As marijuana becomes legalized in more and more places, the true side effects of its usage are becoming more and more known... but there's one they won't tell you about: it makes you see aliens.
That’s the premise of Burnouts, Dennis Culver and Geoffo's new Image Comics series where high schoolers get high to save their small town - a task that’s not particularly easy when you’re a previously clean teen whose first puff has lit up his world in several ways.
Culver and Geoffo spoke with Newsarama for the blunt facts about this new series.
Newsarama: Dennis, Geoffo, tell us about the Burnouts – the characters and the book.
Dennis Culver: Burnouts is about the worst kids in school, the ones your parents told you not hang out with, being the only line of the defense against an alien invasion that no one else can see. The only problem is that the Burnouts can only see the aliens when they get high.
Our main character is one of the best/nerdiest kids in school, Andy. In an act of rebellion, he sneaks out to a party and tries marijuana for the first time. He discovers he can also see the aliens and is drawn into the haphazard high stakes world of the Burnouts.
It's They Live meets Freaks & Geeks.
Geoffo: Beyond the marijuana, the aliens, and all the action, this is also about the teenage anxieties most of us have gone through in high school: How to look cool, how to get the boy/girl, how to have fun and get wasted. We just added life-or-death stakes on top of all of that.
Nrama: What were some of the inspirations for the premise? Aside from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and such, it seems to draw from such mythological basis as the Japanese shojo.
Culver: Body Snatchers and the aforementioned They Live, plus nearly everything set in a high school. I had been kicking around the idea of people tasked with fighting an enemy that only they could see, but I was having trouble making it work until I decided to frame in a high school setting.
Once I landed on the idea that the outcasts and dirtbags of high school being the heroes, it all fell into place.
Nrama: What made Image the right place for this book?
Culver: Image was my first choice for the book, but I ran it by some smaller publishers first, because it was my first indie book as a writer. Those publishers actually passed on it out of concerns for the drug content, but they all had encouraging things to say about the content.
I finally asked [former Image Comics employee] David Brothers if he would put it in front of Eric Stephenson at Image, and once Eric read the outline and first issue, he got in touch with me immediately and said he was interested. I should have trusted my gut and pitched there first!
Geoffo: Nowadays, there are a lot of great indie publishers, but Image is a childhood dream. My first buy was a French Spawn issue, so Image always had a special place in my heart.
Image is so open-minded and has such a variety of comic books that it seemed natural to have Burnouts published next to Deadly Class, Redneck, and Saga. Let's just hope we'll have a nice reception as well!
Nrama: The book draws heavily from the conflicting messages about marijuana in society - the Reefer Madness-type paranoia as a "gateway drug," and the social/casual aspect of its use, along with benefits. What is your own perspective on the issue?
Culver: To be clear I think both Geoffo and myself are more like Andy than the Burnouts, certainly when we were that age.
Like a lot of people, I think Andy learns that the scare tactics the adults use to get him to stay away from adult things are misleading, but also the people extolling the many benefits of weed and booze aren't exactly perfect either. A major theme in the book is about finding your level, which I think will resonate with just about everyone who transitioned from punk kid to mostly responsible adult.
Finding your level here just means getting high enough to see the very real dangers around you, but also staying sober enough to actually do something about it.
Geoffo: I love that, in Burnouts, we are not saying “smoke weed, or you'll be a loser”, or “stay sober, or you'll be a loser.”
In the story, smoking has a purpose, though it comes with a cost – to be under influence isn't the best way to fight or convince people you are seeing aliens. But without it, they can't see and fight aliens.
And this is what I liked with Burnouts – marijuana is not here to escape reality, this is quite the opposite.
Hopefully, when people will read it, they'll see that we are not doing a political statement about marijuana.
Nrama: What's your collaboration like on the book?
Geoffo: It's awesome! Dennis is very open-minded to my art and storytelling.
Once I have the script, I'll do a draft that sometimes adds or removes a panel to get a better rhythm, then send it to him, and if he has notes, we'll discuss.
Sometimes we disagree, so we have to do a virtual rock, paper, scissor. And obviously we discuss a lot during the process – which I prefer to getting the script with no contact at all with the writer.
