Living on EZ Street
Wednesdays at ComicMix will mean EZ Street, the new graphic story from writer Robert Tinnell and artist (and co-writer_ Mark Wheatley. It’s the story of brothers Scott and Todd Fletcher. They have a dream – they want to tell stories. Fabulous stories about heroes and adventure. They decide to create a comic book because, as young boys growing up on Ezelle Street in Pittsburgh, it’s what they can do. Scott, 14, writes the script and Todd, 12, draws the pictures about an amazing superhero, Lone Justice.
Fast-forward twenty odd years, and the brothers, older and more practical, have jobs. Todd is a graphic designer, and Scott tries to make movies in Hollywood. They want more from their lives. They resurrect their character and find that, by combining the imagination of youth with the skills earned by maturity, they can create magic.
A story about the love of stories, about ambition and dreams and fantasy, EZ Street is an involving look at the creative process, the dynamic of families, the true meaning of friendship and the quest for a really good comic.
Mark Wheatley is an award-winning creator of radically different comic books. Noted for comics with heart and integrity, he’s won the Inkpot, Mucker, Gem and Speakeasy awards and his projects have been nominated for the Harvey award and the Ignatz award. His work has been repeatedly included in the annual Spectrum selection of fantastic art and has appeared in private gallery shows. You can also find some of his original work in the permanent collection of Library of Congress.
His comic book creations include Mars, Breathtaker, Black Hood, Prince Nightmare, Hammer of the Gods, Blood of the Innocent, Radical Dreamer, Frankenstein Mobster, Miles the Monster and Titanic Tales. He’s also worked with established characters such as Tarzan the Warrior, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Argus, The Spider, and Jonny Quest; Dr. Strange for Marvel, and The Flash for DC.
Mark established the highly respected Insight Studios in 1978 as a home base for a team of talented comic creators. Insight Studios is the subject of an "insightful" coffee table style art book; IS ART: the Art of Insight Studios. In 2006 Mark was a guest lecturer on Storytelling in the Arts at the Library of Congress.
West Virginia-born Robert Tinnell has worked in the film industry for twenty years as a writer, producer, and director. Starting as a production assistant for legendary filmmaker George Romero, Tinnell used his on-set experience to gain valuable insight into the world of feature filmmaking. Starting at the age of twenty-three, he produced several independent films including South of Reno and the iconic Surf Nazis Must Die. In 1995, Tinnell traveled to Canada where he wrote and directed the ACE-nominated film Kids of the Round Table. A Disney Channel-favorite, Kids led Robert on a six-year-run with Melenny Productions. Over this period Tinnell directed Frankenstein and Me with Burt Reynolds and Louise Fletcher, Airspeed with Joe Mantegna, and Believe starring Ben Gazzara and Elisha Cuthbert)for Lions Gate.
Tinnell’s first graphic novel, The Black Forest, with art by Todd Livingston, debuted in the spring of 2004 to rave reviews and sold out in 44 days. Their follow-up, the horror/western The Wicked West, was voted the number one graphic novel of 2004 by the staff of Scoop magazine. Also, in the fall of 2004, Tinnell debuted an online strip on several websites, including Insight Studios’ www.sunnyfundays.com . Called Feast of the Seven Fishes, the romantic comedy is drawn by artists Ed Piskor and Alex Saviuk. The entire run of the strip was collected along with a cookbook segment and released in the fall of 2005 and is a 2006 Eisner Award nominee for Best Graphic Album – Reprint. Filming for the feature film begins I January. Tinnell’s next effort, The Living and the Dead, was recently named the number two graphic novel of 2005. In June of 2006, Tinnell and artist Bo Hampton released the graphic horror novel Sight Unseen, which, Rue Morgue magazine said “…put fear on paper.” He also writes the webcomic The Chelation Kid, which focuses on his son’s autism.
We had a chance to talk to them about the new series.
CMx: What is EZ Street about?
RT: EZ Street follows the lives of two brothers – Danny and Scotty Fletcher – one a comic book artist – the other a movie producer – who are in their mid-thirties and not necessarily happy with where they are in their careers. They end up working together again in an effort to recapture the magic they generated between them when they were kids. Woven into that basic premise is an ongoing look at the creative process of making comics – which by extension can applied to other art and entertainment forms as well. Mark – I just sounded like some dry academician – throw me a bone here. Sell some sizzle.
MW: I’d say this is a comics story about making comics and movies. We get intimate with the professionals and the fans. Anyone who has attended a comic convention will recognize our characters. But we’re tearing the lid off the secrecy and public statements to show the reality behind the process of taking an idea from vapor to reality. We show the creative give and take, the editorial process, the joys and frustrations of working for and with publishers, distributors and agents. We hold nothing back. Bob and I assume that it is only matter of time before we piss off some of our fellow professionals in either the comics or film industries by what we are putting into EZ Street.
CMx: Why Pittsburgh?
