Watch it Unravel

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The crime genre is experiencing an upswing all around the industry, but maybe not more so than at Image Comics. The publisher has set a new bar for crime comics recently with titles like Fell and Cross Bronx.

In April, Dan Wickline and Homeros Gilani aim to add a third big name to that tantalising duo with Unravel, debuting as part of Jim Valentino's Shadowline imprint. BF spoke to writer and artist to find out which mystery they're unravelling in front of readers.

BROKEN FRONTIER: What are your thoughts on the recent revamp of crime comics in the industry?

DAN WICKLINE: The comic industry, like entertainment in general, is cyclical in nature. At times when the world is afraid of an uncontrollable ‘evil’, horror comics/movies become dominant. It happened during World War II when Universal launched their horror movies, during Vietnam when Hammer Films were popular, and after 9/11 horror movies and comics took center stage again.

During the McCarthy era, crime/detective/noir became the rage. People wanted heroes who worked against or outside the establishment. With everything going on with the government now, it’s natural for crime stories to rise up again.

But as always, the key is having the best in the industry open the door. Ellis and Templesmith have done an amazing job on Fell. It’s always on the top of the stack on new comic day for me. And I’m having a blast reading good crime/detective stories like Cross Bronx, Criminal, 100 Bullets and what Paul Dini is doing on Detective Comics

HOMEROS GILANI: I think the revamp of the crime fiction genre in comics is a return to its original roots which was way before the superhero genre took over. In our time, comics have become synonymous with superheroes, while in actuality it started mostly as horror and crime pulps in the 20's and 30's.

BF: Speaking of the surge of crime stories, Image was responsible for some of the most critically-acclaimed of those, such as the ones Dan mentioned. Although I’m sure you guys are proud to find yourselves in good company, does it raise expectations as well?

DAN: I think those books have set a very high bar, but as a writer, you can’t let what other books are doing influence you. I have a specific story to tell and I need to tell it to the best of my ability. If I focus on what Ellis, Brubaker and Oeming are doing, then I’m just going to end up trying to one-up them and not tell my story.

I watched the Black Dahlia the other night and I came away with two thoughts… the first being, “what does any of this have to do with the poor dead girl”… and “boy, they wanted this movie to be China Town”. I think De Palma spent so much time trying to live up to great noir movies and what he himself had done before that he forgot to just tell a good story to the best of his ability.

HOMEROS: Personally as an artist I think Image delivers great diversity not only in genres but especially art styles. So art-wise I think we add something new and of our own to the table.

BF: Dan, when did you come up with the concept for this series?

DAN: Just after Comic-Con 2004. I was working on a proposal for a CSI comic and the beginnings of 30 Days of Night: Dead Space, so I was hip deep in both crime and horror. The concept popped into my head, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. I wrote it up and let it sit on my computer for a few months until Homeros contacted me.

He was looking for something to work on (which wound up being Unusual Suspects) and I ran the concept by him. We put the pitch together, but then it sat around for a year until I pitched it to Shadowline.

BF: When it comes to writing crime stories, are you in any way inspired by legendary genre authors like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler?

DAN: Chandler, Hammett, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, and Lawrence Block… the list goes on and on. And I would have to throw in Alfred Hitchcock. Crime, like horror, needs to have strong characters, a serious threat and perfect timing. The names above are masters of those three things. Reading crime stories and mystery novels as a kid shaped a lot of how I write today.

BF: Unravel ‘unravels’ around female cop, Lindsey Shaw. What kind of a person is she? How would you describe her character?

DAN: Shaw is typical to a crime story in that she doesn’t necessarily believe in the law as much as she does justice. Being a cop is the only thing she ever thought of doing. Her father and grandfather were both cops. Putting on the badge is just what you do in her family. She’s never really looked outside of the box she lived in, until the box is ripped open. For her, this is an awakening story.

HOMEROS: The initial idea for Lindsey focused on her physical attraction, among other things. I, however, didn't see that as a priority. I wanted to portray her as a tough female lead character, rather than a beautiful one. At the same time, I added a sense of vulnerability to her.

I did all that because I wanted her to be more real and not fiction, which is in complete contrast to the usual female characters in comics that come across as unrealistically larger than life.

BF: The tagline of the book reads “When everything you know to be true becomes a lie… the unbelievable becomes real.” Are we dealing with a mystery of supernatural proportions here?

HOMEROS: You have to read the book to see what we mean! [Laughs]

DAN: That’s a difficult question to answer. Partly, because it goes directly to one of the mysteries, and partly because what might be supernatural to one reader may be science-fiction to another.

The quote is more geared towards how your life would change if suddenly you found a unicorn in your backyard or scientists discover that 1 + 2 = 5. If something you have always known to be true is proven false, wouldn’t that change the whole list of what is and isn’t possible?

BF: The title of the storyarc is “Living in the Details”. What does it refer to?

DAN: It sounded really cool.

Actually, the title is a play-on-words about what drives the plot of the arc. Saying anything more might give away too much. But remember what they say, ‘the devil is in the details’.

BF: How did you become attached to the project, Homeros?

HOMEROS: Dan saw some samples of my artwork on the internet and liked it. And I knew Dan had some cool story ideas in the making. He asked if I would be interested in working with him on one of the two ideas that he had for a story. So we both contacted each other. At this point I had no clue if any of his ideas would be a crime fiction, but thinking back he obviously saw the presence of that genre in my art style.

Dan has a broad writing range, I guess that's because he likes so many genres and is a fan of them all. One of the concepts he gave me was Sci-Fi ish which was very tempting, the other crime/fiction (Unravel). I knew early on Unravel was the one I would want to work with.

At that point, the first drafts of Dan's original script for Unravel had lighter tones that can be found in the more mainstream comics. I suggested to move more toward Film Noir, which is my favorite genre. The dark essence was already there, so I suggested making it much darker and more real.

We started to exchange ideas, which was part of the fun in working with Dan. His openness to my ideas and collaborating on character and story elements made this project so much more closer to what we both wanted.

BF: When doing some research, I found your name connected to a Dutch explocore band named 'Smogus', as cover artist for on of their CD/DVD releases. Does that mean you only recently made the transition to pencilling comics?

HOMEROS: I don't see myself just as a penciller, because that is only one principle of the art. I’d rather do the art itself, whatever the material may be.

I grew up with comics and it's something I've done ever since I was a kid. Comics and sequential art have been a fixation in my life and though I am more of an illustrator, I don't think I could separate my creativity from my comic influences.

I'm close friends with the band Smogus, when they asked me to do their CD cover, they all referred to my comic art. We are all fans of one another!

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge

DAN: Speaking of art, the covers for all four issues of Unravel are being done by Tone (Violent Messiahs) Rodriguez and are based on a concept by Homeros. I think they’re really going to catch readers’ attention on the stands.

Also, Homeros and I collaborated on a 5-page story for a book I wrote called The Unusual Suspects, which I mentioned previously.  It’s a 96-page graphic novel being published this March by Top Cow, but all the proceeds are going to The Hero Initiative. Tone also did four pages for the book.

HOMEROS: I hope the readers will like what Dan and I have done with Unravel. To me the positive reaction from comic readers is what makes all our hard work worthwhile!

Unravel #1 (of 4) will go on sale April 18th. For a sneak peek at Unravel #1, click here.

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