Monday, December 12, 2011
Evil Dead News Exclusive: Interview with Elliott Serrano, Army of Darkness comic writer
Elliott Serrano is currently a writer on the "Army of Darkness" monthly comic-book licensed by Dynamite Entertainment. Serrano wrote the four-part "Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama" mini-series, as well as the new, ongoing Army of Darkness comic book series. The new series returns on February 22, 2012. Serrano is also a freelance writer for the Chicago RedEye and a columnist at BleedingCool.com. Be sure to check out his RedEye blog, Geek To Me here and follow him on Twitter - @GeekToMe.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Did you dream of writing comics as a child?
I’ve always enjoyed reading comics and telling stories as a kid. I even created my own comic books when I was very young. I remember drawing mini-comics on folded half-sheets of ruled notebook paper, drawing each one and then filling in the word balloons after. I actually sold the comics to friends at my church, and since I didn’t have access to a copy machine, if I wanted to sell multiple copies of the same issue, I had to re-draw each issue. I was a big “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica” fan growing up, so I created these short, ten-page stories where the characters of “Star Wars” and BSG would meet. I just loved drawing the space ships and imagined an X-Wing fighter in a dogfight with a Colonial Viper. Ah yes, there’s no way Universal and Lucasfilm would ever let that happen today. Anyway, even though I’ve always read comics, it wasn’t until I got to high school that I realized that you could actually create comics as profession. I mean, I knew somebody had to do it, but me? I decided then that I would be a comic book artist and went to art school. I soon realized that I lacked the psychological tenacity that you need to have to be a professional artist. I had a hard time focusing at the drawing table and just got frustrated too easily trying to get that image out of my head onto the page. At that point I decided to focus on writing, since you do have to have a visual sense to be able to write comics effectively. There’s a saying that movie directors are frustrated actors, well comic book writers are frustrated artists. Haha!
How did you get the gig writing for the ongoing Army of Darkness comic book series from Dynamite?
It really was just a case of being in the right place at the right time. I had become friends with Brandon Jerwa, writer of the” Battlestar Galactica” book for Dynamite as well as “G.I. Joe” for Devil’s Due Publishing. We were at the San Diego Comic Con a couple years ago, and during one of those late-night ‘after con drinking parties’ we discussed the books we’d love to write sometime. He would mention one after another, and I go ‘nah, not interested.‘ I then mentioned to him that I would love to write “Army of Darkness” if it ever became available. I knew that Dynamite had the license, but they already had a pretty rocking creative team working on it. For me it was just wishful thinking at the time. Flash forward almost a year and Brandon calls me to ask if I’d be interested in co-writing the sequel to “Xena/Army of Darkness” with him. The first mini-series did surprisingly well, so Dynamite asked Brandon to write a follow-up. He was a real Xena fan, but felt he could use help writing Ash. Knowing my love of the character, he asked to bring me on board. We tag-teamed on it and Joe Rybandt, editor at Dynamite, was impressed enough that he offered me a chance to write an AoD one-shot. I wrote a stand-alone story for issue #18 called “Montezuma’s Revenge” where Ash travels to Mexico to fight the resurrected King Montezuma. After that, Joe asked if I’d be interested in writing the “Ash Saves Obama” mini-series. I guess that Dynamite was pleased enough with what I did on that mini to offer me the new monthly.
Oh, and here’s a little bit of trivia for you: I originally proposed that we call the Xena/AoD mini-series “Xena/Army of Darkness 2: What Again? Cuz’ we all know sequels suck.” I thought we should just have fun with the idea that sequels rarely live up to the original. They ended up just using the “what again?” tag-line.
Because of your Geek To Me blog, I know you enjoy all things geek. How long have you been a fan of the Evil Dead movies or Ash the character?
It’s funny, but I became a fan of the “Evil Dead” movies in reverse order. The first film in the series I saw was “Army of Darkness“, which I went to see in the theater. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected I would. See, I’m not the biggest fan of horror that’s all gore and bloody dismembering for the sole purpose of shocking you. I had no idea that Sam Raimi had such a sensibility to put humor in to help offset the horror. Mind you, “Army of Darkness” is probably the most tame of the “Evil Dead” movies when it comes to horror. I really consider AoD to be more of an adventure film with horror undertones. And being a big fan of the Sinbad movies, I just loved the homage to Ray Harryhausen when Ash fought the skeleton army. I then watched “Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn“, which is way creepier than AoD. And then I finally saw the first “Evil Dead“. I couldn’t watch that movie more than once, it creeped me out so bad.
As for Ash, I really do love his character. He is that hero that I wish you could find in all horror films. He’s resilient, determined and almost fearless. Almost. I mean, jeez, he fights the forces of darkness! Then again, he is a bit of a dolt. And I was especially taken by him when I realized that he’s a bit of a geek himself. Remember that scene in AoD where he’s pulling the chemistry books out of the trunk of his car? He also had copies of “Dark Horse Presents”, a comic book, along with issues of “Fangoria.” From that you could infer that he was a bit of a fanboy, and definitely a chemistry nerd. I explored the idea that he’s kind of a closeted comic-book geek in the “Ash Saves Obama” mini-series.
