Jeff Cahn was born and raised in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. Jeff’s interest in comics was spawned one Christmas morning when his Grandmother bought him his first Spider-man comic. Ever rooting for the bad guy, Jeff quickly found himself a fan of the antihero and characters uniquely flawed in their heroism. After graduating high school, he migrated to southern California where he attended Pomona College. There he majored in English with a creative writing concentration and minored in philosophy. After graduating, he returned to New Orleans, where he interned on the set of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” for Digital Domain’s Oscar winning visual effects team. Once the shoot wrapped, he returned to Los Angeles and now works at Benaroya Pictures and Publishing as a story developer and writer of both screenplays and comics.
Jeff was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to sit with Michael Sacal, Senior Reporter for CBI.
MS: Jeff, first of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us about Red Spike.
JEFF: Of course Michael. It’s my pleasure.
MS: Please, tell us about yourself, and how you got your start as a writer.
JEFF: Writing is something that I have always been interested in and have always been doing. I was an avid reader when I was younger and I was writing throughout grade school and high school. I remember in third grade I really liked this book called The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, which is basically a collection of fairy tale parodies. I thought it was hilarious, so I wrote my own version of it in a notebook, just silly parodies of Disney movies and fairy tales, sort of making my own little comic.
The only one I can really remember was Bambi’s mother getting killed by a dinosaur, which I probably ripped off from something else, but I can’t remember what at the moment.
But I couldn’t draw worth a damn.
I did a lot of writing in high school and was in a band and wrote most of the lyrics. And then in college I just kept writing and ended up majoring in English with a creative writing focus.
After college, I moved out to L.A. and was basically unemployed and writing all day. I wrote a script that made its way to Benaroya Pictures and I was fortunate enough to get hired to do story work for them and their subsidiary, Benaroya Publishing, which is where I’ve been since.
|It’s been over 70 years since the world first began its research into creating a Super Soldier. In 2011, the United States successfully created not one, but two. The latest in US Black Ops, Project Red Spike discovered that through the manipulation and regulation of the adrenal glands the super soldier was one step closer. The first (surviving) successes of the program, two close friends Matt Cutler and Greg Dane, have been proven on the field to be everything that was wanting in the program. But what happens when an adrenaline regulator malfunctions? What happens should one man refuse to follow orders if he finds out the true price they had to pay for these abilities and goes AWOL? How do we stop him? What price becomes too high?|
| Story JEFF CAHN
Art MARK TEXEIRA, SALVADOR NAVARRO & IFANSYAH NOOR
Covers MARK TEXEIRA
|Comic Book Resources is currently hosting a seven-page preview of Red Spike #2.|
MS: Is Red Spike something you created on your own and then pitched to publishers, or is it something that Benaroya Publishing commissioned you to create?
JEFF: It was sort of in the middle of those two things. I was writing other things for Benaroya when Michael Benaroya, the president of the company, pitched me an idea about a soldier who has been altered to produce and distribute inhuman amounts of adrenaline, thus making him a super-soldier. Basically, the soldier equivalent of a car with a NOS booster, so if he needs a boost of strength or speed in combat, he can just think it and it occurs. Open the neural floodgates and become inundated with adrenaline.
So he pitched me that character and he had some ideas about the plot and I was really drawn to it because it felt really unique to me. A sort of self-sufficient super soldier created by science who was able to use what his, what everyone’s, body naturally produces in order to achieve unnatural things. And he just let me play with the story and the world and create a universe where these adrenalized soldiers existed. And then I came back with the idea for the story that became Red Spike.
So, basically, I was commissioned to create a story based around an adrenalized super soldier, but that was really the only parameter. From there I pitched the idea that became Red Spike, and they liked it and we went forward.
MS: How long have you been working on Red Spike?
JEFF: I think the whole process was about eighteen months, maybe two years, from conception to the release of the final fifth issue.
MS: In today’s industry, comics are written in the hope of branching out to other media, like movies. Does Red Spike fall in that category, or is it something you wrote specifically as a comic book?
JEFF: Red Spike is first and foremost meant to be a great comic. Obviously in the back of your mind, and when you’re working with people with connections into the film industry, you are hoping that something might happen with it in that regard. Personally, I think the adrenalized concept lends itself well to a video game. It’s sort of a turbo button for combat. But the bottom line is that if you don’t deliver a great story in the comic medium, there won’t be a film or game made, so all of our focus was on making Red Spike as awesome of a comic as possible and then let the rest take care of itself
MS: What inspired Red Spike? Was it the genre, or a theme in particular you wanted to explore?
JEFF: I’m really interested in technology and its limits and unintended consequences. I’m also very interested in how large institutions relate to truths, particularly ugly ones. How individuals function in hierarchies, how they often succumb to them or place the system they are a part of above all else. Thematically those were the ideas I really wanted to explore and they’re things we see all the time.
Look at what’s going on at Penn State right now. The hierarchy, the system, suppressed a secret so large and so terrible that it crumbled under the weight of it. It would have been a lot easier to just out Sandusky and be done with it, but these guys all conflated the man with the system he was a part of and placed Penn State football above everything else. In doing so, they effectively destroyed what they were trying to protect. You could say the same thing about the Catholic Church. You could say the same thing about a lot of the sprawling bureaucracies that weigh down humanity. We’re entrenched in these systems and the people inside of powerful systems generally try to protect the system they are in rather than protect outsiders or the community at large. I find it fascinating and disturbing.
A secret military program that is trying to build super soldiers to use for military dominance is a great place to explore ideas on both of those fronts.
MS: Red Spike is the story of best friends Matt Cutler and Greg Dane, who through science and technology become Super Soldiers. What can you tell us about them and the events that impacted their childhoods?
