|Interview conducted by Clay N Ferno|
Chris joins us today to tease the red wine and whiskey soaked black and white noir mystery comic and the short film that serves as a prequel to the story.
Chris Hunt: Carver started as something of an experiment for me about 5 years ago, when I was applying for Paul Pope’s residency at The Atlantic Center For The Arts. I did a short story about this old school, mustachioed adventurer having to fight off a man-eating lion.
It was very straightforward, and the main character didn’t have any back story. I kind of just started playing around with what his background would be, how he may have become this old school bad ass.
I found that I really enjoyed the idea of building a world around this pseudo-Hemingway archetype and I just started playing around with different concepts. I had actually been in Paris with an ex-girlfriend when I came up with the idea for the original story and concept for the character.
I thought it would be an interesting place to start the saga, so to speak. The backbone of the story is my personal experience when I was there, but it spiraled out into something much bigger as the story was developed.
We watched your fan film that is to be the prelude to your comic. How fun was that to make?
The Carver film was so much fun. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t wanted to be Indiana Jones since I was a little kid, and a lot of wish fulfillment happened on this.
Originally I wasn’t going to play Carver, it just became apparent that we were going to have to spread the production out over a great deal of time, and the person playing Carver would have to be on call at random times, and be put through a lot of physical abuse. There was no way we were going to be able to pay someone enough to do all of that so I committed to it, in addition to producing it, art directing, costumes — it was a lot. It wasn’t without its challenges.
We were also asked to submit to a Sundance Lab, and I ended up having to break up with my girlfriend at the time to get it done. We had a shoestring budget, we had to find locations that could plausibly play as the 1920s and Paris — not to mention my director and collaborator Ron Torres had his apartment broken into the day we were locking the short.
There was actually a whole other component to the fight scene, and a few other scenes we shot that we were going to release as one-off vignettes, but we lost everything with the burglary. Laptop, external hard drives, I mean it was all gone. Luckily we had uploaded what was about a 90% completed pass to Vimeo or we would have had nothing.
Tell us how you broke your nose during filming. Anything for the art, right? Haha
There were a couple different times I broke my nose! The first one was one of the first days we had started to run choreography for the fight scene. I had been training for a couple months which was pretty intense.
I’ve subsequently learned that most people don’t spar a Basque street fighter from Mexico City on the second day of training, but at the time I went with it. Kyle, who was the trainer as well the guy I was fighting on camera, wanted me to know what it felt like to take a hit and to not be afraid of it — which meant there were no gloves, no head gear, no nothin’ while I was learning.
The day that we were running the first part of the fight was no exception to that rule.
I got a little behind in the sequence, and at one point when I was supposed to pop up, I lingered for a moment, just long enough for Kyle to kick me in the face. It’s actually on video. It could have been way worse. I didn’t even realize it was broken, and after a couple minutes we kept going. It wasn’t until later when I felt the bottom of my septum that I realized the kick had rearranged some parts.
I’ve seen you reference Indiana Jones and Corto Maltese for inspirations for Carver. How do you go about framing this adventure story without being derivative?
Well, I’ll be the first to say that I don’t think there’s any way you cannot not be derivative to some degree of the works that inspire you. Indiana Jones was born of George Lucas’ love of Republic Serials. Corto, though informed in many ways by Pratt’s childhood and travels, was pulling heavily from Caniff’s Terry and The Pirates.
The big thing I think that a storyteller needs to be honest with themselves about is whether they are copying something and putting their name on it, or whether they are stealing an idea and putting their own touch on it. I’m stealing. I’m stealing the archetype of the Gentleman of Fortune that has existed within fiction for quite some time so that I can do my own thing with it.
What I think I’ve brought to the genre with Carver is primarily the angle through which the audience experiences the story. True, Francis Carver is the main character, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the most important character at all times. A lot of his story is told from the perspectives of other people in the book, and, really, it’s about coming to understand what would make a person become an Indy or Corto. What I presuppose is that it’s a path with a lot of heartache, a lot of loneliness and it’s a fine line between what makes a man good versus bad morally.
Our faceless villain, Stacker Lee seems very dangerous. What other baddies might be the inspiration for his look and motivations? I always liked when Cobra Commander took off his cowl, he went for a very French look!
I won’t lie, Cobra Commander has been there in the back of my mind! There’s actually a lot less that went into designing Stacker than Carver. He wears a pretty conventional suit for the early 1920s, and the hat he wears is what Stetson calls an Open Road in this day and age.
I just love how people seem to dig on Stacker.
He’s a dashing son of a bitch, I can’t deny it. A memorable villain should always look slicker than the good guy — and it’s so much cooler when you don’t know who they are, hence the white suit and the mask. What I love about this genre is that there are preconceived notions that can be played with based just on how he’s attired.
I wanted a few things to come across immediately about Stacker. I want the viewer to look at him and say to themselves “Oh he’s the bad guy,” and I wanted to conceal his identity. I can set the viewer up, knowing that they’ll be making assumptions as we go along, and I’m going to be playing with that.
The look of the book also draws influence from Italian comics — or Fumetti (if I may be so bold!). Were those kinds of books in your studio as you created Carver?
You hit the nail on the head, for sure. I’m really happy that you noticed. I love my Italian artists. I got sucked into the early Heavy Metal magazines a number of years ago, especially the stuff that ran in Métal Hurlant first.
