RICH INTERVIEWS: Rylend Grant Writer for “Banjax” 

First Comics News: What is the story in “Banjax”?

Rylend Grant: Disgraced former superhero, Laird Mason (AKA “Banjax”), is diagnosed with terminal cancer brought on by years of using his powers. Defending what he has deemed an ungrateful and ultimately unworthy city is literally killing him. With just months to live and a legacy hanging in the balance, Mason launches a violent and misguided Death Wish-like campaign to purge the city of scumbags before he dies.

1stWho exactly is Banjax?

Rylend: Well, Banjax is an Irish slang term that means:

1. To ruin, incapacitate, break, beat to hell, or destroy.

2. A mess or undesirable situation made as a result of incompetence. 

Our protagonist, Laird Mason, could have taken on any moniker when he kicked his way into the heroing game years back and this is the one he chose. It says a lot about him…

Mason isn’t exactly ideal hero material. He’s a deeply flawed human being, wrestling with all sorts of psychological ugly. He’s the kind of guy – and we all know somebody like this – that just destroys (banjaxes) everything he touches… relationships, the lives of the people he loves. For a brief moment, however – when he was wearing that proverbial cape – he was able to channel all of that destructive energy and point it like a laser beam at those who meant to do harm. It was the only time his life made any sense, the only time he was ever worth a damn. When he realizes here that he only has so much time left, he decides to strap the cape back on, to harness that rage once again for what he believes is the greater good.

1st: Why does Banjax do what he does?

Rylend: It’s really a question of legacy. Mason is dying and he’s really struggling to find meaning in the life he’s led. He has a daughter that barely speaks to him, a city that has turned against him for various reasons. He realizes that he stopped being a hero a long time ago and become something else entirely, something pretty terrible. This little mission of his… it’s a last second Hail Mary attempt at righting all that wrong.

1st: Banjax has a sidekick/partner can you tell us about him?

Rylend: Sure. When things get really horrible with Mason, Abel Raines (Mason’s former sidekick, definitely the public’s current point-and-wink superhero ideal), is tasked with bringing his old mentor in. The issue? Raines isn’t remotely up it. Years of basking in the fame and business opportunity that comes with superheroing have made him soft, scared.

Mason is a guy with nothing to lose. Raines is a guy with everything to lose. A situation like that is fertile ground for drama.

1st: What is the relationship between Banjax and his sidekick/partner?

Rylend: Well, Mason brought Raines up as a pup. He pulled him off the street, trained him, made a man out of him, a hero out of him. So, Raines owes Mason a ton. There’s kind of a father/son or older brother/younger brother thing going on between them. When you get right down to it, Mason and Raines are family. No one will ever love you like your family does… and no one can quite hurt you like they do either.

Some will try and boil it down to a simple protagonist/antagonist or hero/villain relationship… but Banjax isn’t that black and white a story. There aren’t really good guys and bad guys here. Everyone exists as some (usually very dark) shade of gray. A close comic creator friend recently compared Banjax to the FX series The Shield. I thought it was pretty dead on in a way. In both Banjax and The Shield, you root for these characters that are doing really awful things because they truly believe it’s for the greater good. You’re also often rooting against folks that are doing the right and lawful thing because it is sometimes the WORST thing you can do in a situation… We don’t see that sort of wicked dichotomy play out often enough in comics or on television. It’s a shame too because it makes for a really fun ride.

1st: Who would you most compare Banjax to from Marvel or DC?

Rylend: Well, I’ve always been attracted to dark, noirish superhero stories. There will most definitely be readers who flip through Banjax and just see a wildly twisted take Batman and Robin story. It’s almost impossible to avoid those comparisons. I mean, Batman is the gold superhero-and-a-sidekick standard, right? That dynamic is just ingrained in/imprinted upon our cultural subconscious at this point. Really, what I’m doing here, though, is trying to use that against the reader. I know exactly what he/she expects to get out of a Batman story, what he/she will assume is around the next corner. Banjax is really a puckish exercise in subverting those expectations, in zigging when the reader is sure you’re going to zag.

Batman tends to drift into the lane of the fantastic, the gothic, the operatic… Banjax is much more grounded and raw. It is an almost morbidly realistic look at what would actually happen if there were folks in our world running around with superpowers. It’d certainly be the wrong people – remarkably flawed people with a ton of baggage – that would end up with powers. The fame, the money, the ability to influence that came with heroing would almost be debilitating. Let’s just be honest… if you or I woke up with powers tomorrow, we’d never be that point-and-wink superhero ideal. We’d be total jerks. I mean, we might not go so far as to break supervillain, but we’d definitely just do whatever the heck we wanted… It’d get ugly fast.

1st: What personality characteristics do you share with Banjax?

Rylend: HA! I hope not too many. This guy has some issues, man. I mean, I’m frustrated, pigheaded, a little too aggressive sometimes… I don’t always make the “right” decision… but not more than anyone else. I guess, at its core, Banjax is a heightened examination of the worst parts of myself, the worst parts of humanity… it’s about what can happen if we don’t check ourselves.

1st: Who is handling the art duties on Banjax?

