Kevin Grevioux - From "Underworld" to the Comic World

Wed, March 22nd, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

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Imagine that you had the kind of brain that could break down complex molecular equations. In addition, you were talented enough (and had the looks) to become a working actor in Hollywood. And on top of that, you were the screenwriter of a film that was so successful, it warranted a sequel. Blessed with all of these gifts - and with so many options in front of you - what would you choose to do next?

Well, if you're Kevin Grevioux, you create your own comic line from scratch. (If this man was dating a supermodel, he would be living my dream life.)

To quickly summarize his past, Grevioux graduated from Howard University with a degree in Microbiology. He then quit his graduate studies in genetic engineering to pursue a career in film. Since taking this leap, he has been seen in such films as "The Mask," "Steel," the recent "Planet of the Apes" remake, and the 2003 vampire vs. werewolf film, "Underworld," which he also wrote.

Currently, Grevioux has formed two comic book imprints which will be published through Alias Enterprises - Astounding Studios and DarkStorm Studios. The first book from these efforts - "The Hammer Kid" #0 one-shot - has already been released, and more are on the way soon. As busy as Grevioux seems, he was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with CBR News about Hollywood, comics, and how he accomplished all of these various achievements.

You may want to take notes…

The multi-hyphenate began by elaborating on his background. "Growing up I was a huge science fan. Through a set of Britannica encyclopedias my parents had, I started reading on different scientific subjects like astronomy, biology, geology and paleontology. Since I was only about five at the time, I couldn't really read, but I could look at the pictures. And it was really dinosaurs and pictures of the planets that got me hooked big-time. To the mind of a five-year-old kid, these were real-life monsters, and I was fascinated by that. So once I started school, science fast became my best subject, and naturally I chose that as a profession when I went off to college.

"It was my love for real-life science that led to my fascination with science fiction. Movies and television, of course, were my first exposure to science fiction with shows like 'Lost in Space,' 'Ultraman' and 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.' And films like 'King Kong,' 'Frankenstein' and 'Godzilla.'

"The writing came about a little differently. It wasn't anything I took seriously until I actually graduated college. I was in grad school at the time as well as working as an entry-level scientist at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. when I made the switch.

"Being a microbiologist was fun, but I had a huge reality check when I found out that there were PhD's in my lab that were only making about $28,000 a year. Now, I didn't go into scientific research for the money. It's the challenge of the discipline and the journey of discovery that I wanted to be involved in, but you could barely survive on $28,000 in D.C. And at the time, I didn't even have my Masters yet, so I was making significantly less than that. So my thought was, if this is all what I can look forward to in science, then I might as well try my hand at writing.

"So, I wrote a few screenplays, and of course they weren't fit to line the bottom of a bird cage. But I realized if I was going to make this succeed I needed to move out to Los Angeles where the heart of the film industry is and really learn the craft…and I'm still learning.

"As for comic books, I would say I came to the party rather late in terms of being a fan. From what I saw with other kids as I was growing up, they started reading comics around eight or so. I didn't start until I was about twelve. Now, that's not to say I didn't have any comic books before then. I had a few, but they weren't something I collected at all. Between the ages of seven and twelve I was more into model building than anything else.

"But at twelve, a neighbor, who I'm still friends with today, introduced me to comics and once I started, I couldn't let go. That, of course, led to me creating my own characters and writing my own stories as a kid. It was cool.

"Now, the acting thing came purely by accident. I had only been in LA for about a month or so at the time. I was friends with the casting director on the Michael Jackson music video 'Remember the Time.' He got me a role as one of the palace guards in the video. And that was my very first exposure to Hollywood. Suffice it to say, I was smitten by the opportunity and the possibilities of being an actor. Working with John Singleton, Eddie Murphy and Iman was a real blast. I didn't even want to be an actor when I came out here, but I guess God had other plans."

Regarding his career as a screenwriter, Grevioux indicated that his inexperience in this arena may have hurt him a bit when he was first starting out. He explained, "Success in Hollywood, like all businesses I guess, depends on how well you're able to navigate the industry. This navigation is facilitated by who you know.

"Before 'Underworld,' I didn't know anyone. And if no one knows you, no one trusts you. And Len, the director, was an unknown at the time as well. However, because we were friends, and because he was with a big agency, I was able to get the right people to see my original script and hear my pitch.

"You also have to understand that as a genre-guy, a lot of these wild sci-fi concepts can be tough sells to producers. Studio and production execs don't necessarily understand these concepts, and they don't think the public will either.

"I mentioned vampires vs. werewolves (the premise of 'Underworld') to some people during the time we were pitching, and they looked at me like I had a third eye on my forehead. I even had an argument with one producer who wanted the lycans to look like Sabretooth of the X-Men and have mutton-chops, if you can believe that. So my being a new writer exacerbated their apprehension about what is already considered to be dicey material.

