When I reviewed Wynnona Earp: The Yeti Wars last months, writer Beau Smith sent me an nice email thanking me for the review. I seized on the chance to ask him for an interview him, as he’s one of the most engaging and quotable writers in comics.
He talked about creating Wynonna Earp’s world, his favorite comics work, why he likes monsters, and the characters he’d most like to write at DC and Marvel. After reading the interview, I have to say I’d love to see his take on Wonder Woman. If only to get that iPod list.
GeekDad: How did you come to create Wynonna Earp?
Beau: I’ve always been a low-rate historian on the old west, especially post Civil War through 1930, and my interest in the slow fading of the west has always been a prime source of interest to me. Needless to say, as a kid growing up, I enjoyed monsters as well — Universal Monsters were always a part of my movie viewing — model making and daydreams. I used to make up stories in school where cowboys fought monsters, my teachers weren’t as enthused as I was, but like I said, I was a kid, it was what we did.
As a writer, I was always looking for a way to combine the west with monsters and still add a different slant to it. That slant came to me in the 1990s the form of a strong, female, that worked for a long time, covert branch of the U.S. Marshal services created by President Theodore Roosevelt that hunted paranormal fugitives, oh, yeah, and she would also be a descendant of famous lawman, Wyatt Earp.
The first series was published by Image Comics in 1996-97, the second series by IDW Publishing, as well as the current graphic novel and series, Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars.
GeekDad: How did you create the unusual supporting cast around her?
Beau: Unusual is the key word, I’m a strong believer that any supporting cast should be strong because they really help define the main character, when dealing in Sci-Fi, superheroes and other genre books, it’s even better if they are a little unusual.
In keeping with Wynonna Earp’s back story rooted in both normal and paranormal, I wanted the supporting cast to be the same. I wanted to take things and beings from the paranormal world and make them, seem… well, normal, if that makes sense. In the first series, Wynonna is aided by her buddies that happen to be werewolf biker/Bounty hunters. Her mentor, “Smitty” is a brawling, boozing, good ol’ boy weapons master that happens to have been top of his class at M.I.T., (Yeah, he kinda looks like me, but the way I figure it, if you can’t own your own likeness, then you might as well look like somebody else.)
Wynonna’s best friend and fellow U.S. Marshal is Holly Day. The mysterious Holly just happens to be immortal and possibly a former princess of the Lost City Of Atlantis. In the current series, Wynonna calls up her former lover and Special Field Agent for the covert U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife, Donovan Jones, Donovan also happens to be the Handler for a clan of Bigfoot trained and on the U.S. government’s payroll. Wynonna Earp as a character is interesting and I wanted her cast to be just as interesting.
GeekDad: Why Yetis as the monsters in the new story?
Beau: Well, as monsters go, Yeti have always had to take the back seat of the bus to vampires, werewolves and the other headliners, I thought it was time to give these big hairy guys a little time in the spotlight.
I also wanted to do something that to my memory, hadn’t been done yet, and that’s have Yeti and Bigfoot go toe to toe in a real hairy knuckle Fistestival. I’ve always wondered why we’ve never seen these two monsters fight it out in a movie, novel or comic book, I figured it was time I did something about it.
The Yeti in Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars are Communist controlled enforcers used by a consortium of Russian Immortals. To help even the odds, Wyonna brings in a clan of U.S. Government enlisted Bigfoot that know sign language, kung fu and favor beer when they play poker. The Bigfoot clan are run out of the covert U.S. Fish And Wildlife Department.
GeekDad: I’m curious about the editorial directive concerning the various stages of undress for Wynonna in her earlier adventure that you mentioned in our email exchange. Could you elaborate on that a bit more? Sometimes as a woman reading comics, I think I’m over-reacting to some of this stuff and then I read a comment or two like yours and figure it’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you.
Beau: When I first created Wynonna Earp in the mid 1990’s, it was right in the middle of the “Good Girl/Bad Girl” trend in comics. At Image Comics, where Wynonna Earp was being published, this trend was running rampant. I created Wynonna Earp to be much like her ancestor, Wyatt Earp, who was known for his cool composure, suffer no fools attitude. She was to have a sense of humor, but when it comes to doing her job, she was dead serious. (When you hunt down redneck vampires and zombie postal workers you have to be, mostly because they’re dead to start with.)
