BY JENNIFER M. CONTINOLen Wallace
is one of the coolest guys I know. Back when he was writing Seven Up, a spotlight column for up and coming comic creators on THE PULSE, he was always willing to give a mile when I asked him for an inch. Now, after four years of hard work, his graphic novel, Love Buzz is about to come out from Oni Press. After having two false starts with publishers who went under before the book could be printed, he's anxious to see the final product ship from Oni. Wallace gave us the scoop on Love Buzz and said although it's a little about the birds and the bees, it's also about life and being able to laugh at yourself. THE PULSE: Some longtime PULSE readers might know you from your Seven Up column you used to write for the site, but for those meeting you for the first time in these pages, tell them a little about yourself, please!
LEN N. WALLACE:
Well, needless to say, I'm assuming my name is written somewhere in the title line to the article, so now that we've dispensed with the foreplay, we can get to the good part. I'm a 26 year-old man-child from Louisville Kentucky who got his start in comics, mostly from you and doing a bit of work here at THE PULSE
. I don't drive a car and don't ever really want too, I'm hard to keep employed in any formal jobs, but I can spin fiction like nobodies business, as you and your readers will all too soon find out this coming May, when my first full length OGN Love Buzz
hits the comic stands everywhere from Oni Press
.THE PULSE: Love Buzz? What's that bees in heat?
No, but I might steal that idea for a sequel, spin-off, or self-parody project. What Love Buzz
is, is actually quite a long story, but in asking this question, you've pretty much just bought your ticket. It started back when I was in high school, actually. I'd gotten dumped by this girl who now I'm pretty sure I'd only dated a couple times, but had gotten dumped by and figured it was the end of the world. Being 16 and a huge film nerd with an eye to try and make movies, I wrote a screenplay about my getting dumped, then finding this other, totally awesome, TOTALLY FICTIONAL girl that didn't exist, but was the answer to my teenage heartache ... .It was pretty bad, but I called it "Love Buzz."
Then high school went on and I actually did end up meeting and falling for a girl in what turned into a series of on again, off again relationships that lasted for years after we'd graduated. So around the time I was 19 and things in the relationship had ended for like the umpteenth time, I decided that now I'd known a thing or two about the ups and downs of love. With this in mind, I set around to writing a completely new version of Love Buzz
from the ground up.
I wrote and wrote and wrote for months, and what I ended up with was a literal 300 page tome of a screenplay that would have made Oliver Stone
choke to death. Needless to say, a film version of my epic love story would never see the light of day in such a state, and I'd gotten back into reading comics again, so I decided "Why not try and adapt the book for the comic audience? How hard could that be?"
There's a lot more exposition after this and it goes on for like seven years up to this point, but in the last seven years, with the help of some friends and editors, I've toned the book down quite considerably to the lean, mean, 180 page fighting machine that Oni Press
is currently helping me push pretty heroically. THE PULSE: I remember you talking about this comic when we first met. I'm glad to see it's finally seeing the light of day, but how surreal does it feel for you right now to have your book listed in Previews?
Totally surreal... The road to getting this book out there has been rocked with ups and downs. Before Oni
, we'd been picked up by two other publishers where things almost happened, but both went out of business before the book was finished, so when that kind of stuff happens after you've been building it up in your head that it's all finally gonna happen and it doesn't it gets exhausting. I've been suffering through the process with my artists Michelle Silva
and Dave Tuney
, who are nothing short of astounding in their own rights and I owe them more gratitude than I'll ever be able to repay.
I have a feeling both of them are going to be very, very big in comics someday. But the ad in Previews
kinda took me by surprise. I knew it was coming, but finally seeing it was just nuts and the fact that Oni
sprung for the full page on a trio of pretty much untested creators shows that we must've done something right. A great little geek moment for me was checking my email Sunday night and finding a note from Sean McKeever
, telling me how much he's looking forward to reading it. I love that guy. I probably never would have gone through with Love Buzz
as a comic if I hadn't seen how a personal little 'slice of life' story about teenagers and romance could work so well in comics. Love Buzz
owes a good bit to McKeever's under appreciated series, The Waiting Place
.THE PULSE: So you're poking fun at yourself and romance here, right?
