Vertigo is about to get Jacked.
Television writer Eric Kripke, the creator of the hit horror series Supernatural on the CW, is coming to the imprint of John Constantine, Jesse Custer, and Morpheus of the Dreaming with a project that's a comic book and a television series.
The six issue comic book series Jacked (formerly Amped), which debuts November 25, answers the question, “What if those pills they tried to sell you on the Internet did more than just give you an amphetamine-induced heart attack?” Josh Jaffe is a middle-aged family man who’s hit the wall, and in desperation, tries an online “smart pill.” Its effects are greater than he ever imagined…as in, superhumanly greater. But he’s going to find his new abilities are more addictive – and destructive – than he bargained for.
The sure-to-be-violent tale is illustrated by Vertigo vet John Higgins (Watchmen, Hellblazer) with covers by Glenn Fabry of Preacher. And while Vertigo is publishing it as a comic book series, USA Network is developing it as a TV series.
Kripke, who’s got a very busy schedule with this and other TV projects, took a few minutes out to talk about his transition to comic books – and why Jacked is both a return to old-fashioned Vertigo violence and his most personal work yet. Along with that we have several process pages by John Higgins from the first issue in pencils, inks, and colored stages.
Newsarama: Eric, the first thing I was curious about was the origin of this idea – obviously, there’s some resonance of DC's Hourman character, and those pills they try to sell you in spam e-mails. What was your inspiration for Jacked?
Eric Kripke: The original inspiration really came from a very personal place. I would say out of anything I’ve ever written, I would say Jacked is by far the most personal.
It came from the fact that basically, I turned 40, and like any good 40-year-old, had a midlife crisis and was asking a lot of questions about what the rest of my life was going to look like. And there’s this thing your body does for some reason when you turn 40, it’s like this alarm goes off and your body goes into rapid decline.
And you ask yourself these questions, [laughs], “What’s the rest of my life going to be like, and is it just going to be a slow and steady decline of downward potential and physical ability until you’re decrepit and dead?” At least I was having a classic midlife crisis.
And those were issues, I thought, that could actually make a good story – things that I hadn’t seen explored in genre fiction – and any good genre is taking a fantastic concept and using it as a metaphor for the human condition. That’s certain the genre stuff that I like.
So, for me, I started thinking about the superhero genre – not in the very classic Superman/Batman DC world, but using it as a metaphor for a man who’s looking to achieve greatness in recapturing the vitality that he’s lost. And what are the issues that come out of that?
Every superhero is pretty much a granite-jawed, handsome Gentile [laughs], and I was wondering what if a schlubby, neurotic, out-of-shape Jew – like me – got superpowers, and how he would handle it, and what would be the pros and cons of it – the elation that comes from the strength, but also the fact that power corrupts.
So how do you handle all the issues of someone who is completely exception, and finds a way to become completely exceptional?
Nrama: With your previous TV shows – Supernatural, Revolution, even dating back to Tarzan, you’re dealing with young people who are kind of unformed, trying to determine their own identities. What’s different about writing a character who’s older, who’s head of a family, who has more of a domestic situation?
Kripke: That’s a good and insightful question, sir. Yeah, I was in my 20s when I wrote Tarzan, I was 29 going on 30 when I wrote Supernatural, and so much of those characters were based on what was going on in my life at the time – “Where is my life going? Which direction do I want in my life?”
Jacked is different because this character, Josh, is now old enough and stable enough that his issues are much different. It’s what I’m dealing with today – what are my regrets? Did I do everything I set out to do? My chances to do something great are running out, do I still have time to take advantage of them? How do you manage your ambition with what’s more important, which is being a good father and husband, how do you find those balances? How do you deal with the inevitable monotony of domestic life, and stay happy?
All of those are real-world issues that come out of being a little older, and it was fun for me to deal with them and still tell a bad-ass, fun, ultraviolent story, which is what Jacked is – there’s a lot of sex, there’s a lot of violence, there’s a lot of action and high concepts.
But being able to do that, and also to mature a little bit and pursue the themes I’ve been chasing as I get older, that’s been very satisfying.
Nrama: You oversaw the Supernatural comic books at Wildstorm, you did the Revolution finale with the writing staff as a comic book – what’s particularly different about doing Jacked as a comic book you’re writing solo?
Kripke: You know, I really have an incredible amount of respect for comic book writers. For my first time for handling something completely solo, I’m really amazed at how much work it is!
As much work goes into writing a 22-page comic book script as writing an episode of television. It’s an incredible amount of outlining, breaking story, getting the characters right…comic book scripts are 30 pages of dense prose text. It’s an incredible workload, so I think the thing I walked away from that surprised me was how much work it is, and how difficult it is, and it made me respect people who write comic books full-time that much more.
