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Out for Another Wicked Ride

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The Black Forest. The Black Forest 2. The Wicked West. Apparently, Todd Livingston, Robert Tinnell and Neil Vokes, have something with dark and box-full-of-evil stories. Today, the creative triumvirate, better known to their inner circle as L-T-V, turn their black and wicked ambitions up a notch with the release of Image Comics’ The Wicked West II: Abomination.

BF spoke to the three creators about the return of the story’s cursed main character, Cotton Coleridge, and their decision to hand him over to a bevy of creator friends. As such, The Wicked West II is not a standalone graphic novel like its predecessor, but a full-blown anthology.

BROKEN FRONTIER: The Wicked West ended with the phrase: “What the hell ever happened to you, Cotton Coleridge?”—so tell us, what happened to him between page 82 of the first edition and page 1 of the second?

ROBERT TINNELL: Well, in a way, this story could actually pre-date the previous one. Owing to the slowly-unfolding mystery of Cotton's origin we're not really tipping our hands as to where we are. Though, in the anthology one piece of the puzzle finally falls into place.

TODD LIVINGSTON: He slept, had a sandwich or two, a bath, more sandwiches, rode his horse, gave his horse a sandwich and killed some stuff.  Actually, any number of these stories could take place before 'Abomination'. Also, I want a sandwich now…

NEIL VOKES: Personally I don't think these two stories are chronological—at least not in the "after he rode away from the burning barn he soon met up with our 'Abomination' storyline" sense. We want to explore Cotton's character through his stories. Yes, there are answers to many of the questions that we can-and will-get to eventually, but these two books aren't meant to be taken as ‘issue #1 and #2’. That's a helluva long wait between issues, and besides, doesn't a series always lose a lot of steam when you finally know all about the characters?

What happens between these two books may very well be touched on by several of the short stories in the anthology. Certainly, some take place before The Wicked West I and some well after The Wicked West II—not to mention some take place only in the wild imaginations of the various writers! [Laughs]

BF: There are two glaring differences with the first story. One, The Wicked West II is all black and white. Is that because it was too hard to have every story colored, or did you want the stories to express a different mood altogether?

ROBERT: First and foremost, it is a huge price difference, and to do a book this big that had to be taken into consideration. We wanted to make it cost-effective for the reader. Beyond that, however, we think Neil is one of the best b&w artists in the world and want to play to his strengths—as well as allow our guests to play in the form. Neil actually wanted the first book in b&w too, but Todd and I wanted to color it in order to build the contrast between the "movie" and the "reality" of the story. We don't really have that situation in this book.

TODD: I not only wanted them all colored, but I also wanted it to be a pop-up book.  Robert and Neil kept telling me that was "unrealistic" and "stupid" and "we can't believe we're still working with you." They also shot down my idea to have the whole thing in 3-D.  They're dummies.  My idea is the best.

NEIL: If we had to color this book, it wouldn't have been out for another year. There are a lot of stories in this anthology, but aside from that, I'm a b&w artist through and through—it's the way I see the stories I draw and the way I plan them out in the drawing. I learned a long time ago that the b&w art should look as good without the colors as with them and I just happen to prefer them without (this is not to say I haven't enjoyed the chance to work with some of the best colorists in the biz) and will probably continue that way—at least in my own stories.

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BF: Secondly, this edition is an anthology. Why did you decide to go that route?

NEIL: We all have too many ideas and too many potential stories and way too many projects to do only one The Wicked West book every year or so and be satisfied. We knew we couldn't do a main story of more than 60 pages or so, so why not have a few of our friends contribute some short tales to flesh out Cotton's story and world? After a while, though, the few became many and now we have a book of over 190 pages long! Robert literally had to tell me to stop asking people—who knew they'd all say yes?

ROBERT: We have a pretty enormous workload at the moment. But we love the world of The Wicked West and Cotton as a character. There's just no time to pursue this in the way we'd like and meet our other obligations—particularly Neil who is way backed up on jobs to get to (including The Voice—a massive horror GN he's doing with me). Todd and I have a myriad of projects as well, and it just seemed like we were never going to be able to put out enough material. Doing the anthology let us pull in some help, celebrate what we love best about this world, and we're expanding Cotton's mythos quicker than we could if we simply waited and did it all by ourselves.

TODD: In my case, it was just laziness. In fact, I'm shocked I even got off my ass to do this interview.

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BF: Oh well, thanks for having us anyway! [Laughs] You’ve also managed to assemble, to use your own description, a nice ‘posse’, including Michael Avon Oeming, Mike Baron, David Michael Beck, Mike Hawthorne—it just hits me, you could’ve done an anthology with just Mikes and Michaels!

