The line between comics and Hollywood has been pretty blurry over the last decade. Comics are adapted into movies, TV shows get extra seasons via print, and movies get tie-in comics that reveal untold stories about their characters.
Part of the reason for the recent synergy is that a lot of filmmakers are long-time comic book readers -- their fandom evidenced by not only the emergence of comic respect in Hollywood, but also the influx of screenwriters who moonlight in comics.
Now Arcana has added two creators to the list of movie-people-turned-comic-writers: Daniel Alter and Scott Milam. The pair's upcoming graphic novel, Killing Machine, tells the futuristic story of a rogue government agent who uses his alien-tech abilities to track down his family's killers. With art by Kenneth Loh, the graphic novel is due to hit stores later this year, with a its success determining a planned series of graphic novels from Arcana.
The idea for the story in Killing Machine came from Milam, who is the screenwriter for the upcoming Mother's Day and is adapting Dark Horse's The Secret for film. He took it to Alter, producer on the recent Hitman, who's also behind a Johnny Quest movie and the adaptation of Devil Due's Hack/Slash.
Now the two are working together with Arcana to bring the story to a graphic novel, but there are plans to expand to other media. Newsarama tracked down the writers to find out more about Killing Machine, and why a couple of movie people want to take their idea to comics.
Newsarama: Dan and Scott, since you're movie guys who decided to do a comic, have you been comic book fans for awhile?
Scott Milam: Definitely. I started out wanting to be a comic book artist when I was a kid. I loved Spider-Man, Superman -- the World of Krypton series was my favorite -- and others but it all started with wanting to create characters of my own. I actually drew a comic, briefly, in junior high school. And then graduated to buying thick note pads and animating cartoon adventures of my favorite comic book characters. My art teacher took a special interest in me when I announced I wanted to be a Disney animator. Suffice to say, she became disappointed when I discovered a Super-8 camera and wanted to make films.
And it was just as well, compared to all the amazing artists out there now, I pale in comparison. Years later, it's ironic that I've come full-circle back to my original passion.
Daniel Alter: I grew up collecting the Marvel trading cards, buying all the variant cover first issues of the Image books, reading Wizard magazine every month. The Death of Superman, Age of Apocalypse, Malibu's Ultraverse, Zero Hour... that was my time. Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld... they were my heroes. I admittedly grew out of it a little during high school and stopped having a pull list at my local store. But then as an adult, I've become more of a graphic novel and trade paperback guy. I've been going to Comic-Con before it was the place to go.
Nrama: I bet you've seen a lot of changes at Comic-Con, especially being on the movies side now.
Alter: Oh yeah. I used to shoot pool at the Hyatt and get starstruck when someone like Frank Miller would walk by... Now it's like being at Cannes or something. All the celebrities, the parties. It's cool, but I miss the good old days sometimes.
Nrama: So how did the two of you get together to do a comic?
Alter: I'm developing a bunch of projects, many of which are based on comics, and I read a lot of scripts. And that's how I met Scott. I read a script of his and said, "I gotta meet this guy." We had some Chinese and geeked out about things like Wrath of Khan, which is always the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Then one night -- I think it was at a premiere, actually -- Scott briefly pitched me the concept of Killing Machine, wondering if it was something that could be done as a comic. He sent me a treatment after that. I had some ideas. We developed it further, eventually brought it to Arcana, and now here we are.
Nrama: Scott, why did you like the idea of this being a comic, since both you and Dan are film people?
Milam: Films take so long to make, and there are so many chefs in the kitchen once you've written a screenplay that you always lose some measure of creative control. I thought if I could make a graphic novel first, my vision would always exist in the same way a book or a film being remade would exist. They could f__k up the film version, but my graphic novel would always be there. Better or for worse. I always thought Killing Machine would make a cool movie, so when I pitched it to Daniel, he immediately responded with the same strategy to turn it into a graphic novel first.
Nrama: Killing Machine follows the story of an undercover agent named Frank Hurt. What can you tell us about him?
