Bullets and fists fly in a world of secrets and spies in Die! Die! Die! by writers Robert Kirkman and Scott M. Gimple, artist Chris Burnham, and colorist Nathan Fairbairn. The fourth issue of the series hits shelves this week, sneaking its way onto shelves like it did with its surpise launch this summer.
Burnham has given the series some unforgettable visuals and striking violence evocative of a grindhouse action movie, but even he admits to having to scale it back once or twice at Kirkman’s behest. Newsarama spoke with Burnham about the series, this week's, and having to draw some incredibly violent imagery.
Newsarama: So Chris, I think the most "fun" thing about the Die! Die! Die! so far is how you incorporate the title into actual dialog, almost like a TV intro, how do you plan that sort of segue in your head?
Chris Burnham: You’d have to ask Robert and Scott! They write it, I draw it!
Nrama: Okay, fair, what can you tell us about the Die! Die! Die! so far for those uninitiated with the series?
Burnham: There’s a secret cabal inside the U.S. government that nudges world events into place via financial manipulation, targeted assassination, and intestinal prankery. Working in and around this cabal are three identical brothers: Paul (the good one), George (the bad one) and John (the neutral-ish one). As of #4, Paul has been killed and George has secretly taken his place. Will George succeed in using the cabal for chaos and financial gain? Does Nate suspect the truth? With John come to the rescue and straighten things out? I don’t know! But as we find out there will definitely be lots and action, violence and horrible horrible jokes.
Nrama: I want to talk about your process of choreographing the fight scenes because every issue so far is like a mini-action movie. Even the fight with Paul and George on the roof and Nate's situation down below, it all comes together so well.
Burnham: Well thanks! When it comes to fight scenes, my first concern is always clarity. The storytelling needs to be as clear as possible so the reader can see exactly what's going on instantaneously. If you have to pause for even a fraction of a second to figure out what's happening, the action comes to a screeching halt and you’re ripped out of the story. At the start of my process, I draw very tiny thumbnail sketches, often multiple versions of each page to try out different panel arrangements and camera angles.
And I’m always trying to figure out how much visual information I need to give the reader so they understand precisely what’s happening. Do I need the fighter’s full bodies? Do I need to show the entire environment? Are the character’s physical relationships established well enough that I can cut all the way into a tight closeup? And so on.
While I’m doing all that, I’m also trying to make the motion/vectors be in right line with the motion of the reader's eyes from panel to panel. That adds to the perception of the speed of the action and also makes the reader an active participant; a punch is just sitting there on the page until they read it to life! Alternately, if a character is standing in direct opposition to the reading direction, it's like driving the readers' eyes into a brick wall. Very effective if done intentionally!
Nrama: What I think I like best about it, aside from the ‘80s, early ‘90s action movie aesthetics is that everybody has a story and almost feels like Game of Thrones in a way where even though you see a lot of point of views, you shouldn't get attached to certain characters, which caught me off guard.
Burnham: Great! I’m glad you like it! I love a subplot. Maybe my favorite comic ever is Savage Dragon, and when it’s really humming it is positively cram-packed with subplots. All sorts of wacky characters doing exciting and mysterious things. And Erik Larsen is absolutely heartless with what he’s willing to do to his characters. Game of Thrones is like My Little Pony by comparison!
Nrama: How did Robert approach you for Die! Die! Die!? Were you in the middle of anything else at the time?
Burnham: He called me up out of the blue when I was just about to start work on another project. I had to pull out of it at the absolute last minute (or maybe a few minutes after), and it got a little dicey. But they found an amazing artist to replace me and it ended up being a pretty huge break for him and a great fit for the project. It all worked out great for everyone across the board! Whew!
Nrama: Nathan Fairbairn is pretty much your go-to colorist. What is it about his palette that you think works so well with your linework?
Burnham: My color vocabulary is pretty limited, so I can’t speak intelligently about his palette per se, but what I really appreciate about Nathan is he always colors along with the linework rather than on top of or underneath it.
There’s a lot of colorists out there that are very good at Photoshop but don’t really understand the fundamentals of form, lighting, and perspective. Nathan is a pretty accomplished artist in his own right, so he’s really able to capture and clarify the forms and actions that my lines are describing.
Nathan is also a spectacular writer and storyteller (pick up his Lake of Fire while you’re buying Die! Die! Die! #4) so he’s always coloring with the goal of setting the emotional tone of a scene and pushing the clarity/readability of every action.
Nrama: Let's talk about Die! Die! Die! #4, or can you at this point because the cover and everything about it before today was redacted by Image and Skybound?
Burnham: Ha! Well, I took so long answering these questions that issue four actually comes out today!
I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are a few absolutely hilarious gross-out gags to look forward to and also a bit of horrific violence that really bothered me to draw. Neck trauma never used to gross me out when I was growing up - I could watch Jason slash people’s throats all day long and never flinch - but ever since I read a particularly graphic description of Nicole Brown Simpson’s murder, which O.J. did, throat/neck stuff has really pushed my buttons.
Anyhow, at the end of #3, George (the evil brother) was masquerading as his dead brother Paul and sitting down to a romantic dinner with Paul’s girlfriend, Jennifer. But she quickly saw through his ruse and pinned him against the wall with a kick to the neck! So we open up this issue with a spiffy fight scene between the two of them! I don’t want to say anything more than that.
Nrama: Do you get a lot of notes or feedback from Robert or Scott or is it pretty much carte blanche on how insane you can get with some of this imagery?
Burnham: I think I mentioned this in the backmatter of the second issue, but Robert asked me to redraw the initial nose slicing scene since my initial take on it was a little too fun and goofy looking. He really wanted to focus on the agony of the moment to contrast with the quick and breezy violence of the previous scene. Once we had that aesthetic note dialed in I can’t really think of any other major changes.
Oh! I had a pretty brutal eye-gouging planned for an upcoming cover, but Robert had me pull it back just a tad. But he caught it while it was still in the layout stage so it wasn’t a problem. I made it just ambiguous enough that you can feel the gouging without actually seeing any empty sockets or torn retinas!