Mike Leone and Ian Daffern are the creators of FREELANCE BLUES.
Here’s how they describe the project on their website (www.freelanceblues.com):
It turns out innocent jobs are not so innocent. Mummy cults are running organ donor programs, demons are telemarketing and aliens are using breathalyzers to fuel their spaceships.
Most people go through their daily lives and would never guess a thing. Those who suspect the truth are ridiculed as conspiracy theorists.
Then there is Lance.
For the better part of his twenties, Lance Bunkman has been busting his ass in Boston, trying to keep a roof over the head of himself and his twin sisters, since the mysterious disappearance of his parents. However his working life has been anything but typical.
Every new employer he gets hired by has turned out to be a front for a sinister organization, monstrous cult, or alien intelligence. At the end of the day, when others turn and run, Lance is the one who stays behind to help.
Now events have been set in motion to force the question. He’s about to learn more about himself, and the secrets of his sketchy employment, than he ever imagined.
Lance Bunkman is here to kill your monster-but he thought he was here to clean your pool.
The Canadian duo recently sat down (while typing on their keyboards, I’m sure) and answered CBI reporter Dino Caruso’s multitude of questions about life, the universe and their awesome comic book project.
DINO: So, let’s start with some basics…have you always been a fan of comics or did you come to it more recently? Favourite reads, past and present? And…do you have any specific writing or artistic influences particular to comics?
IAN: I’ve always been a fan of comics, at least as long as I can remember. I was born in Britain, so they have a long tradition of comics for kids, starting with sillier fair like Beano and Dandy before jumping you into dashing tales of boys at war! in comics like Victor (the WWII hangover in the UKlasted a lot longer than here.) But really caught me was 2000 AD, that insane blend of sci-fi, fantasy and satire that just got it’s hooks into me.
As far as North American stuff; yeah, you know, digging Spider-Man cartoons when really young; then Transformers and Thundercats and TMNT as a gateway into the Marvel stuff again. It was actually collecting comics alongside Mike that really got me hooked. He had one of those immense room-filling stack of cardboard boxes filled with every Marvel comic imaginable, like 30 or 40 a month easy. And that was what really started filling my brain… really what got us both talking and interested in this stuff, because we would read the Marvel universes, play the roleplaying games, talking endlessly about mutant massacres or Days of Futures Past or whatever.
Days of Futures Past was a favourite read for me at the time, guess that was in the early nineties? As an early influence, yeah, that ongoing saga of the Uncanny X-Men really set the standard for an ongoing storyline; an epic evolving soap-opera; with attractive, persecuted, powerful outcasts. Nothing wrong with that there. Now in stuff I’m doing for short-stories; I think a lot about the tone of things like Future Shocks, the twist-ending twillight zone style stuff from 2000 AD; they just all shared the idea that there was nothing that couldn’t be done in 5 pages. The Earth got blown up on a regular basis.
MIKE: If by ‘always been a fan of comics’ you mean ‘for as long as I can remember,’ then yes, I’ve always been a fan of comics. When I was a kid, my cousin let me read his set of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES SECRET WARS, and I promptly lost my mind. My impressionable psyche couldn’t accept the idea that there existed a world of epic heroes who did fierce battle with despicable villains with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance–THAT NOONEHAD EVER TOLD ME ABOUT!
Now that my eyes had been opened to this bright, new truth, I made it my life’s mission to get my hands on as many of these delightful stories as possible. The first book I ever bought for myself, from a spinning-wire-newsstand-rack back in the mid-80′s, was Amazing Spider-Man #276, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
For as long as I’ve been reading comics, my favourite stories have been the big crossover events with Secret Wars, Mutant Massacre, and Armor Wars being some of the standouts. While I would enjoy the monthly series and their occasional guest-star, the more characters that got involved, the more villains that had to be vanquished, the more excited I got.
I’m not as up to speed on current books as I would like to be. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Invincible and The Walking Dead. I like what I hear is happening over at DC with their Blackest Night/Brightest Day mega-series, but I haven’t had a chance to get into any of it. Oh, and I really like that new indy series “Freelance Blues”
As for writing influences particular to comics, there are two that stand out: Chris Claremont and Peter David. Easily the two writers I’ve read the most. I would say that Stan Lee is more of an inspiration than an influence, much the same way I imagine Wayne Gretzky inspires kids to play hockey, but when I consider the hundreds of characters that Stan Lee has created, it’s hard to say I haven’t been influenced by him.
DINO: Perhaps you can each give your perspective on this question…What makes for a successful writing partnership? And probably, entangled in that question, is this one…How do you gentlemen collaborate to produce a script?
IAN: Well, what makes a successful writing partnership, depends on your definition of successful. What we think it means is coming up with kick-ass stories, great jokes and good moments of shock and horror. And for that, you need a lot of free-floating idea generation time, coupled with some real close scrutiny of the ideas by your partner; maybe scrutiny is not the right word, it’s more like bringing out what’s best in them– kind of like making apple pie right? First you need a lot of apples–then you got to bake the pie. Maybe drop some ice cream on that and you got yourself a comic. Know what I mean?
I’d add to that by saying it takes a shared sensibility; that can tell you a sense for what’s good; what’s worth throwing out; and what’s worth fighting for in a story. That’s what I’d start with in a writing partnership. Now if by successful you mean, making a living… that we’re still working on.
MIKE: (Regarding the first question)…Assuming writing ability is not an issue, I’d say a successful partnership requires diversity and a common desire to tell good stories.
