Pascoe & Robinson: Listening to the 'Echoes of the Damned'

Pascoe & Robinson: Echoes of the Damned

Fans of Devil’s Due have noticed – this year, the publisher is bringing all kinds of new material into their company including a new horror title from two professionals who are returning to the medium that put them on the map in the first place. In October, James Pascoe and Roger Robinson, once the creative team for DC’s Azrael title, release their creator-owned title, Echoes of the Damned—a bi-monthly four issue mini-series. The story centers on Dante Cortez, a Behavioral Scientist specializing in profiling serial killers, who has encountered the strangest series of murders of his career.

Newsarama contacted Devil’s Due editor Stephen Christy and both James Pascoe and Roger Robinson to talk about the upcoming release of Echoes of the Damned and their return to the comic book industry.

Newsarama: First off, let's talk about Echoes of the Damned--where did your idea for this project come from?

James Pascoe: Well, Echoes really sprouted from some concepts and questions that Roger had been thinking about for some time. Things like the nature of evil and personal redemption.

Roger Robinson: Yeah, I always wondered if there is a greater evil out there which enters our consciousness which influences us to commit heinous violence against each other. We hear it in the news all the time and it so hard to comprehend why people would do such things. So it makes me wonder if there is a greater evil out there and we’re its finger puppets.

JP: Rog had loosely collected those themes into a futuristic noir idea which he called "Deja Vu" at the time, and that's when I came on board. After some brainstorming, I set out to flesh out the main character, add a supporting cast, figure out who the villain was and bring it all together into a cohesive story structure. Rog and I work like ping pong balls, with ideas flying back and forth, often at a furious pace!

When the project was adopted by Stephen Christy at Devil’s Due, he suggested that we bring the story into a present day setting and take a more grounded overall approach...two of his excellent ideas that we enthusiastically ran with! That's the basic genesis of Echoes... I believe the process resulted in a much better story, although there are a couple things that got lost in the shuffle which I'd like to develop sometime!

RR: Stephen has definitely pushed us creatively, and the end result a better and tighter story.

NRAMA: After working in the video game industry for years--you're both returning to the comic book industry. What made you decide to return? Are you both lifelong fans of the medium?

JP: Rog is the video game guy...I don't even play them! Call me old school, but I'd rather play my real guitars than play Guitar Hero)

RR: Comics are definitely my escapism, but it was the right time for me to move on to a new medium. I was so burned out drawing Batman: Gotham Knights for three years and then two Alien vs. Predator graphic novels that I needed to switch gears and learn 3D and not think about comics for a while. I realized working in video games, its cake walk compared to working in comics. Comic artist are under-appreciated by the comic companies compared to video games industry. So I was fortunate enough to get hired by BottleRocket Entertainment which I worked as a concept artist for the last few years.

Comics are in my blood though. No matter what, I need to draw and tell a story. There’s no getting away from it. But I only wanted to do it on my own terms.

JP: Exactly. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby got me hooked on comics when I was seven years old, and it was Steranko's Nick Fury that made me want to actually create the darn things. After spending many years on the art side of the business (mostly inking terrific pencillers like Roger and Barry Kitson), I was really energized to focus most of my creative energies toward writing. Roger and I ended up being in the same place creatively at the same time - that happens a lot with us!

RR: Yeah, cursed to work together, God help us!

NRAMA: Stephen, how did Devil's Due become involved with Roger and James?

Stephen Christy: This is going to prevent me from ever getting a date ever again, but I'm going to admit it: I'm the world's biggest Azrael fan. The reason isn't so much that Azrael is a fucking awesome character (which he is), but because as a kid I was so blown away by the dark, lyrical artwork and storytelling of the penciller and inker on the book, who just so happen to be some jerks named Roger and James!

So when I was in San Diego last year I was walking down Artist's Alley and ran into Roger and lost it-- total fanboy style-- because I'd never met him in person before and I was such a fan. Rog and I got to talking and I told him that I was working on selling comic books to studios and networks for development as feature films and TV shows, and that I was wondering if he had any original ideas. We talked quite a bit in the few months after the con, and when I came onboard as DDP's Hollywood guy I brought Echoes and a few other projects with me and they all became part of the DDP family. And it's been a dream for me to work with guys like Roger and James who are both not only incredible creators but have also become good friends.

RR: Thanks for make us feel old, fanboy!

NRAMA: Tell readers a little bit about Hardboiled Productions, how long have you two been working together.

JP: We first "met" when the late, and very much missed Archie Goodwin teamed us up to do the art on Azrael for DC. We became friends as well as collaborators, did a variety of projects over the years, and eventually decided to take our creative partnership in this new direction.

RR: Yeah, James and I always talked about collaborating on a creator owned book. So when Stephen approached us about publishing Echoes, we felt that this was the right time to form our own company.

JP: Hardboiled Productions is the corporate umbrella and virtual studio for all the creator owned projects and ideas that Roger and I have created, are creating, and will create together. Our creative personalities and many of our abilities really work well together and we have a five year plan to develop various ideas in a number of different genres.

RR: With Hardboiled, we want to create and develop for all mediums that could be in varies genre that can be entertaining, suspenseful, and gripping. We have several projects that we are currently developing.

JP: For example, right now we're ...

RR: …Hey man, shut up!

JP: …oops, can't talk about it yet!

NRAMA: Guys, let's talk about Dante Cortez--he's your lead character in the book. What kind of skeletons is he hiding in his closet?

