Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flesh & Blood – An interview with Robert Tinnell

This is the second part of our Flesh & Blood cover this weekend. The first part, an interview with Neil Vokes, can be found here. A proper review of the comic book is in the works and should show up over the next day or two.

I provided the same questions to Robert Tinnell, the comic's writer.

I also know Bob from round about the same time that I met Neil as those two were hanging out in the same murky corners of the Internet chatting up Hammer, Eurotrash and all things cult.

My first experience with one of his works, however, was way back when I was still living in Germany and saw Surf Nazis Must Die for the first time. He was the producer for this Troma movie and at the time it was still possible to shock some of my German countrymen with the concept of Surfer Nazi Dudes Who Have to Pass Away as that idea was still a wee bit offensive then and some of my folks were still suffering from bouts of collective guilt.

Happy memories.

He also produced the award-winning and David Fincher directed Paula Abdul video for “Straight Up”. A quick look at IMDb reveals his true range. Prior to working as a producer he also was a production manager in some of Fred Olen Ray's movies (The Tomb, Armed Response, Prison Ship) before establishing himself as a writer/director (Frankenstein and Me, Kids of the Round Table). Frankenstein and Me already foreshadowed the Hammer slant that is also dominating Flesh & Blood.

With Neil Vokes he worked together for the Black Forest and Wicked West comics books. Tinnell also wrote Feast of the Seven Fishes which was nominated for the Eisner Award, EZ Street and The Chelation Kid.

Together with artist Ade Salmon he created the amazing The Faceless: A Terry Sharp Story for which he is currently writing a follow-up that I am awaiting probably just as eagerly as the remaining Flesh & Blood parts.

Your new comic book collaboration Flesh & Blood will be out later this month. I know of a bunch of guys who are eagerly awaiting this (myself included) but what would be your elevator speech if you met someone who hadn't yet heard about this?

ROBERT: I think FLESH AND BLOOD is the monster rally fans of ‘50’s/’60’s/’70’s British horror wanted to see and never got. When Universal did their rallies the films were very much rooted in German expressionism and a sort of never-never-land quality. Our approach is more grounded in Gothic literature – in the same way the movies that inspired us were grounded in the same. And of course, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN definitely did not have nudity. Plus we’re doing the book at Monsterverse who are setting themselves up to be a real force in horror comics – which, if you know anything about Kerry Gammill and Sam Park, is a no brainer. They are passionate about the medium and you’ll never meet two bigger monster geeks.

Flesh & Blood is not the first time the two of you have worked together. Previous collaborations include The Black Forest and Wicked West books. Can you describe how the creative process works between the two of you? Are you living relatively close by or in different parts of the States? How often do you get to meet in person during the creation of such a book and what major challenges are involved in this process?

ROBERT: Some years we see each other more than others – and at times we’re on the phone frequently. Although of late, my schedule has been so hectic we don’t get to talk nearly enough. But the thing is – our sensibilities and inspirations are so intertwined that it’s a fairly effortless process as far as collaborating goes. If you read my scripts to Neil, often they’ll digress into “can you draw this like the scene from so-and-so film?” and he’ll know immediately what I mean. But before we start anything we usually get on the phone for hours and riff. The other aspect to our working relationship that makes it successful is that we’ve now done so much work together that I’ve learned to write to Neil’s strengths. When I’m writing FLESH AND BLOOD I’m seeing it laid out as I know Neil will do it. And I’m rarely surprised.

How did the two of you meet for the very first time? And was it love at first sight? ;-)

ROBERT: We met at a Fanex convention many years ago – mid-to-late ‘90’s. But we never discussed collaborating for quite some time – I bet it was a good five-six years before we decided to do The Black Forest. Originally, we were just guys who enjoyed hanging in the bar talking films and comics. It honestly never occurred to me to ask him if he’d work with me. And then he was talking to Todd Livingston and me in the bar at a con one night and we told him about our idea for THE WICKED WEST – and that was originally what we were gonna do first. But then he decided he wanted to do THE BLACK FOREST – which we had written as a screenplay. Neil just does what he wants so - we did that first.

Though Flesh & Blood is an entirely original adventure lots of references to the old Hammer Horror movies can be discovered. In actual fact it often feels that this is the type of story New Hammer should have adapted if they had followed in the footsteps of Terence Fisher & Co. What is your own personal relationship with the Classic Hammer Horrors?

ROBERT: I remember my first exposure to Hammer was when KISS OF THE VAMPIRE was gonna be on TV. My mom wouldn’t let me watch it. And the imagery haunted me. It was a few years later – on a stormy afternoon – my brother and I watched Horror of Dracula – and freaked out. As time went on we started seeing more and more of these films – and I started recognizing the actors – not just Cushing and Christopher Lee but even folks like Michael Ripper and Veronica Carlson – and then eventually the name Hammer. And we started to seek them out. I was particularly inspired by Peter Cushing. As an actor, of course, but more by the types of characters he played. The smart warrior/scientist/monk guy – whether he was Van Helsing or Sherlock Holmes or even – or should I say especially – as Frankenstein in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN – I particularly loved that take on the character. And, of course, I loved the women in the movies. Why lie? As I got a little older I got into horror movie magazines like THE MONSTER TIMES and fanzines like PHOTON and GORE CREATURES and LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS. Plus David Pirie’s brilliant study A HERITAGE OF HORROR which blew my fourteen-year-old mind and really opened me up to Gothic literature and film criticism and the codes and rituals and themes that ran through these films. Ruined me.

