April 30th, 2009
“What sounds to you like a big load of trashy old noise is, in fact, the brilliant music of a genius. Myself.” Iggy Pop
Which is how David Lapham describes what he was tying to achieve with Young Liars. You know Young Liars yes? Young Liars, the best new title to have been released in along time. Young Liars the gonzo romance, action, sci-fi, music comic. Young Liars that has recently been announced as cancelled. Much to the dismay of the loyal, hardcore fans that this utterly original book has attracted. Balls. Another one bites the dust.
Well we caught up with David, after he’d finished his three day PCP and Meths-fuelled rampage, gave him a grapefruit juice, and asked him some questions about Young Liars, Stray Bullets and the future…
1) Well, firstly I have to say I’m absolutely gutted Young Liars is cancelled. I guess i should ask, how long did you have in mind for the series, in an ideal world? Obviously ‘ongoing’ is a relative term nowadays – 100 Bullets, The invisibles, and Starman all had definite endings in mind for example – what was the deal for YL?
I had thought about this a lot lately. The book’d been getting a lot of good reviews and a lot of support from other pros, so I dared to think what I might do with a healthy run. Also as the book has gone on, it’s become more and more about one thing and less open ended in my mind. There were three more distinct arcs I would have liked to do. That would get me to the end of the story. That’s not to say that along that process more permutations wouldn’t have come to me, but with the surreal nature of the book and, like I said, how it started to become about one particular thing, I knew I could sustain the surprises and pace for at least those 36 issues.
2) What was your vision of YL? It seemed – and I mean this as a compliment – almost improvised. I mean there was obviously a long-term game-plan, but the series had a manic, restless quality that really kept readers guessing. Was there ever going to be a big ‘reveal’?
Yes. A lot was improvised and I do take that as a compliment. Improvised is different than “throwing shit up on the wall”. Jazz musicians improvise, and it doesn’t mean they play whatever the hell song they want . It’s within a structure. I knew what the book was to me, and as I wrote, ideas would come in and I would run with them. So when I wrote issue 12 and Runco was alive again. Or Danny was in a clown suit. Or when the spiders became more than just Sadie being nutty. Things like that that drove some people nuts. I knew it was right, and I just did it.
There are different types of stories. I’m writing a book for Wildstorm called Sparta U.S.A. It’s a big fantasy concept not the kind of thing I normally come up with. Very wonderful and complex, but ultimately it’s a fantasy/adventure series and lots of people could create stories about it. Young Liars is a wholly different beast It’s a VERY personal book. No one could do this book but me because it’s about my brain and everything I like and feel. Stray Bullets is like that. No one else can possibly do it. It’s why I could do things in Young Liars like put in song recommendations and it wasn’t gratuitous. It was fun, yes, but it also fit the nature of the book. It became a very unique place to work inside every months and is the toughest part of letting it go.
And yes there would have been a big reveal, though I doubt it would have been straight up. I often equate what I’m doing here to the final episode of the Prisoner. If you found that as complete and satisfying as I did you’d find the ending here highly satisfying. Or maybe I’m not good enough to pull that off and it would have been straight up.
I’ll tell you this, it wouldn’t be anything as lame as just finding out Danny’s crackers.
Maybe one day we’ll find out.
3) What were your influences on the series? What was the initial spark that set the ball rolling?
Oddly it started out in my mind as an action book. I wanted to do just a kick ass girl action book. My Vertigo editor Shelly Bond and I were wrapping up the Silverfish graphic novel and I wanted to get a series going. We went down a list of old forgotten characters looking for a spark. We came across Bullet Girl. That sure sounded like a Lapham book, right? So, with just a name I thought about who would be named Bullet girl and why. I wanted her to be an action hero but not really super powered, so I hit upon this idea that she’s “Bullet Girl” because she has this bullet in her head. Maybe the bullet has her messed up, she’s completely oblivious to fear and pain and has no sense of inhibition, thus she’s as superpowered as much as say someone hopped up on drugs.
