Interview: Jeremy Barlow Writer of 'Kult'

Welcome to Comic Bastards very first interview! We had the opportunity to talk to Jeremy Barlow, writer of Dark Horse Comics Kult, Metalocalypse and many other things that we'll cover in the interview itself. So sit back, or hunch forward in your chair and enjoy our first interview of the site! Comic Bastards) Obviously the Kult is your big project right now, but what did you work on leading up to Kult?

Jeremy Barlow) For Dark Horse I've scripted Dethklok/Metalocalypse, some Dungeon Siege webcomics, and I've written a few Star Wars graphic novels. Earlier this year my friend Dustin Weaver and I did a short story in Image Comics' Outlaw Territory II anthology, called "They'll Bury You Where You Stand!" which was as much a horror piece as it was a western.I'm doing more in that vein from here on out.

Kult # (1)

CB) Kult seems inspired by the Matrix at the surface level, is that accurate?What other influences did you have while crafting the idea for the series?

JB)Yeah, Kult and The Matrix share some thematic overlap, but its hard separate which inspired the other. The Kult RPG predates The Matrix by several years, and I have no idea if the Wachowskis had encountered it prior to making their movie, but I encountered their movie before writing the series so it's all cyclical.

Nods to The Matrix are intentional, but with the aim of subverting the expectations that those allusions create. Neo's path follows the classic Hero's Journey, and I wanted to turn that on its head and ask, what if the person chosen for a grand destiny was the last man on Earth anyone would want to see achieve it?

Clive Barker's Hellraiser and The Great and Secret Show are other obvious influences. I'm also a huge fan of psychological horror films of the 60's and 70's -- Dario Argento's Deep Red, Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now,for example -- and I aimed for that same mood and sense of dreadful inevitability that those movies share. What works so well in that medium is challenging to do in comics, but we gave it a good shot.

Kult # (2)

CB) Both your artist (Iwan Nazif) and cover artist (Jake Murray) are new to comics, what was it like working with a new artist talent and how did you approach the partnership?

JB) It was fantastic. Jake's covers really sell the series, don't they? Dark Horse editors Dave Marshall and Brendan Wright assembled Iwan, Jake, and I as a team, and because Iwan lives out of the country and doesn't speak English, my interactions with him were limited. Brendan and Dave were great mediators, though, and were able to communicate ideas back and forth. Despite the distance and language barrier it felt very collaborative -- much more so than the usual work-for-hire situation.

CB) The third issue of Kult will be out next month, what can you tell us about it in the meantime?

JB) The screws tighten on our protagonist Tomas Zenk. So far he's been told that the great machine that's enslaved humanity has chosen him as its next ruler, and he's rejected that fate completely and tried to remove himself from the equation. In the third chapter he'll experience the ramifications of forcing reality to rebuild around his absence and the price his precious family has paid for it. It'll be the turning point in his journey, when he realizes that wielding the power he's been given elevates him beyond those that both want to help and destroy him. His world view was already dark to begin with, but we'll see what happens when the world begins conforming to him instead of the other way around.

If that's too heady,there are also some exploding heads, psychological water torture scenes, and visceral monster attacks. Fun for everyone!

Kult # (3)

CB) I see that you’ve worked on a few licensed products, which has been your favorite to work on?

JB) I've been fortunate to work on some great properties with some great people, but the best was Metalocalypse. I was a huge fan of the show before getting the gig, to the point go being freaked out and worried that I couldn't live up to it once I landed the job. Those characters are so well-defined and hilarious that once things got rolling it almost wrote itself. I'd write a hundred more issues if they let me.

Dethklock Cover

CB) Are there a lot of extra hoops to jump through when writing a license product compared to your own material?

JB) There are different hoops, for sure. Again, I've been lucky to work with people like Randy Stradley at Dark Horse and Lucas film's Sue Rostoni on the Star Wars books and the long relationship between those companies is such that all the kinks have been worked out. If you turn in a tight outline, and if you make any adjustments they ask for at that stage and then stick to them through the scripting, it's smooth sailing.

The nightmare licensed projects are the custom jobs, when you're working for a corporate client's advertising department, which is often full of people who like comics but have no idea what goes into making them. If you're not careful about the wording in your contract, you can get stuck in a frustrating loop of constant, contradictory revisions. Those jobs do tend to pay better, though, so it all depends on what your patience can handle.

The hardest part of working on creator-owned material, on the other hand, is making time for it in-between the paying jobs, and then convincing an editor or publisher to put their faith in you. Though the Internet is the great equalizer nowadays, and doing original comics digitally is becoming the way to go. I'm still figuring it all out.

Barlow Weaver (1)

CB) In the case of Dethklok, how did you go about capturing the characters unique voices?

JB) Like I said, because those characters are each so distinct and well-defined, it was easy. You spend enough time with them and you know exactly how they'd act or respond in any given situation. Show creator Brendan Small put it best in a recent interview when he said (and I'm paraphrasing), the fun of those character comes not from the fact that they're a bunch of nihilists, but that they're somewhat sensitive guys who think they're nihilists. It's genius.

CB) When you write, do you listen to music and if so what do you play?

JB) When I'm plotting or outlining, I often have to work in silence. Something about figuring out what happens needs deeper focus and a quiet house. When I'm scripting scenes and writing dialogue -- executing how it happens --I'll have music on, and will either play something that fits the mood of the story (upbeat for action or high drama) or something soft to keep me rolling and from getting too stressed about the deadline I'm probably bumping up against.So I alternate between metal and classic jazz. Seriously. I get stuck on certain bands, too, and will shuffle a discography for weeks at a time. Right now I'm completely in love with the British band Elbow.

Barlow Weaver (2)

CB) What’s one question that you hate to be asked?

JB) "How does one break into comics?" It's not a bad question to ask yourself, if making comics for a living is what you want to do. You have to chart a path and stick to it,for sure. Too often though the person asking that question in an interview or at a convention isn't asking for wisdom or guidance, they're looking for a shortcut when there isn't one. Doing anything professionally requires a lot of focus and hard work. You have to grind it out, just like everyone else --there's no way around that, no matter how hard you try not to try hard.

CB) Last question and it’s from left field. Do you prefer Batman (1989) or Batman Begins (2005)?

Ha! I've never had to choose. Hm. Nolan's version is outstanding, but based on its weirdness, its endless quotability, and that I saw it about ten times in the theater at a tender age, I have to go with Burton's Batman. If Liam Neeson had, at any point, shouted "This town needs an enema!" or "And where is the Batman? He's at home, washing his tights!" I'd have given Batman Begins the edge. But, alas.

We'd like to thank Jeremy for taking the time to talk to us and Dark Horse Comics for helping arrange the interview. If you like what you read and want to check out Jeremy's projects then stop by his website and be sure to tell him we sent you!