Weddings rarely go off without a hitch, so to speak. And this wedding has some uninvited guests, specifically a gang of gun-wielding, Elvis-masked robbers. Even worse – the bride’s having doubts. Will anyone be alive to say “I do?”
To find out, check out Going to the Chapel, the new romantic comedy-thriller limited series from Action Lab Entertainment that premieres this week. Newsarama spoke with the series' writer David Pepose (who is also Newsarama's Reviews Editor) about the new series, bad wedding experiences, and much more.
Newsarama: David, where did the initial inspiration for Going to the Chapel come from, and why did you feel it was best to do this as a comic book?
David Pepose: Going to the Chapel is the story of Emily Anderson, a wealthy bride with a serious case of cold feet - but before she can say anything, her wedding is taken over by a group of bank robbers known as the Bad Elvis Gang. Of course, one thing leads to another, and what was originally a simple smash-and-grab turns into a full-blown standoff with the police, as Emily becomes the ringleader of her own hostage situation in order to decide what her happily ever after really looks like. So, you know - like most weddings! [Laughs]
This series was inspired by my time as the best man at my oldest friend’s wedding - and what an insanely terrible job I did at it. [Laughs] The bachelor party in particular was cursed - the Airbnb was trashed, I literally rented inflatable sumo suits not knowing the backyard was at a 45-degree angle, and I actually wound up in the hospital with a kidney stone and missed the whole thing. It made me think a bit of The Hangover, about a bachelor party from Hell - and then I thought, what if this happened during the wedding?
As far as what made me want to pursue this as a comic, I think comics are all about rhythm and style - every page is about pacing how you want to deliver information, and it’s the kind of thought a complex story like Going to the Chapel needs. I felt it was important to be able to stop and linger on the big moments and reveals our story holds. That’s the best part about comics, for me - readers can keep up with our crazy heist story at their own pace.
Nrama: There are relatively few romantic comedies in comics - what were some of the biggest challenges in doing something that's so often based in dialogue in comic books, where the emphasis on visuals and limited space often don't allow for capturing that kind of pacing?
Pepose: The great thing about capturing comedy in comics is that a reader is more inclined to make the leap when the line is in print - they “hear” the delivery and fill in the blanks for you. But when you’re juggling 15 cast members in an enclosed space like we are, that’s where working with an artist like Gavin Guidry comes in - while you don’t have someone’s voice to deliver the joke for you, having someone with Gavin’s expressiveness really sells a character’s personality and tone, even with just one line of dialogue.
With Going to the Chapel in particular, it made me think of a rule from Upright Citizens Brigade - namely, that it’s easier to remember something than to invent. That’s what I think is so relatable with this book - everyone’s been to a wedding, and everyone knows what dysfunctional family looks like. When everyone has an image in their mind, it’s much easier to conjure that feeling up in a limited amount of space.
Nrama: Let's talk more about working with your collaborators -- what were some of the unique challenges in putting the story together, and what do they bring to the work?
Pepose: Gavin Guidry is the artist on our book, and I think he’s got an incredible future in comics ahead of him. He’s got this style that’s right in the middle of that stylistic Venn diagram between Jamie McKelvie and Doc Shaner - he’s got such clean linework, but he’s also able to squeeze out every drop of emotion from every character. He’s also a machine - Gavin draws incredibly fast, which meant I had to put the pedal to the metal to stay ahead of him script-wise.
Our colorist Liz Kramer, meanwhile, helps bring Gavin’s already incredible linework to the next level. She’s such a big part of establishing the visual tone of our series, and by taking inspiration from artists like Matt Wilson and Patricia Martin, Liz has delivered a color palette that makes Going to the Chapel look so beautiful and unique. There’s really no books like us in the Direct Market, and it’s thanks to Gavin and Liz that we’re able to so swiftly switch gears between stylish action, laugh-out-loud comedy, and heartfelt drama - sometimes on the same page.
And in addition to our ace letterer Ariana Maher making all my one-liners pop, we’ve got a real murderer’s row of cover artists joining Gavin on the book, including Long Lost’s Lisa Sterle, Marvel Action: Captain Marvel’s Sweeney Boo, The Wilds’ Emily Pearson, Thrilling Adventure Hour’s MJ Erickson, and a few other amazing names I can’t disclose just yet. These are just incredibly gifted artists, and what’s been even more encouraging is that as soon as I sent them the outline for our series, they each responded with so much enthusiasm.
Nrama: And what are some of the biggest tricks in balancing the action and character/relationship aspects of the story? For the tale to work, you have to be as invested in the emotional stakes of the relationship as whether or not anyone gets blown away.
