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Professor Challenger Interviews Time Bomb Creators

Article by “Professor Challenger” at AICN

Hey, folks, Professor Challenger here. Radical Comics’ TIME BOMB involves time travel, a doomsday weapon threat, and Hitler. While reading through the treatment, I was struck by some thematic similarities to sci-fi as varied as Bradbury’s A SOUND OF THUNDER and episodes of STAR TREK with a healthy dash of Crichtonesque plotting. The comic book treatment itself seemed to me quite film-like in the way the story unfolds, and utilizing the very cinematic art style of the great Paul Gulacy gives me the feeling that it is going to look very cinematic as well. What inspired the two of you to develop this story in the first place?

JIMMY PALMIOTTI (JP): Every summer when I was a kid, my parents would rent a bungalow in upstate New York (Rockland county… upstate for a kid from Brooklyn) to keep us off the streets of the city. We would be up there full time for a few months and the place consisted of around 50 bungalows with families in it, a day camp and a big pool, tennis courts, etc. Something for mom and the kids to do while dad was out working and paying for it. Anyway, the place was called JOY ACRES and each Saturday night they would project 35mm films on the back wall of the pool area — cartoons for the kids and movies for the adults. Each year, these movies were on heavy rotation and one of my favorites was a film called WHERE EAGLES DARE… it starred Clint Eastwood, Richard Burton and a few of the Hammer films girls and it was about the allies going undercover to infiltrate a German castle under Hitler’s rule. This film stuck with me forever, and then one morning, I had the idea of how cool if someone from this day and age had to go back in time… with today’s technology… and cause some trouble during World War Two. Honestly, most ideas start this very way. Enter Justin and a lot of talking and maneuvering of characters and time lines and we came up with this idea that is 50 times more elaborate than what we had before. Honestly, this story has all the right elements to keep a reader glued to the book, and yes, it’s cinematic because most of the things we do are. Coming from an art background, everything I imagine has an image in my head already… so much so, I actually sketch a lot of the elements when coming up with an idea right on the printed page. I can usually see it all clearly in my head, and with TIME BOMB, I saw artwork that was drawn by one of my favorite artists, Paul Gulacy. Simple as that.

JUSTIN GRAY (JG): Absolutely, the cinematic feel comes into the story from every angle, Paul’s art, the size and scope of the tale and its influences. I think at the heart of every time travel story is the human desire to go back and change things – that’s why the stories often rely on the trappings of, if we change one thing, the world might not be the same. The truth is, we have no idea what happens if you could change the past, and that’s one of the things that are so exciting about it creatively.

PROF: In comics, which is a collaborative medium, it is unusual to find co-writers who consistently work together like Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. How does this process work for you? Do you work out the overall story together and one of you tackles the actual script, do you alternate pages, does one of you handle plot and structure and the other handle most of the dialogue…can you shed a little light on the mystique of the Palmiotti/Gray writing team?

JP: This is an easy one… first, because we are best friends… and any kind of work is made easier when you work with someone you like. We tend to think alike and then think completely opposite of each other, which also helps in the work. The key is not to bring an ego to the table and always understand that getting the best story we can tell is always the main objective. We work together on an idea, break the story down into pages and go from there. Think of it like a game of tennis; we volley the idea back and forth ’til we are both happy with it.

JG: We often force each other to look at a concept from different angles. By doing that, certain things are uncovered; clichés can either be playfully embraced or avoided. The physical act of writing generally depends on either the grasp one of us has on the material or the availability in our schedule. That first draft stage is pure thought and loose structure, generally a lump of raw ideas that have to be shaved down to the tightest draft possible. Although we’re both highly competitive, we tend to turn that nature against ourselves. We strive to get better with every story and every script. There’s a mutual respect and lack of ego when approaching each other’s work. That holds true for a high concept idea or a line of dialogue. It just clicks because we’re so close and have been working together for over a decade in some form or another.

PROF: What degree of historical accuracy are you going for when incorporating the sci-fi elements? Did you do a good bit of research in that area or just focus on your story and rework history however best suited your story?

JP: A little bit of both. We researched the year and month and weather and so on, but in the end, the story and the characters lead us through the book and it’s more important to follow them. Because this is a huge story, one that deals with fantastic elements, we try to ground the little details in reality best we can at the same time. A lot of the actual research beyond the story is the look, and Paul Gulacy nailed it beautifully. He was the right man, and the only man, in my eyes, for this story.

JG: With a story like this, you need just enough real world structure and historical accuracy to hold up the more fantastic elements and science fiction. By now, everyone on the planet understands what amounts to a Nazi genre and, as Tarantino showed recently, you can bend and flex the genre in interesting ways that are both exciting and believable.

PROF: Similarly, there’s a good amount of scientific exposition regarding the doomsday weapon and the manner of time-travel so that the reader understands what the limitations are and creates a countdown feeling for the story. To what degree were you aiming for scientific accuracy in your approach here?

JP: We have a responsibility to the reader to make the technology feel real and seem like it could work. In order to buy the concept, you have to believe in the situation and to buy into the resolution of it and I think we succeeded at that. The countdown elements we added add to the tension and urgency of the situation and as with any good thrillers, it’s key to feel and be aware that we are dealing with a ticking time bomb… a situation where the stakes are high and the mission is next to impossible.