The original title for the Army of Darkness comic you wrote, featuring the president, was "Hail To the Chief, Baby". Why the heck did Dynamite go with "Ash Saves Obama" for a title?
Haha! Everybody asks me that when I tell them what the original title was supposed to be. Everyone tells me “why did they change it? Your title is way better!” I’ll even write “Hail to the Chief, Baby” on the cover when I sign the book.
The truth is that the publisher believed that “Ash Saves Obama” was a better title to market the book under than “Hail to the Chief, Baby.”. Remember, this was when everybody was putting Obama in their comics in the hopes of boosting sales. Marvel Comics already made some crazy sales numbers with their Spider-Man issue which had Obama appearing in it. So Dynamite wanted to try and capture some of that same “lightning in a bottle.” They even got the artist of that Spider-Man story, Todd Nauck, to do the covers for the four issues. Unfortunately, we got to work on the mini-series near the tail end of the “Obama craze.” It was fortunate for me, though, since it was positioned where I could see the mistakes others had made and was able to avoid them. While “Ash Saves Obama” first appears to be a marketing stunt - which I’ll admit it initially was - I was able to poke fun at the idea that everybody was trying to cash in on the “Obama craze” at the time.
I still maintain that my title was better though, but don’t tell Nick I said that. Haha!
Why did you guys bring President Obama into the Army of Darkness series, instead of some other generic presidential figure?
Again, that was a marketing decision. If you read the story, though, you’ll see that while I make subtle references to some of President Obama’s traits, I tried to make it that it could be almost any president in the story. Also, when you put in too many references to the politics of the time, your book can get really dated really fast. I even asked the artist to refrain from actually showing Obama until near the end of the mini-series. I said “I want this to be like Obama is the shark from JAWS.” When we finally see him at the end, it’s like a big reveal, where we’re saying “yes, we weren’t joking, it really is Obama.” That was also my homage to the comic books of my youth where if the President was in the story, you never showed his face.
It’s funny, speaking again about the title, I once read a review where the reader said they were mad that Ash and Obama don’t actually meet in the story. I mean, they do “team up” but they don’t really meet if that makes any sense. And technically, Ash doesn’t really save him. In the end, though, I wrote the book to stand alone as a fun “Army of Darkness” story, regardless of who the president was.
You placed yourself into the Ash Saves Obama comics. Was this a way to preserve Elliot Serrano for all time?
Haha! No, that was suggested by my editor, Joe Rybandt. I had put a joke in where we were going to have all these comic creators getting turned into Deadites at a comic convention. I submitted the script and the licensor said that we couldn’t use the likenesses of those people without their written consent. Mind you, I only included creators who I knew and were currently working for Dynamite, but whatever. Anyway, Joe says “you can’t use those guys so why not go meta and include yourself?” If you read how the scene plays out, it pretty much tells you how I felt when they first asked me to write a comic book with President Obama in it! Plus, it has Brandon strangling me which he swears is the way I’m going to die one day.
Since the Army of Darkness comics with Dynamite are sub-licensed, Bruce Campbell doesn't get paid a nickel. He actually refuses to sign the Dynamite comics. I know you have met and interviewed Bruce Campbell and admire him. How do you reconcile being a writer of these comics with being a big fan of someone who created the persona you are continuing to develop?
That is, quite honestly, really tough for me. As you’ve said, I’ve met him and interviewed him. Heck, I’ve met him more than once and if you watch the video of our talk at the “Burn Notice” panel at San Diego Comic Con, you’ll notice that he looks at me with a ’where do I know this guy from?’ expression on his face. Getting to interview him was a real thrill for me when you consider that years ago, when he was out promoting his show “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.”, he came to Chicago to appear at a rodeo and I went to the rodeo to try and meet him. Just so you know…I HATE RODEOS! I really, REALLY HATE THEM. And yet, I was willing to give the rodeo promoter my money for a chance to meet an idol. So, believe me that I took it pretty seriously when I heard that Bruce Campbell was refusing to sign the books.
Now, I’ve asked my publisher if there was any way we could reach out to Mr. Campbell and offer an olive branch. From what I understand, they have tried to initiate contact and make amends but he just isn’t interested. That’s fair. He’s a busy guy and it’s not up to him to help promote our book. And I really don’t want to get into the whole issue of licensing and who gets paid what. I mean, do the primaries from Star Wars get royalties from all the comic books their characters appear in? I don’t know. So, yeah, that’s kind of a sticky wicket.
As for me, I do know that I’ve supported Bruce Campbell as much as a fan can. I’ve bought his books - “If Chins Could Kill“ and “Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way“ - which are damn funny by the way, and I own each of the shows he’s starred in on DVD. I bought “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” on VHS - which meant subscribing to a special video club through TIME/LIFE - and yet again when the complete series was released on DVD. I own most all his movies; “Bubba Ho Tep” is probably his best “character” film, and “My Name Is Bruce” fits the bill perfectly if you’re still craving an unofficial sequel to the “Evil Dead” films. And I watch “Burn Notice” religiously. So I think I’ve done my part to support Mr. Campbell and put a few bucks in his pocket.