Pepose: I absolutely agree - character has to come first, whether you’re working on a romcom or an action thriller or a horror story. Because like you said, if you’re not invested in the emotional stakes, all the rest of it is meaningless. That’s why I think Emily’s journey in Going to the Chapel is so relatable - not that everyone has had cold feet heading to the altar, but I think everyone has a past, and everyone is shaped by their previous relationships. Sometimes you grow from them, but sometimes relationships leave scars - scars you’ll have to overcome in order to have any sort of future.
Going to the Chapel I think lends itself well to my favorite writer’s trick - namely, because we’re playing with action, romance and comedy, I’m able to switch gears whenever the words just aren’t coming. If things start to feel slow, I can inject some action to liven things up - but at the end of the day, my goal is to make the characters interesting enough that I want to spend time with them. Thankfully, Emily, her family, and the Bad Elvis Gang all come with larger-than-life personalities, so every appearance goes a long way.
Nrama: Curious as to how much it cost to clear the lyrics for the original “Going to the Chapel” song, which appear in the first issue. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky ran into some roadblocks a few years ago using “Fat Bottomed Girls” in Sex Criminals and made a hilarious joke out of that.
Pepose: It cost a couple hundred dollars — thankfully nothing that broke the bank! My friend Rylend Grant often uses songs in his books Aberrant and Banjax, and he clued me in on how getting approvals works. So remember, kids, no matter what you read at your comic book shop, the Bad Elvis Gang are fictional characters - always pay for music rights.
Nrama: Would you recommend the book as a wedding gift, or as a gift to scare people off from getting married?
Pepose: Absolutely - our trade is coming out on Valentine’s Day week for reason! I think pop culture ultimately treats love and marriage as a destination rather than a journey — and given how stressful it is to put on a wedding, this is exactly the kind of book that’ll give you some laughs and take the edge off. Even if you think your family is a mess, at least you don’t have to worry about bank robbers!
Nrama: Also, any favorite insane weddings from fiction? Warnng: you might have to reveal some soap opera knowledge here.
Pepose: Cyclops and Jean Grey, obviously! [Laughs] Those crazy kids. There’s Johnny Storm marrying a Skrull. But even across pop culture, I love Kill Bill, The Graduate, hell, even Spaceballs… there’s just something so dramatic about weddings. It’s a ceremony about lifelong commitment, where they also leave a space for people to object - it’s crazy, but I think those swerves really get people invested.
Nrama: Like Spencer & Locke, you're doing this through Action Lab. What do you enjoy about working with that company?
Pepose: I’ve really loved working with Action Lab. They trust creators to just tell their stories, and I think that’s something that’s increasingly rare in today’s marketplace. My whole career thus far has been me telling stories that people have said were impossible to sell - but Action Lab has been about publishing comics that they’re genuinely interested in, and I think they’ve been just as excited as I am about seeing books like Going to the Chapel and Spencer & Locke coming to life. They’ve been a great home, and I’m excited to keep telling stories with them.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Pepose: Lots of irons in the fire right now. I’m still hard at work on Grand Theft Astro, my upcoming sci-fi heist series with artist Jordi Perez - I’m in the middle of the second-to-last script now, and I think fans of Star Wars and The Fast and the Furious are going to love what we’ve got cooking. I’ve also got an unannounced crime series that has a publisher and an art team attached - when we’re able to finally talk about that one, I think readers are going to be really excited.
Beyond that, it’s just working on more pitches. I’ve got an epic fantasy in the works that is almost like a spiritual successor to Spencer & Locke in a way - there’s an incredible art team attached, and we’re in the process of finding the right home for it. I’ve got a handful of sci-fi ideas that I’ve been playing around with over the past few months, and I’m just hyper-critical enough that I’m starting to get attached. [Laughs]
That’s the thing, though - I feel like I’m only just starting to level up as a writer now. I’m starting to find all sorts of themes and storytelling techniques that I find myself gravitating towards, and that exploration is just such a blast.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Pepose: People have been asking me since I first pitched this project, “why romcoms?” And there’s a lot of reasons for that. Ultimately, I think about comics in an existential fashion - what is it going to take to bring more people to the table, to have a sustainable industry that can go the distance? And I think that diversity in storytelling, concepts and creators is the best way to do that. Sometimes that means going against the grain - and that’s why writing Going to the Chapel felt so important to me.
Romcoms get a bad rap, not just in the Direct Market, but pop culture as a whole - there are men who feel their masculinity is threatened by them, and women feel like their intelligence or respect is at stake if they enjoy them. But I look at some of my favorite stories - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, About Time, 500 Days of Summer - and they all come from the same narrative foundation of love and romance. Romance is just as flexible a genre as superheroes, sci-fi, or crime, and with Going to the Chapel, we’re looking to remind readers of that. This is a book that’ll make you laugh, make you cheer, and maybe even make you tear up a little along the way. Love might be the ultimate hostage situation — but Going to the Chapel is the kind of shotgun wedding you’ll find yourself wishing would never end.