The first time I met Thomas Jane, he was swaggering barefoot through a hall at Comic-Con, answering questions for an hour after the midnight screening of his film, Give ‘Em Hell, Malone. During our first interview, last year at the Saturn Awards, he told Joel Silver and Sylvester Stallone to go shoot themselves before lamenting some of the lesser films he has been a part of and promising to only make projects he wanted to make from now on. “If someone’s gonna screw it up, it should be me,” said Jane.
But it doesn’t look like he’s screwing anything up just yet. Yesterday afternoon, I got on the phone with Jane (The Punisher, Hung) and his Raw Studio’s compatriot, Tim Bradstreet (Eisner Award-winning cover artist for, Hellblazer) to discuss their company’s new digital distribution deal with Comixology and their premiere release, a graphic novel adaptation of Jane’s directorial debut, Dark Country. During our exclusive interview, the pair discussed the future of digital comic books and how it relates to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Jane’s next directorial effort, The Magnificent Death, why boutique companies have an edge on the majors, a proposed Alien Pig Farm movie that has David Gordon Green attached, Vampire: The Masquerade, a whole slew of upcoming comic books, the importance of patience, and much, much more. Hit the jump for our exclusive interview and some art from the duo’s upcoming projects.
Collider: Your press release says that you’re about to direct The Magnificent Death, a Western starring Nick Nolte. Is that the 3D Western you told me about at the Saturn awards?
THOMAS JANE: I’d love to make a 3D Western…John Wayne, John Wayne! I don’t think they’ve made a 3D western since John Wayne’s Hondo. I would be trying to do that if it weren’t for the fact that trying to make a Western is hard enough on its’ own. And doing it in 3D, I think would be damn near impossible right now. So, I’m gonna stick with the traditional Cinemascope Western and we’re gonna shoot in widescreen, anamorphic lenses, as close to Cinemascope as we can get. The beautiful, what I like so much about Terry Malick films. We’re gonna shoot in Monument Valley where John Ford made most of his great Westerns with John Wayne. So, I’m excited about The Magnificent Death. Nick Nolte is starring in the film, I’ll be directing and acting in it too. That’s something I’ve been actively working on. I helped write the script and feel very passionately about The Magnificent Death.
Are you going to be doing a standalone comic for Magnificent Death like you did for Dark Country?
TIM BRADSTREET: I think if we do – lemme answer this one Tom, if I can – it’ll be after we do the movie. It’s not something we could get into while, what do you think Tom? It’s not really something we could get into while we’re trying to lift [the feature version] off, is it?
JANE: Well, that’s what we did with Dark Country. We did the graphic novel after. If we did do it, it would be the same thing.
BRADSTREET: That’s actually something that we hadn’t previously discussed. And I think it would be interesting to see how we could make that different too. So that it’s not just a straight movie adaptation.
JANE: Yeah, the one thing about Dark Country, or anything that we do is that we’re gonna try and bring a unique experience to the graphic novel so that it’s a unique experience and not just a straight adaptation. There’s something original about the graphic novel too. You’re getting a distinctive story that is all its’ own. That’s what we did with Dark Country.
So, how is the film Dark Country, different from the comic Dark Country, different from the short story Dark Country and is there any interaction between the three?
JANE: Yeah! They’re all in the same world; just different takes on the same story. There’s stuff that’s in the short story that we left out of the film and then there’s stuff that Thomas Ott [the comic’s author] added in his interpretation of the short story. So there’s three distinct stories that have different authors.
BRADSTREET: Kinda through three different lenses. And the cool thing about the short story, which comes with the graphic novel, is that it’s told from the first person perspective, which brings a real creepy and lurid vibe to that thing. Like, almost like you’re being controlled by, like you’re being narrated by yourself in a kind of way. It’s almost like the control voice in The Outer Limits. It’s just creepy.
You guys are releasing your comics digitally now and I have a friend who recently picked up a digital version of Infinite Jest, which is a book that has hundreds of pages of endnotes. And he was saying how it’s actually easier to read the iPad version than the physical version because you can use hyperlinks to the endnotes in the book. When you guys are releasing comics, is there anything you can do to play with form or do things that you couldn’t do on the page?
BRADSTREET: Oh man. Infinite Jest is…
JANE: Yeah, man. That’s cool! I mean, I think we’re in the progressive stages of figuring out what you can do in the digital format. There’s a lot more possibilities. I know that Madefire is an example. They’re creating digital comic books that are exactly like what you’re describing. They’ve got hyperlinks that they’re mobile in ways that they break the page in a way that conventional comic books don’t. And they employ a bit of motion comics and they have a way of manipulating the page where your iPad becomes a window and that window you can use that in endless variety of ways to tell your story which is way more flexible than a hardcopy piece of paper. So the comic book world is just beginning to catch on to the possibilities of digital landscaping. And we’re somewhere in the middle of that transformation right now, which is exciting. We just can’t see the endgame yet.
