We are over the moon today, having scored an interview with professional Comicbook creator Michael Lent.
Most of you will know him as the writer behind the Marvel series “Prey”, and more recently, “i, HOLMES”, but his experience stretches across many entertainment genres from non-fiction literature to film and TV.
Michael shares with us a wellspring of information, advice and even imparts a few star studded stories to brighten your day. Whether you’re a Comicbook creator looking for insight or a big ol’ Lent fan, curious about this hugely talented guy, we’ve got the goods – so get comfy.
Hi Michael! Thank you so much for taking the time to share some of your amazing experiences in making Comics and other media with us! Could you tell our readers a little about your comics.
ML: Anyone who admits to knowing me might refer to me as that @!*% writer of the Prey series (Marvel), co-writer of Brimstone (Zenescope), writer of The Machine Stops (Alterna) and most recently the i, HOLMES, also for Alterna. I co-wrote four graphic bios of Keith Richards, JRR Tolkien, Stephen King, Stephen Hawking (this was during my “bios of guys named Stephen who don’t like to be called ‘Steve’” period). Incidentally, the Stephen King bio was cool because I actually got to interview him and was able to confirm some things that had only been rumors before then. The project also led to me adapting one of King’s short stories, The Reaper’s Image.
Presently, we’re wrapping i, HOLMES a gritty urban detective drama set in 2009. The story is about a brilliant loner, a streetwise 17-year old girl fresh out of juvie who knows very little about her past except that someone wants to kill her and is willing to take out most of New York. Who she is, in fact, is pretty special, as is the identity of her would-be killer. Art is by Marc Rene, who I most recently worked with on The Machine Stops series. Publisher is Peter Simeti at Alterna, which also published The Machine Stops.
Recently, television producer David Rambo picked up i, HOLMES to develop as a television series and has been instrumental in helping to shape the story. David has worked on EMPIRE, REVOLUTION and CSI, as well as the upcoming series on TNT, WILL. He’s one of the most creative people I know, so we are pretty excited and hopeful.
Outside of comics, I write and produce independent movies in Los Angeles. I was executive producer on IF YOU’RE SERIOUS, shot in China in 2012. The film won several awards and was nominated for a sound design award by the National Academy of Sound Editors in 2014 and I was able to meet presenter George Lucas.
In 2009/2010, I followed the Arctic ice road truckers made famous on the History Channel in order to write the non-fiction book On Thin Ice for Disney Hyperion. The main staging area was out of Yellowknife, Canada and I experienced temperatures as cold as 45 below zero (F). It was awesome.
Wow. Just wow! So what kind of comics would you say you like to create?
ML: Well, first and foremost, what I do is write sort of architectural blueprints, and any ”creating” doesn’t happen until I team up with an artist who knows how to turn my brain scribble blueprints into a house. Without an artist like Marc Rene who I’ve worked with on three, soon to be four series, I would be reduced to stick figures.
As far as subjects, I’ve only done one super-hero book on assignment that has yet to be released. Mainly, I do sci-fi, horror, action-suspense crime dramas, and non-fiction bios. I can do comedy, too.
When did you get your start?
ML: I’m a trained screenwriter and had come to Hollywood to work on the Hellraiser series for Dimension, the film production company that made Scream, the Halloween movies, From Dusk ‘til Dawn and many more, including The Road, which is one of my favorite books and films.
Coming from the world of movies gives me a certain recognizable style and pacing. I’d like to think that my stories are well-structured. These days, I create some stories that are best served as comics or vice versa.
What made you decide to start making comics and get into that side of the entertainment industry?
ML: In 2006, I wrote a screenplay called Prey, a sort of Jaws/Aliens story that was set off the coast of Southern California. My agent at the time thought it was some of my best writing to-date but as a live-action film, the budget was something like $120 million and there are a finite number of companies able to make a film of that scale. However, films that come from comics can have a stylized look that’s a lot cheaper to shoot. Films like Sin City and 300 had come out and my agent encouraged me to think about my story in that context. As a kid, I had been into the X-Men and Marvel universe so I went back to those roots.
