As the creator of Sons of Anarchy and one of the key writers on The Shield, Kurt Sutter is responsible for some of the darkest, most depraved moments in television. More recently, he’s brought his sensibilities to comic books... where he has all of heaven, hell, and history in which to wreak havoc.
(And a bigger special effects budget.)
Lucas Stand: Inner Demons, out this week from BOOM! Studios, is the second volume in the supernatural thriller masterminded by Sutter, with writing by Coffin Hill’s Caitlin Kittredge and art by Jesús Hervás (Penny Dreadful). It’s the tale of the titular ex-Marine, who’s found himself bound to a force that sends him throughout history to kill demons escaped from Hell. In the new volume, Lucas thinks he’s free…but his need for vengeance has put him on the radar of more than one being, and things are only going to get darker from there.
We spoke to Sutter, whose Sons of Anarchy spinoff Mayans was recently picked up to series, about working in comic books, and why Lucas Stand represents a unique story for him.
Newsarama: Kurt, what are some things you learned from doing the first miniseries that affected how you approached doing this new volume?
Kurt Sutter: This whole medium has been such a blast for me, such a great education, and creatively, it’s helped expand the way I tell stories. I would say that so much of what I learned from the first six issues came from Jesús’ art and from Caitlin’s writing.
I had the broad strokes in place – this started out as a TV script, so the first two issues were kind of the story that we covered in the pilot.
So, I had those broad strokes, and the marching orders in place - there were some periods of history I wanted to cover, and I wanted the supernatural world to be as complex and unpredictable as the real world, in terms of shades of gray, right?
Suddenly, you take all the rules of are world, where everyone, friend or foe, has an agenda, and relationships change based on who’s currently enemies and allies. I wanted to take those principles and those characteristics and apply them to a world we typically see as very black and white, good and evil, to infuse it with complex shades of gray. At what point do you find yourself on the other side of the line?
When does your friend become your enemy? Everything’s shifting.
What I learned from those first six issues is just what you can do (in comics) - how much nuance you can bring to it. In TV, I can create the rules of my world, but then I have to stick to them, right? I can’t suddenly change the rules, or I’ll lose the audience. I can manipulate, or I can slowly transition the rules into something else.
In comic books, you can establish the rules, then f***ing break the rules two issues, later, then repair the rules, then…the sandbox is just so much bigger, and the ability to, if not reinvent, but to have your character really go through massive changes…we get to do that on a much bigger scope than I ever imagined.
Coming into this new series – and at this point, Caitlin knows the character much better than I do. I was just talking to her, and it’s like she’s peeled back another layer of the onion for the character. So, we’re creating shades within shades, and nuances within nuances, and we can do that now, because we’ve established the world and how it works, right?
We have a character we know and understand, and Caitlin really trusts herself to move forward in a nuanced direction because knows where she’s going with it, and she’s not going to lose the audience with that direction, and she’s not going to write herself into a corner. You just trust yourself more, and it allows yourself to take the gloves off and go even deeper.
And I was really naïve about that. I had this preconceived notion about how the stories had to be really simple. And it’s been such a great education for me creatively, and really exciting.
Nrama: It’s a common thread in talking to people who’ve come to comics after success in other media – movies, TV, novels, you name it – that they say writing for comics proved more difficult for them than doing prose or live-action. Have you found that to be the case with your comics work?
Sutter: I would say - I think if I’m interpreting that response, I think it’s harder, in a sense, when there’s less rules. That’s just my take. When you’re doing a novel, there’s an expectation of how that’s going to play out, how a big story arc will turn out. There’s similar guidelines for features, for TV.
When you’re in a world without as many parameters, without as many f***ing bumpers, it suddenly becomes almost more difficult. Not because you have too many choices, but because you no longer have mile markers, right? You no longer have those things that say, “I’m this far in, so I should do this,” or “I’m 20 minutes in, now I need to have this happen, so I won’t lose my audience.”
Not that there’s not a formula or a process to graphic novels and comic books as well, but for me, that was the biggest adjustment – and ultimately, something I just f***ing loved. [Laughs] I can see why for many people, that would be a case of “Oh s**t! I don’t know how to work without those rules!”
Nrama: A two-part question: What are some of your favorite comics and/or comic creators, and what are some comics or comic book characters you’d like to take a stab at adapting into film or television?
Sutter: You know, I was not a comic book kid. I came into this world kind of late in the game – I discovered graphic novels when I was traveling abroad about 15, 20 years ago. The graphic novel market was exploding in Europe, and what was cool was that I couldn’t tell what the characters were saying most of the time, but the visuals were amazing! When I got back home, I started diving in and looking at properties and going, “Woah, there’s some amazing f***ing s**t happening here!”
There are a couple of comic-book vendors I was working on some projects with, but I found I had trouble applying the vastness, the scope of what can be done in comics to the formula of what at that point was a feature. I didn’t know how to cheat. You watch some of these big features that are made from big properties, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t right? But I couldn’t figure out how to do it.
And then, I was reintroduced to it all through the Sons of Anarchy comic book we’re doing with BOOM!, and I became more plugged in, but I was still really naïve. I was telling someone earlier that what I love about this job is that there’s so many kinds of artists – like Jesús, and these artists we bring in to do specialty covers – all these levels of creatives who are involved.
This year, I’ll be going to Comic-Con with Mayans, but hopefully I’ll be going to Comic-Con with Lucas Stand as well. In the last two years, I didn’t have a show on the air, I went to Comic-Con with a f***ing comic book, and I felt like, “I should actually be here! I actually have a comic book!”
I don’t mean to be cryptic, but I’m still naïve about it. Even now, when I pick up comics at newsstands I go to, I’ll take a look at who the artist is, who the colorist is. I’m just now becoming aware of the level of work and creativity that goes into a comic, that I suspect that an average person might be unaware of as well. And it’s so much f***ing fun.
Nrama: So, you’re in the second volume of the series now – do you have a projected scope for Lucas Stand? That is, an overall story for the character, how many volumes you might do?
Sutter: I don’t think so. Initially, when I was thinking about it in the TV medium, I knew there was an interesting serialized component to the character and the world. And as we do more comics and Caitlin brings him to life, the character and his journey evolve. I have a sense of how these end in their six-issue runs, and then I go, “Cool! Now, the character can go here…”
There will probably come a point where we feel like we’ve told all the good stories, and don’t want to keep doing the same old s**t or anything that’s going to compromise what we’ve done. But as of yet, I’m not there. In TV sometimes, I have a sense of an overall mythology for something, but I don’t have that with the character of Lucas.
And I think that speaks to the scope of the comic book world – you don’t necessarily have those walls that indicate how long a story needs to be. So, until it starts to suck, I’m going to keep doing it.