Wyatt Earp: Sci-Fi Sheriff

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A lone man rides into a futuristic Sin City ready to dispense justice. His name? Wyatt Earp. Writer M. Zachary Sherman discusses the intriguing new series. Sherman first made a splash as the writer of one of Radical’s best titles, Shrapnel: Aristea Rising. The follow up series, subtitled Hubris is out now and is written by Nick Sagan and Clinnette Minnis.

Fittingly, as his surname is a nod to the tanks used by America in WWII, the former Marine has centred on building his resume with solid stories focused on high stakes warfare. He crafted both the America’s Army game and the comic based on it, as well as the SOCOM: Seal Team Seven OGN from Image. Sherman has also been involved in creating worlds outside of comics, as the writer of the SAW and Rogue Warrior next-gen games and has even more geek cred thanks to his time as a digital effects artist on the Star Wars prequel trilogy and Pirates of the Caribbean. His latest effort has him returning to Radical for the new 3 issue mini-series, Earp: Saints for Sinners as it follows the titular ex-Sheriff as he tries to bring hard justice to the mean streets of  a broken, future Las Vegas.

BROKEN FRONTIER: So how did you become involved with Earp? Matt Cirulnick and David Manpearl created the concept, right? Was there much fine-tuning that needed to be done after that?

M. ZACHARY SHERMAN: I got a call from the boys over at Radical and they asked me if I’d like to fly in for a meeting.  When I asked about the project, they told me it was a retelling of the Wyatt Earp legend.  I didn’t need to hear anything more.  I was hooked. Barry felt Matt and I had very similar voices and I’ve always been a huge admirer of that time period (I don’t have a 10- gallon hat or anything, but I do love the genre) and the faith people used to put in relationships back then.  A handshake was a bond and your word actually meant something.  Makes for great characters and even better drama.

As for Matt and David, they had written a fantastic film treatment, but film doesn’t always translate directly into comics, so there were some areas we all agreed upon that needed a massage to fit into the panel-to-panel format and anyone who knows my writing knows I need to interject a bit of myself into anything I do.  Overall, it was a super-beneficial and collaborative effort.

BF: Are you a fan of Westerns? Do they need to be re-examined for a modern audience?

M.S: Totally.  Today, Westerns get a bad rap because, for the most part, people think they’re slow and moody.  No, they’re not all MTV fast edits and spaceships, but you need to look deeper into the genre, into the subtext and see what it’s really all about. They’re some of the best man vs. man stories out there and even today you can look at popular fiction and see old Western influences in characters and stories.  High Noon, Man With No Name, Ox-Bow Incident-- these are films about men doing dangerous deeds and not for profit, not for personal gain, but because it’s the right thing to do. Their moral compasses always point true North no matter what you throw at them. There are awesome characters and archetypes to be explored in Westerns. 

BF: Is there still an element of accurate historical truth to the characters in Earp?

M.S: As much as I could muster while putting them in Vegas and riding motorcycles in a dystopian future.  It’s not a direct translation of history, that’s for sure, but I do think I can honestly say I did my best to capture the souls of the real people involved in the characterizations I created here.  Their true motivations were always at the forefront of their characters and once that was made clear, the rest came easily.  

BF: Will you be returning to the world of Shrapnel at some point?

M.S: Hey, Connery did Bond again-- and with a toupee, so who knows?!  I would very much like to, but that’s up to the men upstairs (laughs).  Nick and Mark have a great grasp on that series and I think that with the universe being as big as it is, we may not see me take another shot at Sam and the crew, but maybe some other characters who find themselves in the middle of an intergalactic conflict they didn’t sign up for.  And there’s always the Alliance side to explore.  If the fans want it, then I’ll be happy to do it. 

BF: How did you get into writing games like SAW and Rogue Warrior? Is the approach that different from writing a comic?

