BOOM! Studios Launches BOOM! Box Imprint With Ryan North’s ‘Midas Flesh’ [Interview]
Earlier this week we brought you the teaser hinting at Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb’s new series from BOOM! Studios, and if you were wondering how long you’d have to wait to find out what it was, wonder no longer. Today, we know that the team behind the award-winning Adventure Time comic will soon be bringing you dinosaurs in spacesuits in the pages of Midas Flesh, a sci-fi comic about what would happen if King Midas’s golden touch was a weapon of planetary destruction.
The book is the first project from BOOM! Box, a new imprint inspired by the largely webcomics talent the publisher recruited to staff its popular and acclaimed line of animation-based KaBOOM! comics including Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors and Regular Show. BOOM! Box is meant to be distinct from the existing BOOM! and KaBOOM! lines in that it will be fully original projects (as opposed to licensed) with no restrictions on format.
To find out more about Midas Flesh, we spoke to North about his inspiration for the comic, his process, why Paul Dini deserves a solid gold rocket car and, oddly enough, his favorite fetish videos on YouTube. Read on to find out!
ComicsAlliance: Let’s talk about Midas Flesh. What’s the premise behind the book?
Ryan North: There’s a Dinosaur Comic from about 2009 where T-Rex talks about the Midas story. King Midas makes his wish for everything he’s touching to turn to gold, and this King Midas lives in a world of very rational physics, very literal physics. He’s touching the Earth, so there’s this shockwave that goes out across the planet, turning everything to gold, and everything that’s touching the Earth also turns to gold. So Midas is watching this, but he’s also suffocating, because the air touching his lungs is turning to tiny flakes of gold, so he’s drowning on dry land, and he dies, and the Earth is this mass of solid gold. That’s where the comic ends, and the moral is “don’t make wishes like that, King Midas.”
RN: It would be a very short comic if that’s all that happened, but in the alt text for that comic, I sort of described this scenario where people are landing on this gold planet trying to find the source of this transformation, this effective weapon, this flesh that a tiny portion of it can destroy an entire planet in just a few seconds. I thought that was really interesting, and I started writing this comic about what that would be like, if there was a sort of weapon that had already destroyed a planet, trying to figure out how it works, where it comes from, this whole thing is crazy, how can this guy’s flesh turn things to gold, this is nuts. That’s where the story started.
CA: It sounds like you could go either way with that premise, where it wouldn’t be out of place in Adventure Time, or it could also go super dark.
RN: This is the thing: This flesh, this weapon, is incredibly destructive. The way I’ve been writing it is that any piece of it is enough to do that. You can start slicing up the body and arming people with it. It’s the sort of thing that you can destroy a planet just by dropping a finger out of an airlock and calling it a day. The flesh is perfectly preserved, of course, because no microbes can eat it. It can’t decay because the microbes turn to gold. I found it interesting to explore “If this existed, what are the consequences?” Which is, I think, a pretty common theme in a lot of work. You take an idea and see what it changes, what the consequences are, what’s interesting.
I thought there was something inherently interesting in people turning to gold. It’s pretty cool.
CA: I have so many questions about how it works.
RN: I talked to a physicist friend of mine, and I was like, “Ben, if Midas Flesh was real and it turned things to gold, how would that work?” And he came back and gave me this real interesting explanation that I’m going to put in the comic, so I don’t want to give it all away, but he was basically like, “Well, it wouldn’t, but if it did, here’s how it would.” So it’s this science fiction standard where you give just enough hard science to make it plausible, and those who actually know those fields of science are like “whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute!” but those who don’t are like, “Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me.”
CA: That’s the core of most good sci-fi, though. It’s not about the technology, it’s about what that technology allows for.
RN: Yeah! There’s this thing with zombie stories where no explanation of where the zombies come from is ever going to satisfy. “Oh, of course, that’s how you make zombies, I’ll be sure to avoid that!” So I think the trend in zombie stories in recent years has been to be like “this happened, zombies exist now, and we all have to deal with it.” We’ve dropped that “a meteor passed by” or “there was a plague” stuff that doesn’t really add to the story. It just says “this is the way the zombies happened here,” and unless that’s how they cure them, which they won’t, because it’s a zombie story, it won’t have any impact on what the characters are doing.
CA: So does Midas Flesh follow a particular character who has to figure out how to get this body that she can’t lift or cut up? I imagine that there are lasers.
RN: Of course there are lasers. Everything I write should have lasers. That’s my #1 rule.
CA: Everything everyone writes should have lasers.
RN: It starts out in the future, and this planet has been quarantined and erased and hidden by this galactic power. They take control and they try to erase it, but these people come across it and figure they can take the flesh off the planet if they’re really careful about it, but things start to go wrong. Which they do, when you have this incredibly powerful weapon on board and this galactic power wanting to get this weapon back and get it under control.
I’m being kind of vague because I’m also still writing it.
CA: Is it planned out as a miniseries?
