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Luke Arnold and Doc Wyatt Made 'Essentials' To Be A Comic. It's No TV Pitch.

We chat with the writers about their new graphic novel and how it embraces its beautiful medium.

Luke Arnold Doc Wyatt Essentials

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Luke Arnold and Doc Wyatt about Essentials. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.


Let's not name names, but we've all read those comics that ooze with delusions of La La Land. The ideas are strong but plot-heavy and sequentially dull. No thanks. We want the comics that always desired to be comics.

Luke Arnold and Chris "Doc" Wyatt feel the same despite having spent some serious time being creative in Hollywood. Arnold is currently dominating (or should be dominating) your Netflix stream as John Silver in the Starz drama Black Sails. Wyatt is a producer and filmmaker, having written on some of the best comic book-based cartoons ever, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rocket and Groot, and The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

Together, they're carving new interdimensional space with Essentials, The Lab Press's first graphic novel release. Mathematician Harris Pax once predicted the world's end, and then it came true. Thankfully, he's not the last survivor. Unfortunately, the others are trapped across the multiverse, and he must cross and survive numerous alternate realities to rescue them.

Even better news: the seven alternate realities are illustrated by seven iconic comic book artists: Glenn Fabry, Jason Howard, Vince Locke, Brendan McCarthy, Andrea Mutti, M.K. Perker, and DaNi. If you hop on over to the Kickstarter campaign (CLICK HERE, FRIEND), you can not only browse the incredible artwork but also spot several rad covers from Fabry, Howard, and the maestro Bill Sienkiewicz.

We were eager to chat with Luke Arnold and Doc Wyatt about Essentials, and it was a delight to revel in our shared love for the medium of comic books. Their new graphic novel is not a TV pitch nor a failed one; it's a story meant to be a comic, and they love it as such.

We begin our conversation celebrating what comics can only do, and we dig into the challenges they dropped on their seven artists and how The Lab Press managed it all. Their Kickstarter is already off to a smashing success, but did they consider the responsibility Essentials has as The Lab Press' maiden voyage? Uh, maybe not. Maybe we gave them something extra to worry about. LOL.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.


Luke Arnold, Doc Wyatt, and Comic Book Essentials

Brad: I love when I talk to creators who work in multiple mediums, because we get to have the conversation about what comics does that no other medium does.

Doc Wyatt: I think that the first thing you'll think of is the budget stuff. You can draw things that would be prohibitively expensive to show on screen. But the honest truth is, that's less and less true, because as technology advances, things become within budgetary reach that you wouldn't have expected before and stuff like that.

I think honestly, the real and true difference and what comics affords you that no other medium lets you have is being able to tell your story in single panels, in moments of time. Even on film or TV - I've got a shot, I can punch in for a shot, but have you ever been watching a movie or a TV show and hit freeze-frame and it's like, "Oh, that was a really awkward frame for the actor to end on?" Or really weird? Those moments never happen in comics.

When you start thinking of the story in panels, you're thinking of the story in terms of that exact crystallized moment in time. You control the exact frame that the audience sees, and that is a different way to think about a story and it's a different way to tell a story. And the other thing which is related to it is by telling a story in panels, you have the ability to have things simultaneously happen that would take too long in film, or in TV, or in plays, or even in novels. The things would happen sequentially, but when I include them on the panel - for example, Magneto can give a whole monologue in the very second he's being shot. You know what I mean? There's no other world where you can do that.

Luke Arnold: And building on that, this was something I realized maybe just an hour ago, it was breaking a story. I don't know if I've fully formed this idea yet, but it was that feeling on this idea, was going, "Well, why is this a graphic novel? Why is this a comic?" What comics do so well is they simultaneously depict the interior and exterior worlds. You get to show in one moment something so incredible, an incredible piece of art about what's happening on the outside and also hear the interior thoughts of someone in there. And it feels right.

You don't really want that in a film or a TV show usually. It feels a bit contrived if, in the middle of an action sequence, you're hearing voiceover from the character. You want to be in the moment. And in a book, great for the interior world, but you can't also at the same time show some amazing tableau of where you're at. And what comics do so well is when you want to straddle those two worlds, when you want to see the full splendor of some amazing moment. And sometimes a beautifully juxtaposed interior world of the character, which I think is something that Essentials is very much about, that we try and show the wildest things we could imagine, and at the same time be going as deeply into the consciousness of our characters too.

