Brian Posehn & Gerry Duggan on the Trollish Psycho-Drama That is ‘Deadpool’ [Interview]
When I say that Deadpool -- which just wrapped up a six-issue arc in which a hideous, indestructible and relentlessly jocular assassin re-kills the supernaturally re-animated, bent-on-destruction corpses of long deceased U.S. Presidents -- is possibly the most cleverly defined, consistently executed and most addictive book of the entire Marvel NOW slate, you might accuse me of trolling. I am not trolling, but that Deadpool of all things stands out in a pack of largely great superhero relaunches could be seen as an act of trolling perpetrated by its titular anti-hero; or, more accurately, by his diabolical writers, the comedians Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan. As they explained in this interview conducted at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, the "Merc with a Mouth" is an "expert, master level troll" who routinely extends his impish, grotesque reach beyond the pages of his own comic book to infect others -- even books from other publishers.
But what Posehn and Duggan also know about Deadpool -- aka Wade Wilson -- is that his readers like to see him suffer, and the writers created a situation where Wade will suffer like never before when his overbearing, super-competent S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Agent Preston finds herself sharing Deadpool's most fragile headspace. What lies within the mind of Deadpool is predictably inscrutable, but as depicted by incoming artist Mike Hawthorne, what Preston discovers is weirdly beautiful as well. With the cat finally out of the bag as to Preston's fate, we thought now was the time to release our interview with Posehn and Duggan and to take an early look at Hawthorne's artwork from the forthcoming arc.
ComicsAlliance: At this time last year, you did not have Deadpool. Was it in the works at that stage?
Gerry Duggan: Deadpool had been... threatened as a miniseries, but the timing never worked out. However not long after last year's Emerald City, we got an e-mail from [Marvel Editor-in-Chief] Axel [Alonso] asking us to connect with [editor] Jordan D. White. From there it became clear that they were asking us to have some pitches for a new ongoing Deadpool that would be part of a new initiative. A new #1 issue. We didn't even know it was Marvel NOW yet. We were thrilled and we began pitching some ideas. The first story ["Dead Presidents"] was our last pitch, the pitch that we didn't think they'd say yes to.
CA: This was specifically a gig offered to you and Brian together? How did you guys hook up?
GD: I was a clerk at the back counter of Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles and he was one of the regulars. He remembers it a little better, that we bonded over a horrible joke that he had made. He didn't expect me to laugh as hard as I did. And from there it became, "Oh, this guy is a cool guy." And then he and Patton [Oswalt] were doing a TV pilot at the time and asked me to join the production in a behind-the-scenes capacity. Then I got more production work and I left the comic job. We started writing together. We thought it would be really funny to write a movie about Santa Claus after the apocalypse. And Hollywood was like, "Oh my goodness, no. We won't be making this."
CA: And from there you went to G4?
GD: I had been working at G4 on and off on several different shows, and it was a great experience. G4 made me a better writer. I understand that not many people had the opportunity to see it, but the fans that liked Attack of the Show were very vocal. Every day I had to get up and slay a dragon. Every day there was one hour of content that I helped fill with some really great people. No matter how great or how bad it was, after that one hour of live TV was over, you could go home, see your family, get a decent night's sleep (if you weren't writing comics) and that dragon would be back again the next day. It's that process that I think sharpened me a little bit to prepare me for what would come next.
CA: And that was another comic that you and Brian wrote together, before Deadpool?
GD: We adapted our own silly Santa Claus screenplay. We really believed in it. We weren't trying to go, "We've written a screenplay to make into a comic to make into a movie." It was sort of before you saw a lot of that. We really just wanted to get it out there. It was beautifully illustrated by Rick Remender and Hilary Barta and colored by Michelle Madsen. It was a dream come true. It made me sort of understand that I might be able to take a run at this, that I might be able to do it. I learned a lot.
CA: This is your first convention since Deadpool came out. What's the response been like?
GD: Here's the crazy thing... I'm sure there are haters. But boy, I have not met one at this show. They've either avoided us or they've politely asked us to sign the Deadpool that they bought and hated anyway. So I'm grateful for that. But a lot of people are saying this was either their first Deadpool comic or their first Deadpool comic in a while, so we've been very grateful for the response. We singed thousands of copies of Deadpool this weekend.
Brian Posehn: It's been really great. We keep waiting for the axe to drop, for there to be a consensus that we're blowing it, but the consensus has been positive. The negativity has been so small and so outweighed by the people who love what we're doing. There were some complaints early on like, "Where are the thought balloons? Why isn't he talking to himself?" We are going to address that soon, but most people have been cool about that.
GD: I think people would have been disappointed if the first arc didn't have that comedic element. Now that we've got that under our belt, we're going to be doing a couple other things. The book is still going to be funny, we're still going to be using comedy to cover up for when things don't go right. We're even happier with what's to come. I can't wait to see what people think.
