Diversity in comics. It is a phrase that readership has been hearing a lot over the last few years, as a goal publishers are striving towards. We live in a world rich with ethnic and cultural diversity, and that representation has been something comics has sorely lacked. There have been some amazing works produced featuring characters and creators that embody this initiative, stories such as G. Willow Wilson’s recent Ms. Marvel run stands out as a shining example, however, I think it is safe to say that there is still much more work to be done.
I bring this up because I recently had the pleasure of interviewing, Richard Davis, about his comic VILE, a horror/suspense thriller that tells the tale of a Native American woman named Hard Pants, kidnapped by Clem Styles, a twisted and evil man of supernatural origins. While reading this story, I was impressed by the representation of Native Americans in the book and it dawned on me just how neglected characters of Native American decent have been in the past. Sure there are a few characters out there, some of which are good representations. Jonathon Hickman does a fantastic job with the Endless Nation in East of West. However, most characters that are Native American in comics are portrayed as insensitive stereotypes magnified to the tenth power. Google “X-Men Thunderbird” and you’ll see what I mean.
It was refreshing to see a book like VILE. An Independent Comic that portrays Native American life in a way that is authentic to the time period. The characters each have a unique and distinctive voice to them, providing the story with a realistic feel and making the supernatural all the more believable. This isn’t a story about the Wild West; it is a gripping drama about lost love, the pain of having your way of life stolen from you. Francis Nuguit’s art on the book is stunning and Carl Bolton’s colors perfectly compliments the story. Great first issue to an awesome series and I eagerly wait to see what else Richard Davis and these talented artists have in store for us with this series.
Richard sat down with ComicCrusaders to talk about the trails and tribulations of life as a writer in Independent Comics, his love of all things Spider-Man, and baseball podcasting.
LETS START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE COMICS AND HOW DID YOU BREAK IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
Well, I decided I would do it a couple of years ago. I mean; I made a real concerted effort to learn the craft and apply it. Some of my earliest, and best memories, of being a kid involved saving up spare change and walking miles to get a comic. I drew a lot as a kid and into my teenage years, and always wanted to be Todd McFarlane or Steve Ditko. It fell by the wayside, comics and drawing. A couple of years ago I was in a really supportive artist’s community in Dallas, and I met all kinds of Creators. Joshua Boulet, who incidentally now lives in Seattle, designed my band’s poster and mascot. He got me thinking of trying comic books. I’ve been a writer, in different mediums, for a while now. I just finished up my first children’s book, HELGEN’S TALE, last year and decided to really push it. I bought books and wrote a ton. Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics, Words For Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis, and the DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O’Neil, were great helps.
While working on VILE, I submitted some of what was done; early pencils and inks, to a company called INC. and they signed me to a development deal. I got my break, which quickly fell apart, from ALTERNA. We sent in the first chapter, and they really liked what we were doing. We didn’t have our stuff together and had problems communicating, so we had to pull back, and so did Alterna. So my break was bitter-sweet and with tons of lessons learned, but here we are, with the first issue of Vile being self-published.
CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT?
It starts with an idea, just like VILE. When I script, I always write down the bare bones outline. I take a look, break it into paragraphs, and then I try to watch things happen like a movie. Daydreaming in a way. I start to flesh out the scenario a bit more in another document where I get specifics. I handle it in a way, like prose. I’m almost writing it in novel form. Then I take that, and fill in dialogue. A lot of Vile is very sparse with the communication, and I love that. But when I do dialogue, I act it out. I’m sitting at my desk talking to myself sometimes; a lot of times actually. I know that I can’t be a female character that’s been kidnapped, but I can sympathize with her and I can tell you if her words sound natural or not.
I can draw a bit, so I try to make stick figures in boxes and do a little thumbnail version for myself. I try not to write more than 6 panels per page. Also, I always write notes; if I think it’s possible that I’ve written too much, I make sure to let the artist working on the project know he or she has wiggle room. Every once in a while, I’ll go to the Marvel method for a page. The artist is SO important to the process, you have to communicate and let them have some freedom to make changes. They see things differently. Their elbows are in the dirt and they’re in there with the characters, so I try to give them freedom to at least talk to me about the pages. If all is good after the artist sees it, then we start drawing.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COMIC BOOK WRITER? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?
So far, it’s been tough. It’s tough in every industry and nearly every form of writing is tough, so I know what I am in for as far as making money and working my butt off goes. It’s satisfying though, to be sure. As far as mistakes, I’d suggest creators have all of their ducks in a row, always work with people who you can call on the phone and get them on the line if the stuff hits the fan. Communicate with your team and make sure you have a realistic idea of when you can get pages done and delivered.
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?
Yes, artist, take some chances. It’s tough for writers that don’t draw because artists want their money before the comic hits stores. I’d suggest creators that draw, learn the basics of writing and screenwriting. I’ve figured out that movie scripting doesn’t equal good comic scripting. It does however give you an idea how a scene can look. We’re writing a moment in a scene when we do panels. It has to capture more than a second’s worth of emotion. Learn to construct a story. People think that writers aren’t needed, but there are a ton of artists out there that aren’t ready to put a comic together because they only know how to show guys punching each other. Work on story, and conveying emotion.
