Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Interview with Shawn Granger, comic book person

Today's interview is with Shawn Granger, pictured above, a screenwriter/short filmmaker/former CNN employee who has spent the last few years focusing mainly on comic book publishing. He's optioned a few scripts and plans to write more in the future, but today I wanted to talk to him about his experience in the field of comics since he is the proud CEO of King Tractor Press, an indie comic publisher.

What kind of projects have you worked on?

I eventually put out my first book in 2007, Family Bones. A very popular series, Family Bones is a ten issue mini-series based on the true life story of my aunt and uncle. They were Ray & Faye Copeland, the elderly serial killers caught and convicted in Missouri. I've also released Innocent, Mr. Phelps Space Detective, and Gene Gardens. I also published Devil Water, Alecto: Songbook and Devilfish which were created by other indie creators.

What do you love so much about working on comics?

I got into comics because I love telling stories and I saw comics as a way that I could afford to tell the stories I want to tell. Films are limited by budget, to produce a sci-fi epic like Gene Gardens is way beyond my means. After years of writing unpublished novels or screenplays in turnaround, you may find it refreshing to write a comic and see it in print within a year.

The interesting thing is that I rediscovered how much I love art. I had forgotten that many of the best artists in the last 100 years worked in comic books. I have an art degree; I went to an art college, so you'd think that I wouldn't be surprised by the amazing artists in the comic book field. I still am.

What are your goals for your career?

My first goal is to tell the best story that I can. I'm constantly working on my skills. I want to finish a prose novel that I started, I'd like to write another screenplay this year, and I'm already working on new series of comic books. I am constantly writing, it's what I do. But last year I realized that I haven't been using my art skills in a while; basically I do work with the artists in all my books but that's not the same. I've really gotten excited about webcomics, the fresh, immediate response you get from posting a comic on the web (sometimes before the ink dries) is really cool.

Immediate goals focus on finishing series in the works (Family Bones & Gene Gardens) and start doing my own art more. Wearing an editor hat is different than actually throwing down pencils and inks yourself. A big goal this year has been to do a few short stories that I write and pencil myself. I started a few and hope to have them appear on my website later in the summer. I will continue to work with artists on some books but others I want to do all by my lonesome.

How do you think the process of writing animated material differs from writing live action scripts?

There are a lot of similarities between screenplays and comic book scripts. Actually there is no set-in-stone format for comic book scripts so I use a hybrid of prose and screenplay format. The big difference is that you've got to think of each page even more so than with screenplays. I learned from the great screenplay guru William Martell to always end my script pages with a zinger so that the reader must turn the page. This is even more important with comic books, have a boring page and the person might just drop the comic to the floor. Also you've got to consider how pages go together, consider each pair of pages as a two page spread. How do they look together? Does the story flow between the two pages well? There are a lot of visuals that you’ve got to consider.

We as unpaid screenwriters keep hearing that one great way to break into film is to write a comic and adapt it. Good idea?

If you don't love the medium then it's a bad idea. You can spend a lot of time and money creating a comic book. Then you might just waste a year turning a good screenplay into a crappy comic. You could have spent that year writing another great screenplay that might improve your chances even more. A comic that sucks can actually hurt your chances of seeing it adapted to film. Can it work? Yes, good comics are easy to envision on the screen. A comic book has words & pictures, same with movies. But it must be good, who wants to make a film based on a crappy comic?

The problem is that many new to comics (myself included) don't come out with all guns loaded. It's a different medium and many writers, many well known writers who came from film to comics haven't done so well or didn't find a groove for a while. I had written five unpublished comics before I wrote the first script for a comic that did get published. It's not easy, so for those who don't love comic books themselves then it's a lot of time and money spent with little return.

That said, I think many writers may find that comic books are a great medium to work in. You may find yourself loving it without the reward of a film deal. If you go into a project with that in mind then you may allow yourself to love the process itself and not count on Hollywood to fulfill your dreams. Webcomics are also a great way to get your work out there with a fraction of the cost that actual printed comics will run you. Use one of the webcomic sites and the only cost to you is artist fees, printing is expensive so it’s not a bad idea to cut that out. Plus you can email your webcomic link to anyone for free. If you want the lowest entry cost, webcomics is a much better deal.

If you are looking for riches, fame, & a greenlit film then look elsewhere. If you're open to finding a new love, then definitely jump into comics. It's a very rewarding medium for writers and artists. And for anyone considering writing comics, I recommend going to your local library and check out as many graphic novels as you can. Make a trip to the comic shop. Everyone is somewhat familiar with films and the rules of the genres, but comics not so much. Before you attempt to write a comic please read a few.

What are some comic book adaptations that really work?

That is a hard one. The best comic books based on films aren't adaptations really but extensions to the film's story. The Darkhorse Star Wars & Aliens comic book series are great, all the Star Trek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, any of BOOM! Disney & Muppet books, Simpsons, Gargoyles (underrated animated series), Dr. Who books, and many others. It seems to work better when they use the film as a jumping off point rather than trying to adapt it.

