From stories ranging from the Greek myth of Pandora to David Fincher's splatterhouse mystery Seven, one message is clear. The problem with boxes are the same problems with doors -- once you open them, you can never undo the consequences. And sometimes what's inside can turn your world inside-out.
That's part of the mystery behind BOX 13, the free weekly webcomic series by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis on the "Comics by comiXology" iPhone app, and now also on the web. With the team behind Zuda's High Moon working their panel layouts to better leverage the widescreen potential of the iPhone screen, they are blazing a trail for a nascent new platform for sequential art. The creators sat down to talk with Newsarama about the fall of Dan Holiday, the real-life inspirations behind the story, and what's next in this twisting, turning tale.Newsarama: Just to start off with, for those who haven't read the series yet -- who is Dan Holiday, and what is the premise of BOX 13?
David Gallaher: BOX 13 is a high-action thriller in the tradition of The Manchurian Candidate, The Prisoner, Modesty Blaise, and Nowhere Man. Dan Holiday, our protagonist, is an investigative author who completed a recent book about the MKUltra project. During his recent book signing, Dan finds a mysterious box from a woman named ‘Suzie’.
Steve Ellis: When Dan opens the first box … everything changes.
Gallaher: Right. And with each box he finds, his life gets a little more dangerous.
Ellis: Helping Dan along the way, is a young woman named Olivia, who has a bit of a crush on our handsome and troubled young author.
Gallaher: I refer the project as sort of a ‘Manchurian Candidate Roadtrip’ … Dan and Olivia team up to discover the secrets inside BOX 13 … the last of all of the boxes.
Nrama: Older (and old-school) readers will note that this comic is not the first story to have this title -- there was also a serialized radio drama in the late 1940s called BOX 13. How was this an inspiration for you? And how is the new BOX 13 different?
Gallaher: My writing style is heavily influenced by serialized radio dramas. I have a penchant for staccato dialogue, crazy cliffhangers, and archetypal characters. So, the inspiration and the influences are defiantly there in terms of how the story moves, how the characters talk, and such.
One of my previous projects -- Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar -- which I did for Moonstone Books was a pastiche of a pre-existing radio show. With BOX 13, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to re-imagine the series from top-to-bottom. The original BOX 13 radio series was about an author who hired himself out as an adventurer to get ideas for his novels, potential clients could reach him at BOX 13 through his local paper. And while I absolutely adore the original radio serial, there are parts of it that just haven’t aged well at all. So, we threw quite a bit of that out – and started virtually from scratch.
Nrama: David, we've heard there's also some real-life inspiration to the tone of this story for you. How has your life meshed with that of Dan?
Gallaher: Five years ago, I met this girl at a bar, she gave me her number, we went on a date, and after the date, I woke up in the hospital with no idea how I had gotten there . No one had a clue what had happened to me. I had just moved to New York – and I knew almost no one. I didn’t have my wallet or much of anything on me at the time. I couldn’t form full sentences. I was 100% completely and totally disoriented. I grew increasingly paranoid about my surroundings and my environment. It turns out I had hit my head on the side of the Lyric Dinner in Gramercy Park – I had suffered a seizure. The head injury had thrown my memory, my world, and my life into a tizzy. It was a harrowing ordeal. When putting together BOX 13, I had thought about my own life, and borrowed from my own experience in a way I felt threw readers into the story immediately.
Nrama: Without giving too much away, the mysterious boxes seem to kick this twisty-turny story off. Anything you guys can tell us about what they are?
Gallaher: The boxes are mahogany.
Ellis: Yes. Apart from that, they seem to be a key into Dan Holiday’s inner psyche and his identity. They each come at pivotal point in the story and lead him from experience to experience. Almost like a treasure map.
Gallaher: A treasure map … of danger!
Nrama: In terms of the art, there seems to be a very different tone than you guys' earlier works. Steve, in terms of your tools and your process, have you done anything different for BOX 13?
Ellis: I wanted BOX 13 to feel dramatically different than High Moon. It needed to be more noir, more slick, sharp and clean than the other work I've done. It's been an experiment for me to really try something different.
Nrama: The two of you have a reputation for favoring next-gen models, given the success of your online Zuda collaboration, High Moon. So the million-dollar question: Why go the iPhone route with comiXology? Do you see this new platform being something up-and-coming creators will be able to successfully capitalize upon?
Gallaher: Initially, I think we saw it as an opportunity to play with the comic form. As with Zuda, we had to adjust how we deliver information. Different formats all have different reading rhythms. An iPhone comic will read differently than a Zuda comic or a print comic.
Ellis: I think the iPhone has a lot to offer in terms of delivery to a wide audience. Comics have been done the same way for a very long time. Often, when people deviate from the standard paper and ink model, it turns into animation or something else entirely. This gave us the ability to try new ways of conveying information without losing the intrinsic panel-by-panel form of comics.
Nrama: Something that's really interesting about BOX 13 is the way it flows on the iPhone -- panels widen, slim to a thin letterbox, shift all over the page -- the actual panel transition seems to be as well-thought as the comic itself. How did you guys do that? What went into consideration there?
Ellis: The iPhone format gives you really unique ways of playing with the medium. When we first met with David at ComiXology and saw his app and how it maneuvered, we realized that if we were going to make this comic exclusively for the platforms and the app, we really had to think of different ways to use this new medium.
Gallaher: There was a lot of math involved…
Ellis: Right, because if we had just used the standard comic book format, we 'd be losing the opportunity to fully take into account the advantages and constraints of this new medium.
Nrama: We should also ask -- how long do you feel BOX 13 will continue? The original series lasted 52 episodes: will your series be open-ended, or are there a finite number of chapters to tell?
Gallaher: BOX 13 is 13 installments. Each is about 8 pages in length. When it’s complete, it will run nearly 100 pages. But, it is definably a finite story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Nrama: Wrapping things up -- are there any moments coming up that you can tease? And for those who are still on the fence, what can you tell them to get on the bandwagon for this series?
Gallaher: Moments we can tease?
Ellis: There will be more boxes!
Gallaher: A shoot-out!
Ellis: One shoot-out?
Gallaher: I’m sorry, several shoot-outs!
Ellis: And more boxes.Find more about Box 13 on your iPhone or by clicking right here!