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WYATT KENNEDY & LUANA VECCHIO
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DF Interview: Wyatt Kennedy & Luana Vecchio take readers through emotions and alt-worlds in ‘Bolero’

 

By Byron Brewer

 

A woman running away from a broken heart discovers a mother-key into parallel universes. The rules are: The key can work on any door. The mother will only let you visit 53 universes. Do not ask to speak to the mother. Never hop more than 53 times.

 

It’s Sex Criminals meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in this fantastical, emotional journey featuring a beautifully diverse cast of characters. From Image Comics comes Bolero, written by Wyatt Kennedy with art by Luana Vecchio. I had a chance to sit down with the creators and chat up this coming book.

 

Byron Brewer: Wyatt and Luana, tell readers how this new wondrous comic Bolero came to be, how you became a part of it. Wyatt, I understand this has been on your back burner for sometime?

 

Wyatt Kennedy: Yes, so honestly the origin of this comic comes from a previous relationship that was extremely toxic on both ends. I broke their trust and I felt a lot of guilt and shame around that. It’s a pivotal moment in my life where I wanted to look inward and ask myself why I am the way I am, and if others had felt the same way. I wrote Bolero as a short film, and back then it was a concept that featured time travel, time loops, doubles, etc. I quickly realized that writing time travel is incredibly difficult and unrewarding. I also thought that time travel had too mundane environments that would in some way be a disservice to the medium of comics, and the desire I feel that audiences want to go to new places, even if they’re vaguely familiar. They should feel “fantastical”, textured and authentic in some way. I’d gestated on it for six years, and I actually submitted it to Image back in 2019 and it was rejected. It’s one of the best things that could have happened for the book because it wasn’t ready and I’ve said this directly to Image’s publisher Eric Stephenson and thanked him for doing so after taking his critiques on it. The emotions weren’t right and the relationships were too snotty and catty. I’m not a fan of characterizing young people as needlessly mean to one another.

 

There’s plenty of comics, film and TV that I even love that I can subjectively step back and look at the ensemble and wonder “why are they friends? They don’t seem to like each other based on the way they speak to one another. Is this what’s really considered compelling?” I wanted to make characters who authentically love each other, but are in their own worlds that will in some way clash with the people they love, much like reality. Nobody wants to hurt someone they love, but we do it. I’d suffered a very traumatic 2020, but those experiences helped color the book and flesh out the emotions much stronger. Once the script was ready, around mid- to late 2020, I’d just moved to Portland thanks to my best friend Brandon Graham who basically saved my life (He letters the book as well and it looks fantastic) and he mentored and helped guide me over the book’s lengthy development (He’s basically a creative consultant) and the hunt for the right illustrator was on. I’d spent 2019 looking for illustrators and sent about 60 emails and got six responses back. Funny enough, I’d been recommended the insanely talented Caspar Wjingaard from the fantastic Homesick Pilots as someone to consider reaching out to, but just one look at his work and the success of HSP told me that he wouldn’t have had the time let alone take a risk on an unproven author. Instead, I decided to see who he followed on Instagram and stumbled upon Luana and after lurking on her website and reading her fearless work in her comic Lovesick (currently on Comixology), I said to myself ,“Yeah she’s the one. There’s a beating heart and a respect and love for the craft”. I emailed her, and she answered the same day, and read the script and was immediately on board. We spent a lot of time talking about influences, themes, visuals and working with her has so far been one of the most fulfilling collaborations of my life.

