November 16, 2011

Author Interview: Barry Napier & I talk comic books, collaborations--and Craigslist?

I read and reviewed the first issue of Birdwatching from Mars quite a few months ago. Shortly thereafter I interviewed its author, Barry Napier, but the subsequent e-mails went missing and it never got posted. Well, I finally tracked it down. Enjoy.

Gef: In the introduction to Birdwatching from Mars, you talked about how it started out as a failed attempt at a novel, then a failed attempt at a screenplay, before you realized the story would be best told as a comic book. But where did that initial kernel of inspiration come from for this story? Did you just want to do a post-apocalyptic tale, or was there a character or broader idea that had jumped into your mind?

Barry: This is a toughie to answer without giving too much of the plot away, but I'll do my best. I've always been an avid enthusiast of all things UFO and potentially extraterrestrial. And while I am admittedly not certain if I believe the "face on Mars/lost city and ruins on Mars" theories, they are certainly interesting. The central idea behind Birdwatching from Mars came from questions I often wondered: if there was life on Mars millions of years ago, how did they die off? What was their civilization like? Were they very similar to us (the "face" suggests so). And from there, I started wondering how our eventual demise would be similar or dissimilar to the end of life of Mars.

Gef: I read somewhere that the comic book was originally going to be in color rather than black and white, which actually seems to work as an amplifier for the bleakness of the setting. Was this a purposeful approach in the development or just a confluence of events that sent the book in that direction?

Barry: It was a coincidence. The book took so long to come to life that 2 of our original team members had to quit...they couldn't put the time in without being paid. I am incredibly fortunate that Luis (the artist) stuck with me and believes in the story as much as he does, because I think you're right: the black and white approach DOES seem to add to the book. The print and PDF versions of the book have very occasional splashes of color which we have tried to weave into the book in relevant ways.

Gef: Colonel Stone struck me as an interesting character to explore in this book, since military brass is notoriously two-dimensional when it comes to this kind of subject matter, no matter the medium. Did you peg him as the point-of-view character inside the bunker for that reason, or simply because he was the guy who would be privy to the most information about the outside world?

Barry: Both. And I'm glad you pointed out the cardboard persona most of these types have. Stone, to me, is going to end up being a major hinge in later developments to the story. I wanted a military guy that had the experience under his belt and the respect of everyone but, in the end, is as scared and flawed as everyone else. I have big plans for Stone.

Gef: Dante, the bald-headed brute with a helicopter blade as his machete, didn't get a whole lot of page time in the first issue, but in the time he was given showed the gruesome requirements of surviving above ground. How much carnage do you have planned for this guy, or are you using a different tact with the bad-ass character?

Barry: You'll get a glimpse of this answer in Issue 2. He's brutish and bad-ass for sure, but there are reasons for it. Dante will continue to be a huge part of the story but, like Stone, I think our initial opinion of him will change over time. In the case with Dante, it will happen a lot faster than you might expect.

Gef: How did the collaboration with Luis Puig come about?

Barry: I get this question a lot and still haven't found a way to shorten it, but I will try now. Birdwatching from Mars would have never become a comic book if I had not have answered a Craiglist call for comic book pitches. I pitched the idea and the person behind the small press (which later went belly-up) hooked me up with Luis. Luis loved the story from the start and has remained passionate about it from day one. Even after three, count 'em three, near-deaths to the project, he has stayed by my side with this project. I know that with just two of us working on it, the story is coming along slowly (both for us AND the public) but I truly think it WILL be worth it.

Gef: How much more difficult do you find getting a comic book published opposed to a novel?

Barry: Tremendously so. It's one of the reasons we decided to test it out on Kindle. After being rejected by the big comic presses, I quickly discovered it can be a nightmare to get a comic book up and running in a traditional way. The one plus to comics is that the response times tend to be faster, but that's about it. The query letter is also a beast to're not just summing up a story, but an entire series and its pertinent characters, into a one page letter.

Gef: So ... short stories, novels, poetry--am I leaving out something?--and now a published comic book? What the bloody hell is next? Opera? Is there some other medium you've got your sights on?

Barry: Yes, my ballet show will debut next month. (That's a joke). This isn't though...maybe you recall those old PC games where it's all text based and you progress through a story based on choices you make? I am trying quite hard to think of some way to create an interactive story-telling blog like that. I have no idea how to even begin it, but it's an idea...

A big thanks to Barry again for taking part in this interview. Since we did this, his latest novel, The Bleeding Room, became available through Graveside Tales. You can click here to learn more about.

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