Keeping it Quiet: Ryall on the 'Frazetta's Neanderthal'

April will see the release of the first silent issue in the Frazetta Comics line: Frank Frazetta’s Neanderthal.

The one shot takes the well-established foundation established in the previous Frazetta Comics releases of telling stories inspired by the original paintings of Frank Frazetta into a new direction. Featuring art by Tim Vigil and Jay Fotos, Neanderthal is scripted by Chris Ryall, writer of Groom Lake, Zombies vs Robots, and Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show and, in his civilian identity, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of IDW Publishing

Ryall took some time away from multi-tasking to discuss the unique nature of this special Frazetta Comics release.

Newsarama: So Chris, this comic marks the first time you’ve written a comic for someone other than IDW Publishing. How did it all come about?

Chris Ryall: I’ve worked with Jay for years on different IDW comics I’ve written, from George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead to The Great and Secret Show to Beowulf, and always had a great working relationship with him. We’ve talked about the whole Frazetta Comics line that he’s run so impressively, and I think I offhandedly mentioned how much I’d like to write one some day. Well, some day become one day, when Jay asked if I’d be up for doing one. The original plan was to keep the entire creative team together—Gabriel Rodriguez was the artist on all the above comics I did with Jay—but Gabe’s duties on Locke & Key kept that from happening. Anyway, I accepted, looked over a handful of the available Frazetta paintings and narrowed it down to two—“Neanderthal” and “Mammoth.” I loved the idea of telling a story set in our prehistory, which is why those two images appealed to me. Once we settled on “Neanderthal,” we were off and running.

NRAMA: What’s the story with Neanderthal, anyway? Where did you take the story?

CR: Jay and I spent some time kicked around some story ideas for this one, and the original idea for it came out of one of Jay’s suggestions. He had a great idea of where it could go, I came up with what I thought was a unique way to end the story he started, and it developed from there. Gabriel Rodriguez, when we first talked to him, even had a thought about a final “coda” to the story that worked well. So it was a very collaborative story all around.

Incidentally, I know the Frazetta Comics line is Jay’s baby and he’s been shepherding things so nicely from the start, but this issue is really a “Fotos tour-de-force.” From working with me on the story to doing some layouts and page breakdowns and some other art besides, and then laying it all together and coloring and lettering the book, he’s more of the headliner than Tim or I.

NRAMA: How did you settle on doing this issue silently?

CR: When I first started thinking about it, there was a few ways to go with doing Neanderthals: one is to use captions with the characters’ interior monologue, which seemed very foolish (“Ugh. Me the best there is at what I do, but what me do is… try to discover fire.” Nahhh). Or there was the option of actually scripting rough dialogue or grunts for the characters, which also didn’t feel right. It dawned on me that back in the days before language developed, communication was much more physical than verbal, so it all just felt more natural—and like a really nice writing challenge—to do it silently.

Neanderthal, page 1

Incidentally, when we say “silent,” it’s not entirely wordless. There’re time/place-setting captions on page one to let longtime Frazetta Comics readers know when and where this story fits in. And there are lots of sound effects, some screaming, and the like. But no character dialogue. Which made for maybe the most interesting scripting I’ve ever done. I typically challenge myself not to do interior-monologue captions when I write, lest I become reliant on them to tell a story, and this was another step removed from that. There were no real shortcuts that could be taken. And it puts a helluva lot more onus on the artists to tell the story and communicate some of the more subtle bits visually without any words to help them out. Luckily, Tim and Jay got what I wanted to do and are well up to the task.

NRAMA: Yeah, yeah. But what about the story itself? What’s it about?

CR: It’s one of those stories that is very dependent on the ending really paying off the rest of the story. Which means there’s not too much I can say (way to sell it, huh?) without spoiling it. But basically, our head Neanderthal, the focal point of the Frazetta painting, is the de facto leader of a group of Neanderthals. He’s the leader because he’s the most bad-ass, not because he was elected or anything… and we see at the start a show of force that really lets people know what he’s capable of. It’s a really rough, hard-scrabble existence they live, but usually might—and sharp bone-claw weapons—win out. But this story won’t even be that easy. Our leader finds himself staring down a threat that might just be too much for him to ever vanquish. And the story takes off from that point. Which is also the most I can say at this point. But hopefully that’s just enough of a hook to entice people to give it a look and really be treated to an issue we think and hope is among the best of the Frazetta line.

Now ‘scuse me, I gotta get back to pushing IDW comics. I know we actually took over the fourth spot from Image a few times in 2008, and me doing this comic and wanting everyone to pick this up doesn’t exactly help our odds of doing that in April, but just this once, IDW fans, it’s okay to stray. Just come right back after this issue, please…

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