BP: I think people are really going to dig it. I keep reading people going, "My favorite part about Deadpool is when he fails and how he deals with that." That's coming up. There wasn't a ton of it in this first arc other than Lincoln kicking his ass a couple of times. There's some slipping coming up.
CA: The tone of the book is curious to me. You guys must have been given a mandate by Marvel... I mean, you're comedians. The book is primarily a comedy book. That's very distinct in the Marvel line. Marvel does more of that than some other publishers but it's still an unusual book for them.
GD: I think Marvel was okay with comedy as definitely the way to go. To their credit, they said that. They said, "Hey if you have something funny and you want to go for it, please do." Obviously we were thrilled to do it. But they really didn't give us any mandate one way or the other. Actually, I think some things -- it'll still be funny -- but I think some darker things are going to happen too. They've been very open to whatever it is we want to do. We're doing some kind of messed up stuff coming up.
CA: Like what?
GD: The dual dialogue boxes are coming back. But Deadpool is talking to someone else. He's got someone else in his head. Here's the cool thing: I don't think anyone noticed in the preview pages that were released from Mike Hawthorne's run, you can actually see Preston's reflection in places. There's a sequence in a car where Deadpool's firing out the back of a car and firing at the same time, and in the rearview it's Preston. They're having a little bit of an argument. It's fun. No one's picked up on that and no one's picked up on the end of issue #5... there's a lot of spell balloons for when the Necromancer is tucking her into Deadpool. It's neat because I saw some people say they're going to miss Preston, which was unexpected and really cool.
CA: She's not going anywhere, obviously.
GD: Nah, she's gonna stick around for a while. He's not going to be able to get rid of her. And she's got a family, by the way.
CA: Oh, so Deadpool's got to go and tell them, "She's in here... sorry"?
GD: They're a really not-very-understanding family. I'm sure the average Deadpool reader is not up on All Of Me, the classic Steve Martin comedy. But you will be!
CA: Speaking of the average Deadpool fan, I'm interested in the distinction between the "classic" take on Deadpool and what people expect from him and what you're doing. As an outside observer, someone who didn't read a ton of Deadpool comics before, what was amusing to me was that he seemed like kind of a dick and a troll. It seemed he was just trolling the Marvel Universe all the time. But in your book I think he's very sympathetic; I feel bad for him sometimes.
GD: If we have any regret it's, "Did we make him too sympathetic?" I view him very much as an expert, master level troll. That's what he is. But he's very, very good at what he does.
CA: One of the funniest things I ever saw them do with Deadpool was push his old series' issue number higher than that of Detective Comics, just before Detective Comics could hit a major milestone legitimately.
GD: There's a really good grasp [at Marvel] of what is possible [with Deadpool]. A lot of the stuff we like, we're not even a part of. He's not just trolling the reader and the universe he's actually in, but the other [comic book] universe too. The bird cover was really wonderful. So Deadpool as a master troll is very fun to do.
BP: We haven't discussed that, but I buy it. What I love about him is that he's the anti-hero, the misfit. Troll, I guess, is right. Nobody claims him.
CA: He seems to really bother people.
BP: The thing you can't get across in a comic book is... I'm guessing he stinks. You know what I mean? He smells bad.
GD: We're going to be able to prove that definitively in issue #12. We did talk about that.
CA: There's going to be a "s***ty variant?"
BP: A scratch-and-sniff... but don't scratch it or sniff it. But yeah, if you think about it, his body is constantly letting go of skin. If you've ever had a cast and you smelled what it smells like when your skin's been under a cast for a couple of months, think of what it smells like underneath his suit.
GD: Not to mention the burrito fumes flying out of his body.
BP: Yeah, he doesn't eat well. He's like me if I had a healing factor.
CA: So what do you think is the distinction between your Deadpool and "classic" Deadpool?
GD: I think we're trying to balance a lot of what we think fans' expectations are for him and what we really want to do. We wanted to open with a big comedy and I think it's been successful. [As of this interview] the sixth issue's not out, nobody's had the opportunity to review the completed series. I don't know if when we're done people will say, "That was the same Deadpool." The goal really was to have him pop out in that first issue and have him be the Deadpool everyone loves, but we're meeting him again for the first time.
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CA: I actually don't know why he looks like that, why his face is all f***ed up.
GD: That was a consideration! We worried that it was going to be confusing to someone.
CA: It doesn't seem to matter right now, not to me. I mean, somehow it seems to make sense that he looks like that.
