Exclusive: Miami Vice's Jonathan London on Bringing The Cult Classic To Lion Forge

Of all of Lion Forge's licensed comics, perhaps the best-received is Miami Vice

Operating outside of the free-for-all rules of most licensed comics, this one appeals to hardcore fans of the property by sandwiching itself between seasons of the his '80s police drama.

Writer Jonathan London joined ComicBook.com to talk about the project, his love for Miami Vice and what he thinks he brings to the property.

Lion Forge's Shannon Denton said that Miami Vice is different than some of the other titles in the sense that you are embedded in between two seasons of the show.

Yeah, it's in the continuity. Miami Vice is different that Airwolf or Knight Rider, because Airwolf or Knight Rider both kind of needed to be updated for the fact that they are based on technology. You know helicopters and cars do what today what they used to, what we're only fantasizing about on television in the 80's.

It was the flip side of that problem when it comes to Miami Vice and that is if you take Miami Vice out of the 80's you basically remove one of the main characters. Which is the era. And so Miami Vice is unique to the other Lion Forge licensed projects because it's the one in-continuity and still in the era of the 80's or 90's.

It's also what I think is a lot of fun about the book and the response is positive based on the fact that it is in continuity and that we took a binge viewing approach to a show that wasn't designed for binge viewing. It was designed as episodic content in the 80's. Yeah nobody had binge viewing in the 80's, most people watched the episodes as they played live.

So everything was an episode of the week. So I was always watching Netflix to kind of reacquaint myself with the show, I watched it as a binge viewer. I watched seasons one and two straight. I noticed a lot of holes in the consistencies, mainly due to production constrains back in the day.

It's interesting to me because I'm of the generation where I remember where there were no tv shows on DVD and you couldn't you couldn't watch an entire season, but I really wanted to...

Yeah unless you have a VHS tray system then you really couldn't catch back up on a show.

I was a weird kid. When I was about eight, I was totally obsessed with Cheers.

Yeah, that is a little weird, a kid obsessed with a show about people in a bar...

Right? And there literally was not way to catch up, so I was just starting with Season Four and going from there. I never understood the appeal of Diane. Now, because you're in continuity, does that mean that fans can see where you're seeding Easter eggs into the comic?

Yeah, they are in there.

Anybody who's seen all of Miami Vice will know that we're putting little pieces in their that allude to what will happen in season 3 and 4, 5... You know and part of that just comes as the fact that I watch them and as I was like researching the story line I wanted to do things that hadn't been done in the show. And the show was...the show covered so many bases, you know?

In that time period that, they would take their storylines right off the newspaper and so they did everything, they did evangelism, they did the IRA bombings basically covered anything that was happening in the 80's. So I kind of had to be like careful planting a story around stuff that hadn't been done on the show. That being said, so much of the show encompasses the 80's that you can't help but throw those Easter eggs and elude to the rest of the 80's part of that character, you know what I mean? I think of the 80's as a character in the book. So there are definitely Easter eggs in their.

I can't think of a show that did a flashback within its own structure, until way later -- nowadays, it's pretty common that you're fitting things retroactively into the first few years of the mythology and then just saying "Well, we chose not to tell you."

Here's the thing: At the same time we were making a book that fits between seasons one and two of Miami Vice, you don't have to of watched season one to enjoy the book. The book is, when all eight issues are collected going to be one big fat episode basically. It's going to feel like a long episode.

It bridges the gaps between seasons one and two but but it stands on its own, absolutely. It alludes to things in Season One, the entirety of Season One set up the events, where the book starts. There's no real need to go and watch Season One, and it should really set you up to watch Season Two.

There's never a need to go back and watch the DVD. That being said, it's all on streaming and if you have the DVDs our book, when collected in trade, will fit nicely between seasons one and two. Like you can put it on the shelf and have it - you have a complete binge-able Miami Vice seasons one through two.

Which is kinda cool and I really think that fans respond to that. There are characters from Season One that some of their story lines weren't really answered. Or maybe they'd just show up as guest stars but they'd only serve the narrative of that one episode that goes a lot more through there. We definitely bring them in as guest spots in this storyline.

At the end of the day though, there are major characters to pay attention to. Even though the shout outs to Miami Vice TV shows are good, it's fun to maybe play with the Miami Vice canon, at the end of the day we totally have to keep focus on serving the main characters of the Organized Crime Bureau and obviously Crockett and Tubbs. There the main characters of the book, so it's a lot of spinning plates, but I think that anybody who's read it and a Miami Vice fan is really happy with it. 

