Talking Comics with Tim: Nick Tapalansky & Alex Eckman-Lawn
Awakening creators, writer Nick Tapalansky and artist Alex Eckman-Lawn, are two storytellers eager to get the word out about the return of their project (which recently returned to the market from an 18-month hiatus as its publisher [sorted out business challenges [as explained here]). As announced in late September, Tapalansky and Eckman-Lawn are in the midst of a four-stop tour to generate support and interest in their Archaia hardcover horror book, Awakening. The tour opened on October 10 and in the course of this email interview, the details of the remaining dates are revealed (including this Staturday’s stop at Upstate Comics). The story “takes place in the once-peaceful city of Park Falls, where a series of gruesome murders and missing persons has put the town on edge, and Cynthia Ford, known as the town ‘crazy,’ finds retired police detective Derrick Peters and relates to him her belief about what’s going on. Her explanation: Zombies. Unable to ignore Cynthia’s information, though not sharing her beliefs, Derrick and others in the town explore the mystery as weeks turn to months and the death toll rises. Could Cynthia be right or has she finally gone insane?”
Tim O’Shea: During the 18-month publishing hiatus, was there ever any point you wanted to give up on the project or you always believed it would come back?
Nick Tapalansky: I don’t think we ever even considered giving up on it. Besides already having so much blood invested in it, the story is one which I’m really excited to tell since it’s been percolating in my mind for the last five years. It was just a matter of being patient and seeing how everything resolved itself at Archaia.
Alex Eckman-Lawn: No way! There were some scary days in there, but I don’t think we ever once discussed giving up on the book. It was always, “How can we make this happen?” and luckily for us, all we really had to do was wait it out.
O’Shea: What made you decide to stick with Archaia publishing the book?
Tapalansky: Mark Smylie. His passion for publishing exciting and idiosyncratic books is only just outweighed by his passion for painting ridiculously great orgies…er…comics. When we were just showing what little work we had done for the book back in 2006, just trying to get some feedback on the direction we were moving in, Mark keyed right into it. He gets what we’re doing and has been behind the book since day one.
Eckman-Lawn: Mark is a real doll. Beyond that, I just felt at home at Archaia. It’s a really nice community of creators who are all into making awesome books and helping each other out whenever they can.
O’Shea: While the book was on hiatus, did you take that time to revise some aspects of the story or the characters?
Eckman-Lawn: Indeed we did!
Tapalansky: I guess that was the silver lining, really. This is our first book and the extra time allowed us to decompress, review what we were doing, and firm up the conclusion of the series by giving me the time to write Volume Two. In turn we were able to make minor adjustments to the back end of Volume One which not only help support Volume Two but also solidify Volume One.
Eckman-Lawn: Yeah, it’s really great that we’re able to say with certainty that the book is actually BETTER because of the break. Nick made some adjustments that I’m behind 100% and I actually got to rework a couple pages to really make them sing. They’re little things, but they make a big difference to how Volume Two plays out.
O’Shea: In marketing the book, you recently wrote an open letter to retailers that included the following bit: “I know how hard it is to sell comics these days (or even books in general). It’s even harder to opt to stock a new title from an unknown creative team when you’ve got some guaranteed sellers you can put in its place. That’s actually why we shifted formats from floppy issues and hardcovers to just hardcovers – how could we ask you to order a fourth issue from a relatively little known book and put it on a shelf in place of, say a Marvel or DC book after we had an 18-month publication hiatus? It wouldn’t make sense.” Have you heard from retailers that ordered more copies of the project after reading your note?
Tapalansky: Yes! A lot of retailers wrote back, thanking me for giving them the PDF and some high-concept sales pitches for the book. After getting a chance to read the entire book and realizing which customers might dig it, they were much more inclined to take a chance on ordering the hardcover because they were able to speak to the product and share it with the folks in their shops who would really dig it.
The problem with the Previews format is that retailers are faced with making buying decisions for books based on a cover image and a 150-word (or less) blurb. Sometimes a creative team with clout is enough to inspire an order alongside that minimal info, but for a book like ours where we’re an unknown creative team and the book had already been solicited once before (prior to Archaia’s restructuring), that decision might not be so easy. It’s important for creators, especially folks like Alex and I who’re just starting out, to reach out to retailers with as much information as possible, like full PDF’s, promotional material, and anything else you can think of, just so they can have a chance to say “You know, I think I need this in my shop. There are at least three customers, maybe more, who I’m sure would pick this up if I show it to them.” They can’t do that just by looking at a cover and a paragraph, not for an unknown quantity.
So, if there are any shops out there reading this who didn’t see the open letter, drop me an email at Nick.Tapalansky@gmail.com with your shop info and I’ll get you, amongst other things, that open letter in its entirety and the full PDF of the book.
O’Shea: In raising the profile of Awakening upon its return, you’ve definitely taken advantage of technology. How did the trailer come about?
Tapalansky: That was something exciting which was in the works pre-restructuring at Archaia that was also put on hold until the book was primed for release post-shake up. Book trailers in general are becoming more common it seems, and the comic medium is where it really makes sense. We were thrilled when the new folks behind Archaia turned out to be, amongst other things, a marketing firm which had experience in animation. Alex’s pal and mine, Justin Crowell (www.SarasotaTheBand.com) composed the original music which helped bring Park Falls to eerie life, with the script for the trailer being written by yours truly.
Eckman-Lawn: It’s always cool to work with friends you respect, and especially in mediums you haven’t really tried before so this was two birds with one stone for me. Obviously all the work was done already on my end, but it was exciting to watch it all come together. At the risk of sounding a little arrogant, I think the trailer turned out pretty badass!
