Exclusive: Michael Colbert Talks Crazy Mary, Car Commercials, Kickstarters And The Future
Earlier this week I got the opportunity to speak with comic book writer and generally good guy, Micheal Colbert. You may know Mr. Colbert from his work on Crazy Mary with artists Ryan Sergeant, William Blankenship, and J.K. Woodward. You may have also read his hilarious short story, and actually pretty deep take on revolutions, Car Commercials Have The Best Songs. I asked Colbert about those projects as well as his current action-packed KickStarter about a zombie cop, Shambling Heat. He also let us in on some of his upcoming project including a pretty exciting project that is a WWII story with giant monsters called World War Kaiju. Read on for our extensive chat with the writer:
Before we dive in to some of your projects, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’ve been a comic fan for my entire life. I’m a science fiction fan and proud geek. I’ve been doing this stuff for years. Years ago I wanted to write a comic, I actually made a bet with some of my friends. We all made a promise to each other to come up with different comics, each of us. I was the only one that ended up doing that. We went to Comic Con one year and thought it would be a good idea if we all came up with a comic for next year. I was the only one that ended up writing a comic script. That was Crazy Mary. It originally started out in Digital Webbing Presents. A couple of stories were actually published there. Now I have life with 01 which is the new publishing company that Josh Finney and Kat Rocha started. As far as myself, I’ve been a fan and my earliest memory is seeing Star Wars back in 1977. That’s the first thing I can actually recall other than bits and pieces. I’ve always been a fan of comics and science fiction. Then I got into writing and decided that was the area I wanted to focus on.
You have Crazy Mary getting ready to come out in trade paperback. That’s a project you did with Ryan Sergeant, William Blankenship and J.K. Woodward. I got to talk to J.K. this summer about that little Start Trek/Doctor Who project he’s doing. Can you tell us about Crazy Mary and that coming together for later this year? It comes out in December I believe.
We’re aiming for December 12. It’s a compilation of all the stories that make Crazy Mary up to this point including new material, a 38 page story that I wrote exclusively for this. It’s the biggest chunk of the book, this material. Crazy Mary is a cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter in the near future. It’s your typical science fiction but I added in the idea of the supernatural element. Something when she went through her cybernetic enhancement caused her to actually see a different reality that interacts with ours.
I thought that was very unique to put that spin on the idea. It stood out and made it different.
I wanted to approach it from some sort of different angle, and that was one of the most intriguing concepts I came up with. It’s interesting to meld. When you think of cyberpunk or futuristic action, there are certain things that come along with it. Crazy Mary lives up to those expectations, but adding that bit where she can actually see thing and supernatural creatures added a whole new dimension to everything. You don’t usually think of cyberpunk stuff interacting with supernatural creatures. You don’t hear ghost stories and cyberpunk stories unless it’s a hologram that has gone rogue or something like that.
The idea of Mary came about basically in the last part of the 20th Century. I was living in LA and moving to Burbank. When I was developing this idea, I took stuff from previous content I was working with and added the cyberpunk part. It being 1997/98 when I started on this character, there was a lot of pre-millennium tension. People were worried with Y2K and what direction the new millennium would take us. A lot of that bled into the concept of the story. There’s also a lot of it thematically. Some of the biggest things it’s about is the subjective nature of reality. She experiences a completely different reality from everyone else. One of the main questions is- is it real? Is it not? Is she crazy? Is she not? I don’t know if I was working something out, but that kind of stuff was foremost in my mind when I was thinking about the way the world works. I think it wormed itself in to the story.
From one unique idea to another, the story you wrote Car Commercials Have the Best Song is available as a Kindle book now. It’s a crazy title and an even crazier story. You have murderous ducks and all that good stuff. Can you talk about that?
The ducks actually were meant as a throwaway joke in the original part. When I wrote the story Clyburn kicked at the ducks and then we look in the ducks mind thinking about “we’ll show these non-ducks when we fly south.” It was just meant as a throwaway and was the only part where we talk about the ducks or anything, but everybody that read the initial draft thought the ducks were hysterical and wanted to see more of the ducks. It resulted in me adding more stuff with the ducks. The epilogue was something I wrote last week as a nice capper to the entire story before we put it up on Kindle. People that read it wanted more of the ducks. I went oh yeah, it kind of makes sense and the ducks are funny.