For the setting I’ve always liked creating stories about young people or teens, and I knew I wanted to do something that involved music. I took Lou Reed’s Take A Walk On The Wild Side as inspiration and wanted to start with these really screwed up people that seemed stereotypical—because that’s what people are on the surface, especially people we don’t normally encounter–but became more human over time.
Then what happened was that we lost the name Bullet Girl because they were afraid this Mature Readers Book might be mistaken for another character in the regular DC universe who was a girl called the Bulleteer or something. Which I understood, but when you lose your title all of a sudden you have to rethink a lot. I had already written the first issue at that point, and Danny, as the narrator, seemed to be taking over anyway, so I moved away from action and dove into Danny head and away we went. But some of the initial elements, the cops, the quest for the painting, etc. actually come from the action book it once was.
4) Music obviously played a huge part in YL – the series sort of seemed like a love letter to the energy, creativity and emotion of post-punk music in particular. How do you feel comics and music work together? How did music shape the creation of the series?
I definitely wanted music to be an element of the book because it was a personal book and for the past five/six years in particular, music has become a very big passion of mine. It used to be a background thing for me. Most popular music was only interesting in so far as it was catchy and made you absently bob your head. But what happened was, my wife and I started a family. I had less time days and was working evenings and mornings more. I couldn’t really watch old films as much, which is another passion of mine, because films require watching and drawing without watching your paper doesn’t really work out too well. But drawing and listening to music…
I started listening to music more and it became more than just background noise, which is what I always thought about music. Yeah, music is great, whatever. Then I discovered The Fall and that was it. I had no idea music could actually be that good. Like Popeye good. Like Vonnegut or Kurosawa good. No idea.
The labels are confusing though because great, great bands like the Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers and Mission of Burma are punk, but they’re certainly pretty out there. The inheritors of that I think were the “noise rock” groups of the 90’s like the Cows and Alice Donut. I’m not as sure what the movement is today. I’m not so seeped in it that I’m at the forefront of music trends. I have to wait for the word to spread….
Anyway lot of the post punk period and that kind of anything goes, hard hitting music, I feel simpatico with. Fierce individuality. Look, everybody’s trying to earn a living, everybody’s would like to strike a gold mine, but if your trying to be popular, if you’re trying to be a star then that shades everything—every decision you make that becomes the first consideration, AND the mark of quality. If it sells, it’s good, if not, it’s bad. The natural extension of that is the best music, comics, films, whatever, are those things that appeal to the widest possible audience, and to do that you need to have the broadest possible appeal and to do that you basically—in the case of music—try and write the catchiest possible nonspecific love song and sing it in the most technically perfect voice you can…And on and on we go.
What if your singer can’t sing traditionally, what if you want to make some noise, or some discordant sounds, or sing about specific things that you give a shit about? Well, then, my son, you’re in a niche audience and you just have to hope your niche is big enough to sustain you. But bands do it. There are lots of musicians out there doing it for 10, 20, 30+ years, and they’re never going to be top 40, but again, is that the mark of quality? You can bring your whole self to music because it doesn’t take a million dollar budget to produce. Just a pawn shop and an idea. That’s inspiring to me. Comics are similar to this. They should be a perfect place to do interesting work with a strong personal voice. Mostly they’re not, but they should be and can be and sometimes they are.
I’m going off track, but the point is that music is a good thing in my life and I wanted to put that in my book.
As far as how well they work together. I don’t know. There’s no sound in comics so there’s probably a big disconnect right there. If I thought about it too much I would say most bands or music in comics comes of hokey. Except Love and Rockets. They make it work. I just did what felt right, and figured that it was my book, if I liked it then it would work. Same with the song selections. My book. This is what got me going. Here you go. What’s great is that with YouTube anybody can just pop on the internet and listen to the songs.
5) Following on from that, what was coming up on the YL playlist?
I can change those right up to the last minute depending on what hits me, but I will say–and this may reveal the tone of the ending–but one of the recommended songs in the last issue will be a by the Swans.
6) One of the things I really appreciated about YL was that you were in control of most aspects of production – writing, drawing, inking…surely that must be a hell of a lot of work? Ever fancied the easy life?