Rylend: A friend of mine, Dynamite Entertainment artist Kewber Baal (KISS, Army of Darkness), was kind enough to introduce me to two guys – Brazilian penciler/inker Fábio Alves and colorist Edson Ferreira – he had been keeping a close eye on for a long time. I believe he very enthusiastically dubbed them, “the next big thing.” I gave Fábio and Edson a couple of script pages, some Michael Mann movies to watch, and man… they just ran with it, Banjax just came to life. 

The results speak for themselves. The book looks better than I could have possibly imagined it would. These guys simply knocked it out of the park. They are a lights-out team and I’m most certainly not going to be able to afford them very soon.

1st: Do you have any ideas for another comic book?

Rylend: I have a number of new comic fits in the pipe, actually. I guess I’m most excited about a Tokusatsu joint (the Japanese sci-fi action genre that includes Power Rangers, Ultraman, and Kaiju films like Godzilla) – kind of a Voltron-meets-The-Fast-and-the-Furious thing – that I’m doing with the Aberrant art team (penciler/inker Davi Leon Dias, colorist Iwan Joko Triyono, and letterer HdE) and Zen author and former Tsuburaya Productions executive Brad Warner.

Davi and I are also putting together a Fargo-esque small town Sherriff’s department story called The Peacekeepers and I’m cooking up a pretty twisted sci-fi thriller with Banjax artist Fábio Alves.

1st: What is happening with “Aberrant: Season 2” when will we be seeing it?

Rylend: Well, after an unfortunate distributor hiccup, I’m very happy to say that Aberrant –Season 2 should start finding its way into comic shops in late April/early May.

We have some delightfully wicked things in store for readers with these next five issues. The volume gets turned WAY the hell up on everything here. More fun. More intrigue. More asskicking. We really double down on the experimental storytelling elements. Telling the story out of order and out of time… Dueling unreliable narrators… There is an issue here, where a principal character is dying on an operating table. We set up in a previous stanza that said character loves the TV game show Jeopardy. And so, while he’s dying, he imagines himself as a contestant ON (something akin to) JEOPARDY. That’s the issue. His opponents on the game show are his opponents from the book. All of the categories have to do with key moments in his life. As the game progresses, we do a sort of This is Your Life thing and finally really get to know this character. It really is a bonkers ride. I can’t wait to see it in print.

1st: How did Aberrent a TV show come about and when can we expect to be able to watch it?

Rylend: Well, as Collider announced ( last July, Aberrant was optioned for television – by 24 & Felicity Executive Producer Tony Krantz – about two weeks before Issue #2 hit shops.

I’m limited in what I can say, unfortunately – sworn to secrecy and all that – but things are progressing nicely there. It takes A LONG time to get one of these things up on a screen. Be patient. I promise you it will be well worth it. 

1st: Do you prefer digital or printed comics and why?

Rylend: PRINTED BOOKS ALL THE WAY! I LOVE the smell of the ink, the paper. I LOVE the tactile experience of thumbing through pages. But most importantly–

Printed books keep our comic shops, our beloved nerd community centers going. Everyone reading this should go down to his or her local right the hell now and by a TON of printed books. Oh, and be sure to have a PULL LIST, to PREORDER all of your favorite books (like Aberrant and Banjax). Preorders keep this whole train running. They keep the shops open, they keep small labels like Action Lab afloat, and they keep writers like me in the game.

1st: How did you become a Soto Zen Buddhist Monk?

Rylend: Short and sweet? Zen meditation helped me through some really tough times. It probably saved my life in a lot of ways. You know… maybe if Laird Mason found Zen meditation, he wouldn’t have ended up where he ended up?

You learn Zen meditation from a teacher/monk. If you sit with that teacher long enough – it took about ten years in my case – and demonstrate a bit of insight, he/she will sometimes choose to make you a teacher/monk. That’s how it happened for me.

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what it means, if anything. I certainly subscribed to certain responsibilities when I decided to shave my head and put on those monk’s robes. A lot of people in the Zen/Buddhist community helped steer me through the last 15+ years of my life. I guess I’m just one of those people helping with the steering now… 

1st: How has poker playing helped you in writing?

Rylend: Well, in a nuts and bolts sort-of-way, playing poker allowed me to stay afloat financially long enough to break as a professional screenwriter. I never had to get a “real” 9-to-5 kind of job. I could pay my bills and I always had time to write.

I’d probably be stretching a bit if I said what I used to do at the poker table has any real effect on what I do on the page now. I guess I could say that part of what still interests me about both Zen and poker is that both pursuits are largely about solving very complex psychological puzzles… and as a writer, I’m always striving to create really interesting psychological puzzles for my readers to solve. 

Also, it’s fair to say that the same strategic skill set that made me a decent poker player – reading the man or woman in front of you, seeing an opportunity, quickly and accurately assessing risk/reward, etc – is helping me market my books to fans and publishers today.

1st: What would you like to say to those who enjoy your comics?

Rylend: Please, please, please go out and preorder Banjax and Aberrant – Season 2 from your local comic shop, get it on your pull list. A lot of talented people poured their hearts and souls into these titles. They’re great little stories. I promise you won’t be disappointed with them.

If you are, hit me up, yell at me on social media and I’ll buy them back from you. You won’t get a guarantee like that anywhere else.

Twitter & Instagram: @rylendgrant

Preorder Banjax #1 with the Diamond item code APR191268.

Preorder the special “mugshot” variant edition with Diamond item code APR191269.

Look for both in comic shops in June 2019


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