Andy Diggle’s relationship with Dynamite started with Uncanny, and now it’s expanding – but he’s bringing someone along for the ride: his wife, also a talented writer, Angela Cruickshank. The pair are launching a new series called Control with artist Ben Oliver. The series is described by Dynamite as a “hard-hitting crime comic,” and is coming early 2014.
Featuring a female protagonist, police detective Kate Burnham, the series takes place in the all-too-real corrupt “upper echelons” of Washington, D.C. A police procedural, the series will take what works in so many TV crime dramas and bring it to comics.
Newsarama spoke exclusively with Diggle and Cruickshank to talk about the series, why they’re bringing it to comics, and what the process of working together is like.
Newsarama: Andy, Angela, what is appealing about taking something that works so well on TV like a police procedural and bringing it into comics?
Andy Diggle: Anything that works on film and TV you can do in comics, and often better. You don't have to dumb it down for a start, or compromise over budget or location. While I'm genuinely thrilled to see crime comics have had something of a resurgence over the last decade, many if not most of them fall into the "hard boiled" subgenre. It's surprising that there aren't more police procedurals like Gotham Central in comics, which have been a mainstay of the TV schedules for over half a century now. If something’s already proved massively popular, why *wouldn't* you try it in comics?
Angela Cruickshank: I love crime fiction, though I'm less of a fan of bland mainstream TV procedurals. Their appeal seems to rely on the formula of likeable-but-flawed cops who, with brains the size of a planet and near science-fictional resources, neatly solve a major crime every single week with very little reference to the rent-a-victims, whose lives are almost entirely incidental. I like my crime a little darker, my criminals and victims a little more complicated, my detectives conflicted by issues a little deeper than whether or not to sleep with one another. I think comics allow us to explore those darker, grubbier worlds in a way that network TV doesn’t.
Nrama: A husband-and-wife writing team - how do you spread the duties out between the two of you, and if it comes down to an argument over a major story beat, who gets veto power?
Diggle: Fortunately we haven't butted heads over anything yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time! We started out with the lead character and an idea of the kind of stories and themes we wanted to explore. The choice of location - Washington D.C. - grew out of those themes. We spent a few months knocking ideas back and forth, reworking and honing until we had a solid structure for our six-issue story. A lot of the work involved steering around the obvious clichés, zig-zagging away from the over-familiar stuff we *didn't* want to do. It was only once we had the whole thing locked down, and a strong sense of the underlying themes and subtext, that we sat down to start writing the first issue script.
You take the outline and break it down into issues, then scenes, then pages, then panels. Angela and I will take a different scene each and write a "zero draft" - a very rough first pass with placeholder dialogue, pretty much just the skeleton of the scene. Then we'll swap and rewrite each other's work. It's like a mini writers' room - the room in question being our kitchen! If something’s not working, we bat alternatives back and forth until we hit the best solution. Neither of us are too precious or possessive about it. The best idea wins.
Cruickshank: I completely trust Andy’s instincts as a writer, particularly when it comes to comics. We approach writing in quite different, but very complimentary ways. Andy has an incredible sense of plot and pacing and I don’t think in my wildest dreams I could stage an action sequence with anything like the sense of cinematic style he brings to it. I’m all about the character - maybe because my background is acting and theatre. I need to know a character pretty damn intimately before I can start writing them. I have all sorts of background notes for Kate Burnham, our lead character - details that will probably never see the light of day, but which help me judge how she’ll react in any given situation, and hopefully round her out a little for the reader.
Nrama: A female detective/lead, a Washington conspiracy - both of these things have gotten more common lately, or at least more accepted, thanks to shows like Castle, Scandal, Damages, The Killing, and more. What makes Kate and her initial situations unique?
Diggle: I think it's in the execution. Control has its own flavor, its own style. I like writing stories which are grounded in a more-or-less believable world, and then pushing at the boundaries to see how much I can get away with. The story involves the sex trade, from the upper echelons of high-class escorts servicing the rich and powerful, right down to the grimy underbelly. We get into some pretty edgy and provocative stuff which you generally don't get to see on network TV. Thankfully we don't have to dumb it down to avoid pissing off the advertisers.
Cruickshank: Hmm, I look forward to the day when the gender of the lead character ceases to be an issue at all, and I guess we’re making progress but we have a way to go. To quote the mighty Joss Whedon when asked why he writes strong female characters, "because you’re still asking me that question." Without wishing to give too much away, Kate has inner conflicts, which are brought to the surface by the crimes she’s investigating, the world she finds herself walking in. Washington is a city synonymous with power and that was vital, not only to the crime story we wanted to tell but also to Kate’s self-conflict.
Nrama: With the structure of a procedural usually being the "crime of the week," do you plan to do a lot of done-in-one issues, or over arcs, or both?
Diggle: We're starting out with a six-issue story, but the premise is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of different styles, from one shots to longer series. It's not a soap-opera, but something happens at the end of issue 6 which pretty much blows up the status quo and turns the premise on its head. Where we go from there, we'll see.
Cruickshank: As I mentioned, I like to get in a little deeper than “crime of the week” although they can be a lot fun as an occasional one-off. I think there’s a lot of scope for expanding the world of Control beyond the initial story and there’s certainly a lot more to Kate than we discover in the first story.
Nrama: Andy, you have worked in a lot of different genres in comic books - what about the medium lends itself to so many types of story, and what specifically for this genre?
Diggle: Comics are just such a wonderfully flexible medium. You can do anything in comics, and I want to explore those possibilities. It seems weird to me that anyone would want to work in just one genre for their entire career. But to be fair, that's probably because I have the attention span of a toddler. I get bored easily. I'm always looking for the next thing to keep myself interested. You have to keep changing things up, keep moving forward, or you get stale.
Nrama: You already have Uncanny going at Dynamite - what about Dynamite is keeping you around for your creator-owned work?
Diggle: It's an interesting reflection on the state of the comics industry that people tend to assume "work-for-hire = superheroes" and "creator-owned = everything else." That would be an odd way of looking at things in any other medium. But the truth is that neither of the books I've co-created for Dynamite - Uncanny and Control - are creator-owned. They're work-for-hire just as much as Daredevil, The Losers or Green Arrow: Year One. The difference is that Dynamite give us complete creative freedom. I get to tell the kind of stories I love to tell. Why else be a writer in the first place?
Nrama: Very interesting! Any specific teases you can give about Control - a larger mystery or specific moment you're excited for fans to see, to get them to check it out?
Diggle: Not without spoiling it! Don't you hate it when the movie trailer shows you all the best bits, after which you don't feel any need to actually go and see the film? Let's just say the first issue starts with a man with his neck in a noose, and ends with a dominatrix...
Cruickshank: Its kind of too early for me to talk about specific moments yet but there’s a darkness at the heart of this story that I love and maybe we can subvert a few expectations - I certainly hope so!