The history of comic books are filled with amazing and beautiful love stories. You might think of Superman and Lois Lane, maybe Spider-Man and Mary Jane, or hey, maybe you might be more contemporary and think Alana and Marko. Well whatever you might happen to think of or read in a listicle of greatest romantic couples in comics there is a new power couple to add to the list. Move aside Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, and say a real awkward hello you Edwyn and Virginia from “Plastic” by Doug Wagner, Daniel Hillyard, Laura Martin and Ed Dukeshire.
“Plastic,” which is ready to wrap up with its final issue this month, is about a retired serial killer, Edwyn, and his girlfriend Virginia, a sex doll. The story follows their love and what happens when anyway threatens that love, which is pretty much a lot of violence and humor. To learn more about this insanely fun series from Image Comics as it reaches its conclusion we were able to talk to writer Doug Wagner. Doug discusses having to describe the premise of this series to multiple people, crafting a likable serial killer and what it was like to see his severed head on the variant cover of his own comic books.
Our thanks to Doug for taking the time to talk about “Plastic.” You can find the interview below and you can pick up the final issue of the series August 23rd both in stores and digitally online.
I imagine you have had to describe what “Plastic” is a lot? What is the best reaction you have got to its description? How did you even originally pitch this idea/book?
Doug Wagner: Yes. Yes, I have. The interesting thing about this comic is that I rarely have to get past “It’s a story about a serial killer that’s in love with a blow-up sex doll.” At that point, people either pick it up or they walk away in disgust. There’s hardly ever anything in between. I have to admit I love that about this book. I don’t have to do a hard sell. I know within seconds if somebody’s going to like it or not. And to be honest, I kinda get a kick out of seeing which way a person reacts.
My favorite reaction so far was at this year’s Heroes Con, where I was set up selling Issue #1. My longtime friend and soon-to-be comic book collaborator Hoyt Silva was sitting next to me. A rather scruffy-looking guy walked up scowling at the “Plastic” cover. He picked it up and started flipping through it and asked what the book was about. I smiled and said my standard, “It’s about a serial killer that’s in love with a blow-up sex doll.” He looked at me with horror and disgust, dropped the book on the table, and proceeded to walk away…the whole time glaring back at me in total and utter disgust. He made it at least 20 yards before he stopped giving me the stink eye. Hoyt and I got a good laugh from that one.
I originally pitched it verbally to Eric Stephenson at SDCC in 2016. Daniel Hillyard had already finished drawing 3 issues, so as Eric looked over the pages, I did my best to give him a short overview of the premise, a really quick Edwyn character brief, and what themes I would be covering. The whole pitch took about 5 minutes. Eric seemed to get exactly what I was trying to do and accepted the pitch on the spot.
For the story of “Plastic” how did it come about? Did the idea of a man in love with a “Plastic” woman start as the focus and the story developed around that?
DW: A few years ago, Eric Layton, Brian Stelfreeze, and I decided to road trip it from Atlanta to Baltimore for that year’s Baltimore Comic-Con. That was possibly the oddest, laugh-filled road trip of my life. We saw an entire town of toothless people, a 10-year-old kid locked in a cage with his teddy bear, and Brian told deep, dark secrets while he was sleeping. The whole thing was surreal. Well, at one point on the trip when we were crossing the Virginia state line, I read the “Buckle up, Virginia” highway sign out loud in the most unsettling Southern accent you can imagine. It even creeped me out a bit. In a flash of blood and soft plastic, the muses reached into my brain and somehow managed to cram the entire concept and story for “Plastic” into my tired, groggy, forever-to-be-disturbed-from-that-point-forward brain. Yep, the entire story…all at once. I turned and told Eric what had just happened (Brian was asleep…again), he loved the idea, and with his encouragement, I kept pursuing it until Daniel and I made it happen.Continued below
What works so well in “Plastic” for me is that Edwyn, while out of his mind, is such a likable lead character. How did you approach Edwyn as a character and making him an individual readers would become invested in or can at least tolerate?
DW: I’m thrilled that you like him. When I started out with this piece, I knew I wanted Edwyn to be a quirky, odd, weird-kinda likable. Yes, you cross him in some way, he’s going to cut your head off. But beyond that he’s actually a really sweet guy that’s truly in love with his soul mate. Edwyn might take it too an extreme level at times, but I think we all fantasize about making people pay for doing us wrong. Wait! Did I just reveal too much about myself?
The series is full of absurd humor, violence and sex. At the same time there are some really strong character moments and a really well paced story. How do you balance the absurdity within the storytelling?
DW: Daniel and I worked really closely on every scene. We wanted to experiment with all of it – pacing, storytelling, emotion. Our mantra throughout was “Can we make the reader experience two contrasting emotions at the same time?” For instance, we start out with a love scene in an environment taken right out of a horror movie. That was intentional. Of course, we didn’t know if any of it would work. Heck, we kinda expected people to trash our very names for it. Fortunately, we seemed to have hit a nerve with all the right people.
Balancing all of it was tough. I wish there was a magical formula I could tell you I used, but honestly, it was Daniel and I doing our best to tell the story we wanted to read and not settling for anything less. I guess it’s all about finding the right team of collaborators, other creatives that understand what you’re going for and can help keep you on the right path.
The art team of Daniel Hillyard and Laura Martin do an amazing job to bring that balance as well. They bring to life both the human moments and the moments of humans being absolutely murdered very effectively. How great are those two and what have they brought to the series?