Isn’t that just a nice way of saying “I’m broke?” “Ramen noodles and a Walkman, that’s all I need.” I have a book I’m talking to Avatar about doing about the easy life. No. I tried the “easy life for two minutes when I started doing mainstream stuff again. Just doing my little part and leaving it to others to pull it all together and I quickly found out that the work really suffers if you don’t follow the process right till the end. There’s always dialogue that can be added or deleted or tweaked always something that’s going to stop the reader cold if it’s not attended to. That makes the difference between good and shit.
7) YL was different from Stray Bullets in that you were working with an editor under the Vertigo house banner – how did you find that? What are the benefits of working for the Big Boys as opposed to self-publishing?
I’ll say this I don’t know if Young Liars could have happened under any other editor. Shelly really got what I was doing with this book. And when she didn’t she trusted my instincts and just gave me feedback on what she was perceiving. And some of the best stories came from her just saying something like, “look you’ve followed Danny here, here, and here. Maybe it’s time to mix it up. What if we find out more about this town of Browning?” And I came up with issue #16’s story, which is one of my favorites of the whole series.
The most obvious benefit of self-publishing—or small press, which is what we were. I didn’t do any of the publishing—is that you’re master of your own destiny. No one can tell you squat, and you certainly can’t cancel yourself. Even with Stray Bullets. Yes, for various life reasons I’ve had to stop. But I’m not buried under layers of red tape. Well, there’s no book coming out, so isn’t it the same thing? Well, no, it’s not. And if I can get SB going again you’ll find out why. A lot of people ask “Why not bring Stray Bullets to Vertigo?” Well, this is why. Nothing against them. They’re a big company. They have no obligation to keep publishing a book if they’re losing money. So if SB didn’t sell (strangely, though, I do think SB would do better than YL simply for the fact that it’s more straightforward than YL) and it’s canceled, then where am I? Yes, technically I would own the copyright but there’s a lot of untangling there. Jesus, I’m going on. Look it’s not impossible, but maybe I’m just more paranoid than other people. Stay tuned…
An advantage at a bigger company might be support through tougher times. Stray Bullets hit right and was a success. Through various events including the market slide, life circumstances and my own immaturity, it became so I had to put it on hiatus. When you’re on your own and it was just the two of us doing–(El Capitan publisher) Maria and I–is that if you’re not ON a 100% of the time, you’re done., and really it’s hard through life to say this is going to ALWAYS be my number one PRIORITY no matter what else is going on.
A bigger company pays you within a week or two as opposed to waiting until a month or so after the book ships. And you get paid your rate regardless of sales. The reverse is that if you’re a huge success you don’t reap those rewards nearly as much, but sometimes with a family and comics not selling huge numbers these days, having your rate guaranteed is nice thing. You’d think a big company would have stronger promotion and sales cache, which can be true, but the flip side is that they need you to sell higher numbers to be successful and also a book can get lost amongst so many. A company will generally put more promotion into their best sellers than their worst. I’m not even saying that’s a bad thing. The sellers pay the bills after all.
8) YL was one of the most genuinely unsettling comics on the racks. You have a real knack for truly nightmarish, nasty horror in your work. How do you feel about horror as a genre? I hate to use the term loosely, but certain episodes of he series (in particular the Sadie ‘origin’ story) had a real Lynchian quality. Who are your inspirations in horror?
I’m not a horror fan per se. I’ve actually never seen a Freddy movie. I’ve only seen the first Halloween. But I like horror. I like to write horror. Suspense is incredibly fun to do. And using horror in a drama can be far scarier than a straight up horror movie. Lynch is a good example because he uses horror in his stories to greater effect than in a pure horror movie. In fact, my all time number one scariest watched moment was when Maddy buys it in Twin Peaks, and that was on network TV! Horror works very well in comics: EC, Moore’s Swamp Thing, Early Sandman. Like crime, it’s something to replace superpowers as a basis to build a compelling story around.
9) What was your particular favourite moment of the series?
I like all the little stuff. I like in issue three when they’re in the hospital and Sadie’s talking and won’t stop doing this goofy dance. I like in issue 12 when Danny loses his ability to play the guitar and a sense of peace comes over him. There’s a little thing that happens in issue 16 that I love. The series can be so violent at times, but there’s something in that one that may be the worst of all.
