Black Ship Interviews The Gifted Creative Team

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1. The Gifted is largely a silent work. Much of the story is told visually without relying on dialogue. What were some of the challenges that went with this?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: Fortunately, as a writer, I have Nathan’s tremendous skill to lean on, because without dialogue, each character must display his or her distinct personality through the visuals alone. Scripting that can be tough, surely, as I have to envision a large range of emotions—anger, jealousy, ennui, fear, etc.—through physical interactions. A bark. A growl. A turn of the wolf’s muzzle. But the real trick comes in making those movements believable, making them feel and look, for lack of a better word, real. That’s where Nathan’s touch comes into play.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: Pacing was the biggest challenge for me. Without dialogue, It was very difficult to control tempo for the reader. Without dialogue bubbles to slow them down, I had to be clever with my use of negative space, in order to control the tempo.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: By the time the book reached my hands for final layout design, the writing and art were largely complete. I was left with the task of lettering the tiny amount of dialogue present in the book, and integrating the sound effects. So, in a sense, my job was to break the silence. I’ll say more about the dialogue below. As regards sound effects, there was no way to get them on the page that wouldn’t be jarring. So I tried to embrace that. Indeed, I thought it was important to embrace that. Since we were telling the story from the perspective of an animal endowed with a much richer sense of hearing, I thought it important to represent the sounds with a sort of stark, insistent clarity. My attempt at achieving this was to impose, against the soft grays and muted lines of Nathan’s artwork, crisp, high-contrast, sans-serif lettering.

2. The concept of ecological dystopia has been explored before although seldom so elegantly. What influenced your decision to show a barren over-used land through the eyes of an animal?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: A number of conversations between the four of us, about our understanding of humanity’s often negative—sometimes beautiful—impact on the world, ultimately anchored the decision. In the beginning, there was the vision of the old story told anew, coupled with Nathan’s evocative concept art. But, as we all got our hands a little dirty, playing around with this thing, we came to a consensus. The only way to tell (as you’ve called it) an ecological dystopian narrative with any integrity was through the lens of the animal. We had to push ourselves to see faults in even the most decent of human efforts. And then we had to struggle to make animals on the page. Not people with fur.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: I believe great story telling comes from taking the viewer somewhere they have never been before. Inside the mind of a hungry wolf is an interesting place to explore.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: Humans are myopic. We have trouble seeing beyond the bounds of our own tragic narrative. But the contours of that story have been traced again and again by writers of inimitable talent. We knew from the outset that the book would be doomed if we tried to follow in those footsteps. So, from the outset, we sought to tread on some new literary ground, to widen our gaze. If memory serves, it was Nathan who realized that the only way to achieve this was to tell the story from the perspective of an animal. Once the suggestion was made, we all instantly saw how well suited the medium of sequential art was to this task. When we watch animals in films, we often see trained performances, robbed of their natural power. When we read prose from the perspective of an animal, we often find the author gives the animal an interior life that feels disappointly, unbelievably human. On the page of a graphic novel, however, we could avoid both of these pitfalls. Since the animal was made, as it were, out of whole cloth, we could avoid the falsity of trained performance. And since the animal was presented through art rather than prose, we could avoid giving the animal an interior life that felt disappointingly familiar. In short, this medium was ideal to convey something of the deeply alien experience animals have of the world we share.

3. The animal protagonist of The Gifted is a predator. This works well because it hunts out of instinct and a need to survive. This contrasts with man’s wanton destructive appetites. Can you tell us more about why you chose a predator as a the protagonist instead of a herbivore or domestic animal?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: For a number of reasons, the wolf is an animal with whom any audience, but especially an American audience, will resonate. First, wolves are, genetically speaking, dogs. Only physical, behavorial differences exist between the two. So that’s a rich history to work with, humans and dogs. A lot to tap into. Second, wolves are pack animals. They socialize in ways that are familiar to people, which is helpful. This makes a lone, starving wolf something or someone almost any reader can understand, can sympathize with. Third, rural areas all throughout the United States are deeply entrenched in debates about how we should handle wolves right now. Talk about humans seeing only through human eyes. Both sides think of this problem first and foremost as something to be solved with hands and thumbs. By making our protagonist a wolf, we are bringing to mind a history of human slaughter—we drove wolves to the edge of extinction—while juxtaposing it with a character who is not so different than the dogs we love, the dogs who live with us, the dogs who’d die for us. He’s a predator, the wolf, but he’s been prey. That’s as human a history as it gets.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: To my mind, the short answer is that the protagonist needed to be a real threat to his human antagonists. Moreover, we wanted an animal that embodied the ferocious tenacity of the natural world, which was nonetheless disposed to human-like social behaviors. We thought we could do no better than a wolf, which is nothing but a dog with a different backstory.

