WWE isn't a newcomer to the comic book game, but two of its wrestlers are taking the plunge with their own independent, creator-owned comic book title.
C.J. Perry (WWE's Lana) and Miroslav Barnyashev (WWE's Rusev) have performed for the WWE for nearly a decade, including showing a version of their real lives in E's Total Divas. But now with the announcement of their first comic book series Dark Country, the pair are teaming up with writer Jason Starr (Punisher Max, The Range) to make every Wednesday Rusev Day at your friendly neighborhood comic shop.
Newsarama spoke with Perry about adding comic books into a busy touring schedule, teaming up with Starr, and their search for the perfect artist for Dark Country.
Newsarama: C.J., you're so incredibly busy, touring all the time for WWE. What's it like juggling that kind of schedule and working to bring a new comic book into the world?
C.J. “Lana” Perry: Oh, sometimes it gets really, really, really crazy and I get a little overwhelmed. But I feel like I love the adrenaline rush of being a little overwhelmed. And at the end of the day, I just love, love, love, love telling stories. Since I was a little girl, it was my dream to be a storyteller, and to do stories -- good versus evil, and, you know, put smiles on people's faces.
I was always a comic book fan, since I was a very little girl, watching Batman and Lois and Clark. I was obsessed with them, that show on TV. And I just always wanted to create a comic book. Creating these larger than life characters that are villains, and good guys, overcoming obstacles, and creating characters that are complex. And as human beings, we're complex, and we have a lot of different layers to us. So this has always been a very, very big passion of mine, creating a comic book, and I'm glad, I'm so thankful I'm able to do it right now.
Nrama: Being such a big fan of comic books, what are you reading -- when you have the time, what are you reading these days?
Perry: I've been reading The Punisher. I absolutely love The Punisher. I carry one, a new comic every single -- every time it comes out. That's what I actually carry in my bookbag. I've got a great comic book store about a mile away from my house in Nashville, so I hit up that place every Wednesday.
Nrama: You're working with Jason Starr, somebody who's written the Punisher before. How did you manage to link up with him? And how did you know that he was going to be the right fit for Dark Country?
Perry: I've always been a big fan of Jason Starr's work with a lot of other things he's written as well. He also does write novels. I also love that - comics, and superheroes, and supervillains that he writes, he also does a lot of stuff in fantasy novels and stuff with werewolves. I just love fantasy, I love anything to do with sci-fi, and he does a lot of that stuff, and I just felt like ... I was already reading a lot of his stuff, so I was already a fan of him, and when the opportunity came to meet we just really, really hit it off and really connected, and I really felt like it was a right fit. We also had a very great idea to create something, and we just felt like the time was right, and I really think that this will be one of many that we do.
Nrama: In the announcement video, you mention that you weren't really sharing a lot of details yet about Dark Country, but can you give us a little teaser? I know that Jason is known for, like you said, his fantasy work, his thriller work, his work on The Punisher. Is that a little bit of insight into what we can expect to see in Dark Country?
Perry: Yes, I don't want to give too much away, but we've actually already created the story, we've already created the characters and the names. But it's definitely going to be something that you've never seen or read before. I always find it really fascinating that you never see vampires and werewolves in the world of superheroes, you know? It's always separate. You always have either, you know, shadowhunters and werewolves and vampires and demons and angels, but you don't have all of a sudden someone from X-Men coming in, and having someone, you know, just being gifted, and having a superpower.
And I always find that really, really fascinating that those worlds are very separate. And yes, the sci-fi world or gods might come into Avengers - it's such a combination of all the worlds and Marvel coming together, but still you never see that combination of vampires coming into the comic book. Not comic book, but the superpowers, with gifted human beings that are muted together. And so I'm not - that's about all I'm going to give of a little bit of a teaser of what’s going to be happening in the comic books, but it's going to be something that has never been done before.
Nrama: It sounds really exciting!
Perry: I don't want to give it all away, but I'm going to hint at that.
Nrama: I was going to ask, is this going to be just one book, is this an ongoing series, but it sounds like you have plans for a really expansive world, a really expansive universe for this.
Perry: Yes, absolutely. I mean that was the biggest thing that we did. You know, we were talking, before we even mapped out what was going to happen in the first comic book, we wanted to create the world. I think the most important thing is, when you're doing comics, or writing anything, a thriller or just anything that has its own franchise - what is the world? What is the setting that they live in? And also what are they fighting for? What is in these characters? What are they fighting for?