Milam: Frank Hurt is very much a man's man. Highly skilled and trained in his job as an agent for the Global Task Force, but more so a family man. Completely in love with his wife and twin girls. Loyal to his friends. High values with a moral compass that is ultimately steered in the wrong direction.
Nrama: What happens to him that starts the story rolling?
Milam: His cover is blown after infiltrating a deadly sector of a criminal organization known as the Syndicate Six, where he's brutally dismembered and disfigured, but kept alive as a trophy for the villain of our story, Simeon Dukane.
Eventually, he's rescued and gets taken to a massive facility with alien technology, where he's given the bionic treatment.
Nrama: Not surprisingly, he wants to get back at the people who disfigured him. But besides the story of revenge, what other characters and concepts are involved in Killing Machine?
Milam: You'll be introduced to a special forces team called The Black Brigade. The members are made up of soldiers who share some of the same similarities as Frank. A new love interest will emerge from the team, a woman named Rigel Shields. Each member of the Syndicate Six is protected by a bionic enhanced body guard who Frank will have to battle from time to time. And of course, we're using alien technology for Frank and the Black Brigade. At some point, you would suspect that those aliens would come looking for their stuff...
Nrama: You guys are producers and screenwriters, so you've got the ability to do more with this concept. Is that part of the plan?
Alter: It's obviously a very filmic concept, and hopefully a franchise at that. It's also got the makings to be a great video game. I'd love to do some animation with it too.
Nrama: Was the idea to start this as a comic so you could make a movie out of it?
Alter: Absolutely not. If that was the case, we would have just gone and set the movie up right away. Look, honestly, there is a financial upside to "reverse-engineering" an original idea into an intellectual property before just selling it to a studio, as you can maximize revenue streams and participate more. Fine, I'll say it. Because there are a ton of "comic book" companies out there right now whose entire business plan revolves around exactly that strategy. So we have to address that. I get soooooo many ideas pitched to me to "turn" into comics and I have to be passionate about something before I pursue approaching my contacts in that world. Sean O'Reilly at Arcana will also be the first to tell you he gets tons of stuff sent his way, and he was genuinely excited about this as a comic book. This is also about Scott getting the chance to not write something and then hand it off to others, or be hired by others to do something. Working with the artists, he basically gets to "direct" the book.
Milam: That's the beauty of doing a graphic novel. It really is the same mind-set as if you were writing and directing a film. And cheaper!
Nrama: Do you plan to see more comics set in this world?
Alter: I most definitely hope so. The first graphic novel is close to what we'd like the movie to eventually be. But beyond that, if we're fortunate enough to successfully bring this world and these characters to life on screen, I think further films can co-exist with different storylines (and new characters) in future comics and graphic novels. I'm first in line for every big Marvel and DC adaptation. Some of them have been great. But as a fan I know there are certain storylines that are hard to adapt for film, such as the Dark Phoenix Saga or the symbiote/black costume Venom. So I hope we can really go balls out in the comic books and do things that we know may never make it to another medium.
Milam: I really think the two mediums inform one another. With the graphic novel, you can get away with storylines that don't necessarily translate to film and vice-versa. A lot of seeds are planted in this comic that could grow into many stories and continuing arcs for the characters but if this turns out to be a one-off, then the story is contained enough to have a satisfying end.
Nrama: What does the artist bring to the comic? And what's the visual tone of the story?
Milam: From the beginning I wanted an artist who would take my descriptions and make them their own. Have the creative freedom to realize their own vision of what a character or scene would look like. A complete collaborator. Kenneth Loh is that artist. He is the visual anchor of this project. He will add things I wouldn't have thought of that informs my own creative decisions and direction. I'm a big fan of his work and my favorite part of this process is waiting to see what he comes up with. The visual tone is very stark and contrasty to reflect the science fiction element as well as rich colors to ground us in a reality.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Killing Machine?
Alter: I just want to say that I really hope people like it. It's hard to successfully launch a new series. So I appreciate anyone who checks it out.
Milam: With anything new, I just hope they give it a chance. I love comics and movies, and this is the result.