The result attracted interest from Dabel Brothers Publishing in Atlanta. They wanted to publish Prey as a six or seven book arc. At the time, the Dabels were working with George R.R. Martin, Orson Scott Card and Laurel K. Hamilton among many others, so it was a pretty exciting time to be there. My first signing at Comic-Con San Diego was with George R.R. Martin just as Game of Thrones was about to happen. We actually had downtime between signings and chance to talk about craft and business. It’s nice to meet some like Mr. Martin as a fan, but even better as a fellow creator.
By the time we finished creating Prey, Dabel Brothers had become a [short-lived] imprint of the Marvel Universe. My mentor in comic script writing was Mike Raicht who was an editor at Marvel, and is a very good writer in his own right. Mike worked on a lot of series including X-Men, Spider-man and the Hulk, and he taught me a variation of the full script method. Lance Laspina was my first art director. Through him, I came to understand how an artist sees a project, as well as how writers and artists should communicate.
Everyone has moments that they’d like to throw in the towel, how do you get and then keep momentum on your projects during those times?
ML: I know, it’s tough. The whole time we have been making i, HOLMES, artist Marc Rene and I have lived this question in the most gut-personal way possible. Just as I started to write out the initial story, my sister Shelly passed away unexpectedly. It was a difficult period. I thought I was handling it okay but the morning of the funeral my hair was coming out in my hands from all the stress. Luckily, I had my family and friends who supported me.
I soon realized that the only thing I could do to honor my sister’s memory was to finish what I’d started.
Then, early on in production, artist Marc Rene’s father was hospitalized with an invasive cancer. Every other week since August, 2016, he made a 450-mile drive each way from San Jose to Burbank to see his father. In early December, he lost his battle for life. In the aftermath, we continued to lay everything on the line to create this book and keep our dream alive.
In a more general sense, self-doubt is the biggest dragon we have to slay. It helps to realize, that the self-doubt goes hand-in-hand with creative expression. I’ve been on projects that appeared on the cusp of changing my stars but then they didn’t happen for some reason usually beyond my control. It can fill you with doubt and anger. To counter this, I focus on how much I enjoy creating and the community I’ve built. Usually, that causes me to reach out to friends, again for support, and then get back to work writing. Those are things that I enjoy and have some control over.
Also, I try to look at bad news dispassionately. Often, that leads me to ask “Why?” I’ll reach out to, say, a publisher and ask, “Can you tell me a little more about why you passed on the project?” Sometimes they tell you things that you can do something about. In one case, a publisher didn’t like the lettering style, which is an easy fix. I wouldn’t have found out if I didn’t probe for info. But lots of times you’ll find out it had something to do with elements outside of your control. You can’t beat yourself up about those kinds of things.
It helps a lot to have more than one project going at once.
When I’m stumped on one, I just roll over to the next. I also don’t pressure on any single project to be the ONE.
You’ve given some incredible advice here, is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out?
ML: If you write, it has to be every day and not when the mood or lightning bolt of inspiration strikes. Same applies if you’re an artist. In school, my writing teacher used to say,
“Good days can come after good OR bad days but they can’t follow no days [days when you don’t write].”
One of the most important lessons Mike Raicht from Marvel imparted was a deferential respect for the medium and the stories. The business side of comics can be and often is brutal but Mike never, ever allowed these challenges to bleed into the creative side. He always made schedules and stuck to deadlines even when it was something just for himself. Especially in the case when you’re making something that doesn’t have a publisher waiting for it or a ready audience. If you don’t start with respect for the process when it’s just you by yourself, no one else will later on. I see creative types who are always chasing the next project as the be-all, end-all. When you do that, you’re less willing to make a project that’s right in front of you all that it can be.
A dozen years later, I still believe cynicism is a currency of dubious worth. I just don’t see much value in thinking success is all about “validation from strangers” or “who you know” and that kind of stuff.