PROF: Is “time travel” a concept either or both of you have a great fondness for as a story-telling device, or is this an unusual direction for you to go?

JP: We enjoy the idea of it and the endless amount of story possibilities that come with it and have, from time to time, worked some time travel concepts into our work, this being the most precise of the bunch. We currently have a screenplay making the rounds that also deals directly with people being placed in an unfamiliar time period. The cool thing about TIME BOMB is that the characters know all about the time period… so they think. There are a lot of crazy situations in these three books that will really engage the reader.

JG: Ironically, I’m not a big fan of time travel stories because, like magic, they tend to rely on the intangible and suspension of logic. What I like about TIME BOMB as a concept is the pulp nature of dealing with Nazis and a love of war movies.

PROF: As collaborators, did you seek input from other people in developing the story and, especially, did you seek or receive any story input from the artist, Paul Gulacy?

JP: Paul is a brilliant storyteller, and he makes additions and suggestions all the time, some over the phone and some visually, when breaking down the actions and scoping out the settings given to him. He is organic in his approach, so we always get something better than when we started with him. Honest, the man is a thinking artist, something you don’t find too often in this business… and we are happy to listen to each and every suggestion he has. As far as the overall story, the crew at Radical Entertainment had some notes and ideas and they were good ones… so we used what we thought would work and I think at the end of the day, TIME BOMB is the book we all imagined it could be.

JG: Everything we do, as a result of our collaborative process,  invites the artist to add his or her perspective on the story. If you’re going to work with creative people, you have to step back and let them do what they do best. An artist isn’t a robot and to lock them into a rigid set of rules can hinder their talent and you might lose valuable additions to the story – often small things you didn’t think of. We know when we work with Paul that he’s going to bring his considerable talents and vision to the table and we go crazy in anticipation of the work from him.

PROF: I agree. Gulacy is a brilliant storyteller. How did he get pulled into the project? Did you seek him out initially or did Radical Publishing connect you?

JP: The crew at Radical asked who would be our dream guy to illustrate the book and we both said Paul Gulacy. Little did we know, they just went out and got him. I wish every company would trust my experience and instincts enough to listen to me like they did… they would be in a better place by now. Radical has included us in each and every decision made on this book and for that, they will have a creator for life with me. When you have been doing this for as long as I have, you learn how rare an experience this is.

PROF: What approach is he bringing to the project artistically- linework and shadows, or is he fully painting the series?

JP: Paul is doing traditional pencils and inks on the series and Rain Beredo is doing the brilliant color on it. The combination of the two of them has to be seen. Anyone familiar with Paul’s work understands that he has one of the most cinematic styles since Jim Steranko, so the combination of Paul and Rain… well… it looks like nothing out there.

PROF: As a writing team, you seem to have a healthy professional reputation that allows you to work for a number of different publishers without conflict. How did this project wind up with Radical and how is the working experience different than some of the more mainstream publishers?

JP: The guys at Radical approached us to see if we had any ideas that might fit into their line of books. We pitched Barry and his crew a number of ideas and TIME BOMB was the one Barry went for in a heartbeat. He is a guy that goes with his gut, like myself, and felt this was the project for us. I have had the concept for the book for a long time, but never felt confident that any company would understand and be able to pull off the series like we wanted. For me, working with Radical is a radical departure from working with most companies. They are one of the few that actually trusts my experience in publishing and development and let us run with the concept and ideas. They let us have input in the art, color, the paper stock and even the format and that is something amazing in my eyes. The biggest difference is, as well, that we share in the ownership of the concept and the characters and that they actually know how to push the concept in different fields. At the end of the day, this book is a 150 page graphic novel that has to work as a comic and they have given us the room to make it do exactly that. Working with Radical has been a complete pleasure.

JG: Creating comics is a blast and it is entertainment, but we also realize it is a business and strive for professionalism on every level. Working with a number of different publishers is one of the things that help the industry thrive and hopefully grow. We like to be hands on with the creative process and everyone at Radical understands and appreciates that fact. Ultimately, everyone in the process of making this comic wants to put the best product on the market and it is a wonderful feeling when you have that kind of cohesion.

PROF: Do you see potential in TIME BOMB for a film version on the horizon, or are you content to see it exist in comic form and collected graphic novel?

JP: I am content for it to exist as a graphic novel… but would be lying if I didn’t immediately see the potential for this story to be a pretty cool movie. We work in a visual medium, so I see a lot of my work that way… but at the end of the day, it always has to work as a comic book first and foremost and it does.

JG: I don’t see why you can’t have both. We love the medium of comics and we love film, both have a huge influence on the way we approach every project. You create a story and a visual representation that you feel strongly about regardless of the media. A good story is a good story and the ultimate goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible. Certainly, it can work as a film, but when working on the comic, that’s our main and solitary focus.

PROF: With time travel proved out as possible within this story, the possibility exists of further excursions into the timestream. Assuming Radical is happy with the final product, would you be interested in pursuing further adventures within this world you’ve created?

JP: YES! I fall in love with all the characters I create, so it’s always fun to imagine more adventures.

JG: Absolutely, there are so many different possibilities that branch out from the technology and character elements we’ve built here.

PROF: I can’t wait to read the actual comic and on behalf of everyone at AICN, let me thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and share this project with our readers. We need more original projects like this. Look for TIME BOMB #1 from Radical Comics in July!

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