Dennis likes to say I do the heavy work, but he is the one preparing all the ingredients! I wouldn't know how to write those guys, but I love drawing them!
Culver: Having drawn comics for myself or other writers gives Geoffo and I a common vocabulary. We collaborate the heaviest in the layouts, and if I have a hard time articulating something I can always draw what I'm thinking. Geoffo is a fantastic cartoonist, and he brings a lot of acting and humor to the book.
Burnouts wouldn't exist without him.
Nrama: What's the trickiest part about writing/drawing teenagers, in terms of remembering the experience, getting the look/body language right, etc.?
Culver: I'm a big fan of movies like Mean Girls and other high school comedies, so I think that definitely informs my writing. I draw form some my own experiences and just write it until it sounds right. Also, it's important to have colleagues you can bounce your scripts off of who will give you honest feedback.
Geoffo: The trickiest part is always to draw the body language right. Human bodies and facial expressions convey so much emotion, I'm always trying to use them carefully. I don't want my characters to look like they are acting.
Also, another tricky part is to give them depth, in their designs and attitudes.
On a personal funny note: When I read a comic book, I tend to forget the names of the characters. But if the artist did his work, I'll still recognize them and never mix up who is who.
So, I try to have very distinct, cool designs and behavior for every character.
I recognize a lot of myself in Andy, so it's easy to think of how he would behave. I also gave him a lot of my clothing, easier for reference!
Nrama: If you could see invisible aliens around us, what would you do?
Culver: Seek psychiatric help.
Geoffo: I would freak out, mainly. Andy is lucky to find the Burnouts right away. I wouldn't even know how to process this, and I would probably end up possessed. The end.
Nrama: How long do you see this story unfolding, and what are some twists we'll encounter along the way?
Culver: We have several arcs planned for the book. I don't want to ruin the fun by revealing all the twists, but this book is going places you are not expecting.
Nrama: Before we wrap up, is there anything more you want to say about the book to readers?
Culver: There's nothing like this book on the stands and I promise you once we hit the end of the first arc with Issue #5, this is a book everyone will be talking about. Do you want to be one of the cool kids getting in on the ground floor, or do you want to be chasing the Burnouts bandwagon six months from now?
Call your comics retailer right now and tell them you want to order this book. Final order cutoff is August 27. Do it. Be cool like The Burnouts.
Geoffo: Burnouts is filled with action, dark humor and a great sci-fi story. This is John Carpenter meets Stranger Things.
This is not skits about stoners reenacting their favorite scenes from Jackass.
This will sound bold, but to me, Dennis is a great writer – he's a master of rhythm and pacing. Once you start reading it, you can't put it down.
Issue #3 is one of my favorite issue so far, so much tension in it – and it keeps growing in the following issues.
Nrama: What are some other books/creators you're currently enjoying?
Culver: I try to keep up with the industry and read everything including big two, indie, and manga both old and new.
Current standouts are Thor, Doom Patrol, Paper Girls, and always Vagabond.
The Tom King/Lee Weeks Batman arc that just wrapped up is A+ comics.
Geoffo: Writers: Ales Kot, Donny Cates, Kelly Thompson, G. Willow Wilson, and for the art I'd say R.M. Guéra, Jason Latour, Chirs Samnee, David Aja, Bengal & JP Leon. And obviously so much more.
Nrama What's next for you?
Culver: More writing for me. In addition to Burnouts I have a couple more projects in development, but it's too early to talk about them!
Geoffo: My main focus will be Burnouts in the coming months.
For the last two years, I have been working for Marvel Comics as layout artist on their Marvel Video Comics (that include Marvel Rising digital shorts) so it should be out at some point.
Also working for French publisher Dupuis (Spirou) on something called The Apartment and something else in animation (storyboards)
Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Geoff: I hope people will love Burnouts the same way we love working on it. And, as cliché as it sounds, I want to thank our book's team (Lauren Perry, Dave Dwonch, Dylan Todd, Chris Burnham and Allen Passalaqua) and the Image publishing and marketing team, they all do amazing work to make our book look so good!
Culver: I'll leave with this tagline: Burnouts - Saving the world one puff at a time.