RN: Yeah, it’s got an end. It’s got an end right now that I’m not super happy with, but it’ll have an even better end in the future! It’s a story with a beginning, middle and end, which is kind of nice, to do a complete work that, when you’re done, you’re done.
CA: Obviously, you’ve had a lot of success with Adventure Time. I remember at San Diego Comic-Con, you mentioned you “won a prize” [referring to the 2013 Eisner for Best Publication for Kids].
RN: I won some more prizes this weekend!
CA: Oh, did you get a Harvey Award? Congratulations!
RN: Two of them! The Special Award for Best Humor, and Best Book For Young Readers, which is awesome. My whole thing with “all-ages” comics is that they’re not just for kids, so the same book winning an award for “Best Kids’ Book” and “Best Joke Book,” I think, is super awesome. I’m really happy with that.
CA: But you’ve also done Dinosaur Comics independently for a decade.
RN: A decade’s a long time, Chris. Did we get old? Are we old now?
CA: I just turned 31, so I’m definitely super old.
RN: I’m 32. I’m older.
CA: And you’ve got Eisners. You’re only a year older than me and you’ve got Eisners and Harveys. What am I doing, Ryan?
RN: You have a depth of knowledge about Batman that is enviable, and I say that as a man who considers himself to have a depth of knowledge about Batman.
CA: Well, there have been several Dinosaur Comics strips that I’ve read that have made me start having arguments in my head with a fictional Tyrannosaurus.
RN: At San Diego, Paul Dini came up and chatted with me about Batman. I did a comic in 2009 where T-Rex is talking about Batman, and he’s making the argument that Bruce is the mask and Batman is the true identity, and he says that for every argument about Batman that he says out loud, there’s ten more that go on in my head, and if the world was just, knowing about Batman would be really profitable and T-Rex would have a solid gold rocket car. Then in the alt text segment, I said Paul Dini also deserves a solid gold rocket car, and he came up and said, “Hey, thanks for that!” I was like, “Oh my God, Paul Dini is talking to me about Batman, this is amazing!”
CA: But you’ve done Dinosaur Comics, you’re in with TopatoCo, so why did you decide to go with BOOM Box for Midas Flesh?
RN: Basically, I had this idea years ago, and I’d written a version of the first issue before Adventure Time, and said, “Well, that’s that. I don’t know what to do with this.” I was thinking maybe a webcomic, but I thought that might not be the best way for a story like this. I sort of pictured it as issues and arcs, and for something like Midas, where it’s only interesting once the dude gets powers, you want to have that show up in one issue so that when you’re done, you know that this is the premise, you know what’s happening, you know why it’s cool, versus “it’s been four months online posting a page every week and we just got to the part where he makes his wish.” It’s a slower form of storytelling.
They’re different ways of telling stories, is the short answer. I felt like I’ve been enjoying telling stories in monthly chunks, so BOOM! said, “Hey, do you have anything else you want to do?” I said “Well, I’ve got this comic and I’ve written the first issue, but nothing beyond that.” So I sent them that first issue, and they really liked it, and now I’m working on an outline and fixing the first issue. I wrote it years ago, and I’ve learned things since then about how to be better at writing that I would like to incorporate and make it a better book.
CA: It’s interesting that you had this first issue banked like that, and you could just pull it out whenever.
RN: I don’t know how it ended up that way! I wrote the first issue thinking I’d just write it and figure out what happens with it, and then got busy with other stuff and couldn’t think of the best way to bring it out. I want to say “birth it,” but my sister-in-law gave birth this weekend and it’s not the same as childbirth. It turns out childbirth is really… messy.
CA: So when you look back on it, if you had that issue, is it just a thing where you wrote the Dinosaur Comics strip, thought it was a good idea and then knocked out a 20-page script and felt like you could come back to it?
RN: You’re not far from the truth. I wrote the Dinosaur Comic, thought “hey, that’s not a bad idea” and then I spent three days in a fugue state writing this script. I was really excited, I thought we could treat it super hard-sciencey, it’d be really cool, you can do some neat things with it, and then I finished it and realized I didn’t know the best way to continue it now. I also kind of suspected that it wasn’t very good because it was the first full-length comic I’d ever written. I was like, “Oh, maybe this is just a practice comic. I’ll come back in the future, but I’m not going to stress about it.”
It was really useful, because when BOOM! said, “Hey, do you want to write Adventure Time,” I could say yes, because I’d written a full-length comic before and I knew it was possible. I’d done it at least once before. It had its own benefits, and now that I’m coming back to it, it isn’t bad. It isn’t sucky, as it turns out, which is nice. Or at least, I can’t yet see that it’s sucky, which is always a danger.
I’m changing the layout of it. I’d sort of written it as a three by three grid, Watchmen style, which is just because it was the fastest way to write the comic. I want to do a more dynamic version of that than just a 9-panel grid, which is pretty boring to look at, unless you’re doing Watchmen. Which I’m not.
CA: For someone who works in a rigid, defined six panels every day…
RN: Oh yeah, I forgot about that. This is not to say that rigid layouts are not inherently interesting! Which they obviously are!
