Writer Alex Paknadel is busy at the moment alongside the other writers of White Noise Studios (Ram V, Dan Watters, and Ryan O’Sullivan) who are taking comicdom by storm. We had a chance to talk with Paknadel, and artist Martin Simmonds, many months ago about the now critically-praised “Friendo,” that just ended over at Vault Comics. At C2E2 we sat down with Paknadel again to chat about the Valiant Entertainment event “Incursion,” which he’s working on with co-writer Andy Diggle and artist Doug Braithwaite. You can read more below about Paknadel’s career, how he came to work on “Incursion,” the creative process for the series, and more. You can also check out the preview for issue #3 here, which we ran a few weeks ago, before that issue hits stands tomorrow.
Alex thanks for taking the time to do this. The last time we talked it was about “Friendo” which is actually almost over at Vault. This week isn’t it?
Alex Paknadel Mercifully, yeah.
AP: Not a pleasant book
So you have that book, at Lion Forge you’re working on “Kino,” and here you’ve got “Incursion” with Valiant. I would imagine too you probably have some unannounced books with some other fun people. What’s it like getting to work at all these different companies on all these different books with all these different folks?
AP: Um, I mean fascinating in the sense that it’s a really rapid education. It’s a very steep learning curve in the sense that you assume going in, wrongly, that working practices are going to be pretty similar across the board. The product is broadly the same in the sense that everyone is kind of breaking bread. Right? But the recipes are very different. And the specifications are very different. And the cooking time is very different. And the equipment is very different.
It’s been great because you realize, you know there really is, just to really mix some metaphors here, there’s so many ways to skin a cat, or bake a loaf of bread, or bake a cat into some bread.
Never done that last one before but alright. [Laughs]
AP: Yeah, you know, if cat’s your thing. But that’s just been absolutely great. Seeing that in a really kind of intensive way has just been fantastic as well. Because this is kind of the first year, or 2018-2019 was the first year, that I was doing work more kind of concurrently rather than sequentially. Things kind of built up a bit more momentum. So I was working with all these sort of disparate companies at the same time and getting used to their different working practices. Now I kind of feel like I have a much better sort of overview of the industry in general. I mean you know there are, obviously, other places as well. But Valiant has been the really interesting one because that’s the first time I think I’ve had…cause when I was working over at BOOM! they were very much kind of shepherding me into the industry. I wasn’t being handheld so much, but they were definitely guiding me very gently and everything. Whereas when I came on board with Valiant, they were very friendly and very amiable, but there was definitely more of a sense of, “Ok you are a peer. We are expect you to do this. Here are the deliverables. Off you go.”
But it’s great because like, oh right, I’m an adult. You know what I mean? [Laughs]
Were you a Valiant fan before you got the call to work on this book?
AP: Yeah! Right yeah! I’m a huge fan of the relaunch. I was dipping in and out beforehand. I mean suppose I started reading Valiant titles with the Acclaim stuff. Going right back to when they had sort of other companies characters in the stable in everything. I really got into “X-O” at that time. I loved all the stuff that [Steve] Ellis did. I thought that was really inventive. And the stuff that [Mark] Waid did.
But then moving forward to the relaunch, honestly, for me, the big draw at the beginning was [Joshua] Dysart. Cause “Unknown Soldier” is just extraordinary. But this thing that he’s done, I was actually just discussing with the guys last night, this thing that he’s done with “Harbinger” it’s an epic novel. You know what I mean? At the end of all this when Harada’s done, this is gonna be an epic novel. I think it’s really gonna take pride and place on a lot of people’s bookshelves. So yeah huge fan, huge fan of the creators involved. And it’s just so weird to think about. I mean not to put too fine a point on it, but alright. I’ve now got, I’m starting to nibble at the same kind of pedigree as [Matt] Kindt and [Jeff] Lemire and that’s kind of crazy.Continued below
So when “Incursion” was first announced, probably close to this time last year, it was announced with just Andy Diggle writing it. With issue #2 you and Andy are credited with the story and you with the script writing. How did you come on as the co-writer and collaborator and what was that process like?
AP: I mean really smooth. It was rapid in the sense that Andy was sort of deep into with them, and obviously his “Shadowman” commitments were pretty big. And because it was an event book, one of the things he said, because, Andy and I go way back, right? We’ve been pretty much neighbors since 2005. There’s a huge nepotistic angle to this. He kind of got me my start without question. For years I was doing that whole sort of thing where I’m gonna talk about all these great things I’m gonna write. And he finally went, “I’m not going to listen to anymore of your story ideas until you actually write something, and when you write something I’ll put you down in front of someone.”
