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DF Interview: Tony Lee brings life to after-death conflict in his Also Known As graphic novel
By Byron Brewer
Imagine losing the one you love, only to find that everything you believed about them was a lie. That’s what happens to Cavalry Officer Lucas Wilson as he watches his wife murdered before his very eyes, just moments before he’s hanged by his corrupt commanding officer Nathaniel Monroe.
Offered a chance to redeem his broken soul, Lucas is recruited by Charon the Ferryman (Death?) to reap souls for him, on the condition that once he’s finished Lucas can join his wife in Heaven. What Lucas does and the untruths he discovers are what fills the exciting graphic novel Also Known As, written by Tony Lee with art by Christopher Jones and Charlie Kirchoff.
Dynamic Forces wanted to know more about this intriguing book, so we sat down with Tony Lee to get the details.
Dynamic Forces: Tony, this is very exciting. Not only is this property, As Known As, going to be a new graphic novel but the folks behind this are actually building this into a transmedia franchise with a film in development, video and card games, etc. Tell us how you got involved from the very beginning.
Tony Lee: About eighteen months ago, I was running a one-day course on Graphic Novel Writing for Raindance, a talk aimed at screenwriters who wanted to work in other areas. As a comic writer who went the other way, I had an idea of what screenwriters would want from such a course, and I’ve been running one twice a year for Raindance a few years now. So in the July 2014 one, I’m in front of a large group of students talking about comics and writing, etc. and there’s a guy at the back who makes the cardinal mistake of mentioning that he’s a film producer. Of course, all the writers look at him like he’s a tasty meal, and at the end he’s swamped with cards from all of them. But he asks to talk to me once they've all gone – his name is Haydn Pryce-Jenkins and he’s a director of Boxfly Pictures. At the time, they were writing Also Known As as a screenplay and were talking to both TV and movie – I believe a U.S. network was in discussions – and they were looking for someone to take on the job of writing the graphic novel.
While discussing this, I gave several ideas for the GN that would have altered the film however, and when we left I didn’t expect to hear from them again. So as you can imagine, it was a shock to hear from my agent a week later, saying they’d contacted her asking if they could bring me on board to re-write the screenplay.
DF: Any news on the progress of the film?
Tony Lee: It’s in development, and [soon] I’m in LA with Haydn talking to some studios about it. To be honest, I don’t get involved that much on that side. My job is to write it, not produce or sell it.
DF: What can you tell us about the storyline of the GN?
Tony Lee: It’s an adaptation of the screenplay, and it follows Lucas Wilson, a dead U.S. Cavalry Officer who’s returned to life to reap souls for Charon the Ferryman. As he starts to question his duties a century down the line, he learns that many things that he’s been told are actually lies, especially when he discovers that the next soul he’s to reap, Faith Jones, is actually the reincarnated soul of his long dead wife, a wife he was told was waiting for him in Heaven when his “shift” is over. Because of this, he goes against his orders, saving her instead and, with the help of other characters in the story, starts to investigate the “truth” about the world he now lives in, which gives him some world- and dimension-shattering revelations.
DF: Tell us more about Wilson and his commanding officer, Nathaniel Monroe.
Tony Lee: They’re survivors of the Battle of Wounded Knee, a famous U.S. Cavalry massacre – Monroe was one of the commanders of it, and behind a lot of the atrocities performed. A survivor, Lucas can’t live with himself over what happened, and decides to testify against Monroe – but before he can, both Lucas and his wife Elizabeth are murdered by Monroe, the act that creates Lucas as a Reaper.
And then a century later when Lucas turns against his master Charon, Monroe's brought back to life to help hunt him down. It’s pretty much a hate/hate relationship.
DF: Who are the Rogues and Reapers, and what are they fighting over?
Tony Lee: Souls. Reapers work for Charon, and they take souls and send them to Heaven. Rogues work for Cerberus and send them to Hell. The problem is that they’re often fighting over the same ones, so there’s a lot of conflict.
The story’s also very much a sci-fi over supernatural one, so instead of “powers,” Rogues and Reapers have items of power that can enable them to travel through portals, fly or even pulse blast people through buildings.