 

Luana Vecchio: When Wyatt told me about the project and I read the first script, I immediately felt in tune with the story and the characters. I thought that it was the kind of stuff I really wanted to draw! At the time I had just finished working on a horror (Lovesick) and a dark fantasy project (Snow White Zombie Apocalypse) and I really wanted to draw something totally different. I often receive requests for collaborations from aspiring writers and friends of mine but I often don't have time to work on their project. Wyatt came into my life at the right time when I was about to finish working on everything I'm doing, His approach immediately convinced me, he had clear ideas on how to move in order to propose our project and honestly deep in my heart I knew that this project will be published at some point so, once we've finished six sample pages, we sent them to Eric Stephenson who incredibly replied to us in two weeks and said that he wanted our book to be printed through Image! I remember it was mid-February 2021 and a few days earlier I had turned 30 and I thought that a new phase of my life would begin here. I had been dreaming of working for Image Comics for years, but I never felt ready to take this big step. When Eric said yes, I felt ready like never before. I want to show Image' readers everything I can do!

 

Byron: Wyatt, what can you tell us about this world you and Luana Vecchio are building for your characters in this five-issue miniseries?

 

Wyatt Kennedy: There’s an episode of Invader Zim where Zim goes to Mars and discovers that the planet is also a spaceship. When he asks the creator why he did that he responds with “Because it’s cool”, so hopefully my answers won’t be as underwhelming.

 

Issue one is set in Los Angeles, because it’s my favorite city in the world. I know it’s written off as shallow trash, but one of my favorite authors, Eve Babitz, calls it a place that to enjoy it you have to be at peace with yourself. Devyn, our lead, is not at peace with herself. It’s set during Christmas as well, mainly as a holdover from the original time travel premise because I wanted to have a loose element of “A Christmas Carol” present with looking at the past, present and future. I also really love the work of screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and his stance on setting things at Christmas because it is a dazzling holiday in theory that when you’re spending it alone or isolated really amplifies emotions, especially loneliness. I also just really like Christmas as set dressing and I wish more comics would utilize it. Taking a cue from Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, we begin the story already in an alternate LA. It snows, movies have different casts, and other slight details because while it might be slightly foreign to us, it’s grounded enough and normal to the characters.

 

I won’t give too much away for future issues and the worlds that appear, as I want them to be a surprise. You’ll get a look at them briefly in the preview page at the end of issue 1 and I think people will be excited. The worlds are incredibly reflective of the characters and the book is filled with tons of subtle callbacks that I hope people notice upon re-reading. Everything is very specific and holds meaning in some way, but my favorite scene of the entire book involves a European setting ripped from a Miyazaki film. Luana and I also discussed things we’d love to see and incorporated them and it would usually start off as an image we thought would be provocative and then I’d go back and find the emotional center and integrate it from there. There’s a few worlds that I’d describe as “because it’s cool”, but the emotions are real.

 

Byron: Introduce readers to your main protagonists, and maybe spotlight some others of this beautifully diverse cast.

 

Wyatt Kennedy: So, our lead is named Devyn Dagny. She’s an LA native who’s a “tattoo artist” and illustrator who hit the point in her life in her twenties that I call “Spider-Man 2-ing it”. You’re a mess, you’re juggling multiple responsibilities, relationships, obligations, emotions, and usually at that age you’re failing miserably and she is miserable. She’s also suffering from the heartbreak of someone she’s been romantically involved with since she was basically a kid and the emotional fallout of that juxtaposed by the growth her friends are experiencing on their own is just twisting the knife in the wound for her.

 

Her ex Natasha (Nat for short) wants to work in film and she’s genuinely one of my favorite characters in the book. You’ll learn more about her in issue 4, but seeing her through the lens of Devyn is enlightening and you can see how she’s someone deeply sympathetic, but as time goes on you get that she’s a real autonomous person with her own baggage and fallacies. They have a best friend Amina, who’s this alt Black girl in a punk band called The Panic Brothers, a name given to me by one of my best friends Johana who’s also impacted the development of the book.

 

Amina is the sweet cinnamon roll, she’s the unproblematic fave, but she also carries so much anxiety. She’s someone looking to the future and making plans to live her most fulfilled life, but naturally no one in life gets what they think they will. The relationships of these three are very important to me because like I said earlier they all love each other even in the face of hurt they cause one another from time to time. There’s also a supporting character who I assume will be a fan favorite of sorts named “Capgras''. I don’t want to say much about them, but they’re great and the moral center of the story.

