Talking Comics with Tim: David Liss and Allen Byrns on ‘Angelica Tomorrow’
Typically, I don’t interview a creator twice about the same project. However, David Liss is a writer whom I consider to be greatly undervalued; if you never read the Black Panther stories he did with Francesco Francavilla a few years ago, you should remedy that situation immediately. We initially discussed his creator-owned Angelica Tomorrow in 2012, but along the way publishing plans (and options available to Liss) expanded, and an opportunity presented itself to bring artist Allen Byrns into the discussion.
On Wednesday, the six-part miniseries that Liss characterizes as “Ghost World meets The Terminator” debuts on comiXology, with plans to ultimately publish a trade paperback through 215 Ink. The slice-of-life project pairs a physically challenged teenage boy with an amnesiac cyborg assassin, and it’s perhaps unsurprising, given that quirky pairing, that the fiery action begins pretty quickly.
Tim O’Shea: David, we first discussed this project in 2012 with plans for it to come out in 2013. Along the way did you decide to publish it digitally first, or has that been part of the plan all along?
David Liss: The plan right now is to publish each of the six issues digitally, and then we’ll release a trade paperback. This seems to me a good way to get the word out for a comic that is a little bit non-traditional and to establish some word of mouth and hopefully get some reviews that we can use to market the trade collection. That said, Diamond did not want to distribute the physical issues, so this is what we have to work with.
How did you two go about deciding the look of the cast of Angelica Tomorrow?
Allen Byrns: When I received the scripts from David, he had basic descriptions of the characters. Nothing too specific, pretty much leaving it to my own interpretations — which was fun. I wanted to give the younger characters a “hip” look the kids have these days. For Angelica, I don’t remember if David had anything specific, but I thought the orange [hair color] made her stand out a lot and really cool. A little something that makes Angelica Tomorrow special.
Liss: I gave Allen some basic guidelines about what the various characters would look like, and he did an amazing job of translating my ideas onto the page. I never once felt the need to ask him to tweak any of his character designs. Whenever I saw his art, I always thought That’s exactly what I wanted while also thinking That’s so much better than what I had in mind.
Allen, at one point in the first issue we see an exterior of George’s house, and it looks like a photo of a house. There’s also an exterior shot of his high school that is along the same lines. Can you talk about what made you opt for establishing shots like that in those instances?
Byrns: There’s nothing more than I just liked the way it looked. On some occasions I use real pictures. Let’s say for the school, I took a bunch of school pictures, cut some parts here and there to make it the way I wanted it to look. With all the effects and texture, it really gives a cool old picture like effect. I’m planning on showing a bit of my process as bonus in the collected paperback.
Can you discuss the look you wanted to have for the series, in particular how the coloring palette that helps set the tone for the series?
Byrns: I give warm or cold colors depending on where the scene takes place. For example, if it takes place outside, I’ll give it a cold blue color. On the other hand, the house or school should be warmer than outside, so I go with something brown-ish. When I read the first script, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. But mixing both my style of art and David’s writing really made something great and unique, I think.
Liss: I asked Allen to come on board with this project because I thought his style was a perfect match for this kind of story. I am not an artist, and I would never have suggested a palette, but I think what Allen came up with looks amazing.
Without going into details, David, the first issue touches upon the impact of alcoholism. Is that an element that is explored further in upcoming issues, given the nature of George’s mother?
Liss: It’s part of who George and his mother are, but I didn’t see it as a theme to explore. This isn’t an inspiring tale about people hitting bottom and reaching sobriety. George and his mother drink too much because they are both people who, in their different ways, have given up on life. For George, drinking with friends is also his main social activity. The alcoholism is of a way of illustrating who these people are, and where they are, when the story begins.
Can you discuss what storytellers influence your approach to storytelling?
Liss: I wanted to write a book that would allow me to channel the slice of life comics I’ve always loved, especially those by people like Daniel Clowes, Terry Moore, and Jeff Lemire. But I’ve also always loved comics that combine slice of life elements with various genre story lines — especially, say, Brian K. Vaughan or Robert Kirkman in Invincible. My goal was to write a story about people with real and personal problems and goals, and combine that with an over-the-top science fiction element.
Byrns: I’m happy David mentioned Jeff Lemire, I always liked his stuff. For me, obviously I can’t hide that I’m influenced by artists like Ashley Wood and Ben Templesmith. I always liked the way they weren’t conventional in their storytelling. I always try to think and approach the pages and panels differently than your average comic book. Hopefully, to make something new.
The last time I interviewed David, he mentioned liking to work humor into the story. By his own description your art is moody and evocative, so Allen how hard was it to add humor into your art?
Byrns: It just fit well in the story. David’s use of humor is well placed and never felt out of place. It was new for me, but it wasn’t hard at all to incorporate it into the art at all.
Can the two of you discuss what you enjoy most about this collaborative process?
Liss: This was the first time I’ve worked in comics with absolutely no editorial or rights-holder oversight, so there was no established continuity or history to draw on, and there was no editor advising me on how to shape the narrative. I loved being able to hand the completely original scripts over to Allen and then see how he took the ideas and made them his own and brought them fully to life.
Byrns: It was the first time I worked with a well-established writer. Every script was professionally written. I never had any issues with them. It was also the longest project I’ve even done so the whole thing was exciting. I liked the fresh new story, David’s open mind, and being able to do whatever we wanted to do.
Could you see telling more stories with Angelica and George, or is the plan to tell their story with this project?
Liss: My goal was always to tell a story that was complete on its own but could, theoretically, be expanded if we needed it to. The main characters all undergo major changes by the end of issue six, however, which to my mind is a good sign that the story has reached the end of at least an initial cycle. I enjoyed working with these characters, and this project has been a lot of fun to put together, so it would not take a whole lot of pushing to convince me to work up a sequel.
Byrns: This mini-series tells a complete story, but I guess it wouldn’t be too hard to expand their universe. If the mini-series goes well, who knows?
This project has been percolating since 2011, how good does it feel to be on the cusp of putting this in people’s hands?
Byrns: Finally! We started the work on AT couple years back. Looking back, my art from the first issues to the last ones has really evolved. The first couple issues are very different than my art now. I was still perfecting my craft at the time. I learned a lot. It takes a while to get a full mini-series like this into people’s hand. We made it, and I’m happy with our product.
Liss: Moving from initial idea to distributed project has definitely taken a bit longer than I would have anticipated, but I’m very excited to get it out there. It’s an unusual comic, I think, but I also believe it’s the sort of story that should appeal to a lot of fans. Let’s hope!