Sometimes you’ve got to acknowledge you’re in over your head. But even then, sometimes you just got to see it through.
In the recently debuted Image series Blue Estate, deadbeat L.A. detective Roy Devine Jr. gets pulled into the complicated life of an action movie star and his 'celebutante' plus-one who find themselves in too deep with the West Coast mob. To make matters worse, these two celebrities are plotting against each other for a way out – and Det. Devine is in the middle. Created by Viktor Kalvachev, Blue Estate is his second comic series after last year’s Pherone and has him assembling a crack team of artists and writers to help him bring his vision to fruition.
Blue Estate debuted on April 6 and was one of five Image titles announced as sell-outs, and with Image prepping a reprinting to coincide with the second issue’s release on May 4th we’ve caught up with Kalvachev to talk about this ambitious series and his own background coming into comics.
Newsarama: So Viktor, what can you tell us about Blue Estate?
Viktor Kalvachev: Well, I may be a little biased, but I can definitely say it's one of my favorite comics right now! And that makes sense, considering it's basically a mixture of some of my favorite things: twisty Guy Ritchie-type crime stories, ridiculous sight gags, cool art styles, tough sexy women and even the occasional Star Wars reference. Blue Estateis great to work on because it's got so many flavors, but I think it all comes together as a satisfying meal and I hope the fans will have as much fun devouring it as we had cooking it up!
Nrama: What does the title of the book refer to in the book?
Kalvachev: Blue Estate is the name of a racehorse owned by Don Luciano, the capo di tutti capi of the West Coast Cosa Nostra. Unfortunately, the Don loves that animal more than he loves his own son, Tony...and that leads to a second blue estate, a house that becomes important in the story when Tony attempts to win his father's respect, with disastrous results. But most of all, we like to say Blue Estate is a state of mind, somewhere between a dry martini and an adrenaline shot to the heart!
Nrama: At the center of this is a slacker detective named Roy Devine Jr. What can you tell us about him?
Kalvachev: Roy's the heart of the story because he's at the center of all the crisscrossing schemes and alliances, doing his best to survive and piece everything together. But he's also the heart in the sense that he's this goofy, good-natured schlub of a guy who's just a very sympathetic, relatable character. Because, let's face it, most of us aren't deadly assassins or glamorous movie stars. Roy doesn't have any superpowers and he's in way over his head most of the time, but he just keeps plugging away and hoping for the best...which makes him kind of heroic in his own way.
Nrama: And this hero gets pulled into the lives of two tabloid stars named Rachel and Bruce. How, and why?
Kalvachev: Dumb luck, basically...like a lot of things in life! In the first issue, Roy literally bumps into this action movie star at his neighborhood coffee shop (which is one of the benefits -- or hazards! -- of living in Los Angeles). And that chance meeting sets off a chain reaction that eventually brings Roy to the attention of Bruce's troubled starlet wife Rachel, not to mention some pretty nasty Russian and Italian mobsters!
Nrama: Although you seem to be just bursting new onto the comic scene, you have a long history in video games. Can you tell us about that part of your life?
Kalvachev: I’ve been working in the video game industry since 1993. I started as a UI designer on Multimedia CD-ROMs and soon after that I was involved in some puzzle games and kids CD-ROMs. I also produced and art directed one of the largest clip art productions for a single studio – 60,000 unique images over the course of 18 months. I had an incredible team of about 200 artists, and as you can imagine my days were very busy.
In 2001, I got offered a job with a small California-based game developer called ImaginEngine and stuck with them for about 7 years until they became Foundation 9 Entertainment. During my time there, I was involved with a lot of exciting projects – from Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation CD-ROMs to PIXAR’s The Incredibles downloadable games. In 2005, I developed a 10-page comic called Pherone as a pitch for a game and that was basically my start in the comic book industry.
Nrama: Much like how video games is a team project, you’ve assembled a real collection of talented artists for Blue Estate -- you, Nathan Fox, Toby Cypress and Robert Valley. How’d you assemble the team?
