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Image Month: Kurtis J. Wiebe Talks Peter Panzerfaust

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The first two issues flew off the racks in no time. Of all the sellouts Image Comics has enjoyed in 2012, Peter Panzerfaust may very well be the title no one expected to. Not featuring a relaunch of popular characters, nor being created by a certified comics superstar, this was a book that could easily have flown under the radar. But rest assured, Kurtis J. Wiebe's star is on the rise, and his bold reimagining of the Peter Pan mythos may go down as one of the best mini-series of the year.

Peter Pan may be the boy who wouldn’t grow up, but World War II is no place for kids – as Pan and The Lost Boys will discover as Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins reimagine a popular story from the past for an all new white-knuckle adventure.

“It’s a retelling of the Peter Pan mythos set in the backdrop of the German invasion of France in 1940. It’s an action adventure story that is unique in its narrative but has a bit of fun with the characters and events from Peter Pan.” says Kurtis J. Wiebe talking on his new Image Comics series ‘Peter Panzerfaust’.

Swapping out Neverland for war-torn France, Kurtis is infusing elements of J.M. Barrie’s classic story about the boy who wouldn’t grow up with the second world war as it unfolds in Europe. Peter Panzerfaust follows Peter, a plucky and heroic young American lad, on his search around the world for Bell – with nothing more than her picture in a locket to remind him of his mission.  

           

Kurtis’s love of Peter Pan began with the 1950’s Disney movie, but it was J.M Barrie’s 1911 novel ‘Peter Pan; the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’ that informed his new projects direction. Returning to the darker tones and adult themes that Barrie weaved through his classic story about a boy who could fly.

“My first actual memory of Peter Pan was definitely the film, but as I went to research this project, both the history and the mythology, it was the book that I came back to. This retelling is inspired by the J.M. Barrie book and, not surprisingly, it is a much darker version of the story than the film.” Kurtis said, adding, “I’ll just say this, Mr. Smee was not a bumbling buffoon in the book. Not at all.”

Kurtis is keeping Panzerfaust grounded firmly in reality; so don’t expect to see tick-tocking crocodiles, mermaids and other such members of the fantasy realm popping up… though that’s not to say they are completely absent as Kurtis explains.

“We’ll be using all the major and minor characters, both protagonists and antagonists as well as recreating scenes from the book. All of these will be modified to fit the era and maintain a certain real world feel. There won’t be any actual fairies or mermaids in the series, but those aspects will be present throughout the series in a new, fun way… In ways you probably wouldn’t expect, either!”

Peter is obviously at the centre of this whimsical tale, and with so many different interpretations of the Pan character over the years, Kurtis had plenty of sources to draw from.

“The Peter I’m writing is a heroic character that never lets the hopelessness of a situation keep him down. I think there’s a compelling aura about him, even in the book, that inspires others to believe that his actions are what will see them through the day. That becomes more complicated in Peter Panzerfaust, we delve into what makes him act in a brash manner a lot of the time and it’s going to make him a much deeper character. Maybe he’s not plucky and carefree just because. It goes deeper than that.”

Other classic characters already confirmed to be returning to Kurtis’s reimagining are Hook (as a grizzled Nazi SS officer) and The Lost Boys, a group of French orphans Peter rescue’s from Calais in issue #1. In fact, it’s the family element and brotherhood found with the introduction of the Lost Boys that informs a lot of Kurtis’s storytelling decisions.

“It’s the most important part to me. Their friendship, their brotherhood, is the backbone to the story. What they will endure together and what they experience shapes these young boys into the men we will see interviewed as the series go on and that is the emotional anchor to all the high flying action. You will feel their joy, their sadness and ultimately their loss. It’s a fun story, but there are going to be some real moments of tragedy,” he says, while giving an insight into why he set the story in WWII.

“I’ve always loved the stories that came out of World War II; brotherhood, heroism, courage and sacrifice for the fate of millions. It doesn’t get any more epic than that and there was correlation between the story of Peter Pan and the history of the war that I found could be interesting grounds for a new series.”

Artist Tyler Jenkins echoes Wiebe’s love of stories from the era, and his excited by the challenge Peter Panzerfaust is presenting him, telling us;

“Truthfully, it has been a very fantastic challenge. Having watched thousands of war movies growing up, and reading about WWII my whole life, it is very, very cool to try and capture some of that. Movies like Kelly's Heroes, the Dirty Dozen, The Devil's Brigade, A Bridge Too Far...that is my inspiration.”

Kurtis is no stranger to Image Comics, in fact his highly acclaimed mystery series Green Wake wraps this week after he announced its cancellation last month. Speaking very frankly to Broken Frontier on the end of Green Wake and the industry in general, Kurtis revealed how he isn’t sad about the books departure, but instead excited by the doors it has opened.

“You know, the honest answer is that while it was frustrating to have to make that choice [to end the series early] it was a sort of blessing in disguise. Don’t get me wrong, I love Green Wake and am grateful for the opportunities it presented me, but I was in a really dark place in my life when I came up with the idea and the writing that came from it was also very sombre and sad.

“I’m not that person anymore, so it was becoming increasingly difficult to write. I’ve never been happier and that’s been coming out in my work and why I look forward to the lighter, funnier writing that will show up my current and future series’.

“As far as the current condition of the comic industry, well, it’s exciting. Image Comics seems to have the eyes of the world on them and there’s this really interesting buzz about independent comics in general. It’s bringing readers we wouldn’t have had two or three years ago. I’m hopeful that smaller creators like myself can still make an honest go of things and make enough money to keep doing it and bringing brand new, original stories to the market."

Peter Panzerfaust #3 (of 5) hits stores next week on April 11.

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