What are your favourite Hammer films and why?

ROBERT: HORROR OF DRACULA is my favorite. The elegance – the economy of storytelling – and the skill that Fisher brings to the direction – married I’m sure to my nostalgia for the way it shot a lightning bolt through my heart – all make it so important to me. A close second would be FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. It’s a virtuoso piece of filmmaking, in my opinion. Creepy – subversive – Fisher at the peak of his powers. I do like FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN for the reasons mentioned above. BRIDES OF DRACULA is marvellous – and I’ve grown to appreciate DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS more and more through the years – it got some really suspenseful sequences. I love THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. I think THE MUMMY holds up well. Look I love all the good ones! And tolerate many of the bad! And by the way, I haven’t even mentioned the Quatermass stuff – love them. Kneale’s approach was very much on my mind when writing the OPERATION SATAN back-up story that Bob Hall is drawing - the lead character in that will eventually enter the FLESH AND BLOOD storyline…

Any guilty pleasures (with regards to Hammer)?

ROBERT: Of course – LUST FOR A VAMPIRE. In spite of its flaws I think it’s entertaining as hell.

Say Hollywood came calling and Flesh & Blood was going to be adapted who would you like to see star and direct?

ROBERT: I think it would make an awesome mini-series – it’s too epic for one movie. But that being said – Guillermo Del Toro, obviously. Guy Ritchie. Someone who understands the genre but also recognizes our efforts to make characters into something more than cartoons.

I may be oversimplifying but some of the main differences between the US and non-US (in particular European) comic books appear to be that American comics for a large part are geared towards the monthly 20+ page market whereas a lot of the European material is allowed a much larger scope right from the start. I am in particular thinking about the works of Jacques Tardi, Milo Manara, Hugo Pratt etc. When reading your comics I often sense more of an auteur feeling along those lines. Am I talking through my arse? As writer and illustrator what are your influences and are you actually inspired by non-US comic book creators?

ROBERT: Calling myself an auteur would probably result in my getting eviscerated by outraged auteurs everywhere! Now, it is true that some of my films seemed to be better received in Europe – I just don’t want that “we’re huge in Denmark” label, you know? There are comics that have greatly influenced me that originated elsewhere. Lone Wolf and Cub. A lot of stuff Vertigo was putting out in the early ‘90’s that had a decidedly English sensibility. Years ago my buddy, Andy Sands, turned me on to Strontium Dog and it blew my mind. The storytelling is compact yet so evocative. Having said all that – there are themes and ideas I like to explore beyond just being a slave to plot and whiz-bang stuff. God knows I go back to Frankenstein enough. Tim Lucas does a pretty good job of analysing me in the intro to Flesh and Blood and I must admit it gave me pause and some newfound insight into my storytelling.

Writer, Director, Producer. How do you mainly define yourself and are there any special projects you have not yet tackled? What would you rate as your most personal project to date?

ROBERT: I’m actually starting to think of myself as “storyteller” and no longer let any particular medium define me. If anything I’m thinking about other things I’d like to do outside of film and comics. Stuff like installation pieces. I went crazy for vegetable gardening and I kinda view my gardens as art. Which is weird I supposed but it makes sense in my head. A friend recently described my gravitation towards maybe creating some installations as a desire for permanence. Like I have this crazy idea. There’s a tiny creek on my farm and I want to divert a little waterfall there – just long enough to create an Arthurian mosaic of the Lady of the Lake on the bottom. Then restore the flow. And not tell anyone. Just see if they ever see it. And before anyone gets riled up – I am devoted to restoring the ecology on my land – don’t want to trash anything or harm the ecosystem. But I do want to do this one little thing. Don’t know why – it just appeals to me.

As far as super personal? Probably FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES and EZ STREET are my two most personal comic works. I know the latter drove my wife crazy. Although in a weird way FLESH AND BLOOD is very personal. In film, both KIDS OF THE ROUND TABLE and FRANKENSTEIN AND ME. But there are bits and pieces of my personality and concerns and interests that run through all my work. Again – I’d defer to Tim Lucas.

Any memorable stories about Surf Nazis Must Die you would like to share?

ROBERT: It all goes back to SURF NAZIS MUST DIE, doesn’t it, Holger? It will be etched on my tombstone. The entire process of making that film was such a happy, positive one. Peter George, the director, remains a good friend as does Jon McCallum, who composed the music. We worked really hard – and probably played a little too hard – and it paid off. When people ask me what I remember I usually go back to Peter wrecking the boat near the end of the shoot or the impromptu football game we had one night after wrap. Lots of aggression got worked out that night…

Last but not least: I hate the term “graphic novel”. What's wrong with calling a comic book a “comic book”? Discuss!

ROBERT: For me, I perceive the term graphic novel as pertaining to length – not quality. That’s not much of an answer, I know, but it’s the way it works in my head. I happily tell people I write comics.

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