Kalvachev: I met all of them individually and we’ve become good friends over the years. I approached them with some character drawings and a short 1-page outline of the script and they immediately wanted in. These guys are absolutely amazing to work with and I feel really lucky to have them jamming with me. It’s just so much fun.
Nrama: Some fans get nervous when they see multiple artists on a book – how are you working with the multiple artists to make it all flow together in something you call “Style Shift”?
Kalvachev: Nothing to get nervous about! Just think of it as a new fun way to tell a story. Since Blue Estate is very character-driven and our cast isn’t dressed in distinctive uniforms, it was very important for the artists to all stay “on character” so the audience doesn’t get lost. And since I felt too lazy to do character sheets for 12 of our main characters, I decided instead to try and sculpt their heads from clay so I could take as many pictures as I needed. That way, we’re all looking at somewhat realistic depictions of the people in the story, so even when we interpret them in our own styles, we’re still true to who they are. Otherwise, it’d be Nate, Toby and Rob all trying to draw the characters how I drew them, and that would take away from their styles.
I also spent a crazy amount of time on preproduction and planning, splitting the episodes in the right places to help tell the story in a more energetic way. The shifts in style happen when we have a jump in time, a change of alliances, a new side of the characters being revealed, or whenever something really important happens. There’s a page on our website where we try to explain it in detail, and we even give you something to play with to show how fun the different styles are:
Nrama: In addition to these three guys you’re working with, I hear you’re also thinking of having others join you in future issues – is that right?
Kalvachev: Yes, I am already talking with a couple of other artists who want to join the fun, and we’re going through the script to see where they would fit the best and make the story even more exciting with their art.
Nrama: And joining you on the writing side is screenwriter Andrew Osborne. After you and Kosta Yanev came up with the concept, he came in to flesh it out for you, right?
Kalvachev: Kosta and I wrote the whole story pretty much the way it is now, but something was missing – the spice of the dialogue and a few unresolved plot issues. After all, English is not our first language (we are both Bulgarians), and even though all the characters were there, they were not funny enough. This is where Andrew joined us and helped shape Blue Estate into what it is today. He is a great writer to work with, very easy and a lot of fun. He totally got what we were trying to do and injected his sense of humor (and structure) in the right places. We continue having fun together by writing the tweets that come out every week for 5 of our characters. You can follow them from our web site’s home page, or on Twitter.
Nrama: This is your second major comic work after last year’s Pherone. What do you think you’ve learned so far about how comics work – both the medium and the industry?
Kalvachev: Well, I’ve learned to appreciate other artists’ work a lot more now, knowing how much effort goes into making a good comic, and also that I really love making comics and telling stories. Plus, I’ve learned to trust myself and do what feels right, no matter what other people say.
Probably one of the best things I’ve learned, though, is to be easy to work with and nice to others.The hardest thing of all is to get your work out there and reach as many people as you can – promotion is key to good sales. That seems to be the lesson learned from my first book Pherone, where I hardly had any marketing whatsoever and so only professionals knew about it, but not so many fans. We’ll be doing a reprint of it soon, so I’ll use everything I’ve learned so far to promote it a lot better.
Nrama: You’ve got an ambitious 12 issue plan for this limited series – that’s a lot for someone new to comics, and bound to take up more than a year of your life. How’d you decide to commit to something so epic?
Kalvachev: Although I’m new to comics I am not new to tough projects. I am very organized and well prepared to complete Blue Estate, so I have no worries about that. As tough as deadlines may be, the project never seems to get tiring for me because I enjoy it too much. Besides, look at my crew – I have Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox and Robert Valley drawing beside me.
I am looking forward to a completed “season ONE” of Blue Estateand moving on to “season TWO”. I encourage everyone to go and check out our web site for a lot more fun things to read, follow, play with and collect: www.BlueEstateComic.com