 

Family is also a present and important part of the book and the influence they have on us even subtly so expect to see glimpses into Devyn’s Mom and Dad. I’m expecting that while many will sympathize and empathize with Devyn, as the series progresses you’ll learn a lot about her that I think will challenge people. She’s someone who needs help, grappling with obsession and hurt.

 

Byron: Give us an extended pitch for the book, a summary of the main storyline.

 

Wyatt Kennedy: Bolero is about the importance of relationships and working on them. To actually live an authentic life, even if it carries suffering. Devyn Dagny is having as she puts it “The worst life of her life”. She’s struggling with her job as a tattoo artist, she’s suffering from a breakup and the challenges of newfound sobriety, and she’s watching her best friend Amina take steps to better her own life that Devyn envies and wishes she’d be able to do but she is her own worst enemy.

 

When Amina invites Devyn to an important ceremony that’s going to change her life dramatically, Devyn is hesitant because her ex Nat will also be present as the three were best friends for so long and Amina is still friends with both of them, despite their baggage. Devyn reluctantly agrees to go as a show of support for her friend, but running into Nat causes a wave of anxiety and impulse leading her to meet someone who Devyn makes a horrendous choice with, breaking Amina’s heart and sending Devyn spiraling into a depression. The stranger she meets, however, offers her the chance to start over by showing her an ominous silver door called an “anti-door” that’ll help Devyn travel to 53 alternate universes at random that Devyn sees as an opportunity to find her dream life and a life where she’s reunited with Nat as her lover.

 

I want to stress that Devyn is making a very unhealthy and obsessive choice, but where she’s at in life it’s understandable and almost alluring from her point of view. From there, she travels the multiverse, has experiences both profound and horrifying (remember, the universes chosen are randomized) and ultimately I’m speaking about the dangers of escapism. I think escapism as a coping tool is healthy to a degree, but I think because we live in a time where people are self involved and living in an echo chamber, consuming media is just a means to run away from growth, which is eternal. We’re never done growing and changing and Devyn doesn’t want to accept this. Life is something beautiful and it can’t be lived behind screens, novels or comic books. You need to actually live.

 

Byron: Luana, your visuals for this miniseries are stunning, IMHO, like wow! Talk about how you approached bringing the story to the page.

 

Luana Vecchio: My approach is very simple, while I'm reading the script (usually I read it like three times) I imagine the shots and I figure out the color tones, everything flows in my mind as if it were an animation movie and when I start the layout process I already know how I want to establish every single shot. Bolero has about five panels per page and this helps me a lot to focus more on each single panel and finding the best solution in a shorter time. I really hate making the layout process but when that phase is done the rest is just totally fun! I usually make a complete page a day because I consider myself a very instinctive artist. In fact, during the color process, I never do color tests, I just think “Oh, in this scene I'd like to make the atmosphere pastel pink!” and I do it without much thought, and for now it seems to work! The thing I care about is that the color can communicate something even when there are no balloons. I really think that the strong point of Bolero is the emotions that the characters feel and this is the reason why the choice of colors is fundamental. I certainly wouldn't have developed this instinct if I hadn't worked hard on my previous projects, and if I didn't read a lot of comics every month, when your eye is trained you know when something will work or not.

 

Byron: I am always fascinated, being a writer, about how artists use their talents to convey subtext as well as emotion in a complex story like Bolero. How do you use your artist’s toolbox to bring life, direction and emotion to the stagnant images?

 

Luana Vecchio: Before being able to convey an emotion you have to understand it and my way to understand it is empathizing with the characters. For doing this, it's essential that the script could give emotions to the artist and I think I'm tethered to Bolero in the same way as Wyatt is. This means being co-creators. When I say that it was so easy to develop the designs of Bolero I don't lie! There are books that are developed in two years or a year and a half, for Bolero not even a year has passed since we started working on it and in less than a couple of months we'll conclude working on it, so I think that the main tools must come from good teamwork that allows it to bring out the best from an artist.