CA: That’s the interesting thing that I was getting at. A lot of Dinosaur Comics are interesting because you have so many interesting premises and ideas that are explored in the strips. Occasionally you’ll do a week based around the same premise where each strip just twists it slightly, but you have a very limited amount of space to work with those ideas. Are there other weird 20-page Ryan North scripts from 2010 just sitting on the hard drive?
RN: All I can think of is that I tried to write a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book before To Be Or Not To Be. I wrote two pages of it and I was like, “This is terrible, this is an awful idea, I’m never going to do this again.” There’s an ending in To Be Or Not To Be where you become a ghost, and then ghost aliens are invading and so there’s a secret ghost war with history’s greatest villains and good guys all fighting off an invasion. It’s ridiculous, but fun, and that was the idea for the first book, that you’d be a ghost fighting ghosts. It wasn’t working at all, and then when I landed on the Hamlet idea, I just folded that in as a sort of parasitic twin. Do you know about those?
CA: I do, but I’ve never heard it used in a literary context.
RN: It’s the literary equivalent of a parasitic twin that’s built into To Be Or Not To Be. But yeah, there are no other 22-page complete scripts secretly squirreled away on my hard drive — or at least, none I’ll tell you about! But really there aren’t actually any.
CA: It’s good that you had this one then.
RN: Yeah, it was kind of ridiculous. They asked, “Do you have any other comics?” and I said, “Yeah, here’s a script for 22 pages.”
CA: You’ve talked about how Dinosaur Comics takes up a relatively small portion of your day. Not to minimize what you do, but all you have to do at this point is write the dialogue — and that’s something you’ve said in your books. You’ve been doing Adventure Time for well over a year now.
RN: Almost two years.
CA: So how did that affect your schedule? You’ve gotten to where you’re writing a full-length comic ever month in addition to that, and now you’re writing two. Are you in a place where you’re like “oh, I could write four of these!”
RN: You can always take on more projects, it just makes your life worse and worse. That sounds terrible, but the nice thing about doing something like Dinosaur Comics is that it’s a job that is flexible. If I’m on a good riff, I can do two or three in a day, but for something like Adventure Time, it’s not like I say, “Okay, it’s 15 pages this month, so every day I’ll write half a page and knock it out of the park at the end of the month!” It’s more like, “Oh hey, it’s the 10th, I should probably start thinking about the issue,” then, “Oh, it’s the 20th, I should probably start writing it.” Usually, on a good day, I can maybe write about six pages of Adventure Time comics and then they start being terrible, so I’ll go write something else. It’s nice to have projects you can jump around to because they’re all doing different things, and it’s nice writing comedy. Have I told you my theory of writing comedy and erotica?
CA: I don’t think so.
RN: This is my grand theory of writing for comedy and erotica: Writing is hard, and knowing that your writing is good is hard, for most genres. However, if you’re writing porn or comedy, your body tells you when you’re doing it right.
RN: It’s true! This is serious! I’m writing trying to make myself laugh, which sounds pathetic, but that’s what I do when I write comedy. I try to think of a joke that makes me laugh, and when I do it, I don’t go, “Hmm, yes, that’s a three out of ten for comedy,” I chuckle and say “that’s working! I’ll go along these lines some more!” Your body tells you when you’re nailing it. That’s why comedy and erotica are probably not the easiest to write, but you know when you’re hitting the mark. And I say this as someone who hasn’t written any erotica. But my theory is that it’s probably the same.
CA: I think the hole in that theory is that there’s a preponderance of terrible erotica in the world.
RN: Well, I bet your tastes and anyone else’s tastes are different, right? For something like erotica, they’re probably really specific, and there are people out there who like something that I don’t even understand. In fact, my favorite example of a fetish that I don’t understand, but that I love… do you know “Wet Look?”
CA: That is one I am not familiar with.
RN: It’s really good, and there’s videos on YouTube because it’s not recognizable as porn. What it is, is this fetish of people, usually wearing really nice clothes, falling into a pool like you see conga lines doing in movies, or going into a shower and going, “Oh no! My suit’s getting all wet!” When you watch it, you’re like “this has the visual aesthetic of pornography, they’re focusing on this one act in a very deliberate way,” but it doesn’t read as porn if you don’t share that specific fetish. So they have these videos on YouTube that are like, conga line after conga line falling into pools, lifted from movies, and YouTube is like “This is fine. This clearly is not porn.” But it clearly is!
I’m not sure how we got onto this topic.
CA: What I’m getting from all this is that if Midas Flesh isn’t a comedy, then you’re writing it specifically for weird transmutation fetishists.
RN: [laughs] There are some jokes in Midas, but I’m trying to do more space drama, which is fun, too. But yeah, this is the thing I’m finding a challenge with in Midas, in a good way. I don’t have that physical response to tell me I’m doing it well.
CA: Well, I’m sure we’ll all either love it, or realize that you’re the fraud we always suspected you were.
RN: That’s the fear everyone has, so it’s nice to have it out there in the open.