Brad: So, then, what is the personal satisfaction of working in comics versus working in film, TV, or any other medium?

Luke Arnold: It still blows my mind. It's a real honor to work with an artist in this way. I think anyone out there who's ever commissioned a piece of art gets it. It's a really beautiful thing to ask an artist for something and go, "Hey, something like this." And you end up with something that's somewhere in between what you envision, what you hope for, and what they brought to the table.

Working on a graphic novel, when you work with, especially the caliber of artists that we were somehow able to get on this book, this thing where you write, you have a bunch of ideas and you're trying as a writer to straddle that idea between making sure the story is coherent and all the pieces are there, but giving room for this artist to bring as much of themselves to the table as possible. It's quite an intimate thing, writing these documents and going, "Something like this," by thinking, "Maybe something like this. This is what has to happen. Maybe do it in this way." But also, "What have you got?"

You write something, and then what gets delivered back to you is just mind-blowing and beyond what you imagined, but also this incredible tribute to the idea. I think it's really amazing to come up with an idea and have amazing artists deliver page after page of artwork back to you.

Doc Wyatt: I echo that a hundred percent. In fact, we had that in this book. Because the way it works is, it's a bit of a reality-hopping story. We're going from reality to reality, and so we pitched our publisher on the idea that each different reality was different artists so that we could have very different styles. You fully believe you're in a different world. And we didn't think they'd be crazy enough to actually say yes, and yet they did. FOr our entire lives as comic readers and fans, we have wanted to work with these artists. It was a dream come true. You write a page of zombie stuff, and then Vince Locke sends you back a drawing of it. It's crazy. You know what I mean?

Brad: Yeah, I can only imagine.

Doc Wyatt: The great Turkish artist, MK Perker; I'm just a massive fan of his work on Air and a bunch of stuff he did with G. Willow Wilson, Cairo, and stuff. We gave him this reality that has a feast of the gods, of the classical gods. When it came back, it bent my mind. You know what I mean? It was like I understood in theory we were going to see this, and then in practice, it bent my mind-

Luke Arnold: And it was so much more.

Brad: I was just looking at that Medusa. Yeah, wow.

Luke Arnold, Doc Wyatt, and the Seven Essentials Artists

Luke Arnold: And we maybe said, "Here are the kind of gods in there. Here's the thing," and you write this little paragraph, of course. On some pages, we'll write a bunch more background, but sometimes you're like, "Hey, here's the kind of thing." And yet that double-paged spread where we see those who are attending the feast and what they're bringing, we sat there as a group for - I don't know how long, just admiring each little part of it. "Look at this guy. Well, look what they brought," and just really marveling at what MK had done. And really all our artists did their version of that, where they just turned up with things that were beyond what we put on the page and took inspiration and really went with their hearts.

Doc Wyatt: When we were reviewing art, the conversation inevitably got around to, "What would you pick as a tattoo? Which part of which panel would be a tattoo?" A lot of our review time was spent in that conversation.

Brad: I would also imagine that the logistics of Essentials would be challenging, too. It is amazing. You are telling this story with seven different artists, seven iconic artists at that, and they have to give their vision, but they can't be too far apart, especially with the characters, from what other artists are giving the story. How did that work?

Doc Wyatt: It was important that it was recognizable. You couldn't be reading it and not know which character was supposed to be which. As a way to inoculate from that, we had what we called our objective reality artist, who was Jason Howard. The great Jason Howard, who was a dream to work with, and who was the realities in between all realities.

As a consequence, he did the baseline character design, and then that's what got coordinated with all the other artists on the book. Using him like a model sheet so that you would always know what Harris Pax [the protagonist] looks like, what Buttons looks like. And that way, when you're reading the book, you're not confused about who is who, that even though it's a different style, it's recognizably the same character. That said, the logistics probably were difficult, but we didn't have to do them. The Lab Press did, so we didn't worry about it.

Luke Arnold: We really were lucky in letting them handle a lot of it. And I do think two things really served us there, and one was definitely Jason, that him as being home base for the book really meant that you could so easily get disoriented, especially when going from artist to artist to artist. But the fact that we go back to him in between, I think that you simultaneously get this feeling of it's exciting to go somewhere else, but then you also feel really happy and comfortable when you go back to the objective world, and you're back in the art style that feels like home.

