RICH INTERVIEWS: Rylend Grant Creator/Writer for Aberrant
First Comics News: So why did you decide to make “Aberrant?”
Rylend Grant: I’m a screenwriter by trade. I’ve been paid handsomely to write poppy Hollywood action movies for about 12 years. I’ve penned scripts for folks like Ridley Scott, Justin Lin, F. Gary Gray, John Woo, and Luke Besson. I’ve rewritten some stuff you’ve seen, I have a ton of projects in the pipe/in development but I don’t actually have my name on anything yet.
Hollywood has changed a ton in 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 and 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.
Writing those short stories was really fulfilling. The success in Hollywood was great, obviously, but more than that… for the first time in a long (long enough) career, I was writing stuff that people were actually reading/experiencing.
Comics had been my first love since I was a kid. 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 90’s. As I started exploring writing in other mediums, comics was 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 (most recently at WonderCon) 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 works 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 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 now. Most everything I drum up these days 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 these days, 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. After 12 years of writing movies that didn’t get made, I actually cried when I got the first test pages back on Aberrant… and if you know me, I’m definitely not the sort of guy that cries.
1st: Can you tell us a little about the plot in “Aberrant”?
Rylend: David, 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.
1st: What is Article 13?
Rylend: Short and sweet, Article 13 is a component command of S.O.C.O.M. (United States Special Operations Command = BAD dudes) that guards the line between things human and superhuman.
The slightly longer version? Article 13 was inspired by the early days of America’s JSOC military unit (Joint Special Operations Command), the black ops force that took down Bin Laden. In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration – specifically Dick Cheney – turned JSOC into a global capturing and killing machine. Read up on them. It’s fascinating. Even today, our (meaning the United States) entire war on terror is being fought by these guys. They aren’t subject to oversight by the Joint Chiefs or Congress like a traditional military unit. They report directly to the executive branch of our government, meaning the office of the President… and that’s all kinds of twisted and messed up.
The bleeding heart-types love to pin this whole deal on W. Bush/think of it as a Republican problem. Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not preaching here. I’m a zealous moderate. I’m equally disgusted with people on both sides of the aisle. But the first thing Obama did after taking office was triple the size of JSOC, so both parties have dirty hands. Article 13 was born from a simple question: What would JSOC necessarily look like if our world were teeming with superpowered individuals?
1st: Why are David and Lance Cordrey enemies?
Rylend: That’s a great question, but I have to be careful how I answer it. Our story takes a number of bold twists and turns over the course of ten issues and I necessarily don’t want to give too much away. As I alluded to before, David – a Special Operations commander – loses his entire unit to a superhuman attack and he wholeheartedly believes that Lance Cordrey is responsible. It won’t take David long to find out that Cordrey isn’t quite as culpable as he initially thought. In fact, Cordrey might be getting kicked in the mouth with the same boot David is if you get my drift.
1st: What do you mean by this is a filmic tale?
Rylend: I’m a screenwriter by trade. I have an undergraduate degree in film history and I have 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.
In crafting ABERRANT, I went out of my 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 Sidney Lumet 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.
There are other, more specific “filmic” touches here too. Each issue has a sort of Hollywood-movie-like company credit roll at the beginning. We’re more careful about shot selection than your average creators. It’s all standard master/coverage stuff here. We’re sticklers for the 180-degree rule (check your filmmaking 101 handbook).
The coolest bit? Each issue of ABERRANT packed with music, which is really a rarity in comics. I wanted the book to feel like a really great action movie, obviously… Well, really great action movies always have REALLY great soundtracks. It wasn’t easy to pull off. Clearing music for use in print publications is costly and time-consuming, but it was well worth it in the end. I think the music is incorporated in a really clever way here. We’ve definitely produced something that people haven’t seen before. We have hit songs from artists like Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Temptations, Bobby McFerrin, Wilson Phillips, and R. Kelly in the first trade and – no lie – I’m trying to get Kenny Loggins to do an original song for the 2nd series. My friends have been trying to convince me to make up a Spotify playlist.
1st: What kind of person will enjoy this comic?
Rylend: Every new FAST & FURIOUS movie makes about a billion dollars worldwide. EVERYONE sees them… and EVERYONE walks out of the theater smiling. I’ve written for the directors of 5 of those movies. I’ve got the formula down. I’d like to think that anyone who gets excited about those movies will flip for ABERRANT. Just give it a chance, huh?
1st: Who is the artist on “Aberrant” and what do you think of their art?
Rylend: Two part answer…
Issue 1 was drawn by a Hungarian artist named Zsombor Huszka. His art is raw and unkempt in the BEST way imaginable. It’s a stiff glass of bourbon, a quick kick to the Jimmy. He is ungodly talented and wildly in demand and so he was, unfortunately (unfortunate for ABERRANT, not for him) hired away from me to draw an animated feature of his creation – a samurai-western mash up – called ORIENT CITY… something he co-directed with a really prolific pit bull of a filmmaker named Ryan Colucci (SUBURBAN COWBOY). If you haven’t seen it… OH, MY GOD… GO… GO NOW… It will blow your mind. It’s so good, so wildly inventive. If you’re interested in making comics or movies, this really is a master class on world building.
