This week, Wynonna Earp returns to comic books — just in time for the debut of the character's TV series on Syfy in April — and creator Beau Smith is making sure the new stories tie into the TV show.
Smith created Wynonna Earp in the '90s, introducing readers to a descendent of the famous Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp, only this time the female U.S. Marshal battles supernatural threats. The character has returned a couple times since then at IDW, always with Smith at the helm.
With the new series, Smith is working with artist Lora Innes to incorporate elements from the TV show while still staying true to the character's history in print. Newsarama talked to Smith to find out more about the new comic, the writer's involvement in the show, and how Wynonna Earp was first created.
Newsarama: Beau, a new comic book series and TV series at the same time?
Beau Smith: Everything has worked out better than I could have scripted it in the fact that right now marks 20 years since the first issue came out at Image/WildStorm. And that was never planned or anything. But it's great that you get a new series and a TV series all in the 20th anniversary. So that worked out!
Nrama: The central idea of the series is that a descendent of Wyatt Earp in the present day is fighting supernatural threats, in a special paranormal division of the U.S. Marshal service. How did you come up with this idea?
Smith: I've been trying to do this since I was in the third grade! When I was in the third grade, I used to write little stories about Wyatt Earp fighting monsters in the Old West — you know, typical little boy in school drawing in his notebook kind of stuff.
But once I got into comics — and this summer, it will be 29 years — it was always in my head to make this combination of the Old West and monsters into a reality of a comic book. But to do that, even then I knew Westerns in film, television and comic books were waning. You know, they weren't that popular of a genre.
So in the late '80s, I started thinking, how can I modernize this? And by the early '90s, at that point, I was working for Image Comics, for Todd McFarlane. And I started thinking, well, I could make it a descendent of Wyatt Earp.
Nrama: Why the decision to make that descendent a woman?
Smith: It wasn't so much a "decision." You know how, especially in the old days, when the pregnant mother went into the delivery room, she didn't know whether it was going to be a boy or a girl? Well, in this case, it ended up being a girl. A lot of people think the point was to do a "strong female character," but I basically tell them, I showed up at the delivery room and it was a girl this time. That's the way I look at it, because I never like to get too much in my about whether a character is female or male. I want it to be, first and foremost, a compelling, likable character.
I've got a lot of friends — girls, guys, and sometimes in between — and what makes them my friends is that they're interesting, compelling people. And that's what I wanted to make Wynonna Earp.
She's a modern day U.S. Marshal, but she's part of the Black Badge Division, which is the most covert branch of the U.S. Marshal service.
The way I created it, the Black Badge Division was created by Teddy Roosevelt when he was police commissioner in New York. And that was well over 100 years ago. He found out that not only was there organized crime, but there was paranormal organized crime. And to keep people from panicking, he thought, we need a covert branch to keep this under wraps and bring these people in. And he thought, who better than the U.S. Marshals. So he brought Rough Riders — old U.S. Marshals, people he knew from his time in the West — to be a part of this covert group.
Wynonna Earp is like the great-great-great granddaughter of Wyatt Earp from an affair that he had as a technical advisor on a Tom Mix movie, which he really was in actual life, because he didn't have any kids. So this is from an affair he had with an actress at that point, in the comic.
Nrama: OK, so let's talk about the series that kick off this week. What can you tell us about it? Who's the threat this time for Wynonna to hunt down?
Smith: Well, you've got to figure, werewolves, vampires, whatever it may be, they've got to keep in the lifestyle — or in this case, afterlife style — that they're accustomed to. So in the first issue, we've got a couple of political candidates that we hint that they're pre-K zombies, and to stay in that state, they have to eat brains. Of course, they only want the best. They're not just walkers and go after anything that's moving. They want the best brains — MIT, Cornell, Princeton, Harvard.
And there's a facilitator of this named Mars Del Ray, and he is a part of the Chupacabra Cartel. They harvest human organs and brains to sell on the paranormal black market.
And that's who Wynonna goes up against in the first two issues of the book.
You know, in the television series, she also goes up against Bobo Del Rey, who is Mars' brother. Bobo Del Ray is a character I created in the first issue of Wynonna Earp back in 1996. So he's another one of the characters that has jumped from print to screen.
Nrama: So your new series kind of ties in with the TV show.
Nrama: Have you been involved with the TV series?
