A Chat with Stuart Paul, creator of DC / WildStorm’s “Ides of Blood”

Fact: real men read comics.

I’m sure some would still try to argue this point, but in a world where it seems like just about every comic-inspired movie finds itself atop the box office on its week of release, it’s hard to pretend that comics are strictly the domain of the geeks and the nerds. (Would that this transition could’ve occurred when I was still in high school.)

As such, Bullz-Eye is going to try to tackle more stories from the medium…and when I was sent a copy of “Ides of Blood,” a new series from DC / WildStorm which is – at least according to the press release – not entirely unlike a blend of “True Blood” and “Rome,” it certainly seemed like something that our readership might be interested in learning more about.

God bless DC’s publicity department: they quickly put me in touch with series creator Stuart Paul, who gladly answered a few questions for us about his own introduction to comic books, the origins of “Ides of Blood,” his semi-controversial decision to have characters in ancient Rome use modern colloquialisms, which of DC’s stable of superheroes he’d like to take a shot at writing, and much much more.

Since I’ve seen the phrase “new to comic books” used in conjunction with your history of writing for the medium, what’s your personal background with comics? And don’t be shy: if your memory stretches back that far, feel free to offer up the very first comic you remember buying.

My childhood experience with comics was pretty limited. Other than reading the occasional issue of Moon Knight or X-Men at my friend’s house, the only comics I personally bought were “Star Trek” comics—mostly “Next Generation” and some of the original crew that took place in the post-”Wrath of Khan” time period. It wasn’t until college that my girlfriend reintroduced me to comics through Sandman. Once I realized there were comics for adults out there, I started reading them more and more. Initially, I stuck with the superstars—Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Garth Ennis. I was kind of a Vertigo whore at first. I guess I still kind of am, but not as much. I have to hear a lot of good buzz about something before I’ll invest in a whole series like Walking Dead, but I’ve definitely branched out. Once I discovered Urasawa’s Pluto, I started getting into manga more. Right now, I’ve got 20th Century Boys, Basilisk and Lone Wolf and Cub to read. I also went through a period of reading a lot of DC superheroes. Jeph Loeb’s Batman stuff is my favorite. Sometimes I’ll still read X-Men, but it’s pretty rare for me to read superheroes these days. My favorite series right now is probably Okko. I think Archaia is doing some of the most creative and well-made comics today. Also, Chew is the only series I read on a monthly basis. Everything else is TPB’s, although the iPad is kind of changing that.

There’s been much talk about how fans of both “True Blood” and “Rome” will find much to enjoy in Ides of Blood. Is that combination what led to the concept for this series? If not, what were its origins, and how do you feel about those points of comparison?

No, neither show existed when I originally came up with the idea and wrote the first draft. I mean, I don’t have a problem with people using those as points of reference. It’s an effective shorthand, but it’s the type of thing you’d bring up in a Hollywood pitch meeting. The problem is that you don’t necessarily know what connotations those shows have for the reader and also, they’re such current references that it makes the comic sound like it’s just trying to exploit the zeitgeist. I mean, if you said it’s “Gladiator” meets… well, actually, “Dracula” might have too much baggage attached to the name, so I guess “True Blood” probably is a good descriptor. The point is, I don’t mind the comparison, but I do think it has as much potential to put-off readers as it does to draw them in. Anyway, the concept for the series came out of boredom. I don’t really like vampires, so it started as a challenge to myself to figure out what I’d have to do to make vampires interesting to me. Julius Caesar just popped into my head.

Are you at all concerned about a possible vampire backlash, given how many of these bloodsuckers are popping up in pop culture nowadays, or do you think the creative setting of ancient Rome will be enough for vampire enthusiasts to grant you some leeway? (i.e., “Okay, I thought he was just a bandwagon jumper, but I have to admit, this is something we haven’t seen before.”)

The backlash has definitely been a factor, and I think it probably has somewhat hurt the comic’s reception. I’m just as sick of vampire stuff as the rest of you. And it’s easy for people to assume, especially when you’re dealing with a genre-mash-up like this, that the idea came out of some douchebag who was, like, “What’s hot these days? Vampires! What else is hot these days? Ancient Rome! What if we put them together?” But like I said, I started working on this idea five years ago, long before anyone had even heard of “Twilight.” That being said, I think that a lot of people have kept an open mind and thought the concept was cool enough that they’d give it a try. By the end of the first issue, I feel like we proved that we weren’t just in it for the quick buck, but that this is a fully-realized world that is truly trying to do something original. A couple of reviewers have even said that they picked up the book not expecting to like it but the comic changed their mind. It won’t work for everybody, and there’s some people who won’t let their mind be changed no matter what, but I am very grateful to those who came to Ides with an open mind and let themselves buy into the world.