If you’re meant to create, then that’s what you’re going to do.
I’d rather just get to it.
As someone who has worked with big publishers, studios and independently, I believe in DIY because I’ve learned the hard way that if you wait for someone else to pick up your project, you may be sitting around for a long time. Sometimes I’ll run into would-be creators at a con and they show me some great concept work or an ashcan, then a year later, I run into them again and see the same samples. That inertia comes from a lack confidence in either themselves, or the overall concept. You have to believe that what you’re doing matters.
Don’t let your story only exist inside your head.
Really crucial to partner with people with a strong work ethic who you respect and vice versa, too.
Again, what incredible advice! What would you say is one thing that you absolutely could not live without during the creative process?
ML: It would be hard for me to exist as a writer without my MacBook Pro and access to Google. I like to research and photo-reference things as I go so it would be tough to work off of a cave wall.
Here’s a weird question. If you could body snatch someone and take over their life for one day, who would that person be? And why?
ML: Real life person Barack Obama, especially if it was circa 2016.
Fictional person? Hmm. Gandalf… Harry Potter… Sherlock Holmes. Any of these people would be COOL and the bonus would be that I would get some residual value when I returned to my own form. I think it would be depressing to be Superman for one day, see through walls and fly around, etc. and then go back to being a mere mortal who rides the bus and looks bad in tights.
Your writing is so creative. Where do you get your inspiration and ideas from?
ML: I read a lot. 30-40 books/year. Comics, too. A lot of my ideas come from asking “What if…?” Also, I try to live with my writing so that when I’m walking around, everything I see, hear or do seems to pertain to the story I’m writing. Like I’ll see a billboard or my wife or kids will say something and I’ll think, “Wow! That’s exactly what I was trying to figure out!”
For the noisier fans out there, (uh-hum… you know who you are;) What does your workspace look like?
ML: I used to have a great office in our house with a couch and everything, but then our first child, my son was born, and I moved everything into a little bedroom that was barely big enough for my desk and an extra folding chair. The couch, the collectables and all the memorabilia went into the garage. Then our daughter came along and that little room went back to being a bedroom. I started working out of coffee houses around the Valley in Los Angeles. But then our second son arrived and there went the budget for bagels and Sumatra roast. So now most days I’m in a cubicle at one of two public libraries in Burbank, wondering what the hell happened. Seriously, it’s a great resource where I can go Old School and grab real books for reference. And the librarians are nice.
The breadth of your experience is so inspiring. Are there any funny or interesting stories you wouldn’t mind sharing with our readers might enjoy and maybe even learn a little from?
ML: I don’t know if it’s funny or interesting but one story that jumps out is the time I was asked to be on a panel about writing in Hollywood. I arrived about 10 minutes early and the organizer took me aside and said, “Good, good, good, you made it. So, here’s the thing: we had a change of plans.” “Oh?” says me. “Yes, instead of a panel it’s going to be you and a surprise guest, so just go with it. It’ll be fun!” I immediately felt a tiny, tiny bit of sweat beading up on the back of my neck as I looked over at the stage that was empty except for a mic and two chairs. About thirty seconds later, the door opened and in walks the special guest, actor Michael Madsen, star of The Hateful Eight, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs and dozens of other movies. Now, normally, this would be real cool and a thrill but all I can do is look over at the two chairs, then over to Michael Madsen, then at the sweat pooling in my palms, as I realize that I am supposed to conduct a sit-down discussion with Mr. Madsen for which I had done ZERO prep.
Actually, Michael Madsen is a pretty cool guy and he usually pauses to size up and search for just the right words before he answers a question, which kind of gave me time to think of what to talk about next.
Truthfully, he didn’t really need my help, so it all worked out fine. Some audience members even thought me and “Mike” were friends who went way back. Might have worked out better that I didn’t know anything beforehand because I could have over-prepared and would have been more nervous. Afterwards, Michael Madsen and I bro-hugged like we had survived a plane crash.