Smith: IDW Entertainment and Emily Andras, who's the showrunner/head writer of the television series, they've all been kind enough from Day One, where I've been a part of additions. There were over 200 actresses who went out for the role of Wynonna, and close to a hundred on Doc Holliday and some of the other characters. And I was a part of that from Day One.
And in December I was up in Calgary and met with everybody — the writer's room, the actors on both locations, interior and exterior. And I've been part of it from Day One, which is wonderful and kind, because to be honest with you, it doesn't have to be that way. It's a predominantly Canadian production — cast, director, location, everything.
They've been so wonderful with having me participate, keeping me up to date with everything.
Nrama: Did you see what they were shooting?
Smith: Yeah, they even shared the dailies. Every day, I'd get up and watch the dailies from the day before.
Nrama: That's wonderful.
Smith: It is, because it doesn't have to be that way, and probably wouldn't be on another thing, but this is a very special cast and crew that has really made me feel a part of it. I wasn't used to being, I guess you'd call it the belle of the ball, where they were asking me all the questions. What makes Wynonna do this? What's this character like? We want to bring this character in that you did, and so on.
It was a little overwhelming, but it it was real flattering at the same time.
So yeah, there's been nothing but respect for not only the characters and the property and the stories, but for me. And that means a lot to me.
But you asked about the comic and the TV show — here's the difference. The television series is going to deal with Wynonna at the age of about 27. I've always dealt with Wynonna in the print comics before at the age of, her age varied from 35 to 40. That was another thing — I didn't think that was represented very well. You never saw female leads at that age. They were always, you know, 20 or even younger. And I find that the older we get, the more interesting we get. And I've always felt that. And with Wynonna, I always wrote her at 35 to 40. I also wrote her with blond hair. In the series, she's brunette.
Now, a lot of people will think that's just a cosmetic thing — the age and the hair. But the new comic that comes out this week, I'm making that a hybrid of what's come before and the television series. That way, anybody who's read it before, they're going to feel at home and more. And the people that have just discovered it on television, this is all going to be familiar, the same time frame, and they're going to be excited. But they're also going to be excited to pick up the trade paperbacks from before, because that's going to give them a little look into the future.
And as far as her hair coloring? That's a strong storyline, and I can't say too much about it right now, but I have something really, really important planned for the reasoning behind that. I'm sure there are people going, her hair coloring? How can that be important? Well, trust me. It will be.
So this is going to be showing Wynonna Earp when she was in her raw stage, around the age 27, when she wasn't as cool and composed as she was at 35 and 40, what we're used to. For me, it's really opening up the screen door and letting the air come in, because I can do a lot of really different stuff and establish a lot of characters that I've already created, but here is the younger, more inexperienced version of not only them, but the Black Badge Division itself.
Nrama: Who's drawing the new series?
Smith: The first two issues are going to be drawn by Lora Innes from the Columbus area, and she and her husband Mike just moved to San Diego, but she will be doing the first two issues. Chris Evenhuis comes after that, and he's from Norway. He's worked for IDW before. He's doing the third issue. Then Lora comes back and does through issue #6. And then from #7 on for awhile, Chris is going to do those. We're just giving Lora the time to do her creator-owned book at IDW, The Dreamer. We've been lucky enough that Lora has set aside time to do these issues for me.
Lora and I met at Mid-Ohio Con, many, many years ago. Jeff Smith introduced me to her, and she was just a kid in art school. And by kid, I mean she was still a teenager. And Jeff brought her over to my booth and said, Beau, I've got somebody I want you to meet. And I said, OK, yeah, sure. He goes, seriously, her stuff is amazing. Her storytelling ability — what he meant was, at her young age, her stuff is years ahead of people we're looking at. And it was. He was 100 percent right. I told her that, with a little work and her finishing art school, I'd love to work with her someday. And we remained friends from that day forward.
She was very eager to jump on board the project when we asked her. We were looking forward to having our first project we could do together, and she's always been a fan of Wynonna Earp as well.
Lora is an incredible storyteller, and she's been able to capture — 'cause Wynonna Earp has humor; not slapstick, but what I call everyday humor, that you and me and everybody else has with their family. And me as a writer, I've always wanted my characters to be likable. You want your reader to have an emotional investment. And Lora really has the ability to capture that.