Christos Gage on The Man With No Name

Gage on The Man With No Name

Writer Christos Gage is in the middle of his six-issue opening arc of Dynamite’s The Man With No Name series which has brought the iconic Western character (as portrayed by Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, For a Few Dollars More and A Fistful of Dollars, directed by Sergio Leone) back into pop culture via comics.

Gage’s storyline, “Sinners and Saints” (illustrated by Wellington Dias) takes place sometime after The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and sees The Man returning to the Mission in San Antonio where he was nursed back to heath after his time in the desert. His return isn’t just a friendly visit, however – the Mission is under siege by a ragtag collection of Union and Confederate deserters who are convinced that it holds great treasure. It does, but as is often the case, “treasure” has different meanings, especially when religion is involved.

We spoke with Gage about the arc so far, what he’s learned about the character, and more.

Newsarama: Christos, the last time we spoke, some people had some issue with the timing of this story in the chronology of the larger trilogy. In your view, when does "Sinners and Saints” take place in relation to the films?

Christos Gage: The first issue of my story arc takes place not long after the end of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. As for the other two films, there's been an ongoing debate for decades about when they occur in relation to each other--or whether they're even about the same person. I tend to agree with those who suggest that TGTBATU is a prequel to the others, because in it we see The Man acquire his signature clothing that he wears in the other movies...but our story doesn't make any definitive statement one way or the other about any film but TGTBATU.

NRAMA: What's motivating The Man here? As we saw at the end of the first issue, he's chosen to aid the monks at the mission, but reluctantly, and more than likely against his better judgment. He says he's returning the favor for when the monks aided him when he was near death, but is that even it?

CG: I think The Man rationalizes it as paying back a debt--they saved his life, so he owes them. But I also think he has a code of core values that even he wouldn't necessarily admit to. If you watch TGTBATU, he seems affected by the horrors of the Civil War, engaging in small acts of kindness toward those caught up in its jaws. And I think it bothers him that this Mission, which tends to the victims of the war regardless of their affiliation, is suffering for it. Of course, he'd never agree with me...he'd probably smack me in the mouth!

NRAMA: On that track, in writing the Man, how much can you get into his head, as a character? Given the other characters that you've written, is the Man even a "man" to you? Not poking holes in things like characterization, but it seems even if the writer gets too "inside" the Man, some of the mystery that makes him alluring and interesting could start to dissolve...

CG: Yeah, I agree with that...it's hard, and even harder than I anticipated! I knew from the start that I didn't want to use thought balloons or monologue captions, and we all know the Man doesn't talk much. Writing this book really makes you live by the writer's maxim of "show, don't tell". What you know about the Man comes from his actions. He is what he does. And if I do my job right, that should be enough.

NRAMA: On a story such as this, how much research did you have to do? Obviously, you had a rough time period, and the setting as painted by the films, but beyond that - the desertions of the Union and Confederate soldiers, along with their desperation (clinging on to the hope of treasure in the mission) and teaming together...that all has a foothold in history, right?

CG: Yes, it does. I researched the Civil War in general, and specifically what was going on in New Mexico, where the story is set. Desertion was rampant during the War, especially on the Union side, where soldiers were often poor men paid by rich men to serve in their place. The expression "rich man's war, poor man's fight" is one that was used widely during the conflict, on all sides. Bands of outlaw deserters were also a serious problem--already under a death sentence for treason, there wasn't much to dissuade them from breaking other laws. And once they left the ranks of their militaries, few had loyalty to any cause but their own survival, so the idea of blue and grey riding together is based in fact as well.

NRAMA: We spoke about this a little before, but now, with the full story under your belt, what did you pull from to write this? Obviously, there were the movies, but at the same time, there are a million copies of "the man with no name," from Yojimbo to Red Harvest to Wolverine. How did you manage to stay with the same tone of the films without straying too far to lose what makes The Man with No Name the character that he is?

CG: I wanted my inspiration to come from the movies and not much else, to the extent that's possible. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, you know? I didn't want to give The Man a samurai sword or bring in vampires...or even have him start suddenly getting loquacious. I just kept looking at the movies and trying to maintain that tone. To that end I used a more decompressed style of storytelling than I have in the past, to approximate the pace of the movies...long stretches where not much is said but a lot is implied, and the tension is high. As we already discussed, I did research the time period and drew from that, but my goal was always to try to make the reader feel like this story could be taking place in the world the films have already established.

NRAMA: Break that down a little - the hat and the serape, and the cigarillos, of course, but what makes the Man who and what he is?

CG: It's hard to encapsulate. It's kind of like obscenity--you know it when you see it. He doesn't talk much. He doesn't suffer fools. He looks out for himself first, but he doesn't like seeing others suffer...unless, of course, they deserve it. He's smart, but that comes through in his actions, not flowery speeches. And, of course, he kicks ass. I'm sure everyone has their own idea of what makes The Man...I just wrote, and asked myself "WWTMWNND?"

NRAMA: That would make for one hell of a bracelet… as we said earlier, you've wrapped up work on your arc, and you're moving on. Why head out? Is TMWNN a character that, in your view, would lend himself to a long run by a single creator/writer?

CG: I think it depends. Garth Ennis has had an epic run on The Punisher, who is in many ways a similar character. But for me, I found myself starting to get a little..."burnt out" isn't the right word, because this story arc has flowed very well for me, but in terms of following it up, I wasn't sure I could maintain the same level of storytelling. Writing Westerns in general is hard, and this character brings his own set of challenges for any writer. So in the end, once my story was done, I decided to give someone else a crack at The Man rather than risk bringing less than my "A" game. It was time to explore other opportunities and other genres. But who knows, maybe after I've had some time away to "recharge my batteries" as it were, I'll ride this way again...

NRAMA: We can't let you go without asking for a few teases at what's coming up - so the troops are surrounding the mission, mistakenly thinking that there's wealth inside...TMWNN has said that he may just have to kill them all...big fight time?

CG: Definite big fight time. But first they need supplies. The Man and Father Ramirez have to break through the ring of bandits surrounding the Mission and raid a Confederate supply train to get weapons. Needless to say, that doesn't go smoothly. And then there's the final battle for the Mission! Bullets will fly!

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