The editorial powers that be along with those bankrolling my paycheck wanted me to “get on board” with the heroine that could fight like Stallone and look like Pamela Anderson craze that was going on at the time. Needless to say, we argued a lot on that. In the first four issue mini-series, the editorial and payroll office got their way with Wynonna’s outfits. Don’t get me wrong, I like sexy as much or more than the next guy with a heartbeat, but there’s all kinds of sexy without looking like a stripper in need of more hairspray.
I wanted to exhibit a more real and strong sexiness through personality, actions and deeds. Hooker with a badge was not the path I wanted to take. Anybody can write overt sexy, I wanted to write covert sexy. I got to do that in the second Wynonna Earp series at IDW Publishing and even more so with The Yeti Wars, by working with artist and long time friend, Enrique Villagran.
GeekDad: What do you hope people take away from a Wynonna Earp story?
Beau: Together, I think we were able to produce an example of a truly strong, smart and sexy heroine that that will defend and not offend.
GeekDad: What’s next for the character?
Beau: I’ve got two other story arcs for Wynonna Earp that will take the readers even deeper into the hierarchy of organized paranormal crime. The covert Black Badge Division of the U.S. Marshals that Wynonna belongs to has been around since Theodore Roosevelt with paranormal crime going back even further.
I want to investigate more of that history as well as involve the readers in the centuries old rivalry between The Consortium of Immortals and The Vampire Nation. There’s a lot of story to be told and I hope to get the chance to tell these stories to more readers. As with any comic book, there’s been Hollywood interest as well as video games and novels with Wynonna Earp. We’ll see how all that goes as time passes, until then, I’m gonna keep writing comic books and graphic novels about Wynonna’s adventures. I like the creative control.
GeekDad: Where can people read her earlier adventures?
Beau: Readers can find current and back issues of Wynonna Earp in most any direct market comic book store or from IDW Publishing directly. Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars Original Graphic Novel came out in January of 2011 from IDW Publishing where the entire Yeti Wars story, a special “Lost Case File” story and background and resource are included.
Currently on sale IDW is also publishing The Yeti Wars in comic book mini-series form (#1 through #4) each month with issue #2 just shipping last week. This is being done to give new readers a chance to jump on board in a more serialized format.
Previously, IDW Publishing collected the original Image Comics four issues series in a very rare and hard to find trade paperback (2002) This was reprinted in black and white for the first time. In 2005, IDW Publishing also published The Complete Wynonna Earp trade paperback. It was a massive, elegant trade paperback that collected everything to date (2005, Over 200 pages) of Wynonna Earp including her never seen before “origin” story.
This book is currently out of print and hard to find as well. My hope is that it will be reprinted soon and with The Yeti Wars included. I like things BIG.
GeekDad: Moving onto comics in general, what is your favorite comic project (excluding Wynonna?)
Beau: That would probably be the two-year run I did on Guy Gardner at DC Comics. I was hired as the writer on that book when they were pondering on canceling it due to low sales and they were also in the process of deconstructing the entire Green Lantern Corps with their current story line and event.
DC Comics had Guy Gardner on their back burner at that point, so I was told to “Have at it” as long as it had nothing to do with The Green Lantern Corp. It was like I was a teenager put in the Playboy mansion with cheeseburgers, loaded guns and Jolt Cola and my parents were out of town.
I believe it was truly one of the last few times a comic book writer was given so much creative freedom with an established, although somewhat second string superhero, and left alone.
Within five issues of taking over the book sales went from around 18,000 to 60, 000. By issue #29 I had brought in or created a new supporting cast for Guy and had given him his own bar where all the DC superheroes could hang out. It really was a fun party, but like all great parties there has to be a “last call.” After regular artist and close friend, Mitch Byrd, left the book, we had a series of artists and fill-in artists, that caused sales to once again sail downward.
Around issue #35 DC decided to close the curtain on Guy Gardner. Knowing the end was soon, I stuck the issue into full throttle and decided that we’d all go out in a hail of bullets, barroom brawls and have Guy Gardner define what a tough guy superhero is all about. I got Mitch Byrd to come back for the final issue (#44) and we did just that. It felt like The Alamo and San Juan Hill all rolled into one.
GeekDad: Are there any characters that you’d like to write that you haven’t written yet? Any that you’ve written before but would love to write again?