Romance, not so much. More at myself, because really, if you can't find something to laugh at about yourself, then what's the point. The book itself deals with some pretty serious subject matter. Love, lust, mistaking one for the other, all while still letting teenagers be real teenagers. Not like the ones people like to see on The CW
, but the ones that talk about burps and farts and boners and stuff. I dunno, the ones I went to high school with were like that, anyway.
Writing Love Buzz
was about dealing with the good and the bad parts of a long running relationship I'd had, and while I wouldn't consider it a biographical work, some bits of my life have slipped into the story here and there, because that's where the real emotion is, and while I like to poke fun at myself whenever I get the chance, this book for me, started out about dealing with some personal problems and also kind of being an ode to a relationship that helped to form who I am for better or worse.
This book was always intended to be a Valentine of sorts to first love, or the art of "figuring it out". Don't worry though, any time I got too serious on the book, I tend to back up for a second have something gross and/or unfortunate happen to break the tension.THE PULSE: Sounds like you've got most of your bases covered! I know you went through a lot getting this created, but what was the most valuable lesson you learned through this process?
I've learned way too many lessons and they've all served me very well so far. To name a few, there would be the fact that I should never go anywhere near trying to draw comics myself.
I'm a terrible, God-awful artist and my rickety hands have no business trying to draw a straight line, let alone pages upon pages of rendered sequential art. That taught me the importance of finding a damn good artist and also to treat them right. Also, I've learned to divorce myself from taking criticism too personally, and to actually listen when someone who knows what they're talking about tells you you've written a piece of dialogue that sounds like someone playing a trombone with their butt when spoken aloud. I've learned a lot. The path from when I finished writing Love Buzz
to now would be able to fill an entire book of its own.THE PULSE: I know you were inspired a lot by real life, but what else influenced you as you wrote and rewrote this tale?
Again, too many things... McKeever's The Waiting Place inspired me to write it as a comic, High Fidelity (both the John Cusack movie and the original novel by Nick Hornby) is also a little bit guilty of putting the bug in me to write about this kind of stuff, as well. I'll always be a big fan of the Cusack as the too-cool-for-school guy with the romantic soft spot. Music helped channel a lot of it, too. I'm eternally grateful for ex-Soundgarden, ex-Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell for his first solo album 'Euphoria Morning'. Every song and every little piece of that album means something to me and helped fuel many a late night writing session, and continues to occasionally do so to this day. People can say what they will about the guy and his latter day work, which is nowhere near as amazing, but I still appreciate it. 'Euphoria Morning' was amazing.
Also, to a degree, when working with Dave Tuney, who serves a little further in the book as he plays the role of the main character Norm's comic book drawing hands in several segments of the book, we get to see a few of the comics and things that have influenced Norm as the book goes on. Dave and I both went through coming up with a series of little vignettes for him to draw as Norm, that were kind of odes to the artists that were forming Norm's own style of drawing. We've done a couple little homages to Frank Miller's Sin City
runs, Jim Sternanko's Nick Fury
, an ode to the Adam West
era of Batman
, (Which I'd kill to write a mini-series or something like it for DC
, but I understand they seem to have a pretty anti-camp policy lately.) and a five page piece based on Herge's Adventures Of Tintin
that I think will get a lot of laughs.
The stuff Michelle does through out the book carry's the story strongly and confidently takes my shaky scripting and turns it into something that looks exactly like they'd come out of my brain and into her hands. She does great and will undoubtedly be the star of this book, but I really hope people take the time to appreciate Dave's work too. It's got some really funny, weird stuff to it.THE PULSE: How did you find the courage to keep pushing on with this when you had it close to publication two times then saw your hopes dashed out from under you?
