2 Dope Boys in a Space Ship: Jackson Lanzing and Collin P. Kelly talk ‘Joyride’ at ECCC
Jackson Lanzing and Collin P. Kelly are two excited dudes.
And that’s great, because they’ve got a lot to be excited about. Last year, they followed up their critically-acclaimed Hacktivist series with a second volume and they’re currently wrapping up Grayson for DC Comics. The icing on team Lanzing/Kelly’s cake, though, is Joyride—a series created with Hacktivist collaborator and artist, Marcus To, which was released on April 20th to an extremely positive response. Almost immediately following release, Boom! Studios announced that Joyride, which was originally planned as a four-issue limited series, was instead going to be an ongoing. For the series being their first creator-owned book, that’s quite an achievement.
The series follows two teenage friends, Uma and Dewydd, as they steal a spaceship in an attempt to leave Earth for good—because, to be frank, it’s the future and Earth sucks. It’s been dominated by a fascist world government that’s blocked out the stars for so long that people have stopped acknowledging that there’s anything else out there. So Uma and Dewydd? They’re outta there.
Despite panels, signings, and various other things they had on their very full schedule, Lanzing and Kelly were kind enough to sit down with Project-Nerd at Emerald City Comic Con, where we talked about Joyride, writing for comics and film, and what makes a good lead character tick.
Matt Carter: We’re here at ECCC with Jackson Lanzing and Collin P. Kelly. Aside from all of the great stuff you guys have going on that we’ll get to in a minute, what are you excited about?
Jackson Lanzing: This is our first Emerald City, the first time we’ve been to this city for this Con, but when you work in comics, one of the things you hear over and over again is that Emerald City Comic Con is the best comic con. People just love it. There’s always a general feeling that this is the place where they have the scale and the excitement, but it’s all about comics, and it really drives back to the fans, drives back to the books. So far, in our limited experience, that’s very true.
Collin Kelly: I’m actually from Seattle originally, but when I lived here I was too young to do anything cool. So, this is really like a homecoming in a certain sense, and it’s really cool to get to hang out in my old stomping grounds, and hang out at this beautiful show.
MC: I really like the synopsis on Jack’s site about Joyride. “Punk. Rock. Teenage. Star. Trek.” Sounds like something I would absolutely read.
MC: It very succinctly teases what sounds like an awesome space adventure book, what else can you tell me about it?
JL: So, Joyride is the first creator-owned book from Marcus To, Collin Kelly, and I. We’re the Hacktivist team, we all met on Hacktivist, which is a book that we don’t own, it’s owned by Alyssa Milano, we were all work for hire, but we felt like it was a creator-owned book.
By the end of it, it really had the vibe of a creator-owned book, we took risks, we were able to do weird stuff, no one ever got in our way, no one ever told us no, and what we ended up with was something that felt like a really good synergy. So, we got the chance to our own thing.
Joyride is that.
CK: Yeah, Joyride is a story that we kind of put together alongside Marcus. We were all, by kismet, developing stories about teenagers who were gonna steal a spaceship and run away from earth.
JL: He [Marcus To] had a thing called Maximum Velocity, we had a thing called Grand Theft Starship that were identical in premise. We were like, “well, shit, let’s just erase both those titles, because neither of them were right, and let’s create one ourselves.”
MC: Speaking of Marcus, his work on Hacktivist was great, his work on Joyride is on a whole different level. After working with him on two volumes of Hacktivist, is there a shorthand you’ve all developed that informs that?
CK: Absolutely. With Hacktivist, we did our best to give him challenges. It’s a visual medium, comics, obviously. But the thing about hacking is that, ultimately, it’s sitting in front of a computer, so the challenge with every issue was finding something interesting, innovative, and strange, and challenging Marcus to achieve it.
Every time, he stepped up to the plate and absolutely crushed it, which was amazing to see, but we also kind of drove him slowly insane. By the time we got to Joyride, our agreement with him, our creators deal, if you will, was we’re gonna write this like a screenplay. We’re gonna take every page, we’re gonna say what happens, but it’s up to him to figure out to his hearts content. Basically he’s able to do that and bring it back and tell our story in a way that we’re able to go back and say, “Ya know what? We don’t need half this dialogue!” because he’s able to achieve it in a look, in a glance, in a hip swagger; he is just absolutely doing an amazing job and we love it.
JL: There’s a double page spread in Joyride 1, it’s the moon gun and the individual panel below it that’s got Uma and Katrin on the shuttle heading to the moon gun. That used to be filled with dialogue, and then we got the page back and we were like, “Nevermind, drop all of that!”