O’Shea: Could you define “existential horror” for me?
Tapalansky: I think existential horror is a more visceral form of the genre. It doesn’t beat you over the head with what’s happening, with over-the-top violence and gore, but instead gives you just enough to start questioning the world around the characters as it breaks down and, in turn, the world around yourself. It’s a kind of horror that stays with you, and not just in the shadows or when the sun goes down. It stays in your head.
Eckman-Lawn: It’s brain scares instead of cheap gore and shocks. Tapalansky’s trying to get inside all of you.
Tapalansky: Ha! Right into your MIND.
O’Shea: How has the book tour been so far?
Tapalansky: Our first stop was just this past weekend at Baltimore Comic-Con and it was a blast! We’ve been going to that show for the past three years, even last year when we didn’t have anything new because of the restructuring, and every year has just been better and better. We’ve made some great friends at that show and, hands down, is my favorite of the year. It was a no-brainer for us to kick off the tour there and give something special to everybody who always comes out to see us – the exclusive free print and the opportunity to sign up for online access on Halloween to the first chapter of Volume Two.
Eckman-Lawn: Baltimore really is a great show for us every year and this was no exception. To my surprise we had a few people show up with single issues to get signed. I was really happy to give away the prints and finally thank some of the people who have been with us since issue 1!
Tapalansky: The whole point of the tour was to give something back to the folks who’ve supported us so far while also giving some incentive to anybody who might’ve been on the fence. That’s why we’ve made sure that there’s something for everybody:
Do you already own a copy of Awakening Volume One but can’t make it to one of our four signing stops? Then hurry up and send a picture of you with the book to AwakeningComic@gmail.com by 11:59pm EST on 10/30/2009!
Are you waiting to try out the book but can’t make it to one of our four signing stops? Do you want to see some of what comes next so the wait for Volume Two isn’t as excruciating? Pick up the book at your local comic shop (and promote them by taking your photo with the book in front of the shop). Same deal, email a pic of you with the book to AwakeningComic@gmail.com by 11:59pm EST on 10/30/2009.
Everyone who emails a picture in by 11:59pm EST on 10/30/2009 is going to get an email from us at 12am, Halloween morning with an exclusive link and login info to read the entire first chapter of Volume Two!
Now, let’s say you’re near one of the three remaining signing stops listed below. If you come by and pick up a copy of the book, or bring your copy to be signed, not only will we take down your email so you get a link to the exclusive preview, but you’ll also get an exclusive, signed print created by Alex just for this Halloween tour! Mark these dates on your calenders:
Oct. 24, 12-4 p.m.
Brave New Worlds Comics
45 North Second Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Oct. 28, 4-7 p.m.
Jim Hanley’s Universe (with special guest Mark Smylie! Others TBA…)
4 West 33rd St.
New York, NY 10001
O’Shea: Zombies have increasingly become a popular go-to element in films and comics for years. In deciding to tap into zombies for your story, what approach did you take that you felt make it more unique than most storytellers?
Tapalansky: It was all about re-evaluating the standard conventions behind zombie stories. I began to pick and poke and prod pop culture zombie lore and look at it from different angles. What if things happened slower? So slowly even, that the very nature of the problem wouldn’t even come to light for the general populace of a small city until months after it began? How would the city handle it? How would certain types of people approach it? What was causing it? These initial questions ultimately led to a new take on the very concept of a zombie uprising – one which might not offer any kind of pattern or reason for spreading, where somebody walking down the street would simply fall down and minutes later get up again, now changed. What would happen if we explored all of these questions through a mystery/noir lens?
There’s a certain horror in not knowing what’s going on around you and it’s very different from the fight/flight horror that comes from exploring a mass uprising of undead. It’s a very real feeling we experience in life without something so fantastic as zombies involved. In a situation like this, where we explore the city of Park Falls over the course of a full year, our characters have time to think about what this might mean as they grapple with the headier concepts of science vs. religion, reconciling old shortcomings and mistakes, and trying to evolve and grow as you see your city and world decomposing slowly, all the while still fighting to understand the core of the problem and overcome it before it’s too late.
Eckman-Lawn: From day one Nick made it clear to me that he didn’t want this to be like any other zombie story and I think he’s delivering in spades. He’s being pretty fearless about breaking established rules and attacking concepts you aren’t used to seeing in zombie stories.
O’Shea: Alex, how did you develop your art style? Nick, what about Alex’s art made you want to work with him?
Eckman-Lawn: Man, I kind of wish I knew that myself. It’s hard to say how it all came together since I’ve been muddling through trying to figure things out as I go, but I wanted a solution that used drawing, photo and a lot of the heavy texture that I love in painting. I have to admit; a big “a-ha” moment for me was finding the more fine-art minded comic guys like Ashley Wood, Dave McKean, Bill Sienkiewicz. All the dudes you could probably guess I would love from looking at my work. Also, a big part of making pictures for me, and this is going to sound a little cheesy, is just conveying emotion through images, so I try pretty hard to capture something with every page. Every panel if I can.
Tapalansky: Alex’s art has a certain life to it, something tangible and emotional. Just looking at his illustration work at the time I was working on Awakening was enough to know that he would not only get it, but be able to bring it to life. He’s able to infuse every page with a creeping, bleeding sense of atmosphere and horror, whether it’s a character alone in an alley with shadows creeping all around or two characters talking out in the daylight.
O’Shea: Any final thoughts?
Tapalansky: Folks who want to follow us online and keep up with what we’re getting up to can find us at the following haunts:
Alex Eckman-Lawn’s Blog
Eckman-Lawn: Thanks, this was fun. Come meet us, we’re even more charming in person.