But so far my favorite big moment comes at the end of issue 15, which I can’t say what it is, but the book will be out in May.
10) In my opinion YL was one of the most ferociously original books on the market, yet it failed to find a sturdy hold in the fickle comics market. What, in your opinion, does it take to create a successful new book? How receptive do you feel the market is for new work?
Sometimes a bit of serendipity is needed. Right place right time. Retailer support. The right promotion, (but it’s hard to tell what the “right” promotion is). Over at Dynamite they took The Boys, a book that failed at Wildstorm and made it into a seller. Who knows? Not me, I guess.
I think one thing is that the overall comic book readership is really not that big right now and for an outside the mainstream book it’s a fraction of that, and a book like Young Liars, because of it’s mind-bending nature is going to alienate as many people as it hooks. So you really need a huge percentage of who’s left. You need everything to go your way. It’s small numbers that make the difference. I can’t speak for Vertigo, but I think if we did 20% better across the board the book would still be going. I knew it was never going to be Sandman or Fables as a seller because it was a personal book without that big hookey “high concept” and it was weird, so I really needed most everyone that was left.
11) How has working on YL made you feel about a possible return to stray Bullets?
I’d love to do more Bullets. Stray Bullets has it’s personal flavor but is actually a much more straight forward book than Young Liars, which would seem to bode well for being a success. The only questions are when, where, how? Can we do it ourselves? Can we trust someone else. It’s not easy, and as I’ve said, I’m paranoid.
12) Danny Noonan is certainly a complex protagonist. He’s basically a fucking villain isn’t he? Was he hard to write? Which character was the most fun to write?
Danny is not hard to write. No. He’s really not a villain (though he does do a lot of fucking—especially since he got his Johnson back), he’s just acting from a self centered perspective. He’s ultimately very sad and that’s a lot of what people are responding to I think when they say the book makes them feel dirty or “I read Ennis but this book is really dark.” There’s something really seriously sad underneath the circus act. Danny’s also the most fun to write, though Annie X has become another favorite in this arc.
13) YL was a real mash-up of genres – superheroes, romance, horror, action. Were you trying to fuck with conventions, or just keep yourself interested?
I wanted to make something that had everything I liked in a story in it. And I did. Everything, all at once. And I’m completely proud of it. And that’s why it’s such a bummer to have to stop.
14) You tend to work alone by and large. Is there anyone you’d particularly like to collaborate with in comics? How do you find collaboration in general?
I love doing the whole thing. I love coming up with a story, layouts, penciling, then inking because it’s all part of the storytelling process. Little things change along the way right up until the end. Even lettering, which I hate to do, I like the part where I can control the placement and how the pointers go and if they’re going to we straight or wiggly or whatever.
Collaborating is iffier because you don’t control everything, but I’ve learned to really like it. I’m working with an artist named Johnny Timmons right now on a book for Wildstorm called Sparta, U.S.A. and it’s one of the most fun projects I’ve ever worked on. Johnny’s a young guy I did a Wolverine short story with and when Sparta came through, he was the first guy I came to. He’s got a Caniff-ish sensibility and it’s been just a fucking thrill watching him grow and get into the story. He started out at a very high level and now, where he’s at on issue 3, he’s light years better. Plus he’s a cool guy and has a passion for stuff. That’s been a great collaboration.
After our aborted Batman series, which still makes my stomach knot up thinking about it, I’d love to take another stab at doing something with Sienkiewicz. I might kill small animals, if required, for that chance.
15) You’ve got 4 more issues left for the series – are you going to try and wrap the whole thing up in those issues, or just carry on the carnage regardless?
I’m not going to try and do everything I wanted in the entire series in one issue, but there will be an ending. Course I do have a book where everything’s a lie don’t I?
16) What made you want to work in comics? Is there any one single work that changed your world view comics-wise?
