Kurtis Wiebe is one of our favorite current writers for Image/Shadowline, having penned books like “Grim Leaper”, “Peter Panzerfaust” and “the Intrepids.” Now, with two new books coming out from Image/Shadowline soon (and more assuredly on the way), we chat with Kurtis about “Grim Leaper”, “Debris” and more.
How did the concept behind “The Grim Leaper” begin to take shape in your head?
Kurtis Wiebe: Totally out of nowhere I decided to track down all the episodes of Quantum Leap I could find and watch that show over again. I loved it as a kid and even now, while being somewhat cheesy, I thought it was really entertaining.
I remember thinking to myself, “What if Sam seriously messed up the lives of people he jumped into, rather than make it better?”
That’s what got the ball rolling and it really evolved from that core idea.
The book is being described as “Quantum Leap meets Final Destination”. What was it about the concepts within those stories that made you want to bridge the gap between them?
KW: I’ve actually come to a better tagline which I’ve been using in every single interview. I’m doing my best to brand this project so people really understand what it’s about. So here we go.
Grim Leaper is a gory love story, the Final Destination rom-com you’ve been waiting for. It tells the story of Lou Collins, a man struck with a bizarre curse that sees him killed in horrific, bloody ways only to wake up in the body of a complete stranger. In the first issue we learn he’s been at this for awhile and really has no clue as to why it’s happening. He’s sort of meandering through ‘life’ until one day he meets Ella, a woman with the exact same curse.
They decide to date.
Since Quantum Leap was where the idea originated, I obviously wanted to do my own personal spin on the concept. I think it’s similar at its base but they get pretty divergent when it comes down to the story and especially the main character. As for Final Destination, I always loved the slow build into the kills, how they’d fake you out so many times and then hit you with the death unexpectedly.
My slow burn is more psychological, the signs are in the narrative, not in the action. When you read #1, you’ll see.
What made you want to approach the concept of the afterlife in this way?
KW: That was probably the hardest part of conceptualizing Grim Leaper. I really struggled with creating a between world that was equal parts ethereal and creepy. I toyed with a few ideas before the iteration we went with just clicked. It’s an effective storytelling device as well, as you can see where Lou has been and where he is going. It creates a good connection for both Lou and the reader.
How did you go about developing the mechanics of life, death and limbo present within this story?
KW: The focus was story and how I could best represent how he moved from one body to another and to show how long he’d been at it. That hallway of pictures will change over time and as the series goes on, will get creepier and more insane.
I really wanted that limbo stage to feel both familiar (a hallway in a house) and completely bizarre (that floats in space).
Did you develop the concepts about life, death and resurrection for the story and then craft characters to fit into those concepts, or vice versa?
KW: I’d say they really came together at the same time. It would be impossible to write the arc for our main characters without considering how this cycle of death and rebirth would actually affect them, especially their dating life.
The concept of Ella and adding in a romantic angle came later, truthfully. I was really struggling with making the structure for the story interesting beyond the basic idea and realized that a love story could make it really sing. It was such a natural fit and once that piece fit into place, I wrote the first issue very quickly.Continued below
Given the high concepts the book is exploring, one would not expect there to be a love story at the core of this adventure. Why use that particular storytelling trope to ground your tale?
KW: Probably because it was reflective of my life at the time. I’ve been pretty open about how my personal experiences have directly gone into the projects I’m working on. It’s funny because Grim Leaper started to come together right after the events that I went through to make Green Wake (a divorce) and moved into a new era of my life (dating).
I had a lot of fun with dating but I saw some things in myself that, at the time, scared me. Now, looking back, I can laugh about it because it was pretty understandable, but those are the general themes underlying the series.
How did you and Aluisio initially connect for this project, and what do you feel his style brings to the story you are crafting?
KW: Aluisio was one of the artists that tested pages for Green Wake when Riley wasn’t sure if he could commit to an ongoing series. Aluisio did a really awesome, moody piece that really captured the emotion of the script I’d written.
Obviously Riley stayed on board, but it was that one pager that sold me on Aluisio’s work and eventually led me to ask him to give the script a go. He absolutely nailed the pitch pages.
Given how Quantum Leap lasted for many seasons and they are still, at least as far as I am aware, making Final Destination sequels, what made you want to limit this particular story to a four issue mini-series as opposed to an ongoing? Or is this a story you plan to revisit in short bursts?
KW: Grim Leaper is really, to me, a short love story. I think there are a lot of possibilities that branch out from this first four issue series but I think it ties everything up nicely with a few twists and turns along the way. That said, I have an idea for a follow up series which I hint at in the very final pages of Issue #4, but it could just as easily end there.
