Read through the end of the article for a chance to win a copy of The Kaiju Score trade paperback, ahead of the Steal from the Gods release on April 13!
In my last article, I discussed how James Patrick is writing some of the best crime comics in the genre right now, they just happen to feature some pretty dope monster action sequences. Ahead of his new series, The Kaiju Score: Steal From the Gods (issue 1 releases April 13) James was nice enough to answer a few questions I had. Here’s how I imagine it went down.
It’s a hot night, the kind that passes the parched earth’s thirst on and makes a man seek a drink wherever one can be found. Following this thirst, I head over to the hole in the wall where I’m supposed to meet “Jim” at. A fading sign reads (or mostly reads) “The Underbelly: A Respectable Tavern for Respectable Folks”. Walking in, I immediately wonder about the veracity of that “respectable” claim. As royalty free jazz plays softly over the speakers, I look over to the bar and see James Patrick, sitting there just as he said he’d be. The author of The Kaiju Score: Steal From the Gods catches my eye and jerks his head in a motion that indicates I should sit on what’s left of the beat-up bar stool next to him. I make my way over, ready to ask him my questions and, hopefully, get some of the answers I’ve been searching for.
None of this is true. James is incredibly busy leading up to the release of his new book and was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had via Twitter DM/email. It was not a hot day, as March in Northeast Ohio typically is not. I wrote up this exchange not at a bar full of the criminal element but in the comfort of my home. (and partly at work, don’t tell the boss)
The bartender sees me sit down and sizes me up. Not impressed by what he sees, he grunts out what I can assume is an impatient request for my drink order. Before I have a chance to even think about my choice, James gives him a knowing look, speaking a nonverbal language I’m not fluent in. The bartender slunks away and comes back a few moments later with what he announces is “the special”. What makes it special, I’ll likely never find out. I nod to the bartender that the special is fine and he walks away, I can’t tell if he’s more relieved I don’t request something else or annoyed at my general existence.
Again, this did not happen at all. I’m drinking a cup of tea to try to get over this springtime/two-kid cold. It’s not particularly special.
Nervously, I grab my notebook and pen and get ready to start asking the questions I’ve prepared, mostly mundane and generic, about his current and past projects. Before I get it open, he shakes his head and smiles, seemingly telling me to say what’s on my mind. Putting the notebook and pen down, I take a breath and launch into my thoughts.
I sent over some questions, he answered them. Here’s what he said.
Ben: We’ve talked before about both being fans of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, as everybody should be (The Hunter is one of the great American revenge tales), what other crime fiction helped get you interested in the genre and find your voice? Do you feel more of your story inspirations come from these sources or is it more internal, based on heists you’ve planned in your head?
James Patrick: I’d say that what’s most influential for Kaiju Score after Stark is Elmore Leonard. Books like Get Shorty and Be Cool and even interpretations of his material like Justified definitely bleed in. How he might write characters or use dialogue. Hell, even my book Campisi probably has a dash of some Chili Palmer. Justified as a whole had a major impact on me and as me as a writer that was significantly close to the blast zone of that show and even today.
And I’d say it doesn’t find its way into the plot but the characters and style and tone and vibe and, like I mentioned, characters.
Even though you didn’t choose it as the inspiration basis, I’ve got to know: If you were planning these heists in real life, what role do you think you’d play? (the heavy, the fence, the driver, etc)
If I were planning a heist, I guess I’d be Marco/the planner, if for no other reason than being a comic creator means juggling a ton of different things. If you’re self-publishing or in the stages before a publisher comes along, you typically find yourself wearing the hat of writer, editor, and project manager. You’re trying your best to steer the ship and hold it all together. I’m not saying I’m great at these things, but you’re forced to do them, and looking back that’s a role I’ve had for a while under certain circumstances.
We spent Kaiju Score following Marco, with Steal From The Gods we’ll be following Michelle. You’ve mentioned previously that you start with the story you want to tell, then figure out the character to tell that story with, did you find any challenges or advantages with switching headspaces from the first series? We obviously got to see a little of Michelle’s background in the first season and really got to see her grow through the last job, but certainly saw less from her than we did Marco. Did you feel that by switching out there was more character space you got to explore, or conversely, did you feel like you had to spend more page real estate with furthering Michelle’s character in ways that Marco already had been?
