I got a chance to speak with Sam Rhodes and Bryant Dillion of Fanboy Comics and new OGN Something Animal about their process, multi-media and, of course, comics in general. Spandexless: First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and some of the things you've worked on before?
Sam Rhodes: My name is Sam Rhodes, I started out life as a baby but quickly grew into a young child. After that I started acting and have been doing that for many years. I have always enjoyed entertaining people and started writing/producing so I could have a little more control over the projects I was working on. One morning, after a particularly rough night, the details of which I cannot share because I remember nothing, I woke up to find that I was part of a comic book publishing company called Fanboy Comics. Most of my experience is in film and theatre - acting, directing and writing a little. Ultimately, it's all telling stories, and that's really what I am obsessed with. Before Something Animal I worked on several films around L.A., none of which you have seen. I also wrote and drew a short-lived, but well-loved, web comic called Scrote and Testes.
Bryant Dillon: I’m Bryant Dillon and I co-wrote Something Animal. I am also the President and co-founder of Fanboy Comics, which operates both as an independent publisher and a geek news website offering event coverage, interviews, reviews, podcasts, newsletters, and more. Outside of FBC, I’ve been involved in a variety of different projects. I have a B.F.A. in acting and have appeared on both stage and film. I’ve also worked behind the camera, serving as the director for the short film version of Something Animal and as an executive producer on the comedic web series Batman of Suburbia. I am also a staff writer at Whedonopolis.com and provide comic reviews for the site. Finally, I have been a HUGE Hunger Games fan ever since I read the books, and I currently serve as an executive producer, staff writer, and actor on a fan-created audio drama adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ books known as The Katniss Chronicles. All of the episodes are available for free on the website (www.thekatnisschronicles.com), and we just finished releasing the adaptation of the first book during the week the film opened.
S: So, this comic coincides with a short film. How closely does the book resemble it?
SR: There are some very distinct similarities to the short film, which was directed by Bryant Dillon. In both versions we tried to achieve a grittiness that colored the entire story. Also, neither version has a lot of dialogue, something we specifically wanted from the story, regardless of the medium. The story itself was largely the same despite a few expansions we did for the graphic novel, specifically the addition of several locations which would have been hard to find and film on such a tight budget. There are some very major differences, as well. Robert Burrows, the artist, added a ton of surrealistic imagery into the comic to highlight the main character’s (Jack’s) dementia, and we have a few rather gruesome moments in the film that didn't end up playing quite as big in the graphic novel. It's kind of like hearing two different accounts of the same story from two different people. Eventually, you get to the same place, but you're taking two very different paths to get there.
BD: I’d say that the film and the graphic novel are pretty close plot-wise but also have differences in tone and atmosphere. Both exist in a harsh and hopeless setting, but we weren’t limited by location or budget when it came to the graphic novel, so there are certain scenes that were not in the film, such as the scene where Jack experiences a panic attack on a public bus, that were added for the graphic novel. The artist, Robert Burrows, actually preferred to not view the film before completing the art, so he also added a lot of unique perspectives and additions to the story that Sam and I had not even imagined.
S: What was the inspiration for this story?
BD: The graphic novel was based on the short film we shot, but the short film was adapted from a short story that was written by Sam’s older brother Ben Rhodes. Ben gave us a lot of freedom with his story, but one thing that remained true was the inspiration. Written as a response to the romantic vampire craze (the Anne Rice one to be more specific), Ben wanted to bring the vampire myth back to its original horror roots, where becoming a creature of the night wasn’t a benefit or a chance to be a superhero with fans, it was a curse. In our story, the vampire doesn’t have fangs or super powers, doesn’t burn in the sun, and isn’t blessed with immortality. Becoming a vampire in our world is more akin to fighting a terminal disease or a serious drug addiction and, given the lack of the supernatural elements, this story could even be viewed as one where the main character isn’t actually becoming a vampire. Maybe he’s simply lost his mind and thinks that he’s become something more than human. Anyway, with the sparkly vampire craze now in full bloom, it felt very appropriate to revisit Ben Rhodes’ reply to the sympathetic vamp.
S: What inspirations did you draw from for the art?
SR: I can't speak for Rob too much, but I know he is a big fan of artists like Simon Beasley and Dave McKean. He definitely also has his own style that I see developing. It's really cool. He hand-paints almost everything, and the end result is this frenetic messiness that just fits the tone of the story perfectly.
BD: Like Sam, I hesitate to speak for Rob on what inspirations he used when he created the fantastic art he did for the book. I will say that the editor on the book, Barbra Dillon, as well as Sam and I did have a very specific look in mind when we began looking for an artist for Something Animal. Barbra, Sam and I had all worked on the short film, and the visual inspirations were very similar in both projects. We discussed a number of films that had the dark and grimy look we were seeking to emulate, including David Fincher’s Seven and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Our big concern was to surround the main character, Jack, in a desolate and gritty environment that would reflect the urban loneliness and hopelessness that is so easy to feel in the run down and low rent sections of major cities. Obviously, Something Animal is a dark and bloody tale as well, so those factors were important when selecting an artist. I can attest that Rob can sling shadows and blood spatter with the best!