4. The artwork in this book is unusual and striking. It stands out from the usual illustrative style found in modern comic books. In fact, I found it reminiscent of Japanese inkwash painting. Can you tell us a little more about what influenced the book’s art style?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: As a writer, all I can really say is that once I saw Nathan’s vision for this world, no other possibilities existed. We’re collaborators in that regard. His art built a terrain that I try to enter, not so much with a pen, but with a nose to the ground. He gave me that. Without it, the story would be no good.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: The choice of black and white ink wash had a lot to do with the story. It was a style that really helped the reader understand the state of the world. Lack of complexity and color and loads of negative space created those barren landscapes

5. And if possible, can you expand on the creative process used by the artist?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: I’ll leave that to Nathan. But, I will say, it’s a pleasure to watch the progress. Much more fufilling than seeing a cursor drift across a screen.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: I try to take the reader to a place they’ve never been. So picking a style far off the beaten path is an important place to start. Instead of forcing my style on the story. I like to spend time with the story and let it dictate to me what the style should be. Each of our books has a unique feel, and I try to push my brand of art to a new place with each book.

6. The humans in The Gifted speak in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet.) What was the reasoning behind this?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: Rather simply, IPA represents sound, nothing else; at least, that’s the hope. So its presence suggests that, at the beginning, the animals can only discern the sounds of human speech. They have not yet learned how to process those sounds into meaning. Much like the average person doesn’t understand what one dolphin clicking might communicate to other dolphins. But we can still write CLICK.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: We knew from the outset, that to the extent that this was possible, we wanted to put the dialogue on the page the way an animal would hear it: just sounds, no meaning. Both my brother and I have some formal training in linguistics, so IPA was already a familiar tool for symbolically conveying the sounds of a language, if not divorced from, then at least further separated from their meanings. The goal was to give the reader the initial impression of unintelligibility. With that said, any minimally patient reader will be able to work her way through the dialogue.

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7. The world in the comic is drained of life and color. Obviously its destruction is linked to man – did man as a species gradually overuse the natural resources or was there a once-off large-scale ecological disaster that resulted in earth’s devastation?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: A lot of that is for us, as creators, to know and readers to piece together. As the series progresses, a great deal of information about the events surrounding our wolf’s story will unfold. That said, it’s all quiet, easy to miss, to take for granted. I mean, isn’t that the point? It’s too easy to forget our context, what we’re doing day to day and how those actions effect everyone and everything around us.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: Homo sapiens sapiens has only existed for a relatively short period in the biological history of the planet. In light of this, the disjunction you present above might collapse. Our gradual devastation of the planet might, in the larger scheme, appear as a one-off, large-scale ecological disaster. This isn’t to say things might not have culminated in some cataclysmic event. But to think of these as two distinct eventualities might be, once again, to cast ourselves in too large a role in the historical narrative of our planet.

8. Do you see The Gifted as a stand-alone work? In the afterword of the comic, it’s hinted that the series will continue. Can you give us some idea what happens now and whether or not there will be a main antagonist (human or not) beyond just the human species in general?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: The Gifted will be a nine book series, so we all have much to look forward to. And yes, there will be more than just the faceless villainy of brutal people in a harsh world. Each human, each animal, wants something. Fur, skin, claws, or hands, those desires and fears color the characters. In short, you’ve already met not one, but two of the biggest antagonists. Still, there is no true evil here. There is fear and all that it entails. Characters will change dramatically as the series moves forward. In the end, this is a tale about learning, about rewriting the script we’ve been reading from for far too long.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: The Gifted series will be nine books long. Book Three is close to completion, and the entire series was written up front. So every detail from the first two books will be important to its conclusion. And yes there will be two main antagonists, both in the human world and animal kingdom.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: You’ve read books 1 & 2. You can expect seven more books. As regards antagonists, once the reader comes to grasp the story we’re telling in greater depth, that question will be resolved.

9. Can you tell use a little more about the themes, ecological and otherwise, in The Gifted?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: Well, I think I just touched on one rather heavily: Fear. Coupled with that is fogiveness, absolution, if you will. But not in the divine sense we always attach to the word. Whether it sounds trite, life, death, and the cyclical nature of things certainly plays a heavy role. Although, that’s all kind of undercurrent to the bigger motif: Tension. Tension between faith and education, hunting and murdering, defense and destruction, binaries and continuums, internal and external pressures, owning and sharing. In many ways, my writing in this series is tied to American Naturalism, books like The Awakening, for instance. The ecological theme builds off that—it’s a growth, a rise into knowledge that could help our characters coexist.

10. What are some of the challenges you’ve found in publishing and promoting The Gifted and what are some of your successes?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: Not only is The Gifted our first release as a company, and as creators, it’s an oddball. We, at CME, love zombies, spaceships, and cowboys (all that good stuff), but that’s definitely not The Gifted. For better or for worse, we came out of the water with a nearly silent book that we feel is a necessary story, not just to enjoy, but to take in. For me, the biggest success has been re-reading the book and realizing, hey, this thing works, it’s going where we need it to go. Let’s hope the sales reflect that.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: It’s a black and white, silent book, told from a wolf’s perspective. This is, at once, the greatest marketing hook, and the greatest marketing hurdle for the book. Fortunately, we have a talented publicist who’s done her level best to navigate the mysterious world of comic-book publicity for us.