"But, as you've no doubt seen with other movies, the production company brings in other writers to do several rewrites and retooling and the like. If I was more established and represented, that wouldn't have happened like it did. But, fortunately, the other writer knew what he was doing and we were able to collaborate and get a movie made.

"Getting a movie made is hard. Some have it easier than others, but it is extremely difficult. So, all things considered, the whole experience was a true blessing regardless."

Considering all that he has experienced, we asked Grevioux if he had any advice for writers who are trying to break into the biz - and boy, did he ever! Readers, class is now in session:

"I have lot to say about this. First off, learn your craft. That's the most important thing. If you don't know your craft, then you give people a reason to turn you away. Of course, what actually makes a good script, or a good idea vs. a bad one, can be highly subjective, but don't give people a reason to reject your work.

"Secondly, I would say learn when to listen to criticism and when not to listen. I say that because everybody has an opinion. Sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong. But be willing to listen to people who have been in the business longer than you and who know more. These guys are not necessarily out to get you, but you don't want to waste their time by being a hard-head.

"At the same time, you want to have confidence in your work and your ability to produce it the way you think it needs to be done. As far as movies, you may have some producers who think your idea or script is crap. You go to the next set of producers, and they think you're the second coming of George Lucas. That's the way it goes. I mean, in the beginning, I was told 'Underworld' wasn't going to work on so many different levels. They said, 'Vampires vs. Werewolves - are you crazy?!? That's stupid.' Well, five years later, look what happened. So, it can be an insane business.

"And with comics it's pretty much the same thing. I was told by this one editor that writing comic books was the hardest profession to break into in the comics industry. And getting in was so hard that I might as well not even try. And suffice it to say, I was discouraged. But, was I going to listen to all that negativity or hang in there?

"Fortunately, I met Paul Levitz (President of DC Comics) at Comic-Con International in San Diego one year, and he gave me the most encouraging forty-five minute talk about breaking in comics that I've ever heard. I learned a lot from that conversation. So, you have to know when to stick to your guns and when to listen to people who know more than you.

"Also with breaking in to the business, it's imperative that you learn to surround yourself with good and honest people. If you are constantly running into charlatans or people who want to talk about making movies or comics, but never do a thing, it can be highly unproductive. That goes with any profession really. I've been fortunate to meet some really good people in both the film and comic book industries.

"I would also say you have to be willing to sacrifice. I meet a lot of people who want to be filmmakers or artists, but they don't do what's necessary. They have to have a level of 'comfort' before they can step out and take a chance. It doesn't work that way. You have to 'fish or cut bait.' There's no such thing as a safety net. You can't have champagne dreams on grape juice effort. That's unacceptable if you're really trying to do something in the industry. I know it's not easy breaking in, but I truly believe it is made more difficult by unnecessary lack of commitment.

"And lastly, which in some ways is most important, you have to make sure you have fun pursuing your dream. Don't get frustrated. Anybody can make it in either comics or film. It's not brain surgery like some would have you believe, and that only the 'Chosen Ones' from some distant corner of the Shi'ar Empire can get in. It may not happen over night - and it probably shouldn't - but if anybody really wants to make films and/or comics their profession, then to coin a phrase: 'Just Do It.'

"A lot of us have spent so much time pursing this dream of movies and comics for so long it becomes, I dare say 'idolatrous,' and people become frustrated and bitter if it doesn't happen in a certain amount of time. Don't let the industry do that to you. Don't let the normal rigors or hardships endemic to any industry you love steal your joy away. That's crazy.

"As an aside, I would also tell people who are trying to break into the film business through the sci-fi, fantasy or horror genres - at least as writers or directors - give yourself the best shot by producing something visual to pass along with your script or treatment.

"You have to remember that this is a visual medium. As such, it would behoove you to create a series of pitch boards and/or storyboards or a comic book to show people. Producers love that stuff. Even if it's one issue. Send them out along with your screenplay or treatment and people take notice. Kate Beckinsale saw Len's drawings that went along with the script and that got her hyped about what she was about to read.

"Now, a lot of people may castigate me for saying that, as if I'm cheapening the integrity of the comic book craft by exploitation. But understand that Hollywood-types hate to read scripts. From readers to development execs to producers, that's just a fact. So the more you do to help them understand your script, treatment, or concept, the better. It really helps bridge the gap between what's in your head and what you want to visually convey in the script. That's not to say you can sacrifice telling a good story, but visuals do help."

As someone who has written for both film and comics, Grevioux noted several differences between these mediums. In comparing and contrasting the two, he said, "Both require a type of 'economical' knowledge and style of writing. You only have but so many pages in which to tell a cohesive and exciting story. But, in movies, I would say there is even more of a strict adherence to structure. With comics, and not to say that it's easier per se, but the structure isn't the same.

