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DF Interview: Teen hero deals with drug lords, time travel in Scott Duvall’s Narcopolis: Continuum Collection
By Byron Brewer
In the near future, genius scientist Ben creates the ultimate drug which unlocks the key to time travel. Using his invention to go back in time, Ben attempts to uncover the truth behind his father’s disappearance two decades ago. With little to go on and a handful of time bending drugs, a trip into the past unveils dark secrets and dangerous dealings. A manhunt ensues, as the most powerful drug lord of his time will do whatever it takes to get high on Ben’s supply. Time is running out, and even worse, so is Ben’s stash!
Narcopolis: Continuum explores new corners of the world introduced in the UK sci-fi thriller, Narcopolis. The Heavy Metal comic is releasing a collection of its tales in December, so DF tracked down writer Scott Duvall to tell us whassup.
Dynamic Forces: Scott, your sci-fi series from Heavy Metal, Narcopolis: Continuum, is based on a UK independent movie. For the uninitiated, if you can, first tell us a little about the film Narcopolis please.
Scott Duvall: Narcopolis takes places in a not-so-distant future, one where all classes of drugs have been legalized. However, that doesn’t mean there’s not still an underground black market for unlicensed narcotics. That’s where the Drecks come in, a division of law enforcement dedicated to keeping unlicensed drugs off the street, but it’s less for the safety of the public and more to stomp out the competition and keep the Ambro Corporation wealthy, which has monopolized the drug industry. During his beat, the story’s protagonist, Frank Grieves, comes across an unidentified body that kicks off a mysterious plot that puts him and his family in grave danger and could destroy their future.
DF: Is your series, being collected and on sale in December, an adaptation of the movie, a sequel/continuation, or does it just utilize the world to tell new/expanded stories?
Scott Duvall: From early talks with writer/director Justin Trefgarne, we were immediately on the same page that we had zero interest in doing a straight adaptation of the movie, but were equally intrigued by the opportunity to take this world Justin had built, and expand his vision into the comics medium. I would not classify it as a sequel because it doesn’t pick up where the movie left off, but instead weaves in and out of the movie’s plot, utilizing many of the same characters. It’s not a side story but very much intertwined with the events depicted in the movie.
The idea was to tell a story that could stand on its own, and didn’t require any prior knowledge of the movie for you to be able to pick it up and enjoy it, but had you seen the movie, it would enhance the experience and provide additional insight for some of the characters’ backstories and motivations. I feel good about the fact that we struck a nice balance between honoring the source material while advancing the story in new ways. I am a big fan of those types of expanded universe stories that come at a narrative from a different angle so that’s what I was aiming for.
DF: Scott, your main protagonist in the comic book is the son of the movie’s primary protagonist, Frank. Tell us about Ben’s character and the invention of this boy genius that creates so much havoc.
Scott Duvall: Right, so instead of focusing on Frank, we instead shift focus to his son, Ben, who plays a small but instrumental role in the movie. Here, we explore him more in depth and how his story intersects with his father’s. Without spoiling too much, Ben didn’t grow up with his father. Not by choice, but Frank wasn’t in the picture as Ben entered his adolescence. This changes the entire course of Ben’s history, who was already a bright kid to begin with, but also becomes the motivating factor that leads him to his greatest invention of all—unlocking the key to time travel.
Where our story picks up, Ben has synthesized a new drug, that when injected through the eye socket, directly into the brain, will transport the user through time. But while Ben is using the time travel drug to answer questions about his past, there are those who would abuse it for their own gain, stopping at nothing to wield the power of time.
DF: What other characters might readers find as we read the series’ collection? I know time travel through Ben’s drug is part of the storyline. Any characters from history we might know involved in the comic, or parodies thereof?
Scott Duvall: Sorry to say, you won’t be seeing Ben mix it up with Napoleon Bonaparte or Henry VI. This isn’t Bill and Ted, as much as I enjoy that movie. Although now I’m imagining another installment where Ben gets high with those guys and they go back in time and rewrite all of Shakespeare’s plays to appeal to their modern sensibilities. Basically what I’m saying is I’d like to announce here and now the stoner comedy/time travel crossover of 2017 (not really).
For anyone who caught the movie, you will see a lot of familiar faces. One of those belongs to Eva, who also plays a key role in the film, but sees her role expanded a bit more in the comic. We discover just how she got involved with Ben and what makes her so special. She was the one supporting character in the movie (other than Ben) that I really wanted to learn more about, so it was fun to be able to write my own version of what that would be and develop her even further myself.
DF: Tell us about your big-bad.