ROBERT: The Gang of Mike! Doesn't hurt that they are all phenomenally talented.

TODD: Yeah. Plus, Mike Anderson is the art director and Mike McCain is our webmaster.

NEIL: Though there are Mikes aplenty in the comic book creator universe, it's a widely held fact that Neils—though fewer in number—are much cuter... just ask my wife. [Laughs]

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BF: Looks like we might have to give her a call one of these days! Seriously, the list of talent is great. Did you simply tell these creators “Here’s a character of ours named Cotton Coleridge who loves to shoot the living crap out of creepy-looking beings” and have them run away with it?

NEIL: That's not far from the truth. We didn't want a case where they had to follow a specific blueprint with Cotton, as is the case with most company-owned characters. No, we wanted their take on him—otherwise, why ask writers and artists of their caliber to be involved at all? The pleasant irony is that they were virtually all respectful to the nature of the character and setting, and we're very happy with what they've accomplished.

TODD: They begged us. You can't imagine the feeling of having talents like Courtney Joyner, Chris Moreno, Adam Burton, J.C. Vaughn, Adrian Salmon, James Powell and John K. Snyder, III on their knees in tears pleading with you to let them contribute to your book. It was pretty sweet.  Even Brendon and Brian Fraim, who are illustrating Vaughn's "Antiques" and my daily webcomic "America Jr." took time out to do a story!  Seriously, if you put all this talent in a bucket, it would have to be a really big bucket. Like a vat.

ROBERT: Most everyone in this book is a pretty close friend and someone we trust implicitly. These are people whose work we follow eagerly. And I hope they feel the same way. The original The Wicked West was one of those books that seemed to inspire even more devotion from fellow pros than from fans. These guys love the genre and the character—we didn't really have to fill them in, they already knew it.

Plus, it allows them to stretch a little bit without having to devote themselves to launching a larger piece of material. We gave them some rough parameters—though Jim Kuhoric got a bit of a pass!—and they ran with it. In some instances, one of us wrote something for other artists, including Neil, whose story was drawn by Tommy Castillo. Todd and I wrote a piece specifically for David Michael Beck, who had never done a sequential story before—and next thing you know he's doing stuff for Jonah Hex.

It was a thrill for us to see Cotton in the hands of people like Mark Ricketts and Mike Baron; great writers who had a lot of fun with the character. And Oeming's story is just so… well, it's Oeming. What more can I say?

There are also a few stories done by less-established contributors, but though they are lesser-known that doesn't mean they aren't doing top-shelf work. One of the writers, Andrew Sands, is someone I think will eventually be a significant person in comics. He's a fantastic writer and wrote the The Wicked West text piece in the first book. We actually let him do three stories in the book—drawn by Alex Saviuk, Joanna Estep and Filip Sablik respectively—and while the stories are short, they are also excellent examples of great comics writing.

On top of all the wonderful writers and artists who contributed, we have a tremendous support staff. James Powell totally carried my ass on the editorial process. I'm getting to the point I'm afraid to sign my name without James' proofing it; he's that good! And Mike Anderson has become our go-to guy on the design of the books as well as joining our veteran letterer Tim Wallace on the lettering duties. These guys go so above and beyond the call of duty and need to be recognized.

BF: Gentlemen, your own story is called ‘Abomination’, and opens the anthology. Is the Abomination you’re referring to Cole himself—because of his being cursed—or something else entirely?

ROBERT: I like to think of ‘Abomination’ as a theme for the story—because there are numerous abominations throughout it. This is a tough story to discuss without giving stuff away.

TODD: Robert titled it ‘Abomination’ so it would alphabetically be first in the book. He's a real sneak.  If I wasn't so lazy, I probably would have done something about it.  Like rename it ‘Zzywyzz.’

NEIL: I believe Robert wanted the title to be more about the themes in the story than a specific ‘abomination’. Even some of the things our hero does could be considered abominable, which is something I also tried to get across on the cover. Is what you see on there a scene from the story or perhaps something more representative?

What I found most enjoyable is that after the other stories came in, several of them fit the nature of the cover image very well.

BF: Are there any plans for a third edition of The Wicked West? And if so, will it be produced as a standalone graphic novel or as an anthology?

NEIL: Oh, I'm sure we'll do another someday, along with a third Black Forest, but its form will probably change between when we first discuss it till when we finish it—as all of our books together have gone. Until then we all have several other projects to get through, but my six-gun is well-oiled and fully loaded… Cotton will be back!

ROBERT: It's probably time to do the origin story, but at the moment I just can't say when we'll get around to it. At least it's plotted!

TODD: We’ll get to it eventually. And it will be a pop-up book.

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