Von Bach Is Here!

by John A. Wilcox

As many of you know, I have been a professional cartoonist since Spring 1983. Decades in the biz jaded me more than a bit. I haven't seen it all, but I've sure seen a lot! I was delighted to come across Von Bach - written by Owen Hammer, with art by Mariano Navarro and Hernan Cabrera. It feels fresh. The story moves along well with great characters and snappy dialogue. The art is a dream. It's a book I highly recommend! I recently had finger sandwiches and herbal tea with Owen Hammer to get into the guts of this new series...

PS: What’s the inspiration for the Von Bach series?

OH: Two things. When I was working in visual effects, someone at our office got a hold of the test footage that ILM created for a new Frankenstein movie (now available to the public here ). It looked exactly like Boris Karloff in latex Frankenstein make-up and that was the problem. It looked SO good that it was anti-climactic; the studio (presumably Universal) was expecting something amazing, but to look amazing it had to NOT look like a guy in make-up, so the project was cancelled basically because the studio realized that the idea was conceptually deficient.

But no one realized what had just happened. They brought a man back from the dead to play a man who came back from the dead. It was so meta that it stuck with me for years.

The second thing was a story on NPR about Bela Lugosi Jr. — son of the Dracula actor and successful lawyer — had sued a model company for making a Dracula statue that looked like his famous father. How windy and twisted intellectual property law is; Dracula is public domain, Lugosi as Dracula is owned by Universal with limited rights to be in derivative works, but Bela Lugosi in *any* context was owned by Bela Lugosi Jr. I was absorbed by a funny thought: what if Dracula showed up and sued them all. I felt like I had struck gold.

Anyway, my theater company — the Next Arena —had me develop the ideas into a stage play and I was really happy with the result.

PS: What can buyers expect for their hard-earned cash?

OH: First of all, some of my buyers are military contractors, hedge fund managers and executives at health insurance companies, so, they don’t all earn their money. As for Von Bach the comic book/graphic novel: the book is a very funny satire of celebrity culture with a dramatic story at its core and a few genuine scares. Also, the artwork is incredible.

PS: How did Mariano Navarro and Hernan Cabrera get on board as the art team?

OH: That’s a weird story. I’ve come to befriend a guy named Mase Corgan who writes adult comic books. He suggested I contact Mariano and Hernan (collectively “PortalComics”) and while I liked their artwork, I knew them as the guys who, well, draw women with gigantic breasts. It turns out that they have a broad portfolio of mainstream work and they are basically just good artists period. Also, they can draw different faces consistently and it is SURPRISINGLY hard to find artists who can do that. Even very successful artists (no names) can’t draw distinct faces, especially on women.

PS: Let's get some info on a few of the cast. What do we need to know about Elsa?

OH: Elsa is to Mary Shelley as Von Bach is to Frankenstein. She is a maniacally ambitious writer in nineteenth century Germany and she is head over heels in love with pioneering scientist Dr. Von Bach. Elsa imagines Von Bach being reanimated by his own invention and whether or not this is a product of her imagination is unknown at first. Regardless, this compelling gothic romance became internationally famous and in the twentieth century, “Von Bach” becomes a household name like “Frankenstein” or “Dracula” in the real world. She really wants to tell stories, which is admirable, but she also really wants her stories to be famous and that may be her undoing.

PS: How important is Minna in the tale?

OH: Minna was conceived of as a supporter character but when I was workshopping the story with TNA, she became the main character.

Minna is the modern day Elsa. In 2013 (the dates will make sense eventually) she is hired to write the screenplay for the one hundredth adaptation of Von Bach. She has the same maniacal ambition and religious belief that Von Bach is the greatest story ever told. She’s also an idealist with an equally religious commitment to artistic integrity and much of the conflict comes from show business trying to beat her down and water down her work. Once again, a woman’s passion for storytelling may be her undoing.

PS: Give us some info on Hilary.

OH: Hilary is the head of a major studio and is partially based on Sherry Lansing. Sherry, if you’re reading this, PARTIALLY based on you. Like her good attributes are based on you. PLEASE GIVE ME MONEY! I kid. Go ‘Cats!

Hilary is one half inspired by high-strung bosses I have had in the industry and one half inspired by my wife’s bosses who are all women. I wanted to really examine the dynamic of a woman boss and a woman employee. Female bosses tend to want to by “buddies” with their female employees. This makes conflict between them surreal, especially if the boss has a real emotional need to be seen as a mentor. She’s a woman “paying it forward” to another woman, the two of them co-participants in the work of empowering women. Meanwhile, the employee wants to murder the fucking bitch.

PS: How important is Cal-Med to the plot?

OH: Oh, I have to keep some secrets.

PS: Who is Von Bach and why is he important to the reader?

OH: Without going deep into the story, Von Bach is a man who wants his dignity restored. A lot of people feel like society is forcing them to be something that they're not and Von Bach is a synthesis of all the different ways people feel that way. Most readers will identify with that. Also, Von Bach is the straight man. A lot of humor comes from the fact the undead monster is rational and kind of "normal,'" but the high-strung filmmakers are really freaky.

PS: As the series goes on, are there any other massively important characters we need to know about?

OH: In issue 2, we 'll meet Connor Krupa. He is the grandson of Inus Krupa, an actor from the '40s who played Von Bach in the Von Bach film. He is a mix of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. People know him as Von Bach and maybe nothing else.

Connor is suing the movie studio for copyright infringement and he becomes Minna 's nemesis. The two spar over intellectual property ownership which is a proxy for their conflicting self-defining philosophies. If that sounds dull, it 's not; the two are employing more and more extreme tactics to defeat each other, becoming different people. Connor comes off as a douchebag, but the studio did rip-off his grandfather, so he is fighting a just cause.

PS: Was the stage play you wrote ever performed live?

OH: Oh, yes. It was performed multiple times at multiple venues between 2010 and 2013. If not for the name recognition and the established audience, the graphic novel would be going nowhere. It was produced by the Next Arena theater company, who really forced me to make the script better and better before they started rehearsals.

The device of cutting to movies was born of a desire to be a multimedia show. Those fake films "clips in the book” those exist. Horror master Aaron Moorhead was the director of photography, and he knew how to use modern lights to recreate the look of an old film and he had to do it multiple times for multiple film styles.

He nailed it. In fact, our technical director Sarah Templeton an otherwise brilliant woman, thought that they were old films, surmising that Von Bach is a franchise that had fallen into obscurity and we obtained these public domain films and wrote a story about them. I pointed to director Scott Rognlien, there, on the stage and then pointed to the actor in one of the movies, also Scott, and pointed out her mistake in the most elegant (if rude) way possible.

PS: As I read issue #1, I felt like I was reading a film. Was that deliberate?

OH: I think that any good comic book will feel like a film. If the writers and artists do their job, you don 't think that you 're looking at still pictures with word balloons, you see and hear it happening. So, thanks, I suppose.

However, after the play ran its course I adapted it into a screenplay. Unfortunately, all of my contacts were horror film producers and Von Bach isn 't really a horror film and there are no "satire film" producers who will take my calls, so the project fizzled. The comic book script was adapted from the screenplay, so, that's another reason.

And of course, some parts of the book are literally a movie.

PS: How is the series being funded and where can people go to be a part of it?

OH: It 's being funded by the Russian government. The next issue is really exciting, it 's titled Anyone Who Thinks Crimea Is Not Part Of Russia Is A Homosexual.

JK, obviously. We funded the first issue with Kickstarter. Now we need to sell copies directly to readers to fund the second issue. We hope to get a publishing deal so this is not an implausible scenario. If we run out of money, well, then we 're going to have to get creative . . .

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