David Pepose's Writers Commentary for Going To The Chapel #1 – #FreeGrandmaChallenge

David Pepose writes,

The Bad Elvis Gang thought they were being smart — that it'd be easier to rob rich people's weddings than it would be to rob banks.

They're about to discover just how wrong they are.

Meet GOING TO THE CHAPEL. Think if Die Hard got hitched to Wedding Crashers, or if Reservoir Dogs had a baby with Arrested Development — and then chose to bring that baby to a wedding.

Forget what you think you know about romcoms, because you've just been invited to the heist of the century. If you like The Fix, Assassin Nation, Crowded, or Sex Criminals, you're gonna fall in love with GOING TO THE CHAPEL.

Still not ready to take the plunge? Let's go behind the scenes at St. Jude's Chapel, where we're about to watch a high-stakes robbery go completely sideways…

COVERS

I remember telling a female friend of mine from college about GOING TO THE CHAPEL, and showed her some of the preliminary artwork, and I distinctly remember her response: "Where's the bride on the cover?" It was one of those blindingly obvious thoughts, which is why I was so glad we were able to get Lisa Sterle to provide our A cover for our first issue.

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Lisa really nails the tone of our series perfectly — there's something so irreverent about our bride-to-be Emily sporting a shotgun, while she's flanked by her suspicious fiance Jesse and our Elvis mask-wearing bank robber Tom. In particular, I also love the stained glass window behind Emily — it's a great way to remind us about the setting without overpowering the page.

Meanwhile, to lean into the crime angle of our series, I wanted to work with an old friend for our B cover — namely, my pal Maan House, who's provided variant covers for my breakout books SPENCER & LOCKE and SPENCER & LOCKE 2. (FYI, you should probably buy those, too — every trade you buy keeps my dog stocked in the finest kibble!)

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Maan leaned in heavy with the Bad Elvis Gang with his cover — he and I had talked about doing a riff on the "Just Married" car imagery, but he really knocked it out of the park. (He and I both really dug Romero, our zombie Elvis, in particular.) I think the Dutch angle that Maan used really helped play up how dangerous our bank robbers could be — and he and I actually went through a number of variations to get just the right color scheme.

Last and certainly not least, we've got our series artist Gavin Guidry providing the C cover for our first issue. Gavin and I talked a lot about The Dark Knight for this cover — particularly the Joker standing on the street before his bloody bank robbery begins.

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This cover almost feels like a prequel moment to me — getting to watch Tom just before he and the Bad Elvis Gang storm the chapel. I think this cover best represents our tagline: Love is the ultimate hostage situation.

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For those who might remember my work in SPENCER & LOCKE, you might know I wrote a ton of dialogue in that series — particularly, with a ton of narrative captions to get inside our characters' heads.

So I wanted to change things up for GOING TO THE CHAPEL, and do away with internal narration completely — I asked myself, what would be the most streamlined way to introduce Emily and the Bad Elvis Gang?

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Song lyrics. It's a fun way to introduce the idea of sound in a medium like comics, which are by their very nature silent — everybody knows "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups, and we were very grateful to get permission from Hal Leonard LLC to use the song lyrics for this series.

Surprising fact — I actually had to send the script for the entire first issue to get permission!

Something else interesting about this series — namely, that Gavin and I actually broke down the entire series, plot point by plot point, almost like a football play, so we could establish every single room we needed in the series. Gavin wound up creating a fully rendered, three-dimensional chapel on Sketchup, so everything you see in this series is based on one model. Comics — where even the easy stuff is hard!

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Meanwhile, for Page 3, Gavin and I talked a lot about Reservoir Dogs for this big splash image, as well as Breaking Bad, Hell or High Water, and Baby Driver. I remember Gavin emailing me excitedly about this particular sequence, saying he was really digging the script. Joke's on him, I made him draw 15 people locked in a chapel for four issues.

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Is it bold to kick off our opening scene with an all-black double-page splash? Yes. But it felt like the best way to really hammer the message home, while readers are humming away with the song lyrics.

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This ain't exactly gonna be one of your civilized weddings, you know what I mean?

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"Oh God. I'm about to ruin my life." Isn't this the way all great love stories start?

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When Gavin and I first started talking about Emily, we discussed Kristen Bell, Reese Witherspoon, and Meg Ryan — she's a character who wants to be put together, but has just enough neuroses to keep things interesting.

