Cisco Kody

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nstoneLen Kody is taking Moonstone's Cisco Kid on a whole new horse ride. The writer talked to BF about O.Henry's new direction and how the character's title stacks up against other Western stories out there.

BROKEN FRONTIER: The Western genre is currently experiencing a revival, much like horror a few years ago. What factors do you think contribute to the rising amount of western-themed books out there?

LEN KODY: It's too easy to chalk this up to the cycles of the industry, though I'm sure that's a large part of it. But when our president struts out on the White House lawn wearing a cowboy hat, and our foreign policy is as about gung-ho as it's ever been, you can tell that there's something in the air, too. It's got to do with the zeitgeist. Every country has its mythology. Japan has its samurais, England its knights in shining armour. This is a time in American history where our country is in the process of redefining it's national identity, and I think reaching back for these myths is part of that process. 

BF: As the writer of Moonstone's Cisco Kid: Gunfire & Brimstone, you're obviously a big proponent of the revival. How did the project come about?

LK: All credit for the concept goes to Moonstone editor and chief Joe Gentile. It's true that this Western thing seems like a trend now, but Joe first mentioned his ideas for a Cisco Kid series to me over two years ago. There's a recognition factor attached to the character's name. It's one of those names that just seems to be floating around out there in the pop cultural consciousness - everybody's heard of the Cisco Kid, even if you can't quite recall where. 

Joe directed me to the Kid's "origin" story - a short story called "The Caballero's Way" by famous American author O.Henry. A Google search can take you to a several web pages that've got the full text of the story. It's not long at all. I came up with a pitch, but I wasn't the only writer Joe was considering for the project. He liked my ideas, but at the time I guess they were a little too experimental, and my talents had yet to be tested on a full-length comic book, let alone a multi-issue arc. So Joe decided to go with Jim Duffy for the first Cisco run. Can't say I blame him. Jim had more experience, and he took a much more conventional approach to the genre. There's nothing wrong with "straight up" Westerns, and if you're looking for that, Jim's Cisco arc delivers. Chuck Dixon's Wyatt Earp is another great read.

When the time came to do another Cisco series, Joe remembered my pitch and asked if I was still interested. I certainly was. And so here we are, a couple of months before the release of my first comic book series.

BF: What are the main characteristics of Cisco Kid's personality? Who is he, what drives him?

LK: O.Henry's story is about a ruthless outlaw who catches his girlfriend cheating on him with the lawman sent to kill him, so the clever Kid arranges to have his girlfriend shot in the darkness - by her own secret lover!

My version of the Kid is tortured by the guilt of this event. He's obviously got a self-destructive streak in him. I mean, he killed the only person who ever made him happy. So if I were going to use a superhero analogy to describe him - and this is comics, so I can't resist - Cisco's "superpower" is his total disregard for his own mortality. He'll charge into a situation without any consideration of the consequences because there's a hidden part of him that doesn't care what happens. The downside is that this makes him easy to manipulate, and there will be plenty of dark forces competing for the Kid's ruined soul. 

So how does one seek redemption after committing so terrible a crime against the woman he loved? Does the Kid even feel like he deserves to be redeemed? And what other lives has the Kid affected with his brutal act of selfishness? These are the questions we'll be asking in the first arc of Gunfire & Brimstone.

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BF: When looking at some of the preview pages of the book, I spontaneously start to think about John Wayne films. Did you look at these movies as a source of inspiration?

LK: I spent an entire summer submersed in Westerns when I was preparing to write this book. For a couple of months they were all I watched or read. It drove my girlfriend nuts. 

I wasn't the biggest Western enthusiast before this journey began, but it didn't take long for me to find out that some of the finest films ever made have been Westerns. I loved John Wayne in True Grit. He won an academy award for his performance. Another great one is John Ford's The Searchers, filmed on location among the breathtaking buttes and mesas of Arizona's Monument Valley. It was a location that Sergio Leone used again in his operatic Once Upon the Time in the West, now one of my all-time favourite movies.

