Talking Comics with Tim | Paul Jenkins on Deathmatch
Late last month, writer Paul Jenkins launched his new ongoing collaboration with artist Carlos Magno, BOOM! Studios’ Deathmatch. In Comic Book Resources’ review of the specially priced $1 first issue, Kelly Thompson rated it four out of five stars and wrote: “A Battle Royale concept of heroes pitted against each other to the death in an arena has the potential to be pretty tired at this point, what with the proliferation of these types of stories including some comics already out there … However, in the deft hands of Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno, ‘Deathmatch’ is not only good, but far better than I ever expected given the concept and title … Jenkins and Magno have set up a very cool and smart story that, although it could easily fall into seen it all before cliché, is so far expertly avoiding all those traps and delivering a great reading experience.”
Jenkins recently took time to talk with me about the new series, as well as the Kickstarter success of his and Humberto Ramos’ Fairy Quest. Deathmatch #2 will be in stores Jan. 30.
Tim O’Shea: You’re an established writer who has had numerous successful runs on many Marvel and DC titles. But when I heard about this premise (32 characters fighting to the death and ultimately one winner), I realized it was a win-win for you in many ways creatively. You got the chance to create 32 characters and you get to kill 31 of them, knowing that no other writer will bring that character back a year or so down the road. Which element appealed to you more?
Paul Jenkins: I think the creative freedom, for reasons that are obvious to those of us who get to do this for a living. That kind of freedom has always driven me. If I look back to the days of Marvel Knights, the Inhumans, Sentry and my early Spider-Man work, that was usually the case. But as time passes, so does the landscape with the various publishers. So at this point of my career in comics I think it is natural for me to gravitate to a publisher like Boom who has a wonderful, clever editorial staff but who can give me the creative freedom that seems to work for me.
How detailed a character bible have you developed for the Deathmatch universe?
Each of the 32 combatants was developed out, drawn, added into the book in the extra pages – even if the poor character dies in the first issue (ahem … Apex). Lots of fun for the readers, I hope, to sort through these characters and think about what their potential might be.
In the preview for the first issue, we see that flashbacks will play a part in the series, revealing parts of the character’s history, but it literally seems like historical snippets from past comic stories allowing for these glimpses. How did you and series artist Carlos Magno arrive upon that approach?
It was something I have actually used to good effect in previous stories I have written, most notably, the Sentry series. I think it adds a certain weight to the characters if we can suggest there are hundreds of old books they may have been a part of in past years. I think the readers usually respond well to this kind of approach because it sparks their imaginations.
Who came up with the inspired March Madness bracket approach that will appear in each issue to see who has fought and lost or won?
Uh, guilty as charged, I suppose. The idea of gladiatorial combat in the book was really something that the Boom folks came to me with – I hope I am correct in saying the original idea came from Bryce Carlson, Boom’s managing editor. But during the early conversations and my initial pitch for this, I suggested we just “go for it” – let’s create this thing and do it like the March Madness brackets (or the F.A. Cup, depending on where you are from).
In developing these characters, how challenging was it to kill off the ones in the first few issues, before readers have established a connection with them. How did you go about making them more sympathetic to the reader given the small window of time they would have on the Deathmatch stage?
No problem at all. We write and draw them as if they are real people, just as I always want to do in any comic I write. If they die in issue #1, they die as a “real” person, and if we haven’t had a chance to flesh out their character then at least we believe in them. I feel one of the most attractive aspects of the creative freedom is that we can kill a character – I mean really commit to making final decisions with them – without compromising our story.
In addition to writing comics, you are quite successful writing for video games. In those periods where you’re juggling both writing for both mediums, how do you approach it. Is part of your day devoted to comics and then moving onto video games. Or do you alternate, certain days are comic writing days/others for video games?
It’s really just like knocking off little ducks at a fairground. Write a project, finish, move to the next. I love every type of writing, And for what it is worth writing a comic is like shooting a little fake duck. Writing a video game is like slaying a giant metal dragon.
As noted in this recent CBR interview, Kickstarter fundraising you and Humberto Ramos orchestrated for Fairy Quest was one of the most successful seen to date. Since that success how many creators have you had contact you–seeking to find out what was the key to your fundraising success?
I have had a few creators come to me, sure. I’d love to speak with more of them because I am totally sold on the Kickstarter idea. Creator-owned is most definitely my future. Kickstarter is likely to be an avenue for much of what I want to do.
What do you most enjoy about swimming in creator-owned waters?
The freedom to turn left or right, depending on my whims and desires.