Aside from being a sharp dressed man, David Avallone is a man of many talents. His current project Drawing Blood, began as a collaboration with indie comics legend Kevin Eastman. Bleeding Cool took some time to discuss his career, his ongoing work, and what's next for him.
A photo of David Avallone and used with permission.BC: First of all, for those who didn't bother to Google you before reading, please tell the audience who you are any why they should care.
DA: I'm David Avallone. I spent about thirty years making movies you never heard of, in one job or another. My IMDb page might be evidence of restlessness, but really it's a record of a guy trying to make a living by any means necessary. In 2014, I got offered an opportunity to go out for a job writing comics at Dynamite. It worked out, and I've since done a half dozen comics for them, a couple at American Mythology, and co-created this thing with Kevin Eastman. Not bad for six years.
BC: As you say, according to IMDb, you've done a little bit of everything from the standpoint of film and TV. You even described your page there as "a mess." Let's start with your secret origins because most of us will never act, direct, edit, run camera, do sound, do effects, and produce things that end up on IMDb. How did one man gain so many powers?
DA: I like to say that filmmaking is one artform broken down into a lot of different crafts. The more crafts you know, the more you can get hired for. So I learned as much as I could and got hired for it. I felt like anything I did as a crew member could only make me a better director. And I think it turned out that way. And ultimately… it's all storytelling. What serves the story? All that prepared me to write comics, as did a lifetime of reading them.
BC: With such a host of skills and amazing opportunities, you turned to comics. What is it about comics that scratches a creative itch you can't address in any of the other ways you've worked as a creative professional?
DA: I spent the nineties (and much of the aughts) trying to raise money for independent films, working on them, and trying to crack into the studio system as a writer or director. It's back-breaking work, and even if you're careful, you end up spending years trying to get doomed projects off the ground, and working for free, and being lied to. If I write a book about indie filmmaking in the 90s, it would be called The Wire Transfer From Hong Kong Isn't Coming.
In comics, I've been VERY lucky. Dynamite has given me total creative freedom with my comics. Eastman is a dream-collaborator on our work together. So unlike in film, I don't need to spend months convincing anyone to let me tell the story I need to tell. I pitch a paragraph (or five), and they tell me, "get started." That part is absolute heaven. A movie takes a year. Even a small one, and maybe no one ever sees it. When I write a comic, I know it's going to be on a shelf in a comic shop in about four months.
A preview image from Drawing Blood and used with permission.BC: Let's talk about Drawing Blood, which is a whole lot. The experience there seems to "draw" from a lot of your influences and covers the seamy gamut of what happens in filmmaking and comics. What would you like readers to get from the story?
DA:Drawing Blood starts very much as Eastman's story, highly fictionalized. It was something he'd been working on for a long time when we met, but he didn't feel like he had "cracked" it. When I come on as co-creator and scriptwriter, I bring a lot of my autobiography to it as well. But only one of us ever created a billion-dollar worldwide franchise, and that sure wasn't me. What I hope readers get out of it? I think initially, Kevin wanted a vehicle where he could tell all the crazy industry stories he knew. Not just his, and not just comic books. But all the madness of a life in show business… what drives someone into it, what can drive you out of it, what you gain and what you give up. Ultimately, I want people to understand that the comics they love are made by human beings, complicated ones. I wanted to make Fellini 8 1/2 or All That Jazz… but for comics.
BC: You say "fictionalized" — however, a lot of the stuff that happens, guns notwithstanding, seems like it's not so far fetched. What's the truth to fiction ratio here?
A preview image from Drawing Blood and used with permission.DA: Well, I can confirm that neither Kevin nor I have been in gunfights. But we've certainly met shady characters. And speaking of characters, no one in Drawing Blood is a one-to-one analog for a person in the real world. Shane Bookman has a lot of Kevin in him … but he's also me, he's also a half dozen other people we know. We worked pretty hard to make sure it worked that way. Frank Forrest has elements of Wally Wood (note the character name), Jack Kirby, Denis Kitchen, and he looks like Jim Steranko. He is absolutely none of those people, though. So the fiction element is pretty high: our joke is that it's a totally fictional true story.