 

As an instinctive artist, it's precisely the emotions that guide me and based on what I feel I decide the shot and the color tones that can do justice to Wyatt's gorgeous script. As I have already said, my way to expressing emotions in Bolero are the colors I choose. I think it is not necessary to use blue when the characters are sad; sometimes I have used pastel colors or beautiful orange sunsets to show the loneliness of a character, I think that the union of beauty and suffering are somehow related and can help convey feelings and emotions.

 

Byron: Did you get to design the characters for Bolero? If so, tell readers if there was a character that was either your favorite or particularly hard to do. Was there a set piece that seemed insurmountable to illustrate but you conquered it anyway?

 

Luana Vecchio: Yes, I created and designed all the characters, and to be honest it was very easy to make them because Wyatt gave me total freedom to express myself and my taste. I'm a huge fan of fashion and make-up, and with Bolero I was finally able to play with these things. I remember when I first read the script I thought, "Oh, I would like to do something aesthetically fun and creative like the TV series Euphoria!" Especially for the character of Nat, she's my favorite of the series, and with her I was finally able to make the cool girl I dreamed of! I think that this total  freedom of expression also contributed to the good realization of the characters. The thing I like most about them is that their taste for fashion changes over the years, just like everyone else. As teenagers they are more emo/punk while as adults their style become more softened, but despite this you can understand something about them even from the clothing and make-up they wear!

 

Byron: Luana and Wyatt, what other forthcoming projects in which you are involved can you tell readers about?

 

Wyatt Kennedy: So hopefully after Bolero I’ll have an ongoing called Nights. It’s a drastic departure from the themes and ideas of Bolero. If Bolero is my Evangelion (which was a sizable influence on the book in very unsubtle ways), Nights is my “Howl's Moving Castle”. It’s weird, supernatural, nostalgic, romantic, deeply personal and I want to do something that’ll surprise people every issue. It’ll be illustrated by Luigi Formisano who’s basically my long lost brother at this point and his work on the book is nothing short of incredible. Luana and I will also appear in an upcoming anthology with a boy-meets-girl story called “Gospel for a New Century” which is named after a song by the band Yves Tumor. All of my work is named after songs thus far and if you listen to that song you’ll get a great indication of what’s coming. Gospel is me making something that feels like DevilMan Crybaby, FLCL, and the Kizomonogatari trilogy. I’ve also started working on a sequel mini-series to a previous story Luana and I did in Heavy Metal magazine this year.

 

Luana Vecchio: Yes, we're currently working on Gospel and I can't wait to share it with the world, it's very different from Bolero but I hope our readers will love it. All of our works we have made so far are heavily influenced by Japanese animation of which Wyatt and I are BIG fans! As soon as I finish working on Bolero, I'll be working on the second arc of my miniseries Lovesick which I started working on in around 2020. I wrote, illustrated and distributed the first arc through Comixology Submit because I strongly felt that I wanted to have total control of my work and be free to express my aesthetic taste, which I was often not allowed to do in my past works. I put into it all my love for neon horror, exploitation, fetish, and the BDSM world. Readers have told me that it's very disturbing in some ways so I hope to not traumatize anyone with the second story arc! I'm really satisfied. I think that's a great time for experimental horror and Gospel is also heavily influenced by this kind of aesthetic that involves love and violence.

 

Dynamic Forces would like to thank Wyatt Kennedy & Luana Vecchio for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Bolero #1 from Image Comics is slated to be on sale January 12th!

 

For more news and up-to-date announcements, join us here at Dynamic Forces, www.dynamicforces.com/htmlfiles/, LIKE us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/dynamicforcesinc, and follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/dynamicforces.

 

 




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