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On March 14 folks got their chance to buy the first issue of writer/artist Brian Churilla‘s new monthly ongoing series, The Secret History of D.B. Cooper (Oni). If you missed out on this quirky and engaging effort to reveal what transpired 40 years ago when Cooper hijacked a plane, held it for ransom and disappeared seemingly forever via parachute–you missed a memorable first issue. Don’t trust my opinion–consider what CBR reviewer Ryan K. Lindsay wrote in his recent review: “The story is the type of fun you’d need to commit an illegal act to find elsewhere, the art is top quality and the entire package is one hell of a show. You won’t forget about this comic after reading. Get in on the ground floor and enjoy a comic that deserves your attention.” In the wake of the ever-increasing buzz of this new series, I decided to get in as close to the ground floor via an email interview with Churilla. After reading this interview, get more of Churilla’s perspective by reading CBR’s initial interview with Churilla about the project from August 2011. Later this week (March 30 to April 1, to be exact), if you are attending Emerald City Comicon, you can visit Churilla at Booth 802. Finally, congrats to Churilla and Oni on the initial response to the series, given (as he notes in our interview): “the book was sold out at Diamond about a week after its release”.
Tim O’Shea: A recent review of the first issue by Don McPherson notes “His overall look reminds me so much of Cooke’s take on the afore-mentioned Parker from The Hunter and The Outfit, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a direct inspiration involved in Churilla’s choices.” Is McPherson right to see a connection?
Brian Churilla: Nope. I started out by looking at that iconic police sketch of Cooper from 1971 and worked from there. If I had stayed faithful to that sketch, he would have ended up looking like an amalgam of Kevin Spacey and Ed Norton. It wouldn’t have captured the look I was going for, so I took some liberties. I wanted him to have a boxer/tough guy look. I can definitely see how Don could see a similarity though.
O’Shea: Many a new comic gets praise by myriad peers, but I was floored by all of the folks that loved your first issue, Warren Ellis, Mike Mignola, Kurt Busiek, Mike Allred, J.H. Williams III, everybody but Ditko it seems. Did that put extra pressure on you, or give you added confidence in your work?
Churilla: Many of those people I consider very good friends, so not really. I was just happy they liked it. Mignola is one third of my artistic idol trifecta (Eisner and Toth being the other two) so that was very cool. Busiek is a mensch and a mentor; they’re all good folks. I put more pressure on myself to do a good job. The accolades were just self-affirming, especially after feeling like I’d been working in a complete vacuum for so long.
O’Shea: I am curious if working with Phil Hester (on BOOM’s Anchor) proved to help strengthen your writing skills–or your storytelling strengths in other ways?
Churilla: Of course. Working with Hester has taught me how to be a professional more than anything. Also being that connected with the process, working that closely with a writer/artist of his caliber also affected how I approach things, specifically how important economy in storytelling and rendering. I learned a lot from Arvid Nelson in regards to economical storytelling as well. I worked with him a couple years ago on a Rex Mundi webcomic for Dark Horse.
O’Shea: Have you started getting quirky conspiracy theories sent your way know that you’re getting known as the guy telling the secret history of Mr. Cooper?
Churilla: Just vague threats. Stranger stuff.
O’Shea: I love how you revealed your process (from basic sketches to fully colored pages) as with this post. Are there certain points when inking or coloring the pages that you’re inspired to tweak an aspect of the page?
Churilla: One nice thing about coloring is I’m able to edit the line art a lot, such as removing this line or that, taking out action lines or knocking them out. Things I do intuitively that help the art immensely. If I was working with another colorist, they wouldn’t do it the way I would do it. It’s going to be hard for the next colorist I work with.
O’Shea: In the first issue you reveal that Cooper has a daughter named Donna. Will it be a long while before you delve into her story–or do you want that to play out for some fun?
Churilla: It’s explored in the second issue. We get to delve into Cooper’s backstory a bit.
O’Shea: The bear has a missing ear, why that as opposed to say a missing eye or another appendage?
Churilla: This is made known on the second page of issue two! Ha. Everyone will finally know why Lee’s ear is missing.
O’Shea: In what ways is the series bolstered/strengthened by James Lucas Jones editing it, as well as being published by Oni?
Churilla: James trust the creators. He doesn’t make arbitrary editorial decisions to merely put his fingerprint on a given project, and he’s very good at what he does. Oni took a big chance on this book and it’s paid off in spades, as the book was sold out at Diamond about a week after its release. They take big risks on their books, which is very brave, especially these days. They have their stable of creators they like working with and are uncompromising in that their zeal to bring original, creator-owned media to the marketplace.
O’Shea: How deep a supporting cast do you want to build for the series, or do you hope to keep it simple?
Churilla: My favorite kinds of stories and movies work as plays, having fairly limited casts and locales, and this no doubt has affected the structure of the narrative. The cast is also fairly limited so I can delve deeper into the psyches and motivations of the key characters. Adding more to this story would muddy thinsg up and you would be getting a more cursory look at the characters rather than the insightful portrayal that I want.
O’Shea: Your story partially delves into alternate reality (the Glut), how challenging is it to juggle the story’s prime reality with its alternate in a given issue?
Churilla: It’s a nice way to splice the story up. The dual narrative is a great tool in sequencing the story because I can take the story into The Glut whenever it feels like the real-world stuff is getting too plodding or expository.
O’Shea: Who had the idea to run a backup preview of Bad Medicine in your first issue?
Churilla: No idea. That book looks slick. Looking forward to it.
O’Shea: You recently migrated your blog over to Tumblr, what prompted the move?
Churilla: I like that it’s a social media platform and there is an opportunity for exponential page views. Blogger seems so static in comparison.
O’Shea: Anything you’d like to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Churilla: The psychedelic, murderous mayhem of The Secret History of D. B. Cooper continues when #2 hits stands April 18th. I will be at Emerald City Comicon March 30th through April 1st, Booth 802.