The story itself? I guess the theme goes back to the title. The idea of the story was about revolutions being co-opted. You remember back in the nineties and early 2000s you’d see a car commercial and it would have the cutting-edge hip hop or electronic song that the radio wasn’t playing yet, but it was going to be playing soon. The idea of this edgy music that the mainstream hasn’t got hold of yet being used to sell stuff. That’s how the title grew out of that idea. Everything eventually has to become mainstream. Eventually every revolution gets co-opted. This is also reflected in Ruiz being part of a revolutionary movement in a South American country, and that revolution gets co-opted because his boss becomes more paranoid. The revolutionaries become the establishment and become corrupt. It keeps going and that circle keeps going with Ruiz heading a colony on this mining planet. His whole idea about changing the world or making a revolutionary world is completely co-opted by the mega corporation that’s teaming up with him just because he wants power. It’s a recurring theme about anything that’s a new idea or a different idea ends up being absorbed and usually corrupted. More than anything else, I wanted to do it in a funny way.
Douglas Adams in Hitchhiker’s Guide was probably one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. It’s actually pretty obvious when you read the story that I got my Douglas Adams thing going. I wanted to emulate him through that story and really when I started writing it, those weird ideas and funny asides were pouring out while I was doing it. It naturally kind of went along with how Douglas Adams would do it, with the literary style. I wanted it to be funny. I wanted to life at the whole concept. And then you got killer ducks!
Right now you have a KickStarter project called Shambling Heat with Dean Stahl. It’s an homage/parody/satire of the big explosions action movies with a zombie cop. How did you come up with the idea to pull all these things and genres together?
I’m trying to recall where the idea came from. I work closely with Josh Finney and Kat Rocha from Titanium Rain and 01. We started 01 and it kind of came out of having these long phone conversations where we would bounce ideas off of each other. Originally I had started an anthology comic book, Tales of the Supernatural, which only had one issue. I was getting people from around the world to contribute stories and I wanted to use it as a forum for my own stuff. I was kicking around the idea of doing something with real photographs, taking real photographs and putting speech bubbles in instead of sequential art.
I don’t know, in my head I came up with the idea of the movie trailer thing and it expanded beyond that. I was like we’ll do a zombie thing since it was all horror. I’ve always loved those action movies like Lethal Weapon…we’ll I don’t like Michael Bay movies anymore, but his old ones like The Rock and Armageddon were a lot of dopy fun. The trailers are always so well crafted. The style is unmistakable. You can see a Michael Bay trailer for his movies and it goes by certain rules. When I wanted to start telling the story, I thought there were a lot of wild ideas so how’s the best way to put these ideas in what was originally supposed to be 12 pages. It’s now expanded out to 22 pages. It was almost like a movie trailer manages to pack these ideas into a 2 or 2 and a half minutes, so that kind of naturally put itself in. We’ll just show the scenes of things exploding and you can still get the story, but it’s just the highlights. Once again it became as funny as anything. I wanted to parody those type of trailers and those types of movies. I think originally I wanted to make fun of the movies and then I modified it to be a trailer for a conceptual movie. You still get the idea what the movie is about, you just don’t get all the boring dialogue and exposition.
The only other times I’ve seen anything like that is a couple music videos. There was a Bon Jovi video for their second album where it was like a trailer. You get segments. I think My Chemical Romance did a music video for a movie that didn’t exist. I thought it was a cool idea that just wasn’t done a lot. I didn’t have to worry about getting to the exploding ice cream truck; I could just show a picture of an exploding ice cream truck. In a movie trailer you’re just going to get that. You don’t need to know how you get to the exploding ice cream truck, you just know it’s in the movie and that’s why you want to see it.
In your video you talk about it being a meta-joke. The whole thing seems very fresh but is there anything it could be compared to? Some of the humor seemed kind of in the vein of The Naked Gun or Airplane. Is that a fair comparison?
I think that’s a fair comparison. Obviously it’s not as far out. I wanted to go for really silly and that was the best I could do with just me and a camera. Except for one or two shots, which my girlfriend operated the camera, everything else I did myself with a camera and the tripod and me doing the acting. When you look at a lot of the Kickstarters, a lot of them are pretty dry. You see “hi, my name is Bob and this is my project” and you see some clips of the artwork or something. It seems with Kickstarter now you’re getting a lot of high end produced videos that look like their produced by video companies with really good cinematography and sharp editing and great graphics, then you have the guy with his webcam talking about the project. More than anything, I looked a lot of them and you don’t seem to get a lot of personality or the personality of the person tends to be a little nervous and awkward. Obviously you are there asking for money and trying to put your best face forward. There was nothing I saw at least where people were trying to make you laugh and draw you in that way.
