Judd Winick’s offbeat career has gone from autobiographic memoir (Pedro & Me) to anarchic humor (Barry Ween, Boy Genius) to children’s cartoons (The Life and Times of Juniper Lee) to many, many superhero books. Now, he’s looking to slay a dragon.
A Town Called Dragon, out this week from Legendary Comics, is a new miniseries that asks the very elaborate question, “Hey, what if the egg from the last surviving dragon was smuggled over to North America centuries ago, and a small town was built around it, and then someone awoke the dragon and the regular folks had to battle for their lives against it?” This absurd-but-deadly situation is what the residents of the eponymous burg have to fight, and Winick and artist Geoff Shaw have a very, very crazy story to tell.
We spoke with Winick about the book, and just why dragons are so damn awesome.
Newsarama: Judd, had a chance to look at the first issue, and it looks like the people of dragon had better stop dreaming of the quiet life, because it’s one they’ll never know…sorry, had to get that reference out of the way there. But yeah, where did the initial idea for this come about?
JuddWinick: It was germinating for a while, before it really clicked. That was a benefit of not having a creator-owned outlet to publish it or time to draw it myself. I always wanted to do a very contemporary dragon story, but some of the things about it were never quite clicking. And finally, things just came together.
I liked the idea of twisting the age-old trope of the rag-tag band of misfits getting together to take on the big bad. There’s a reason we keep coming back to that trope – it works! And I always wanted to find a way to approach it that didn’t make me want to throw up. [laughs]
And it took a while, but I finally figured out a way for this story to work. And a few years back, when Bob Schreck went over to Legendary, we started talking stories, and this kind of rose to the top of the pile. “Yep! I think it’s the dragon story! That’s what we want to do!”
Nrama: So I have a stupid fanboy question, because I just saw a bunch of ‘80s movies on the big screen over the weekend, and now I’m wondering if the dragon in this was inspired by the one in Dragonslayer.
Winick: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Love Dragonslayer. It was referenced at least three times to Geoff in the script – “here’s a scene like in Dragonslayer, only with your touch…” So that was a big touchstone for me, Dragonslayer, though when I watched it again, I was struck by how there is almost no humor in it. [laughs]No levity in that one, almost at all.
Nrama: It’s like the fiercest dragon in all of cinema.
Winick: It is! And the effects hold up, too. Somewhere between Dragonslayer and Northern Exposure and Jaws, that’s where this story came from.
Nrama: Earlier, you mentioned drawing it yourself, and you have a very different style from Geoff --
Winick: Totally! And that’s one of the things I didn’t want to do. If I drew it, it would have been a quantum leap in a different direction entirely. We looked around for probably a year to find an artist who really fit. And when we found Geoff, he was already working on another Legendary book, so it was another six months before we could use him – but once I saw his stuff, there was no problem with the wait, because he was the guy.
Geoff’s a quadruple threat. He handles all the basic minimums, which are great action and great storytelling, but he’s also a fantastic designer. There are no cookie-cutter characters – everyone has their own weight, their own shoulders, their own noses. There are beautiful women, but they’re realistic and they don’t look alike.
And the acting – every frame where there’s words coming out of someone’s mouth, the facial expressions are true to what they’re saying. And he can make jokes – a lot of times, humor falls flat on the page, because the artists don’t know how to deliver the joke, but Geoff does. He’s hilarious. He is just the man for this book.
Nrama: The first issue uses a lot of this – characters hanging out in the diner, bouncing off each other.
Winick: Yeah, that’s part of why I wanted to do this as a monthly serialized story, as opposed to a graphic novel. I like the idea that every 30 days we’re coming back to a new chapter. And the book changes vastly from issue to issue – it starts with a double-sized issue and ends with a double-sized issue – and it goes from Vikings to this claustrophobic small town, which is by design, because the dragon in the first issue is very, very small.
So the first issue or two is like Aliens, and by the third issue the dragon has grown, and we’re straight-up into a monster movie. And then by issue 4 we’re at something else, and by 5 we’re at something new entirely. Every month is something different! And this was great for Geoff too, because it changed up the things he got to draw, from banter to flying lizards.
Nrama: And this runs how long?
Winick: Five issues – extra-sized start, finish, three regular-sized issues in between.
Nrama: Bang-bang-bang, got it. Okay, so obviously, we both love dragons. Why are dragons so awesome? Because this is something we’re compelled to come back to again and again centuries after they were first recorded in myth and legend. Every decade has its own dragon, it seems.
Winick: Well, let’s stop at the top of the list – they are flying, fire-breathing dinosaurs, which is just incredible right there. They are the oldest monsters! That’s the expression, “slaying the dragon.” Jaws is described as a monster movie where the guys have to, metaphorically, slay the dragon. Hannibal Lecter is kind of a dragon that must be faced and slain.
There is just something simple and ferocious in them – they breathe fire, they kill people. There’s no reasoning with these guys. You have good-guy dragons, or talking dragons, but for the most part, they’re like these living storms. And I think we just love that – the uncontrollable dragons. Godzilla is a dragon! King Kong came about because someone wanted to do a different kind of dragon, and they went, “Why not an ape, and let it loose in the city?”
I think there’s something very specific about dragons – they’re in our core.
Nrama: So, any favorite dragons in popular culture besides the ones we’ve mentioned.
Winick: It’s hard to say! Once you get into the minutiae of it, there’s a broad definition – I love Godzilla, there’s so many versions, there’s the one in Dragonslayer, which made such an impression on me as a kid. It felt real, it felt ferocious.
I really dig Smaug from The Hobbit, both from the book I read as a kid, the animated movie, and Jesus, what they’re doing now in the movies! That Smaug is the best!
I also love Jabberwocky, the Terry Gilliam movie! It was one of the most realistic, bizarre things you’ve ever seen in your life. That thing was just so real in a bizarre way – it was so scarred and old and dirty and with flesh hanging off of it, it stuck with me.
Nrama: And how do you think you would fare up against a dragon?
Winick: I’d be horrible! [laughs]That’s why I’m the guy at home writing about it. You’ll see I represent the most cowardly of characters in this book. No no no. Big fire-breathing creature – not for me.
Nrama: So what are some of the crazy things we can expect as the story unfolds?
Winick: It grows exponentially! We start off sort of creepy and insular, and every issue it gets bigger and bigger. By the third issue, it becomes a big action-packed monster movie. I don’t want to give away where the final battle happens, but by the end, it’s a bit like Jaws, where our heroes have a moment to regroup, and then go after the monster to attack it head-on.
Lots of character stuff, lots of personality stuff – our rag-tag band of misfits come together to save the town, and Geoff has drawn some of the most over-the-top action sequences I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing.
Nrama: What else do you have coming up?
Winick: Just finishing a season of Hulu’s superhero animated series The Awesomes – I’m a writer and producer on that, and we got Season 3 coming down the pipeline. Most of my time is currently taken up writing and drawing a graphic novel series for Random House called Hilo, the first book of which comes out next fall. Just finished the first book, and working on the second book. I’m a full-time cartoonist again, writing and drawing again, and it feels great.
Nrama: All right! So any chance we’ll see some Barry Ween again?
Winick: We’re closer than we’ve ever been, because I’m writing and drawing again! There were books and crap piling up on my drawing table, and now for the next several years of my life I’m at that table every day. All those cylinders are firing again, and there’ll be a lull in the graphic novel series in a couple of years, so it’s going to happen.
Take a trip to A Town Called Dragon with issue #1, now in comic shops.