And you know fast-forward to 2018. I was in London and he just said, “I’ve got this opportunity and this is quite an expansive book I’m working on here. I’ve always wanted to work with you and I think that you’re ready now. If you’re interested would you like to work on this? I’ll co-write the first issue with you and then basically I’ll sort of cut you loose and let you go and see what you do. Do you think you’re ready?” And I said, “Yeah I think I’m ready.”
And it’s just the way the stars aligned. So that was in London. And within two days I was in Brooklyn having a meeting with Valiant editorial and the whole thing was locked. It was a whirlwind.
That’s a speedy turnaround
AP: It was a really speedy turnaround. But it was really smooth, and they said, “We’re here we’re going to give you all the resources you need.” And just working with editorial and with Andy has been a dream. Cause it really is a simple case of, anytime I have a question I just basically hop on my bicycle and I’m in Andy’s lounge within five minutes and we’re there just blocking the thing out. And it’s an interesting thing because Andy is a very structural guy. He’ll have the post-it-notes all over the place and everything. I mean don’t get me wrong I’m a stickler for structure. But they way I work…George R. R. Martin has this sort of thing, he says there are architects and gardeners. Neither approach is wrong. Andy is definitely an architect and I’m definitely a gardener. And one of the things we were discussing early on was like “I wonder how this is going to work?” But actually, and it’s too early to tell, but if the critical reception so far is anything to go by, I think we’ve got a fairly nice house and a fairly nice garden.
So “Incursion” is playing with the Deadside, the Eternal Warrior, the Geomancer, all these fantasy elements from the Valiant Universe. Your main villain, Imperatrix Virago is a being who converts life into necromantic energy to feed on to stay alive. What were the sort of inspirations for the idea of that villain?
AP: Really to be honest it was looking for, it was trying to think of a threat that served two functions. It had to be, like if Master Darque is the benchmark, we were looking for someone scarier than that. Or someone with a more cosmic level threat, dealing with the same sort of elements, but on a cosmic level. The second component to that really we were looking for foils for Gilad and Tama. So you know it’s not just Imperatrix Virago. Virago, she has this, effectively vassel, called Syntilla who is a member of her own species. And Syntilla is actually the power behind the throne in the sense that she’s the one who has this curse really, this ability, to convert life into necromantic energy which Virago then feeds on. We were setting that up as we wanted to have a sort of anti-Eternal Warrior and anti-Geomancer.Continued below
One of the things that we addressed early on, was you know Valiant has these fantastic, self-contained epics. One of the things I really like about their approach is there’s very little creep. So you know you have something on the shelf and you know that you have a complete story and it’s not hyperlinked in a way that some are. So we wanted to keep this bounded, but you had to give it a very rich emotional core. So one of the things we alighted on very early was this is actually a story about parenthood, and being a shitty parent versus being a good parent and what that actually means. Andy and I are both fathers. Virago and Syntilla aren’t related, but they are the last members of their species.
So we just really wanted to kind of lean into to what it means for Gilad to, almost, reaching a point as a parent…because for thousands of years he’s been the protector of the Geomancer. Who in actuality is far more powerful than he is. And yet he is kind of this appointed guardian. And we were talking about that, and thought, yeah he’s almost protective to a fault and he wraps them so tightly and they often slip through his fingers. And that’s the danger here. And yet with Virago, she is holding very, very tightly to Syntilla because Syntilla is her meal ticket. But you also have that kind of codependency, that gaslighting, in the relationship between them. We couldn’t go into it too deeply, because ultimately this has to be first and foremost be an entertainment. But if you look at the relationship between Virago and Syntilla, you very rarely see them in the same room, it’s often kind of alluded to. It’s almost kind of a dark distortion between the relationship of the Eternal Warrior and the Geomancer.
Gilad is a really interesting character as he’s immortal-ish, but still has this pretty straight moral compass. You said something at the Valiant panel Friday to the effect of in the Valiant universe, “There are so many different looks at immortality that you can play with.” What’s it like getting to write Eternal Warrior and thinking and playing with his version of immortality?