JEFF: Greg witnessed his father murder his mother and then get killed by a military police SWAT team. This obviously was incredibly traumatic and has scarred Greg for life. It’s where a lot of his anger is derived from.
Matt lost his father as well, but he didn’t witness it, and he still had his mother to give him something, someone, to grasp onto. Greg’s just alone. Free floating. That’s where his anger and distrust come from. He’s never had anyone to trust, and the two people he trusted most died when he was young, one at the hand of the other. With Matt, however, I think he just grew up a little faster. He adjusted well. He matured. He became a man at a younger age than most. Responsible. Honest. Put together. He’s overcome a huge obstacle. He hasn’t allowed something unfair, something unjust, that happened to him taint the rest of his life. Greg, on the other hand, is the opposite. He’s haunted
As children, Greg (above) and Matt (below) experienced events that changed their lives significantly.
MS: An important aspect of Red Spike is the love story between Greg and Margaret Downey, one of the scientists working for Project Red Spike. What can you tell us about their relationship, and how it impacts the overall story?
JEFF: Downey’s father was a vet. This is some back story that didn’t make it into the mini-series. And he came back from war completely damaged. Even worse, he didn’t know how to cope with what he’d seen and done and so he turned to drugs and alcohol and became a derelict father. So Downey has dedicated her life to trying to help people avoid that. And when she meets Greg, she’s just drawn (to) him. He’s different from the other guys in Red Spike. He’s sort of a bad boy. And at first, it’s just curiosity or even sympathy. And as Greg pursues her, she sees he has this passion, and really this love, that has been obfuscated by years of anger and a lack of any meaningful relationships. And against her better judgment she gets involved with him. At first, it impacts everyone positively. She has an almost opiatic effect on him. He’s calmer, he’s happier, and everyone, including Moyer, is happy and is content to let this relationship continue so long as it is a net positive for the program. But then, as more and more time and secrets accrue, something has to give. It becomes the program or the relationship, and since they’re in love, they chose each other.
MS: What was the reason behind splitting the art duties between two artists (Marc Texeira for the flashbacks and Salvador Navarro for the present-day scenes)? Was it a creative decision, a desire to work with these artists, or something else?
Dave Elliot (Editor in Chief, Benaroya Publishing): Mark Texeira had an opening in his schedule, but not enough to do an entire series, and Salvador had already started the book, so I offered Mark the flashback sequences. It also gave Mark a presence inside the book as well as the covers.
JEFF: It also varied the look from past to present very nicely.
DAVE: Yes, Mark has a softer, more romantic look to his art, when compared to Salvador’s harder more contrasted art, which worked particularly well in the building of the relationship between Downey and Greg.
MS: The fifth issue of Red Spike ends with the note end of Volume I. When can we expect to see volume II?
JEFF: Hopefully soon, although I’m not sure. I have plenty of other stories that I can’t wait to tell.
MS: What does the future hold for you? Do you have any other projects in the works?
JEFF: I’ve been working on another comic called Redeemer. The first issue should be out sometime in early 2012. Nam Kim, who’s a spectacular artist, is on it, so it’s going to look amazing. It’s a supernatural western. I’ve been describing it as The Crow in Deadwood, but that’s obviously a massive oversimplification. That’s just an easy way to pitch it to people at conventions when you have just a sentence or two to grab their attention.
But basically, Mr. Mendac, a mysterious stranger with a sinister secret, arrives in a small, for the most part very religious, desert town in the old west and fills the peoples’ heads with tales of gold he’s found in the hills. And before they know it, Mendac’s brought in miners and prostitutes and the town has become overrun by the negative influences that didn’t used to be there. Ezekiel, the town’s preacher, has seen enough and he and his faithful try to banish Mendac and the miners. Instead of going, Mendac and his people lock Ezekiel, his wife Ruth, and the rest of the congregation inside the church and burn it to the ground. Everyone dies, but a few weeks later Ezekiel is brought back from the dead to get retribution for the victims and redemption for the town.
MS: Redeemer sounds very interesting. I look forward to interviewing you about it next year.
MS: If you could write any company’s characters, which ones would they be and why?
JEFF: As far as the major ones go, I’d have to say Frank Castle. I really like that character. I really like the world. I don’t really like writing straight heroes because I find them dull sometimes. Castle is mean and brutal and isn’t into the niceties of being a hero. He knows the bad guys are coming with guns and he’s gonna make sure to bring bigger ones. None of this “let the law handle it” or “let ‘justice’ take its course.” He just lines up the bad dudes and knocks them down. That’s the sort of stuff that is right up my alley.
MS: Lastly, for anyone that wants to be a writer, what can you tell them about the craft?
JEFF: Writing is a grind, or at least writing long, involved narratives is, so you have to be persistent. You won’t write a great comic or a great novel in a weekend. It takes time and it takes a lot of rewriting. You have to be good at editing yourself. Just because you wrote it, just because you like it, doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for the story, so you have to be aware of that throughout the process. And having people you can show your work to, who will give you honest and credible feedback, is important and helpful. I also think taking in a lot stories is incredibly helpful. Comics, movies, whatever. The subtleties are different from medium to medium but good stories are all built on the same bedrock principles. Learn those principles. Internalize them. Read books about your craft. And write. Writers write, so make sure you are making time to do that as much as can, on a daily basis if possible. You can have a great story in your head but if you don’t develop the tools to put it on the page that’s where it’ll stay.
MS: Which books about writing that have helped you would you recommend?
JEFF: I highly recommend The Anatomy of Story by John Truby and The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. They’re both great books on the subject. I also think Save the Cat is helpful, especially if you are trying to write for the screen.
Everyone at ComicBookInterviews.com would like to thank Mr. Cahn for taking the time to answer our questions. For more about Red Spike, please visit the Benaroya Publishing page. The Red Spike trade collection will be available in January 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.