M.S: It was a mistake, actually.  I wanted to be a screenwriter, but I was in need of a job, so when I happened to meet the Senior Producer from Walt Disney Computer Software, I asked him for one.  He and I met, went to lunch and looked over my materials and a week later, I was hired as the Head Video Game Designer at Disney under his supervision!  What a gig and it was a real learning experience, let me tell you!  That was the first time I had ever worked in games, but more importantly, it was my first real exposure to working for a major corporation.  Obviously, he saw something in me that he thought I could bring to the table, but I was a bit out of my league and unfortunately, that gig didn’t work out.  I was freelancing about a year later, but Disney was my first foray into a very different world and one I will always remember as a learning experience.

As for the process, it’s very different and yet very similar.  At any project’s core are the characters.  As games become more cinematic, producers and publishers want a real movie feel to their levels.  Like a comic, we usually start with the plot on the project (“first person shooter about a rogue agent in North Korea when WWIII starts”).  After that, it diverges and the designers work with the writer to create the game-play levels around that plot.  After which they begin to introduce supporting characters that help the player along the way.

You’ve got over 2500 lines of dialog and “dialog buckets” (fancy name for all of the dialog that’s not spoken by the main character - for the ancillary characters) and anywhere between 5-10 cinematics (the movie sequences that used to be called Full Motion Videos or FMVs) per game. It’s like writing a movie more than a comic, but at the heart of the game are the people and that’s where the best stories come from. Conflict and resolution between people make the plot come to life.  The latest Splinter Cell is a perfect example of this.

BF: With your work as a digital effects artist, and also with Jaz Games, where do you find the time to write? Or are all those different jobs something that helps diversify your day and keep you sane?

M.S: I’m a retired digital effects artist.  I focus on my writing 100% of the time now.  After doing it for 15 years, I can tell you, it’s a fantastic job that really teaches you about visuals, images and how best to use them.  I think my visual sense of writing comes mostly from the fact I was an artist for so long.  Working with directors like Lucas, Spielberg and even Michael Bay, you really learn what works and what doesn’t in a series of images, so I think that really helped me to focus on the meat, the importance, of what needed to be shown and what needs to be in a panel.

As for JAZ Games, it’s a great side business that’s allowed me and my partner John Plaxco to make some great apps and casual games for the iPhone.  Our games aren’t super-deep, they’re for when you’re waiting for the train or waiting for the movie to start in the theatre, but our apps are super-helpful.  Like our CaloCalc  app that allows you to calculate the calories you’ve burned during a workout without need of a $200 heart rate monitor.  Cool, functional apps like that.


BF: It must be pretty satisfying to use your passion for the military in some of your projects. Have you always had that interest?

M.S: It’s less passion and more of just a knowledge base I have.  Every writer uses what he or she personally understands to craft story.  It’s easier to write about what you know because you don’t have to make up as much or spend countless hours on Google trying to research something you don’t have a clue about.  I used to be a Marine, my father was a Navy Captain, my sister was in the Navy, my grandfather was a Merchant Marine in WWII.  Hell, we Shermans go all the way back to the Civil War to when Grandpa Sherman burned a small section of the South, you might have heard of that particular incident?  (Laughs) The men and women of the military are important and I like to give credit where credit is due, but I love writing sci-fi and superhero action.  

That’s my passion.  Luckily, I’ve been able to parlay my knowledge of the military into some of those stories and people seem to dig ‘em.  I’m not a jingoistic flag-waving rah-rah by any shakes, but I love my country and what it stands for.  Though I did make the Marines the bad -guys in Shrapnel, so go figure…  Respect authority but question it when you don’t agree with it. ‘Nuff said!

BF: What do you do to relax?

M.S: Excuse me?  Re-what? (laughs) Not a lot of time for that between writing comics and games, but I do work out a lot.  It really helps with the stress and to center myself after a long day of blowing up space stations and shoot-outs at the O.K. Corral.  And I’m a huge gamer.  Look for me on Xbox Live under zsherman if you all wanna play COD sometime! 


BF: What’s the most useless piece of trivia you know?

M.S: Yikes, let’s see. "Stewardesses" is the longest word that you can type using only your left hand. 

The $1 introductory issue to Earp: Saints for Sinners is available now with art by Mack Chater and Martin Montiel. #1 will be released soon.


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