"You can drag things out more in comics. Explaining what's in a character's head is something you can't do necessarily do in a film, because there is so much you are not in control of. Like the way an actor hits his line, or what a producer may read into what you write that you didn't intend.

"Now, I say this with some trepidation, because I've never written for a corporate entity like Marvel or DC, but I think if you're doing an independent book you can pretty much do what you want in terms of structure. Mostly because no one is going to tell you 'no.' But beyond the basic three-act structure, I think independent books may be a bit more relaxed."

As mentioned earlier in this article, Grevioux's comics will all be coming out through Alias. And considering what he went through in order to sell his script for "Underworld," this publishing deal occurred quite easily by comparison.

"I met Mike Miller over the internet back in the days when AOL had the coolest comic message boards on the planet. We struck up a kind of friendship, as much as you can on the web, and we finally met face to face a few months before I went to Hungary to shoot 'Underworld.' I met him along with the Dabel Brothers when they were still Roaring Studios. So when Mike got ready to start his company, he introduced me to Brett Burner, and the rest fell into place pretty quickly. It was good timing."

As Alias is still a fairly new company, there have been reports of "bumps" occurring with regards to the publication and distribution of several of its books. When asked if he had experienced any difficulties, Grevioux responded, "Not really. No more so than what would be normal between a new writer like myself and a new publisher. Things have been pretty smooth for me being with Alias."

Of the two imprints he is putting out, Astounding Studios' focus is titles for all ages and includes the comics "Valkyries," "Guardian Heroes" and "The Hammer Kid." The writer's DarkStorm Studios imprint is a more mature line (along the lines of a PG-13 rating) that will include the books "Alius Rex," "The Pale Horsemen" and "Universe City."

Reading the descriptions for these books on the two imprints' websites, you will find comics about Nordic gods, cops, spies, and aliens. For those readers who like their characters dressed in colorful spandex though, Grevioux has a fun take on superheroes for you as well.

"I have an all-ages book called 'Guardian Heroes.' It's about heroes who are recruited by angels to help them protect children who are fated to be the next generation of superheroes. I also have a superhero-group called 'Vindicators' which will debut at Comic-Con International in San Diego later this year.

"My DarkStorm imprint doesn't have any superheroes right now, but I do have quite a few superhero books on the horizon. One of them is a character named after the imprint actually, called 'Darkstorm.' That will be a miniseries drawn by a phenomenal artist named Ray Anthony Height. That book will also debut at Comi-Con this year."

Looking at the different titles of his Astounding imprint, one notices that all the books deal with the gods. This would seem to indicate that an eventual crossover is inevitable. Grevioux, however, made it clear that this is not the case (at least, not for now).

"No. They're all in different universes. I love crossovers, but I don't think I'll be doing any just yet. It's hard enough just to keep the continuity straight in one book let alone in several in a shared universe."

One other item you may notice when visiting the websites of both imprints is that there aren't any ongoing books listed at the moment. The writer explained, "Well, because of my busy schedule, I'm not doing any ongoing series. 'Valkyries,' 'Vindicators,' 'Alivs Rex' and 'Darkstorm' are miniseries. But, the market being as poor and unstable as it is, Alias came up with a great idea for a series called 'Alias Premiere.'

"This allows me to do a series of 'zero' issue one-shots, experiment with different concepts, and gauge audience response without going to series immediately. If they do well enough, or the audience response is positive, we'll go to miniseries. 'The Hammer Kid' and 'Guardian Heroes' are examples of this format."

While Grevioux is staking his own territory in the comics industry at the moment, he did admit to an affinity for the superheroes of Marvel and DC. As a matter of fact, he has even called himself a "Marvel zombie" in past interviews. Taking this into consideration, CBR News asked if he has taken any pitches to the "House of Ideas" yet.

"No, I haven't," he replied. "Of course, I would like to at some point, but right now I'm busy concentrating on my own stuff."

And since he indicated an interest, we decided to place Grevioux "on the spot" and ask him which Marvel-ous character that he would like to write, if given the opportunity.

"That's a difficult one. I mean, there are so many I've been crazy about since I was a kid. I'd like to take a crack at the Fantastic Four one day, as well as the Hulk. And I have a lot of ideas for Thor, Luke Cage and Namor. Those would be the ones I would want to tackle the most."

As for how soon he could "tackle" any new endeavor, it sounds like it could be a little while. Of his upcoming projects and plans, Grevioux said, "I did a movie for the Sci-Fi channel called 'Slayer' which should be out sometime this year. Other than that, I've been in rewrites on a few scripts I've written. We're close to a few things right now, but I can't speak about them just yet."

In conclusion, I think it's safe to say that while the world of genetic engineering may be poorer for the loss of Kevin Grevioux, the entertainment world is all the richer.

 
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