So we put one caption on that first panel and then the rest of it is silent. That’s been an ongoing process with Marcus. He knows what we want, we know what he wants, so we mostly…talk often over the phone or over email, but often times we just think, “What would marcus kill?” and then we write towards that.
Or we ask Marcus, “Hey, is there a thing that you would really want to draw?” He did a ton of alien sketches before we ever started this book so that we got a sense of “Alright, this is how Marcus approaches aliens,” which is really animalistic. All of our aliens tend to look kind of like animals, a little bit. Not like, anthropomorphized animals, but they’re less like, “Whoa, crazy aliens,” and a little more relatable.
And so, then it was a matter of figuring out personalities for those. There’s this great starfish creature that we’re eventually going to do something with.
CK: Yeah, it shows up in issue 2, and we decided it’s going to be an amazing alien stripper.
JL: And basically, these starfish are, when you run into them in social scenarios, they’re like those bros that you meet at bars who won’t stop giving you hugs or putting their arm around you and it’s real skeezy. And that’s where every alien on Joyride comes from. It comes from, is this something that you could encounter in the real world, in like a hipster bar, or a dive bar, or a weird adventure through eastern Europe, and could you translate that into a sci-fi comic?
CK: Can that have more heads?
JL: Yeah, exactly, can that have more heads, can that have more arms, can that be a psychic planet? Let’s go!
MC: So you guys have been working together for a long time, how did you start working together and what was the first thing you worked on?
JL: We met in school, we met when we were both at USC for film school. Collin was in the screenwriting program, I was in the production program. I wanted to be a director, but I wasn’t very good at it. What I discovered was that I really had a knack for writing. I really enjoyed writing, but I didn’t love the solo nature of it. So, between Collin and myself, and a third friend of ours who was Collin’s roommate, David Serber, with whom I wrote most of my first comic book work, we all just started writing together. But it took, I mean, I was doing Freakshow for a few years with David before we [Collin and I] picked up a pad.
CK: Yeah, once we graduated, we had a really contentious relationship for quite a long time. It’s kind of those ‘two like minds can’t get along’, but eventually we got over that a little bit. He was writing these really emotional small black box theater dramas, and I was writing massive explosions, and it turns out he loved my explosions, and I loved his drama. So we filled each other?
JL: Yeah, we meshed together.
CK: There ya go, ‘meshed,’ that’s better. And our first thing we wrote together was this idea we were talking about Wolverine, and how cool it was when Wolverine fought ninjas.
JL: This was well before they made any Wolverine movies.
CK: And that slowly evolved into a story that we couldn’t get out of our heads about a group of samurai who were fighting feral Japanese demons. It was called Sundown. We wrote on a trip out to Lollapalooza and that was our first thing, and once we got started, I was hooked.
JL: Yeah, we wrote that as a screenplay and that got us repped by a big agency, and we were screenwriters for years.
CK: We still are!
JL: Well, absolutely yes, and we literally just turned on our new feature, like we still do this, this is our world, but over the course of those many years, literally right now this weekend is the first time anybody shot anything that we’ve written. There’s a short film being shot right now, but it’s taken us almost a decade of working together, for that to get there. We don’t see stuff produced all the time.
Comics became this really awesome medium for us to tell weird stories, and somebody in a suit seven levels up at Warner Brothers isn’t going to stop that from happening? Awesome, let’s do it.
MC: And you’re not constrained by budgets, so you can do whatever you want.
JL: And that’s the obvious thing about comic books that people I think don’t get until they start writing for it, or until they read it and have that realization, because I had that same realization. I was reading comics for years, and I was on a trip when I read Warren Ellis’ Authority, and I was sitting there watching Gamoran superpowered suicide bombers hit London, and I was like, “if you tried to do this in a movie, this would be your whole third act, that’s your whole budget.” But, whatever you can imagine, whatever the artist can do, in comics you can do. And that’s where Joyride comes from.
Good luck making that thing on television, I hope someone will try, that would be amazing on TV or movies, right? I think it’s more feasible in movies because…it’s three humans and everything else is aliens, it’s like Farscape, you’re going to have to create constantly to make this thing happen. So we made kind of a decision early on that we weren’t writing this for adaptation, we were writing this for us. This was just a comic, we weren’t trying to get this made into a film.
It’s been an absolute blast.
MC: As film writers, since film and comics are both script-based visual mediums, does your experience as a screenwriter inform your abilities or affect the approach you take to writing comics? Do you think in terms of camera angles when you’re writing these things?
