One would think that being at the top of your game in a profession for nearly 25 years would tend to slow a person down. That’s not the case with Matt Wagner. The creator of Grendel and Mage sat down with Dread Central to discuss his newest series, The Tower Chronicles.
“The Tower Chronicles is the collective title of the first all-original offering from the newly formed Legendary Comics, which is the comic book division of Hollywood powerhouse, Legendary Pictures,” Wagner said. “It’ll ultimately be a trilogy with each book being about 280 pages of story art. Each of the books is serialized in four prestige format sized volumes that are each 68 pages. The first book in the trilogy is called GeistHawk and The Tower Chronicles follow the adventures of John Tower who is a supernatural bounty hunter. GeistHawk is the name of the website he uses to filter out potential clients.”
We are introduced to the very mysterious John Tower as the first book opens, but don’t necessarily learn much about him initially. “The whole approach is to dig behind his tough-as-nails exterior and discover what the real story behind his purpose and his mission is. Why does he go out in the night for hire, chasing down monsters?” Wagner said. “Through the first volume especially, we get the inkling that this isn’t his true purpose. He’s doing it, and he seems to be available for hire for almost anybody. In the first issue we see him working for a private citizen, and then a gangster, then taking a job for the government. But in all cases he seems to be distracted by something else. And he constantly says that even though he charges a very high fee for his services, he says that money isn’t really his concern. So we’ll dig into what his backstory is, and I think we have a deep and richly textured backstory.”
Wagner continued on John Tower, “In the first episode we don’t get to know him that well and in fact I don’t even know if we like him that well. All these sort of tough, bad ass characters that are kind of aloof have a ball of mystery inside them and the fun is peeling away that mystery little by little to have the full backstory unveil. If you were starting a Batman story fresh from band new you would start it like that. It’s very much endemic to this sort of character and it’s certainly true in John Tower’s case as well.”
While working on The Tower Chronicles, Wagner found he had a bigger tale on his hands than he initially anticipated. “One of the reasons the story got so big and stretched into this epic trilogy and a little over 800 pages ultimately is that we came up with this terrific backstory, but at the same time we didn’t want to scrimp on the fun shit that’s happening. We want to see him go after a whole lot of monsters, many, many different kinds of monsters. In fact, as I was working on it, I had to make a chart just to be sure I wasn’t repeating myself. I had what type of monster he went after, what sort of setting it was in, what sort of weapon he used, what the ultimate takedown was…because you don’t want to have it be the same motif over and over again. As someone who’s worked on Batman quite a bit, I can tell you that’s a danger with Batman, too, because he tends to do the same stuff over and over again. So there’s a grand over-arcing story in The Tower Chronicle and then a bunch of individual adventures that come to the forefront very regularly.”
And fear not, horror fans, with all the monsters John Tower is facing, you’re sure to get your fill of the scary, creepy and gory. “Horror is definitely an element in what goes on here as he’s pursuing monsters, but overall, it’s something of a genre-mashing situation which I do a lot of in my comic book projects,” Wagner said. “He wears an action costume to do what he does, but he’s not a superhero per se. He’s not out to eradicate all evil from the world. He’s got this secretive and peculiar purpose but certainly when he’s chasing monsters, there’s definitely going to be elements of horror involved.”
When creating their first all-original book, Legendary Comics required a specific skill set in a writer and they immediately tracked down Wagner to fill their need. “This whole series came about because Thomas Tull, the owner of Legendary Entertainment, had the idea for this character and he asked Bob Schreck, who’s the editor-in-chief, to find an accomplished and well-respected comic book writer that also wouldn’t be a yes-man and would be willing to tell him when his ideas weren’t working,” Wagner said. “Bob and I have worked together since the beginning of time so he called me right away. We talked and said if he’s a supernatural bounty hunter we need to consider all sorts of things on how we’re going to give him a different spin. Specifically I said, ‘What about vampires. Are we going to have vampires in this, because vampires are all over the fucking place. They’re on tv, they’re in movies, everywhere.’ So how do you give vampires a different spin? We have a little bit of that revealed in the first issue and a little more unveiling in the second. I think we have a slightly different take on vampires. Between Twilight, “True Blood,” “Vampire Diaries,” there’s a distinct sort of idea that people have about fictional vampires and their place in fictional narrative and I think we have a slightly different take on it and that’s the key to making it unique and entertaining.”