Issues 2–10 were then drawn by a very close friend of mine, a Brazilian artist named Davi Leon Dias. As I said, I have a few other books in the pipe right now and Davi has drawn some of those/really hit it out of the park. His style is a bit cleaner and more elegant than Zsombor’s (again, no slight meant to either, these are two crazy talented guys). Davi’s art is a glass of fine white wine, a romantic dance with a beautiful woman. He’s exactly what publishers are looking for these days. There is so much humor in what he draws, too. He has me roaring twice a day with some fit of craziness.
1st: Is there any chance “Aberrant” could become an animated movie or series?
Rylend: It’s funny that you say that. I don’t know that this has been made public yet, but the animation rights to the book were quickly scooped up by a legit player in the animation game, Spoke Lane Entertainment, producers of the award-winning animated films BATTLE FOR TERRA and the aforementioned ORIENT CITY. I’ll be co-directing with Zsombor. The film is being produced by Colucci. These are really smart guys. We’re full steam ahead and I’m really happy with the way things are shaping up.
1st: Which other comic book besides “Aberrant” that you worked on would you most recommend?
Rylend: I worked on a politically charged book about a rogue superhero with a pair of ass-kicking Brazilian artists (Fabio Alves – pencils/inks & Edson Ferreira – Colors) that I think will have a lot of people talking… cheering or pissing and moaning, depending on who they voted for (again, I’m a moderate. I delight in angering BOTH liberals and conservatives). I’m really hoping to see that in stores sometime next year.
And Davi and I are working on another book, a Tokusatsu joint. Tokusatsu, for the uninitiated, is the Japanese sci-fi action genre (Voltron, Ultraman, Power Rangers) that includes Kaiju (monster movies like Godzilla). I’m actually co-writing the series with a guy named Brad Warner, who – in addition to being a wildly popular author of Zen Buddhist books (read HARDCORE ZEN, it will change your life) – worked as an executive in Japan for 12+ years for a company called Tsuburaya Productions, which was founded by the guy who created Godzilla… they make all of the Ultraman shows now. That project is really shaping up nicely and will be ready to shop when we take ABERRANT to San Diego Comic Con.
1st: You wrote a novel “Bobbi” what is it all about?
Rylend: I can’t say too much here because it hasn’t been released yet (novels take years to find their ways into stores), but BOBBI is a small sci-fi thriller in the vein of EX-MACHINA or GATTACA. It’s got a great kick-you-in-the-teeth twist at the end. I think folks will really dig it.
1st: You’re a Pro Wrestling fan who are some of your favorites and why?
Rylend: As I type this, I’m actually staring at the Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Macho Man Randy Savage LJN action figures in my office and grinning from ear to ear. I LOVE old school WWF/WCW. I’m a child of the ‘80s and still a rabid, unapologetic consumer of all of its pop culture fair.
This will sound INSANE, but I actually own the world’s largest collections of major league baseballs autographed by professional wrestlers. Macho Man, Ric Flair, Rick Rude, Brutus Beefcake, Kurt Henning, I literally have dozens more. I just started collecting them over the years because they were weird. Now, folks just give them to me.
Those guys were my favorites. They were just larger than life. Big, bold characters. Watching Saturday morning wrestling as a kid was probably my first substantial writing lesson. The stories were so engaging, so simple, so clean. When I sit down to write a screenplay now, I’m still channeling that stuff, still praying I can create characters as memorable as Vince McMahon and his troupe did back then.
Actually, one of the best days of my life was when I finally got to meet Hulk Hogan. He was just the ABSOLUTE MAN when we were kids. There was no bigger star. A mutual friend introduced us at a convention. This is going to sound completely weird, but I teach Zen meditation on the side. The temple where I teach needed a picture for their website. Most of the other teachers just handed over a generic picture of themselves in their robes. I wanted to make a splash. So, I brought my robes with me to meet Hogan. To this day, my “teacher” picture on the temple website is me, in my robes, standing next to a flexing Hulk Hogan. It’s incredible.
I also once drank WAY too many beers with a slurring, expletive-spewing Brutus Beefcake backstage at the Iron Sheik Roast at the Comedy Store in Hollywood. But that’s probably a story for another time…
1st: What superpower would you most like to have and why?
Rylend: I actually already have a superpower. I can HEAR naked people. It’s incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
1st: What would you like to say to all the fans of your work?
Rylend: Aberrant – Issue 1 is currently available for preorder with the Diamond item code APR181190. You can preorder the special “William Dee Williams – Aberrant Works EVERY time” variant edition (by Issues 2-10 artist Davi Leon Dias) with Diamond item code APR181191. Preorders drive EVERYTHING, so if it sounds interesting to you, please head down to your local comic shop and tell them you want it. It’ll be in shops proper on June 27th, 2018.