Today’s Burly-date (Burlyman+Update) is an interview with Steve Skroce on Newsarama.
For those into Doc Frankenstein, this is a healthy read of origins, ascensions to fame, and the partnerships of writers. For those into Shaolin Cowboy, it does mention Geof several times, and his previous project with comic-great Frank Miller, known as “Hard Boiled”. For those of you into both the Cowboy and Doctor, you can’t lose!
All in all, a good update on the world of the Burlymen.
For Steve Skroce, October’s Doc Frankenstein marks the first straight comics work that’s hit comic shop shelves since his 2000 Wolverine story, “Blood Debt,” which he both wrote and drew.
Of course, he’s been a little busy in the four years between. Way back in 1993, when Skroce was just starting out in comics, he was assigned one of the Clive Barker “Barkerverse” titles, Ectokid. While the series kicked off with James Robinson handling the scripts, by issue #4, a new writer was onboard with Skroce – Larry Wachowski, half of the Wachowski Brothers. A couple of years later, the Wachowskis asked Skroce, as well as artist Geof Darrow and a handful of others to help them conceptualize and storyboard a film they were planning – The Matrix.
Naturally, after a healthy stints on such titles as X-Man, Gambit, Amazing Spider-Man and Cable, Skroce pulled away from comics in exchange for the lights of…well, a room where he storyboarded ideas for the Wachowskis, and got to be good friends with Darrow. It was during the marathon work sessions that Skroce first heard the words “Doc Frankenstein” put together with some wild ideas.
Doc Frankenstein “This was after Geof had done Hard Boiled with Frank Miller, and was starting his next project,” Skroce said. “He was talking about this comic he might be doing, called Doc Frankenstein. He told me about it, and I thought it was a really cool idea – the Frankenstein monster in the present day, turned into an action-adventure hero. I waited to see what he’d do with it, but he went back to this other character, Shaolin Cowboy, instead.”
From there, The Matrix came out, became a cultural phenomenon, sequels were planned, Skroce rode his success as “The Matrix storyboard artist Steve Skroce” to the aforementioned Wolverine arc, and then, well, ended up back in a room with Darrow.
“When we were working on The Matrix 2 and 3, I asked whatever happened to Doc Frankenstein, and he said that wanted to do the Shaolin Cowboy character more – it referenced more things that he liked, so he preferred to that one instead. After a while, I wanted to do a creator-owned project myself. We’re pretty good friends, and so I asked Geof if he’d mind doing Doc Frankenstein with me. He was up for it, but wasn’t big on writing it – most of his energy was focused on doing his own book. That as fine with me, because most of my interest in the character and ideas was in the writing side of it anyway, because I had just finished the Wolverine story for Marvel. So it was pretty much decided there.”
After completing work on the two Matrix sequels, Skroce took some time off, storyboarded another movie (I Robot), and then hunkered down on Doc Frankenstein. “I was shopping it around to most of the publishers out there who did any kind of creator-owned thing, and seeing if they would publish it for us, and let us keep the rights,” Skroce said. “At that stage, the only way to do that would be to deliver a finished book to them, and they would print it, and we would split the profits from that. Even that was a tough sell, and luckily, I didn’t make any deals with anyone.
“Then the Matrix movies came out. They did well, and afterwards, Larry and Andy said they were thinking of doing a comic company. My response was pretty much, ‘Well, cool.’”
Skroce hit them up with the idea he and Darrow had hammered out: Frankenstein’s monster has survived to the present day, is very intelligent, has wealth, political influence, and basically, is an action adventure hero. The Wachowskis were in – for both Doc Frankenstein as well as Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy.
“Originally, they were going to come in and write the second storyarc of Doc, so I toiled away at working on the comic at my own pace,” Skroce said. “I sent them the material for the first issue, and they asked if I minded if they came in on the first story as well.”
Skroce was game, making the initial two-person collaboration a four-person, three-party collaboration. “Geoff had a history of the character that he’d worked out originally – where his home based was, his cast of supporting characters and some other ideas. Geof had charted out a lot of his past – things like how he ended up in the Old West after he left the Arctic, which we’re keeping, and Larry and Andy added on to a lot of it. That said, it’s still very much in the same tone that Geof had originally come up with.
“Between what Geof had laid out, and what I had done, they came in and added a ton of layers, so they’re definitely getting the writing credit, but there’s a bit of me in there as well aside from just the drawing. It’s definitely a Wachowski Brothers story with some Darrow and Skroce contributions.”
Given their, at this point, years of working together Skroce said that working with the Wachowskis on Doc Frankenstein is just a shade easier than falling off a bike.
“I’ve worked with those guys for so long – I know what they’re talking about down to the subtle details when they ask for something, or describe a scene,” Skroce said. “They’re pretty specific in what they’re asking for, I get my points of view in the story as well, so it’s been pretty good.”
Skroce also credits working with the Wachowskis on their films as helping him develop as an artist. “These days, I’m more aware of what I’m trying to say with each image in terms of panel-to-panel sequential art,” the artist said. “Working with people like Geof and the Wachowskis, you’ll learn a couple of things anyway. I’d like to think that working with those guys helped me on things like composition and storytelling and things like that, as well as being able to execute ideas clearly. It’s given me a couple of more things to use in my artistic vocabulary, I think, but the fans will be the ones who will be the judges of that, I guess.”
Even with the new tools, Skroce said that tackling a new character like Doc Frankenstein can still provided challenges, given that, well, it’s that whole blank slate thing. “Wolverine was great, because I knew going in what Wolverine was supposed to talk and act like, but this was much harder,” Skroce said. “Even though Geof had laid out most the stuff for me, there were still a lot of choices to be made in regards to how Doc will act both physically and mentally, and respond to the things around him. So yeah – coming in with something new like this is definitely harder than just picking up the pencil to write and draw a character that’s been around for 30 or 40 years.”
Also, despite what some may think, drawing an issue of Doc Frankenstein isn’t just like drawing a storyboard for a movie. “It’s not altogether different,” Skroce said, “Larry and Andy like to have pretty much finished comic book panels for their storyboards. They’re really specific about what they like, so it usually comes out as pretty detailed boards. They really indulged us in letting us do the work that we wanted to do, which was very unique in working on a film. In this other movie I worked on, it was more traditional, drawing in a shorthand version of your regular drawing style. That’s fun too, though.
“But where the real difference lies is that with a storyboard, you’re drawing in real time, but in comics, you have limited space, so you’re trying to get your story across in a much shorter time. You have to show a sequence across three or four frames, where in a movie, you’d maybe do a hundred drawings. You really have to pick out the best seconds to capture and show to get the idea of the scene across.”
Both Doc Frankenstein and Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy are on bi-monthly schedules, which, Skroce said, suits him just fine. “Working on Doc is my full-time job, pretty much. It’s more time than I’d have on a regular, monthly book, but I’m inking it myself, so there’s a lot more work for me in it – and I’m putting a little extra in there. It’s definitely the most action-packed book that I’ve ever done.
“But for now, any more movie work is on hold. We’ve got the real deadlines coming with the comics, so my job is pretty much going to be Doc Frankenstein for the foreseeable future. I don’t mind that at all, though. I loved doing the movies, but comics are where I came from, and I really enjoy doing them.”