A lot of it has to do with schedule, I’m currently writing 3 Image Comics series. Keep in mind, I write full time, so I also have to balance that with paid writing work. With Peter Panzerfaust being ongoing, I seriously think it’s in my best interest to keep my other projects mini-series.
In “Debris,” you are once again working with your “Green Wake” collaborator Riley Rossmo. How has the creative process between you two changed, if at all, since then?
KW: It’s only changed for the better. There’s an inherent knowledge from script to illustrated page about what each of us is looking for. That comes from our history on Green Wake but it’s also partly because he talk the project to death before even starting.
It was the first time I also wrote out an issue summary detailing every event that happens and sent it to Riley before finishing the script to Issue #1. It really helps with world building, especially on a book that requires a lot of it. Of course, Green Wake did, too.
The post-apocalyptic genre seems to be one that easily lends itself to environmental commentary. “Debris” was originally born from a single image that Riley drew, but as a writer, which came first for you: story, or message?
KW: I had a very small idea about this story long before it became Debris. My girlfriend and I were talking about futuristic stories one day and she told me about this prophecy by a Haidan chief that talked about their lake being the last source of fresh water in the world and that people from all nations would war over it.
That really inspired a vision in my head and when Riley sent me that image, I knew it would work perfectly with the story I’d been holding onto for a year.Continued below
A common trend in comics and other media today, especially in terms of marketing, is to describe your creation as an amalgamation of various other stories. What other tales, comics or otherwise, have left their mark on “Debris?”
KW: Lots, truthfully. Here’s just a few that Riley and I batted around when we were conceptualizing the series: Final Fantasy, Red Sonja, Transformers, and Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind.
How would you convince someone who is still on the fence about checking out these two exciting new series to pick them up, using only one sentence for each series?
KW: Grim Leaper: Grim Leaper is a gory love story, the Final Destination rom-com you’ve been waiting for.
Debris: Ancient, twisted spirits called Colossals are hideous monsters that take form from the garbage around them and have risen to wipe humanity from the face of the earth. Maya is the Protector of the last tribe, she is all that stands in the way of our extinction.
I suppose that was two sentences.
Debris: Red Sonja fights Final Fantasy Transformers.
If you could write a crossover of any two of your independent properties, which would it be and why?
KW: Hah, what a good question. My projects have so little in common it’s hard to really pick. I think having Lou get transported to Green Wake could make for a VERY interesting storyline.
I have no idea what I’d do with it, but thoughts are pooling.
What is your favorite type of music to write comics to (if any)?
KW: Soundtracks. Generally anything with words can take over my brain and distract me from the writing. There are exceptions to that rule, like if the music is uber mellow and the lyrics are quiet. I love Black Atlantic for that reason, real moody, gentle music.
I think the Carnivale OST has been part of most of the very dramatic or emotional scenes I’ve written.
Otherwise I just write in silence.
As a comic writer, what comics are you enjoying most these days?
KW: Well, like every other human being who reads comics, everything that Scott Snyder is doing. I’m also a huge fan of a lot of Image titles right now, and that doesn’t come from a place of bias, honest!
Saga, Luther Strode, Heart, Near Death and Orc Stain are all comics I follow or followed with regularity. It’s an exciting time in creator owned titles and that has been where most of my comic spending money goes.
The most important question of all: Who would win in a fight: Gandhi or Grant Morrison?
KW: I already imagine this as a rap battle but they are standing on either side of the stage telling stories. In that case, Gandhi wins, his life was epic and is one hell of a story.
Your work has been incredibly varied, spanning from Lovecraftian horror, to post-apocalyptic fiction, and all sorts of other things in between. Despite having three series on the shelves soon, the volume of your work in the past two years suggests that it might not be long before we see more from you. What’s next for Kurtis Wiebe?
KW: I have three or four pitches in the works right now but I’ve made a pretty big decision to slow things down a bit. When Debris comes out in July, it’ll be my fifth Image series in 15 months, two of which are/were ongoing. I’m struggling to stay ahead on my projects and it’s dipping into my personal time to relax. Life’s all about balance, friends.
Debris will be my last creator owned project for 2012, but I’ll be continuing Peter Panzerfaust, of course. I plan to release a series in 2013, if the publishing gods smile on me, and again, continue with Peter Panzerfaust as I have a 25-30 issue plan for that.
There are other things in the pipeline that I can’t quite discuss yet, but it’s definitely a big step for me. I’ll let you guys know as soon as I’m able.Continued below
I’m also moving to Vancouver this summer to take an office job with Day 21 Studios, who I’ve been working for remotely since September 2011. I’ll be their in-house writer while training to be a producer.
Oh, yeah, and I plan on starting a new novel sometime this year. When I have the time.