By Cameron Hatheway
Writer Jackson Lanzing was on hand at the BOOM! Studios/Archaia booth during Comikaze Expo, and was kind enough to fill me in on all the upcoming projects he and Collin Kelly, Alyssa Milano and Marcus To are working on. If there's one thing to be said about Jackson, it's this: he's 100% passionate about the projects he's attached to.
Cameron Hatheway: Regarding Hacktivist and Alyssa, what's it like to work with an actress who may one day star in a movie or television adaptation of their story? You're a screenplay writer, do you expect to be the first choice to write the theoretical project?
Jackson Lanzing: [Collin Kelly and I] don't expect to be the first choice to write any screen adaptation of this. In fact, in a lot of ways we would rather see someone else's take on this. I really enjoy the idea of someone else coming in and adapting my work in the same we sorta came in and adapted Alyssa's idea. At the same time, I'm not sure if Alyssa would star in an adaptation of Hacktivist, we have a character in Brunori that would fit her if she chose to do something like that, but it wasn't a matter of "Oh well we better have a character for Alyssa." She was actually very specific about this being a labor of love for the comics space, not one towards any eventual feature or TV adaptation of this.
We'll see how it works in that space, we'd certainly love to be in the room if it goes into TV, I'd much rather have a large named features writer if we were going to do this through features, and a large named TV writer if we're going through TV, get a shot at this. We'd have a much better chance at getting out there. Collin and I are still pretty young, it's much harder for us to get a show going as opposed to some of the bigger names out there.
CH: Usually when celebrities create a comic book, it's only as a vessel for them to star in the eventual adaption of it. Alyssa never struck me as that kind of celebrity, for I know how involved she is in social media and using it as a platform to bring light to larger issues such as the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution. What was it like working with someone who actually gave a shit?
JL: Bluntly, that's why we did the book. I initially was very skeptical about all this, part of it because of what you just said about celebrity books because a lot of the time they just become vanity projects, and that doesn't mean that they're all bad, but it just means there's a suspect sort of quality to it and the fans can smell it. So we were like "Alright, if we're going to do this, it'll be our first book at BOOM!. I've done a lot of books at smaller publishers, if I'm going to do a book at a major publisher, I want to make sure it's what we want to do." So we sat down with Alyssa, and she was basically interviewing us, but at the same time at some degree we were also interviewing her, and it was all about, "Do we have the same simpatico feel about what we want to do here?"
So we sat down and said "Okay, you want to do a book about hackers, we want to do a book about the Arab Spring," and she was like "Me too! Have you seen what they've been doing in Tunisia?" And I said "Yes! Have you seen what they've been doing in Egypt?" The first time we met we spent about two hours talking about data security through Facebook and Twitter, talking about the eventuality of government leaks, which then six months later would happen with Edward Snowden, talking about all the things going on with the Green Revolution, I think we started writing this book in the midst of the Green Revolution: my Twitter feed was covered in green avatars because the West was starting to notice something that was a very internal issue in Iran, but we were all noticing it through social media. So I was like "Alright, what if we did more than notice?" and Alyssa's thing was basically, "I wish we did more than notice, so is that okay? Great, we're all on board on that, let's see if we can tell the story."
CH: It was recently announced that your next project is literally out of this world. Joyride reunites you with artist Marcus To. When did the idea of the project come about?
JL: Literally just as we finished Hacktivist. We met Marcus through Hacktivist obviously, and we immediately found that we all had very simpatico feelings. We were seeing pages before we really met him—we had lunch once—and he schooled us on how to write and explosion which I thought was really interesting. He was like "Never give me a page that's just 'an explosion.'" If you're going to do that, make sure you're giving it to me in a way that it's built around character," and we were like "Yeah we agree 100%, that's what we'll do!" And lone behold, there's a page in Hacktivist that's just an explosion and he still killed it.
We met and we thought "This would be a really fun experience to do our own creator-owned book here at BOOM!," obviously I've done some of that with Freakshow, and I wanted to repeat that process, but I wasn't sure what that was going to be. Meanwhile, I'm the biggest Star Trek nerd in the world, Collin is a huge Star Trek fan and Star Wars fan, and Marcus comes to us and says, "Hey guys I don't know if you'd be interested in doing another thing with me, but I've had this idea I've had since high school about these kids who steal a spaceship," and we were like, "100%! Yes, we're in! Sight unseen! Please!" And he'd sent us some art he'd done back in high school…
CH: Great artist back then too?
JL: At 18 the guy was Rob Liefeld, and now he's this! He was already doing such amazing work, and so we look at that and ask "Alright, will you let us dive-in and change everything? Is that cool?" And he was like "Yup, as long as you do it with me," so we thought "Great!" So the three of us went in on it as creators, I really respect the idea of the artist being a creator on a project with the writers, especially when it's somebody who brought it in in the first place.