Speaking of vampires, I’d be curious about some of your favorites, especially if your list contains any obscurities that you’re particularly proud of and would like to trumpet.

There aren’t many. There really are only two I can actually list as favorites. The first is “Let the Right One In.” It’s just brilliant filmmaking. The mood is so powerful, and the relationship between the kids is unique. I’d never seen a story like it before. The other is “Martin.” This is a George Romero movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire but doesn’t actually have supernatural powers. He goes around drugging women with hypodermic needles and drinking their blood. It’s very 70’s and sexual and psychological and it has a fantastic ending. The same girlfriend who introduced me to Sandman showed me this movie. I ended up marrying her, which I think was a wise choice.

I like Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, but neither of them to a fantastic degree. “True Blood” has some boring characters, but it just got awesome with the King of Mississippi. I like Murnau’s “Nosferatu” better than Tod Browning’s “Dracula.” It’s a shame “Shadow of the Vampire” didn’t live up to its potential.

One of the things about the miniseries that threw me at first was the characters’ usage of modern colloquialisms. Was there any point when you considered using some semblance of era-accuracy with their dialogue? And what would you say to those who might find themselves disconnected from the concept because of the decision to go this route?

It’s been a very divisive choice, and I totally get why it might not work for everyone, but there’s a couple reasons I went this way with it. At first the book was going to be a “For Mature Readers” title, so I was going to have people use profanity, much like “Rome.” But when Wildstorm told me I couldn’t do that, I changed all the curses to Latin. This actually worked fantastically, and I was happy I took out the modern profanity. But apparently this didn’t fly either ‘cause they didn’t want kids Googling Latin curse words. Personally, I think anything that educates kids about foreign languages is a good thing, but so be it. So when I needed another way to express things, I decided to go colloquial with it. It’s how the characters would have sounded to each other.

Plus, I thought it fit the genre. As the story became more of a noir, I though it would be cool to give it a bit of a pulp, Mickey Spillane flavor. More importantly, we’ve seen attempts at realistic dialogue before. It usually ends up with everyone sounding like the Royal Shakespeare Company. I also feel that the idea of realism or accuracy in dialogue in period pieces is a fallacy. First off, these people didn’t speak English—they spoke Latin. So already by translating it, you’ve altered everything. A lot of nuance of specific concepts is immediately gone. If you accurately translated what these characters actually said, it wouldn’t sound right to our ears. A lot of people also seem to think that simply using more formalized dialogue and adding “fuck,” that somehow you’ve reinvented the wheel. I disagree. That’s one of the reasons I think “Deadwood” was brilliant. It was not historically accurate. It was David Milch’s version of the Old West—and not just regarding curse words. Those were the most eloquent *********** I’ve ever met. I mean, you’ve got these uneducated miners and tinhorns who speak better than most college professors with their ditchwater Victorian monologues. The thing is, he was expressing an aspect of the Old West and interpreting it in his own way. The words weren’t authentic, but the interactions and spirit were.

Look, man, everything should be tried at least once. Would I want all period pieces written with modernized dialogue? Of course not. That would be terrible. But if it’s not appropriate for an alternate-history pulp-noir swords-and-sandals yarn where Julius Caesar has conquered Transylvania and made vampires into slaves, when is it appropriate?

How did you and Christian Duce first cross paths? Did DC / Wildstorm put the two of you together, or had you already known him? And how did your vision of what the characters would look like evolve after he came onto the project?

Shannon Eric Denton at Wildstorm put us together. We didn’t really have any direct interaction until after Christian had penciled the first couple issues, so there weren’t any discussions about the character designs. Fortunately, Christian is a brilliant artist who has an uncanny, almost telepathic ability to visualize what I’m trying to express in my scripts, so he pretty much nailed the characters.

Actually, my favorite character design he came up with is for one of the minor characters, Cassius. I wanted Cassius to be a sort of blowhard puppet who follows whatever Brutus says, since Cassius has traditionally been more of a Lucifer figure, and there’s just something about Christian’s character design (it may be the mutton chops) that fills me with glee.

