Taken 7 – An Interview With Wes Locher

Wes Locher is a comic book author and the man responsible for the sci-fi comedy series Unit 44, which will see its third issue out on Wednesday, May 27th, through ComiXology.
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Aaron: Thanks for agreeing to an interview under your own free will without any external coercion, Wes. Unit 44 is a light-hearted sort of title with a classic “buddy cop” feel. Is comedy your usual forte as a writer?

Wes: Before we start…can we loosen these ropes? They’re a little bit tight!

Unit 44 definitely takes the buddy cop trope and brings it to the world of secret government agents as two inept Area 51 employees forget to pay the rent on the facility’s off-site storage unit, leaving the secret contents to be sold to a couple of rednecks at public auction.

I’ve written dramatic comics in the past, but the response I got to my comedy definitely turned way more heads. To be honest, I think writing humor in the comic book medium is a real challenge. Since comedy is all about timing, you have to plan out the appropriate beats on each page to deliver the joke or gag to the reader in a way that gives it the most punch. Oh, and you also have to have a plot, too!

I worked really hard to balance the laugh-out-loud moments in each issue with an actual story. The comedy aspects did come more naturally than some of the dramatic moments I’d written in the past. Play to your strengths, right?

Aaron: Absolutely. If the shoe fits, then wear it. Except for your own shoes; you won’t be getting those back until you’re released. Is there anything that you like to do to get inspired for writing comedy, and is it any different from what you would do for writing in another genre?

Wes: It really is a different approach. I’ve noticed that more often than not when it comes to comedy, the jokes come first.

When developing the initial germ of Unit 44, I had several “moments” pop into my mind that I thought would produce hilarious scenes. I then had to ensure the plot would allow the right characters to be in the right situations to make those moments happen, and even more challenging was to ensure the script laid out the joke so it could appropriately be brought to life on the page by artist Eduardo Jimenez.

For instance, in Unit 44 #1 there’s an entire scene where the main characters, Agents Gibson and Hatch, have to change clothes to blend in to a new environment. That whole scene was born of wanting to make a very specific joke (readers will know what it was) but the scene is also necessary and vital to moving the story along.

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I’m not just stringing together gags for the sake of gags, it all has to work together. It definitely takes a bit more planning on my part than,

say, writing an action comic. To me, writing comedy for comics is like putting together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle of clear blue sky. It can be frustrating bringing it all together, but when it’s complete, it’s both beautiful and gratifying.

Say… is that drill over there really necessary for this interview?
Aaron: Don’t worry about the power tools. We’ll come back to them later. How did Mr. Eduardo Jimenez come to be the artist of Unit 44?
Wes: I had a very specific art style in mind for Unit 44. It needed to ride the line between a Saturday morning cartoon and an Adult Swim program. I had spoken to a few other artists, but nothing really sparked. Then I saw Ed’s art (check it out here) and it was the closest thing to what was in my mind’s eye.
Most of his samples were in the fantasy genre, but it had such amazing energy. Immediately there were all of these things I wanted to see him draw. Hopeful that he might come along for the Unit 44 ride, I reached out to him on Twitter, got his email and sent him the first issue script. In retrospect, my email was me basically begging him to read it and if he was interested, to let me know what it might take to make it all happen.

A few days later Ed wrote me back. Instead of telling me that I was a hack who should stop writing immediately, he sent me all these nice words about the story and some concept art for the main characters. From there we completed the first five pages of issue #1 and utilized Kickstarter to finish the issue. A year later we did a second Kickstarter to finish out the remaining three issues of the miniseries. While it was in production we linked up with our publisher, Alterna Comics.

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I really want readers to know that Ed put as much love into this comic as I did. He’s a hilarious person in his own right, and while I tried to make him laugh with my scripts, he tried to make me laugh with his art. He added so much great stuff in the backgrounds and many jokes and gags were born out of what he ended up putting on the page. When we started working together, I didn’t know he had such a great sense of humor but I feel like the finished comic is an amazing representation of who we are as creators and people.

Wait a second… when did you have time to hook up that polygraph machine?

