Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interview with Grant Chastain - Writer/Creator Corrective Measures

Grant is the writer of the great prison story called Corrective Measures. The first trade is worth your time and money and Grant consented to do an interview with us, which is always a fun way to get to know who is behind these stories.
In reading your short bio, you tell us a few facts, but we want the real dirt, what is the secret origin of Grant Chastain and does your wife make you wear a nullifier collar when at home?

Grant: Well, the "secret origin" is probably a little less epic than you pictured, but I'll do my best. I've been writing for a very long time in several capacities. I spent a little time in the journalism industry in newspaper and radio, but didn't really find what I was looking for there. I even spent a little time in marketing and technical writing. At the end of the day, though, I kept coming back to my first love, which was comics.

My wife wishes the nullifier collars were real, but only if they could be modified to dampen my superpower... which is apparently the innate power to jabber on for hours about superheroes, prisons, or some combination of the two. (laughs)

Jim : Corrective Measures is an excellent read and very well constructed story. How much time and effort did you put into research and/or structuring the story? Did you did full character back stories on you main characters? Does this story have an end?

Grant: Well, first of all, thank you. This is an idea I had going back for a long while now. Corrective Measures started out as the germ of an idea back in 2003, and kind of spiraled out of control as I discovered at that time there were very few books that had a good ongoing prison motif. Sure, every so often The Punisher or Nightwing would find themselves at Riker's or Bludhaven Correctional... but I wanted to tell a different story. I looked at it from the perspective of the guys that would find themselves doing that job, and how hard it would be to kind of live this moral life when constantly surrounded by these powerfully immoral prisoners. And that's pretty much the heart of Corrective Measures -- the idea that good people have to do bad things to prevent even worse things from occurring.

I was lucky to meet a few folks that had experience in the correctional industry -- in particular one officer that did that job for over 20 years, and a doctor whose job was as an on-site medical professional at a Supermax prison outside Chicago. Their insight into the penal system helped shape the surroundings in Corrective Measures, and it helped breathe life into San Tiburon.

As far as the construction of these characters, there were a few that went through some significant shifts as the story was being written, mostly due to necessity. A lot of the prisoners themselves changed and shifted from the foreground to the background, and some that were intended to have more high-profile roles will have their story arcs fulfilled later down the road. The only characters that really didn't change much from the very first drafts were Jason Brody and Warden Devlin, both of whom I had very clear ideas about when I began. Jason was always the very conflicted hero, the everyman that is forced to make terrible decisions that affect the lives of everyone around him, and I hope that still comes across. And Devlin... well, Devlin is Devlin. He's this polite Southern gentleman that uses his "oh, gee, gosh, golly" routine as a way of getting what he wants, but isn't afraid to pull a 180 if the situation calls for more directness.

The series does have an ending planned, but thankfully it's not for awhile. There are still plenty of stories to tell at San Tiburon, and Jason and his family aren't done there yet.

Jim: After reading the book there are still many plot points that you started that need to be fleshed out. What are the future plans for this story at this time?

Grant: Absolutely. The biggest critique I've seen on this book is that it ends on a slightly uncertain note, seeing that Jason has just made his peace with a comatose Payback and we're not quite sure how that is going to play out. Plus, the matters of Warden Devlin and Assistant Warden Pettibone, as well as the situations with Teufelmensch and Saddiq.

Without giving away the story too much... I can tell you that all these issues will see their resolution in the second book. As well, there's the matter of a shadowy figure seen talking with Warden Devlin in one shot -- what's up with him? All I can tell you about that character is that he will play a major role in the final act of this book, and if you're looking for clues as to the identity... all I'll say is that he's shown up in the book before. Look again for some clues if you're curious where we're headed -- it's all there.

Jim: Why a prison book?

Grant: A fair question -- I've asked it of myself before. (laughs) But really, it was just the idea that came to me. I knew it was an underdeveloped idea, the concept of an ongoing book exploring the prison culture as it would have to be adopted in a world of superpowered criminals. And more so than that, I found the idea of working at a place like that utterly fascinating. It's sort of like the old adage, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Well, what happens when a regular guy gets put into a position of power over people with nearly limitless, unfathomably corrupted superpowers?

