Today we have the pleasure to talk with Landry Walker about his creator-owned comic Danger Club, which will be wrapping up with issue #8.
For those unfamiliar, Danger Club is about a group of teenage superhero sidekicks who are sort of left with the keys to the kingdom when their mentors unexpectedly vanish during a mission in outer space. The sidekicks then have to rally and see if they can take down the cosmic force that squashed their adult partners.
AiPT: Danger Club begins in medias res, so to speak, featuring characters well into their own ongoing stories and with numerous past adventures under their belts. One of the qualities I’ve seen Danger Club constantly praised for is how the details of the book, right down to the covers, convey the history of these characters and their universe without resorting to clumsy exposition. What was your process for seeding these back story elements into the narrative so they read intuitively but not obviously? It reminded me a bit of picking up a comic at issue #200-something and then going forward from there.
Landry: It has been a funny process. Issue one of Danger Club was originally the third issue written. Danger Club artist Eric Jones and I decided to drop the first two issues and get into the story quicker, and decided to use what we refer to as a “retro page” to show the history of the world you’re reading that also contains information relevant to that issue’s story. So the retro page for Issue 4 shows the relationship one character’s mother had with her sister and father, and that in turn informs the relationship she has with her son (as seen through his eyes). It’s been a great tool as it allows us to dispense of a lot of expository dialog that would feel very out of place in this kind of book. We want you to feel like this comic is the culmination of decades of continuity, and we only have 8 issues. So…
AiPT: Much of your previous work has been on all-ages titles, such as Batman: The Brave and the Bold and The Incredibles. Danger Club is definitely darker than that material, but at the same time it isn’t too deeply embedded in “reality” and takes advantage of being in a universe silly and fantastic enough to include costumed superheroes. What kind of guidelines did you set for yourself to keep a consistent balance to your universe? “It’s weird enough for X to happen, but too serious for Y to happen… Don’t go Full Watchmen…” etc.
Landry: Watchmen is actually an interesting example to me as I feel like a nuance of the book has been lost over time. The idea that it’s “superheroes in the real world” is less true than it is a book about superheroes who happen to also be real people. The world they live in is still very much filled with comic book tropes, but they relate to their environment in a way real people might.
That’s a perspective that helped fuel Danger Club, as we very much wanted this comic to reflect a very comic book-ish universe — complete with alternate realities and lost alien kingdoms and magical realms — with young characters attempting to deal with the violent and turbulent lives they have found themselves in, in a realistic manner. And by realistic, I don’t mean an automatic leap to sex and drugs, an often-overworked angle with teenage characters, but instead focusing on violence and grief and anger — on the very real and always shifting power structure of a teenage social dynamic.
AiPT: Where did you decide to draw the line on your characters acting as pastiches for Marvel/DC personas while also functioning as unique individuals? Was the parody aspect a tool to get readers to superficially identify with your characters out of the gate, before reading on and finding out that their personalities run counter to the more famous hero they’re modeled after?
Landry: It was definitely a conscious angle to use and reinvent familiar archetypes as a shortcut to gain reader understanding. We didn’t want to tell a dozen origin stories right out the gate – though all of our main characters origin stories are slowly disseminated in tiny bites through the course of the series.
AiPT: Danger Club #8 is being solicited as the final chapter of the series. Do you have any plans to come back to this universe and explore past or futures stories?
Landry: The door is always open, but right now the entire team of this book is looking towards multiple projects that are of more immediate interest to us. I have a series on medieval kingdoms I’m working on, Eric is developing a series that has its roots in fantasy, I think Rusty Drake, our longtime friend and colorist, is just looking forward to some downtime with his family. It’s been a long ride; we started developing Danger Club five years ago, and it has consumed a great deal of our time and attention. In the time since we started the series, we have seen several people we knew and loved die. It’s been a strangely cathartic journey, and one I think we’re ready to close the door on — at least for now.
AiPT: Now comes the part of the interview where I ask you about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m sort of the TMNT guy around here and I can’t let an opportunity pass me by.
Landry: Turtles! Yeah… I’ve never really talked about this stuff in an interview. Happy to go into this topic!
AiPT: You simultaneously worked on two different TMNT comics for two different publishers on two different continents: IDW’s TMNT New Animated Adventures in the United States and Panini’s TMNT Magazine in Europe. Both books featured adventures starring the current Nickelodeon animated series incarnation of the Turtles.
Despite writing the same characters in the same universe, was the experience different depending on which publisher you were working for? Were there things IDW would let you do that Panini wouldn’t, or vice versa?
Landry: There were small differences, but nothing I can easily point to besides the page count and the inherent structure that allows. Editorially, there were some tone differences – the UK Magazine runs a bit younger with a stronger emphasis on “lessons” while the IDW book felt (to me anyway) a bit more crazy-adventure-based. That said, both were overseen by the same team at Nickelodeon, and so the differences weren’t super-vast.
AiPT: For these comics, you had to write within the continuity of the cartoon series without disrupting the continuity of the cartoon series. Did you ever find that restriction frustrating? Did it ever completely alter a story you had plotted?
Landry: Yes. So much ‘yes’ to this. For every story that found its way to print, there were a half dozen that were pitched in great and elaborate detail that were rejected — either for tone reasons or continuity — and you don’t just have to worry about what has been on TV, but you also have to worry about what will be on for the next season and a half! Very difficult to predict, and it left me staying up on many a nights desperately trying to come up with some new and interesting angle.
AiPT: Between the publishers, you’ve written around two dozen stories involving the Turtles. Your dialogue is very good at capturing the nuances of the characters, particularly in this specific incarnation from the Nick cartoon. Were you familiar with the Turtles before this version? Any particular details about this incarnation that attracted you? And was one character more fun to write than the others?
Landry: Is it that many already? Wow. I was around fourteen or so when the first issue of the original comic hit stores, and followed it as much as anyone with a limited budget with limited access to a comic store could. Loved the comic, and definitely drew my inspiration from that source, while still immersing myself in the new show. I watched every episode over and over again.
I love pretty much everything about the current cartoon — it’s accomplished with the Turtles what I always love to see, a reinvention that captures the spirit and essence of multiple incarnations while still managing to be a unique thing. I particularly enjoy the teenage reinventions of April and Casey, and the slow evolution towards getting this new cartoon into a form that people expected from episode one. The world-building in this has just been phenomenal.
AiPT: You’ve written stories featuring just about every villain, from Fishface to Pizza Face. The only conspicuous absentee is the Shredder. Were you discouraged from writing stories focusing on the big cheese of the TMNT’s rogues gallery or did you prefer to cast a spotlight on his more colorful hench-mutants?
Landry: The opposite actually. My Panini editor was always asking for Shredder. The problem is that at the time of most of my stories, Shredder and the turtles had fought maybe once or twice, with each instance being a massive deal. I didn’t want to do a Shredder story that undercut the seriousness of this angle, and Nickelodeon wasn’t super comfortable with taking the comic in as an adult direction as the show sometimes runs – something I was very hungry to do.
AiPT: Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions! You’ve got a great catalog of work for people to explore (I particularly enjoyed your Supergirl mini) and it looks like you’ve got even more cool stuff on the way.
Landry: Many things in the works. Always! I’m also writing lots of Court of the Dead stuff for Sideshow Collectibles, so keep an eye out for that!