Does it kind of free you up that it takes something like 150 comics to match up with a season of TV? It should keep your story pretty compressed.

I don't want to contradict anything that's in the continuity of the show because I think that the show deserves sort of a consistent continuity, in the same way that comics today have a consistent continuity.

That being said there are major depths that you can go to that were in the storyline. Things like the romance between Jena and Crockett, like one episode to the next that relationship is very inconsistent. One they're together, then they're not together. Or Sonny's thinking about getting together with his ex-wife and then he's not thinking about getting together with his ex-wife and she takes the kid and moves to Atlanta. Or there's one episode towards the end of season one that he's about propose to a woman that he met on that episode, so there's tons of space to play with and that's character moments but there's also the changing of some of the boats or cars.

Also, there are flashback characters that we never got answers to, there are guest spots like Pam Grier in Season One, shows up and it's obvious that she and Rico had a past relationship. What was that relationship about? Why can't we flash back to that relationship, both Sonny and Tubbs lose their partners on the pilot - what were those relationships like? Now that's the kind of stuff that we can definitely flash back to. I didn't really feel any constraints except for the fact that the Miami Vice show had covered so much that I had to figure out what backdrops that I could use and not... because I didn't want to do anything that was redundant. But character wise and story wise everything was cool. Highlighting different facets of the 80's to sort of color the book was the stuff that Miami Vice really had done poorly - and that was only challenge.

It's also interesting because there's been a reboot already...and it didn't carry over the continuity from the show the way your comic does.

Well it was Michael Mann, it was exactly who created Miami Vice, if anybody is going to reboot Miami Vice, or give a new take on Miami Vice, why not have it be the creator of MV. So that's how the movie exists, it's completely his right to do MV how he sees fit. Revamp for the 21st Century.

You know watching the show and seeing that the show completely holds up, who am I to change things, who am I to change things? It's still a strong show. it's still a strong character, it still has a very unique voice it still has a great color palette. It has a great style, I would be removing assets if I revamped those things. Those are tools you can use, those are strengths. I wasn't going to revamp them. When I learned that Lion Forge had licensed these 80's properties Miami Vice was definitely the one I wanted to go for. It's the most influential, it influenced style, it influenced music. It influenced television editing it influenced the way things were being shot. You look at actors' careers, the number of A-listers that came off of Miami Vice is huge.

Just from season one you have Jon Turturro, you've got Ed O'Neil, you've got Bruce Willis you've got a number of huge stars that got their start doing Miami Vice.

If you're going to do licensed properties from the 80's which show epitomized the 80's the most. That was MV. You know that one was when you think of the 80's and you think of a serialized network television show , Miami Vice was the one that felt the most 80's. Absolutely that was the one that I was going to go for.

I think there are different kinds of licensed comics there are the very good and the very bad and not much in between...

I agree with you as a comic book reader. Absolutely agree with you.

So did you look at a bunch of terrible 80's marvel stuff and try to figure out what it was that people, like where people get too self indulgent...

I didn't have to go back and look at this stuff, I'd read it. You know if there's media that I consume the most it's comic books. And I read all that stuff, that being said using the 80's Star Wars as an example- as a fan I prefer the Archie Goodwin storylines that they did for Star Wars to the later on Marvel books because Archie Goodwin stuck his story that in weekly newspaper strips those happened in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and they were in continuity. And they supported the source material. Better than trying to do a new spin on it. You know my job wasn't to do a new spin on MV, that's not how I saw my job. I saw My job as supporting the source material. Enhancing the source material. Continuing to strengthen the source material in the tone of the source material. Otherwise why not just do a new book. Why not just do a completely different police procederal book. And that was my approach from the beginning and Lion Forge was really enthusiastic about that even though Airwolf and Knight Rider kind of required a revamp based on the technologies of the characters.

I'm really new to writing comics and anything that can help, any asset that I don't want to get rid of, including the continuity of the show and the strength of the writers, was something I didn't want to... I would have only abandoned that stuff at my own peril. You've got great story-tellers who created the original makeup of Miami Vice. Beyond Michael Mann, Joel Surnow is one of the first producers and writers on the show and he created 24. You know you have a whole list of directors, like Abel Ferrara who directed episodes of MV - so it was not just the A-Listers that got their start on Miami Vice a whole bunch of really great writers and directors started on Miami Vice. It's funny I could definitely be self indulgent and be like this is my party now - this is how I... See I wanted to learn from them I wanted to try to continue the mission. Not just for fans but for sort of myself - let's see if I can step up and go toe to to with your guys storyline. And do something that was appropriate. The only challenge is can we take that tone and and take that structure and kind of mold it to comic books. Mold it to something that didn't have the MTV edit that Miami Vice introduced. Miami Vice was MTV cops, that's how it was pitched, that's how it was sold and that's what it was. Music videos injected into police procedural , you know it was awesome. police procedurals have been around since, what...Dragnet? And here's a police procedural that has an infusion of MTV's editing and music. How was I going to do that in comics? Well luckily James and Carl are great artists and our colorists are great colorists so they obviously got the tone and the visuals right, it was up to me to try and keep the pace up. So you don;t get bogged down by procedural, but at the same time you don't just get pretty pictures.

