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Cowboys, Hookers and Zombies

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Tomorrow, Doug TenNapel, known for previous graphic novel hits such as Tommysaurus Rex and Earthboy Jacobus, hopes to score his third strike in a row with Iron West. Released through Image Comics, Iron West features a story about a shiftless scam artist named Preston Struck who is needed to fight in a war against mechanical outlaws.

“Preston is a man with the ethics of a boy,” TenNapel says of his protagonist. “He’s selfish, lives only for his own pleasure and rejects any notion of community responsibility. He’s in love with a hooker named Miss Sharon who used to be an innocent Kansas prairie girl until she moved to California to be closer to Struck. Another key character is a Mi-Wuk Shaman named Two Rivers who is a Obi-Wan Kenobi type and who sees that Preston is a diamond in the rough—did I just say that?!”

With its Western setting and robo-tech elements, Iron West may remind readers of Kazu Kibuishi’s Daisy Kutter, which featured a similar combo to shape its world. However, TenNapel rejects the notion that his latest outing is anything close to the 2004 Viper mini series. “I’m a huge fan of Daisy Kutter, but this isn’t like that at all. Kazu has a gentle hand and his images are poetic, while Iron West is like a bear trap on your balls. It’s pretty clunky by comparison. My world is pretty much a zombie movie where the mechanical outlaws just seek to replace organics.”

As much as zombies and cowboys are part of the Iron West setting, one of the biggest mainstays in TenNapel’s creative world is Image, a place that’s come to feel almost like a second home and an integral part of his comics career. “Image is just a no-nonsense company designed from the ground up by comic book creators. It’s not like a big book publisher, because they aren’t here to maximize every dime they can milk out of my books. I like Image because it’s like they are me—together we independently put out my books.

Some of my material is tough to swallow from a content stand-point and Image has proudly taken my work to the public. I don’t have to apologize for my content on any level and their notes on my stuff make a lot of sense. I send my scripts to them with a few pages done and ask, ‘You wanna do this one?’ and they say, ‘Okay.’ And that’s about all it takes.”

As he’s done with his previous Image releases, Tommysaurus Rex and Earthboy Jacobus, TenNapel has once again opted for the graphic novel format, which he’d pick over serialised storytelling any day. “I just can’t imagine doing six books instead of one,” he admits. “My least favorite part of the process is the mechanical book-making/publishing process…and it’s the same amount of tech work to make a 24 page book as a 160 page book. I didn’t get into storytelling to wrestle with episodic page counts, cover art and print-runs; I just want to tell my story and then get the heck out of dodge.

“Don’t get me wrong, Earthboy Jacobus should have been split up into three books, but I just hate collecting individual issues myself…I never trust a store is going to have that next issue I’m dying for.”

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The fact that TenNapel just wants to tell his story as purely as possible—nothing more, but certainly nothing less either—is also the reason why his projects are done in black and white and why the creator shies away from the color palette. “If you do black and white correctly you don’t need color. Again, I’m just here to tell a story, and the idea of doing a layer of color on a finished book is just beyond me. I’m not here to present my ideas of color-theory on the world, I’m just trying to get through a beginning, middle and end with as little effort as possible. I’ve been talking to Image about coloring Gear and that might happen, but I’m not doing the color work.

From his own phrasing, you might get the impression that TenNapel doesn’t really get too deep into his stories, but that most definitely is not the case. The creator laid the groundwork for Iron West about eight years ago, when he did his first concept designs for the book. “I have a pile of Iron West drawings from 1998 so I think the story started back around that period,” he says. “I was sad that kids today don’t know how to play ‘cowboys and Indians’, and after my friends and I saw Star Wars in 6th grade, it changed the way we played fantasy…it jacked everything up. So, Iron West is just a form of Cowboys and Indians with some Star Wars thrown in.

“In short, Iron West is a tribute to the fantasy of our youth. This book is fertile with Harryhausenesque creatures that fight in cool ways. I focus a lot on character-driven humor and if all else fails I always put in a few poop jokes. Want to see a robot poop? Get Iron West.”

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Next to Iron West, TenNapel has some other projects in the planning stages, one of which is the color reprint of Gear mentioned earlier in this interview. “That’s a big deal to me… I’ve had hundreds of fans request that book and it hasn’t been printed since 1998. We’re hoping to republish it early next year.

“Also, I always have two or three books in the hopper that are at the note-card stage. I’ve been talking to a few children’s book publishers and all of the stuff they are considering wouldn’t come out until 2008 and that’s a long way off…lots can happen before then.”

One thing that better happen before then is you picking up a copy of Iron West when it hits stores tomorrow—unless you don’t want any pooping robots to spoil your Wednesday night appetite…

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