Time For A Holliday: Bowden and Dabbs Talk Updating Legends

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Doc Holliday and cohorts in the 21st century and no, it’s not a time travel story.

The Wild West has been a touchstone of pop culture for decades, from the John Wayne era to Back to the Future and everything in between. The untamed American frontier and the characters associated with the tumultuous time have held an allure for all kinds of storytellers and audiences. Holliday, an upcoming OGN from Oni Press adapts the familiar historical characters from America’s past in to a gritty urban noir filled with swearing, shooting and a dangerous world where lives are often disposable. Holliday’s scribe, Nate Bowden has previously released the two volume series Riding Shotgun from Tokyopop; a dark comedy about the legalization of assassination, and for Holliday is joined by artist Doug Dabbs, who has also completed projects for Desperado, and White Wolf Publishing.

BROKEN FRONTIER: What makes the legend of Doc Holliday such a great fit for this story, and were you tempted to use other historical figures instead?

NATE BOWDEN: Well, this really is Holliday’s story, so other historical figures were never really a consideration. What we’ve tried to do here is illustrate what a catalyst Holliday was to the shoot out and the war that Wyatt Earp ultimately waged afterwards. Doc was in the thick of it and the Earp brothers’ motivation was primarily to do right by him.

BF: Were you always interested in the Wild West?

BOWDEN: Oddly enough, no. When I was a kid I never got into it. I was in high school when Tombstone came out and that was my first real exposure to the Wild West. In college and after I really got interested in the characters and stories that came out of that era. Now I even refer to my first two graphic novels, Riding Shotgun Vol. 1+ 2 as westerns.

DOUG DABBS: I’ve always had somewhat of an interest in the Wild West, but it has become much stronger the older I’ve become. This is probably because of the mystique that surrounds the time period. America as a whole is a pretty young stew of various cultures and races. With that, we tend to lack the unique historical identities that older nations have. One American exception is the Wild West’s cowboy – that is strictly Americana. Even Sergio Toppi talked about the mystique of the Wild West while growing up in Italy – that’s pretty cool!

BF: Holliday is very much a gritty, noir-ish tale set in the here and now. It’s more Sopranos than Tombstone. Did you consider setting it in an earlier time so you could use horses and six shooters?

BOWDEN: Setting Holliday in the modern era was supposed to be the hook that made this retelling a little different. We were trying to avoid those horses and six shooters, but as I continued writing, it was unsettling how easily the tale of a bloody shoot out in the lawless west could be adapted to an urban setting. We didn’t make many changes from the actual events of 1881, and the roles fit so believably into 21st century America that makes you wonder if we’re truly moving forward at all. It’s kinda scary actually.

DABBS: Nate’s vision for the story was for it to be set in present day. We talked about bringing in some Wild West elements, but I think most readers have been saturated by so many stories based during that historical period. One interesting element of the Holliday story is that so many of the events that happened back then could still happen today. On the other hand, some of the events were so unbelievable, that it could be hard to relate to in present day. In general, people tend to dismiss amazing events because they happened so long ago and have little to no relatable characteristics. Putting this story in the present really reinforces the idea that this actually happened, and if it happened today, it would still be legendary. 

BF: How much research did you do in regards to the actual history of these characters and their interactions with each other? I know you’ve used Doc’s actual past as a dentist, and his ill health in the story but was there anything you left on the cutting room floor as it didn’t fit the story?

BOWDEN: I read Karen Holliday Tanner’s biography of Doc and referenced three others for facts regarding history. The thing is, so little has survived the passage of time that a lot of the truth is of some conjecture. There is a lot on the cutting room floor but I think the largest missing component is Wyatt’s involvement with Josephine Marcus and how it soured his relationship with his wife and Sheriff (Captain) Behan. It was a big part of the “Shoot out at the O.K. Corral,” but others have already covered that. What’s habitually left out of the story is what made it into Holliday.

DABBS: As far as character designs, I decided to trim their mustaches just a bit! I’m not sure having more hair on your lip than your head would work in a present day setting. Well, unless you are Sam Elliott. On a serious note though, I did do quite a bit of historical research on the characters and OK Corral shoot out. I really wanted each character’s posture, expressions, and physical characteristics to mimic their personality. This is always important in story telling, however, it was even more integral to this story since it was set in present day and was not a period piece. So, even though the characters are not photographic reproductions of their characters, the spirit of who they were in history is there.  