11. This a question I ask as many creators and publishers as possible and I’d love to get your feedback. How would you like to see the comic book industry grow and change over the next few years?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: In case you can’t tell by my longwinded responses, I want to see it continue in the direction I already feel it moving: toward the literary. Many far better authors than myself have pushed it that way. If I can add fuel to that fire, I’ll feel accomplished. Because, there’s a simultaneity here, in comics, between word and image that is impossible in any other medium. As the great film-maker Federico Fellini said, “The world of comics may in its generosity, lend scripts, characters, and stories to the movies, but not its inexpressible secret power of suggestion that resides in the fixity, that immobility of a butterfly on a pin.” I want more of that. More butterflies.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: I’d like to see it continue to grow and challenge itself to try new things. Its such a unique medium, and I believe there is so much untapped potential. One day it should be respected as the serious art form, that it is. Writers like Stephen King , Alan Moore, Adrian Wassel, and many others are trying to create works of art that belong in any museum, and can rival any novel or movie as far as content.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: I think the industry is on a very good path right now. Each year an increasingly diverse audience buys and reads comics. Critical reception has never been more sincere or more favorable. Modern printing techology has made it affordable to print books of unprecedented quality. My deepest hope is that sales figures continue to grow for this medium, so that creators who work just as hard can be rewarded commensurate with their peers in film and television, prose books, and video games.

12. On a superficial level, The Gifted bears some resemblance to Grant Morrisson’s WE3. What were some of the influences when it came to creating and crafting The Gifted.

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: I’m sure it sounds a little weird, but like I said before, my obsession with American Naturalism has been the biggest influence on my writing in The Gifted. In Naturalism, people eat, digest, and fart. They want things, like food, and other things, like self-sufficient children. While The Gifted may not be a Naturalist book, it has its tendencies, its whispers of a world pushed by the outside and pulled by the inside. I mean, there is, quite literally, a voice creeping through the landscape and/or out of the wolf.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: My heaviest influence was Disney’s The Jungle Book. My degree is in Animation so I often start there.

13. CME (Creative Mind Energy) is a relatively new comic book company. What led to establishing it and what are your hopes for its future?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: Quite simply, I want to write comics, good comics, and more than that, be associated with people crafting good comics (whether that’s writing, painting, ot both). And sure, I’d love to cross into other genres, to feel unrestricted in our art. After all, CME is a family affair. My brother, my cousin, and my father. Corny as it is, I want to grow that family. I want to expand a company where the artist, no matter her or his medium, comes first. People might not realize it, but that’s what the entertainment world wants and needs. Even sitcoms these days strive for some soul.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: Well, we are a family company. So it started with my Uncle, Damian Wassel, telling us awesome bed time stories. We all have a sincere passion for great story telling. Nothing gives me joy the way a great book, comic, or movie can. I hope for the future that our fans can feel our passion and desire to try new things. Adrian once told me, we can be the HBO of the comic world. I agree completely. High production value, great talent, and no holding back.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: In a single sentence: we want to make beautiful, exciting books.

14. Can you briefly summarize some of the other comics that are part of the CME family?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: We have a number of upcoming properties in various stages of development. But two of them are soon to hit shelves: Dixie Vixens and Deadeye.

Dixie Vixens is an intense action thriller. Set in the Deep South, it follows three amazing young women, Darcy, Kat, and Alley, who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. After witnessing a brutal hate crime, they take a stand, using everything in their repetoire to bring down a backward Sheriff and a vicious Klan, only to discover that the reach of corruption stretches all the way to the heights of big businesses below the Mason Dixon.

Deadeye is a sophisticated and gritty sci-fi Western with it’s bootheels planted firmly in the dust. Left with nothing but a half-remembered hymn, the bounty hunter known only as “Deadeye” wanders in search of impossible vengeance before an uncanny set of criminals drag him into a game of chess where both men and monsters are used as pawns.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: Mostly I will defer to Adrian on this one. But I should add that while our initial releases will be long-form graphic novels, we have some exciting single-issue comic projects in the pipeline.

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15. Finally, if The Gifted were to be adapted for screen, what would be your preference? Live action or quality animation?

Adrian F. Wassel, Series Writer and Managing Editor: I could see it go either way, as a jaw-dropping animation or a live action feature, maybe even miniseries. Both would be amazing. Right now, though, my first concern is the books. The Gifted carries my heart. I love the art, the characters, and the end vision.

Nathan C. Gooden, Series Artist and Art Director: Well, Im glad you asked that. I am an animator as well. And I have already been working on a traditional animation screen adaptation, should the chance ever arise. Think along the lines of Disney’s Fantasia.

Damian A. Wassel, Jr., Layout Designer and Editor-in-Chief: I’m a Hollywood novice. But I think the first rule of Hollywood is, “Don’t say a bad word about anything, you never know who’s listening.” In deference to that rule, and at the risk of dissembling, l’ll say only this: I’d be dizzy with glee and surprise to see this book adapted for the screen, no matter the format.

LJ Phillips
About LJ Phillips (82 Articles)
LJ Phillips is an ex-bodyguard and professional artist who has had three solo exhibitions. He has also published numerous articles and pieces of short fiction. His interests include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, over-analyzing pop culture and staring into the abyss. Currently he lives in SA and spends his free time working on his various creator-owned comics.

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