I have had Crepax, Liberatore, and many others at arm’s reach for the entirety that I’ve been working on Carver. Pratt was already mentioned. It probably was inevitable that I’d end up doing an austere, European influenced comic at some point. I’ve tried my hand at more conventional “American” comics and it’s not to say that I haven’t been proud or satisfied with the results, it’s just that I find them to be very, very frustrating at times.
They’re often high concept stories, and a lot has to be crammed into a small place. There isn’t a lot of room to let the story breathe. I don’t mean to sound pretentious. I have a lot to learn as far as storytelling goes and I just recognize I’d prefer to tell stories in this manner. Or perhaps a better way of saying that is that I’m adding an American voice to a European sensibility, and hopefully finding a way to bridge the gap between the two markets.
How is your relationship with Paul Pope in correlation with your current work? Is he still your mentor or have you ‘graduated’?
Well, what’s been amazing is to see his version of Carver for the variant cover that he did for issue one, not to mention the back up he’s doing. To me, there could be no greater vote of confidence. As far as “graduating” goes, it’s not logical to me to think that at a certain point people just stop getting better if they keep moving forward in their chosen career.
It’s only when a person thinks that they’ve “arrived” that they tend to stop learning. I hope to never get to that point. I’ve recently gotten to a place where I no longer think I’m the worst person in the room and that’s a pretty satisfying place. I think that translates to my friendship and to my working relationship with Paul. There was a point in time when I was embarrassingly bad. If you were to have put our work side by side it would have been a joke and I’m not saying that just to be self-deprecating.
Paul helped steer my self-directed studies over the years, and then we had some real direct work together at ACA, as well as when we’ve worked together on various projects over the years.
It’s the combination of his help and my hellbent determination to follow through on my chosen path that has gotten me this far. I don’t think I’ll ever graduate from Paul’s Master Class, for the same reason I don’t think I’ll ever stop seeking more knowledge, or seeking to better my abilities.
Z2 Comics are going through a bit of a renaissance right now. What is your relationship with Z2?
I’ve seen Z2 pretty much from the beginning. I’ve known Z2’s Josh Frankel for almost 7 years now — since right after he published his first comic — and I’d say a large part of the Z2 renaissance is attributable to his own growth as an individual and a publisher.
Josh actually gave me my first paid gig when he hired me to do an issue of a comic he wanted to pitch around to other publishers back in 2011. Since then I’ve done a lot work with him off and on over the years, mostly behind the scenes. It’s pretty exciting to see how far he and his company have come.
Not only do you have the launch of the periodicals with Ian McGinty’s Welcome To Showside, followed by Carver and then Allen Son of Hellcock, but you also have a an aggressive push with graphic novels, like Pawn Shop and Ashes.
Not to mention what he’s doing with the Z2 sister company, Modern Prometheus which has already produced a 5 minute animated pilot for Showside. He’s aggressively trying to make a mark on the industry and I respect that. It’s exciting to be a part of it in a small way.
You obviously have a clear vision of Carver and can both write and draw the story in your mind. What is the most challenging part of creating the whole book for you?
My perfectionism. Actually, it’s my perfectionism coupled with my own insecurities. Like most artists, I’m obsessed with getting the clearest version of my ideas down on paper. Since I’m the one-stop shop for everything, I pour over every detail of the story. That means I’m constantly refining ideas, dialog and the panel compositions. I’m also a big stickler on period-specific clothes and props.
Something that I’ve heard from a lot of veteran artists, especially any that had dealings with Alex Toth, who I really admire, is that there are no excuses to not get the small details correct, especially now with the internet. I admire Toth’s work a lot and I was very surprised to find that with most of his own creations, he had a tendency to start and stop a lot because he was constantly noodling with story elements and the aforementioned details.
Subsequently, a lot of the characters and worlds he created remained unfinished upon his death. So I am trying to strike a balance between my desire to make Carver as good as it possibly can be, and the need to get the damned thing done. I don’t want to leave Carver out flapping in the wind.
Paris. Midnight. You have a choice between bumming smokes, wandering and drinking wine or slinking into a cafe booth for more of the same. Do you roam or wallow?
Well, I did a bit of all of those things in my actual Paris story hahaha. When the real Catherine and I were there, we ended up at each other’s throats after a day and a half.
I’ll just say that I don’t recommend going to Paris with anyone that you’re not 100% sure you’re in love with. At least that’s what we determined. As a kind of Hail Mary, I just decided we were going on an adventure, which involved procuring a bottle of whisky and getting lost in Paris while we drank and smoked Gauloises.
I can’t say that’s all we did, but those are the parts to the story that meant the most to both of us, and they’re just for us. I think now I’d be more of a solo operator, looking for a clean well lit place as they say. Oscillating between black cafe Americanos and bourbon neats, while I smoke on a sidewalk on a crisp autumn day.
Thanks for joining us, Chris! Any last words for the people? Au revoir!
Well, I’ll just say it’s not fair that I don’t get to hear what your response to the last question would be! I’m learning that a lot of people have their own Paris stories, or are looking to make their own. I’d just say to anyone reading this, that if you haven’t given yourself the chance to create your own story or have an adventure, to try and find a way to do it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Paris, or London or Walla Walla, Washington. Save the money, do what you have to do because otherwise you’ll regret it the rest of your life. You don’t have to be a writer to live a good story.
Well, Chris it is only fair that I answer my own question now! I’m more of a wallower, but will be jacked up on caffeine while doing so, and probably reading comics on my iPad in the back of the cafe. I picture myself as the modern American man in Paris incarnate!
More Caffè Americanos please!