Cover to 'Berserkers #1'Milo Ventimiglia isn't a superhero, he just plays on one TV. But the actor/producer will further solidify his ties to the comic book world when he and his production company partner Russ Cundiff team with Top Cow Productions for a new titled called Berserkers, debuting this summer from the Cow.
As announced to Newsarama last month, artist Jeremy Haun has been chosen to draw the series, which will be written by screenwriter and the property's creator Rick Loverd. Newsarama recently spoke with up-and-coming artist about bringing a big screen concept to life first in the pages of a comic book, who and or what "Berserkers are exactly, and we also have a look at he first images from the series.
Newsarama: So Jeremy, first of all, before we talk about Berserker in detail let's talk about you for a little bit. In this day and age of the exclusive contract, you seemed to have done work for almost all the major - and pardon the oxymoron - big smaller press publishers. This by design or circumstance and do you see yourself planting some roots for a while with Berserker/Top Cow?
Jeremy Haun: I've been very fortunate to work for just about every company in the industry. I've always tried to pick stories and genre that are new, interesting, and that I'd get a kick out of drawing. I've had the great opportunity to work on books with some of my favorite childhood characters, like Civil War: Iron Man/Captain America for Marvel and Two Face: Year One for DC. I've also had the chance to work on a variety of genre with creator owned books like, Battle Hymn and Leading Man, both written by B. Clay Moore.
Berserker is kind of a natural progression of that. It's a concept that I dug from the get go and a book that just doesn't pull any punches in the fashion of Top Cow books like Wanted. I've done a lot of bouncing around working on mini-series after mini-series. I'd really like to settle down and focus on something long form like an ongoing in the near future. We'll see what happens!
NRAMA: What are some of the projects you are most proud of so far in your career? And can you put any words to the kind of artist you think you are, or want to be? When a comic book readers sees your name on a cover, but would you like them to think.
JH: I've been really lucky with my career and have been really proud of almost everything I've done, so far. Every project has its challenges, but I always feel like I learn something and hopefully become a better artist for it. I'm particularly proud of Battle Hymn and the flashback sequences I did for Two Face: Year One ... and Alibi ... and Leading Man ... and Chuck ... See, I can't just pick one or two. They all have things I love and am really proud of. Don't even get me started on the things I'm nothappy about the on my end. 90% of artists are pretty self loathing creatures.
As far as my art goes, I try and go for a cinematic, somewhat realistic (ish) approach. I really try and focus on storytelling. I like to think I pull that off pretty well. Somewhere along the line, I think fans and some editors saw my work and began to expect an ultra slick style from me. I've really been trying to ink myself more and loosen things up a bit. I look around me, in this industry, at all of these amazing artists and I'm just grateful to be even working in the same medium as them.
When readers see my name on a cover I'd hope that they'd be tempted to open the book and see more. I can't express how grateful I am that fans dig my stuff.
NRAMA: Okay, let's talk about Berserker. Top Cow's Filip Sablik gave us a brief description of the project a month or so back, but why don't you start from the top. The story is based on an original screenplay by writer Rick Loverd that Milo Ventimiglia and Russ Cundiff optioned for their Divide Pictures production company… do we have all those details right and in order?
JH: Yep, that's pretty much it in a nutshell! One thing I really want to hit on though, is how much all of these guys, Rick, Milo, and Russ, want to make Berserker a kick ass comic. That's the goal. To make this the best comic we can.
NRAMA: So how did you first become familiar with the project? Did you get to read the screenplay, or have you stuck to the comic book plots and scripts? Are you working strictly with Top Cow and Loverd? Or do you take meetings with Ventimiglia and Cundiff on its development?
JH: I came onto the project shortly after it began development as a comic at Top Cow. Rob Levin and I had been talking about me coming back to the company for a follow up to the Pilot Season book Alibi. Rob gave me the two line pitch and I was pretty much sold. He sent over Rick's story and character breakdowns and then said that I had to talk to him. After a crazy long conversation with Rick, I was positive that not only was he one of the coolest guys ever, but I had to work on this project.
While I work day in day out with Top Cow and Rick, both Milo and Russ are a definite part of the mix on the book. Every step of the way they've been involved giving feedback on the artwork and progress on the book. Like I said, this is a group of guys that care about making a great comic.
NRAMA: Do you think there are any effective differences in brining a 'pure' comic book script to the page, as opposed bringing something that is envisioned as a movie and presumably intended to get others to envision it the same way? Does it affect how you approach character design or your style in any way?
JH: I tend to think a story is a story is a story. I mean, sure, it's absolutely important to understand comic structure. We've all seen cases where a writer couldn't make the switch from other media. I've been lucky to work with people that do understand comic structure.
