Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of your comic book series, Aberrant! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the series’ premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Rylend Grant: The premise: David, is a U.S. Army Special Operations Commander, distraught after losing his entire unit to a superhuman attack, wages an absolutely brutal one-man war on the eccentric billionaire and former superhero, Lance Cordrey, whom he believes is ultimately responsible. That is until Nelson Little, the head of a clandestine paramilitary outfit called Article 13, presents David with evidence that Cordrey may be a patsy, that David’s men were killed as part of a vast and twisted government/military conspiracy. Armed with this new information, David sets out to dismantle the machine of said conspiracy piece by human piece while coming to terms with his own mysteriously emerging superpowers and wrestling with sincere doubts about Little’s trustworthiness.
I’m a screenwriter by trade. I’ve spent the last decade or so penning big, poppy action movies for folks like Ridley Scott, John Woo, Adam Wingard, and Luke Besson. The Hollywood game has changed dramatically over the past few years. It’s become almost entirely IP (Intellectual Property) driven. The studios aren’t interested in original ideas anymore. Every movie that gets made needs to be based on something… a book, a video game, a comic, whatever.
After a few years of pushing our original script bolder uphill, my writing partner for the film/TV stuff – Dikran Ornekian – and I came up with a whacky idea. If Hollywood wanted IP, we’d give it to them. We took an idea we’d had for years, something we’d tried unsuccessfully to sell several times as a pitch or a spec script and turned it into a short story. We got that published and then we had a bidding war for the movie rights overnight. We had Justin Lin on one side, coming off of his Fast 5 success/the largest summer opening in Universal history and Robert Deniro & Brett Ratner on the other. Folks in town thought that sale was a fluke at first, but then we did it THREE more times, setting projects up with Fast 8/Straight Outta Compton Director F. Gary Gray, Game of Thrones Director/Producer Matt Shakman, and most recently with Tony/Grammy award-winning star of Hamilton on Broadway Daveed Diggs.
Comics had been my first love since I was knee high. I was one of the rubes roped in by DC’s Death of Superman arc, but what really changed my whole worldview/blew my mind was that Image revolution in the '90s. As I started, by necessity, exploring the ideas of generating IP/writing in other mediums, comics were an obvious fit. I actually almost dove into that proverbial pond in college – I wish I had, my career might be very different right now – but getting a book drawn/colored/lettered was crazy hard back then. You basically had to know an artist that lived in your town. You were dealing with physical drawings. People were coloring and lettering by hand. Basically, I tried, but I just couldn’t get the collaborators together.
Over the last few years, with digital workflow and social media (deviant art, Facebook groups, and the like) this stuff has just gotten SO MUCH easier. I organize/moderate GETTING YOUR FIRST COMIC PUBLISHED panels at cons a lot (I’m doing one at SDCC in a few weeks.), and I preach this all the time: It has never been easier/more possible to get your comic made than it is right this second. I have four titles in the pipe right now. I have artists working in Brazil, Mexico, and Hungary. My go-to colorist is in Indonesia. My letterer is UK-based. We communicate almost exclusively via email. I pay them through PayPal. This wouldn’t have been possible (at least not this possible) even five years ago.
I guess that’s just a long-winded gasbag’s way of saying, I always wanted to make Aberrant – more than anything actually – but it never quite seemed doable until right now.
The funny thing is, I’m coming up with fewer and fewer movie ideas these days. Most everything I drum up is better suited for comics. It’d be nice, obviously, but I just don’t care anymore if these stories ever become movies. So few films get made in this new conglomerate-ruled, blockbuster-fueled Hollywood, it’s really heartbreaking… but I can write a comic script, hand it off to an artist friend, and have pages back in a day or two. It’s really fulfilling.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in working with illustrators Zsombor Huszka and Iwan Triyono, and what have been some of your creative influences?