Leone's camera work was probably my biggest inspiration when trying to communicate the look of this book to the artists (Dennis Calero for #1 and #2, and Matt Camp for #3). Having all these great Westerns to work with made my panel descriptions pretty easy sometimes, because all I had to do was refer the artist to this shot by Pekinpah, or that shot by Walter Hill. Not to rip them off, mind you. It's just my attempt to include all those elements that made me love the genre. I feel like a lot of people are going to come to this book the same way that I did. Westerns have been out of style for a while now, but I was won over by all the great work that's out there. Hopefully, I'll be able to win people over too. 

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BF: Moonstone has also landed Chuck Dixon to pen Wyatt Earp: Dodge City. Do the both of you ever discuss Westerns together?

LK: I've had the opportunity to speak with Chuck Dixon on only a few occasions. Our first face-to-face meeting was at Wizard World Chicago in '04, during which time we discussed this very topic. It was super exciting for me, a guy just starting out, to be talking with this established pro I respect so much. He probably doesn't even remember me.

I asked him why he thought Westerns seemed to be catching on. He told me they're the perfect alternative for somebody who wants to take a break from superhero comics. I agree with him - they have the same sense of ritual and pageantry. It's as easy as trading one American myth for another. And both genres have their impenetrable conventions: cowboys wear hats; superheroes wear masks. You don't ask why these things are so. They just are. 

BF: Will Cisco Kid: Gunfire & Brimstone in any way tie into any of the previous Cisco Kid publications put out by Moonstone?

LK: Both Joe and I agreed that the Kid needed a fresh new direction, something different than what came before. In writing my version of Cisco, I didn't want to totally ignore Jim Duffy's arc. It was a great story, just not a story that I would write. For instance, I thought re-imagining Poncho (from the early 60's TV series) as a smart-assed little Mexican kid was a brilliant move. But I can't do "boy-wonder" types with a straight face, so I had to take a different approach. That's why I gave my Cisco series the subtitle "Gunfire & Brimstone," to distinguish it from other interpretations of the Kid. 

Readers of the first series might notice a change in tone and focus. It's fair to say that "Gunfire & Brimstone" is a good jumping-on point for new readers. 

BF: How would you compare the book to other western comics on the stands, such as Beckett's The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty, Hoarse & Buggy's Western Tales of Terror or the previously mentioned Wyatt Earp?

LK: I'm a big fan of all three of those books. I'm confidant that a reader of any one of them would find something he or she would enjoy in my book. It's got the tough-guy lead, just like Earp does. I also flirt with a bit of genre blending, like Western Tales of Terror and Sleeping Beauty do. I try to be subtle about it. I think a lot of the false starts this comeback has had was because people didn't respect the genre. I mean, it might be cool to see cowboys blowing away vampires and wolfmen, but if you arbitrarily break the rules to get there, then you've mutilated a perfectly good genre just for cheap thrills. I think the most successful genre blends know when to push the boundaries and when to back off.

BF: Is there anything you can give away about what will happen in the first few issues?

LK: Well, you can expect two big "guest stars" in the first two issues. Another similarity Westerns share with Superheroes is that both genres are so intensely iconographic. I guess I got a little drunk with power and embraced those Wild West icons every chance I could.

BF: Next to Cisco Kid, is there anything else on your plate this year at Moonstone, or maybe at another company?

LK: I'm working hard to finish up my latest Moonstone project, a short prose fiction piece starring Kolchak: The Night Stalker. It's going to be in an anthology, with other Kolchak stories by other great writers. As far as I know, this will be Moonstone's first attempt at the fiction market. It's been fun to try my hand at something other than comics. I used to write in prose all the time. Now comics have pretty much consumed my entire writing schedule.

As far as other companies are concerned, I've been nosing around a little. Nothing of substance to report on, yet. This is just my first comics series, after all. But I'm hoping there'll be another tall building to squirt my webline onto when the momentum runs out from this swing.

- Frederik Hautain

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