It's The End Of The World...And Layman Feels Fine: Interview, 24-Page Preview of "Armageddon & Son"

Fri, September 9th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

"Armageddon & Son"
For who knows how long, men have always encouraged their sons to go into the family business. It's a matter of pride for many fathers, as they are then able to brag about said son following in their footsteps. Depending on the job your father does, though, you might not be so eager to jump into his shoes. A dad who is an actor-- probably. A dad who sells women's shoes-- probably not. But what about a father who is an evil spy trying to take over the world?

This is just one of the questions writer John Layman ("Fantastic Four: House of M," "Puffed") explores in his new Oni Press graphic novel, "Armageddon & Son," which will arrive in stores this October. CBR News spoke with Layman to find out more about this interesting project, including any source of inspiration. The answer to that particular question, though, just proves people can find their muse in the most unexpected of places.

"The moment this book really came into focus was when I was watching Vin Diesel's 'Triple-X'," the writer told CBR News. "At least, I think it was that movie, though there are about a million other action movies with the exact same scene: where a bad-guy's minion screws up or doesn't do something absolutely perfect and the bad guy kills his henchmen without giving it a second thought. And I thought, 'Why the hell do henchmen take a job with these sorts of people?' They always end up as cannon fodder from an ungrateful boss.

"Then I took that concept a step further: what if a minion, or a few minions, survive getting killed by their boss, and they want revenge? And all the lackeys and henchmen revolt against the Big Bad. So they enact their boss's doomsday plan, while at the same time setting a price on his head. As the story got fleshed out, I added a father/son dynamic, where the father (the evil spy) runs to his long-lost slacker son, because he's got nowhere else to turn, and the two have to stay alive and save the world from the Doomsday scenario."

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While the subject of evil masterminds with slacker sons has been portrayed elsewhere (e.g. Scott Evil in "Austin Powers"), Layman isn't worried about comparisons. As a matter of fact, this fact didn't even cross his mind while writing. He explained, "It did not even occur to me that there were similarities between the Alphonse Feeney and his son and Dr. Evil and his son until well after I wrote the OGN. And then a month or so later, I kinda slapped my forehead and thought, 'Oh, crap.' But, you know, I looked at 'The Walking Dead'-- a great book-- and '28 Days Later,' which resemble each other on a superficial level, at least initially. It's a similar starting point, granted, but I don't think anybody who reads 'Armageddon & Son' will be thinking of Dr. Evil after getting too far into the book."

When writing a criminal mastermind, it is often easy to fall into certain stereotypes. For example, the villains often refer to themselves in the third person, they elect to use elaborate traps when a simple one will do, and they continually underestimate their opponents. Therefore, the question arises: how do you write a character like this without having them seem comical? "I'm embracing the various spy movie tropes, then turning them on their ear into something unique and funny. At least, that's my intention," said Layman.

Although the book does deal with people trying to destroy the world, the writer doesn't feel the book's tone is dark. Quite the contrary, Layman said, "I was going for weirdly funny. I mean, here is a homicidal spy who keeps trying to kill people, and keeps failing, and things continue to spiral out of control. I find that funny, but then, I did not find my 'Fantastic Four: House of M' particularly dark, and everybody else seemed to."

Dave Dumeer is the artist on the book, and Layman indicated to CBR News that he was very pleased with this collaboration. "After setting the bar pretty high with Dave Crosland on 'Puffed,' it was a real challenge to find an artist I thought was good enough for my next project. I put out feelers on Penciljack.com and DigitalWebbing.com, and went back and forth with a lot of people before I found Dave (and one other talented guy name of Owen Gieni whom I am doing my next project with).

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"Dave and I just clicked for the project. He's fast and he's good and he's a total pro. He's got a weird sense of humor, which was a requirement for the project, and real strong storytelling skills and a design sense. This is his first published comic work, but I suspect he will be around a long time after this."

This is Layman's first work at Oni Press. For those who are curious about how a book lands a publisher, the writer was kind enough to explain how this came to be. "I'd been in infrequent contact with Oni since I went freelance, a little over three years ago. I've always admired their books, and they've been a company I've always wanted to work with. It was weird, because I was at Emerald City Comic Con this year, doing a panel with Bob Schreck and CB Cebulski about 'How to Break into Comics.' After the panel, Randy Jarrell came up to me and said he read the ('Armageddon & Son') script and the ten sample pages and liked it. After some back and forth, getting James Lucas Jones and Joe Nozemack to read it, Oni decided to pick it up.

"At the time it was pitched, it was fully-written with ten pages of art and lettering done. After we decided on an OGN format (as opposed to three 24-page issues, as it was originally written), I went back in and expanded some stuff and let the story flow a little better."

John Layman's name is not a new one to comics. He has been in the industry for quite some time, but before embracing the life of a freelancer, he used to be an editor for DC's Wildstorm line. This begs the question if it feels odd to be on the "other side" of an editor-writer conversation-- having to take direction instead of giving it? Also, one wonders whether it's awkward to pitch at Marvel (where he's written a few books) after working at the "distinguished competition?" Well, wonder no more.

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"Oddly enough, Marvel has always been about a billion times more friendly and receptive to pitches than DC. Funny how that goes," he said. "This is not a slight against DC, and I'm sure I will work with them someday, but Marvel has been very open to ideas, and I'm having a great time working with them and their characters.

"As for direction, I'm used to collaborating. At least with Marvel, my experience with making changes and taking direction has always been very positive. Nobody has ever asked me to make changes that are stupid or 'just because.' The vast majority of the time, any change I'm asked to make ends up making the book better, especially when working with Mike Marts and his crew. Marts is about a thousand times the editor I ever was, or could hope to be."

In addition to comic books, Layman has written "a bunch of video games this year, 5 games in all, including Nintendo's Metroid for the DS." As for any future projects, it sounds as though he'll continue to "make his Marvel" for the time being. While he couldn't share any particulars, Layman said, "It's been hinted that I'm doing something with Aaron Lopresti, my old partner-in-crime from our adaptation of 'Left Behind,' but I can't say anything about it specifically. I can say my experience working with the X-Office has been wonderful, and if I was doing anything with Lopresti, it might be for them. And it might be using some of my all-time favorite bad-guys-turned-good-guys in the entire X-verse. But, of course, I am sworn to absolute secrecy."

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