S: To me it seemed the main theme was emotion: we saw more of Jack's emotional state of mind from action and expression rather than narration, and the minimal dialogue was there to show us how Jack was feeling and coping with other people. Could you tell us more about what you were trying to evoke from a mostly wordless story?
SR: The story in my mind is about a kid who has suffered a traumatic event and seeing what that does to him psychologically. His emotions are the external displays of his mental state, how he interacts with other people, how he behaves while alone in his apartment or wandering the streets. All of that is in the script, and then Rob brought that additional layer of surrealism in the art, so the reader isn't just watching Jack experience this, but is actually a part of it.
BD: Given that we adapted the graphic novel from the short film script, we did end up with the sparse dialogue that was in the film. While some dialogue was added for the graphic novel, when we considered adding Jack’s internal monologue or narration, it just seemed to weaken the story. Rob’s art is so strong and intense that it really needs very little help to tell the story, especially the emotional moments. We also felt that the sparse dialogue would help with the feeling that Jack is extremely isolated to the world. Jack interacts with a few people throughout the book, but the encounters are all awkward and uncomfortable. Because of this, Jack avoids others and instead of presenting a false release from that isolation with some sort of internal voice to cling to, we decided to allow the reader to suffer through Jack’s plight in relative silence with him, hopefully, making them feel just as utterly alone as Jack does.
S: What are your plans for after Something Animal? I know you have something called Identity Thief coming up, is there anything you'd like to say about that?
SR: We've got two projects scheduled to come out this year, the first is Identity Thief, which I'll let Bryant talk about a little more, since he's the writer on that. The other is something that we can't talk about just yet, but it's going to be just as intense as Something Animal, but in a whole different genre. Just keep checking out the Fanboy Comics page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@fanboycomix), and you'll know it when it hits.
BD: How cryptic of Sam! I do know the secret project and can confirm that it will be worth moving heaven and hell for! As for Identity Thief, I can let you know that it will be similar to Something Animal in length and tone. Both are horror books, but while Something Animal was FBC’s stab at the vampire genre, Identity Thief is more like a story from one of those horror anthologies like Creepshow or an episode of The Outer Limits. The story involves a young couple who moves into a new apartment and discovers a mysterious hatch in the ceiling of their closet. Obviously, since all monsters live in closets, I can confirm that something terrifyingly creepy is inside the hatch, and it’s not too long before the young couple becomes aware of the horror living in their closet. The full color art is done by the very talented Meaghan O’Keefe, who is a whiz with the air brush and is basically an expert on all things creepy. The story was written by me, and I can’t wait to share this one with people. We went for a real disturbing and unsettling feel for this one, with Ridley Scott’s Alien serving as a minor inspiration, and I think it’s really going to creep the frak out of some of our readers! It should be available around August or September, and you can get a sneak peek at www.identitythiefcomic.com
S: Any interesting comics you guys are reading?
SR: YES! Right now I'm loving Saga by Bryan K. Vaughn. I can't wait for Issue 3, and if you haven't checked out this comic, you really should. I am also reading the TMNT reboot by Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Dan Duncan, and it is badass. I am enamored with a few of the DCnU comics too, specifically Animal Man by Jeff Lemire, Batman by Scott Snyder, and Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello. Lastly, I just read the first issue of IDW's Smoke and Mirrors by Mike Costa-Script, Ryan Browne-Art, and Jon Armstrong-Illusions. I can't even describe the story to you so far, but I can tell you that the story is utterly compelling and the characters and world they've created are completely unusual, yet familiar, at the same time. More than almost any other comic I've read recently, after the first issue I NEEDED to keep reading. Oh! And, as a bonus, there's also an actual magic trick in every issue. How cool is that?!
BD: I have to agree with Sam on Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga. That series has been stellar! I’m also a huge Joss Whedon fan, and I’ve been loving Dark Horse’s Angel & Faith series written by Christos Gage and with art by Rebekah Isaacs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 written by Andrew Chambliss with art by Georges Jeanty has also been really, really good so far! Do not miss those books if you are a Buffy fan! I’ve also been really enjoying the Watchmen on crack feel of Garth Ennis’ The Boys and the gritty, sexy, crime-noir style of Judd Winnick’s Catwoman. Finally, I’ve got to give a shout out to The Thirty Six written by Kristopher White and with art by George Zapata. The Thirty Six is an independent book you might not have heard of yet, but find it and buy the first five issues! The book deals with the Kabbalist legend that there are 36 people around the world who are destined to save it in times of need, and it plays out like an awesome mash between Heroes, LOST, and The X-Files! I definitely recommend that series!
Thank you to Sam and Bryant for taking the time to speak with me! Something Animal is written by Sam Rhodes and Bryant Dillon, illustrated by Robert Burrows and published by Fanboy Comics. You can visit the site of the graphic novel here, the publishers here and buy it here.