Zeb Wells and David Lafuente have a Bad Idea, and it involves killing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. New comics publisher Bad Idea on Tuesday revealed its 2021 debut slate, and Slay Bells from Wells and Lafuente is on the list. The holiday-themed black comedy sends Santa Claus on a rampage after Midwestern farmers kill his beloved reindeer. Wells and Lafuente team with colorist Ulises Arreola for an oversized one-shot launching July, giving readers six months to process their feelings and get back into proper jolly holiday form. We'll have to wait and see if that's enough time to recover from what Wells and Lafuente put Santa through.
Zeb Wells won an Emmy Award for his work on Adult Swim's Robot Chicken. He's also writing Hellions for Marvel Comics. Lafuente is known for his stunning work on titles like Ultimate Spider-Man and Archer and Armstrong. ComicBook.com corresponded with both creators over email to discuss how their Bad Idea will ruin Christmas.
So, what made you want to murder Rudolph?
Zeb Wells: I asked for a G.I. Joe Aircraft Carrier for Christmas, and Santa whiffed it. Somebody had to pay. But really Warren Simons [Bad Idea Co-CEO & Co-Chief Creative Officer] put in the kill order. He pitched me on reindeer murder and Santa's revenge and asked if I wanted to craft a story around it. And I DID.
David Lafuente: They didn't tell me! I didn't know I was going to be asked to inflict such atrocities upon that poor animal. Your honor, I'm completely innocent of all wrongdoing, please don't send me to the chair--!
Bad jokes aside now, the thing that got me to sign was the team. I had previously worked with Warren at Valiant and had long enjoyed Zeb's work for Marvel and others. It was a very easy choice.
Why is Bad Idea the best place to make this book?
ZW: Bad Idea is all about bad ideas and excellent art. I'm a big fan of everyone in editorial, and when they said the magic words "David Lafuente," I knew this comic would be special. That is a star I will hitch my wagon to any day.
You've handled many, many superheroes in the past. How does your take on Santa Claus stack up in that regard? And should we consider your Santa in Slay Bells a hero, an anti-hero, or perhaps even an outright villain?
ZW: I think he runs that gamut through the course of the story. He's certainly Jolly ol' St. Nick at the beginning. But the things he sees...the carnage...the horror. It changes him. Sends him careening into a cold world that's forgotten how much they need him. What happens when Santa falls onto the Naughty List? Nothing good, let me tell you.
Behind the bloodshed and the comedy, is there a message behind Slay Bells?
ZW: It was interesting in the writing of it how somber it kept pulling towards the end. Seeing Santa go there remains funny the entire time, but there's a sadness there too. When he loses everything we see what's left...and it's not all pretty.
Does this story have an immediate ending or do you have longterm plans for the future?
ZW: This is a done-in-one, but I wouldn't hate applying this lens to other holiday characters. Might be interesting to see the final (green plastic) straw that breaks the Easter Bunny in half.
How does drawing a comedy book like this change your approach to the art?
DL: Well, it's all in the details. Your average superhero book is not unfunny, but the more dramatic elements need to work for the reader and that means that the comedy elements can't be too broad or the whole thing falls apart.
Comedy books are different. Like I did with Archer and Armstrong or All-New Doop I can deform faces/bodies much more than I usually would in order to underline a joke. I haven't done a lot of radical changes but I've allowed myself to be less constrained.
How do you balance the tension with the humor?
DL: It was one of the easier aspects of the book. This story has a bit of that Gremlins DNA, a bit of horror here, a bit of comedy there, all mixed up and everything works because the characters and structure tie it together. As I was reading it and recognizing the mix, I decided that my job was to take each scene for what it is and run with it.
Which means that when the machine guns come out there are buckets of blood all over the place. It's all about underlining whatever emotion is in the scene (laughs).
What is your working relationship with Zeb like? Does the script give you leeway to tweak the narrative as you see fit?
DL: We didn't talk much, to be honest. Everybody involved is seasoned, and we trust each other to the thing and give our best.
I don't want to spoil the fun, but maybe the most interesting scene is one about halfway through when we discover why Santa is in that town (other than to do his Santa chores) and things escalate memeticly quickly.
What was your approach to designing a murderous Santa Claus? Was he – or something else – your favorite thing to draw in this comic?
DL: OK, that was a fun challenge. There have been a few, fun, redesigns recently in books and film and I really wanted to have the most universal, simple Santa Claus possible. If I had drawn him with a mohawk and tats or ripped, then the jokes would have landed differently. Of course, he needed to look like a jolly, round fellow… COVERED IN BLOOD AND GUTS.
You're also designed the logo and trade dress for this book! Was that a new challenge for you or something you had been looking forward to from the time you signed on?
DL: This is something I've been trying to convince American editors to let me do since my very first job! I happen to draw a lot of work-for-hire material, but I'm a complete author at heart. (*WINKS TO EVERY EDITOR READING THIS*)
I jump at any opportunity to do more than just draw. Early in the year I did a gig for a Japanese publisher and OH, MAN, you don't know how happy I was to not only write and draw, but also design the logo, letter and tone the entire book. It was bliss. So, when Warren and I began discussing Slay Bells, and he was open to me doing some of the other tasks… well, I knew I was about to begin a very interesting project.0comments
Slay Bells goes on sale in July 2021.