BRADSTREET: It’s a brave new world; digital comics and where it can take digital storytelling experiences. It’s something that’s very much evolving every day in everything that comes out. It shows something else you can do. And who knows where it will take everyone. But Tom and I are big fans of the printed page, so we’ll always embrace that. But I think you have to involve the digital technology too, because there’s just so much you can do with it and if you turn your back on it and you’re just going to be a purist, I think you’re just going to end up a dinosaur, you know?
JANE: The cool thing about what we’re trying to do is to make sure that we stay innovative. You know, Dark Country was the first digital 3D movie. We started filming Dark Country when there were no 3D cameras in town. We had to make our own cameras, invent our own workflow. We had to hire a production company that did 3D movies for amusement park rides to get our movie done because it was the first entirely digital 3D film. And then with our comic book we also, this is one of the first all digital releases of a graphic novel, which I think is cool. It’s an exclusive digital release and I think it’s going to be that way for about three months and then we’re gonna bring out a limited edition hard copy for collectors and fans. And I think that Comixology says that we’re one of the first, if not the first…
BRADSTREET: Original content, yeah…
JANE: In a purely digital format.
BRADSTREET: It’s not like we’re out to be first with the stuff. But I think that what we do is just follow where the cutting edge is. Tom has always had his ear to the floor on that and he embraces that. And I do too. I think we both have a very similar sensibility when it comes to those type of things. But it’s not like we just reach out in the dark. The people we get in bed with in the stuff…again, we have to find that connection. We have to make sure that these guys are of like mind. That these guys are making good product, if we’re going to go through the effort of releasing our stuff in that format. […] We’re just an independent, tiny little entity. It’s me and tom. We’re a boutique publisher. So it takes something like Comixology to get something out there and make it available everywhere so that people can see what we’re doing.
JANE: Digital is great, especially for the boutique publisher. It opens up our stuff to a new audience. That’s exciting. That’s what it’s all about. We’re hoping it opens things up for us to keep doing what we’re doing.
When you wrote Dark Country, you wrote that to be on paper, but now you’re releasing it digitally. With other things you’re developing, are you considering them first from a digital standpoint? Or, is it always, paper first and then you find something to do with it afterwards?
JANE: As a boutique publisher, we’re always interested in the book. We’re interested in collecting what we do into a volume of work. But what’s exciting is that we’re starting to realize that you can do both. We think. This Madefire thing is really interesting because it’s not just digital comic books on digital paper. It’s a new animal. And I think we’re seeing that that’s a possibility. I think that Dark Country, you’re right, is intended to be collected as a hard paper comic book. So, what you’re seeing on digital is going to be the same experience. What you see is a digital version of a hard paper comic book. But I do think that’s changing.
BRADSTREET: And in the case of Madefire, which is something completely new, I don’t even think they’re live yet.
JANE: But it’s gonna be real soon!
I think they’re premiering in October or November based on what I saw at Comic-Con.
BRADSTREET: With that, we’re kinda looking at the projects we have. What would be right for this experience? What’s the right thing to go out and make a project with madefire with the stuff we have in our hip pocket? You know, you don’t just choose something arbitrarily. You find something that you feel like is going to be a good fit, something that is going to fit, that is going to be the right kind of project to release in that format. And we’re still juggling that right now.
In your press release you use the phrase, “Elevated genre.” What exactly is elevated genre? And how do you pick the projects you want to pursue?
BRADSTREET: I think it’s whatever is hot. And generally Tom will pick that and I’ll just kind of follow his lead. But if I have a project I feel really passionately about, you know, I’ll take it to Tom and he considers it. There are a couple of things that I’m really thinking hard about that I haven’t fully gone to Tom with yet. But that will all come soon. It really just matters what’s hot. You know, Tom will come up and say, “I really wanna do this crime anthology.” Not that we have something like that now. But it’s like Crime anthologies, or crime comics, or adventures, or science fiction. And mostly we just go after stuff that kind of, tickles our sweet spot and that is not something that is being done somewhere else. We look for stuff that we can’t find somewhere else, so we kind of take it upon ourselves. “You know what? No one’s doing science fiction comic books and I have a great idea for an epic sci-fi story, so let’s do this.” And that was Bad Planet. And Dark Country was one of those things where…during the movie, or somewhere around the movie, Tom was thinking about a graphic novel version of the movie because he knew that the short story would be perfect for it. So he’s like, “What do you think of this?” And I think it’s fantastic. We just had to do it. If we’re super enthusiastic about something, we just go out and do it. And we have another project that has kind of been in the background for the last three or four years called, The Lycan that we’re both really hot on, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t sweep up to the forefront because of my schedule, Tom’s schedule, finding the right artist. So it’s taken four years to get this thing off the ground […] We’ve got a great artist named Shawn O’Conner. We went through several different guys and finally hit upon the style that we liked.