Ides of Blood is a creator-owned series, of course, but given the chance, which of DC’s established heroes would you be interested at taking a crack at one of these days?

That’s a tough question. I have a great idea for a Flash limited series that also plays around with ancient history that I would love to do. That being said, I really like Batman. It would be a really enjoyable challenge to find new ground to cover for his character. Green Lantern would be fun just because I could do lots of stuff in outer space. But really, other than the Flash idea, if I had my pick of the litter, I’d probably have to go with Superman just because he’s Superman. You can create such amazing images with his powers, I’d love to see what unique situations I could put him in. Also, I feel that unlike Batman, there’s a lot more to his character that hasn’t been mined yet.

I’ve seen the trailer for “Orion Slave Girls Must Die,” so it’s clear you’ve got more than a little bit of a “Star Trek” background as well. What’s your favorite memory (or memories, if you can’t narrow it down) of attending either a “Trek” or comic convention? And feel free to divide it into “fan” and “creator” memories, if you need to do so.

Ha! Yeah, man. I loves me some Star Trek. DS9 is my favorite TV show of all time. I guess my favorite Trek convention memory is when my parents and I went to my first convention in Pasadena and John DeLancie, who played Q, was speaking. Instead of telling old Trek anecdotes or a Q and A, he read a short story he wrote. I don’t remember the title, but it was about a guy who is playing dice with the devil for his soul. At the end, a fly lands on the die and takes a shit, changing the number so that the guy loses. Being a story about demons and fly-shitting, my parents were mildly scandalized, but I was totally enraptured by the story when he was telling it. In fact, he’s the only speaker whose presentation at all stuck with me.

Looking back, how much growth do you see in your work as a screenwriter between “Confessions of a Late Bloomer” and “Orion Slave Girls”?

Man, someone’s been using IMBD! Well, they were both student projects I wrote while in film school, and the first things I’d written that I didn’t direct myself (and had actual budgets). “Confessions of a Late Bloomer” was really a reflection on my high school experience. I think it’s well-made and director Jen McGowan did a great job with it, but it’s not really told in my voice. It’s pretty conventional. I feel it was less about expressing my POV as a writer and more about proving to myself that I could apply the things I was learning in school and make a basic 3-act movie (albeit a short one). “Orion Slave Girls” definitely had more of myself in it. Whenever I’m strapped for ideas, I usually end up coming back to “Star Trek” in one way or another. It was more inspired by that thing in college where you realize you and your high school friend are going down different paths in life. I think the gags are more clever in “Orion,” and obviously the style and subject matter are more up my alley, but I’m not sure how much actual growth you can see between the two projects, particularly since the final product was the director’s creation as well as mine, but I definitely think I felt more comfortable with playing around with the narrative structure in “Orion.”

And, lastly, are you keeping your fingers crossed that “Ides of Blood” might serve as the kickstart for a gig as a screenwriter? Also, given how quickly Hollywood is snapping up comic projects for development, I’m curious if you’d even finished punctuating your pitch for DC / Wildstorm before you’d been approached by a studio. Mind you, I’m not necessarily asking for specific details. I’m just wondering if indeed there’s been movement on that front for “Ides of Blood” already.

(Sighing) It’s a pretty common Hollywood story. I write film and TV as well, so the way this all started was that I wrote Ides of Blood as a screenplay. I got it to DC’s film people, and they thought it would make a great movie, so I wrote up a pitch for the comic series that we sent to Wildstorm. So we were doing the whole reverse-engineering thing. Afterwards, we started prepping the film pitch. Then DC went through this reshaping, which put a halt to the project, so right now the prospects of a film are in limbo until the new guard decides what to do. These things happen all the time, though. I’ve learned not to believe anything is a sure thing in Hollywood because it can all fall through up until the last possible moment. Hopefully DC will pick the project up again and indeed hire me to write the screenplay, but really there’s no guarantee. I wish every comic creator had right of first refusal to write the screenplay. I find it somewhat heinous that the WGA offers no protection to screenwriters who became comic writers and now face the prospect of getting bumped off their own creation. But, when you’re a young writer, you just have to go in, pitch the hell out of yourself and hope for the best.

Closing note: Paul dropped a line a few minutes after answering the last question, clarifying, “I hold no grudges against any of the staff at DC. They were nothing but supportive of me and Ides.” I hadn’t got the impression that he might’ve felt otherwise, so maybe you didn’t, either, but I figured he’d still prefer it if I included his clarification, so there you have it!

  

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