Fiction shapes the real world, whether we realize it or not. We can see it with science fiction and horror stories from time to time. But for the longest time, westerns ruled the world.
Releasing today from Aftershock Comics, Undone By Blood, Or The Other Side Of Eden is simultaneously a story about how the western shaped the world, and about how sometimes our heroes let us down. But it’s also a dual narrative about two heists gone horribly wrong, especially after one is based on the other.
We sat down (virtually) with co-writer Lonnie Nadler to talk about the collection, the series collaboration, and his upcoming work in the industry,
Tony Thornley: Hey Lonnie, thanks for sitting down to chat! For anyone not familiar with your work, how did you and Zac Thompson begin working together?
Lonnie Nadler: Well, I was out for a hike in the Vancouver wilderness one evening and I saw something in the deep woods. It had glowing eyes and since I wasn’t that far from the city I figured it was just a lost dog or cat or something looking for help. I went over, calling to it, “Hey, buddy. Are you okay?” And then the thing stood up on its hind legs and said with a friendly voice, “Hello, my name is Zac, I think we should write together.” And who was I to deny him?
Tony: I love the concept of Undone By Blood with the twin narratives. How did you come up with the idea of the separate but linked narratives?
Lonnie: Thank you! We’re really fond of twin narrative stories in general. It’s something we bonded over early on in our friendship as fans of filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and writers like Paul Auster. We also both really, and I mean really, love Westerns. When we were toying around with the idea of writing a Western, we knew it wouldn’t cut it just to take a straight approach to the genre. For us, unless we are adding something new on top of the preexisting tropes and themes, it’s not worth it. Why would someone read a “normal” revenge Western from us when they could watch Sergio Leone or Sam Peckinpah, you know? So, once we knew we wanted to play around with elements of the genre and kind of demythologize the whole idea of the American cowboy, the story-with-a-story felt like a good way for us to approach a Western because it didn’t feel entirely derivative.
Tony: Now, I missed the first volume of the series, Shadow of a Wanted Man, but I know that’s a 70’s set revenge thriller. The Other Side of Eden couldn’t be more different from that first volume, with the 30’s set heist. How did you two come up with the new setting and genre for this volume?
Lonnie: It really just came down to us feeling like the story we set out to tell with Shadow of a Wanted Man was done. We had nothing else to say with the characters in that book, aside from Solomon Eaton. However, there was still plenty left to explore in terms of the theme of the lasting implications of the Western genre, both good and bad. We knew right away we wanted to move to a new decade for the second arc, to explore a new character so that we had the fresh lense we needed to expand upon our themes. After we knew that much, picking the right decade was the hard part, but for some reason the 1930s just spoke to us. It was largely a transitional period for North America, it was a desperate time, and the ideals of the West were already a thing of the past, or so we’re made to believe. To have that concoction of historical elements at our disposal was exciting to us as writers.
Tony: Solomon Eaton feels like your classic pulp western hero, but there’s a slight edge to him that you don’t see too often. He’s almost like a fifth Elder boy from The Sons of Katie Elder (one of my favorite westerns) in that way. Where did your inspiration for him come from? And was it ever tempting just to do a full Solomon story?
Lonnie: I’m honestly so glad to hear you say this because that’s exactly the tightrope balance we have been trying to walk with Solomon. We wanted him to both feel pulpy and unreal, but also to not feel so stilted and hackneyed that he became a joke. At first we had him in mind as a kind of Clint Eastwood meets John Wayne figure, but that felt so tired and boring that we tried to add more dimension to his character by layering in a more complex backstory. The reader might not ever see his past, but it’s implied. In The Other Side Of Eden in particular we wanted to make sure Solomon felt simultaneously arrogant and naïve. He’s younger here than he was in volume 1, young enough to think he owns the world, and old enough to know that’s not true. That duality within him presents itself through his actions, and ultimately leads him to make some questionable decisions. The kinds of decisions that John Wayne might have made, but here it lacks glorification as a result of its contrast with the real world. That’s the hope anyway.
Tony: Silvano, the protagonist of the real world side of the story, was kind of a unique “hero.” He’s a mailman, an immigrant, and he seems to be motivated by doing good, even if he’s pretty misguided. What did you draw from in creating him as you built the story?
Lonnie: We tend to like protagonists that are…I don’t know, not standard? We’ve seen so much of the everyman hero, the reluctant hero, the antihero, and frankly Zac and I are just a little exhausted by those. While Silvano may not be as cool or dapper or smart as what we’re used to in Western media, we hope he is more relatable and perhaps more realistic in a sense. It’s not that we’re strict realists or anything like that, but we like to try to populate our stories with people rather than characters, as pretentious as that may sound. Maybe it’s more accurate to say we try to fight against cliches and archetypes in the real world sections of the book as much as possible.
Tony: You have an incredible creative team you’re working with. Sami Kivela just does outstanding work on the art. How did you connect with him for the series?
