Ben McCool Talks About the Sold-Out ‘Choker,’ Templesmith, Lobo
Writer Ben McCool recently published his first creator-owned comic, "Choker," through Image, a 6-issue miniseries marked his major debut in comics -- and promptly sold out of the two issues that have hit shelves so far. As debuts go, it's been a good one, and it certainly had the right collaborator, with artist Ben Templesmith ("30 Days of Night") providing the art for the noir-infused sci-fi detective tale.
During the recent Emerald City Comic-Con, ComicsAlliance had a chance to sit down with McCool -- and yes, that is his real name -- on a brisk Sunday morning for the most hungover interview in ComicsAlliance history, where we talked about McCool's breakout series, how he got Templesmith on board, and the Lobo series of his dreams.
ComicsAlliance: Was the concept for "Choker" this big, grand idea that you'd been holding on to for a while?
Ben McCool: Kinda sorta. I'm a real nerd for all things detective noir, plus also crazy cyberpunk, and so I pretty much just thrust the two genres together to see what I could come up with. I devised this guy called Johnny Jackson, who's the most down and out [private] dick, kind of Raymond Chandler-style, but with some rather outlandish problems, a severe case of alien hand syndrome being one of them. The book almost came out from a couple of different publishers, but it didn't work out for whatever reason, so it was definitely there festering for a while. Then eventually I met Mr. Templesmith at San Diego Comic-Con 2008 and we got on like a house on fire. And I said to him, "I know I'm not the sort of established professional you normally work with, but I'd like to send you some stuff," and he said sure. I sent him what turned out to be "Choker," and luckily he really dug it and said he wanted to illustrate it.
CA: That's a pretty big coup, getting Ben Templesmith to do the art on your first major comic.
BM: He's been really, really wonderful to work with. He's totally brought the way I envisioned the world of "Choker" to life -- just absolutely nailed it... I live in New York, and Ben [Templesmith] is in San Diego, so there's a bit of a distance there. However, any time I send anything to him it's as if we've ben in the same room discussing it in intricate detail. I'll send him the script -- and my scripts are pretty easy-going. I know certain writers like to meticulously plots the dynamics of every panel, but I describe the detail and leave the formulation to artist, because hey, that's what they're good at... He always seems to concoct exactly what I envision, or something better.
CA: So "Choker" will ultimately be a 6-issue miniseries--
BM: We're actually looking to do it as a series of miniseries. We both had so much fun doing it, and I've got plenty more stories... It'd be good to do something along the line of the "Hellboy" business model where every 12 months or 18 months we produce another miniseries and have some fun with it.
CA: So will the future miniseries revolve around Johnny Jackson, or other characters in the same world?
BM: I don't want to give too much away, but something noteworthy happens at the conclusion of the story.
CA: I don't believe you.
BM: [laughs] Well, I like to think so, anyway. It kind of spins the direction of story pretty extravagantly, and so the second miniseries I've got in mind pretty much follows that path. It uses the same protagonist, Johnny Jackson, that much I will say. "Choker" is essentially his book, but the supporting cast will be kinda different, as will his role in the story.
CA: It's been interesting to see all the noir and private eye comics that have been coming out in the past few years, like "Criminal" and "Stumptown" --
BM: I've always been a huge fan of all things noir. Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe books completely captivate me. I read one, and then just devoured the rest. They were just perfect. I always envisioned "Choker" as being what might have happened if Raymond Chandler went out on a 10-day bender with Philip K. Dick.
CA: It's nice to see more genre diversity, if nothing else.