It did mean that we probably had to be quite prescriptive with a lot of the pages. Especially when we're going from one reality back into the other or going from base reality into this new world, that needed to flow seamlessly, which meant we needed to really break down frame by frame how this works so that the flow was right. And it was really great. And when you're working with these great artists, you sometimes feel a bit bad talking them through every little bit and really breaking it down, but I think we established a good relationship of knowing how to make sure that was really clear so that one world will flow into the next and also then have the moments when it's like, "And here's where you get to go wild and just let your artistry reign supreme."

Brad: The danger could be your script becoming handcuffs for these artists.

Luke Arnold: Completely. Yeah, you don't want to do that. You don't want to tie them down. You want to give them room, but at the same time, when you've got seven artists in one book, you're still striving for some cohesive flow and to feel some sense of an author behind this.

Look, it was a wild idea. And really, that goes to the Lab as well. We mostly just got to receive bits of art from the artists and be like, "Oh my god, this is great," and we gush over it. But then there'd often be notes when you're like, "Oh," but then you hold it up to the page before and you're like, "Oh, we need to smooth this out and we need to make sure it fits." And somehow the Lab were able to get through that whole process and bring it all together in a way that, I don't know, I think everyone had a great time and we felt good about it. But they did a lot of, I think, really careful work behind the scenes, making sure that all happened smoothly.

Brad: You've cooked up a hearty meal for the reader. It's a pretty impressive feast. Again, seven artists telling this story. It's a big old graphic novel, and it's a coming out party for The Lab Press. Can you talk about the responsibility that you may feel as the big first book from this new publisher?

Doc Wyatt: Whoa, that had never occurred to me. To be perfectly honest.

Luke Arnold, Doc Wyatt, and the Essentials Responsibility

Brad: It's all on you.

Doc Wyatt: Yeah. I was more coming at it from - we are the first book from a new publisher, and there's certain trepidation of they haven't released a book before. How is this going to go? But it didn't occur to me the other side of the coin was that we should be nervous that we're the - But the honest truth is The Lab Press is more than just a publisher to us. They're a group of friends. Everybody in that office we've worked with before on other projects in media landscapes.

The editor-in-chief over there is the director of the film that Luke starred in that I produced. It's where Luke and I first worked together. The principal over there, the president of the company, is a friend of ours. There are some wild stories of wild times with that Nick Calico. And they've been approaching it in such a reader-forward manner.

I feel like books that are indie books and crowdfunded books; sometimes it's like, "How cheaply can we print this? How fast can we source this?" And they have been taking such time and such care to make these - they're oversized hardcovers. They're bigger than trades. And when you open them up, the art is a little bit larger than a normal comic art page. When you do a two-page spread, it lays out wide in a way that you can't do with a lot of glue-bound trades and stuff. We've all dug into a two-page spread, and we're like, "This is going to be awesome," and then it's like, "What's happening in the middle?" From the spines to the covers to the printing, to the inks, to the paper, they put so much care into it that they obviously love what they're doing, and we love that they're doing it with us.

Luke Arnold: Yeah, I think that is the feeling. Obviously, we want this book to do well, and we want to launch it for the ones that come after, but as much as I know about them and the books that are coming after us, it's really exciting stuff. They're really trying to make books that no one else would make. Probably, if someone comes to them with an idea that someone else would do, they'd be like, "Oh, well, go do that with them. That's fine." They want to do stuff that they're really passionate about, that feels different, that feels new, that feels like it takes a bit of audacity.

Our Kickstarter is going great, and we're really happy that so many people have already rallied behind it. It's a new IP; people haven't had a chance to get their hands on it yet, so that's a beautiful faith in us as a whole group. But however this goes, I think very quickly in time, this is just the beginning of what they'll be able to build upon. And so if there's a steady climb or if our book or the next book breaks through and lets everyone know what they're doing, I have a lot of faith in what The Lab is going to be putting out for the next couple of years.

Doc Wyatt: And I have to say, to their compliment, when you are working on indie comics, or you're taking it around to indie comics, there's a lot of emphasis on, "Can this be a TV show? Can this be a movie? What's the next step?" Treating comics like the fodder for other mediums, and that's not The Lab. Don't talk to us about what would you do with a TV show, or where can we pitch this. It is about, what's the book? And that is so refreshing for people to not view comics as a way to get into movies, but as comics as an art form. It's beautiful.



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