Today marks release day for Exterminite: a five-issue digital comic collaboration from Geek A Week artist and podcaster Len Peralta, Broodhollow and Starslip creator Kris Straub, and Borderlands writer and Gearbox Software Chief Creative Champion Mikey Neumann.
Here’s the premise: What if there was a company that could go into your dreams and kill your nightmares?
GeekDad received an advance copy of the first issue, and its 26 pages drew me quickly in to the story of Kylie — a Cleveland woman with a nightmare problem — and Nat, who says he can pop right into her head and sort things out. Kind of.
Exterminite seems like it’s going for that mix of humor and edge-of-darkness that you’d expect from this team of storytellers, and Len’s always-fun and impressive art is complemented by some really stunning coloring by Neumann and Tim Switalsky.
Peralta, Straub, and Neumann got together for a quick GeekDad email interview:
GeekDad: How did the three of you come together on this project? Have you worked together before?
Len: We all got together rather fortuitously. I interviewed both Mikey and Kris for my Geek A Week project and we hit it off immediately. Plus, I’ve always been a fan of Mike’s writing. I felt that he had a great feel for dialog and telling a story in a very interesting way. And I love Kris’ work on Broodhollow. He’s got this really creepy vibe to his storytelling which I adore. So of course I wanted to collaborate with both of them at some point. Ironically, I’ve never met Mikey or Kris in person. I hope to rectify that in the near future.
Mikey: I remember when Len called me and asked if I wanted to do a web comic with him. At the time — which is still true now — I was far to busy to take on another side project, so I was really expecting to politely decline because there was just too much going on. But then Len said “a company that can kill your nightmares,” and I knew right then that I’d just taken on another project. I think I sent Len half of the first issue that night. It all happened very quickly.
The second time we talked about it, I asked about Kris joining the project. On the Chainsawsuit Podcast, Kris has always shown a magnetic interest in dreams as a creative method of storytelling, so it seemed like a no-brainer. Also, if people aren’t reading Broodhollow, now is a good time to catch up. It’s a masterpiece and I am a huge fan.
Kris: This interview is actually the first time the three of us have ever spoken.
GeekDad: Where were the ideas for Exterminite born? Any particular inspirations or influences?
Len: The original thought for Exterminite came from Fark.com’s Drew Curtis. When I interviewed Drew for Geek A Week, he had introduced to me the concept of lucid dreaming. He talked about doing these crazy things he is able to do in his dreams, which included knowing that he was dreaming by looking at printed patterns or writing in his dreams. He also said that he has the ability to “dispatch” his nightmares by using this pattern trick. I asked him if I could use that as a story starter. Drew said yes and I immediately called Mikey and shared the concept with him.
Mikey: What really grabbed me about the idea what dreams are like to different people. The issue outline was born out of that idea. Each one grapples with a different viewpoint. How would you deal with a child’s nightmare? What do the nightmares of a person that has been blind since birth look like? Each issue pushes ourselves artistically.
Kris: I think that’s the part that’s the most appealing to me about dreams and storytelling. Nightmares have a way of infusing the dreamer with incredibly personal knowledge that they’d have no reason to confront otherwise, and the nightmare turns that against you, whether it’s literal or symbolic, or just abstract. Plus lucid dreaming has always been interesting to me — when I was little, I used to be able to lucid-dream just enough to escape one nightmare, and wind up in a worse one.
GeekDad: Did you know from the start what tone you wanted to strike? There’s definitely a light tone to start the issue, but as the story progresses, it seems like you’ll be exploring some fairly serious themes, too.
Mikey: Comedy is an amazing tool for analyzing the human condition. Sure, the characters are funny, but it’s also to make the audience feel like they’re closer to the action. You should feel like you know these people from your own experience, which in turn, makes us care more about their plight.
The tone is very much in Kris’s and my wheelhouse. I can’t not write silly conversations that might end up in unexpected places. As a writer, there is no greater joy to me than taking the audience from laughter to a cold sweat in a couple of pages.
Kris: I think humor and fear sit on the same axis. They have similar constructions and similar beats if you think about it. Mikey is amazing at taking readers from one pole to the other.
GeekDad: How long has this been in the works, and how did it evolve as it came together? (Or is it pretty much exactly what you had in mind from the start?)
Len: This whole project happened so quickly. It was about a week that we had the whole skeleton of the idea down. It was amazing to me. I knew immediately from the top though that we had something really cool. The collaboration has been really fantastic as well. Mikey was throwing colors down on the first few pages and he also did the colors on the cover. We brought Tim Switalski in as a colorist when our collective schedules got a little too heavy over the summer. I’ve known Tim from Dr. Sketchy and the Rust Belt Monster Collective here in Cleveland and I’ve wanted to work with him for a while too. And I saw this as a perfect opportunity. Tim knocked it out of the park on this first issue. And we’re excited to have him on board as part of the next four issues too. He has a great style and elevated my art to a whole new level.
GeekDad: So, issue 1 of the 5-issue series comes out Oct. 29 — Happy Birthday, Len! Will it be available on any platforms besides Amazon/Kindle?
Len: Thanks for the birthday wishes! Right now, we are going 100% digital on this comic. We have it on Amazon, but it will also release on Comixology as well.
Mikey: It is at its heart, a web comic. I financed this myself because I believed in it. I know a lot of web-based comic artists, and it always seems like such an uphill battle to monetize. There is certainly the possibility that Exterminite will be published traditionally later, but the heart of the experiment is trying to prove a new method for fairly monetizing the hard work that artists and writers put into web comics. If you want to support us in this experiment, then please check out the book and share our work if you enjoy it.
Kris: Ultimately we’re hoping that Exterminite will be distributed via actual nightmare, so readers will find it waiting for them when they close their eyes.
Issue number one of Exterminite is available at Amazon.