Emily's reluctance to get married was actually the initial kernel of our high concept — the inspiration behind this series was my disastrous turn as best man at my oldest friend's wedding. The bachelor party I threw him was a complete disaster, from the Airbnb being trashed all the way down to me winding up in the hospital with a kidney stone and missing the whole thing. So I thought to myself, if the bachelor party was this cursed, what would be the worst thing that could happen to the wedding itself? The answer — his bride having cold feet.

We also see our first time jump here, which I thought was a fun way to keep readers on their toes. I got my start as a crime reporter, so I tend to write modularly, shifting paragraphs around a piece until the flow reads the way I want. So having time jumps keeps me from burying the lede, so to speak — I can start in medias res, and then double back to fill you all in. Lets me have my wedding cake and eat it, too!

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Meanwhile, Emily's dysfunctional family had plenty of inspirations, including the Bluth family from Arrested Development and — my personal favorite — the film Death at a Funeral, which is the story of the world's worst funeral. (Rent it, watch it, love it. After you buy GOING TO THE CHAPEL, of course.)

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I looked up an incredibly number of horrible wedding hashtags for this joke. I wound up settling on #MooreEmilyMooreProblems in part because I am a Notorious B.I.G. fan, but also because I liked the idea of Emily's husband-to-be having the last name of "Moore" — considering Emily wants "moore" out of her life. I won a pun competition once, and yes, I am proud of it.

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Here's Grandma Harriet, serving up my favorite joke in the first issue. I've had a lot of people tell me she's their favorite supporting character, so I'll up the ante — anyone who cosplays at Grandma Harriet and finds me at a show gets free stuff. Let's get that #FreeGrandmaChallenge hashtag trending while we do it.

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So confession time: Grandma Harriet is in fact based on a real grandma — namely my Grandma Helen, RIP. Grandma Helen did not serve in Vietnam, but probably would act similarly to Grandma Harriet if she ever attended a wedding held up by bank robbers. I tell you all this because if I get struck by lightning between now and when the trade drops in February, I want you all know what happened. (Sorry, Grandma.)

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Emily's sister Lucy was such a fun supporting character to write — I think out of everyone in this book, Lucy is the one most likely to call out Emily when she's being a pill.

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I went through a number of potential names for Jesse before we settled on his name — we wound up doing a riff on Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl," since this is a romantic comedy where a bride decides what her future is going to look like. So it was more of an ironic choice, like big guys being named Tiny, only taking a more feminist angle.

With this last panel, I remember telling letterer Ariana Maher (and SPENCER & LOCKE letterer Colin Bell, who graciously provided initial lettering for our pitch to Action Lab) that I wanted to channel Brian Michael Bendis a bit with the back-and-forth banter. They of course nailed it.

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While this is the first page we meet Jesse, I'll confess that B.J., the best man, was my personal act of penance, given my terrible real-life showing as best man in my friend's aforementioned wedding. B.J. is kind of a d-bag, and is absolutely self-parody on my part.

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I also included Father Patrick being a drunk. Why? Because it made me laugh, that's why.

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I thought we did a solid job introducing a ton of exposition in a fairly organic way in this scene — but more importantly, we get to bring Jesse face-to-face with his future nemesis, Tom.

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Naming our multimillion dollar necklace "The Heart of Dresden" was sort of my bleak joke, since I was thinking of the Dresden bombings when I named it that. It kind of sums up our series, in a way — that amidst this symbol of love, we are about to go through some apocalyptic stuff.

Finally, this dates back to my newspaper days, but I always try to end a scene with a kicker. "Never take your eyes off the score" felt like a hell of a kicker.

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Am I the only one who sees the rich dramatic irony in weddings being this celebration of lifelong commitment, but you not only drag it out a ridiculous amount of time with the vows, but you literally invite people to speak out if they have any objections to the union?

(As a member of the Jewish people, I feel like if I ever asked my family if they had any grievances, they would literally never stop giving them. This is why I will have a silent wedding.)

But being able to drag this sequence out, and break it down panel by panel, is a trick I picked up from classic Frank Miller — think of the pearls breaking off Martha Wayne's necklace in Dark Knight Returns, how Miller stretched that over several panels. Like Scott McCloud says, in comics, space is time, so the more real estate you can give a wedding ceremony like this, the more agonizing Emily's plight looks.