Nrama: Having worked with a number of people who do comic books on Supernatural, including – partially! – Andrew Dabb, Ben Edlund, Robbie Thompson, Adam Glass, Peter Johnson and so on, did you find yourself turning to anyone for advice for how to do things in comic book form, or were there just things you found you’d learned from them?
Kripke: Yeah, I – Ben Edlund is my go-to Yoda for almost any issue I got, so I definitely was bouncing some ideas off him, and he read the first issue. I don’t know if I’ve even ever told Ben this, but when I was in high school, I was the biggest Tick fan, and I used to spend hours reading Ben’s work before I even met him. [laughs]
So I definitely show him everything, and get his advice.
Nrama: What’s it like working with artist John Higgins? He’s worked with Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and a number of other veteran DC/Vertigo/2000 A.D. writers along with writing his own work, so I’m curious as to what your collaborative process is like, and if you found you learned anything from working with him.
Kripke: Yeah, John is a dream come true. The inspiration behind Jacked in so many ways was a dream to return to shocking, bloody, old-school Vertigo work, and John drew a lot of that! He drew my all-time favorite Hellblazer story, “Son of Man,” which could be my favorite comic book ever.
He’s such a pleasure to work with – he’s so skilled, and you know, I really enjoyed it. Mostly, I just keep my mouth shut and try to learn from him, because he knows so much more of this format than me. I’m coming at it as a fan, and he’s coming at it as one of the masters.
The things I’ve learned from him…I came into this knowing his character work was going to be great, and his violence was going to be great, and all of that is true. But I think the thing I’ve been most blown away by is just page composition. It’s just a treat to watch how he lays out where the panels go, and how to lay them out in an innovative way, and how they flow into each other…it’s just amazing.
Nrama: There was a really wonderful story he did on Hellblazer with Warren Ellis where the panels were just free-floating images against a white background. It’s been years since I read that one, and I still remember that art.
Kripke: Yeah! And he’s finding like really interesting and sometimes impressionistic touches to some of the Jacked panels and pages. So I think because of him, the Jacked comic book is really taking on a level of art that isn’t in the script. That’s entirely thanks to John.
Nrama: Is this like a thing where you have a full script, but there’s a “Marvel-Style” type of collaboration where if he has an idea how to do a unique visual interpretation of a plot point, you can go in that direction?
Kripke: Yeah – honestly, I just had this conversation with John this week, where he’s asking me questions like, “Is it okay if I add a panel here, or…?” And I’m going, “You’re John! I trust you so implicitly that any alteration or adjustment you want to make, you don’t have to ask. You know what the hell you’re doing.”
So I’d say he definitely has creative input into the story and how it’s playing out, and I’d be crazy not to give it to him, because he’s just so damn good at what he does?
Nrama: What’s been the unique challenge of developing this as both a comic book and a TV series, and what are things you’ve found you can do with one version that you can’t do with the other?
Kripke: That’s an interesting question. I think the biggest difference between the two mediums is – writing a TV script, you’re dealing with, the vernacular you’re using is one of time. It’s about taking beats, and playing moments, and rhythms, and how fast a scene is vs. how slow another scene is. That’s really how that medium works.
The comic book medium is one about space – how many panels per page, what’s going to be a full-page splash, what’s going to be a big moment that takes a whole page vs. what’s going to be a series of smaller moments that take several panels. It’s about how you wrestle the story down into the panels so that it’s fun to read, and not this laborious process of too many panels.
For me, what’s been challenging…when I began this project, I thought it’d be easy, and I could just adapt this from one medium to the other.
Nrama: [laughs] I’m sorry, but I’ve just heard this story so many times from so many novelists and screenwriters who go to comic books…
Kripke: Yeah, what I came to realize is that they’re such wildly different mediums that I had to tell teach story separately and differently. And to really utilize what’s best about both mediums, I had to think of the stories in a different way.
What I like about the comic is you get to go much further and much crazier than you ever would on a television show. I think we’re taking much greater risks with the comic than you can with the series. What I like about the TV script is that you have the time to slow down and really explore the character moments. So each have their advantages, but since we’re talking about the comic book, I have to say I’m enjoying the comic book so much more, because it’s just so wild and so much fun.
Nrama: Any comic books or creators you’re currently enjoying?
Kripke: You know – I, at the moment, am in love with Saga. I could cut up Saga with a razor blade and snort it from a mirror, I love it so much.
Nrama: …well, that’ll be an interesting pull-quote if it shows up on the next trade.
Kripke: Oh, and Rat Queens. I’m completely obsessed with Rat Queens.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t talked about yet?
Kripke: I just want to make sure to emphasize that Jacked is just a super-fun, super-bloody throwback to the old Vertigo comic books, like Preacher and some of the old Hellblazer, and I really wanted to capture that feel in the story of a man’s midlife crisis. [laughs] It’s definitely not too highfalutin’. It’s a bloody good time.