CROWDED & The Dangerous World of Apps

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)
Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Crowded is a fresh new series from Image Comics that focuses on Charlie, a seemingly average girl who receives a multi-million-dollar target on her head from a crowd-sourcing app called Reapr. Her only hope to survive is by hiring Vita, a low-grade bodyguard from the app, Dfend.

With two issues out and a third on its way this week, Crowded - by writer Christopher Sebela and artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt - has already been optioned for a movie by actor/producer Rebel Wilson.

Newsarama had a chance to talk to the creators of Crowded about Charlie and Vita’s infectious chemistry, how the movie adaptation affects their creative process, and what we can expect to see from the series moving forward.

Newsarama:  Ted, how did your collaboration with Christopher begin?

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Ted Brandt: It was one of those moments of serendipity! We were talking to our friend Juliette Capra (the book’s editor) saying we really needed to find work after we’d finished our issue of Unstoppable Wasp, right at the same time that Chris was telling her he needed artists for a bunch of pitches. Obviously we jumped at the chance of working with Chris, so we had a Skype call where he told us there were a bunch pitches available, if any took our interest. The first was Cold War, the second was Crowded, and we didn’t even need to hear the third.

Nrama: Christopher, one of my favorite things about this title is just how different Vita and Charlie’s personalities are, what can you tell us about their growing dynamic?

Christopher Sebela: I’ve always wanted to do a kind of buddy comedy thing. I grew up on movies about two people thrown together who totally do not belong together and I guess I felt like CROWDED was the best arena for me to take my stab at it. The dynamic of their “friendship” is what made this book more than just a cool concept with nothing hanging on it. If it was just the story of Reapr, that’d be boring, but following that concept thru these two women who need each other to survive in different ways makes it really sing for me.

Nrama: What’s your favorite part about illustrating Vita and Charlie, and their polar opposite personalities?

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Ro Stein: Part of it is the fact that they are opposites, so it never gets stale! You have to approach them very differently. One of the best things is trying to depict the clash between such strong personalities; they bring out emotional extremes in each other, and that’s always really fun to draw!

Brandt: I absolutely agree. Both are great but for very different reasons; Charlie’s range is wider than Vita’s, so we get to really push things far with her expressions, but by the same token it’s always delightful to work a lot of nuance into Vita’s many weary or angry faces! Plus, as time goes on, and we get to know them both better, it makes it much easier to play with this stuff, so I definitely think it gets a lot more engaging as we go.

Nrama: What was your creative process in forming their relationship?

Sebela: I went back and checked my notebook and for a long time I was struggling to figure out Charlie as our main character. Then I thought maybe Vita was our main character. Once I figured out it was the both of them, then it was just a matter of reverse engineering them from this situation I’m going to toss them into. I wrote up notes for Ro and Ted about Charlie and Vita’s lives, their pasts, marginalia about their lives that helps form who they are.

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Once I figured out who they were on that level, it was just a matter of writing to figure out their relationship. In general, everything was a lot grimmer and darker before I started writing it. Then having them kinda both flailing - Charlie in relation to everyone trying to kill her and Vita in relation to Charlie - made everything click for me.

Once I wrote that first issue, it helped me really figure out their relationship and how they interact and they were already telling me what they’d do in certain situations, so I knew half of my job was already done. Now I just had to follow them around and transcribe what they’d say and do, basically.

Nrama: Is there anything romantic brewing?

Sebela: It’s a pretty gay book, so yeah, there’s gonna be some romantic stuff going on. And not just with Charlie and Vita. I don’t wanna spoil anything, but issue #2 expanded our roster of characters a little bit and expands the possibilities. But I think there’s definitely not enough romance stuff in modern comics, so any chance I get to write some, I’m going to grab onto it and not let go.

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Nrama: One of my favorite pages from Crowded #1 was seeing Vita give Charlie a house tour and how you broke down those panels. Can you tell us a bit about the creative process of that page?

Stein: The first thing about it when we read it was that it was obvious we couldn’t just do a flat-on view; the house Chris described was too wide to fit comfortably while using the page height well, so we knew that would have to be something we played with.

Brandt: So the first practical thing we did was to make the entire house in SketchUp. We tried our best to make it architecturally sound, at least in terms of what would be visible in the cutaway, for example actually making each floor out of proper struts and surfacing. This was a very detailed piece of work, as we knew the house was going to have quite a few scenes there, so we needed to make sure it all worked properly.

Stein: Having that model made it easy to find the best angle to showcase the house, which is how we ended up with that 3/4 shot. From there, it was a matter of figuring out where each of the rooms were, which was done according to Chris’ description of each floor, and what would give us the best flow of action as they moved through that page. One of the fun things people have responded to was Dog having a widdle on the middle floor, and that came about purely because that space looked a little bare in the layout, so we wanted to just make sure there was at least something worthwhile in it.