The idea for pitching this was the whole idea of Shambling Heat. It was a parody of trailers, so why don’t I extend and make the pitch video a parody of trying to pitch the movie to add to the whole spectrum of the idea behind it. The idea occurred to me in the shower, as most good ideas usually do. I figured I’d play both parts and kind of lampoon the big comic companies and film company executive and all that in one big shot. I just wanted to make people laugh and thought that would be a neat approach since I had never seen any Kickstarter projects that made me laugh. It seemed to come off swimmingly and people seem to like it.
The opening part of course, you get the idea of what I’m aiming for with doing the trailer inside the trailer itself. That’s how the story opens in Shambling Heat. I had to go back on Youtube and watch a bunch of trailers for The Rock, Gone in 60 Seconds, a ton of action movie trailers to get the rhythm and the feel and catch all those points of how those trailers are put together. It was a lot of fun actually.
The KickStarter says it’s only a one-shot but like the movies it kind of gives a nod to, they go on forever, and ever, and ever. Is that a world you could revisit in some form or fashion?
Yeah, actually Josh was saying we should do the other stories we mentioned in the trailer. When you see the trailer it says from the producers that brought you Full Moon Ninja and Blood Vengeance. I was thinking of werewolf ninjas and vampire commandos. I could very easy do that story and put it along with Shambling Heat into a book. There’s also the idea if Shambling Heat takes off and is really well received, I have the basic story and could do a full-length story with Shambling Heat like a graphic novel. When I was writing it, I just wanted to have random action. The story kind of pushed itself out. Lance befriending the kitten in the sappiest way possibly, and that’s how he gets some of his humanity back. The basic story about them hunting down the rich drug dealer. It’s kind of a story emerged as I was writing the script. There’s enough here the make a full-length graphic novel if I wanted to and people wanted it enough I’d definitely do it. It is like an action movie and action movies never end as long as people go and see it. I was in San Francisco earlier this weekend and I thought they could have an adventure there and blow up a cable car and have sea lions involved or something like that.
There will be more stuff next year. There’s going to be more Crazy Mary. I’m actually plotting out the next story right now. That’s coming down the pipe next year. I also have a kid’s book I’m developing. It’s actually written and the thumbnails I am working on with Amanda Coronado. The book is called Mattie and the Balloon King. It’s an idea I’ve had for a while. I just had to find the right artist and publisher, and I have that now with 01. I met Amanda at one of the conventions and I loved her illustrations and it’s perfect for a whimsical little children’s story. I’m aiming for that late next year.
We’re going to be doing World War Kaiju. Josh and I wrote that story and it’s being illustrated by Patrick McEvoy. He’s the guy that did that Cthulhu needs you poster. Brilliant artist. World War Kaiju is an alternate history graphic novel about a world where instead of nuclear weapons we developed giant monsters. We’re probably going to have a KickStarter for that as well. It’s brilliant. I co-wrote it, but this is something that is going to put us to another level. It’s hysterical, it’s satirical, it’s got giant monsters for god’s sake! It’s a giant monster ripping apart Tokyo at the end of WWII. That’s what ends WWII, codename FATMAN shows up on the shores of Tokyo and rips the place apart. The Japanese surrender two days later if they can find someone alive to do it. It puts the fun house mirror up to the 20th Century and the Cold War and all that, but we’re doing it with giant monsters instead of nuclear weapons. Our research is super deep with all the Kaiju movies. It’s one of those things where you’re going to need a wiki to get all the jokes that are in there. Someone’s going to have to build a wiki to know where all the jokes are in the story. There will be other stories and short stories as well.
I reread Car Commercials after our chat, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a great piece of work with a twist of Douglas Adams for less than a buck! If you’d like to check out Shambling Heat, you can click here. If you’d like to learn more about any of the topics covered, you can check out 01 Publishing’s site here. Shambling Heat looks very promising with its mix of genres and pretty witty humor. While there were a lot of projects mentioned, World War Kaiju has me most intrigued. That’s one we’ll be looking out for and bringing you more about. Our thanks again to Michael Colbert.