JL: It’s funny, because you can’t call that in a screenplay.
CK: That’s actually the interesting thing because I write. That’s what I do, that’s all I do. Jack actually has a really good [eye]. He says he isn’t a good director, he’s actually a very good director.
JL: Well, I’ve gotten better, thank you, I appreciate that.
CK: But the trick about comics is that you’re not just writing, you’re the director, you’re cinematographer, and it took me a long time to figure out that in every panel, it’s not just about what’s being said or what’s happening, it’s also about what’s going on in the backgrounds. You can stack the story telling elements in a way that you can’t in a screenplay, where everything has to be very one-dimensional. And then, that translates into the actual comic writing scripts, where formalism can get thrown out the window, and when you see our screenplays, we are very much about all the little meticulous details about what makes an interesting screenplay.
JL: We’re very much into formalist stuff in screenplays for some reason, it’s just always been a thing for is. We really love the form.
CK: It took a while to figure out with comics that you can throw all that out the window and it’s basically just a love letter to your artist, and it doesn’t matter if it’s colloquial or you’re dropping F-Bombs, but as long as you’re able to convey the emotion that’s going on, it’s aces.
JL: Yeah, speaking of that background work, the other thing that comics can do, that as a screenwriter you have to kind of learn, is simultaneity of narrative.
In a screenplay, you can’t be cutting around constantly, or you’re gonna lose your reader. So even if you intend for something to be cross cut between two scenes, you’re probably not cross cutting those scenes in the screenplay unless it’s absolutely necessary to get the point across because you may lose your reader. There’s a lot of stuff in a screenplay that might make you lose your reader, because your readers might be agents, talent, executives.
CK: Yeah, your reader is someone predisposed to want to hate this and put it down immediately.
JL: Either predisposed to hate it or predisposed to take the easiest path towards visualizing it, so if you try to ask them to do something really challenging, they may not want to do that.
With a comic book, I always go back to Watchmen, every page can zoom in and out of something and be in a different time, be with a different character, be in a different feel, and that simultaneity of narrative is not possible in a screenplay.
I think you’ve seen that used as almost everyday language in comics.
You can go anywhere, you can do anything, and Hacktivist became kind of an exercise in that, especially Hack 2. How do you tell, with characters in six different cities, on three sides of this ongoing cyber war, how do we make sure that we can cut between all of them in the course of a double page spread and you can follow what’s going on? That’s the kind of challenges we were throwing at Marcus in Hack 2, which almost made him go insane.
MC: The work you do is pretty varied—Hacktivist is a political thriller, Grayson is a spy story, and Joyride is a sci-fi space book—they’re all very character driven, what sort of things define a lead character for you, and how do you approach each one differently?
JL: Flaws. We’re really into characters that start with big, fundamental flaws. There’s an instinct a lot of time, especially in superhero books, to say “Ok, well the character’s perfect, and everything around them is flawed.” I think sometimes that works. I think Superman, that works really well. And that doesn’t mean he needs to be a perfect person, but it means that he’s not an asshole with a huge piece of damage.
I’m really enjoying American Alien, Max Landis’ Superman book right now. It’s a very, very good book. And Max is a friend, I’m predisposed to like his stuff, but I really do love that book, and I think part of the reason for that is it’s taking the way that Superman operates as a character, as a person, and it’s putting him in a world of people and it’s not like…icons, it’s just people and their flaws.
We try to approach all comics the same way. Hacktivist is a story about two friends, who have a fatal flaw at the core of their friendship, which is that there’s a lack of respect that’s going both ways, and eventually it’s revealed and the two characters have to reconcile that. In Grayson, that’s not a story that we started, that’s a story we’re coming in to wrap, so in a lot of ways, we were taking what had already been brilliantly set up by Tim and Tom, saying…Dick Grayson is one of the least flawed characters in the DCU in a lot of ways, but when you put him in a scenario where everyone else is shadows and spies and lies, he’s not equipped for that. His flaw becomes that he’s too trusting, too good. It starts to really show off some cooler elements of him. And obviously Joyride, is all about that and to get too deep into that is to spoil what Joyride 4 becomes.
CK: But ultimately, we just take what we know, and we instill it into our characters, and we are two damaged dudes with a lot of interesting damage, and there’s two of us, so pretty much we have the entire spectrum of pain and self doubt and weirdness to instill in characters from across the entire spectrum. Basically, we’re just two really messed up guys!
Project-Nerd would like to thank Jackson Lanzing and Collin P. Kelly for taking the time to sit for this interview.