Lowell Dean, the independent filmmaker and comic book writer best known for his films WolfCop and Another WolfCop, is currently crowdfunding the second and third issues of his superhero parody The Atomic Victory Squad on IndieGoGo (click there if you want to back it). The campaign is in its last couple of days, but hopes to offset the costs associated with producing and publishing a color comic book with no major publisher underwriting it. The first issue was crowdfunded, published, and received some pretty solid reviews, sending Dean and company back to press for more.
The Atomic Victory Squad centers on a group of misfits and mutants who come together to work out their personal issues and save the world. While the series is a comic, the feel of it is very much informed by Dean's years of exposure to genre fare both as a fan and as a low-budget filmmaker. The writer joined us to discuss the comic, which he creates with a group of artists including Javier Martin Caba is illustrating and colouring both issues with Joel Hustak painting the cover to #2; Micah Myers lettering, Maurice Roy on graphic design, and Emersen Ziffle designing the book and producing the crowdfunding perks.
Obviously between WolfCop and this book, you are pretty used to doing larger-than-life characters with kind of non-human looks. What is the appeal of exploring basically "animal people?"
Good question! I think I'm just drawn to non-normal characters and I guess one of the quickest ways to establish someone is different than the rest is to give them a ton of hair, giant claws or horns, or a big udder on their front. Beasts and monsters fascinate me. They're almost always outsiders. I think it also stems back to cartooning in my childhood. Weirder characters were always more fun - and easier - to draw than basic humans.
As with your films, this is a book that is very conscious of genre tropes and wants the audience to be, too. Do you think at this point we have reached a point in pop culture where that kind of thing is not really a detriment anymore? Now that we're 20 Marvel movies in, maybe it doesn't limit your audience as much that you have to "get" superhero comics?
For sure. We are in a time now where audiences can no longer say they just don't "get" superheroes. The tropes are mainstream now! You look at a movie like Avengers: Endgame, which almost boldly exists and relies on continuity and narrative threads with 22 other loosely interconnected films. It says all bets are off! Like it or hate it, superhero pop culture is here and in charge, at least right now. What I love about it, as an indie comic creator, is I can put a character on a different planet and have them sent to earth as a baby and even if I don't get to explore their whole story beyond a few panels of one book, a savvy reader immediately connect their arc to a Superman type. So superheroes being in the mainstream consciousness certainly has storytelling advantages.
Part of your crowdfunding sell is that "some stories are too big for an indie film budget." What makes that distinction? Is there a dollar amount or just a sense of the plot where you go "okay, this isn't a movie"?
For me, having made a few films in the range of 1 to 3 million, too big for an indie film budget means moments like having a giant cow fly through space, or punch another character through a skyscraper, or have Zoozanna transform into a giant tiger and run through the jungle ripping an army limb from limb. Sure, I could attempt or afford a few of those moments in a low budget feature film, but this book is FULL of those moments. Honestly, I got into comics because I was feeling the limitation of my film budgets and I had and bigger stories in my brain dying to get out. I think certain stories can exist in different mediums, and this specific team of superheroes was suited to a world without limits.
Also, "Below the surface, each team member serves as a metaphor for issues like addiction, race and gender identity, chronic depression and mental health." Do you find issues like that are easier or harder to explore in comics?
For me, I find it easier to explore deeper issues or story points within the guise of this colourful, odd ball superhero team. I'm not used to writing raw, emotional pieces - not yet, at least - so putting these words and feelings and thoughts into the mouths of a robot or a flying cow or a guy dressed as a triangle makes it easier to say some dark, honest and sometimes personal stuff. I look at a show like BoJack Horseman and Rick and Morty as prime examples. Just because a show is funny or vibrant or animated doesn't mean it can't also be mature or depressing or highly tragic. Sometimes, the contradiction makes both of those elements sing wonderfully! Sometimes the sadness can hit you even harder.
Who are your comics-side influences?
I loved everything by Darwyn Cooke. Jack Kirby for his world building. Obviously Stan Lee for his insane character contributions. Lately Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Brian K. Vaughn, Robert Kirkman, Chip Zdarsky... anyone doing bold, thoughtful, weird stuff.0comments
Do you have a favorite comic or graphic novel in recent years that has dealt with some of that?
I'd say Saga. It's certainly raw and real but set against the backdrop of a crazy sci-fi world.