Aaron: While you were under sedation. You should avoid operating heavy machinery for the next couple of days. You mentioned that there was some degree of challenge in properly communicating the jokes and timing to the artist via a script. What sort of script format do you prefer to use when writing?
Wes: I write in full script, detailing what’s happening on each page and within every panel, noting locations, which characters are present, facial expressions and all the dialogue and sound effects. It’s weird when you’re writing out a joke… it’s not nearly as funny when you really break down the mechanics of it, but that’s where Ed came in and so brilliantly brought it all to life.Also, Ed lives in Costa Rica and I knew English was not his first language so I tried to make everything very easy to understand. No one would ever know that if I hadn’t just said it because he’s that awesome at what he does. He nailed every joke on the first pass.
Aaron: Sounds like you two work well together, something that the quality of the comic really reinforces when you read it. When you were creating the characters for Unit 44, did you draw any inspiration from friends, family, or celebrities?
Wes: The characters came around pretty organically. I provided descriptions to Ed as to what I had in mind… the elder statesman for Hatch and the slacker for Gibson, but I try not to color the characters with existing people so as not to influence the designs. I wanted Ed to provide his interpretation.As I wrote the series and the character voices really took shape, definitely spotted some of my father in Hatch and a bit more of me in Gibson. I guess I’m using Unit 44 to work out some of our issues! One thing’s for certain… if the series ever got a film or animation treatment I would lobby as hard as I could for Patrick Warburton play Agent Hatch.
Aaron: Funnily enough, that’s exactly whose voice I imagined for Agent Hatch as I was reading the series (and Ken Jeong for the villain who shows his face around the end of issue two.) You’ve had the chance to work with some great artists so far, but if you could have the opportunity to work with any comic artist (alive or dead), who would it be?
Wes: So many people!I’d love to write a superhero story for Mark Bagley, because I read everything he did in the 90s, I’d want to do a crime story with Frank Miller, a comedy comic with Ryan Browne and anything with John Romita, Jr. Heck he could draw stick figures and it would be amazing. Above all, I’d like to co-write something with Rob Shrab. But that’s mainly because I’d want to read more comics from him.
Aaron: A lot of good names on that list! I’d look forward to any of those collaborations. Aside from comics, UFOs, and stargazing (which you talk about some in the back of the first issue), are there any hobbies that you’re passionate about?
Wes: Hobbies? I wish I could fit some of those into the schedule! In addition to a day job, I do freelance writing for several video game companies, freelance lettering to help out my fellow up-and-coming creators and then somewhere in there I still find time to write comics! Look at it this way… at the time of this interview, Avengers: Age of Ultron has been out for three weeks and I still haven’t had time to see it!
Aaron: At least you never have to worry about idle hands. That’s quite a schedule. Well, Wes, it’s been a pleasure getting to talk to you. I have just one more question before I tag you and release you back into your natural habitat. Is there any tidbit or teaser you’d like to leave with the readers who are looking forward to the third and fourth issues of Unit 44?
Wes: Absolutely! For those readers who checked out and enjoyed issues 1 and 2, I would share that Ed and I continue to crank the zaniness up to eleven over the final two issues. Things only get more ridiculous as we barrel toward the finish line.

For those who haven’t gotten aboard our irreverent train yet, I think our series will speak to sci-fi and comedy lovers, especially those with an interest in government conspiracies, storage units, aliens, rednecks, jetpacks or laughing. Issues are currently available on the ComiXology platform for just $1.99 each from Alterna Comics. You can purchase a copy here

By supporting our indie comic you’ll allow Ed and I to keep making silly stories together and you’ll be helping out a great publisher that continues to bring amazing stories and talent to digital stands each month.

Follow Ed on Twitter @EdUaR_Art and Wes @weslocher

Check out a free previews from each installment of Unit 44 at www.unit44comic.com

Now, I know I’m not supposed to operate heavy machinery for another few hours… do you mind calling my wife and asking her to pick me up from here? You know… wherever here is.

Aaron: Oh, Wes… She’s already here. 
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