No disadvantages. There was a time when Michelle was the main protagonist of the first Kaiju Score, and then it shifted to Marco, and then a little more and into a more balanced approach with all the characters. So I was kind of in tune with her, and even more so by the end of the first book. The other thing is that Michelle ends up in the most dramatic space after the first series, and alive, whereas Marco’s arc is kind of fulfilled. If we never see Marco again, we know he had a journey that ended in the right place. Michelle is spilled into a new version of herself and with a lot in front of her. And yes, there is just a lot more space in there to play with. Now she has a crew, and she gets to see what a pain in the ass it is, and what a pain in the ass it was for Marco when it came to problems like, well, her.
Follow up on that idea of the limited space on the page , one of the things that was so impressive with Kaiju Score was how you were able to tell such a complete story of the heist beginning to end all while fleshing out the characters in just four issues. How do you navigate the limited page real estate in a four issue limited series, which between Kaiju Score, Campisi, Imposter, and Death seems to be your preferred storytelling format? Is editing down your ideas as big a challenge as building up the idea in the first place?
I think I’m a bit conditioned to the three-act story structure and how it applies to movies, how it fits to movies since I watch so many movies, and so a lot of time I fall into place with it. And in the three-act structure for movies, there are actually four major parts, since the second act is typically divided into two parts, which you have this area of progress and introducing conflict in part 1 of act 2, and then this escalation that occurs after the midpoint and break in act 2. I know that’s technical, and sorry about that, (Never apologize for this) but it’s a map to a four-issue series if you want to try and use it that way. And even if you don’t consciously do it, it typically ends up resembling it just out of basic story structure. I do not go into that way, and I don’t make comics with the purpose to be made into movies, but these are universal things that occur even at a subconscious level, and which I’ve probably conditioned myself into over time.
Having said all that, I had it laid out like that, as four parts, when it went to Aftershock, and since so much was done they were gracious enough to let me do it in four issues so the structure wasn’t compromised and we weren’t trying thinly fill another issue, and I said at some point, “Hey, for purposes of the trade count and all that, we could pump this to 24 pages per issue,” and somewhere in there we all agreed on four issues and 24 pages, and I’ve always been grateful for that. And then, yes, that definitely gave me room to flesh out more character and dynamic – especially when I’m sometimes used to working with 20 pages at other companies, per issue. But, you know, 20 pages per issue in a five issue series is 100 pages and 24 per issue in a four issue series is 96, so you’re not dealing with that much less real estate, but you are dealing with structure changes.
And going back to what you said initially, it doesn’t mean I can’t write five or six issues when it comes to a story, I have a book being announced here very soon that’s five issues (now revealed to be Astronaut Down, coming out from Aftershock this June) and it feels great and comfortable honestly, and I like the extra room since I’ve done mostly four-issue books for some reason. Well, that reason is typically expense. It’s cheaper to publish four issues rather than five almost no matter how many pages it is. But now with five issues I just go into a five act or five part structure. And none of this is set in stone, many books don’t have these types of structures that perfectly fit into parts per issue, but it can help to macro it this way in a hurry or in a jam or figuring out problems when things don’t feel right.
I’ve been shouting out the virtues of Kaiju Score and Campisi to anyone at my LCS (or anyone, really) very early on. Facetiously, I’d love to claim credit for the series successes, but given that Kaiju Score was optioned by Sony months before the first issue went to print, that seems like a hard sell on my part. What was it like having sold the series before the general public had even seen it? How’s that process been?
Firstly, thank you for the support. The movie announcement absolutely helped the visibility of this project, and orders, and just about everything, since it was announced prior to the release of the book. It did some heavy lifting. It got eyes on us. And that momentum carried through. The only downside is you, organically, get a little bit of expectations you have to live up to, some with the attitude of “What’s so great about this book?”, if something like that happens before it comes out. We thankfully followed up with outstanding reviews, and that’s a very small thing in the context of the rest of the upsides that came with the movie deal. We were lucky with that certainly.
