Go West, Comic Writers: Talking 'Outlaw Territory'

Out in stores now, Image Comics has released a new anthology series collecting gritty tales of greed, deception, and death all set in the wilds of the Western frontier. Outlaw Territory, edited by Michael Woods, features a variety of talent from across the comic book industry; including Greg Pak, Joe Kelly, Khoi Pham, Joshua Fialkov, Ivan Brandon, Fred Van Lente and Skipper Martin. This 244 page Western anthology collects 30 short stories and features a Greg Ruth cover. For the past several years, Image has produced several acclaimed anthologies like the sci-fi themed 24/7 and PopGun—which is described as a “graphic mix tape” that collects a wide range of genre stories.

Newsarama spoke with Outlaw Territory editor Michael Woods as well as Greg Pak, Joshua Fialkov, Skipper Martin about their contributions to the anthology.

Newsarama: Michael, You're the editor of Outlaw Territory and you've also provided two stories—‘Gutshot’ and ‘Memories’—for the anthology; what's the draw of Westerns in comics?

Michael Woods: Westerns are just damn cool. It's a rough and gritty part of our history full of legends and hard truths you just don't find anywhere else. There is viciousness to the people and a poetry to the language. A frontier still being conquered and promises of riches with a pan in the right stream.

And horses and Indians and six shooters and wars and everything else a growing boy could ever want. It's just cool.

NRAMA: What are your two selections about? Who did you work with on them?

MW: Well, 'Memories' I did with a gentleman named Chad Sell, who is responsible for a little known web comic called Vreeland. He hasn't been at this too long, but I don't imagine he's going anywhere.

The story itself, I think is about regret. It's about the things that haunt us. The mistakes people make and the things they witness along the way. And ultimately it's about leaving those things in the past and moving forward with your life.

'Gutshot' is a little less heavy-handed. That was more a story of revenge and perspective with a bit of a twist. Hopefully it works for the readers the way I planned.

The pencils and inks on that were handled by David Miller. Another young artist who is starting to really hit his stride. I imagine we'll see a lot more from him.

NRAMA: Let’s turn and talk to some of the contributors—what can you tell us about your stories? Who did you work with on your projects?

Greg Pak: My piece is called ‘Rio Chino’—it tells the story of a Chinese gunslinger in the Old West who stumbles across a lynching in a small town. It's actually a prequel to a screenplay I wrote a few years back that's my big dream project in the film world. Ian Kim penciled, inked, and colored the story. This is Ian's first published comics work, and he did an awesome job.

Joshua Fialkov: I wrote ‘Incident over Thirty Six Days in the Colorado Rockies’ with art by the amazing Christie Tseng. It's about a particularly determined Marshall taking a prisoner home, hopefully before the snow hits. It doesn't work out so well. For either of them.

Skipper Martin: Our little slice of the pie is called ‘The More Things Change.’ Like many people, I tend to romanticize the past a bit too much. My story is based on a real girl I grew up with named Leah. She was my very best friend, and in fact my first kiss. I believe I was about seven years old at the time, but that never stopped me from wondering who she grew up to be, and what would happen if I ever met her again. I think you'll be able to spot our story a mile away. After having read the book, our tale is probably the most overtly colorful and romantic piece of the lot. I asked my "Bizarre New World" cohorts in crime Christopher Provencher and Ellen Everett to bring the story to life. Chris brought his trademark incredible emotive pencil style and letterer Ellen Everett makes her color debut providing the lush hues. It's easily the most romantic tale I've ever told.

NRAMA: What are some Westerns that have influenced your project? Are you pretty big fans of novels, films or comics that are Westerns?

JF: I'm a huge Western nut—have been since I was a teenager, for some reason. I'm particularly fond of the Magnificent Seven and some of the more bleak 50's westerns. There was a whole school of guys making what were essentially Western Noirs in the 50's, and they really resonate with me. I'd particularly recommend a flick called Day of the Outlaw, which is essentially a reverse version of High Noon. By the end of the movie you have no idea who you're rooting for.

SM: (laughs) I'm probably the worst person to ask having seen very few Westerns, and honestly thought I couldn't write one to save my life. But artist Tone Rodriguez suggested me to Michael Woods, and I didn't want to let either of them down. I fell in love with the idea of stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something I would never do on my own accord. I feel like the luckiest guy I know to be included in this project. Michael put one hell of a book together.

Oddly enough, I'm having a new love affair with the western right now thanks to my day job. I'm currently re-mastering the 1960's classic "The Virginian" television series starring James Drury at Universal Studios. I can honestly say I'm now an official fan of the wonderful Doug McClure in his signature role of Trampas. Truly excellent show!

GP: I'm a huge fan of Western movies. My faves are probably Anthony Mann's Naked Spur and Bend in the River, John Ford's Wagon Master, Clint Eastwood's Outlaw Josey Wales and Unforgiven, Arthur Penn's Little Big Man, and Sergio Leone's Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I'll be thrilled if ‘Rio Chino’ comes anywhere near Mann's emotional rawness, Eastwood's and Penn's dry humor and multicultural awareness, Leone's style, and Ford's humanism. Pretty tall order for an eight page comic, huh?