BC: Kevin Eastman is one of the biggest success stories in independent comics, whose shadow falls across decades of fans. How did you and Kevin meet, and what's your working relationship like?
DA: Kevin and I met at Emerald City in 2015. We sat down next to each other at a bar, were introduced by a mutual friend, and started chatting about comics. It was the farthest thing from "networking" you can imagine. I had no thought in my head that I would someday work with him. I was a brand new comics writer with only one series and some one-shots under my belt. In spite of our wildly different careers, we had a lot in common and a similar worldview. Kevin and I are both cynics who are also incurable optimists. He's a very positive guy, the second-nicest guy in comics (no one is nicer than Stan Sakai) and we became friends almost immediately.
Over the next few months, he would talk about working together. At San Diego that same year, sitting on the balcony at the Odyssea Bar in the Bayfront Hotel, he told me about this dream project he had. It was called On The Shoulders of Giants. He didn't like the title. He told me the premise which I loved. I walked him over to a signing at the IDW booth, and Drawing Blood came to me on the stroll along the harbor.
We have always worked together very easily and without friction. I have (as I should) enormous respect for his work and his perspective. When he pushes back on something, he's right. He treats me, in return, with great respect and has always stood up for me when people are tempted to see this project as just his. We have so much fun plotting the books, and strip-mining our experiences for story ideas. I think, honestly, Drawing Blood is the work I'm proudest of in my career.
BC: There are so many wonderful switches in visual style in this book. The book's backmatter talks a little about how you built such an eclectic visual team, but could you discuss some of the specific homages or stylistic choices, without spoiling anything if you can?
DA: Baked into the concept of the series is that there are three distinct visual styles in the book. Similar to Fellini's 8 1/2, mentioned above … there's day-to-day reality, there's memory, and there's fantasy/dream/hallucination. Kevin knew he wouldn't be able to schedule the time to do the whole book, and I didn't want to make the comic without it having at least SOME pages drawn by him… so very early on we decided he would draw the flashbacks. Usually 1-3 pages per issue. He draws them in the style of 1980s TMNT comics: sepia-tone with duo shade—a completely different look from the rest of the comic.
"Reality" is drawn by Ben Bishop. Ben's incredibly talented and can do a cinematic/photorealistic style. Kevin particularly liked his ability to portray complex emotions: a must on a book like this.
So who to draw the hallucinations? Troy Little had just done an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, in a wonderful distorted cartoony style. We felt he could do great work with Shane's hallucinations, and also draw the simpler cartoon-style of the 90s Ragdolls comics.
Obviously, the Ragdolls origin comic is a specific homage to the first issue of TMNT, but I think it grew beyond that into a comic that stands on its own right. It is a Turtles pastiche, yes, but also influenced in different ways by the same things that influenced the creation of the Turtles.
BC: The protagonist Shane "Books" Bookman describes himself as "a mess, not an inspiration. My life is a car crash plus a train wreck with a side of garbage fire. I create nothing but chaos and pain, Nothing and no one is going to come along and save me." As the main character of the book, without giving any spoilers, what do you think the reader should understand about Books?
DA: Simply … no matter who you are, no matter what you think you've accomplished — no matter what you've ACTUALLY accomplished — we all have these moments of doubt. And unless you really know someone, REALLY know them, you can't look at the outside surface of their life and know what's going on. Books has a lot of reasons to feel good about what he's done, but he only sees the mistakes.
Kevin and I are both at the age where we can see the peaks and the valleys. I think we can make this series because we're not train wrecks anymore… but remember what it was like to be one.
BC: Instead of just referring to a vaguely TMNT-esque comic, you went all out and created the Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls, but tinkered with the formula. There are three instead of four; there are no blunt instruments. What went into the making of these stories?
DA: When we started making Drawing Blood, we knew we had to have a comic that was the source of Books' success. Before I had come along, Kevin had something he was playing with called the Radically Rearanged Ronin Reptiles. They were mentioned in passing in my first drafts, but they didn't have names. I just knew they were, vaguely, "like the Turtles, except female and three of them."