You’ve already accomplished so much, but as a creator we know you can’t stop now! What would you say is your ultimate goal in making comics?
ML: I’d like to create and work on as many stories as possible. Right now, I have a number of projects stacked up waiting for artists. I’d like to get them moving forward.
It would be nice if some of those projects could stand the test of time, but at the end of the day, it’s a privilege to write anything that finds an audience. A few years ago, I had a signing in Santa Monica late one Saturday morning. It was raining which is a little rare for Los Angeles, so I wasn’t expecting much of a turnout. Still, I brought enough bottled water and candy for a few dozen people just in case. As soon as I set up the little table they gave me, crickets ensued. Some people actually avoided the area so that they wouldn’t have to say “hi.” Then, all of the sudden, this tour van pulled up and all these college-age Japanese cosplay girls got out. Most didn’t speak English, but they had flyers written in Kanji advertising my signing. Turns out I was part of their tour and someone was recording everything for a local broadcast. We took lots of pictures, I signed a couple dozen books and gave away the water and candy. It was surreal and wonderful.
Having had experience in the professional comics industry, do you think there is anything the big publishers can learn from the Indie scene or vise versa?
ML: Big publishers can become risk-adverse. You see the same story arcs over and over barely dressed up. Some of the freshest stories come from the edges and take the biggest chances. Indie books should take chances. Otherwise, they will never stand out from all the white noise. Not long ago, I was searching ComixCentral for something different and discovered the Lance Lucero series Bob: Non-Union Psychic. Such a fun story! Meanwhile, indies can emulate the fit & polish of mainstream pubs.
Editing and logic matters, as does making deadlines. A book riddled with typos undercuts the storytelling. One time I was reading a cool indie book where, on the climactic page, the main character takes a big wind-up swing with a sword but in the next panel, the follow-through was with an ax. I stopped reading and went back through the book looking for clues as to whether there was some sort of sorcery present and if so, to what end. I emailed the creator who responded with an “Argh.” There had been production issues and no one noticed the gaff that couldn’t be corrected now that book was in print.
Super important to fully vet your project before it goes out into the market.
Are you currently involved in any projects our readers might be interested in hearing about? Anything your fans can get excited about?
ML: People might be interested in Malevolent (https://malevolentmovie.com/), an animated horror film currently in post-production slated for completion by the end of this year. Basically, the story is Saw meets Groundhog Day. Cast includes Morena Baccarin, William Shatner, Ray Wise, Bill Moseley. Producers Jim Cirile and Tanya Klein who both love comics asked me to join their team about a year and a half ago. So many talented people are working on the project, I’m excited for the result.
This has been just amazing Michael, we at ComixCentral are so honored and thrilled you’ve taken an interest in what we’re doing here and can’t thank you enough for taking the time to answer our questions. You’ve been so candid with us and given indie creators a peek into your world and an enlightening taste for “how this is done!”.
Before we go, how can people find you and what you’re up to?
I hope people will check out i, HOLMES, as well as our previous series The Machine Stops, also from Alterna and in collaboration with artist Marc Rene. This series is adapted from early-20th century British novelist E.M. Forster who wrote only one sci-fi story in his entire career. Forster wrote The Machine Stops in 1909 but he was something of a Nostradamus. His 12,000-word story foretells our modern way of information gathering and social interaction through cyberspace, while expressing concern for our dependence on technology at the expense of personal experience and all that makes us human. Instantly, many of the best predictions about the future rely not on an understanding of technology and future industrial trends so much as an understanding of human nature, language and culture. That was Forster. It was a great journey for Marc Rene and the rest of our team to bring this amazing story to a whole new generation of readers.
Thanks, Leigh and everyone at ComixCentral for this wonderful chance to chat. It was big fun.
No thank you Michael! This has been such a pleasure! We look forward to all your future endeavours and can’t wait to see what you create next!
If you’d like to connect with Michael, buy some of his work or even just friend him, you can find those links below.
Now go make some Comics!