Good comic to films have been 300, Sin City, Batman series, Watchmen, Road to Perdition, V for Vendetta, Christopher Reeves's Superman, Ghost World, Spider-Man, X-Men, Men In Black, Blade, American Splendor, Persepolis, A History Of Violence, Iron Man, Akira, The Crow, From Hell, Hellboy, Heavy Metal, The Mask, Rocketeer and Jonah, it's not out but I'm sure it's going to be good. Fingers crossed.

Some of the best adaptations of comic books actually have been in animated series. Cartoons have grown up, Batman: The Animated & X-Men TV cartoon series in 1992 really started a trend towards more adult animation centered around good stories. All of the DC and Marvel Animated series in the last 20 years have been pretty decent, some better than others but anything by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm are amazing. The Tick was short lived, but great. Many people didn't realize it was based on a comic book and went back to find a slew of great material to read. The anime boom started kicking in around that time too and people got a chance to see how far you could push the medium. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 series was pretty entertaining and faithful to the comics. It's been a great twenty years.

Are there any comics you wish would be adapted?

I want to see films based on Family Bones, Gene Gardens, Mr Phelps...ahem, but if it wasn't one of my books then I'd love to see Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, Jeff Smith's BONE would be awesome, Jim Rugg's Street Angel, Union Station (or any others) by Ande Parks, Dave Sim's Cerebus, Concrete by Paul Chadwick, Groo The Wanderer by Sergio Aragonés, or Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke (novel adaptation of the same name by Richard Stark). Omaha the Cat Dancer would be cool...but would have to be tamed down for NC-17. Others include I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, or maybe it's finally time we could get an animated MAUS by Art Spiegelman. If it was a superhero book then I'd love to see Cadre by Mat Nastos, the humorous version of Justice League International or even a film about Marvel's Alpha Flight. Alpha Flight could have Wolverine in it so it should be pretty popular.

I'm also a big fan of comic strips so a Pogo cartoon would be great, I actually loved the claymation Pogo film from the 80's. More Peanuts animations or possibly a Calvin & Hobbes would be nice. There are so many great comic strip collections coming out that really inspire me, a treasure of possibilities.
That went long, but it’s hard to narrow down such a rich mine of possibilities. It’s hard to choose with so many wonderful books.

Are there any adaptations coming out soon that you’re looking forward to?

The Losers looks great, very excited about Jonah Hex (I'm a big fan of the comic book series and was lucky to get co-creator of Hex, Tony DeZuniga to do the cover for my comic Innocent), The Cape TV series looks interesting, & Scott Pilgrim vs. the World looks fun. If the rumors are true then I'm excited about the upcoming Judge Dredd & Conan films. The biggest shock to me has to be Too Cool To Be Forgotten by Alex Robinson just got picked up and that is an amazing book. It will touch your soul and make you cry.

What do you think is important for writers to remember when they adapt comics?

Write a good story, that's it. Writers shouldn't try to please everyone, you can't. Knowing what the fans are expecting helps you elicit some audience cheers, but don't stick to the comic book's rule book. Check out my list of great comics-to-films, they don't trash the original source but they also don't treat it like a bible. Use what you can and toss the rest. The key is to understand what you are adapting and write a good screenplay that we want to see on the screen. Period.

I neglected the medium of comic books for a long time, not sure why. As Will Eisner said many times, comic books are a perfect blend of prose & pictures. It's a shame that the medium has been over-looked for so long by many Americans, but that seems to be changing. If you want to be inspired, go to your local store and check out some recent comics books or Google webcomics. You won’t believe how good the graphic storytelling medium has become.

If you'd like more information, want links to some great comics, or want to check out what I do you can find me at


  1. Emily, thank you for this. And Shawn, this is awesome!

    This definitely speaks to me, since the whole reason I'm getting into screenwriting is to eventually be able to do my own comics. Since everything starts in 'story', I decided the structure of hollywood screenwriting can open a lot of doors, like comics. In another life i would have taken the Art School route.

    Joss Whedon is a definite inspiration for mixing the screenwriting and comics. It's great to hear that you're doing it too Shawn.

    I'm so fascinated by the untapped possibilities with Webcomics, and the control an artist/writer can have over their own work, with reasonably cheap production costs.

    I'll have to check out King Tractor's comics. Thanks again for super pumping me up with this post!!

  2. Peter,

    Thanks for commenting. If you ever want to talk more about getting into comics then drop me an email shawn AT kingtractorpress DOT com. Now is a great time to make the leap.


  3. BTW...I see that you are in Alhambra. This weekend May 28th-30th is the Rock'N Roll Comic Con in Pasadena. Come by and say hello. I'd be happy to talk comics and might just have some other filmmaking friends who also create comics as well at my table.

  4. Excellent interview, I think he is an excellent person and an incredible talent, thanks for this post.

  5. Amazing post ! It is good to see your post. I lot of great thing to learn. It is only because of you..Great

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