Well, at that point, Michelle and Dave had drawn half of a 180 page book. Odds were that if two different publishers had wanted it before, someone else would too. Initially, it was another little heartbreak down the road, but we'd already invested so much of our time and selves into this project, there really wasn't going to be any 'lay down and die' attitude, we'd pretty much all agreed. The story of how we sold Oni
on the book was a funny story by itself, because I didn't think we'd had a shot in hell of doing it. Randy Jarrell
, (Oni's managing editor) posts on the Bendis Boards a lot, and the way I remember it, we had gotten to talking in a thread about ... something of which I can't really recall, but this was about a month after the second company let us go, I remember saying something to the effect of "Y'know Randy, you could do me a solid and get your boys to publish my book." Totally joking in saying this, and kind of expecting him to probably be annoyed, because he probably gets that kind of crap all the time .... Then about 5 minutes later, I get a PM on the boards from him, saying the guys at Oni
were fans of Michelle's work, (She'd done a pin-up in an issue of Local
and was taught a lot of what she knows about art by Ryan Kelly
) and said they'd take a look at our pitch. The rest as they say was history, and while I wouldn't recommend this method to many other creators in getting their books picked up, stranger things have happened.THE PULSE: You said you had to kind of learn to take some criticism while working on this, what kind of feedback did Oni have about what you were doing? What was the hardest to hear?
First of all, I owe a lion's share of the credit for editing the book and whipping it into shape to a buddy of mine named PJ Kryfko
. He started out as a message board friend of mine through a comic website we used to work for which is now defunct, and soon after got a job editing books at Viper Comics for a brief stint. Without his help, Love Buzz would still be a 300 page monster and Michelle and Dave would probably have wanted nothing to do with me. PJ helped me trim the fat and cuffed me in the ear over bad dialogue and was frank but helpful about everything. He was Love Buzz's first and maybe greatest supporter and I value his advice on everything I do. He has never steered me wrong and clearly deserves another good editorial job in comics.
As for the guys at Oni, they liked what they'd read a lot, but at the same time, had some concerns of their own. Number one, (and this decision was made optional, I just happened to agree and go along with it) Love Buzz
was a book with a good message to it, and they believed it might serve better if I cleaned up the language a bit and kinda curbed a bit of the gross talk, so that we could aim it at teenagers. I was apprehensive at first, because I don't want to censor things to the point where it looks forced, but then I picked up some of my old Blue Monday
trades, which are also aimed at Teens, and a sense of relief washed over me. Chynna Clugston's
characters are downright filthy and can still talk rather frankly about sex and the like. Oni gave me a lot of leeway to do the same. I just deleted a lot of the F-bombs, and some of the more graphic sexual references in the dialogue. Other than that, the change wasn't too harsh.
The second thing they wanted though, was a little harder to hear. They wanted me to change my ending. Around the last 20 pages of the book. Without going into spoilers, they said it was kind of anti-climactic and it left things a little too open with whether or not the characters had or hadn't grown by the end of the book. Initially, this was heartbreaking to hear, but not really because I was in love with, or married to the ending I'd written. It was more that I'd finished writing Love Buzz
about four years before. In my mind, I was done with it and the more time I spent thinking about it, or trying to tinker with it, the more I started to resent the project. Not because I thought it was a terrible book, (although the stuff I'm currently writing will blow Love Buzz out of the water.) but because was exhausted with it to the point that the more it sat in limbo, not getting out into the world for people to see and judge, I was becoming almost physically ill. I would compare it to being pregnant perpetually for seven years. Not trying to say I know what being pregnant is like, or even could know, but it's how it felt and will feel until May finally comes.
Anyway, Randy gave me a week to think on ideas for a new ending with something to say, and after getting over being pissed about having to rewrite it, I thought back on the relationship I'd based it on and what I'd learned. I drank a couple of Red Bulls, and sat down in front of my computer for a couple days until the new ending was done. Then I sent it to Randy and told them I didn't want to look at it again for a week. I came back a week later, read the script for the book the whole way through with the new ending attached, and I fell in love with it all over again. The characters, the scenery, all of it. The new ending gave it meaning deeper than I'd ever thought I was capable of. I can't wait to see how the final art looks on the last chapter. I really think Michelle and Dave will knock it out of the park.THE PULSE: Sounds like you've grown a lot as a writer since you were first writing those columns for THE PULSE ... I know your mom has been super supportive of your work. What does she think of all of this?
Still supportive as hell, even though she lives two states away and I sometimes have to beg her to let me handle my own work, she'll sometimes pipe up and run into what she thinks is the rescue, which has potential to sometimes be embarrassing, but at the same time, she's nothing but supportive of me and I really couldn't ask for more. Hopefully, when Love Buzz
sells the movie rights and we have to deal with Zac Efron
and a coked out Lindsay Lohan
as Norm and Maggie, I'll make enough money to buy her a house or something. I owe her at least that much.THE PULSE: How is what you've done with Love Buzz different from other slice-of-life like tales? What have you done here that really sets it apart?