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Nrama: Another thing I loved about Crowded #1 is that you make it obvious both Charlie and Vita have a past, that’s just how well you develop these characters. Are these stories you want to dive into right away or are you focusing more on the present?

Sebela: A little of both? I’m trying to treat Charlie and Vita as real people, despite the circumstances they find themselves in, and real people take awhile to unspool themselves to other people. No one just dumps out everything about themselves right away, especially if it involves stuff that they’re not sure they want other people to know about. So I definitely wanted to present them one way but make sure you know that there’s layers to both of them and we’re going to start peeling them back as we go, along with the mystery of why everyone wants Charlie dead. I feel like the more mysteries you have, the better, if you can keep all those plates spinning at the same time. So I’m doing my best to spin.

Nrama: Are we going to meet more bodyguards from Dfend?

Sebela: We are. #2 has a couple other Dfend guards. As we go, we’re planning on exploring more of all this stuff. Not as a focus, but as low-key worldbuilding. We want all this to feel natural and not like we’re stopping and going — hey look at this, we haven’t talked about this yet. And if we do have to do that, we’re trying to approach it in a new way, or at least framing it differently. Which is a long way of saying, yes, we’ll be seeing more guards and more Reapr killers and more of this messed-up world as we go.

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Nrama: What can you tell us about some of the assassins we can look forward to seeing in the series? 

Sebela: #2 introduces a couple of major players who may present actual big threats to Charlie and Vita, but most of the assassins are people just looking for an easy payday. Most of these people have never pointed a gun at a person in their lives so it’s a lot of people who think they’ll just do this thing and cash in and how doing it is not nearly as easy as it is thinking about it.

Nrama: This comic book has a big commentary on the over saturation of technology. What have you learned about our use of technology while working on this book?

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Sebela: I dunno that I have learned anything yet? Mostly I think I’ve cemented some thoughts I’ve had before I worked on this. Which is that technology isn’t a bad thing and no matter how much there is of it, it’s not what we have to be worried about. What we should worry about is what people do with that tech. Because no matter how amazing and beneficial some tech can be, someone will find a way to turn it into a weapon if they want to. That’s the premise I operate from with this book. But it’s early days yet and I look forward to changing my mind as I go, or at least sticking harder to my guns.

Nrama: An adaptation with Rebel Wilson was announced for this title even before release. Can you tell us a bit about how this came about?

Sebela: I somehow got an agent this year and I sent him issues of my upcoming books, including Crowded. Within a couple weeks, he already had it in Rebel’s hands and she’d read the first issue and loved it. Then I got on the phone with her and my agent and we talked about it and she clearly understood it and got what we were going for. A week or two after that, we were setting up the paperwork and stuff. It all happened a lot faster than any of us were anticipating, so it was mostly hanging on and seeing what happened.

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Nrama: How is the process for this going?

Sebela: Rebel is looking at writers for the movie and setting it up as a package to take to studios with her as a producer and starring in it. This is probably gonna be the longest part of the process, so luckily we have all these comics to make to distract us from thinking about it. I mean, all this could vanish in a month, so none of us is counting our chickens before they hatch, we just think it’s pretty cool and would like it to happen.

Nrama: Does your writing process for the comic change at all as you also prepare for the movie adaptation? 

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Sebela: Not a bit. We have our story that we’re telling and whatever the adaptation wants to do, that’s mostly out of our hands. It seems kinda weird that it’s even gotten this far, but if it does happen, I doubt it’ll be a 1 for 1 recreation of what we’re doing. Which I think we’re all fine with. The movie will be an interpretation of what we’re doing in the book, but the book is what’s most important to me and what comes first. 

Nrama: As artists have you been involved at all with the movie adaptation?

Brandt: Not so far! It’s all still very early days, which Chris can explain better than we can. If, when it reaches that point, they were interested in our input then of course we’d be delighted, but we also know that the film is Not Ours, and that’s fine! Our focus is just making sure the book is as good as we can make it.

Nrama: What are some sequences you are really excited to share with fans or a sequence you are most proud of?

Credit: Ro Stein (Image Comics)

Stein: I’m most happy with the vehicle chase in issue 3; I obviously can’t go into much detail as to the whos and whys, but I think we did a really good job with the action there.

Brandt: Oh, that’s really tough! I think my personal favourites are probably a conversation in issue 2 where we use the panel structure to communicate the discussion as much as the body language, which was some of my favourite composition so far, or the four-page sequence in issue 4 where Vita runs into [redacted] to rescue [redacted].

Nrama: Do you know how many issues you want to make this book? 

Sebela: We’re aiming somewhere around 24ish issues. We can either go the scenic route or a more direct road, but at least a couple arcs of stories before Charlie’s 30 days of her Reapr campaign are up.

Nrama: When is the collection for the book going to be available?

Sebela: The first trade will be out in March and it’ll have our first arc - 6 issues worth.

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