Writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis have become comics’ version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, although I’d hate to guess which one is which. Through their collaborations on DC/Zuda’s High Moon. Comixology’s Box 13 and Winter Guard stories for Marvel, they’ve become the latest example of a powerful comics partnership. And they’ve reunited once again, on familiar turf, for a western spinning out the long-running RPG game Deadlands.
In this summer’s Deadlands: The Devil’s Six Gun, this enterprising duo tell the story of a reclusive inventor who’s better off working with pistols and pistons than with people. After years of doing – and outdoing – his peers and detractors, he’s undertaken his most ambitious project yet – a gun that can kill the devil himself. This June one-shot is the first of several standalone stories coming out from Image’s partnership with Visionary Comics based on the Deadlands RPG. With a host of big names stacked up to follow them, the decision to have Gallaher and Ellis’ story lead off the pack shows just how potent their partnership – and their story in particular – stands
Newsarama: What can you tell us about this one-shot, guys?
David Gallaher: Deadlands: The Devil’s Six Gun is about inventor Copernicus Blackburne, who is tasked with building a gun that can kill the devil. Driven by curiosity and arrogance, he accepts the challenge and gets for more than he bargained for.
Nrama: What a name, Copernicus Blackburne. Can you tell us more about him?
Gallaher: Copernicus Blackburne is an immaculately well-dressed, poised gentleman, who just tends to understand munitions technology better than he understands people. He was born just outside of Prague, where his family life was bucolic. As he grew up, he developed this insatiable hunger and unending curiosity for knowledge and the sciences. He's one of those kids you hated in school, who was naturally talented, and always got A's -- but them would go the extra mile and do all the extra credit, making the rest of the class look bad. He's was THAT kid. And this is his story ...
Steve Ellis: Copernicus is a lot like many creatives, driven beyond to create even at his own expense. Many of the artists I know would probably empathize. He comes to America and the Old West with big hopes and bigger ideas.
Nrama: If he can build it, what is the Devil’s Six-Gun capable of?
Gallaher: That' the crux of the story. Can he build it? We've dealing with a hardcore scientist who was raised on facts, logic, and formulas. Somebody who is with all certainty and atheist.
Ellis: If he doesn't believe in God, how can he make a gun that can 'kill the devil'? IF we tell you more, we'd be giving it all away....
Nrama: How did you come up with a story like this? You’ve done westerns before with High Moon, but this seems far different.
Gallaher: Deadlands has a couple of similarities to the work we do in High Moon in terms of genre. Not wanting to repeat ourselves, we looked at what we could do a little differently. Instead of cowboys and action heroes, I wanted instead to focus on what some people might consider a 'bit-player'. A guy who worked behind the scenes but who still had a personal and compelling story of his very own. A character who could introduce new readers to the world of Deadlands, and make it feel accessible. Since Deadlands (more or less) takes place in the Wild West, I thought of famous inventors and gunsmiths like Samuel Colt, Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson. I started thinking about the story in terms of a biography, something you might see on the History Channel or read in some text book. I talked it over with Steve several times, then shared the story with Chuck Sellner (of Visionary) and Ron Marz (Editor-In-Chief), and that was the process, in a nutshell.
Ellis: Like a History Channel biography seen through the eyes of the Devil.
Nrama: A lot of people will think about High Moon when they see this. To get to that point, how would you compare and contrast this with that?
Gallaher: High Moon is a pulp, in the spirit of Gunsmoke. It is light on dialogue and heavy on action, mystery, and adventure. Deadlands: The Devil’s Six Gun is slower, denser, more personal. There are similarities, of course, they are both supernatural westerns. I wrote this story in manner that it could almost fit perfectly into the High Moon iverse, it also has many of the same leitmotifs we like to use, but it is very different. It is also very dense. We packed a tremendous amount of story into 20 pages. We really wanted to give readers their monies worth.
Ellis: Deadlands: The Devil’s Six Gun is more insidious, more of a slow build, but it delivers a very satisfying result.
Nrama: Unlike Box 13 and High Moon however, this project is a quick one-shot for the pair of you. How was doing a standalone short story like this compared to your other collaborations over time?
Gallaher: I love doing serialized digital content. Love working on projects like High Moon and Box 13, but this was an opportunity to do something different. Something that we hadn't tried before as a team. Working on a one-shot for print presents it own set of challenges, naturally. This is very different even from what we did with the Hulk: Winter Guard one-shot, where we created a giant layout mock-up book for the whole issue. Structurally and creatively, this is a very different project -- and more intimate project -- and it required a different approach to working.
Ellis: I think it's more dense because we don't think in terms of small stories. So we had to figure out a way to make a big story in a small space. This usually results in my drawing pages with tons of panels. Also, a smaller story allows you to be more intimate with the characters. It is more like a stage play in that regard.
Nrama: Did you play the Deadlands game to get up to speed to do the comic? And do readers need to?
Gallaher: Readers don't need to know anything about the Deadlands role-playing games before picking this issue up. Everything you need to know is presented in the narrative itself. That's the beauty of working with Ron Marz and Chuck Sellner in an editorial capacity. They aren't gamers, so they approach the story from an outsider or new reader's perspective. But - to answer the first question - I played Deadlands in my early twenties. I was a big gamer for a good long while - sadly I didn't have the time to pull out my dice and make up a character sheet when I was asked to take on this project.
Ellis: I've got a lot of experience with the gaming world and one of the things I know about gamers is they like all kinds of stories. They aren't limited by genre and have a wide taste range. This story sets up a section of the Deadlands world. We took a lot of care making sure it worked within the confines of the universe while expanding in our own way. For the gamers out there, this story is like the origin of a powerful magic item. But for readers who aren't gamers it's a standalone story that needs no more introduction than reading the story.
Nrama: Even if they don’t have to play the game, if they do will it make the comic more enjoyable – or vice-versa?
Gallaher: If you have played Deadlands before, there are nods to the game's world. We worked with the continuity editor of Pinnacle to make sure our story hit the right notes and atmosphere. I think gamer's will find a lot to love about our story -- and I think non-gamer will get a taste of what make Deadlands such an unique role-playing game.
Ellis: It's a story that fills out the world, this is something all gamers get into and so if you game this story adds a few new characters and ideas to an already lush game setting.
Nrama: How’d you two end up on this project and then being the first ones out of the gate?
Gallaher: Steve and I met Chuck Sellner during the 2009 Baltimore Comic Con. That was the year we won the Harvey Award for High Moon. He was a big fan of the series -- and when Visionary acquired the license, he reached out to us on Twitter and that sort of got the ball rolling. The talent Visionary lined up were all people I respect in the industry -- Ron Marz, Lee Moder, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Grey, Steve Niles -- these are great talents.
Ellis: I'm really honored to be working alongside teams of such high caliber. Not sure how we ended up being the first ones out of the gate -- but while High Moon is on hiatus, it creates the perfect opportunity to connect our incredibly awesome and rabid readers to something familiar yet very different.Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!