JANE: The thing that really brought us down with The Lycan is that we don’t do projects unless the writer and the artist are perfect for that project and that’s what elevated is: the right writer with the right artist with the right story.
You guys are working on a film version, with David Gordon Green of Alien Pig Farm, how’s that going?
BRADSTREET: Todd Farmer’s Amazing Alien Pig Farm 3000. Yeah, that’s a great one.
JANE: Farmer did a great job with that book. It’s perfect for a guy like David Gordon Green. We’re currently looking for a writer, someone who’ll come from David Gordon Green’s stock of guys. And to tell you the truth, we’re kinda taking a pause on that because there are so many alien movies coming out in the last couple of years. We just don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle of, you know, this week’s alien movie. Literally in the last couple of years there has been this glut of movies with freaking aliens. So, we’re putting that on the back shelf for a minute and saying, “Let’s wait until this alien thing dies down a bit so that it will be something kind of unique when it comes out.” Because right now it just doesn’t feel like it would stand out as much as it should. And that’s the deal, man! You gotta be patient! You really gotta be…and that’s the beauty of being a boutique company. If you’re a bigger company, you’ve got a lot of demand and you’ve got to pump out a lot of product. And doing that means, you’re gonna pump out a lot of shit.
BRADSTREET: Yeah, you’re gonna compromise.
JANE: The way we are, we can take out time with something. And we’ve been lucky enough to break even on our projects so that we can stay in business. And that’s by doing, really, one thing at a time. So we’re excited about Dark Country coming out. And then we’ve got Bad Planet #7 coming out digitally. And then we’ve got Bad Planet #8 coming out digitally. And then by that point, we should be seeing some Lycan books coming out. So it’s gonna be a really great year for Raw Studios. And all the stuff is coming out digitally through Comixology and then you’ll be able to get the hardcover version two or three months later, after it comes out exclusively through Comixology.
BRADSTREET: Dark Country’s hardcover is coming out at comic-con this year. We’ll have gorgeous hardcovers available at the table. That’ll be available there before it’s available anywhere else.
JANE: If you make it down to comic-con, it’ll be available there. And we’ll have advanced copies of other books before they’re available this fall.
BRADSTREET: Early copies of the Dark Country graphic novel and also early black and white edition of Bad Planet Volume 2: part 1, which features the first two issues of the second series.
Are you still working on that Glen Sherley bio-pic with Billy Bob Thornton, Tom?
JANE: Bio-pics are hard to make and then movies about country music are really hard to make too. It seems like everything I really want to do is something that is really good is always challenging to get made because they’re not the most popular genre that people wanna sink money into. So, Billy Bob and I still have this script about Glen Sherley. Glen Sherley is a great, classic country music story about a guy who literally sang his way out of Folsom prison and into the custody of Johnny Cash. He was released from Folsom Prison into Johnny Cash’s custody to go on tour with him. […] The story of Glen Sherley is a great, unsung story and I hope to do it someday, and I hope that Billy Bob directs it. But at this time, we’re just looking for some guy crazy enough to put money into us.
Tim, are you working on anything new with Vampire: The Masquerade?
BRADSTREET: We just did the 20th anniversary edition last year and they released it at World of Darkness. They do a convention in New Orleans every year; it’s called The Grand Masquerade. Just a great launch. All new clan pieces for that. Limited edition book. So that was great. And I guess White Wolf, or CCP, which is the parent company. They laid off most of the pen and paper guys. Pen and…what’s it called?
Ink and Mortar?
BRADSTREET: They laid off most of those guys, they wiped out that whole division. And then the original guys who created it are back, and they’re still CCP, but they kinda rearranged everything. So they’re going to relaunch all new books and all new stuff and I’ve been asked to be a part of that. But I’ve been so busy in the last few months that I haven’t been able to keep my finger on the pulse of what the White Wolf gang are doing. But you can be sure that I will be a part of that.
Are you working on any other film stuff? I know you did Blade II with Del Toro and The Punisher films.
BRADSTREET: Yeah, I’m very choosey about stuff. I get offered stuff all the time, but I’m actually kinda happy being an illustrator for the most part and working in the comic industry. I have a freedom there that I don’t have elsewhere. And if Tom has something and wants to include me in it, then I’m all in. I’m usually ground floor on that. […] All focus is on The Magnificent Death and making that a great film.
JANE: That’s what’s next. We were just talking about that on the phone before you hopped on.
BRADSTREET: Which is infinitely more pleasing to me to work on a film in the capacity that I do with Tom than it would be for me to just do concept art, which is also a great experience. But you’re a spoke in the wheel. You’re part of the creative machine. And anything I can do to take a bigger part in that, that’s what I kind of gravitate towards.
JANE: I say, ride on brother!