Lonnie: Sami really is the best collaborator and artist we could have asked for on Undone By Blood. It feels like we’ve really built this world together, and not all collaborations are like that. Once Aftershock had approved the pitch from Zac and I, the search for an artist began. I don’t remember exactly how it went down, but I know we threw a couple of names back and forth, but it became pretty clear pretty quickly that Sami was the ideal artist. We had been fans of his work since Beautiful Canvas, which he did at Black Mask with Ryan Lindsay. We always knew that we wanted to work with him on something, and we were just waiting for the right project. So, he was the very first person we approached and thankfully the scheduling all worked out for us.
Tony: What sort of conversations did you have with him when it came to designing the characters and world?
Lonnie: We gave Sami fairly detailed descriptions of the characters including clothing choices, general demeanor, and plenty of era-specific visual references. From there Sami just kind of runs with it. He sent us all the character designs and I think we maybe had one or two notes across the entire cast. He just nailed it out the gate. As for the world itself, Zac and I put a hell of a lot of reference photos into our scripts and describe things in a fair amount of detail so that Sami knows what we’re going for. The skyscraper, for example, is based on a real building and once Sami knows that, it’s easy for him to dig up whatever other photos he might need. It’s not that Zac and I are like, “This reference photo is the way it must be drawn,” but more so it’s a means to show Sami what we have in mind. It’s a pretty symbiotic process at this point.
Tony: I feel like a lot of comics press ignores the color artists and letterers, but without Jason Wordie and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou this book would not have been nearly as successful. How did they help bring the story to life for each of you?
Lonnie: This is true. Colorists and letterers are the unsung heroes of comic books. Especially at this day and age when there’s so much lovely experimentation and formalism being applied to those roles. Jason and Hass are both the kinds of people who see comics very much the same way as Zac, Sami, and myself. By that I mean we all understand how every element of the book is another opportunity to add to the story we’re telling. And obviously color and letters are a huge part of that in Undone By Blood. From the outset we knew that each of the dual narratives needed to have their own unique aesthetics so the reader could distinguish between them with ease. Jason’s versatility made this a breeze. The sections that take place in the novel are much dustier and almost stained, while the sections that take place in the real world are much cleaner and more vibrant. Hassan delivered a similar distinction through the lettering, and I just love the way he plays with fonts and textures of balloons to communicate things like intonation or emphasis. These are two artists at the height of their game here.
Tony: One of my favorite things in the book is how Hassan uses the typeface of the pulp for captions and dialogue in the Eaton portions of the story. Was that something you suggested, or did he come to the two of you and say “Hey, I’ve got this idea…”?
Lonnie: Well, we started off the very first page of The Shadow Of A Wanted Man with a portion of text from the novel and it transitioned directly into the sequential art. So, if I recall correctly, we asked Hassan to letter that text in an old pulp paperback style, and then match it to the captions. He then went a step further and matched it to the dialogue, and also added the paper texture to the balloons as well, which was truly an inspired decision.
Tony: Are there more Solomon Eaton stories coming in the near future?
Lonnie: Zac and I actually have a, like, three decade timeline planned out for all the fake books that feature Solomon Eaton as written by Elmer Lockwood, the fake author we invented. Whether or not any of those will be told is another matter. In short, we have plenty of ideas, but there are no immediate plans for another volume. So much of this comes down to sales, and the book has to sell exceedingly well in order for the publisher to justify more issues. So, if you read the book and like it, please tell your friends, your aunties and uncles, and your enemies.
Tony: Now, you’re very busy elsewhere in the writing world. What else are you working on, both with Zac and on your own?
Lonnie: I’m working on a number of projects right now, none of which I can really say too much about because they haven’t been announced. One thing I’m excited about is the next book Zac and I are working on together with Piotr Kowalski and Brad Simpson. It’s a very off-kilter Weird fiction story that will also be published by Aftershock. Otherwise, you can check out a couple of horror short stories I did in the upcoming Razorblades anthology from Image Comics. I promise I’ll be able to say more about the other books soon!
Tony: Oh, I’ve been meaning to catch up on Razorblades, and that gives me a good reason! Between this, and your fantastic work for hire projects you always seem to try to give your projects a unique spin, whether in genre or structure or something like that. What’s something you’ve wanted to do but haven’t quite been able to yet?
Lonnie: We’re open to anything, really. Together and individually I think we’re scratching a lot of our itches at the moment. One thing we’ve been toying with is some sort of transgressive thriller, something that really gets under people’s skin and pushes boundaries of the medium. So, maybe we’ll tackle that sometime soon.
Tony: That sounds like fun. I’ll be really excited to read whatever form that takes. Well, Lonnie, thank you for taking the time to chat. Undone By Blood or The Other Side of Eden is out now from Aftershock, in digital formats on all major booksellers and in print from your local comic shop and book store!
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