Judd Winick Talks A Town Called Dragon and What Series Would Get Him to Return to Superhero Comics

Legendary Comics have been making a real name for themselves in the past couple of months with a number of releases from some high profile creators. Grant Morrison’s Annihilator just debuted earlier this month and now we’ve got the first issue of A Town Called Dragon, a brand-new action fantasy series from “Green Arrow” and “Exiles” scribe Judd Winick. In the series, a small snow-covered town hides a burning secret. After centuries of lying buried within the depths of an icy mountain, the world’s last dragon egg finally hatches – endangering modern life as we know it. We spoke with Winick about the new series, as well some of his other comics work.

SuperHeroHype: Was this an idea that had been floating around in your head for quite a while? Then Legendary comes around and says, ‘Got any ideas floating around?’

Judd Winick:  Yeah, a little from column A, a little from column B. I had been kicking around this idea for a while. It was one that was sitting in my back pocket while I was without an artist to do it and when I was doing my mainstream superhero work for DC Comics. Bob Schreck took a position over at Legendary and we started talking, as we often do, about a couple of ideas, but this is the one that we really dug and felt worked for Legendary. It was one of those fortuitous things where, because I wasn’t able to act on it quickly, I had some time to think about it which is how the best stories come about – you get to germinate a bit.

SHH: Was this something you had completely finished writing before Geoff Shaw came on as the artist or did you two get to collaborate on it?

Winick: I had most of it in the can before Geoff came on board. We actually kind of took our time finding an artist. Bob and Greg Tumbarello, over at Legendary, we were looking around for someone that was just the right fit. We looked at a bunch of people, and again we were in no rush which was sort of the beauty of working with Legendary. There was no schedule to stick to, no book that had to get out, we just wanted to get it right, and Schreck finally hit me with a good news/bad news thing which was, ‘I found the guy, but he’s working on another book and you’re going to have to wait six months.’ [Laughs] Geoff was working on a few other Legendary books and he was right, because there was a certain look and feel that we wanted for this and a kind of artist I wanted. I wanted someone who could really draw great acting, who was a little bit stylized. Geoff was my exact type of artist that I really love working with, so he was more than worth the wait.

That said, the collaboration really comes to me, I draw, I’m an artist, so I really like to give the artist plenty of room to…make their mark isn’t the right word, but to collaborate. I’m specific about what happens and how it happens, what people say, where we go, what we do, but so much of it is left up to the artist, the design, the shape, the feel, the texture of it all. Geoff’s great. He’s a quadruple threat. He does the mandatory stuff which is great straight-edged storytelling, terrific action, but on top of that he designs these amazing characters. Everybody looks different! That’s something we take for granted too, these are not cookie cutters. Every character is a different size and shape, this guy’s got broad shoulders, this one is really skinny, look at the nose on that one, these women are both beautiful and they don’t look at all alike. And he makes it funny, it’s a gift, that’s just the best. He came in when the train was already on the tracks, but he was the locomotive that made it go.

SHH: A pretty common storytelling trope in comics these days is showing the end of the story at the start and then moving back to the beginning, and I think you handled it well in this case, because we really have no idea how the characters are at that point at the end. Was there ever a point where the narrative was totally linear or is did you always want to tease the finale?

Winick: I’ve always done that trope. It’s the luxury of knowing where the story’s going to end. In some cases, some folks and myself on a few occasions, you write yourself into a corner where ‘Oh things have changed, I don’t want to end there.’ In this case, because it was going to be a story with a beginning, middle, and end, I knew exactly where we were going and where we would end up and how. So I had the luxury of “Yeah lets start with almost the last scene of the entire story. Let’s go right there.’ I like that, I think it draws the reader in. You immediately get characters, ‘So this one is this guy,’ so when he shows up six pages later you can say ‘Oh that’s that guy! That guy with the spear. Oh, they’re in for some s**t, right? And these two don’t seem to get along at all, well they’re totally going to get along later because they do in the last scene.’ It does the really, really wonderful thing of letting the reader be smarter than the characters in the story. Which, when you can do that, it’s way more fun for the reader. You’re along for the ride. We’re supposed to be smarter than the people in the story. We’re supposed to get pantsed, things are supposed to happen which we don’t see coming at all, but at the same time we’re supposed to have a better sense of ‘Don’t go in there.’ It’s more fun, it’s a better ride, it just makes for better storytelling.