RG: Again, I write movies for a living. I have an undergraduate degree in film history and a Masters degree in film directing from the American Film Institute Conservatory. So, I tend to approach crafting comics exactly like I would approach directing a film. In fact, I went so far as to give myself a writer/director credit in ABERRANT. There will probably be a few comic-types out there that’ll want to kick my ass over that, but screw them, I think it suits the book.
Extending that metaphor… Iwan & Zsombor (and Davi Leon Dias who adeptly handled pencil/ink duties on Issues 2-10) are essentially my cinematographers/production designers. These are folks who think in imagery, not words, so my scripts tend to be uber detailed and full of film & modern art references. Before those guys ever put pen to paper, we spend a ton of time talking about color scheme & mood, developing a pointed visual language that’s unique to each book. Hopefully, the care we take with all of this stuff shows through.
In crafting Aberrant, we specifically went out of our way to channel the spirit of some of my favorite paranoid spy/action thrillers from the ‘70s like THE CONVERSATION and MARATHON MAN. In fact, my go-to elevator pitch is always something along the lines of: “ABERRANT is a military-slanted THREE DAYS OF A CONDOR (the 1975 Sydney Pollack mindbender). You know… if there was a snarling superpowered badass waiting around every corner, hell bent on stomping a mudhole in Robert Redford.” Tell me that doesn’t sound fun.
My hope is that when you read ABERRANT, you experience the same euphoric intellectual adrenaline rush I experienced watching modern CONDOR-inspired Hollywood thrillers like Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON or Tony Scott’s ENEMY OF THE STATE.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
RG: The artists and I are trying here to take a grounded, wholly realistic look at how our world, our military, or geopolitics would necessarily change if superpowered individuals walked among us. Obviously, certain governments would embrace and nurture powered-types. Others would try to exploit them for their own sometimes very wicked interests. And others, acting out of fear and ignorance, would try to exterminate them. All of these scenarios play out one way or another in the pages of ABERRANT.
More than anything, we’re looking to defy expectation/give the reader something they haven’t seen before. Too often, art offers us simple black and white answers to terribly complex questions. This guy is bad. This other guy is good. This is right. This is wrong. But we all know that real life isn’t like that. In politics, and with social & economic engineering, the truth always lies in some unsatisfying, ugly shade of grey. No one ever completely wins. Ultimately, EVERYONE ends up a little dissatisfied in the end. That was a guiding principle in crafting this book. Every character should be a little wrong. Every character should be a little right. Your enemy is much, much scarier when you can understand where he or she is coming from. I remember being about halfway through the recent BLACK PANTHER movie and thinking, “You know what? This Killmonger guy is really making some interesting points.” That’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Great character. Excellent villain. Great ride. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but at the heart of ABERRANT is a really likable, noble villain whom is absolutely doing the right thing for the right reasons… he’s just going about it in the worst way imaginable. We don’t see enough drama like that.
The other thing is comics too often move in a straight line these days. They follow predictable patterns. I’ve been writing scripts in Hollywood for a long time. I know story backwards and forwards. Very little surprises me anymore. My wife gets miffed because five minutes into a Top Chef episode (great show, by the way) I already know who’s winning and who’s going home. But I’m not special. Audiences are CRAZY smart these days. They are always two steps ahead of the game. With that in mind, I’m trying very hard to actually surprise people with every issue of ABERRANT. The series is packed with meaty twists and wicked turns. You’re sure you know somebody, that you have them pegged, and then they take a violent left turn. The world of this book is populated with politicians, spies, and all-star military types… uber smart, wildly dynamic, and sometimes very manipulative people. It’s been fun to create and hopefully, it’s just as much fun to read.
BD: How many issues of the series do you have planned?
RG: Action Lab has signed on to distribute ten issues, two five-issue arcs. They’ve really shown a lot of faith in us, and I’m very grateful for it.
BD: On August 26th, you have a launch party planned for the series at A Shop Called Quest in Downtown Los Angeles. Will the launch party be open to the public, and what can attendees anticipate from the event?
