Talking Comics with Tim | David Liss on Angelica Tomorrow
A week or so ago saw a flurry of announcements coming out of New York Comic Con. But the deals we read about are only part of what’s going on at conventions. Last week I learned about a new project for early 2013 from David Liss, but, as I quickly realized in this interview with the writer, the early formation of Angelica Tomorrow, his collaboration with artist Allen Byrns (and published by 215 Ink) actually began at New York Comic Con 2011. As a fan of Liss’ recent work for Marvel (Black Panther: The Man Without Fear), it didn’t take a great deal of prodding to be interested in the upcoming six-issue miniseries, as I was already predisposed to be interested in “a paralyzed teenage alcoholic whose life is changed when he meets a charming amnesiac cyborg — who does not know that she was created to be a deadly assassin.”
Tim O’Shea: While many folks know you from your prose work and your great run on Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, this might be the first time people are hearing the name 215 Ink. What prompted you team with them for this project?
David Liss: I know a few guys who have published with 215 Ink, and I met Andrew DelQuadro, the company president, at NYCC last year. He was very enthusiastic about working together, and I loved the idea of being able to develop an original concept. The books I’ve done with Marvel and Dynamite have all been pulp titles — which is great, because I love pulp — but I wanted to try my hand at something entirely different. 215 Ink was willing to help me make it happen, so it was a great opportunity.
Can you summarize what you want readers to know about Angelica Tomorrow?
It is a six-issue miniseries about a paralyzed teenage alcoholic whose life is changed when he meets a charming amnesiac cyborg — who does not know that she was created to be a deadly assassin. The book is very much about the characters, but there’s also a lot of exciting action and suspense.
How long has Angelica Tomorrow been percolating in your head — and how far along in the process did you get before you realized that artist Allen Byrns was a good fit for the project?
This is a version of a story I’ve been chewing over for a long time. More importantly, I am trying to write exactly the kind of comic I love to read — something character driven and fun, but with plenty of genre elements and action In particular, I’ve always had a soft spot for stories that mix slice-of-life teen soap opera with science fiction or fantasy, and — let’s be honest — who doesn’t love a sexy cyborg?
Andrew and I discussed the project, and he mentioned several artists who might be available. When I saw Allen’s work, which is so moody and evocative, I thought it would work perfectly and give the series a unique and haunting look.
The book is named for your cyborg assassin, but I understand the main character, George, is a teen alcoholic in a wheel chair. I assume you want him to be sympathetic to your readers, but have you thrown too many challenges to your readers in putting someone so troubled in the lead?
Actually, I think despite all his challenges, George is very sympathetic. Things will change quickly for George once the story launches, but I wanted to write about a character who has lost so much of what he cares about and has essentially given up on life. Then something happens — such as, let us say, the arrival or a charming cyborg assassin who can’t remember where she comes from — and things begin to change rapidly. I don’t want to give too much away, but the characters in this story don’t remain static, but they are very human.
You employ slice of life humor in the story — how challenging is it to keep a narrative flowing while injecting it with humor?
It’s always a challenge to balance different story elements, but I love injecting humor into my scripts. Humor is part of life. People crack jokes all the time, so I find it fairly natural to include humor even in the darkest stories. This book isn’t straight up comedy, so readers should not expect a belly laugh on every page. But I do think there are several funny moments in each issue.
When writing a cyborg-assassin, how hard is it to find that character’s voice and to write that voice particularly given that’s the cyborg has forgotten who the heck it is? And is it odd to you that I have a hard time assigning gender when discussing a cyborg?
I think of Angelica Tomorrow not as a cyborg, but as a character who happens to be a cyborg. That may sound like word play, but when I started putting the story together, I knew who she was and what she wanted and what her story arc would be. The fact that she has mechanical components and can send email with her mind is secondary. What counts is that she, like any other character a reader will care about, has desires and challenges and has to overcome emotional and physical obstacles. And there is no gender problem for me. Angelica may be part machine, but she’s all woman.
What’s the best part of swimming in the creator-owned end of the comics pool?
I love the freedom to tell any kind of story I want, to develop it my way, and to create new and original characters. Keep in mind that’s not a complaint about the other work I’ve done, because I also love working with an editor and adding on to the narrative of long-standing characters. But there is a real pleasure in creating characters and story, and then seeing these ideas come to life — and develop and change — when Allen delivers the art.
What else is in the creative pipeline for you in the near term?
I have several projects in the works at other publishers, but they haven’t been announced, so you know how that goes. Right now I’m in the process of finishing my next [prose] novel, and I’ve also just finished a novella for an anthology (the theme: resurrection of the dead). There are a few other short fiction pieces that will be coming out over the next year, so there’s a lot going on.