SHH: One thing I found fascinating when I was reading it was how the vikings at the start are trying to decide what to do with the egg and everyone starts shouting their own opinion or spreading misinformation – that is not that different from modern society. If you find yourself in the midst of a hurricane or a tornado, you will find people acting that way. Was that something you thought of while writing it or did it come to you as more ‘Well Vikings maybe weren’t that smart?’

Winick: Well, in this case, with these vikings, they were right. It’s not a superstition, they’ve got giant flying lizards which are setting fire to their entire country, and half the world. I think the superstition part is, here they are, they’ve got these dragons, and they’re right about that, it’s the world they live in so they know the dragons quite well. Everything they spout out is true, it’s what happens. What they don’t know about is the world itself, even though they are right. They’ve got this last indestructible dragon egg, and when this thing hatches, if they allow it to hatch, they’re in for the s**t again. It’s going to start all over again. So for a lack of anything to do, for safety’s sake, let’s take it to the far edge of the world and leave it there. Which, back then the world is a gigantic place, and they think the world is flat. I like the device that, that’s why Leif Erikson came to North America. Not for adventure, not to seek anything out, but on the orders of his king he first set foot on North America to get rid of this dragon egg. That’s the fun of it, that’s what we do nowadays we try to take the most supernatural thing and try and find the most human thing about it, which is kind of the backbone of this whole story.

SHH: How important was it to inject humor into the narrative as opposed to playing it all totally straight?

Winick: Yeah, I like jokes. I’m a jokey dude. It was a couple of years ago, right before I finished my tenure with DC, it wasn’t some yahoo on a message board, it was a critic who was writing about something I was writing that ‘Winick isn’t exactly known for humor,’ and I thought ‘Oh my god, I’m not anymore am I? People don’t think of me as a guy that makes jokes, when did that happen?’ I actually think of myself as a comedy writer, that’s where I started. I started doing comic strips and then went into humor-based comic books, an even when I’ve done my most serious superhero stuff I always make a lot of jokes.

I’m from that Joss Whedon school of action-adventure-comedy. So with this, I actually just naturally feel like the best action-adventures, even the best dramas, are loaded with lots of jokes. From one side of it you’ve got Aaron Sorkin and “The West Wing,” that’s a funny show. It’s a really funny show, it’s piles of jokes. It’s not a sitcom, but man they go for the humor a lot. If you want talk about the difference between the movies that Marvel are making and the ones DC are making, The Avengers is a really funny movie. They go for jokes. I think one of the more serious ones they made was the first Captain America, and again, jokes! And they’re not jokey jokes, just humor. Do we go through life without people trying to crack wise all the time? Maybe, I don’t like hanging out with those people, but I guess they’re out there. I think having a little bit of fun with it is mostly that every other person in the book is a wise ass, which is what I like to read and who I like to surround myself with anyway. So that’s why it’s in there, I just think it’s more fun that way.

SHH: I’m curious why some of the dialogue from the German team is translated and some of it isn’t. Is that to preserve elements of the story from the reader?

Winick: Some of it is just entirely unnecessary. I kept it in German so we know they’re Germans. When they’re randomly talking, believe me, whatever they’re saying is really unimportant, and it’s okay for us to be in the dark. Then there’s time where we really need to translate the information, and that’s the only reason why. It’s just, this is the stuff you need to know. They’re actually speaking German, but they’re saying things like ‘The heat signature over here is blahblahblah,’ and ‘Let’s move all that stuff over there.’ It doesn’t matter.

SHH: I just wasn’t sure if it was like John Carptenter’s The Thing where the Norwegian at the start is saying “Don’t touch that dog, it’s an alien.”

Winick: Right.

SHH: And unless you don’t know Norwegian you won’t know what he said.

Winick: I love when everyone found out what he said though. If only they’d spoken Norwegian, none of this would have happened.

SHH: Will we get to see any variation on the dragon in the story? Is he going to change much visually as he grows up?