But in spite of all that, I’m gonna make Mr. Campbell this offer…
If it means that he will finally sign one of Dynamite Comics’ “Army of Darkness” books when a fan puts it in front of him, I will give him every cent I’ve made so far writing the new series. Seriously. That’s how much I appreciate what he’s done for me as a fan and how much it means to me for the book to have his blessing. Mind you, I'm not making Hollywood movie star money - I'm just a lowly comic-book writer - but I'm willing to sign over the checks I've gotten from working on AoD to Bruce if he wants them. But then he's gotta give the book his blessing.
And maybe agree to co-write an issue with me. Hehe.
So if you’re reading this Bruce, that’s my offer. You know how to reach me if you want to take me up on it.
Army of Darkness returns to comics with a new #1 on February 22, 2012. On the cover is a woman with Ashley J. Williams. From what I understand, her name is "Ash". What relation does she have to "The Chosen One" Ashley J. Williams?
The woman we see on the cover of AoD #1 - a mighty sexy cover by Tim Seeley if you ask me - is also named Ash. Actually, her name is Ashley, but all her friends call her Ash. Sound familiar? What I’m doing is playing with an idea that John Layman - kick ass writer of CHEW - introduced a while back in his “Marvel Zombies versus Army of Darkness” mini-series, namely that there is an “Ash” in every parallel universe.
The female Ash that we meet in issue #1 of the new series is from a parallel universe. But even more so, she is pretty much the opposite of what “our” Ash - the male one- is like. Where “our” Ash is a goofy-looking, doltish knucklehead who often uses brute force and dumb luck to conquer evil, the “alternate” Ashley is a sexy female who uses her smarts and quick wit to succeed. The first issue of the new series focuses on her origin and gives us some examples of how different she is from “our” Ash. Readers will quickly discover a MAJOR difference about her, and it’s something OTHER than being female.
Issue #1 also introduces another character who will figure into the story later on. I set up a lot of stuff in this first issue that will pay off down the road.
Oh, and if you read “Ash Saves Obama” as well as my one-shot “Montezuma’s Revenge”, I dropped clues of what’s to come in the new series in those books too.
You currently have 4 stores lined up for the "Army of Darkness: Kick Ash Comic Shop Tour" in Febuary 2012. At which stores will you be appearing?
The shops I’ll be appearing at so far are: Challengers Comics + Conversation, G-Mart Comics, Scatterbrained Art Gallery, and a couple others that are yet to be announced. Folks who want to be kept up-to-date can follow me on Twitter (@GeekToMe) or can friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/Elliott.Serrano) All these shops are in the Chicago area and I’d love to add more stops if possible.
The point behind all this is that I want to raise awareness about the “Army of Darkness” title. I talk to so many fans of the “Evil Dead” movies who tell me “I love the movies but I had no idea there was a comic book!” With the comics market struggling like it is, every sale helps keep a title going. And I know that AoD fans are some of the most dedicated fans out there, so I could really use their support.
To that end, I want the “Kick Ash Comic Shop Tour” to be more than just a comic book signing. I want folks to show up in their fave outfits and costumes. Want to show up looking like a Deadite? Sure! We’d love to have you! And wait till you see what the guys at Challengers have planned for the event. I’m not gonna spill the beans just yet, but I’ll just say that Challengers is gonna be the place you’ll wanna visit if you’d like to “shop smart.“
So I’m putting the word out to the comic shop owners that are reading this: if you want me to bring the “Kick Ash Comic Shop Tour” to your shop, just drop me a line at RedEyeGeek@gmail.com and we’ll talk. Mind you, I can only visit shops in the Chicago area right now, but I’m not against venturing further away from my home town if the right situation presents itself. The “Kick Ash” tour is going to be a celebration of the wonderful world that Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi created for us.
Outside of the Army of Darkness comic world, what does Elliot Serrano have planned for the future?
Well, to be honest, I have at least a year’s worth of issues planned out, and should the sales of the book hold up, I’d like to tell the whole story. So a lot of my energy is going to be dedicated to the AoD universe, writing the book and promoting it.
Beyond that, I still have the Geek To Me column and blog keeping me busy. I’ve been co-writing a column for BleedingCool.com which has been a real blast to work on. I’m also looking to produce a new series of videos that have to do with professional wrestling. And I have a couple ideas that are waiting for their turn to see the light of day. One of which is so HUGE that I dare not speak of it for fear of jinxing it.
I mean, it’s pretty friggin’ big and if I get to do it, I just may be able to die happy once I’m done.
Well, first I’d need to get Ash through all the crap he’s gonna get into over the next few months or so. Pity the poor fellow. He’s gonna have a really rough year.
Posted by Evil Dead News Editor at 12:16 PM