“Every story has an end, but in life every end is just a new beginning.” This is for sure a quote my mom has posted on Facebook probably over the top of some filtered picture of a sunset at some point. This is also a very true quote for writer Doug Wagner, who this past week released the final issue of his series “Plastic” and also launched the first issue of a new Image Comics series, “The Hard Place,” with artist Nic Rummel.
To completely over use the bit, that quote also applies to the story of “The Hard Place.” The series tells the story of AJ Gurney who is released from prison after serving five years. A legendary wheelman in Detroit, Gurney has decided it’s now time to go straight. He looks to reunite with his friends and family in a quiet and productive life but his past may not be so easily ignored. He looks to end the previous story of his life and find a new beginning. See I brought it back around.
To learn more about this new series and get me off this quote business we were able to talk to the creators writer Doug Wagner and artist Nic Rummel. They discuss telling the story of every day life, creating the look for the series, challenges Gurney may face, and if they are friends. Below you will find our conversation with Doug and Nic. A huge thanks to the guys for taking the time to talk. You can find the first issue of “The Hard Place” in stores and online now. If you picked up issue one you can still pre-order your copy of issue 2 in your local shop now.
To further entice you to do so, we have an exclusive preview that second issue at the bottom of the interview.
So Doug, we just did an interview very recently for your amazing series, “Plastic” which has now come to an end. I do find it very convenient a new series is already out and here we are again. Is the whole creation of “The Hard Place” just a ruse to be best friends?
Doug Wagner: Kyle, I’ve been stalking you for years. Longing. Suffering. I realized a few years ago the only way I would be able to get your attention is to write lots of comic books. It’s about time you started noticing me.
If in the very likely and logical possibility it is not, what is “The Hard Place?”
Nic Rummel: It’s a modern day crime noir/ redemption story that gives me an excuse to draw cars and guns.
DW: I keep referring to it as an “action noir.” The story has the flavor of a crime noir, but we laid a thick coating of modern action all over the top.
Nic, how did you and Doug team up on this book?
NR: We met a while back through Chris Brunner at Heroes Con in Charlotte. I was pitching a story (that wasn’t The Hard Place) that I was almost finished with and promised that I’d have it done and hand it to him and Keven at San Diego the following month. When I–
DW: Wait. What?
DW: Are you trying to gaslight me? I don’t remember it that way at all. The way I remember it Brian Stelfreeze showed me some of your sequentials when he and I were in Gaijin Studios together. The second I saw your work I knew I wanted to work with you. You had written your phone number on the back of the pages, so I gave you a call, we started emailing back and forth, and we decided on The Hard Place. Now to be fair, I’m older than Nic, so it could be I made all that up in my head.
NR: No, I’m pretty sure I accepted the job at SDCC that year.
DW: Agree to disagree.
Are you guys friends?
NR: We’re friends now.
DW: That sounds kinda ominous.
“The Hard Place” debuted the same week the last issue of “Plastic” came out. How does it feel having something start and end in the same week?
DW: Terrifying. The response to PLASTIC has been beyond anything I was expecting, so I feel I raised my own bar with that book. Then THE HARD PLACE hits the shelves, an entirely different book in just about every way…well, to me, so I can’t help but worry that everyone will hate me for not doing more of the same. Luckily, it seems people are liking THE HARD PLACE too. I’m a little less worried at the moment…but that could change in a few minutes. Maybe I should take some Xanax.Continued below
The series is rooted in the everyday life and the actions of the characters in that life. Sandwiched between the more crime-centric scenes are moments of Gurney getting his life back together and reconnecting with friends and family. The writing is very grounded in these moments and the art conveys the feelings of those in the scenes so well whether they might be tired, worried or happy. How do you guys work to make these moments just as interesting and important as say a shootout? How do you do it and make it feel natural to the reader?
NR: I wanted to match the hard work Doug put in, I knew I had to step up my game. So when I draw talking heads- body language is key. You need to convey the story as if the “reader” can’t read. When talking, no one is sitting still and emotion comes through in the positions we happen to be sitting in. People fidget, pick their nails, check phones and look elsewhere. Nothing should be static.
DW: Yeah, Nic nailed it. It was important to us to avoid as many talking head panels as possible. We both agreed that we wanted to always try to have the characters emoting while actually doing something. Now sometimes a cool head shot is needed, but we did our best to hold onto that kind of shot until it was impactful. Nic would even throw in these awesome shots that didn’t have the characters in them at all, just focused on something in the scene.
Two types of comics we see a lot of from Image is seems are sci fi and crime stories (sometimes sci-fi crime stories). I remember reading “Plastic” and it instantly hooked me because it was so different from everything else. For you guys, what sets “The Hard Place” apart or for you the appeal of this story? Picking up the issue and reading it I enjoyed it and wanted more, but for regular Wednesday comic shoppers who you have to somehow get it into their hands, how do you try to do that among the sea of other comics out there?