RG: 100% open to the public. Come one! Come all! Here’s the skinny:
ABERRANT was created a few years back inside Los Angeles pop culture bastion Meltdown Comics. A TON of great comics (indy and major releases) were created inside that shop over the last 25 years. My dream from day one was to have a release party at Meltdown where I brought a bunch of those creators together and celebrated that long and very rich legacy... a MADE AT MELTDOWN party.
Well... essentially, a few weeks after I started planning the whole hootenanny, the Meltdown folk sadly announced that they'd be closing their doors forever.
Short and sweet? I’m still doing the event... as a tribute to the place... perhaps as a sort of wake for the nerd community center we knew and loved for so long? The truth is, that comics creation machine that started at Meltdown is continuing on all over the city and I'd really like to shine a light on that.
We currently have 20+ creators committed and more are hopping on the train every day. Two of my favorite comic podcasts – The Hall H Show and The Launchpad Podcast - will be covering the event. Aaron Mclane and Matt Corrigan from Launchpad will actually be moderating the event. There will be panels and signings. There’ll be a food truck or two. It should be one hell of a party.
A Shop Called Quest is an amazing store and the manager there, Ray Bird, has been wildly helpful every step of the way. My partner in this endeavor – another Melt alum/badass comic creator named Jeff Leeds - and I have been talking with Ray about teaching some classes there and starting a monthly interview series. More to come on that.
BD: If given the opportunity to expand your series into other entertainment mediums, in what format do you hope to see it adapted?
RG: I actually started taking film/TV meetings on Aberrant before issue 1 even dropped and we’ve had a ton of serious interest. I, unfortunately, can’t talk specifics right this minute, but it looks like we have a 900 lb. Hollywood gorilla who wants to develop it as a one hour drama for television. More to come on that, too.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
RG: I thankfully have more than a few irons in the film/TV fire right now. I’m finishing up that aforementioned Daveed Diggs vehicle and two very twisted sci-fi movies I wrote were just recently announced/moved into pre-production. (See Andover & State of Consciousness on IMDb.)
On the comic side, I have three new titles I’ll be actively shopping at SDCC... a gritty superhero noir, kind of a terminally-ill-Batman-goes-Death Wish sort of thing… a darkly comedic hitman romp that smacks a bit of Spencer and Lieber’s The Fix… and a Tokusatsu joint – kind of a Voltron meets Fast & Furious – that I conceived with man named Brad Warner, who worked for over a decade in Japan as an executive at Tsuburaya Productions (the company that makes Ultra Man).
I have completed first issues and short/sweet series pitch docs on all three titles, so FIND ME, publishers!
BD: Where will our readers be able to find you at SDCC 2018 this week?
RG: I'm going to be at SDCC all four days and have plenty going on. Here's my current itinerary:
Thursday, July 19, 7:30pm – I’ll be hosting/moderating the DIRECTING YOUR COMIC BOOK panel with David Pepose (Spencer & Locke) and Sean Lewis (The Few, Coyotes). Room 8.
Friday, July 20, 12-1pm – I’ll be signing Issues 1 & 2 of Aberrant at the Action Lab booth (Booth #2006).
Saturday, July 21, 1pm – I’ll be sitting on the ACTION LAB COMICS CREATOR SPECTACULAR panel with Bryan Seaton (CEO/Publisher), Kevin Grevioux (Underworld books/movies), and Erica Schultz (Charmed, M3). Room 4.
Saturday, July 21, 5pm – I’ll be hosting/moderating the CREATED AT MELTDOWN panel with Jim Higgins (former DC editor), Steven Prince (Monster Matador), Karla Nappi (Duplicant), David Schrader (Baby Badass), and Michael Levine (Strange Romance Anthology). Room 4.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Aberrant?
RG: I’m @rylendgrant on most social media platforms. Friend me. Follow me. I love meeting folks that are passionate about comics. I don’t update my website often enough, but you can check out halfevilcomics.com if you’d like to see some sample pages/documents on the other titles I have in the pipe.