VILE IS A SPOOKY SUPERNATURAL THRILLER FOLLOWING A NATIVE AMERICAN WOMAN. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREAT THIS STORY?
Well, I’m Native American. I’m part Cherokee and Seminole. I have a tremendous love for mythology, especially my own. The creation story that I have in the book is fictional, but inspired by more than one tribe. I’ve had a horrible, unkillable villain appear in some of my songs. One that was tortured and haunted but wanted to stop being that way. In his weird, horrible way, he wants to be better, and he thinks having a woman next to him will do it. That’s where Hard Pants comes in. She’s pure, she’s real and she won’t bend. This isn’t just to give him a foil or a match, it’s what do people do in terrible circumstances? I don’t want to give any more away, but I’m excited for readers to follow this tale and explore this world. The idea for this world is fully fleshed out and I’ve been slowly building it for a couple of years. I can’t say exactly where Hard Pants came from, but her name popped into my head immediately. I’ve also always loved Lovecraft and Poe, and Wes Craven and the great horror and suspense writers.
CREATING A PERIOD PIECE REQUIRES A GREAT DEAL OF RESEARCH TO ENSURE YOU GET THE LOOK AND FEEL OF THE TIME PERIOD RIGHT, CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH SOME OF THE RESEARCH YOU AND YOUR ARTIST DID TO CAPTURE THE CORRECT ATMOSPHERE FOR VILE?
A lot of research I had in my back pocket, but I know Francis Nuguit did an amazing job at the library going through some old-fashioned research. I went to the archives online and found pictures from the period and got them to Francis. He is in the Philippines, but he did an amazing job being sensitive to the period and the people. There are some instances where maybe a couple of our characters are wearing clothes that may not be suitable for the task, but I wanted those things shown.
Personally, I read through Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick, and I got Clem’s pepperbox gun from a visual reference by Martin J. Dougherty. Native American Myths and Legends by Lewis Spence were both incredibly valuable.
You can’t just Google images for research. It seems like we can find whatever we want there, but all of the world’s information isn’t on Google yet. You have to do real legwork and read real books sometimes. If you want to be believable that is.
IS THERE A CHARACTER IN VILE THAT STICKS OUT AS YOUR FAVORITE TO WRITE?
I loved writing for Hard Pants. I LOVED it. I felt for her so much and loved writing her story. Clem is probably the hardest, because I am clearly not a psychopathic murderer. Trying to wrap my mind around his and trying to get some reasons or answers was really tough. He’s not cut and dry, but he is driven. Almost like a feral animal.
TELL ME ABOUT SOBS (SONGWRITERS ON BASEBALL).
SOBS is a myself and Hank Van Hawkins, and incredible songwriter based in Dallas. We love baseball and thought we’d give it a unique slant. Sometimes we have other songwriters and musicians on the show, and the conversations have been amazing. Give us a listen! There are some great episodes out there waiting to be heard.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BASEBALL TEAM?
I’m originally from St. Louis, so I have to go with the Cardinals. I have almost as much Cardinals stuff as I do Spidey gear. Don’t even look in my cupboard or dishwasher.
IF YOU CAN WRITE ONE CHARACTER (MARVEL/DC/IMAGE/ETC) WHOM WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I love Peter Parker. Especially before the cosmic spider stuff, and more the 70’s and 80’s Spidey than the post Superior Spider-Man. I am compelled towards the symbiote and Venom as well. I’d love to have a go at a Spider-Man anthology. See some of the things that don’t get written and put it in a comic. I have a little series I’m working on now, on my own, called Macabre webs. They’re little stories about people involved in Spidey’s life and I’m working on getting more up.
YOU ARE STRANDED ON A DESERTED ISLAND. YOU CAN HAVE ONE MUSIC ALBUM, ONE MOVIE/TV SHOW/ AND ONE BOOK TO READ. WHAT WILL IT BE?
Music Album would be Led Zeppelin 4. I can’t imagine being stranded and NOT having some Zeppelin. My movie is Tombstone. Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday? Yes please. The book would be The Cosmos, the Carl Sagan biography; a brilliant creative and mathematical mind that is sorely missed. My show, if I had to have only one to watch until I died? Big Bang Theory. I love nerdy and geeky humor. And if I’m stuck, then I want to laugh until the world ends.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
A couple of books…
Bitch Planet: I know that it is considered a feminist work, but I consider myself a feminist. Kelly Sue DeConnick is one of the top 5 writers right now. Period. She’s sharp and doesn’t try to be clever in her dialogue or her situations. She can be wonderfully poetic and biting at the same time.
Batman Night of the Owls: You want to see a creative team in sync? Try Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo; the ultimate comics duo.
Lord Baltimore: Start at the beginning. It’s hard to go wrong with Mike Mignola or Christopher Golden. I love the mood, the colors and the grit. Dark and delicious.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?
Not yet. I’m waiting until we have the physical copies of the comic in hand, and in stores in Portland and Seattle before we hit the cons. Look for us at Emerald City Con next year though. Sarah Machajewski, the letterer and colorist from the second chapter is in Portland and she’s going to be available for events as well.
Look for VILE Issue 1, coming soon at COMIXOLOGY from CROWSONG PRODUCTIONS!