There's a balance but my guide was definitely the writing and directing of the show because of all those people went on to have great careers.

It's always interesting to see where these people come from. Vince Gilligan on X-Files and stuff.

Yeah, I don't know... you have Ray Bradbury, you had other people do the sort of thing with Star Trek or Twilight Zone you definitely had that.

Even Joss Whedon started writing for Roseanne, Michael Strazinski started on He-Man. Paul Dini started on He-Man as well. So you always have to do your time in the trenches television is definitely a writers' medium. It definitely has become a writers' medium, but I think it's always been a writers' medium.

Movies are definitely all about the director, the auteur in that sense and you really have to have a stamp of authorship visually and with a pace but with television where everything's serial definitely the burden of everything is on the writer. I think that the focus is always been there, on television, I think you and I are just 35 and so when we look back...was there a Chuck Lorre in the 80's? Well, I think there were. And there definitely were in the 70's and 60's, I mean Mel Brooks came out of television, you know. Where would JJ Abrams be if people didn't take the leap from TV to film - I think people have been making the leap from TV to Film since TV started filling our living rooms in the 60's - Mel Brooks being one of the first.

That being said, why would I reinvent the wheel? You know what I mean? [laughing] Oh man, that would have been at my own detriment if I had tried that... I have no need to reinvent the wheel. This is not an ego job.

The greatest satisfaction that I get out of this book is new fans and old fans enjoy it - and the best chance that I have of having old fans and new fans enjoy it is to keep the consistency - because that's what worked with the show. Have it fun, have it fast-paced, have great characters and just try as hard as I can to stay appropriate with it. And stay faithful to that.

Shannon's backed us up on that. You know, Shannon was there, Shannon's older than us, so Shannon's kind of helped us craft things, and every now and then Shannon will bring in ideas and I'll work with ideas at the end of the panels and he's been a great guide smoothing things over. And giving it the 80's approach from somebody who was actually an adult through the 80's or at least in school during the 80's. And then Carl and James their art work, one of the first things I wanted to do was with the art say let's kind of have a Patrick Nagel look. So there was going to be some strong silhouettes and some shadows, kind of have some cool 80's style going on -- while still giving it that modern spin because at the end of the day we can stay as faithful to the TV show on the writing but it also has to appeal to a modern day audience that's reading this book digitally and also reads comics with modern artwork.

I mean, it would have been really weird for us to make a book that looked like a Larry Hama book. It would be like - special edition of the book that had dot matrix printing on it and kinda looked like an 80's book. I thought that would be really funny but absolutely that cant be what you're selling because times have changed. And we can try and keep the tone of the book, the style of the book as much as we can in the 80's but there still has to be a modern injection in the artwork. And also do the pace a little bit, just because of digital. The pace has to be a little more faster and you can't get barred down by the procedural. Part of me still wants to see that kinda 80's style print, what if we printed it as an 80's comic - that would be really funny.

If there was another property you could do, what would it be?

I'm a big video game player, and one of the things that drew me to Miami Vice was that I'm a big Grand Theft Auto fan. So maybe the Grand Theft Auto games or the Red Dead Redemption games, but I knew there was kind of a chance to use that attitude to modernize Miami Vice for a modern audience without abandoning the old audience because Grand Theft Auto and that kind of stuff and crime video games and cartoons and things take a lot of influence from Miami Vice.

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So as a video game fan absolutely anything Monkey Island, I would do 100%. Monkey Island is he beginning, and end all for video games so for video games that property, like now dormant. Zelda is the holy grail in narrative video gaming but I think Zelda would be incredible...but my wanting to adapt things into a comic book isn't necessarily television.

Although M.A.S.K. would be amazing. [laughter] But it would be video games and it would be Monkey Island comic book followed closely by a Zelda comic book. Heh, I don't think you were expecting those answers, were you?