Labor Intensive: Philip Gelatt

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Oni recently released Labor Days, a graphic novel about a lowlife whose pointless daily routine is shook up when he stumbles upon a mysterious videotape.

BF talks to the creative team of the book. First up is writer Philip Gelatt. On Wednesday, we labor some more with artist Rick Lacy.

BROKEN FRONTIER: “The Twelve Labors of Hercules Reimagined” and "Repo Man Meets James Bond" are just two examples you've used to explain Labor Days. Can you go into any more detail about the story?

PHILIP GELATT: Labor Days is a story about a 20 something slacker who accidentally finds himself caught up in a cross-continent chase after a mysterious videotape that everyone seems to want to get their hands on.  Each chapter of the book takes our main character, a guy named Bags, to a different locale, we hit Wales, Spain, Norway and finally a secluded valley somewhere in Germany. And he runs into a bunch of bizarre characters, drinks a helluva lot and learns a few things about life here on earth.

It's a fast-paced story, lots of punches, a few explosions, some devilish characters and a lot of fun. I like to think of it like bizarro-slacker ethos of Repo Man, mixed with a super-spy character akin to James Bond and then baked into an episodic misadventure tiramisu.   I don't actually know if you bake tiramisu, really, but you get what I'm saying: it's a tasty treat for you to enjoy with your loved ones.

BF: You've worked in film before. What exactly did you do?

PG: I had an array of jobs in film, almost all of them involving a desk and a phone.  I was an assistant to two indie producers in New York, I think I actually have a credit on their documentary TRUMBO (which everyone should see as it's quite good). 

I was a script reader for a few years, which is a great job if you want to learn everything not to do in your own writing.  I was a production coordinator on a great horror film documentary that has yet to be released and well, you know, that kind of thing. If you IMDB my name though you come up with my dad.  He worked in film in Sweden in the '70s. I'm pretty sure he has  much much more interesting film stories than I do.

BF: Dark Horse's Indiana Jones Adventures was your first published comics work. How did you manage that?

PG: Well that's the thing about comics isn't it? You have to sleep with aaaaaaall the right people if you want to get anywhere. I actually got that job through Rick, who has done work for Dark Horse before.  He was involved in the Indy Adventures book and asked if I could pitch to write the thing and the editor at Dark Horse said "sure." 

So I came up with a story and ended up getting the gig; it was a pretty seamless process actually, I'm still a little bewildered that it actually happened. 

BF: Do Indy and Bags have any similarities?

PG: That is a hilarious question, and they do but they're pretty scant.  Bear with me:  Bags is kind of an anti-action hero.  He's lazy, he's disinterested, he's a very unmotivated individual.  So he starts out Labor Days as the exact opposite of Indy. However, they do share certain characteristics:  they both have a rather wry sense of humor, they both get the crap kicked out of them quite a lot and they both have adventures that are driven by the search for a mysterious and powerful artifact.

I think ultimately Bags would make a pretty great Indy sidekick. Indy would try to drag him into some kind of pitch black tomb full of gloom and doom, and Bags would try desperately to hang back in the bar and drink with Marion only to find himself tossed face first into the business of adventure. 

BF: How did you come to choose Rick as your artist?

PG: Actually, Labor Days was a book that we came up with together, so I really had no choice but to use him as the artist.  Which is great, because he's a damn talented fellow. In fact, I can tell you exactly how it started.  One night, in mid-2002, we were hanging out in my apartment in lower Manhattan and Rick and I were tossing ideas around for a comic book collaboration.

And Rick, who is a fantastic conversational improvisationalist (which is a fancy way of saying, he talks utter nonsense all the time), said he wanted to do a book about a guy "who wakes up and he knows there's this  videotape out there but he doesn't know what's on it and he's always saying "but what is on that tape?" 

You have to imagine that all said in a hyper-dramatic voice to get the full effect. Rick was mostly joking, I think, and was a little shocked when I actually wrote something up involving various characters that I'd made up and various characters that Rick had made up, all rolled together around a guy who was always wondering "but what is on that tape?"  At that point his name was Bertrand.  Rick gave him the name Benton Bagswell and well... that's how Labor Days was born.

Continued on Wednesday.

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