NRAMA: Are there any other sorts of period pieces you'd like to tackle?

JF: Honestly, if there was a way to make my living writing nothing but westerns, I'd do it. But, well, there's not. At least not one that I've figured out yet.

GP: A few years back, I finally filled in a gap in my literary education by reading all of Jane Austen's novels. I've become a total sucker for that time period and genre and am determined to eventually find a way to set a story in that milieu.

SM: On my own, probably not. I tend to stick to my own backyard so to speak. But if someone is foolish enough to ask me? I'm game to give anything a go.

NRAMA: What other sorts of projects are you working on currently?

SM: Busy busy—I'm working on my own anthology based on my ‘Bizarre New World’ concept. The entire human race can fly, and there are plenty of tales to tell about it. What would YOU do if you could fly? Michael Woods is returning the favor and penning a tale for my little book, just another benefit of meeting the man. I'm also co-producing a feature film called ‘The Lake Effect’, written and directed by the very talented Tara Miele. I'm also working on a screenplay, but then again, who isn't?

GP: I'm writing War Machine, finishing my run on Skaar and jumping back on board the Incredible Hulk book starting with issue #601 in August. I'm continuing to write Incredible Hercules with Fred Van Lente—keep an eye open for the big ‘Replacement Thor’ storyline starting in August. And I have a couple of creator-owned projects that I'm hoping to be able to announce in the next few months. I'm also continuing to write some short ‘Rio Chino’ stories—as long as Michael cranks out these anthologies, I'll be happy to contribute to them!

JF: I have a new graphic novel with my Elk’s Run co-creator, Noel Tuazon, that’s going to be announced at Comic-Con, and should be in stores soon after that. There’s also more of Punks the Comic (.com) in this year’s Tripwire Annual. Aside from that, lots of top secret things that are only top secret to inflate my sense of self-worth.

NRAMA: What about you, Michael? What are you working on?

MW: I'll be editing volume two of Outlaw, which is just about wrapped up on the production side, as well as 'Bruised Peach' with Dan Duncan. I also wrote a story for Dark Horse's Creepy re-launch in July and something for PopGun hitting some time after that.

Everything else is too early to talk about.

NRAMA: Turning back to the production of an anthology, Michael, what are some of the most important factors for selecting stories for an anthology?

MW: I think keeping a fairly consistent tone without sacrificing variety is pretty key. Maintaining a certain level of quality helps as well. Luckily for me, there are a lot of very talented writers out there wanting to do westerns but they don’t many a places to do them. Hopefully, this book does well enough to make people seek out more westerns and possibly even books from some of the other more neglected genres.

NRAMA: How many submissions did you receive? Was the submission open? Or did you contact folks discreetly?

MW: Outlaw is invitation only. I started the book with an open submission policy, but mostly got people asking, “Does the story have to be a Western?”

I thought it might be a good idea if they were, so I eventually closed submissions and started contacting people discreetly. This proved to be a much better method. Not only did it ensure I was reading stories from writers whose work I knew and enjoyed, it also left very few rejected pitches or notes over the series.

NRAMA: With the regularity of science fiction in today's comic book industry, are other genres—like Westerns—edgier? Are period piece tales the new sci-fi of the 21st Century?

MW: Yes! Absolutely! Everyone go buy Outlaw Territory! (laughs)

Seriously though, I don’t think any genre is more or less edgy than another. It’s all in how the material is handled. I think everyone on this book did a hell of a job with that—I’m very fortunate to have worked with talented artists and writers of such a high caliber. They all made this book what it is and I am grateful to each and every one.

JF: I don't know about edgier, but, they feel a lot more relevant to me. The Old West was a time of an amazing confluence of social change. Class lines were all but erased, the sense of security that comes with that was eradicated. It was literally just you and the world around you, having what amounted to a series of tiny escalating wars. That, to me, says a lot more about our times and our lot in life than flying cars and giant robots. Not that there's anything wrong with flying cars and giant robots.

SM: As with any story, that's all up to the execution of the tale in question. Thankfully, this book was put together by Michael. The guy gave us a very simple model to follow in that we needed to tell a no-nonsense straight up Western story—period. No aliens, no time machines, no BS. The book is gorgeous, gritty, and gory. What's not to love?

GP: Well, I'm a huge sci fi fan as well, so I wouldn't necessarily privilege one genre over the other. But I think there's something special about Westerns because they're really the prototype for a big chunk of mainstream American storytelling. Gangster movies, action movies, cop shows, barbarian stories, and a pretty big percentage of superhero movies are fundamentally Westerns. They're stories of communities that need protecting and outsiders who sacrifice their own place in the community or maybe even their own souls in order to provide that protection. So it's fun to go back to the source.

Outlaw Territory is currently in stores. For more, click here.

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