As we got deeper into the project, we realized two things: we couldn't really proceed without actually creating that comic. We had to know what was in it. And it had to seem/sound/feel at least good enough that you could believe it was a giant hit.
We also decided, as a way of staving off some of the questions about truth vs. fiction, that Shane the Ragdolls would exist in OUR world. A world where Kevin and the Turtles live. There's even a cameo by Ben Bishop and me in a couple of panels.
Anyway, one long weekend I went down to hang out with Kevin (we live a couple of hours apart: Hollywood and San Diego).
We thrashed out the whole Ragdolls story in an epic story meeting. A LOT of stuff from that meeting hasn't come to light yet or been used, but it may in time. We decided first and foremost the Reptiles, green Reptiles, were too close to the Turtles. And Kevin and I both love cats … so … first up. Cats.
And yes, we lifted things and parodied things from the Turtles, but — just like with our fiction vs. reality — it's never one-to-one. Their "Splinter" isn't another mutant animal: it's an old Japanese woman. Their antagonist doesn't lead an army of Ninja. They're named for animation directors, not Renaissance painters. They have three very distinctive personalities… but they aren't analogous to the Turtles. Otomo is not Raph with fur. She's her own cat.
BC: Do you think the Ragdolls will be seen outside of Drawing Blood? Are there more sword-swinging stories from these characters yet to be told?
DA: Absolutely. As soon as we got into that first Ragdolls origin issue, I called up Kevin and said, "I think we could do 100 issues of this. 200." And he agreed. Coming this summer is a double-sized Ragdolls adventure that was the "stretch goal" of our second Kickstarter, but we'll get it in comic shops after the supporters get it.
BC: It would be remiss, in this time of quarantines and uncertainty, to not ask how things have changed for you creatively due to COVID-19. We have already seen the fall of the biggest conventions in the land and huge shifts in distribution. How have you been weathering this storm, and what does the future look like for you?
DA: The future is pretty up in the air, but I'm trying to maintain a positive outlook. Luckily, Drawing Blood Volume 2 and the Ragdolls double-size special were all paid for by our last Kickstarter. So I continue to work on that and get paid. I have an issue and a half left to write.
I was in the middle of writing a new series for Dynamite, and they told me to pause my work until I heard back from them… shortly after the Diamond shut-down. I assume that series will pick back up (and finally get solicited) once shops are open again. But obviously… we're still in the "anything can happen" phase. I have been using the time to work on some dream project comic scripts… and to shoot my series of pulp fiction videos.
BC: In the same vein, what changes have you had to make in your day to day working experience? Given the initial crowdfunding success this project had, what will you do differently to present works like Drawing Blood moving forward?
DA: That is a good question and one I can't claim to know the answer for at the moment. Crowdfunding is great, but it is also a lot of work, and you're pretty emotionally beat up by the end. I've done about five successful crowdfunding campaigns for comics and for movies, and it does put you through the ringer. But all that said … it's ultimately satisfying to know there's an audience out there who supports you. It's worth mentioning: Kevin has millions of fans, but they're fans of something VERY specific … and an R-Rated adult comedy/drama about real-life is NOT that thing. So selling it to them is not easy… though the Ragdolls help A LOT with that.
BC: Finally, if fans want to find out more about you and your work, where can you be located online?
DA: The easiest way to find links to everything I do — including all the social medias and so forth — is my website, www.davidavallonefreelance.com. It is not pretty or perfect, but it's mine, and I do update it whenever I've got something new going on.
BC: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
DA: It was my pleasure! Thanks for asking.
Look for Avallone at Alt Free Comic Day, a two-day online convention the first weekend in May.
Hannibal Tabu is a writer, journalist, DJ, poet and designer living in south Los Angeles with his wife and children. He's a winner of the 2012 Top Cow Talent Hunt, winner of the 2018-2019 Cultural Trailblazer award from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, his weekly comic book review column THE BUY PILE can be found on iHeartRadio's Nerd-O-Rama podcast, his reviews can be found on BleedingCool.com, and more information can be found at his website, www.hannibaltabu.com.
Plus, get free weekly web comics on the Operative Network at http://bit.ly/combatshaman.