David Baxter is a writer and producer whose first feature film, Shooting Lily, won the 1996 SXSW Film Festival. David is making his comic book debut with Benaroya Publishing and Image Comics on the title MARKSMEN. David is also the recipient of the 2004 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation/Tribeca Film Institute screenwriting grant for two science themed film projects he currently has in development. He previously wrote for Star Trek: Voyager and became a member of the WGA when he wrote an epic racing film called Nuvolari for 20th Century Fox. He recently completed Speed King, a biopic about murdered racing legend Mickey Thompson for Bandito Bros and Producer/Director Mike McCoy.
David was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to sit with Michael Sacal, Senior Reporter for CBI.
MICHAEL: David, first of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us about Marksmen. Please, tell us about yourself, and how you got your start as a writer and a producer.
DAVID: I started my career in Hollywood as assistant to the documentarian Errol Morris and soon became a development executive. Really, by luck, I sold my first story to Star Trek: Voyager and I decided to go back to school to get my masters in film at UCLA. I produced my first feature while I was still in school, Shooting Lily, and that won the dramatic category at SXSW in 1996. After graduating, I continued working as a development executive, but I also began writing, and my first major sale was to 20th Century Fox with a feature film about car racing during the 1930s called Nuvolari.
I’ve been writing and producing ever since.
MICHAEL: Marksmen marks your debut as a comic book writer. Is Marksmen something you created on your own and then pitched to publishers, or is it something that Benaroya Publishing commissioned you to create?
DAVID: Marksmen was originally developed from an idea by Michael Benaroya, but he wasn’t satisfied with the world that had been created around his idea and he asked what I might do with it. I kept the title and the future setting, but otherwise started over from scratch. I wasn’t interested in writing a book about characters with supernatural powers but wanted to do a “What if” story based on as much real science and possible future scenarios as I could research. I feel really lucky that Michael liked my “pitch” and let me run with it. Creatively, this has been a fantastic opportunity for me to work in a medium that I’ve always loved as a long-time comic book fan.
After a massive recession, the United States government collapsed and a civil war erupted between the cities and states to keep any last resources to themselves. This destroyed our country’s infrastructure and most of its population…the Big Collapse.
Out of the ashes rose New San Diego, one of a few cities that survived by cutting itself off from the outside world. Rebuilt by a group of top scientists and protected by the Navy Seals stationed at the Coronado Navel Base, NSD became a technological utopia. Sixty years later the ancestors of those Navy Seals still protect the city as… The MARKSMEN.
Story DAVID BAXTER
Comic Book Resources is currently hosting a seven-page preview of Marksmen #1.
MS: What inspired Marksmen? Was it the genre, a theme in particular you wanted to explore, the current economic downturn, or all of the above? Assuming the latter, which of those was the “egg”?
DAVID: Marksmen was inspired by what I saw happening around me. The economic downturn was forefront in my mind. Everything really followed from the idea of what might happen if we had a recession that went on and on. I wasn’t interested in a post-apocalyptic story about say, Zombies, Aliens, or Vampires. I wanted the story grounded in as much reality as possible. My screenwriting has usually focused on non-fiction subjects and I brought that focus to the comic.
MS: How long have you been working on Marksmen?
DAVID: The initial research for Marksmen took almost a year, but once Dave Elliott (our editor at Benaroya Publishing) assembled the artistic team, things moved very fast.
“It’s obvious that David Baxter put a lot of thought into the world of MARKSMEN. This issue does a great job of introducing the characters and setting up the situation that they’re thrust into. 9.0 out of 10”
“A home run.”
MS: Are there any specific influences you wanted to emulate or similar stories you tried to avoid imitating?
DAVID: Not really. I just wanted to do a heroic comic book series that was really grounded in as much real world technology as possible. I didn’t want any supernatural elements in the book.
MS: How did you end up at Benaroya? Did they approach you, or did you approach them?
DAVID: Michael Benaroya and I had already worked on a TV series pilot together after meeting through a mutual friend and, before we spoke about Marksmen, he had already become an executive producer on another project I had written called The Broken Code, which is about the discovery of the structure ofDNA in the 1950s.
MS: In today’s industry, comics are written in the hope of branching out to other media, like movies. Does Marksmen fall in that category, or is it something you wrote specifically as a comic book?
DAVID: Both Dave and I wanted Marksmen to stand on its own as a comic, but coming from a screenwriting background definitely influenced the writing. So, I’d say it does lend itself to the screen, but it’s really written just to tell a good story and explore some interesting themes about a possible future we may find ourselves in.
MS: The core conflict in Marksmen is between science and faith as represented by the people of New San Diego and the people of Lone Star, and, as in all other stories of this ilk, faith is represented by followers of Jude-Christian dogma.
However, an added facet present in Marksmen is that some characters are named after the Gods and the Demigods from Greek mythology, which makes New San Diego resemble a future-day Mount Olympus.