BF: The art fits the tale perfectly. How much discussion was there on finding the right look?

BOWDEN: The art in this book is absolutely beautiful. After seeing what Doug did with this book I couldn’t imagine it with another artist. There was some discussion with our editor, James Lucas Jones, on what I wanted the book to look like and when he had Doug do the sample pages for the other editors at Oni, it sealed the deal for everyone.

DABBS: Thanks, I’m really glad you thought so! For me, the look was not about making things look edgy for the sake of being edgy. The story will do that on its own. I focused on visually making the storytelling clear and pushing the intended mood for each scene. I also didn’t want to oversell anything visually. Facial expressions, moments of intense action and gestures all needed to have a very natural appearance. Because this is such a gritty book based on actual historical events, but set in the present, I took a more documentary approach in the style. I wanted the reader to feel that these characters actually existed and are historically important. HBO’s The Wire was a huge influence on me in that regard.

Nate was always a big supporter of my artistic style for the book, which is always a great vote of confidence. There’s a definite transition in the artwork from the beginning of the story to the end. The beginning artwork is a bit more graphic, and as the story progresses, the artwork gets more detailed and descriptive. I really wanted this to mimic the progression of the complexity of the story and characters. Stylistic choices like that were always made to service the story. 

BF: How did you both come to work with one another?

BOWDEN: As my last answer suggests, Oni teamed us up and I’m glad they did.

DABBS: Oni gave me Nate’s pitch for Holliday and wanted to know if it was something that I was interested in. I loved the approach of combining crime with a modern take on important historical events. It was a great experience working on it, and I hope readers have as much fun reading it.

BF: What drew you to Oni?

BOWDEN: This industry is a lot about networking. I was coming off two publications with TokyoPop where I had lost creative control of the characters my partner and I had created for them. Oni promises ownership and control of the property, which I loved, but they have a stake in your success as well, so you get to work with talented people that have your best interests at heart. That’s the real draw.

DABBS: First of all, Oni is an amazing company to work for. I really appreciate the creative freedom that it gives, which is evident in the many great books they publish. When they hired me, they trusted me and my artistic choices. They let me do my thing and that’s a rare thing in a creative-based industry.

BF: What keeps you busy outside of creating comics?

 BOWDEN: Well, I have my lovely wife Jami, of nearly two years, and our puppy, Grover to fill my weekends and I manage the textbook department for the SCAD University of Creative Careers bookstore, which at times seems like more than a full time job. But I love poker,  comics, and baseball season has just started up!

DABBS: I’m a full-time professor in the sequential art and foundations studies departments at Savannah College of Art and Design’s Atlanta campus. The students and fellow professors are amazing. All of the professors, like Shawn Crystal, Chris Schweizer, Nolan Woodard, Chris Starros, and June Brigman, are currently working in the comics industry and are extremely talented. I also spend a lot of time with my wife, Nicole. So teaching and spending time with my wife take up the most amount of time outside of comics.

BF: Are they any comics or TV shows that you’re loving right now?

BOWDEN: How good is The Walking Dead right now? Oh my God this f*cking show! The characters are real, the zombies drive the story without being the focus. It’s that hour of television you look forward to each week. But Holliday benefits mostly from my love of HBO’s The Wire, from David Simon. It is simply brilliant. The Wire shows us the drama in our own reality that we all look right past everyday. It is easily my favorite bit of story telling because it unfolds so slowly, pulls no punches and it has something to say. Any fan of the show will see its obvious influence on our book.

DABBS: There are many comics that have influenced me in one way or another, but the most current one is Vertigo’s Scalped. Jason Aaron is one of the best writers in the industry and R.M. Guéra’s art, especially environments, is a constant influence.

I don’t want a lot of TV, but when I do, it’s usually Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. When drawing, I’ll put in past episodes or listen to commentaries of The Wire, Deadwood, Arrested Development, The Wire, any soccer and NFL game, or The Wire. Oh yeah, The Wire is really good too.

I also watch a lot of movies. I love movies for not only their entertainment value, but also for studying the storytelling medium. You can’t go wrong with Hitchcock for entertainment and amazing storytelling. I actually have a top five, ten, and twenty list of my favorite films – it’s sad, I know.

Holliday is a 192 page, black and white original graphic novel from Nate Bowden and Doug Dabbs. It will be released by Oni Press on May 23. It retails for $19.99.

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