Celebrities getting involved in the comic book industry is nothing new, but when Radical Studios announced their partnership with Avatar star Sam Worthington’s Full Clip Productions late last month, it represented something a lot more involved than just a movie star lending his or her name to a series.
It’s an imprint, with Full Clip developing several projects with the publisher. It’s easy to be skeptical that this is just a shortcut to getting ideas optioned as films, but the Full Clip guys — Worthington and his partners and friends, brothers John Schwarz and Michael Schwarz — are all genuine comic book fans, even if one of them happened to star in the highest-grossing film of all time.
The first title from the new deal is six-issue miniseries Damaged, based on a plot by the production company, with a script by acclaimed Stray Bullets creator David Lapham and covers from Alex Maleev (an interior art team is still to be determined). Tentatively scheduled to debut in February, it’s about two brothers and former cops — one stayed a cop, the other became a brutal vigilante — training their replacements in what Michael Schwarz calls a “balls-out” action story that’s also a “very thoughtful, character-driven” piece.
Newsarama recently sat down one-on-one with Full Clip’s Michael Schwarz at Radical’s Los Angeles offices to talk more about the partnership, Damaged and his bona fide comic book fan cred.
Newsarama: Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of how Full Clip got involved with Radical?
Michael Schwarz: I got roped in by Sam to find some projects, and I found Last Days of American Crime last year at Comic-Con, and developed a partnership with Radical just on the basis of that project. Radical is such a great company to work with, and they were asking for our ideas, and I gave them one — Damaged, that my brother and I have been working on for ages. We started developing that, and [Radical Studios president] Barry [Levine] got to know Sam more, he got to know John more, and in doing so, he thought, “Oh, why don’t you do a bunch of comics, instead of just one?” And we were like, “Yes, please!”
Nrama: So what’s your personal background with comics?
Schwarz: My brother got me into comics. He’s seven years older than me, he got me into Batman when I was a kid. We used to read a lot of Ghost Rider. Growing up, the big ones we read were Punisher and Lobo, those were the ones we really got into. Later on, 10 years ago, I really started getting into Garth Ennis in particular. He sort of drew me back into comics. Really got into Preacher; all the Vertigo stuff I just devoured. Y the Last Man, still read Fables. My favorite comics at the moment are Walking Dead and the new Unknown Soldier, which I’m absolutely heartbroken that that’s finishing up. I read a lot of Marvel, I’m a bit of a Marvel geek. I get into Marvel a bit more than DC, but I still do, like, Batman. I spend a lot of my money on comics at the moment. I’m a big admirer of Grant Morrison, so I find it hard to not buy anything he does.
Nrama: I’m sure a lot of publishers probably would be interested in working with you guys, so why Radical?
Schwarz: It’s a couple of things. In meeting them last year at Comic-Con, at that point they had only been around for 14 months or something. They don’t act like they’ve only been around for 14 months, they act like they own the place. And it’s not an arrogance; they’re not saying they’re better than everyone else, they’re just saying, “this is where we want to be, we see ourselves as a top, top company, not an independent company.” It sort of mirrors at Full Clip how we are, we’re just getting into it, we’re just three Aussie guys having a stab at it over here. They’re two years along, and they’ve just got so many awesome projects that they’ve got going. They’ve got movie deals coming in, they’ve got Antoine Fuqua creating stuff here, you’ve got Joseph Kosinski doing stuff. They just made a deal with Ron Howard’s company. They’re out there. The ideas they come up with, they’re high-concept, they’re character-driven, and the artwork’s beautiful. People give them a lot of credit for their art, but they really attach great writers to their projects as well. Rick Remender was one of the things that drew me. Oh man, Frankencastle …
Nrama: So cool, right?
Schwarz: I was a bit iffy at first, but man, now it’s at the top of my pile every time it comes out. So, I mean, you’ve got guys like Rick Remender, David Hine, Pete Milligan, they really are attaching really good writers to what they do.
Nrama: And Damaged has David Lapham.
Schwarz: He was the first guy they approached about it, as well. John and I wrote the treatment for it, it was like a 5, 6 page treatment, an outline of the basic storyline and the characters, and they said they were giving it to him. My first thought was, “Oh man, he’s just going to do whatever the hell he wants to do with it.” “Is he the right guy to do it?” was one of my first questions, because, will he just turn it into something completely different? He’s got such a distinct voice. We handed in this six page treatment, had conversations with him, and he handed us back a 30-page treatment a week later. It was great. It was our story, it was our characters, but it had his stamp on it, like it was his distinct voice. We knew straight away this was the guy we wanted to do it. I think he was a little apprehensive at first, as well. He was worried that what we were doing was trying to create vehicles for Sam Worthington to star in. One of the first questions he asked was, “Which one’s the Sam Worthington character?” I was like, “None of them. Don’t write for any actor. That’s not what we’re trying to do. This is going to be a comic first. Down the line, if the opportunity presents itself, we will adapt it into a film, because Radical thinks big like that, but there’s no casting going on right now. As far as casting goes, it’s what notes you give to an artist — “I want this character to look a bit like Mel Gibson and Nick Nolte, with a little bit of Randy Couture mixed into it.” That’s our casting process at the moment. “Make this guy look like 1970s Gene Hackman.” We’re not thinking at all about actors, we’re creating original comics. This has to stand on its own as a comic. We love comics. We’re not treating it as a medium that’s just a breeding ground for films. It’s a dream come true to actually create high-quality comics that we’re not just drawing ourselves in a basement.
Nrama: It does seem like it is part of the goal, though, of the imprint to push projects towards getting adapted as films.
Schwarz: It is what it is. We can’t think like that while we’re doing the comic, because then the comic gets compromised, basically. If you’re thinking like that it ceases to be its own entity. If you’re thinking too many steps ahead it already becomes an adaptation of a film you’ve written in your head.
Nrama: There are people who criticize the idea of people making comics just to hopefully get them adapted into a film, though.
Schwarz: It’s not what we’re about. Even the characters that are in [Damaged], they’re 60-year-old men! Sam’s going to have to work really hard as a character actor to get a role in it. We’re comic fans, first and foremost. The next one we do, Patriots, is going to be a graphic novel that Sam, and my brother and another writer, Morgan O'Neill. All we’ve given out so far is the logline: “There are seven continents in the world, what if to save six of them, you had to destroy one of them?”
Nrama: The process you’re describing in terms of working with David Lapham is kind of unusual for comic books — probably not surprisingly, it’s closer to the screenwriting process for a Hollywood film.
Schwarz: It is a little different. We had a stab at writing the comics ourselves, but if you can get somebody like that … It’s working out so far.
What would you like to see from Radical Studios and Full Clip?