'Farris' character design by Jeremy Haun for 'Berserkers'On my part, though, I'm pretty consistent with the way I approach character design and story. Like I said, a story is a story. Sure, you have to run things through a sliiiightly different filter in your head for doing a superhero book than you would a noir or horror story, but the basics always remain the same. Since everything I do has a definite reality based design, one thing flows pretty easily into another.
NRAMA: Filip drew a comparison between this and Wanted in a talk with us a while back and you mentioned it as well as few moments back. Think the comparison is apt?
JH: I think there is definitely a similarity to Wanted in the over the top action and ultra violence in Berserker. Wanted is definitely its own thing as is Berserker. While I think the two have a certain real world feel our book goes off in its own crazy direction right out the gate.
NRAMA: On that note, tell us what you can about the series concept.
JH: I can't say tooooo much, but Berserker is the story of people, specifically two guys, that realize they have this ability to go into a frenzied state and how it affects their worlds. They're the modern embodiment of Norse Berserkers, these guys that would go into a rage on the battlefield and destroy any and everything around them. So on one hand our leads have nearly superhuman strength and agility. On the other, though, they can't really control the rage and are an extreme danger to any and everyone around them, friend and foe alike. So, power like that is a good/bad thing. And of course people out there are going to want to exploit those abilities and use them for their own purposes.
NRAMA: So these 'Berserkers' are superhuman as in they demonstrate strength, endurance and imperviousness at extraordinary level, or is this more of a psychological thing? They just get in a zone where they ignore human limitations. Would you say the Berserkers are more John McClane, Wolverine, or the Hulk?
JH: Oh, they're definitely stronger than anything else out there. Yeah, the Berserkers are able to do some pretty crazy things. Of course there's the question of where this power comes from. But we'll get to that. The Berserkers' abilities are still pretty grounded in reality. You probably won't see one of these guys picking up a tank or a building, but they're easily stronger than anything we've ever seen in the real world.
NRAMA: Is the story set in a contemporary setting? And can we assume there are good Berserkers and bad Berserkers? And if there is the former, wouldn't a good "Berserker" be something of an oxymoron?
JH: Yeah, it's a contemporary story. I was a liiiittle sad that I wasn't going to get to draw Viking madmen ripping each other apart on the battlefield. Maybe if I whine enough Rick will write some of that into later issues.
I think the idea of a good Berserker and a bad Berserker is a little more complex than that. That is a big part of what we're going to explore in the book. Can you control this thing? Do you even want to? Kind of some interesting stuff to play with.
NRAMA: So take us through the process, when you first heard the concept, what did you originally see in your head, and how has that evolved as the project developed?
JH: Well, I'll admit when I first heard the title I assumed it was going to be a period book. All of my immediate notions of hulking guys fighting on frozen battlefields pretty much went out the window right away. A lot of the visual language for the book really came from my conversations with Rick. We talked a lot about everything from movies to music and really hit on an interesting feel for the project. From there it was pretty easy for me to get going on the book. Most of my research is in Americana and ripped off limbs.
'Farris' character design by Jeremy Haun for 'Berserkers'NRAMA: Tell us about the sketches. We have what looks to be a pretty grounded guy. Simple white t-shirt, no noticeable accessories, or unusual hairstyle. Is this guy pretty simple and straight-laced, aside from the fact he's presumably a Berserker?
JH: The character Farris is a pretty normal blue collar guy. He is a Vet, something changed in him over in Afghanistan, and now he works in a factory in middle America. He's the kind of guy you've probably had a beer with at some dive bar a dozen times. One of the things Rick and I talked about was that Farris was a character pulled straight out of a Springsteen song. Well...a character pulled straight out of a Springsteen song that goes berserk and rips people's arms off and beats them to death with them...
NRAMA: Okay, I was about to ask if that as blood or mud on him, or both? But I guess "rips people's arms off" means its blood, eh?
JH: Oh, that's blood. Lots and lots of blood.
NRAMA: Would we be wrong to assume the look and feel of Berserker would be very different from choreographed martial arts or slick superheroics, and violent, raw and gritty is the milieu?
JH: Rick and I talked a lot about the fighting style for the Berserkers. One thing that we hit on, out the gate, was that these guys aren't going to be fighting like Woo Shu masters. Berserkers are brawlers. You're more likely to see a Berserker punch a hole through someone or rip their arm off than deliver a graceful kick to the head. And if they do give someone a kick to the head, it's probably coming off!
NRAMA: I think we've hit upon a theme here…detached appendages…
Finally, tell us what your number one goal, or priority is in bringing this world to life is?
JH: My number one goal with Berserker is to tell a damned good story. Everyone involved in the book feels the same way. I draw comics because I love the medium and can't imagine doing anything else. I set out on every project I do to make it the best book it can be. Berserker is no different. My goal is to create a book we can be proud of…
…and to draw lots and lots of blood.