Winick: Yes, excellent question. It’s kind of one of the backbones of why I wanted to do this as a serialized comic instead of a graphic novel. I like the idea of it coming out every month and every issue will have an entirely different feel to it. The first couple of issues, when we’re first introduced to the dragon, he’s small. He’s small and then he’s like nine feet tall, and it has a sort of creepy Aliens-type feel because he’s making his way around, but he grows quickly. So we go from the creepy Aliens feel to “Hey, we’re a monster movie.” Again, it’s one of the reasons why I liked doing a story that was coming out every thirty days, then we get to change it up. From chapter to chapter, one will feel a little more insular, a little more chatty, a little more into our characters, creepy s**t starts to happen, creepier s**t starts to happen, and then ‘Oh my god’ by the third issue it’s wall to wall action because the dragon is giant.

SHH: Now if I may, I’d love to talk to you about Exiles.

Winick: Sure!

SHH: Because I love that series.

Winick: Well, thank you, thank you very much. I miss that one.

SHH: Can you recall back to how that came about? Was it a series you pitched for or did they bring it to you?

Winick: No, they brought it to me with the very thread bare idea that Blink was the most popular new character to come out of “Age of Apocalypse,” so they wanted the idea that Blink should have her own team. They also sent me this book of just pin-ups called “Millenial Visions” where artists basically made up characters. Including things like ‘Hey this Nocturne, she’s Nightcrawler’s daughter and she’s from this dimension,” and they said ‘Why don’t you pick and choose the ones you like?” I picked a few, went with a few of my own, said I wanted to keep Morph from Age of Apocalypse, and they said ‘I think he died’ and I said ‘Yeah, I’ll just say he’s from a different (dimension.)’ With that I came back to them with the pitch that I wanted to do it like a ‘What If?’ Remember ‘What If?’ I wanted the idea that between “Sliders” and “Quantum Leap” and “What If?” where we have a team hopping from dimension to dimension where we get to go into old Marvel stories and say “This is where they went wrong and they have to set them right,” and everyone said “Yeah, that’s cool.” Then I got Mike McKone and everything came together, again, you get the perfect artist, we got Geoff on A Town Called Dragon and everything just slammed together so well, like McKone on Exiles. It was ridiculous. We had the greatest time on that book because we did whatever we want, we made up whatever we want. He once said ‘Hey I want to draw Spider-Man with this gas mask thing on his face.’ ‘Okay, Why?’ ‘I dunno, I think it would look cool.’ ‘Alright, go ahead and do it. Works for me.

SHH: It shows. That’s one of my favorite comics to read, it is just a delight, like you said, it’s a lot of fun.

Winick: Yeah, and of anything I’ve done I think it’s the only book I had to walk away from early. Pretty much everything I’ve done I’ve probably stayed six issues too long. I’m mostly joking about that, but I’m sure if anyone’s read my stuff they’d say ‘Yeah he totally should have left earlier.’ But Exiles was the only one that I probably could have gone on for several more years and been happy. And it’s the only one where just recently Marvel floated the idea back to me ‘Would you like to come back and do Exiles? Pick up where you left off?’ I said ‘Had I the time, it’s the only superhero book that would drag me back into doing superhero comics right now would probably be doing Exiles. So maybe someday.

SHH: I will keep my fingers crossed. You also had the privilege of bringing Batwing to life with the New 52, another series that I really enjoy. One thing I think is interesting is that with all of these other DC and Bat-family characters popping up on TV, why do you think no one takes a gamble and makes that character into a TV show or movie? Are they afraid of dealing with the politics that comes with the territory?

Winick: Yeah, I have precious little to offer on this, but I would guess that. I mean they’re not even taking the gamble with the monthly anymore, they revamped the character not long after I left, took him out of Africa and gave the suit to somebody else. It’s what’s his name’s kid. I’m blanking as I’m getting old.

SHH: Lucius Fox.

Winick: Yes, Lucius Fox’s kid! Which is not a bad idea at all. They came to me with the idea of doing Batman from Africa and I said let’s actually make him African. We’re not going to do some “Raiders of the Lost Ark” crap and mysticism and what not, and they dug it. I only stayed on the book for about a year or so, but that’s the story I had. I wasn’t planning on going much longer than that. So I would say they’re probably not taking the risk on it for the same reason maybe they’re not taking the risk on it for the monthly. Doesn’t work for a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

A Town Called Dragon #1 will debut in stores tomorrow, September 24.