that out. All I'll say is: all the bullshit he's been through he can sort of understand, except why someone would leave a bunch of kids for dead in an orphanage going down in flames.
Freedman: Rock is modeled after all the classic heroes of the '80s and '90s. That goes for video games and movies. A loner. Hard-headed. Master martial artist and brawler. A bone to pick. A chip on his shoulder. And a need for blood. The blood of the man that killed his family. In this case, the man who burned down his home and everyone he knew.
How did Bear and Lex hook up with Rock and why are they on this mission with him?
Grace: Bear and Lex are both sort of street urchins like Rock. They met on the street as allies and have grown together as allies. They're on the mission with him because they both see he's in over his head, and neither is opposed to a good fight. I think Daniel should talk more about these two as he has helped me understand these characters better than I could.
Freedman: I'll just say that they are Rock's friends, in the truest most honorable sense. They have a bond together built over many years that brings them closer than most families ever get. I think few people make true, real friends in their lives. And if you do, you know you'd do anything for them no different than a brother. Friendship and loyalty is definitely a theme of the book.
Grace: And a theme in our lives!
It's good to hear that Rock, Lex and Bear sound like real, true friends instead of the cool, but distant movie and game duos we grew up with. How did your own friendship influence their relationships?
Grace: Neither Bear nor Lex have a specific journey in this story, so there was a lot of wiggle room with their origins and personalities. They both embody what Daniel and I think is hot, funny and good in the world. In all honesty, that was a nice way of saying they both embody who we'd want to F-the-S out of. Daniel wouldn't do Bear: no homo for him.
Freedman: Bear and Lex are friends in the truest sense of the word. They are unabashedly sincere about their histories and relationships with each other. I think too often friends are relegated to being too cool for school helpers like you said, and here we just wanted to showcase their friendship as a reflection of Sina and I's own relationship and the energy we put into creating "BtO." The fact that they are each of our dreamboats is just because we can.
It sounds like the book might be set in a kind of hyper-reality with the inclusion of topless stripper ninjas. Is that the case?
Freedman: The world of "BtO" is definitely a hyper-stylized one. It's a fantasy. Only, instead of mountains and dungeons, we have alleys, bars, stripper joints and the obligatory metaphorical boss-man skyscraper.
Grace: Have you ever looked closely at the backgrounds of "Street Fighter II?" If you think too hard about why a bunch of US Marshals are watching an illegal fight take place on an airfield, then the fun of the game is sort of lost. We've had a spontaneous process to building the settings, and part of the momentum is creating images we didn't necessarily see as kids. I think readers would be bored to death (or livid on message boards) if we directly ripped off of video game images, so we used the hyper reality to play up weird concepts that you don't see in all-ages side scrollers.
You mentioned the video game influences on the story, can you elaborate on that a little and also mention any other influences that came into play while creating "Burn the Orphanage?"
Grace: For me, it's always the mixture of comics, fashion, friendship and music. Specifically for this book, I was definitely catching up with some of my favorite mainstream comic artists, and having better conversations with comic artists I am lucky to call friends. Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley, Ryan Stegman, Kevin Mellon, Hope Larson and Riley Rossmo. I love turning to my friends to improve, and also be reminded of how much fun comics are.
Freedman: Sina and I went to a Sleigh Bells concert and were so moved -- I'll say rocked -- by the show that we just started spit-balling a story where that feeling could manifest visually. Combine that with the fashion of the late '80s and '90s plus our shared video game addictions as kids and you have all the ingredients that went in to make "BtO."
The solicit text refers to this being the first part of a trilogy. Does that refer to the three issues of this miniseries or two more minis in the future?
Freedman: "Burn the Orphanage" is part one of a three-part series called "Born to Lose." Each part is a self-contained chapter. They are all oversized and tell their own complete narrative. The three parts connect to tell one giant story. Did that make sense?
Grace: It totally makes sense. We just wanted people to take each one as a unique story, and not feel ripped off in any way when "Demons," the sequel, has a totally different -- and totally radical -- tone to it.
Do you want to say anything more about "Demons" or is it still too early?
Grace: It's only too early in that some stuff has to go down in "Burn the Orphanage" before we can tell readers about "Demons." It's harder, meaner and digs deeper.
Freedman: "Demons" is the continuation of "BtO" in theme, but not in structure. We wanted each book within the "Born to Lose" series to have its own tone and style but still be a linear story. That's all I'll hint at for now.
Sina, you've worked as an editor, most recently at Skybound. Did doing that job have an influence on your writing or collaborative process?
Grace: Working as an editor has certainly helped me delegate responsibility. Earlier on, we were kicking around Daniel being the colorist, as a means of keeping the book 100% "us," but as his schedule got crazier from all his big top-secret projects, I just said, "Okay, we gotta find someone who can color this the way it needs to be done." That's where being an editor helped out again: I contacted John Rauch, who I would have never met had he not done such an amazing job when I was working on "Invincible." I know how to manage projects and work with the beautiful people at Image Comics to make sure everything runs smoothly. Thanks, Robert!
If you could cast Rock, Bear and Lex from any actors of any era, who would you cast?
Grace: I would cast Channing Tatum as Rock -- he can do no wrong in my book -- or I'd force Chace Crawford to go on P90X or something and get all buff and angry for the role. Bear and Lex? Jon Gabrus and Alexis Krauss.
Freedman: I don't think there are humans that could live up to each of these characters personally. But I'll play along anyway. Young Kurt Russell for everything, in this case, Rock. Bear: The Rock or a young Jonathan Rhys-Davies. And Alexis Krauss for Lex. That's hard not to see.
"Burn the Orphanage: Born To Lose" #1 from Sina Grace, Daniel Freedman and Image Comics hits stands on Aug. 7.