Interview: Catching up with Santa Clause: Private Eye Creator / Writer Jeremy Bernstein

This month sees Darby Pop Publishing releasing a trade paperback of Santa Clause: Private Eye.  The book is a crime noir affair with Nick Santana keeping an eye on who’s been naught or nice, but mainly naughty for the 364 nights of the year. Here at Comic Crusaders we had a change to chat with creator / writer Jeremy Bernstein about this book, how working in comics is different to other media and of course, what is on his Christmas wants list:

Comic Crusaders: Hi Jeremy.  Let’s start at the top.  You have quite a varied writing career. How do you go from Pretty in Pink, to Dead Space 2 by way of Ben 10: Alien Force?

Jeremy Bernstein: Honestly? You get very, very lucky.

It’s a weird string of jobs, no doubt, and each of them came about in a different way. Ben 10 happened when I was recommended by one of my grad school professors; Pretty in Pink started thanks to a friend I worked with on another project; and Dead Space 2 was the result of me striking up a random conversation at a conference with a guy who turned out to be a senior producer on the game. There’s no real common thread other than luck and the ability to have a conversation. That’s always been my “big takeaway.” The best jobs I’ve ever had all came from interacting with people. We met, we clicked, they liked my writing, and when those gigs came along, they thought of me.

CC: What is it that interests you in writing comic books?

JB: I love writing for comics because I’m a very visual thinker. When I’m writing a screenplay, I usually visualize a scene and then try to describe what I see. Which isn’t actually the best way to write a screenplay. Movie-making is such a collaborative medium, you want to leave room for others – the production designers, actors, directors, etc – to bring their own interpretation to it. Which means that the best way to write a screenplay is not to describe the picture in your head, but to describe the emotion you want to evoke.

Writing comics is much more about describing those pictures. Which is not to say it’s not collaborative. I had an incredible time collaborating with my artist, Mike Dorman, on Santa Claus: Private Eye. But because it’s SO visual, I’m able to describe the images I want to see and then work out with the artist how best to realize them.

CC: How is the writing process different in comics than, say screen writing or writing for games?

JB: Every medium is really its own beast. But overall, I’d say that writing comics gives the writer the most control. In games, you have very little control over what the player is doing or seeing. Games, as an art form, are all about creators giving up control; the player is telling THEIR story, and your job is to facilitate that. In film, as I mentioned, there are so many collaborators bringing their own ideas to the table – plus, you have all the production constraints of needing to create something in reality and film it. If you don’t have the budget for your big action sequence, or if it’s not physically safe to shoot with an actor, it just isn’t going to happen. In comics, you’re really only limited by the page count and the patience of your artist.

CC: So, about the book, what was the inspiration behind it? Was it something as simple as “what does St Nick get up to on every day bar Christmas?

 JB: The origin of the story is actually pretty mundane. I just decided one day that I really wanted to write a supernatural detective story. I’ve always loved the genre, and I decided I wanted to take a stab at it myself. The problem was that all the best supernatural creatures had been taken. I’d seen vampire detectives, werewolf detectives, wizard detectives, ghost detectives, succubi detectives, zombie detectives… you name the supernatural creature, someone has had it solve crimes.

And that’s when a little voice in the back of my head piped-up: “Well, no one’s done Santa Claus.”

CC: Why a detective?

JB: Ha, ha, I thought. I’m not gonna do Santa Claus as a detective. But the more I thought about it, the more the idea started taking hold. After all, Santa has a great innate sense of who’s naughty and who’s nice; very useful for a detective. He can slip down chimneys and snoop around. If Santa Claus was going to hold a second job, he could do worse than moonlighting as a Private Investigator.

That, of course, led to the question of WHY Santa would need to moonlight at all… and as soon as I came up with the answer to that, well, the character really opened up to me. And suddenly, I knew Santa Claus: Private Eye was something that I had to write.

CC: The book has a definite gumshoe feel to it. Who are your literary detective inspirations and influences?

JB: I’ve always loved film noir. Double Indemnity is about as perfect a movie as has ever been made (if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this interview right now and go treat yourself). The Maltese Falcon is a classic for a reason (again, if you haven’t seen it, go fix that; I’ll wait). There’s something about the dark, the gritty, the messiness and grey morality – combined with the starkness of the visual style – that I’ve always enjoyed.

And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like dropping Santa Claus into the middle of that noir world would be fun. Plus, noir has a very distinct visual language – as does Christmas. The juxtaposition of the two seemed like it would make for some great imagery and entertaining writing.

CC: What comics are you reading at the moment, that are floating your boat?

JB: Atomic Robo, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, is just about my favourite thing in the world. Fraction and Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals is an incredible, boundary-pushing work (pushing boundaries of narrative, I mean, not just pushing boundaries of naughtiness). I’m really digging a lot of the Star Wars titles that Marvel has been putting out. They make my inner 8-year old dance with glee. And Rich Burlew’s The Order of the Stick is one of the best fantasy novels – graphic or otherwise – I’ve read in a long time.

CC: Darby Pop is creating a nice little quality over quantity niche for themselves in the comic book industry? How is it working with Darby Pop as a smaller publisher? How different is to working with a giant like Electronic Arts?

JB: Darby Pop has been doing great stuff, and it’s been a joy to work with them. They’ve been super-supportive and very hands-on. With a giant company like EA… you’re a part of a machine. That’s not a judgment, by the way, it’s just how it is; you can’t make large-scale things without large-scale infrastructure. So, sometimes you get to make giant contributions, other times you have to scramble out of the way to keep from being crushed.

Working with Darby Pop, it’s been more like a sports team – everybody contributes, and nobody’s getting crushed.

CC: I read on your bio on your website which mentions that you have worked on counter terrorism intelligence analysis. Did you know that DC writer Tom King is ex-CIA? Did your paths cross? Can you even say?

JB: Hmm. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have ever met Mr. King. But, I did work extensively with an informant who went only by the codename INKBLOT…

CC: This is book one, what is next for St Nick?

JB: We’ll have to wait and see what the sales numbers are like. I’ve got the script for Volume 2 already written and waiting in a drawer, and Mike Dorman is warming up his drawing hand. So as soon as we get a green-light….

Hopefully, comic readers will be just as interested in the further adventures of Nick Santana as we are.

If you want to keep up on all the latest Santa Claus: Private Eye news, make sure to visit darbypop.com (as well as Darby’s Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and…). And, please join our mailing list at www.santaclausprivateeye.com.

CC: Final question, have you been naughty or nice this year? If it’s nice, what are you hoping for in your Christmas stocking?

JB: A green-light for Volume 2 would be perfect!

Well, I for one are hoping you have been good all year then!  Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Jeremy.  Good luck with the book.

For an advance review of Santa Claus: private eye click HERE

 

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