GD: Well let's talk about your relationship with Deadpool. You're a casual reader, you only really knew of him. Now as a reader of the new series, you don't know why his face is messed up. We've got an arc coming up called "The Good, the Bad and The Ugly" and Deadpool in that equation is the ugly and you're going to learn a lot about who he was. If you've not read anything about Deadpool, you don't know anything about him, you'll enjoy it. And if you are completely familiar with the backstory, it's not going to break anything. No continuity gets broken. An explanation of who he is and how he came to be is literally being drawn now.
CA: That's the Mike Hawthorne stuff?
GD: It's actually the arc after the Hawthorne stuff. Hawthorne is cleaning up the mess that is left at the end of the first story line.
CA: You guys must be pretty far ahead, then. Hawthorne's on for four issues, I think?
GD: I think Hawthorne's on for five!
CA: And you're already writing something after that fifth Hawthorne issue [which would be around issue #13].
GD: We're essentially done scripting the Hawthorne stuff. Obviously when he's done we'll go back and punch up the balloons and polish it, but we are writing the arc after and then we're trying to figure out the next year. There are some loose ends that are not tied up so cleanly. It sounds weird to say that after the first arc. "What, did we leave Teddy Roosevelt in Cleveland?" But there's really some character stuff that comes out of that. And when Preston is in Deadpool's head, she's going to want to go a different way than Wade.
CA: Is it like All Of Me where she has some power, or is she just kind of tagging along and complaining?
GD: It's variable. Here's the fun thing that we did: we're able to get some information about who Deadpool is and what he is from her being in his head. We did that in a somewhat clever way.
GD: I don't want to scare anyone off when I say we're going to do a psycho-drama, but here we are!
CA: You guys came to comic books from the comedy community. It seems that often when people come to superhero comics from other entertainment realms, they don't last very long. But you guys are already well into plotting year two.
BP: Yeah. It's just really fun. [Gerry] and I have been talking about [writing Marvel Comics] for a long time. Image was our way in, doing our own book, but this is a dream for both of us. We've come about it from very roundabout places. I had an entire 25-year comedy career first and I still have that, but I don't want to go anywhere. I don't want five years from now for people to go, "Oh, remember that thing you did?" I still want to keep doing it. Who knows what I'll be doing then, but I want to stay in the Marvel Universe for as long as they'll let me. They're a cool company to work for. I love their books. I've loved their books since i was nine-years-old. To be able to mess around in the universe -- I mean just the fact that we've already done all these guest stars in little moments, that's the s*** I'm having the most fun with. I love writing Deadpool but to even have Thor in for a panel or two is so fun.
GD: Just to get to write Spider-Man into a script is fun.
CA: Superior Spider-Man is in your book? He's another head-sharing person, too.
GD: We do need to talk about this!
BP: Yes, we've got to address this.
GD: We were doing this parallel before we ever knew that they were doing that in the Spider office.
BP: When I first heard about Doctor Octopus getting in there, I thought, "Oh s***, is that going to be a problem? Are people going to think because theirs came out before ours..."
GD: At first glance you might think, "Oh, they're doing the same thing." But actually, knowing what they're doing and knowing what we're going to do, it's being done in two very different ways.
CA: I didn't mean to suggest anything dubious. What I meant was, they've got that in common as characters; Spider-Man and Deadpool have both got villains in their heads. Well, Preston's not a villain, although I guess Deadpool may see her that way once they're sharing headspace.
GD: Preston and Deadpool will definitely be butting heads. She has come around to him and appreciating him before... something bad happened to her. But they sort of had a good working relationship and it's going to be tested.
BP: When she comes in I think we are addressing the voices in his head. But this is an organic way of doing it. Of having this person going, "Should you be doing that?" instead of him asking himself. There's this S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in his head instead.
GD: And by the way, he may be a better operative for having a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in his head -- if he takes some good advice. She's the real deal.
BP: We should all have a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in our heads is what I think Gerry is saying.
CA: The artwork for that story is weirdly Kubrickian for Deadpool, with all these Deadpools hanging around in his headspace. Like when John Malkovich goes into his own head in Being John Malkovich.
GD: We wrote that, but when we got it back from Mike Hawthorne and we were like, "Well, these guys have to be saying something too!"
BP: That's been our experience with both of our artists so far. You write something and Tony Moore draws it and you go "oh my god, I've got to make the script better." He just took our dumb idea and knocked it out of the park. I hate to use that cliché but that's what he does every time he puts his pen to paper. He kills it. So to have those pages come back, with both Tony and Hawthorne, is making us raise our game. I threw a bunch of sports analogies in... I am not a sports guy.
CA: Can you talk about the next arc after that?
GD: That story is still secret but the good news is we're really having fun and we're hoping to stick around for a while. There will be some other announcements that might... well, we have more Marvel stuff coming up. We're really excited and please stick around through the art change, I think it will be rewarding.
BP: And if you hate it, don't write about it on the Internet. Keep it in your head. Or in your heart.