Well, I tried to make it funnier than Blankets, which is a great book, but kinda a total drag to read in one sitting. Also, the whole "Norm's comic within the comic" thing kinda helps to set it apart. The stark contrast of the look of Michelle's work to Dave's work is something I'm very proud of. They're both such different styles and seeing them kind of vibe and play off one another has been really awesome to watch as the book has progressed. That aspect kind of helps to set it apart, but at the same time, the key to a good slice-of-life book is characters you can look at and say "Hey, that's kinda like me, or somebody I know in there", more importantly, it should speak to people, and maybe at the end of the day, have an effect on someone who might be going through something similar.
I know I've gone on and on about Sean McKeever's comic The Waiting Place, but as an example of a comic that's spoken to me pretty directly, that's it right there. Particularly the story revolving around one of the characters who'd gone through a relationship with a girl from high school, had it end badly, then ends up watching her marry someone else and then later on the girl gets killed and he's kinda just left there with all his issues with her left unresolved and so he starts dealing with it through various forms of self-destructive behavior... Around the time I first discovered TWP, I was going through something pretty much exactly the same as the situation I'd described before. I'm talking to the letter. I was a train wreck, but reading this in Sean's book and how things all worked out for this particular character kind of helped me to let go of all my unresolved anger from all the words left unsaid. Really, I've got the beginnings of a book planned to deal with this stuff too, but it might take me a long time to write, because I'll have to revisit a pretty dark place for it. I also might have spoiled a bit of Sean's book, but people should still seriously go find the trades if they can. It's an amazing series and the beginnings of the career of one of my favorite creators.THE PULSE: You mentioned a few other projects in the works, spill!
Where to begin? Okay, so Love Buzz has been pretty much a done deal on my end for going on four years now, so in that time, I've had some time to think up some new ideas. A LOT of new ideas. I've written two OGN's since then, one I'm hoping we can begin putting together art for a pitch on soon with my buddy Steven Walters, (who I actually met and befriended through interviewing him for my old column for THE PULSE) that we're tentatively calling Half-Way Home until a better title comes along. It's a bit of a black comedy mixed with crime. A bunch of down-on-their-luck guys living together in a house, dealing (or not dealing, rather) with their various addictions come into a windfall of cash, when one of their buddies wins a mess of money at the horse races, and ends up dying of a heart attack in what might be the funniest way possible, but I don't want to spoil it. The gang attempts to divide up the money, but the greed shows up, and murder isn't far behind.
Other than that, I'm having a blast editing and putting together an anthology book of off beat romance stories and drawn by myself and some of todays best up-and-coming talent, and even a surprising number of guys you've probably already heard of. We're calling it Less Than Three, (<3, get it?) and I'm looking to get back to working on it after having to take months off to put Love Buzz in the can. Editing can be an absolute blast, and I love dealing in short fiction. I've also got a couple of mini-series in the works. The Day I Tried To Live has begun production on art with a guy I found out of Brazil named Jorge Trinidade, and is shaping up pretty well. It's a story of a B-movie producer who discovers he has a tumor in his brain that narrates his life for him and approximately 2 months to live, so he steals a buttload of cash from a slightly moronic porn producer with mafia connections and goes on the classic "See everything before I die" road trip. Also, a project I'm really excited about but can't go into too much detail on is an untitled Western series with my local buddy and current Uncanny X-Men/Nightwing inker Jay Leisten co-writing and eventually drawing when we can carve some time out of his schedule. I never thought I'd enjoy writing a Western, but this project has been so much fun. I'm going on a bit long here, but other than these there are like, 7 other projects in various stages of production. Subjects include noir transexual detectives, a comic book journey through the seedy corners of the internet, probably the only statement I'll ever have to make about Superheroes, (Unless DC or Marvel wants to pay me hella cheddah!) and hopefully the beginnings of what I hope could become my first long running ongoing series that I'm calling Teenage Wasteland.