RT: Speaking for me personally, Pittsburgh is a town I know well and can write about with authority. It has always had an active fandom element – in comics, in horror, etc. I was in the Pittsburgh Comics Club as a kid, I worked on Questar magazine there, went to film school at Point Park College for a while, worked on George Romero movies – plus it was the source of much of the news and entertainment I was exposed to as a kid. For me it’s important that the environment these guys live and work in be authentic. I can get that from Pittsburgh. Plus, Mark’s wife is from there so he’s spent a ton of time in the area and knows it as well. And even if that weren’t the case – the city itself – the whole region really – provides tons of wonderful visual opportunities – the bridges, the mills, the hills and rivers – it’s so interesting visually. And in a sense these two guys are working in a blast furnace of their own – a hot crucible of ideas!
MW: Never underestimate the value of ready reference material! Since this is a story solidly set in reality Bob and I knew going in that we needed a setting that we not only knew well – but that we had access to for location reference. My original pitch to Bob had the setting in Baltimore. But he quickly convinced me that if he was doing the heavy lifting on the writing, Pittsburgh gave him far more to work with. This has caused us some problems when he has set scenes at locations that I’m not familiar with. But every trip I’ve made to Pittsburgh in the past year, I’ve had my cameras close to hand, doing location shots for the story. I should also point out that we also have the story set in LA, since one of our brothers, Scott Fletcher, is a working Hollywood producer. We follow him around in the film community a good bit. And both brothers, Danny and Scott, make the pilgrimage to the Baltimore Comic Con just like any other hopeful creators who want to make a pitch to editors and publishers, so Baltimore gets some coverage as well.
CMx: Does the Internet change the way you write/draw the stories? Does it make you nervous or fill you with joy to think of people reading the stories in HD?
RT: I love knowing the fact we’ll be able to build a huge – by print comic standards anyways – audience and I speak from the experience of having done a couple successful web comics. This thing can just grow and grow – provided we don’t screw it up! Couple that with the fact we’ll have immediate interactivity with the readers? It’s gonna be great.
MW: Like Bob, I’m an old hand at doing Internet comics. My company, Insight Studios launched our Sunday Fundays comics page so far back in the 1990s that I honestly can’t the exact date when we started running comics on line. But when we started doing comics for the internet I did have a few adjustments to make from how I had traditionally created my comics for print.
The two major differences are the pacing and the lettering. Since the Sunny Fundays strips are all daily strips, I had to change how I approached pacing. A hook a day, or a gag a day is pretty much the basic. Of course the joy of the ComicMix format is we not only do not have to have a daily structure – but we are also not constrained by standard comic book length. Finally we can build our story to its own length. We’re structuring the book like a novel and allowing it to take the exact amount of time it needs to tell the story.
The second thing I learned about Internet comics is that the lettering has to be larger to allow for easy reading. But I was always using larger lettering than is standard in print comics, even in my own print comics. Because I believe the words have to be able to be read at about the same rate as the pictures for comics to balance the reading experience. So, if anything, the Internet is forcing comics to be a bit more balanced in how we present the words and pictures.
CMx: Do you think there’s a movie here?
RT: I have no idea. I suppose it could be – an HBO type film. Even a series I guess. When I did The Wicked West I had not a clue that it would end up getting all the Hollywood attention it’s gotten. I’m probably the worst guy to ask – though I was right about Feast of the Seven Fishes when everyone thought I was nuts.
MW: Well Bob is more of an expert on movies than I am. But my basic approach is – if it is a good story featuring people we care about, then it will make a good book, a good comic or even a good movie. I do think it is interesting that a good deal of the story in EZ Street is exactly about this kind of question. Danny and Scott have an on-going argument about if they are creating comics or just a short cut to a movie.
CMx: What’s next?
RT: I’m doing Demons of Sherwood for ComicMix with Bo Hampton. I’m working with Neil Vokes to bring back his character Eagle – he’s already several pages into the GN I’ve written. In January I’m scheduled to direct the Feast of the Seven Fishes movie. On top of that I have a ton of comic projects to either finish writing or shepherd along. Plus some screenplay deadlines I have to meet. I understand I’m booked for Thanksgiving with the wife and kids but that’s subject to change.
MW: I’ve got another internet comic strip that just started and is now running over at www.ROWDY.com. The Mighty Motor-Sapiens is a collaboration between Daniel Krall, Robert Tinnell and me. This one is a daily strip, so it is a good way to see how that form differs from what Bob and I are doing in EZ Street.
Also – I have a show coming up at the Norman Rockwell Museum featuring a number of pages and preliminary designs and even script pages from the graphic novel Breathtaker that I did with Marc Hempel. That show starts in November and runs through June. I think it is cool that museums are giving more attention to comics. This will be my second show, but I fully expect to do more in the future.
EZ Street will be appearing weekly on ComicMix starting Wednesday, October 3rd.