Ryan Ellsworth Helps Get Our Heads Around ‘North Bend’ [Back Pages]
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North Bend, by Ryan Ellsworth, Robert Carey, and Dee Cunniffe and Thomas Mauer, is a crime drama with elements of political thriller, focusing on a DEA agent invited to contribute to a CIA program to experiment on small-time criminals against their knowledge with mind-control drugs. The agent has to decide where he stands. Should he keep quiet, out of loyalty to his government, or speak out and put himself at risk? It's a story that surprisingly has its roots in real life events. We spoke to Ellsworth to learn more.
ComicsAlliance: What's the genesis of the project? How long have you wanted to get this comic up and running?
Ryan Ellsworth: The idea started forming almost two years ago. I was reading about this secret CIA program, project MKUltra, that was set up during the Cold War --- in the 1950s and 60s. There's a great book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. The author, John Marks, went through a bunch of declassified CIA files and interviewed people involved in the MKUltra project.
The short version, and this is just from what we've been given, is LSD had been newly synthesized, and no one really knew what it was. The CIA was interested in seeing if it could be used to control the human mind. They thought it could be used during interrogations, or operationally in the field. They recruited a federal drug agent to help them test LSD and similar drugs on criminals and a bunch of other people. This might sound like your standard conspiracy theory, but it really happened.
So the premise of North Bend is very similar. But beyond that, the rest of the story is fictionalized. It's got a bit of a cold war vibe, but it's set in the near future.
CA: What was it about this story which made you want to tell it?
RE: Thematically, there were a few things I was interested in looking at --- examining what power does to a person, and how we judge people that have it. And how a person who has good intentions can end up doing some very bad things. Reading about the drug agent that was recruited, I was intrigued by the type of guy that would agree to do something like that.
That's where the main character, Brendan, came from. Getting in his head and following the consequences of his actions in this type of setting was very interesting to me.
CA: How did the creative team come together? Was this project already underway beforehand, or did you create it together?
RE: I wrote the script for the first issue and sent it to my editor, Steven Forbes, over at Comixtribe. We worked on it a bit, and once I had something we felt was pretty strong, I started looking for the others I needed to help make the comic happen. I didn't really know anyone or have any connections, so I posted in some places online, with the story premise, looking for artists. I came across Rob, and his style really stood out as a good match for the story. I found Dee, the colorist, through Rob. After the art was complete, I came to Thomas with it, who dug what we had and agreed to letter it.
CA: How have you found the creative process? What's it been like to work with Rob?
RE: It's been a lot of fun. I'm new to writing for comics, so I wasn't sure what to expect or what the process would be like. I sent the script to Rob, and he would come up with layouts and whatnot and we'd go back and forth a little bit until we had the final inks. Seeing characters and scenes that only exist in your head, in some kind of vague form, come to life so quickly is pretty exciting to see. It's very satisfying.
Rob, and really the whole team, have elevated the script with what they do. Each part of the process --- getting it edited, colored, and lettered --- are all exciting moments.
CA: Structurally, this is interesting, as you state each page has a high panel count. What do you think having seven or more panels on each page changes about the way people read your story?
RE: I think it's sort of a necessity due to the low-key nature of the story. Things happen at their own pace, but I wanted to make it as interesting as possible. Which meant we needed a few more pages of story, and more panels per page than the average comic. That's not to say every page has some set panel requirement. Optimally, we want a lower number when the pace picks up, or you have a moment when you want more breathing room. But the hope is by the end of an issue, you feel like you've read something substantial and satisfying.
CA: Why take this to Kickstarter?
RE: Kickstarter has become a pretty viable way to publish creator-owned comics. At some point I'd love to get the series picked up by a publisher, but right now, no one knows who I am, and I have a type of story that's tough to pitch with only eight pages. So Kickstarter felt like a safer bet to get North Bend out there and let the readers decide if this should be a thing. And the experience has been a lot of fun. We're really happy with the response so far.
CA: What stage are you at with the project? How much have you already completed?
RE: I've spent about a year developing the characters and breaking the overall plot. So the series is mapped out with most or all of the story beats. And the series will span 10 issues. The script for issue one is complete. Writing the remaining issues is pretty much a matter of unpacking a section of the series outline into the right size for an issue, and writing a script from that.
CA: If you achieve your goal, what’s your estimated delivery on the final comic?
RE: We're looking at issue one being completed in May. That's when we can send out digital copies to everyone, and send it off to the printer. We expect to get the comics back and ship them out in June.
North Bend is currently running on Kickstarter until 4 February 2016, looking for a funding target of $4,500. You can find out more about the project here.