Jim: Was this a paying job or a labor of love for you with hopes of a pay off down the road?

Grant: Strictly a labor of love for a long while, though I'm finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. (laughs) I can tell you that publishing a smaller-press indie title isn't exactly swimming pools and movie stars. The work is truly the best reward at the end of the day. I'm lucky that I have had such dedicated support from not only my loved ones but also my creative team. They worked very hard for very little, all because they believed in the book and the story we're trying to tell. I'm very fortunate in that regard.

Jim: Arcana is not the biggest publisher in the world and being in the back of the Diamond catalogue is hard to overcome. What has been the biggest challenge in trying to garner market attention?

Grant: Too true. Again, in a smaller market capacity, it's hard to command the kind of attention that Marvel or DC does. I really tried to ensure this book made it into the hands of as many people as possible, and to me, it all starts with the retailers. I personally contacted about 50 comic shops in different markets to convince them to give the book a look-see, and engaged in as much viral marketing as I could on web boards, publisher forums, and the like. Even that only really scratched the surface of the comic world. I'm still trying to stay busy and get the word out to as many people as will listen.

I've got to hand it to sites like Ain't It Cool News, Comics Foundry, and The Onion for really getting behind what we're doing. The guys over at Ain't It Cool has been personally championing the title for quite awhile now, and I have been thrilled at the response from them. At the end of the day, though... you just do everything you can. Sitting back and hoping people find the book doesn't work as well in today's market, so you've just got to put on your marketing hat and do everything you can to get it into people's hands.

Jim: This book is structured in such a way that you could do a separate issue on almost any prisoner and hardly touch on the overall story arc. It is reminiscent of many strong TV series such as Farscape. Was this idea conceived as a comic or a TV show?

Grant: Good eye! The series was always envisioned as a comic book with pretty noticeable television roots. Corrective Measures was even designed in 12 issue blocks as "seasons" for just that reason.

Believe it or not, though, Corrective Measures was always intended as a comic series first and foremost. That's not to say I'd turn down the opportunity to adapt it for the screen. But I don't think I was savvy enough when I began the book to really grasp that designing it this way would tailor it well for the screen. I just did it this way because I wanted the structure of the story arcs to resemble television story arcs. I'm an incorrigible TV junkie as well as a comics enthusiast, and melding the two seemed like the right way to go about it.

As to the ability to flesh out characters on the fly without taking too much away from the storyline... you're right about that, too. The fact is San Tiburon has 185 prisoners and about 400 employees, and I've got significant plans for a bunch of those. When you see interviews with Damon Lindelof from "Lost" talking about the purpose of flashbacks and flash-forwards, the standard answer is that it allows us to step off the island and change up the backdrop. I look at the side stories with the prisoners in the same way. It breaks up the intentional routine of being in prison for something a little different.

Jim: Since your bio says you are also a teacher I have to assume that writing is not a full time job for you at this time. Is that your goal to be a writer full time?

Grant: Well, in a way, I already am. My full-time job right now is as a corporate training specialist at a tech company, with a specialty in technical documentation. But I understand what you mean, totally. My ultimate goal is to get to the point where I'm working in comics full-time. You know how people always say, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life?" Well, writing -- and specifically, writing comics -- is my idea of a perfect life.

Jim: What other projects are on the horizon for you?

Grant: My team and I are right now putting the finishing touches on the second book of Corrective Measures, which will finish up the first season and answer the questions left from the first book. I'm also working on a few other series pitches right now, among them a military drama about a Blackwater-like team of military contractors called Stonewall. I've also got a limited series called Free Agents that I'm fleshing out right now. It's the story of a New York-based talent agent who specializes in recruiting and training young superpowered teens for service with superhero teams. That one is much more lighthearted in tone, but of course it'd be hard to write something heavier than prison stories. (laughs)

And of course all those may go on the backburner if Corrective Measures continues at its present pace. Long story short, I won't be abandoning this book. It's very important to me that this story is told in full.