Joining Wagner in bringing John Tower to life is legendary artist Simon Bisley. “Simon is the perfect artist for this project,” Wagner said. “He got involved with it two years ago at the San Diego convention. We were having the first big inaugural launch panel for Legendary Comics and, of course, their first release was Holy Terror, Frank Miller’s long gestating Batman versus Al Qaeda project that ultimately DC decided not to release and he changed Batman into a different sort of character. So that was all finished and they had plenty of art from that to show, but The Tower Chronicles was set to be their next big launch and at that point we had my story outline and some initial scripting but we had no art, so Bob Schreck had worked with Simon on the covers for Hellblazer when Bob was still an editor over at Vertigo. He contacted Simon and asked him to do a single painting of the promo piece and Simon just nailed it. He hit the character spot on perfect. All the atmosphere, all the look, all the drama, just nailed it all in one image. So we really started whispering to ourselves, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be really great if he’d draw the whole thing.’ And as it turned out, his schedule agreed to it, he agreed to it and he’s been having a blast. He’s just the perfect combination of tough guy mystique and great big gory monsters and attention to detail and atmosphere and at this point, I couldn’t imagine anyone but Simon drawing it.”
Wagner continued, “At one point, Simon even said ‘It feels like you’re just writing it for me. Like you’re just giving me all the shit I like to draw.’ I will say that’s sometimes part of the plotting process. I say to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to see Simon draw this sort of creature.’ He’s really doing a fabulous job and we’re having a blast working together.”
And although John Tower is a completely new character, fans of Matt Wagner will recognize a bit of his style brought over from his other beloved stories. “I tend to work in long format stories when I’m doing my own thing,” Wagner said. “With Grendel and Mage, those are both big, epic storylines and I just kind of gravitate toward those because my ideas just keep getting bigger and bigger the longer I dwell on a project.”
Wagner realizes that working for Legendary Comics has put him in a unique and advantageous situation. “It’s neat working with Legendary in that since I’m here at the ground floor, on one level it’s like working with an independent publisher because this is all new to them,” Wagner said. “Even though they’re a well-established entertainment company they’re on a learning curve as far as publishing. I’ve been involved with independent publishing since the early 80’s so it’s fun to see that aspect of things again. At the same time, Legendary has a lot of muscle they can throw around as far as things they can get done, publicity avenues. So it’s the best of both worlds, really. It’s like working with the big guys but they’re not this set in stone, corporate asshole machine yet.”
Seeing how superheroes have historically been box office gold and taking into consideration that this title is being published by a company branched off from a film production company, the obvious question comes to mind…how soon will it be before John Tower makes it to the big screen? “I want to temper anybody’s potential cynicism about the project and assure people this is not a movie pitch in comic book form,” Wagner said. “Certainly you would expect that from Legendary, that they’re going to branch us out into other media because that’s the bulk of their business. But at the same time, from the very beginning, both Thomas (Tull) and Bob Schreck both said to me ‘That’s not your concern here. We won’t get anywhere with anything else unless you deliver us a kick ass product at this stage.’ And truthfully, that’s always how I’ve approached my writing. I don’t create stories looking beyond the immediacy of the story. I have to be totally wrapped up and thrilled and satisfied with the story I’m telling first. The business aspects are always later for me. I follow my creative muse first. If you don’t have a great foundation, you’re not going to be able to build anymore stories on top of the pile.”
Regardless of where he goes from here, comic readers get their chance to meet John Tower in the first volume of The Tower Chronicles when the book is released this week. “I think we’ve got a hot shit tale here that gets bigger and more engrossing and more exciting with every succeeding volume,” Wagner said.
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