This naming convention, along with the central conflict in the story, reminds me of a discussion I had years ago about the cultural schism between ancient religions and Christianity, and how why the only reason we have churches to Jesus Christ and the Judeo-Christian God today instead of temples to Zeus and Hercules is because Christianity wiped these religions out.
In Marksmen, the namesakes of these fallen Greek idols are portrayed as the heroes, while the followers of Christianity are the antagonists.
Given than other characters are named after figures from Arthurian lore and the ballad of Robin Hood, was this a conscious decision to echo this cultural rift in the form of the Marksmen and the people of Lone Star, or was it merely done to fit a naming motif?
DAVID: The decision to name the characters from Greek, Arthurian, and English legend was not coincidental. Dave Elliott and I both felt that there should be a mythic subtext to the whole story and the Arthurian ideal of unification is very important to the story. Assuming the first six issues are a success, I have two more series planned that would explore this theme in detail.
Your point regarding the dominance of Judeo-Christian dogma is an interesting one, but the science vs. religion motif really grew organically out of the way that I envisioned each society would use the resources it had to survive. This included the philosophical outlook that each society would naturally grow over time.
In Marksmen, San Diego is a future-day Olympus inhabited by people named after Gods and Demigods from Greek mythology, while Lone Star is a small town inhabited by followers of Judeo-Christian dogma.
Marksmen features characters named after figures from Greek mythology, Arthurian lore, and the ballad of Robin Hood (Hercules not pictured).
MS: Unlike other characters named after Gods and Demigods from Greek mythology (i.e. Athena, Hercules, Vulcan, and Orion), your protagonist, Drake, goes by the code name of Ulysses 99, a clear reference to the very human protagonist from Homer’s Odyssey. Is he, like his namesake, on any sort of journey or odyssey to find something, someone, or be somewhere?
DAVID: Drake is named Ulysses precisely for that reason. He is on a journey both internally and externally in this first series. Glad you caught the reference. I won’t comment further about the journey since I want the readers to go on this ride with him.
MS: The Marksmen’s base of operations is the San Diego Convention Center. I wonder, what came first, the decision to set the story in San Diego and then use the convention center as their base of operations, or was it the idea of using the convention center – which is somewhat iconic within the comic book industry?
DAVID: The idea to use the Convention Center as a base of operations actually came after deciding what city I thought could realistically survive a recession based apocalypse. San Diego had the muscle because of the military bases, the science community, and, finally, a nuclear submarine that could power a city and potentially desalinate the ocean water for the survivors. Once I settled on San Diego, the idea of doing a shout out to the fans at Comic Con sprang into my head. I think it worked out pretty well.
MS: What does the future hold for Marksmen beyond the initial six issue miniseries?
DAVID: As I mentioned earlier, I have two more arcs planned, but we’ll have to see if people have the interest to keep the series alive.
MS: Alternatively, what does the future hold for you? Do you have any other projects in the works?
DAVID: I’m hoping to do more comics while I keep producing and writing. I’ve got a pretty high profile project based on a classic American novel in the works that I’m producing, but it’s still under wraps at the moment. Hopefully there will be a public announcement early in the new year.
MS: If you could write any other comic book company’s characters, which ones would they be and why?
DAVID: If I could write any company’s character, it would probably be Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic. I grew up reading the FF and I always found Reed to be rather enigmatic. He would be such a cool character to pull out of the FF and explore on his own. Perhaps on an alternate Earth or trapped somewhere far away from his friends and family.
MS: Are there any writers, editors, or artists working in comics today that you’d like to work with?
DAVID: I’d love to work with Howard Chaykin, but he usually writes his own work. I love his style of illustration.
MS: Lastly, for anyone that wants to be a writer, what can you tell them about the craft?
DAVID: The craft of writing is rewriting. It’s very rare that I’m satisfied with the first thing I put down on paper. I think you have to be very dogged and also accept that if you want to be a writer, you will have to spend a lot of time alone, staring at a blank page. It can get pretty lonely, but it is very satisfying when you can see that something you’ve written has had a real impact on someone’s life. Even if it is in a very small way. Don’t ever give up if writing is what you love…but keep your day job.
Everyone at ComicBookInterviews.com would like to thank Mr. Baxter for taking the time to answer our questions. For more about Marksmen, please visit the Benaroya Publishing page. The Marksmen trade collection will be available in March of 2012, from Benaroya Publishing and Image Comics.
About the interviewer –
Michael Sacal is a freelance writer and archivist whose work has appeared in Faster Than Light, an anthology series published by Orang Utan Comics, and the Book of Geomancers, a Wikipedia-style online resource focused on the VALIANT Universe published by VALIANT Entertainment Inc.
Michael is a contributing writer for Surprising Comics and Red Leaf Comics who is in the process of developing multiple work-for-hire and creator-owned projects with different publishers in the United States.
Michael holds the post of Senior Reporter at Comic Book Interviews, and can be reached at email@example.com.