Everything we've done has been in tande. We've worked this out now to something that probably doesn't resemble what he wrote in high school, but embodies the spirit of it really fundamentally. Joyride, what we pitch as generally punk rock teenage Star Trek, is going to now just—as far as I'm concerned, it's going to show everyone what Marcus is capable of, and hopefully introduce people to what Collin and I really love to do. If you thought Hacktivist was active and anarchist and crazy, Joyride is like the extreme version of that. Hacktivist is classic rock, and Joyride is punk rock. It's going to be really fun.
CH: With Hacktivist based slightly in the real world, surely there was a ton of research with the internet devices used and social media. Will the same kind of research be going into Joyride?
JL: In a lot of ways no, and there's a couple reasons for that. The first is, and this is kind of a badly kept secret, but we're working on Hacktivist 2, which means a lot of our research time is going into making sure that book is as solid as humanly possible. That book is going to start handling a lot of different issues, it's going to expand its focus, and as a result we need to make sure we're as locked tight as we were on as, say, Tunisia, which I still think we could have done better. I'm always looking back on my work and saying "How could we do better?"
With that said, I know how space works: my step father is an astrophysicist, I grew up with space fiction my whole life, space opera is my favorite genre, I love Babylon 5, I love Star Trek, I love Farscape, and I love how those often fudge the rules of space, but keep the beautiful sort of feeling of it. So what we're hoping to do is something that embodies that spirit of it, but isn't this meticulously researched this-is-how-space-works kind of book.
Instead what it's going to be, what I hope, sort of embody the spirit of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, where what we're doing is taking you to a space you've never thought of. We're taking you to space as you've never seen it, and we're doing it with the sort of joy and excitement of people who've never been allowed to leave their planet: who've been sequestered, who've been held in. We want to tell the story of home schooled kids going to punk rock shows. That's sort of the meat-and-potatoes feel to the story of Joyride. So if we're doing our research, it's sort of more these massive boards that we're doing that tell us the next ten years of this story, assuming we get lucky enough to take it that far.
The one thing we are actually focusing a lot of our research on is fashion. It sounds strange for a sci-fi book, but it's something that we're really passionate about and what Marcus is really passionate about, making sure that each culture doesn't just feel like "Well the Klingons always wear armor," or "The Cardassians wear the same outfit," everywhere you go. I want to make sure that doesn't happen in Joyride, that whenever we go to a place it feels like it has its own thriving culture, its own thriving fashion, its own thriving entertainment, it has its own history and own backstory and its own sort of social mores. We're actually working with a really awesome fashion consultant who's been doing a similar thing for Kelly Sue DeConnick's Bitch Planet, and we're so happy to have her. Dani Vulnavia's incredible, and she's going to help us build a fully sort of realized universe as we move from culture to culture.
CH: What's more enjoyable to write: movies, or comics?
JL: When it comes down to it, the thing I enjoy about writing comic books is that they happen. You write them, and then you have a book. I have an artist who will then go and make my stuff look so much better than it ever was in my head, and you'll work with an amazing publisher like Archaia who will print it, and build it, then give it to people. Writing screenplays is fantastic, it's where I come from, I love it, but you have a million and one shot of that thing you wrote getting made. I can't tell you how many times Collin and I have written a draft of something and turned it in to our agency/management/whatever and had that conversation of "Well this is great, but we can't sell it."
So you have to then start moving from this space of what can I sell, versus what do I want to write. And that's not necessarily a bad thing always, sometimes you can come across really great stories that way: we just recently finished a project that we're incredibly excited about that's moving and actually seems to have traction that hasn't been announced yet, but I can put out 3 comics in a year, I can maybe get one screenplay moving in a year right now. So the thing I enjoy about comics is that I can actually work there, as opposed to movies where a lot of the time you're just throwing things across the board.
CH: It sounds like all your drafts and screenplays are being kept in that one warehouse where the Ark is being kept.
JL: It's where all screenplay writers' drafts end up! It's literally just all of us stacking up our screenplays, in some horrible warehouse, and every once in a while one will be pulled out and be put on the blacklist and you may be going. But I think that's the fun of it: it is a game, it is a big crapshoot, it is a giant industry, you have to be very specific about what you're writing, you have to find those fans, it's a long game and we've been in it for 5 years. Most guys who are successful at this, it can take them a decade to make enough fans and know enough producers and have them know that you're worth your salt that eventually one of your scripts gets made. We were lucky enough to find those fans early, and that's what's moved us into comics, but at the end of the day I would rather have 10 comics than one movie. Right now that's what we've been able to do.
CH: Where can fans find your upcoming projects online?
JL: The easiest place to find me is at JacksonLanzing.com. I keep a blog that I'm terrible at updating on there, but I do keep all the work that I've done available up there and whatever new projects I'm working on. I'm also on Twitter @JacksonLanzing which is absolutely the easiest way to follow me. And Joyride has a Facebook group open to fans to get involved and start seeing what we're going to do with that book. There's very little out yet, but we've leaked the cover so far.
CH: Special thanks to Jackson for taking time out of his busy Comikaze schedule to give me all the juicy details for both Hacktivist 2 and Joyride, and all things scriptwriting.