Ideally you are looking for someone who completes or compliments your storytelling ability. If you excel at writing relationships and dialogue, you might consider partnering with someone who can describe exciting action scenes. If you are a creative genius, bursting at the seams with ideas, try to find someone who is creative and logical, who can make storytelling sense of your bursts if inspiration.
Perhaps more importantly than complimentary storytelling would be a mutual desire to tell good stories, which is critical in helping to negotiate the pitfalls of the collaborative process.
Writers can be a bit ego-maniacal, at least as far as their writing goes. To put it more bluntly, writers tend to think that their creative juices don’t stink. If you are not willing to allow the possibility that your collaborator has better ideas or story suggestions than you do, than collaborative writing might not be for you. There are times where you have to put your ego aside and do what’s best for the story you are trying to tell, and if both collaborators don’t feel that way, problems will arise.
(And regarding the second question)… In public (“Hey! You’re those fuckers who hang out in the coffee shops of the annex!) , and with great difficulty. It’s as if we were two dentists trying to perform surgery on each other, simultaneously, without the benefit of anesthesia. Like two cavemen who’ve decided that the best way to star a fire would be by punching each other in the face. Like— well, you get the idea.
If you are looking for a serious answer (and I can’t imagine that you are) than I suppose we start by trying to tell each other a story. We keep kicking story ideas back and forth between us until we’re both caught up in the story. Then we start to deconstruct it. We decide what type of story it’s going to be, and how long it will last, and try to parse it out into installments. We then take those installments and layout them out in pages, and try to fit the story into the space that we’ve decided on, while keeping everything interesting and exciting. We then take those pages and break them down into panels, trying to keep things flowing and focus on the important and dynamic moments of the story.
DINO: What’s the secret origin of Freelance Blues?
IAN: The secret origin of Freelance Blues is watching too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer and having too many crappy jobs. That’s a lot to do with it. But there’s a lot in there that is just the DNA of the stuff Mike and I like in common. The hard-scrabble underdog side of Peter Parker, really bizarre monsters like the kind Thor used to tap with his hammer, and a shared belief that bosses are not looking out for you. That’s about half of what we’re talking about at any given time, so it’s no wonderFLB evolved out of it.
As a comic–it’s always been to create something ambitious that we can tell any kind of story we want in. And I think we’ve done that.
MIKE: Freelance Blues was born on a far away planet, under the harsh light of an unforgiving red sun. Its parents were murdered in front of it when it was just a boy, and the family was on the way home from the movies. Ever since that day, Freelance Blues swore that no indie book would suffer like it had. Freelance Blues grew up to be a fighter pilot inventor, who met a dying alien that gave it a power ring to go with its suit of armor. Just then an enormous space deity arrived to consume the planet, and Freelance Blues had to escape in the power-ring-wearing alien’s ship. As Freelance Blues was fleeing the destruction of its home planet, it was bathed in cosmic radiation released by the terrible explosion. When Freelance Blues finally arrived on earth, it realized that it had a solemn duty to serve and protect a world that hated and feared it, but was comforted by the notion that with great sales numbers for an independent book comes great responsibilities, and that it was its job to fight the never-ending battle of story tellers who love comics.
DINO: Do you see this as an ongoing project, or is there a definite beginning, middle and end?
IAN: Well the series we’re doing right now has definitely always had a beginning, middle and end in mind– that’s why it’s planned for 6 issues from the start. But let’s just say however Lance’s journey ends up, the world of Freelance Blues is one that will remain a framework for future storytelling. There’s literally no end to the types of conflicts, shit bosses, and freaky monsters that we can throw into a comic, because they’re all drawn from the workplace, and I don’t think anyone sees that getting better anytime soon. Whether Lance will be a part of it is really the question.
MIKE: Thanks for the spoiler alert there Ian. We’re maybe going to be getting rid of Lance? I need to start paying more attention in our story meetings.
As for the series itself, we’re both kind of fed up with the ‘deconstructed’ storytelling that seems to have taken over comics in recent years. Once upon a time you could go to the comic shop, pick up a book, read to the end and have gotten a complete story. Nowadays, it seems like the minimum requirement for stories in ongoing series is four issues. With the exception of our issue four cliffhanger, each book in our limited series is a complete story. Yes, there is an overall arc that each installment contributes to, but each book is its own entity.
It’s exciting to think about all the different types of stories that can be told in Lance’s world, and we’d love to have the opportunity to tell them, but for right now, much like Brady Bunch children, six is enough.
DINO: What are your thoughts on print vs. digital (from a reader’s and creator’s perspective)? Are there plans afoot to make the series available for the digital marketplace?
IAN: To be honest I’m a bit of digital dinosaur. I’d love to take on the challenge of making our comics more widely available on different mediums, but sometimes it feel like print is difficult enough from a self publishing perspective. That said, I know people have had great luck with it, giving away their comic for free and collecting it later, so why not? Also people like Becky Cloonan who recently got her mini comic Wolves on itunes? That’s smart. But the short answer is plans to make a digitalFLBare not in the immediate future.
DINO: You guys have a very strong presence at conventions. What strategies do you use to introduce potential readers to your story? Any funny/strange/weird con stories?
IAN: The big strategy we use is just to tell people what the story is– because when you’re at the indy level everyone is coming to it cold. So you tell them the story, catch their interest, open up a book, get it in their hands, and let the art speak for itself. Once someone has the idea, they enjoy putting it together themselves, and if they dig it–then we got ourselves a new Freelance Blues reader.
I go into this a little more in a few recent posts on my blog over at:
DINO: Thanks so much guys! Best of luck on Freelance Blues and other future projects as well!