And of course as the story progresses, Lucas learns that neither side is what they think they are.
DF: No spoilers here, but if you can answer … Is the character named Charon also Death itself?
Tony Lee: He might be. This might be one of the reasons that “Also Known As” is the title. Or are his Reapers “Death”? I think there’s a strong possibility. One of the Reapers, Thade, even goes so far as to use a Jawbone Scythe!
DF: I understand your graphic novel has Christopher Jones and Charlie Kirchoff on art duties. In your opinion, why are they right for this book?
Tony Lee: About a year after we started the screenplay, Haydn took me to lunch and told me that they still wanted to do the GN as part as a whole transmedia focus that covered film, book and games among other things. And because of that I could pretty much create my own team on the GN front. There were a few artists I immediately thought of, including Christopher, who at the time was developing a creator-owned series idea with me called Doc Chronos, and we invited them all to pitch some concept designs. We came down to two artists in the end, but Boxfly liked Christopher’s take on the characters more, and so we welcomed him on board. In addition to that, I’d worked with Charlie on Doctor Who and knew how fast and professional he was. But even though I knew he’d work with Christopher well as they also knew each other, he still had to pitch for the book, as we’d already spoken to a couple of colorists.
In the end, Boxfly picked him also, which was great as both Charlie and Christopher also attend the Gallifrey One convention every February, they’re friends, and we can sit down and go over things in person.
The fourth member of the team is Aditya Bidikar, whom I’ve known since I visited India for the British Council in 2009. He’s a good friend as well as an incredible and fast-working letterer who did my MacGyver series, and he was my immediate first choice to letter the book.
Christopher has such a varied style, he can go mainstream to animated to Vertigo in the blink of an eye, and with Charlie’s style of coloring, it’s a beautiful piece of work. And with Boxfly bringing their expertise to the table, we’re bringing on new ways to get information on the book out there. For example, we’re doing an Also Known As panel at Gallifrey One [this week] and have a limited edition A3 print in the style of a movie poster that we're going to sign and give out -- and anyone who tweets or instagrams it in strange locations or scenarios with a particular hashtag gets a chance to be drawn into the book. We'll also be doing this at the London Super Comic Con the week after, all to build awareness of the book.
DF: Tony, it’s been rumored you are working on a new comic book version of Robin Hood. Anything you can tell us about that?
Tony Lee: Oh, it's a fact. The Hollywood Reporter said so! Seriously, though, I'm writing a futuristic Robin Hood screenplay for Gianni Nunnari and the Hollywood Gang, the guys behind films like 300 and Immortals. Gianni's got an incredible record, and was involved in films like Seven, The Departed, etc. A while back he found my Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood GN and arranged to speak to me about this, and we discussed the project by email. Then when I was last in L.A., we had a meeting on the Warner Lot and found a version of the story that we both felt worked. Since then, we've been working hard on it and I'm literally finishing up the last revisions this weekend.
Everyone's doing a Robin Hood film right now. But Gianni's looked at taking the legend of Robin Hood and transposing it onto a different setting, a dystopian, futuristic London with a rogue MI-5 agent, our version of Locksley on a mission to avenge injustice. It's only about forty years ahead, so we're not talking Rocket Robin Hood here, but it's far enough to take the world we currently live in and go “what if.” And, as a Robin Hood scholar I wanted to make sure that I kept loyal to the story of Robin Hood, so I keep a lot of the characters, in various ways, and the settings follow a similar beat.
I've already seen people saying “it's not Robin Hood” and I shouldn't be screwing with the story, but here's the thing -- it's always been screwed with. The whole Richard the Lionheart thing turned up in the sixteenth century - before that, Robin was two hundred years later, so Robin's a character already moved in time. Moving him from Nottingham to London is the same as when the early stories, usually set in Barnsdale and Yorkshire -- including a story set in Whitby, of all places -- suddenly moved him to Nottingham and Nottingham only.
And let's not forget Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves where he lands in Dover and in a day walks to Nottingham via Hadrian's Wall in North Yorkshire.
All I can say is that the rich will be stolen from, and the poor will benefit. And as ever, our hooded man will become a voice of the people.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Tony Lee for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Also Known As GN will debut at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con in July!
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