Scott Duvall: Todd Ambro returns as our main antagonist, a rich and powerful drug lord but to the public is viewed as a successful entrepreneur and respected businessman who has built an empire and is the face of his company. He has a very different relationship with Ben than he does with Frank, in that he has been keeping tabs on Ben since he was a child and saw to it that he was looked after and groomed to fulfill his destiny as the man who would invent time travel. Ambro isn’t very hands-on, preferring to let his goons carry out his bidding while he sits atop his ivory tower. Following the movie’s lead, I made the decision to use him sparingly, where even when he’s not on screen, his presence is felt, and when he does make an appearance, bad stuff happens.
DF: The world this comic utilizes was, of course, created by Narcopolis director Justin Trefgarne. Did he have any hand in the comic’s creation (plotting, etc.)? What does he think of the series?
Scott Duvall: Justin was busy in post-production on the movie when I began outlining the 4-part comic series, but was still a resource to me every step of the way. I got lucky in that Justin was the only person I dealt with in terms of providing me with any notes and approvals and he made the process smooth and uncomplicated. I put an outline together, presented it to him, and he supplied great feedback. As he lives in the UK and I’m based in the U.S., we still have yet to meet in person, but Skype chats made the process that much easier to communicate ideas and have him fill me in on the backstory of some of these characters which didn’t get to be fully explored on screen due to time constraints but I was happy to pick up the ball and run with it.
Justin has been nothing short of supportive and encouraging throughout the entire process. It’s a great feeling knowing that the guy whose work I’m basing my story on not only approves of, but is a fan of what our team has produced, which makes the whole experience creatively and personally satisfying. I don’t want to speak for Justin, but if you pick up the trade in December, he wrote the introduction, which was very kindly worded, and lets you know exactly what he thinks of the comic inspired by his movie.
DF: How closely did you work with artist Ralf Singh? Did he design some new characters for the book, use ones already established in the film and, if there were new ones, did you have a hand in their design?
Scott Duvall: Ralf and I worked very closely on this and there was hardly a day that went by that we weren’t in communication. Like Justin, Ralf and I have never met face-to-face, but despite that, we’ve become good friends purely through our interactions over messenger. He’s been with me on this project from almost the very beginning. Once I knew that I was moving forward with this as my next project, I reached out to him over Twitter, and I just knew his art would be perfectly suited for what I had in mind for the series. I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator on this project and I’m excited to work with him again one day in the future on another series we’re developing together, once our schedules line up again.
Ralf mostly used the actors as reference for the characters and we presented them with their character designs for likeness approval. The only one we didn’t receive permission for was Eva. The actress had just been cast as Elektra in the Netflix Daredevil series. This complicated the process as her contract with Marvel prohibited her likeness being used in relation to other comic books. That’s when Ralf stepped in and came up with an all-new character design for Eva that I really preferred in a lot of ways. It really informed the way I wrote her and shaped her personality to be a little more fun and light than she had been portrayed in the movie. You see a completely different side of her here which I’m excited about since in the movie, we are introduced to her in a very intense situation where the tone is anything but light and she’s still a bit of a mystery, which serves that narrative well. Here, we dive a little deeper.
I also have to shout out to the rest of the creative team here as Nicolas Chapuis’ colors complimented Ralf’s art perfectly and Taylor Esposito was the unsung hero lettering for us, designing, and raising the bar for my dialogue.
DF: The use of drugs in a work of fiction for anything – even time travel – can be a sensitive subject. How did you handle the line you had to walk in regards to this?
Scott Duvall: The way I handle it is I don’t treat it as sensitive or anything but the norm, because this world we’re exploring is not a reflection of our own. In the society that Narcopolis presents to us, drug use is ubiquitous and so to treat it as anything but ordinary would not be in line with Justin’s original vision. I think we walk that line in the way it needed to be walked in that we’re not advocating for drug use nor demonizing it. This isn’t an afterschool special or a sci-fi re-telling of Reefer Madness. We’re not trying to change anybody’s minds about their feelings about drugs and their place in our world. Drugs are simply a tool in this case to tell a story, and no matter what your thoughts are on the subject, my hope is that the drug culture presented here provides the backdrop while the characters and the story are what the reader will be focusing on. It would be arrogant of me to think that anything we’ve created here will change anybody’s minds about whether or not certain drugs should be legalized. I certainly don’t look to fictional stories to be preached to and so I try to avoid that in my own work.
DF: Scott, tell us about any present or near-future projects you might have going.
Scott Duvall: Nothing that I can announce yet, but I have a handful of projects and pitches either currently in review or ready to be pitched. One of them is another sci-fi story, this one aimed at young adults, so no drugs. Just say no, kids.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Scott Duvall for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Narcopolis: Continuum Collection from Heavy Metal hits stores Dec. 28th!
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