DW: I’m not sure I can do justice to just how great they both are. Daniel and I have worked together on several projects. He’s not only one of my favorite artists and a good friend, but he’s one of the most professional collaborators I’ve ever worked with. Daniel and I worked closely on every aspect of this book. I’d send him scripts and plead with him to be as harsh as possible. He’d send me pencils and do the same thing. It was never about egos or workload, but about how to tell this eerie little love story in the best way possible. “Plastic” wouldn’t have been the story it is without Daniel along at every step.
Laura Martin shouldn’t need any introduction. I mean, she’s won Eisners and Harveys. She’s unarguably one of the top 5 colorists in the industry. I was lucky enough to be a studio mate of Laura’s for two years back in Atlanta. We spent many late nights talking about story and storytelling, so I knew that she didn’t just color books, but that she used color as a tool to tell better stories. When I started thinking of colorists I wanted to join our merry band, she was the first name that came to mind. However, I didn’t feel that was my choice alone, so I called Daniel to ask if there was any colorist in particular he’d wanted. He hesitated for a minute, wiggled uncomfortably in his chair, and asked, “Do you think there’s any chance we could get Laura Martin?” I laughed and told him that’s exactly who I was thinking of. I called her, pitched her the idea, and she didn’t even blink. We found out quickly why. She’s just as disturbed as everyone else on the team. What she added to the book is simply amazing. I’m not sure everyone, including me, truly understands what she did in this book. She added a depth to the storytelling that I couldn’t have imagined on my best day. She’s amazing and an absolute joy to work with as well.Continued below
What has the experience been like with your creative team? Between the interviews in the back and the variant covers you get the feeling you guys had a lot of fun making this book and everyone was equal partners in this madness?
DW: Oh, man. I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in so many ways with “Plastic,” but probably the biggest blessing was the creative team. The entire team was incredible during the entire process. Nobody showed up with an ego. Every single one of them cared more about putting out the best book we could than about their own personal agenda. I would work with any and all of them again in a heartbeat.
Well, if you can’t have fun putting a book like this together, something’s wrong with you. Right out of the gate, I wanted to make sure everyone felt equally invested in the book. It’s important to me that the entire team knows how important they are to the process and to me. Putting together a good comic book is hard…incredibly hard. If every aspect isn’t done well, it will kill a book. To show my appreciation and respect, I wanted to make sure everyone got a spotlight in the book. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out that there were quite a few people behind the scenes that helped as well – Keven Gardner, Eben Matthews, Kevin Lennertz, Shanna Matuszak and the entire Image staff. Everyone brought their best to this book, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
This series maybe has some of the coolest variant covers which feature the severed heads of each member. I guess first, why and second how did it feel seeing your severed head on the issue of a comic?
DW: LOL. We’d agreed that Andrew Robinson would be doing the main covers, but it was important to me that Daniel do covers as well. I personally always buy the cover from the interior artist of a book, so I wanted that option for our readers as well. When Keven, Daniel, and I were talking about it, Daniel suggested we have a theme that carried over on every cover. We threw out all kinds of ideas, mostly bad. Then, I had the idea for the DEAD HEAD covers. At first, I didn’t think it was a good idea. I actually didn’t tell them for several minutes. However, I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I pitched it to the guys, and for some reason, they jumped on it.
How did I feel about it? I loved it. I even made Daniel cut out my tongue to make it more disturbing.
Much like making Edwyn likable you also write him dealing with his mental demons. He is often talking to people who are not there, are not real, or are dead. How was it writing the dialog for Edwyn and crafting that dialog to portray his mental illness?
DW: Scary and difficult. This was another one of those experimental things I discussed earlier. Writing one-sided dialogue is tricky and takes me a bit more time than writing two people having a conversation. I didn’t want readers to be lost at any point, so I had to make sure Edwyn’s one-sided discussions made sense. It took a few tries and lots of help from Daniel and Keven. With that said, I didn’t want to approach it as though Edwyn was mentally ill. I didn’t want him to hear voices that didn’t make sense. It’s not like he hears these absurd voices that make him do bad things. He hears voices that help him live life on his terms. In my head, he’s simply having a conversation with other “rational” people. It’s not my fault only he can hear them.
I really enjoy when comics include extras in the backup of the issues and you guys have provided some great interviews with the team highlighting the process of the series. What made you want to include these interviews and focus on some lesser examined elements like coloring/”lettering”?
DW: I desperately wanted these team spotlights in the book. I begged everyone for them…incessantly. I’m not sure everyone understands just how important every member of a comic book team is, so I wanted to highlight them so readers could get a sense of not only how wonderful these people are but also to give them insight into what it takes to be successful at each job. People may see coloring, lettering, or production as secondary to making a comic book, but I see them as integral parts of the story process and the success of a book. I mean, I can’t make a good book without every member of the team doing a great job.Continued below
As we do this interview we are getting fairly close to the final issue of the series coming out August 23rd. How has it been wrapping up the series and also doing so among the response readers have had for the series so far?
DW: True story – Daniel and I were done before we ever solicited the book, so what you see in “Plastic” hasn’t been affected by the response by readers to the books at all. I’m kinda happy about that. Sometimes when you start reading reviews and such it has an impact on what you do moving forward. I think that might be a bad thing. Now with that said, it’s always a sad day when you finish up a project you’ve been working on for a year or more. Luckily, everyone on the team put everything they had into it, so although sad, I think we all feel good about what we did.
What do you hope readers got out of their experience with “Plastic?” Avoiding any spoilers for the final issue will we see more “Plastic” in the future? Is it something you would want to return to?
DW: I hope readers enjoy this freaky little world we created and just have a fun time. If they get a good laugh, learn something about themselves, or it sparks their imagination, that’s all extra toppings on the “Plastic” fun sundae.
Will we return to “Plastic…”[smiles mischievously]