DW: Wow, that’s a tough one. I think every creator and company out there is trying to find the magical answer to that question. With Nic, Charlie, Frank, and I, our focus was to try to create something that looked different than everything else on the stands. That’s one of the primary reasons we asked Brian Stelfreeze to do variant covers for us and told him to cut loose. Now, you never know how a plan like that is going to work out of course. I’ve always believed it’s the artist’s job to get readers to pick up a book and the writer’s job to keep them picking it up. Nic, Charlie, Frank, and Brian delivered. I guess we have to wait and see if I held up my end of the bargain.
Nic and Charlie’s art combine for a very distinct look for this series. For Doug, why does Nic and Charlie’s style work for a series like this?
DW: To be blunt, because it’s different than just about everything else on the stands. This goes all the way back to the day I first looked over Nic’s work. I loved it and immediately realized we could do something unique and cool with his style. When we brought Charlie on board, we handed over the pages and literally said, “Don’t do what you usually do. This is your chance to go for it.” Charlie ran with it, and after a few notes here and there on the first issue, he brought the heat. I personally think it’s the best coloring job he’s ever done. We were a little scared that it might be too different at first, but people seem to be digging it.
Nic, what was your goal starting off on this book for what you wanted it to look like? Has it evolved as you have gone on in the work load?
NR: My goal was to explode onto the scene, in fear that this could be my one and only chance. I had the intention, no offense to Charlie and Frank, of doing it all myself. I’m proud of how much my worked evolved during the series, and I think you and the readers will see my comfort level grew in terms that the art gets better…in my opinion. The first issue was the hardest thing I’ve ever worked on. I was so scared that my work wasn’t going to be good enough, so I redrew panels and even entire pages multiple times. Add to that, I had just started running my own business and being a first time parent. That first issue was a rough one, but I’m really happy with how the entire series turned out.Continued below
Nic fills the panels with a lot of items. Everything that is included works to add to a small bit of world building. In Gurney’s room, he has a PS2 which if he went in 5 years ago it would be around that time he might still have out that never got put away. Later he is getting ready in the mirror and there are two toothbrushes in the holder (Gurney and his dad). What is your thought process and planning that goes into these small details in your work?
NR: In my opinion- clutter equals real. People are messy. We like and collect stuff. We have too much stuff and it’s around us. I take reference of my life, my room, my house, my bathroom and the places I frequent.
DW: Nic was brilliant when it came to this. I always attempt to build character into the environment when I’m writing, but Nic gets most of the credit here. He’d send in a page and all I could think was, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
The series touches on some very real situations people find themselves in. Gurney is released from jail and there is a focus on what that means for him, his friends/family and what does he do with it. We also see how his past life, the one that leads to his jail time, still very active in the life he returns to. When creating this series did you research or explore the experiences Gurney would find himself in?
DW: Research, no. Explore, yes. As a writer, I believe the more you experience in life the better writer you can become. With this story, I took some of my own life struggles, my own mistakes, and applied them to Gurney. I won’t lie. It was a very spiritual journey for me and had me picking up the phone and apologizing to friends and family for what I must have put them through. Taking the time to see both sides of a situation in your own past can be painful, but it made me a better creator.
Nic, was there any research on your part to understand the look and feel of the world “The Hard Place “would be focused on?
NR: I tattoo as well, so adding Russian prison tattoos would add that extra little detail that would make this story more believable. Growing up reading comics, I thought it was odd how cars in comics didn’t look recognizable, it’s a detail that makes the story more believable. So I took the time to make the cars look like the cars around us to make the world I’m drawing more realistic.
There are a few scenes of violence in this issue. For a book that has this criminal element as a very real part of the book, the violence is understandable. However, you guys approach the violence with a very minimalist approach and a lot of implied actions. One of the major scenes we had seen in the previews was a man getting curbed on the edge of a hot tub. We see blood, we see him biting the edge and a leg lifting but we don’t see the action. As a team how did you want to approach the violence in this book?
NR: For me I “omitted” it because I like to assume the reader is smart. Smart enough to use the page gutters to use the power of their imaginations. There’s blood in the gutters.
DW: Totally agree with Nic here. It’s not always the best play to show everything. Sometimes you can let the reader fill in the blanks…and it’s probably better than what we would have done.
The first issue does a lot to establish Gurney, his goals and then instantly challenges him on that. What do you want readers to take away from this first issue and what can they look forward to as the series progresses?
NR: I want them to read this book and soak up all the details Doug, Charlie, and I added. To believe and enjoy this book enough to keep returning to finish the series.
DW: From the first issue, I hope the readers identify with Gurney and his situation. He’s trying to do the right thing, trying to be a good person, but sometimes life just keeps kicking you in the balls. How you respond to that determines what kind of person you truly are. In regards to what they can look forward to in the rest of the series, readers should prepare themselves for lots of action and watching a guy try to determine what kind of man he’s going to be.Continued below
The second I see a dog in a comic like this I get worried. Just give me a wink or a nod if Stella is going to be ok?
NR: Stella the Frenchie lives on to a ripe old age.
DW: Or does she? <wink wink>