JP: Hmmm...interesting that you should use the word "skeletons…" But seriously, Dante is a very gifted, but extremely messed up dude. He can see and experience things that no one else can (or probably would want to), and that has allowed him to do good things and stop bad things. Unfortunately, it's cost him his health, family and possibly his sanity. Where did his gift/curse come from? In that complicated mind of his, is Dante an angel with one foot in hell...or is it something even darker? Well, that's something we explore over the four issues.

RR: Let me put it to you this way, his dreams makes him feel as one with the killer or killers.

How deliberate of a choice was Dante's profession as a Behavioral Scientist?

JP: Oh, very deliberate on our for Dante himself, he is only now discovering the things that led him to that inevitable path.

RR: We felt that Dante being a profiler, how would it affect his mental state and home life? How can someone lose everything because of being so obsessed with the job and neglecting the family and making a choice what’s more important, his family or his job?

James, you use a lot of non-standard panels in the first issue as well as a 12 panel grid--how important does "the grid" become in terms of sequence? And how do non-symmetrical panel layouts serve to stand next to a standard grid style page?

JP: Actually, I have very little to do with the choice of panels! Our working method consists of me writing a fairly detailed outline for (in this case) the four issues, then a more detailed plot for each issue. Rog and I go over the plot and break it down into individual pages, which he turns into layouts. It's all a very fluid and interesting process for me... being an artist also, I always have an image in my head while writing about how the panels will be laid out, so I'm always fascinated by how Rog ends up doing things! Sometimes he'll make a last minute change and it will force me to think about the dialogue in a new and unexpected way...but I like that! Keeps me on my toes…

RR: Yup, I like to keep James on his toes. I definitely want to put more story through the pacing of the storytelling for the reader. I’m inspired by Frank Miller’s pacing like in Dark Knight Returns or Ronin and also Mike Mignola’s layout design in Hellboy which economizes elements in each panel which enables him to put more story and mood on each page. It’s sad nowadays that a lot of artist skim on the storytelling and focus on the money shot instead of telling a story. I come to realize now that storytelling is truly a craft and a lot of artists take that for granted. If you have good storytelling, sometimes you don’t need dialogue and you can still have the reader in gauged with the story.

NRAMA: This is a horror/suspense project--do the two of you have any favorite horror stories or movies?

JP: Oh man... tons and tons! It has nothing to do with this story, but I really find talking zombies very amusing...big Hitchcock fan of course....Lovecraft, Thomas Harris... Geez, I couldn't even begin narrowing this one down to a top 50...although the movie Se7en was very much on my mind during the development of Echoes.

RR: Yeah! For me, it’s got to be Se7en. I’ve seen that movie countless times will working on the pages. It’s one of the best suspense thrillers on film.

NRAMA: Stephen, how do you coordinate the work between Roger and James? What are some of the functions of an editor on a creator-owned project like this?

SC: It's called creator-owned for a reason! It's much less involved than other books I edit. Roger and James have been doing this for years and are so talented that I basically can just leave them alone and every week get amazing pages in my inbox. We actually worked together a lot more on the story than on the art. We developed the story quite a bit from its original incarnation, and then Rog and James went off and did their thing. The function on book like this for an editor is to just make sure that it hits deadlines, and that it all makes sense and comes together well.

NRAMA: Roger, how is scripting for comics different from telling stories in the video game industry?

RR: Well, comics and video games are two very different animals. In comics, story comes first before it’s broken down into visuals (thumbnails, layout, etc.) In video games, game design comes first, then story. The story is tailored around game play design and once that’s worked out, then it’s structured to beginning, middle and end.

NRAMA: How important is it, when you're creating a project like this, to stay focused on the medium itself? Does a book project become problematic if it is put together as a vessel for film? Should creators just make good comics or just make good film projects?

SC: Our focus at DDP is to make sure that every book that we put out lives and dies as a comic book, not as a film or TV pitch. I always tell creators working on our books that they need to make the comic book as kick ass as possible, and we can worry about the TV show or movie later. Comic readers can spot comic books as film pitches a mile away and I want to make sure that people know when they pick up Echoes or any other DDP book that this was created as a comic first, with comic book storytellers giving 110% to make it as good as possible.

JP: I completely agree with Stephen... an Echoes TV show or movie is almost certainly going to end up dramatically different anyway, so why worry about it? We just set out to do exactly the comic we want and tell the story we want and let everything else take care of itself.

RR: Yeah, the comic is the original and the movies, tv show, games are just off-springs. If Echoes becomes TV Show or movies, James and I will always look at it an offspring which will never be like the original.

NRAMA: How has the industry changed since you both went to the video game industry? Is it better or worse?

RR: It seems better because there’s more opportunities for a creator to be able to do a creator own project and get the attention of people who don’t normally pick up comics because a movies is being made out of it.

JP: Wow, the business has changed in so many ways since I broke in, oh, 15 years ago or so. I'll let others rail about the problems and focus on what I think is the most positive change - the incredible diversity of voices, stories, art styles and creative visions. I see a lot of original art because of my comic art restoration business, and it seems like every Marvel cover for about two decades had the heads redrawn by John Romita! There was no room for diverse art styles or unique takes on classic characters. The whole comic environment is so much more open and free now, which I think is great!

NRAMA: What can readers can readers expect from Echoes of the Damned?

RR: Reader should expect a dark gripping good story. Oh yeah, a ton of blood—especially the first issue. It’ll put Dexter to shame. I think a lot of readers who are familiar with James as an inker will be surprised and impress with him as excellent writer.

JP: They can expect some awesome artwork from Roger - not to mention hope, fear, pain, paranoia, dark humor, violence, madness... and a really cool car chase!

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