Interview: Jeremy Barlow | R.I.P.D. CITY OF THE DAMNED

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Starburst caught up with writer Jeremy Barlow to talk about his career, influences and the upcoming Dark Horse mini-series R.I.P.D. City of the Damned, the official prequel to the 2013 movie…

Starburst: How did you and City of the Damned artist Tony Parker get your break in comics?

Jeremy Barlow: I landed a job in Dark Horse Comics’ editorial department right out of college, and soon after began writing fill-in scripts under a pseudonym to help keep things on schedule. I had a knack for it, and people liked my work enough that after a few years my freelance schedule overtook my office schedule, so I took the leap into writing full time and haven’t looked back.

I met Tony and began collaborating with him in 2011, when Dark Horse editor Patrick Thorpe put us together for his Savage Sword anthology. We clicked right away. Tony’s immensely talented, which pushes me to write bigger and better things for him to draw, and that’s the best kind of collaboration. We bring out the best in each other.

What were your influences growing up?

I was home schooled, so my childhood was a little different than most. My family ran in some unconventional circles - politically, religiously, philosophically - so I was exposed to unique ideas and atypical people growing up, which all shaped my worldview. A lot of pop culture was filtered early on, though I devoured comics and fantasy novels, and a lot of ‘80s science fiction.

Catching an episode of the old Prisoner TV show in the middle of the night, almost accidentally, at age fourteen blew the doors off. It was The Schizoid Man episode, and I’d never seen anything like it. Just so different and challenging, absurd and smart; it changed my brain. Creatively I was a different person by the end of the episode. There have certainly been other important things along the way - Richard Matheson’s novels, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, the Wachowskis’ films, Brad Bird, Darwyn Cooke - but everything I do now stems from watching Patrick McGoohan battle himself at two in the morning. 

Was the comic book industry something you always wanted to get into?

In my teens I wanted to be a comic book artist. I had some raw talent, but I didn’t have the patience or discipline to develop it, and while I submitted short comic stories to Newcomers Illustrated, a Salt Lake City based publisher, I never got any traction. Their rejections were gracious and unnecessarily detailed, though. They picked apart my artistic weaknesses but liked my writing a lot and I took that as a sign. So, yeah - let’s say that was always the plan!

How did you come up with the idea of City of the Damned?

It’s an amalgam of everything I love. Sinister and absurd characters traveling through a wholly unique world - here an anachronistic old west - grappling with big themes and ideas and fighting monsters. Serling and the Wachowskis really imprinted the idea that stories can work equally well on a lot of different levels. You can be taken for a fun ride and shown a dazzling spectacle, and be completely satisfied by that, but you can also dig deeper and find theme and symbolism and meaning, and connect with the work more profoundly. My talent doesn’t even come close to theirs, but it’s what I aspire to.

Cover art for R.I.P.D. City of the Damned #3

Roy's a great, crusty old lone gunfighter character like Hipshot Percussion, Latigo or Jonah Hex. Did you watch a lot of westerns to find the character and his voice?

I actually hated westerns growing up. Hated them. It wasn’t until I dug into the work of the three Sergios, three legendary Italian directors - Sergio Sollima, Sergio Corbucci, and, of course Sergio Leone - for a college assignment that I realised just how powerful the genre could be. The western is a purely American mythology, but by its nature it can’t escape the concepts of Manifest Destiny and the John Wayne/good guys wear white fantasy. Which just kills it dead for me. Through the European filter, though, it becomes something else entirely. Something more honest and true, more brutal and surreal, and the visual language knocks you on your ass. I love it.

The short answer, though, is Roy isn’t based on any particular character. To me he’s a pragmatic guy with a short fuse but a good heart, and who’s probably done some pretty bad things in the name of doing good. In my head he speaks with Jeff Bridges’ voice. Young, brash, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot era Bridges

With Nick and Roy going after a character Nick knows so well, without giving away the plot, is this the character that led Nick to his demise?

It’s a character with whom Roy becomes entangled on his first case as an R.I.P.D. officer, which is why our story is set 100 years prior to the events in the film. To say any more would spoil the surprise.

Did you get to visit the set when the movie version of R.I.P.D.  was being filmed?

No set visits, unfortunately. Executive producer and series creator Peter Lenkov has been involved with City of the Damned at every step, though, and he’s been amazing to work with. We couldn’t - and wouldn’t - have done this without him.

It must be pretty exciting to have Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges and James Hong in the film; and choosing Kevin Bacon as the villain is brilliant!

Yeah, the cast is outstanding! I can’t wait to see it.

R.I.P.D. City of the Damned is released November 28th.

R.I.P.D. the movie opens in US theatres July 19th 2013, with a UK release still TBC.

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