Every day I ask myself that same question. I think “What the hell brought me to this point?” Then I reach over to my bedside table, take out Ol’ Reliable spin the chamber and
I just always loved comics. When I was a kid we didn’t have comic book stores so you got them at the drug store or 7-Eleven. I remember having so many comics where I had part one and never got part two and I would re-read them over and over and try and imagine what the ending might be. I specifically remember this issue of Nova, this dude who could fly like a rocket. He had this cool helmet and blue and gold suit (is he still around?). I had this one issue where he fights the Yellow Claw and I never got the second part. Ever. I still don’t know what happened. But I read that thing a trillion times.
The thing that did it for me, though was Miller’s Daredevil–the first run he did with Klaus Jansen. I know that was big for a lot of people, so it’s not revolutionary, but I was hooked. That’s the first time I thought about seriously doing this.
17) Maybe it’s to soon to ask, but what’s on the horizon?
Next up is probably the Sparta, U.S.A. I mentioned. They probably want to get one or two more in the can before they set a schedule. I’m incredibly excited about it. It’s a big fantasy concept. Like Fables meets Stray Bullets meets…the NFL. Despite the mash up, it’s more straightforward than Young Liars, and it’s probably also the most “high concept” thing I’ve ever come up with. I’m doing a second Terror mini for Marvel Max. I did another Wolverine Giant-Sized that David Aja’s going to be drawing. I have a couple other cool things possibly going on there. It looks like I may write a book I pitched to Avatar. I have a few other tricks up my sleeve, but it’s to early to talk about. I’m not going anywhere, that’s for sure.
18) OK, some non-comics stuff now. What was the best film you’ve seen recently?
I just watched The Wild Bunch again for the seven hundredth time. Does that count?
19) Best album you heard?
Lately? Or of all time?
Lately, would be The Heroine Shieks’ Out of Aferica.
Of all time would be The Fall : The Complete Peel Sessions which is another cheat as it’s six discs, but there you go. If you want a proper album it would be Hex Enduction Hour or Perverted By Language. There that’s eight discs for ya.
20) Best kung-fu move you’ve pulled recently?
The last Kung-Fu MOVE I pulled was trying to convince my wife that Kung-Fu masters can catch bullets and getting laughed at. Does that qualify?
The flee in terror while screaming in a vaguely Oriental sounding way? (That’s my back-up move.)
21) Hey, I’ve just remembered I wanted to ask – whatever happened to the Parallax Man, that you previewed in the back of Stray Bullets?
The Parallax Man…What happened was that I lost my artist. A friend of mine, a German cartoonist, named Horus who was going to draw it. Then we put everything on hold before we found someone else. The whole thing is written. I actually wrote it as a screenplay. I would still like to do it as a comic, though, where I have total control. Let me see where my feet land…
22) OK, so finally, what would you like to say to all your Young Liars readers out there? You can say a word to the haters if you need to…
It was a special book. A bit of serendipity. You just can’t set out to make a book like this. It was a very unique place to create in and I want everybody to know that I was always aware of that and never took it for granted. I’ve never had so much fun and had the freedom to be so creative. The best compliments I got were from the countless people that wrote me after each issue and said “Thanks for blowing my mind”. Priceless and thank you. I have to say thanks to my editor, Shelly Bond, for fighting so hard for the book, and for trusting me. Also, I never get to talk about Lee Loughridge’s brilliant coloring. I like color, but honestly it scares the hell out of me because I hate the execution of so much of it, but Lee took the fear out of it and added another dimension to the story. I will miss it this book terribly. I really hope I can do it again one day.
I don’t know any the haters. I tend to shut out those things. I know the nature of the book frustrated some people. I think those people are so used to a serialized comic that keeps adding up one plus one equals two, and I kept coming up three (and sometimes I came up pancakes). I would say if you give it another try in the future, just take it issue by issue. Each issue has an internal logic. The “lies” portion really came between the issues and how they connected. Hop on the train, relax, and just enjoy the ride.
Many thanks to David for the interview. If you haven’t read it yet, go and buy the last 4 issues. I’m sure they’ll be as insane and enjoyable a the previous 14. If you want to catch up with David, Jason Aaron, Jock and others, head over to Standard Attrition for some quality chat.