You’ve certainly earned all of those outstanding reviews. Staying with the movie, do you and Rem have any type of creative control or editorial say in the adaptation? Any update on when we might see that on a screen near us?
Getting into specifics about our control might be slippery, since others are involved, so I’ll just say that I’ve probably been too hands off and of the mindset of just letting the people who do the movies do the movies and not pestering them too much, when it comes to anything really, and since that’s their lane and comics are mine. And though this is my second deal, it’s the first of the scope Kaiju is, and I’m not comfortable with the boundaries yet enough to maybe come across as walking into someone else’s house and putting my feet on the furniture.
In an industry as . . . let’s say “unkind” (see also: exploitative) to creators, I love seeing creators taking agency back into their own hands and a rise in creator-owned projects. You’ve been part of this with the formation of your studio 21 Pulp. Can you talk a little about the importance of starting 21 Pulp for you?
Well, you always want to put your stamp on something, try to do things how you think would make an impact, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with 21 Pulp. The nuts and bolts are that it’s a way for us to make the comics we want to make.
It’s interesting because we’re doing a lot of things with the company. Over here, we’re creating our own books, and over here, we’re developing IPs for others. So sometimes we’re in the role of a production company, sometimes we’re in the role of publisher, and sometimes we’re a partner, and sometimes we’re a service. We have all the tools to make a book and publish a book from scratch, and we have the tools for, say, a movie studio or production company or a dang shoe company to come along and ask us to develop something into comic form for them for whatever reason.
Anything you can share about future projects coming from the studio?
We just brought a number of books over to the US from Italian publisher Shockdom, we just partnered with Aftershock for Campisi, we’ve had a book with Winkler Films (Creed), and right now we have multiple books in development. I take a lot of pride in our quality.
Lastly, as I noted in my article, Kaiju comics are having a huge moment right now. What do you think it is about giant fightin’ monsters that’s attracting both readers and writers to stories that incorporate them right now? Is there something in either the world or the comics space right now that you see pushing them forward?
The obvious answer is they’re awesome. The second answer is that it’s been a massive genre for decades that hasn’t had a lot of pages devoted to it in comics. The third answer is that there is a giant shift toward that whole culture occurring, especially in youth. My kids [watch] a ton of anime and read a ton of manga, and I couldn’t be more pleased. We’re always looking for new ways to be entertained, pop culture and entertainment is a living, changing thing, and while people seem to be eating up movies and shows about traditional American comics, whatever that means, there’s just a larger shift occurring in what’s being read. I really just want my kids to read. And whether it’s Attack on Titan or it’s Batman, I don’t care. And to repeat my first answer, giant monsters are awesome.
With this answer about wanting to share his writing with his kids, I get to thinking about my own kids. My daughter Jane is almost 4 and already a big fan of super heroes. I love that I get to share that passion with her. The idea of being able to share something I made with her? Even just thinking about that is amazing. I go to ask James one last question, to find out why he thinks people should buy The Kaiju Score: Steal From the Gods #1 when it comes out on April 13th, but he’s already gone. The bartender comes over and, seeing James has left, asks me “you better be paying for those.” I laugh to myself and reach for my wallet. It’s James Patrick, of course I’m buying. I hope you will too.
I’m sure James would never leave without paying his tab. He’s probably a great tipper. As it says above, Kaiju Score: Steal From the Gods #1 comes out April 13th. You should buy it when it comes out. If you like good comics, you’re going to like this one.
James Patrick is Editor and Chief at 21 Pulp, and the critically-acclaimed and award-winning writer of books like Batman, Green Arrow, Harley Quinn, Star Trek, Angel, Hero Hourly, Death Comes To Dillinger, Hero by Night, and more. He’s worked for DC Comics, Image Comics, IDW Publishing, and is also a writer of television and film.
Want to win a copy of the trade paperback for The Kaiju Score to get ready for Steal From The Gods? Now’s your chance! Leave a comment on this article about what question you’d like to ask James or what you’re most excited for in Steal From the Gods (or anything else really) along with a social media handle or e-mail address to contact you and The Kaiju Score trade will be yours. This contest is open until April 20th, when the winner will be chosen. Good luck!