Jim: What would be your absolute dream job?

Grant: Just being able to wake up in the morning and say, "Awwww, man... I've got to write the script for a comic book today." That would be amazing. I'd really have to work to come up with a complaint about that gig. "Damn, I've got a hangnail, and I've got to hammer out a script by Friday before I go to the convention signings..." But of course, I'd still complain. I'm a colossal candyass.

Jim: Would you like to ever writer for the big two (DC or Marvel) and if yes what character would you like to have the ability to write and why?

Grant: I think any comic writer, with maybe the exception of Hart Fisher, would love to work for Marvel or DC. Given the tone of the stuff I write, I'm probably going to be a better choice for darker material. I'd love a shot at The Punisher, if only because I'm kind of in debt to The Punisher for the inspiration behind Payback, who is essentially at his core The Punisher + Religious Guilt = Murderous Holy-Roller.

So yeah, I'd be crazy to turn down Frank Castle, or even Matt Murdock, who's been occupying a dark place himself the past 6-8 years. Still, you want to know what book I'd absolutely lie, cheat and maim to write? Don't laugh, because it's really bizarre.

It's Damage Control. You know the old Marvel series about the team of contractors that handles fixing up buildings and handling the city bids after the heroes and villains duke it out? That series is just the bee's knees to me. I could do so much with that concept.

In fact, somebody get Marvel on the phone. If nobody wants it, I call dibs on Damage Control right now. That would be awesome.
Jim: When writing Corrective Measures was it full script or did you give a plot outline and let the artist run with layouts and page design?

Grant: My scripts are a little scary if you're used to plot outlines or the old-school Marvel Way. I write everything I do as full script. The funny thing is, though, I play very rigidly within certain guidelines and others I just ignore entirely, which probably violates a ton of rules someplace. (laughs)

I tend to have very meticulous panel descriptions in my scripts, by which I mean I'm very precise on the stuff I need to have present in order to tell the story. So in some cases I'm saying things like, "Officer Brody is shaking hands with Officer Morales in this panel, but in the next panel the camera doesn't move as she walks out of frame to deal with a prisoner dispute." That's because I know in this issue we're going to treat her beating up a prisoner as a throwaway gag... but in the very next issue, we're going to see that same event shown from the perspective of Teufelmensch, who already hates Morales. To him, this "gag" isn't funny at all. It's just another reason to hate these people. So I need that flow to run that way because I know it sets up another plot point, and I tell my artists that before we begin a page.

But as far as panel sizing, page structure, and other technical details go... I am just about the most hands-off writer you can imagine. I have very specific ideas about what needs to be IN that panel, but as to the size and shape and position, I realize I'm not a page designer. Guys like Fran and Jay Moyano already know exactly how to make things look perfect. Me getting in there and telling them how to organize a page isn't helping, so I pretty much turn them loose and let them surprise me. Which, 99 times out of 100, they do.

Jim: How did you find the artist for this series?

Grant: I found both FranJuan and Jay Moyano via DeviantArt.com, where they had samples of their work posted up on their profiles. I was specifically looking for talent that hadn't quite found the right home, and I was very pleased when they both agreed to join me in putting together the look and feel of the prison.

The original artist on the series was a man named Marco Rudy, who you may recognize as the artist behind the book "After The Cape", which published under Image's Shadowline. He's a good guy and without his work I really might never have gotten off the ground, but ultimately we decided it wasn't the right niche for his skill. So at that point the Moyano Brothers came on, and we've really taken the series to places I never anticipated. I'm very thankful for that.

Jim: Longest Yard – Original or Remake?

Grant: The original. I don't hate Sandler's version... but there's something awfully satisfying in seeing a young Burt Reyonds, sanes mustache, showing guys the meaning of prison football.


No for those of you reading go and order Corrective Measures.

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