BM: Yeah, I've heard some people saying, oh, "Choker" is like [Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's] "Fell" because they both have detectives in it, but as long as the story -- and more importantly, the telling of the story -- is sufficiently different, there's room for plenty more. It's all about execution and individual approach. I think I've got my own style that is different from Warren Ellis, although to even mention us in the same breath is kind of satisfying, because he's such a great writer. I love his stuff to bits. And obviously Ben [Templesmith] is working on it and so obviously comparisons will be drawn by default, but he's incorporated a new style and doing something really fresh and interesting with it. I think it's some of the best work he's produced to date. But everyone's entitled to their opinion, and I'll gracefully receive any form of constructive criticism. If people didn't like the book, I completely respect that, and I'd be keen to hear what they didn't like about it. It's a detective story at its nucleus, but as of issue #2, it becomes less of a detective story and more of a cyberpunk insanity infused crazyfest.
CA: What are your cyberpunk influences?
BM: One of my favorite authors is Philip K. Dick... He's one of those writers who manages to incorporate these crazy little ideas into his work and use them to complement his solid sense of story. I believe it was "Ubick" where it opens with the protagonist having a terrible argument with his car. Stuff like that like is fantastic, and that definitely influenced "Choker." One element of issue #1 people keep bringing up is the Vacu-Corpse 3000. I had this ridiculous idea where these genetically enhanced cops just pound this poor hobo into small pieces of man-meat, and then pull out an otherworldly vacuum clear to suck up the corpse. I put it in as a joke to make Ben laugh, but he liked it so much that he incorporated it into the actual book.
CA: I walked by your table numerous times at the con yesterday, and the line for you and other Ben was crazy. What's it like to have that sort of experience so early on in your career?
BM: It's pretty crazy, because I'm still the new guy. I'm aware that a lot of it is due to Ben's established fanbase, but I was surprised that the vast majority of people were bringing up "Choker." To have this level of exposure is kind of overwhelming, but in the best possible way. I'm not going to get carried away, but I'm lucky enough to be in a position where I get to tell stories and people read them. I remembering reaching "Preacher," about midway through the book, there was this one scene completely blew me away. And I remember thinking that if I could ever make one person feel like I felt, I'd consider my writing career a complete success. I'm still striving to do that.
CA: What's next for you?
BM: I've got a bunch of stuff due out later in the year, but annoyingly, it's all unannounced. What I can say is that I have another creator-owned miniseries due out, and I'll be announcing that around C2E2. That's something I'm looking forward to, and it's going to be completely different from "Choker." As much as I love noir and sci-fi, I don't want to get typecast off the bat. And I'm also doing some work on established comic book characters -- again, I can't really spill the beans. But they're characters people will be familiar with.
CA: It's funny, I feel like writing characters people aren't familiar with has kind of become the cool thing.
BM: I love to see that happen. The first example that I saw was when Alan Moore started off on "Swamp Thing." That was just absolute elite comics work. The fact that the character was so underused and almost redundant, and then Alan Moore grabbed that bull by the horns and rode it like a motherf--ker. I didn't read it till I was in my early 20s, and I was just astonished. I couldn't believe how good it was. And contemporary creators do like dipping in the back catalog for obscure characters and doing fresh things with them, and I'd love to have a shot to do that myself. You can also get away with a lot more, because you're not trampling over what people have done before so there's a lot more flexibility.
CA: What character would you want to write the most?
BM: Lobo, from DC, is this wild intergalactic bounty hunter, and I would have a blast doing something like that. He's just hilarious. Before I started working on [a story in "Superman 80-Page Giant"] I actually pitched another Superman story that used Lobo, and although the editor found it highly amusing, he thought it was completely unsuitable, and I happen to agree with him. But that's definitely a character I'd like to work on. I could go absolutely bonkers with that. But if I had to pick one character to write, I'd say Batman. The way I see it, when a villain's up against Batman, it's like watching a good chess player up against a Grand Master. No matter what you do, the Grand Master is always three moves ahead of you.
CA: Do you think it's harder to write something like a Batman or a Superman story and do something new with it?
BM: With something like 70 years of ongoing continuity, it certainly is difficult to do something fresh and original, but at the same time, even if it is an idea that resembles something else or is inspired by something else -- as long as the approach is unique, you can get away with anything.