AP: Well, I think what’s really interesting about Gilad, unlike Armstrong, he can die. He knows what it’s like to die. He knows what it’s like to find rest and repose. When he dies he kind of returns to the bosom of family, and then he basically has to make a choice to come back on some level. We don’t know, it could be entirely unconscious, we don’t know. But ultimately every time he has to make a choice. And I think that one of the functions of that choice is that he is driven by duty. Which is not to say that he does not have a relationship with Geomancers. But what I think is really interesting, and sorry to loop it back to the previous question. One of the things we discussed early on, so he always comes back because of a sense of duty, and the Geomancer that he’s usually protecting, with some exceptions, are usually adults who come to their power. Tama’s a child, and what we wanted to do here was give him a reason, if he dies, and he may, is he gonna come back out of a sense of duty or out of sense of love effectively. Paternal love.
The first two issues of this comic are just gorgeous What’s it like working with Doug Braithwaite on this book?
AP: It’s super weird. In the sense that he, and I know this is sort of insider baseball stuff, but I was at London Film and Comic-Con late last year and Matthew Klein from Valiant said here’s Doug Braithwaite and I fanboyed, I covered him in fanboy goo straight away. I could see from the look on his face he was like “Alright.” But it’s a funny to go, look, you’re on this side of the table now, you don’t have to do this. We’re peers. And Doug has done that from the get go. But like I’ve been following DOug’s work since I was 11 years old you know what I mean? So it was just weird.Continued below
But it’s such a phenomenal trust exercise. Inasmuch, as you write anything, and I didn’t say this on the panel, but I’m a terrible tyrant in terms of my scripts. Because I’m trying to sort of grow into more sort of formalist areas and I want to do things with interesting panel layouts and all that stuff. So I pay attention to a lot of that. And Doug, Doug goes off script in all the right ways. He’ll come back, not to the extent that he ignores you. He doesn’t ignore you at all. But he’ll always comes back to you with something better. It’s weird where you kind of, we sort of just hit a point I think it was about halfway through issue #2, where I went Doug take the way. I don’t actually have to give you these paragraph long panel descriptions. You know. In that sense it became very sort of relaxing and therapeutic. I wasn’t sort of whipping myself with a silver birch trying to come up with these sort innovative ways and innovative page layouts because it’s all handled.
But that’s the thing really. When you’ve been in the industry as long as Doug has, the sort of artistry and constant professionalism kind of meet. And you end up with something where every page looks like a passion project, but you also know that he’s going to go onto the next book and it’s going to be exactly the same. He’s going to knock it out of the park to exactly the same extent.
There was a really interesting moment actually. I handed over the script for issue #3 and he sent me a DM and said “Do you mind if I call you?” And I went, “Oh, God. Alright, okay.” And he called me and said, “I just wanted to say, I just read the script for issue #3…” and I thought oh man here we go. And he said, “Really good stuff. Really good stuff.” And it was a moment, you know?” Somebody’s career I’ve been following since the mid-90’s had kind of turned around and said, “You deserve to be here.” And we all have imposter syndrome, you know what I mean, and sometimes it takes a bigger boy basically to go “You’re doing alright.” It’s weird I’ve been riding a high on that ever since. Even in sort of other stuff I’ve been doing I’ve been more confident. It’s really weird.
That’s awesome! So, finally, so issue #3 is out April 17th, is there anything else you want to tease or talk about about the next two issues? Do you have more Valiant work in store for you after this?
AP: Some more Valiant work would be really nice wouldn’t it?
[Laughs] For sure man.
AP: I’d love that. So let’s address “Incursion” first. I mentioned this in the panel. One of the things that, when you’re dealing with characters that have regenerative abilities, one of things I wonder, in something like one of the 3 AM Pringles and Dr. Pepper discussions you have, one of the things I have with my dumb little buddies, “These characters with these regenerative abilities, it’s quite rare you see them weaponize that.” So one of the things I really liked, you’ll see it in issue #3, you’ll see Gilad weaponize his regenerative abilities in what I hope is a kind of holy f- moment. I had a lot of evil fun with that. And then yeah obviously a poignant and heartrending emotional denouement where lots of things get kicked in the face. Lots of axe death.
Sort of what else I got cooking. So my writing studio with Ram V, Dan Watters, and Ryan O’Sullivan, we’ve just signed a new contract with Vault Comics. We’re going to be doing a new wave of White Noise books in 2019-2020. So that’s good. I’m also working on an OGN with Dan at the moment. And there’s some other stuff where the ink’s kind of drying. Personally I’ve got quite an exciting year coming up. “Kino” over at Lion Forge, as far as I know I’m not getting kicked off that anytime soon. The reception’s been pretty good. So yeah stay tuned!
“Incursion” #3 is due out tomorrow, April 17th, 2019.