Beau: I would stab a perfect stranger in the eye with a #2 pencils to get the chance to write The Sub-Mariner at Marvel Comics.
There’s a character that I have related to since childhood and I feel needs the life preserver tossed to him that only I possess. (Not being a big head, I just really wanna write the character!) I would love to write Wonder Woman. She is another character that I feel needs a personal touch that has kept her from having the sales and readers that her iconic stature deserve.
I could give the answer to the question, “What songs are on Wonder Woman’s iPod?”As far as revisiting characters I’ve done before, I would love to hang out with Guy Gardner again as well as DC’s Wildcat. I miss them and I think they miss me.
GeekDad: What do you see in the future with the seemingly inevitable changeover to digital comics?
Beau: Usually when there’s a technological change in the way we consume entertainment, it’s gradual, when it’s gradual it seems to make more sense when the final change comes about, well, in the last few years the change has been anything but gradual, it’s a forward gear we’ve never felt before.
At times I think most print publishers have been like people trying to put a puzzle together in a dark closet, they can feel the pieces of the puzzle, they just can’t see where to put them. I also feel that many in the comic book world have seen or felt this change coming since the internet really became a major part of their lives in the last fifteen years, only in the last five years has it moved into a pace that most no longer feel they can keep up with as publishers and retailers.
The consumer they have catered to for the last 25 years is moving from being the dominate buyer and being quickly replaced by a consumer that wasn’t raised on the traditional form of how to buy and receive entertainment. The music/CD market should be a glaring example of that change. I talk to so many in the comic book business that to this day, deny that a change is happening.
Many hope that this situation will just go away in time just like they want to believe that the Batman or Captain America that they grew up with will come back to the printed pages. I don’t believe printed comics books will vanish completely, but the niche that are will becomes smaller in their current form. The shrinking sales of comic books have shown that for years because of the narrow marketing path that a lot publishers, distributors and retailers have chosen.
They grew up taking the same, comfortable road to travel on, but in time, that road has become broken and uncomfortable to ride, a crossroad has come up and the folks are going to have to decide if they want to stay on the path that keeps getting smaller or take the faster, smoother road.
GeekDad: How did you start writing comics?
Beau: My third grade teacher asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said, “I wanna write comic books.”
She kinda twisted up her face and told me that was silly and that I should find something I wanted to do. The thought of being a milk man, getting up before everyone else, driving a cool truck and drinking chocolate milk all day did enter my mind, but I knew then I wanted to write comics.
For the last 25 years that’s what I’ve been doing, well, that and marketing them. I started out writing comics for Eclipse Comics in 1987 with the help of writer and artist, Tim Truman, who was the creator of Scout at Eclipse. He gave me my first comic book writing job doing Beau LaDuke’s Tips For Real Men in the back of Scout.
He also introduced me to Eclipse publisher, Dean Mullaney, who was looking for a marketing guy. y day job background was in marketing and sales and he hired me. Since then I’ve worked marketing for Image Comics, Todd McFarlane Productions, McFarlane Toys, IDW Publishing, Jun Planning and currently back with Dean Mullaney at The Library of American Comics.
As far as writing, I’ve written for every most every major and minor publisher in comics, DC Comics, Moonstone, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Eclipse Comics, and have been blessed to put words into the four color mouths of Batman, Superman, Wolverine, Boba Fett, Guy Gardner, Catwoman and many more. Being on the marketing and creative end of comics has given me the best of having my cake and promoting it too.
GeekDad: What were your favorite comics as a kid?
Beau: Easy question, Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos, The Sub-Mariner, B’Wana Beast, M.A.R.S. Patrol: Total War, The Avengers, Daredevil, Archie, The Atlas/Seaboard line of comics and Peter Cannon-Thunderbolt.
GeekDad: What comics/ graphic novels would you recommend to people now? How about to those who’ve never read a comic at all?
Beau: Personal favorites are: Winterworld by Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino (IDW Publishing) Point Blank by Ed Brubaker and Colin Wilson (Wildstorm/DC Comics) Rat Catcher by Andy Diggle & Victor Ibanez, The Medusa Chain By Ernie Colon.
GeekDad: Where can people find you on the ‘net?
Beau: The Flying Fist Ranch
Twitter @BeauSmithRanch and on Facebook as Beau Smith.