I think that's a question that is very, very, very vital. And as human beings, that's what people are going to relate to, is like, what are you fighting for? Because in life, at the end of the day, that's what drives us, is what are we fighting for? And it’s at all different, it's at different levels, and different scales, but how what we've been through, and our past, and what we fight for can manifest in so many different types of ways.
And sometimes you can, you know, have been through whole bunch of stuff and become so obsessed with something that you're fighting for, or even do really, really bad things, because of... even if the idea of what you're fighting for is good. So a lot of that, we really, really talked a lot about that and explored that, because I think that's essential to creating a compelling comic.
Nrama: It's clear that you're so passionate about this, and it really feels like you're bringing a lot of who you are as a person and your personal experiences to this to try to help make the world feel more real, more relatable to readers.
Perry: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of the characters that we have, the two leading characters will be inspired from myself and will be inspired from Miroslav, also known as Rusev, inspired from us. And so like his character, he is not from America. I'm not going to tell you where he's from, but you know, he's not from the United States of America, and he's brought a lot of his own journey into creating the character that he is, and this comic book.
For both of us, and my one thing with him is, as a little boy and he was already born at 15 pounds, his mother gave birth to him for three days - which is crazy - and so those types of things will be in the comic. And then as well, he battled a lot with being sick as a kid. He was sick a lot. And they would want to try to like, put him in sports or something to try to help with the sickness. And so all these types of things are going to be, we're taking these elements and putting it into the character. And then obviously enhancing it, and you know, evolving it a little bit, but it's derived from a lot of my own personal experiences.
Nrama: And then with something so personal, you and Miroslav (Rusev) have opened up a contest to find a paid artist to help you bring this world to life. How will you know when you've found the right artist for this world? What are you looking for when artists are submitting?
Perry: Well, one really big thing that we wanted to do when we issued this contest was to really get all our fans and followers, and the WWE Universe and comic book fans that follow us, and comic book fans that follow Jason Starr as well, really give them a chance to be a part of this journey. Really give them a chance, really have them be a part of like, yes. This is where we're starting. This is where we want artists to submit. We want people to be a part of it. We want people to even throw ideas out just because we want people to be a part of this journey.
We just don't want to throw out like, oh, this is the, this is the final product. We want people to be a part of it, the journey, because I think that in itself is inspiring to people, and hopefully it's inspiring to people. Because there are a lot of people that have dreams out there. To the comic book fans out there, the people that have dreams that they might want to create their own comic book or be an artist, or have other dreams as well, you know, anything is possible.
Any dream is possible, the sky's the limit, and to show this journey and to share it with everyone, I really want people to be a part of my journey. Because there are setbacks in life, and there are things that we have to really, really fight for, and it sometimes can be really difficult and I want to share that with the world, to know that they're not alone, and hope to encourage others to do the same. And so when we're looking for an artist, we want to obviously give everyone a chance. Maybe give artists that we've never heard of before actually a shot to collaborate with us, help us create some incredible art, and have a shot of making their dreams really a reality.
Nrama: It’s really great too that you came out there and you said, "We want to open this up. We want to make it something that all of our fans and this whole community can be a part of, but also we want to let you know that we value you! This is for a paying job, it is for the work of helping us create this comic." Instead of, "Ah well, we want to have you on, and you know, you might get some exposure."
I think that's really important. I think that just speaks a lot to the passion that you that you and Miroslav have really brought to this project.
Perry: Yes, thank you. We're really excited about it, and I'd love for anyone to just -- any comic book artist out there, to submit their art to email@example.com. Deadline is May 1, and then we'll announce the winner May 15, and it is a paying gig. We're just inviting everyone to show their stuff, because we want to … you never know what is out there. You never know! The diamond in the rough. You give people the opportunity.
Nrama: When can we expect to see Dark Country out in the wild? First you have to find an artist, obviously, then you have to draw a comic book, which will take a while. But when are you kind of hoping to have this out there for everybody to pick up?
Perry: Well, May 15, we announce the artist who is going to be working with us, and then we're going to start collaborating with the art. Jason Starr is very well into actually already writing the comic, and then it's just working with the artist! And then we'll continue to show the journey, and give you spoilers, and give you -- bring the comic world and our fans and followers along the journey. And so I can't give you an exact date right now, but that's why, like, follow us on Instagram at TheLanaWWE, and RusevIG, and we'll keep you posted on all the dates that things are coming out.