Crazy Energy And Helping The Bad Guy: DJ Kirkbride On ‘The Biggest Bang’
The Bigger Bang was one of last year's most surprising comics; a soaring, cosmic space opera that pit a superhero born with the destruction of the previous universe against an intergalactic warlord and chicken sandwich magnate, it was equal parts satire, commentary, and pure adventure. Now DJ Kirkbride and Vassilis Gogtzilas are back with the sequel, which promises to be even bigger. The biggest, in fact.
With The Biggest Bang hitting shelves today, ComicsAlliance spoke to Kirkbride about the process behind the book, the decision to give Wyan super-powers on par with Cosmos, and why a terrifying spider-monster's feelings are still valid.
ComicsAlliance: I don't know if you remember when we talked about The Bigger Bang, but the first thing I said to you in that interview was "it's a weird book."
DJ Kirkbride: [Laughs] I do remember that, yes. And you're correct.
CA: You had a space empire built on a chicken franchise, a Cthulhu monster in a military jacket with a tiny crown, all this weird stuff going on. So when you sat down to do the sequel, just by the nature of the title The Biggest Bang, did you sit down and think about how you were going to make it weirder?
DJK: Not consciously. When you mentioned something like King Thulu's Chicken Sliders empire, I just thought, "Oh man, there's nothing like that in this one!" The books are weird in part because of the combination of Vassilis Gogtzilas and myself. I think when we get together, his wacky art inspires me to be wackier, so the book has become strange. Sometimes I'll write something or plot something that I think makes perfect sense, and then I see the art and think, "Oh, this is going to be weird and funny now." It ends up working. That's part of the fun of the book.
But for The Biggest Bang, what was interesting to me was that I wasn't planning on doing a sequel at all. I was surprised that we got the first series, so when it was requested that we do a sequel, we went through a lot of ideas. I was going to save The Biggest Bang for the third in a trilogy, but as we kept going, it was like we have to do everything we can now, because we can't count on a third one. So yeah, we had to go Biggest. And I think we will. You've read the first issue, but it gets pretty huge.
CA: You open with these big pages of Cosmos and Wyan flying through space, and then you immediately go to the planet of bunny people.
DJK: You're right, that's funny! And part of it is that when I'm writing it, I wanted to start on big action. It's not a surprise to anyone who's read the issue or has seen previews, but when we ended the first series, we didn't say, "Oh, Wyan has powers now." This was something we're picking up on months after, and it turns out that she got powers when Cosmos brought her back to life.
So we wanted to open on big action, and I wanted to pick up a little bit on the King Thulu thread and make it part of the story. It was at one point a bigger part and it's not now, but I wanted to make this a sequel and show that there were things that had happened before. I wanted to show them in action. And then, the big thing for Vassilis, is that I wanted to give him something different to draw. He draws a lot of one-eyed or Muppet-looking aliens, which is really fun, but he hasn't really drawn furry things. So, all right: "Bunny people!" That was the whole description. It was just to give him something different to draw, and when he draws a bunny rabbit sitting in a suit smoking a cigar, I was like, "Yeah, that was a good choice." It makes me happy.
CA: Part of the premise of this book, and something that you build to with the last page reveal, is that Cosmos has split his power. Even though he's still obviously phenomenally powerful, he's only half of what we see in the first series. Since there were so many metatextual lines of thinking in the first series --- superheroes as corporate icons who are being exploited to serve other ends --- is there something thematic there as well?
DJK: Just from a story perspective, I wanted to comment on the idea that Cosmos is half as powerful, so while he's not as whiny as he was in the first series and while he's found his place in the universe a little bit better, there are a lot of comments in the narration about how he feels slower and weaker than he used to be. He's still so fast, but he feels slow.
Meanwhile, Wyan's like "holy c---, this power is amazing!" For her, having half of what he had is like the greatest amount of power and thrill that she's ever felt. It's about perspectives, and you can go with power, or money, or success. One person's great success is someone else's failure, so there's a little bit of that in there. And then also, I think as it goes on, you'll see that it's not the power you have, but what you do with it that matters the most. There's also the burgeoning relationship between them, and how now, they're halves of a whole.
CA: There's a lot in here about perception. We're seeing Cosmos and Wyan as halves, as you said, but the bunny people see Wyan as the sidekick, because Cosmos is something familiar to them.
CA: But in addition to Cosmos himself and how he's viewed by different factions, we also see how Wyan is seen. We get the people who see her as a savior, and then her former allies, who see her as a traitor.
DJK: That is the interesting thing. What I really wanted to do was show that people can change, but the past doesn't go away. In the first series, it was all about Cosmos feeling this overwhelming guilt that his birth destroyed a universe. It's the most amount of death that any one being can cause, right? It wasn't his fault, but he still felt that guilt, even though you can't choose how you're born. With this one, the guilt that Wyan feels, it's something she did. She made conscious decisions. We can say she was brainwashed, and we get into her past in a couple of text stories that appear in #1 and #3 that will delve into that, but there's an interesting debate. When she's putting people into the rehabilitation planet, Cvetko, why isn't she there too?
In her mind, it's because she can do more good outside of it. But yeah, there's a lot in this story about wrestling with the way people are viewed from outside and from within themselves.