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That said, Emily's response to the Bad Elvis Gang crashing her wedding is my second-favorite joke in this script, behind Grandma Harriet by a nose.

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So why four Elvises, you might ask? I had toyed with the idea of only having three Elvises, but felt that with a wedding party, we needed these four sets of hands on deck at minimum. Plus, the Bad Elvis Gang has so much personality to them that I didn't want to leave anyone out.

In case you're wondering, I'm a huge fan of Dog Day Afternoon and Point Break, which were both huge influences on the Bad Elvis Gang. I love the irreverence of the Dead Presidents in the latter movie, but Dog Day Afternoon was special because its comedy came from the blurring of the lines between the hostages and the hostage takers.

As you'll see if you're keeping score, we've got four Elvises — Tom (aka King, aka Young Elvis), Vegas (aka Fat Elvis), Motown (African American Elvis) and Romero (aka Zombie Elvis, named after the king of zombies George Romero). And before you ask, yes, I included a zombie Elvis to get after some of that Walking Dead money. I figured, hey, if it can work for Kirkman…

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This page is actually really important to the story — in part, because I didn't want Emily's romantic journey to be predictable or easy.

So often in romcoms, we see that there's one very obvious candidate for our hero's affections — but in this case, Jesse is a decent dude who is willing to jump in to protect his bride-to-be, and Emily clearly has feelings for him in that she'll step in to save his life.

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Also, I appreciate that Jesse has no idea who Bob the Builder is. You gotta watch some TV, my guy!

Meanwhile, we've got some complications going on with the Heart of Dresden, which I felt needed to happen in order to keep the story moving — you don't get much of a plot for GOING TO THE CHAPEL if the bank robbers hit and run immediately!

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Two important character beats in here — namely, Jesse referring to Emily as "my wife" seems premature, doesn't it? It goes to show that balance I was trying to strike for the character — he's super well-meaning, but he's so enthusiastic about this wedding that he's unwittingly getting a little possessive, and not really picking up on Emily's neon-flashing signs of anxiety.

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The other is, don't underestimate Grandma Harriet.

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Sheriff Walt was one of my favorite characters to dialogue — and it's not just because Gavin gave him a luxurious 'stache. He's just got a certain flair to his lingo when he talks.

Also, he's a smart guy, as evidenced by him figuring out exactly what happened thanks to a phone call and a newspaper.

Also, why Rockford County? We had originally called the town Rockland County — "rock"-land, given the music-loving Bad Elvis Gang — but when the art came in with the name Rockford on it, it felt like such a fun nod to the Rockland Files I decided to keep it.

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What, you thought I'd spill the big twist in this series? Get outta here, you jackals — I gotta get you to buy the book somehow!

I'll leave you with this panel, as Walt and the Rockford County PD remind the Bad Elvis Gang they're not the only wedding crashers in town…

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You like what you see? I knew you would — which is why you can preorder Issues #2 and #3 of GOING TO THE CHAPEL now!

Tell your comics shop you'd like to order Issue #2 with the code AUG191482 for Marvel Action: Captain Marvel artist Sweeney Boo's sensational A cover, AUG191483 for Maan House's Andy Warhol-style B cover, and AUG191484 for Gavin Guidry's tango-tastic C cover. Meanwhile, you can give them the code SEP191367 for The Wilds artist Emily Pearson's Issue #3 A cover, SEP191368 for Maan's wedding cake B cover, and SEP191369 for Gavin's in-law swarm C cover.

Want to know more about all things GOING TO THE CHAPEL before Issue #2 comes out next month on October 23? You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @peposed, you can follow Gavin on Twitter and Instagram at @gavinguidry, and you can follow GOING TO THE CHAPEL on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @GoToTheChapel. You can also sign up for my new newsletter PEP TALKS at bit.ly/pepnews for all the latest happenings.

Still reading? What, are you expecting Nick Fury to show up? Fine — for all you dedicated readers out there, here's an exclusive first look at the Rose City Comic Con variant for GOING TO THE CHAPEL #1, with inks and colors by series colorist Elizabeth Kramer!

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We printed less than 100 copies of this wraparound cover, so it will be a super-rare variant! You can find me and Liz at the show — I'll be there all weekend at Table T-04, while Liz will only be available the first day of the show to do signings. Hope to see you there!

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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