CA: It struck me that you have this big, cosmic space action at the beginning, where a point is made about Wyan saving her enemies, and the idea that she's angered and disgusted by what they do, but also recognizes that she was one of them. Then you see her not only taking them to jail, and it turns out that it's actually a place where people are rehabilitated.
DJK: It's that type of Star Wars thinking where every planet's just one thing. It's the ice planet, the forest planet, the city planet! And I thought that was appropriate. For one thing, our co-lead in this book is a former villain in a way, so I thought it would be unfair if they just defeat her former teammates and, what, they zap them and blast them to smithereens? They throw them into jail and forget about them? I thought it was appropriate, and my thinking is that this is more Wyan's idea than Cosmos's, her way of acknowledging that maybe there's some good within them, and it's worth trying.
I like that we lingered with that. Definitely, there's big action, we're going to have big action in each issue, but I enjoy having these other moments within this huge, silly space opera.
CA: You set a tone in this issue that indicates that balance. There's essentially a prison breakout from this giant, many-fanged, many-legged monster called the Gore Hound, so you get to see this big fight between Wyan and the monster, but it's a big fight that involves Wyan saying, "Hey, what's your name? We want to help you," and the monster talking about how it doesn't want to go through therapy and talk about its feelings.
DJK: There's something funny about that. And speaking of the Gore Hound, Vassilis originally drew a giant space bulldog, so that's why the name fit. But he actually ended up re-drawing most of this first issue. After we were done, when we were looking at it and comparing it to the first one, he and I, and our editor, Justin Eisinger, were thinking of ways to improve and change, and fit the story better. Vassilis says, "I will redraw it all!" and did it, and it looked amazing. How does he sleep? Does he sleep at all? He's an amazingly fast and productive artist.
So when he re-drew it, the Gore Hound became that giant, creepy spider thing, which looks phenomenal. I'm scared of spiders, so it freaks me out. But even with that, there's this giant, truly nightmarish creature who has obviously done bad things and is called a "Gore Hound," which can't be good, but there's still more to her. Her feelings are valid, and there's a way for her to explore things, and maybe there's still hope for her.
I think with Wyan, there's a desperate need for hope. She needs to know that others can change, so she can believe she can change too. And there's genuine caring there, too. Wyan was raised and programed, and brainwashed to be this ultimate warrior, and now she's opened herself up to a new way of thinking. We'll be exploring that, too.
I think now that they have the same amount of powers, Wyan could kick Cosmos's butt. She's the warrior. It's like if Batman got Superman's powers, you know? But it's not just about fighting the bad guy, it's about helping the bad guy, too. Sometimes that's appropriate, and sometimes that's not.
CA: When we talked about the first series, you talked about how much of a collaboration it was between you and Gogtzilas, and hearing that so much of the first issue was re-drawn is both surprising, and also not surprising at all.
DJK: [Laughs] Yeah. That's the thing with this one, we thought, "All right, we did it once before!" By #4 of The Bigger Bang, I thought we knew what we were doing together. Then we took some time off, and we were coming up with ideas for the sequel, and it took us a while to click again.
I think instead of going, "Okay, this is what works," we both wanted to try a new thing. With the writing, it's still silly and it's still huge, but I thought there was an opportunity to explore some things. Initially, there were a lot more characters, and maybe too much of people talking for a giant, big-panel artist like Vassilis. I maybe wasn't playing to his strengths like I should've. And we did a couple of plot lines, too, not only was it re-drawn, I wrote a whole other miniseries that we took elements from. We both thought it would be easier, but it wasn't --- it was just hard in a different way. But the results are cool and fun again. It's a real crazy kind of high-wire act with the two of us.
CA: Is there anything in particular that you had to cut out to make this book work, or is it all stuff you're planning on revisiting in The Biggesterest Bang?
DJK: Part of it was that the original title was going to be "The Bigger Bang II" and then a subtitle, like a movie sequel, and then the third one would be The Biggest Bang, and that would be it. You can't go bigger, right? There were significant, huge things that were cut out of the plot, and looking back, I don't know how I thought I'd fit it all in. Ultimately, I think it's better than the last one. It needed the last one, for us to learn how to do what we're doing and build off of it, but I think when the story's all done, I'm a little happier with this series. So I'd love it if we get the chance to do a third one, and if we do, I wasn't consciously holding back, but I already know what it's going to be about.
Unless I write it and then we scrap it and rewrite it and redraw it. [Laughs]
CA: You seem like you're happy with the results, but was the process frustrating? I hate rewriting, even when I know it's making it better.
DJK: Yeah, it's very frustrating. It was crazy for a while, and I think part of it, too, was that we all want to make the best book we can, and Vassilis and I were both wondering why it wasn't clicking. We expected it to be like, "Oh, we're back at it," like #1 of this would be like #5 of an ongoing series, but it completely wasn't. Now that the first issue's coming out and I've read it, and the third issue's being drawn, I'm a lot calmer, but for a while I was freaking out about it.
It's the nature of our collaboration. This isn't how Adam, Nick and I do Amelia Cole at all. With that, there's rewriting, but it's often just making sure the script fits any art changes. This type of crazy, all-in, all-out, then back in stuff isn't how I usually work at all, but I think it gives the Bigger Bang comics a crazy energy that's exciting. I don't know if it is to a reader who doesn't know the process, but as a creator, I'm amazed that these books are turning out the way they are. [Laughs]