Friday, March 20, 2009

Interview with Duncan Rouleau - Writer/Artist The Great Unknown from Image Comics

I fell in love with the new series The Great Unknown by Duncan Rouleau and was a fan of the Metal Men series that he did for DC comics. Duncan is a great talent and was kind enough to allow me to hit him with some questions and then to give us some answers. Duncan was even kind enough to say that I had inspired him to do an "Unsung A$$holes" book which would be more of the hilarious one pager he put in the back of The Great Unknown.

Jim: In skimming around the internet it appears that your first love maybe TV and/or movies. What is the secret origin of Duncan Rouleau.
Duncan: It’s true, I have meandered across the entertainment spectrum. However, to say I favor one medium over another would be a mistake. It’s always been much more a practical matter of what successes I was having at the time and following the work. After having said that - I learned to read from comics and I suppose dream from them as well.

Jim: Ben 10 is a major hit and has spawned quite a few ancillary avenues of marketing opportunities for you and "Man of Action" studios. While I have to confess I have never been a fan of the show the "Dial H for Hero" and Ultra the Multi-Alien aspects seem like great fun. How was Ben 10 started and how many years did it take to become an overnight success with it?
Duncan: A lot of people make that comparison between Ben 10 and Dial H. To be honest that never entered our thinking. Although I can see why people see it. It only came into our radar after the show was out and others began making that linkage.

Ben 10 came out of a very different notion - the Bjork song Army of One.

The show is a juggernaut now, and that success has much to do with so many people. It did languish in “development” for several years until it got the green light. After it aired it took off on an accelerating trajectory and hasn’t leveled off yet. I know we all feel very fortunate.

Jim: As a writer/artist what do you consider to be the harder part of the job?
Duncan: My standard reply is – when writing drawing is easier, and visa versa. However, the truth is writing is harder for me. I have been drawing others words for a longer time and I am in the process of discovering my own way through way through my own stories. I am a work in progress.

Jim: I followed the Metal Men mini-series and I loved the artwork and the concepts, but I occasionally got lost in the time jumps and felt the book was a little dense in spots (more words then needed). I'm looking to buy the trade one day as I know the book will read better as a whole. When doing a mini-series like that what is your process? Do you write the entire script, do you approach it as chapters? Layout the entire eight issues?
Duncan: I’ve been approaching each of these projects differently. Generally I make a fairly in-depth outline and block out the pages with thumbnails. I guess I’m my own Marvel way. This way I make different discoveries switching back and forth. The big difference between my creator-owned books and with something like the Metal Men is that there are not the story constraints, character changes or business decisions influencing the book.

I hope the trade will make more sense to you. The story itself is pretty simple, structurally it does move around but in the end it’s just a simple take of following your compass.

Jim: The Great Unknown simply blew me away. It plays as some many different things. I see it as a commentary on our society on many different levels. You touch on genius, slackers, drinking, sarcasm, unsung a**holes, adventure and reality TV all in one issue. You even sneak in the whole Alexander Graham Bell stealing the phone from Elisah Grey (which was put to good use in Helen Killer). Where did The Great Unknown idea come from?
Duncan: I think everyone of us has had the experience of “having an idea” only to find that some one else has had the same notion… and even in some cases having acted on it. When it happens we have a tendency to contribute it to some sort of zeitgeist or “group think” experience. The storyteller in me took the next step…what if it wasn’t just coincidence.

It seemed like a theme that would have some traction in these days of the digital revolution where privacy issues and identity theft are on everyone’s radar.

Jim: The muted color palette worked very well on "The Great Unknown". How do you decide on coloring this type of project?
Duncan: I did a black and white book a little while ago called the Nightmarist. I love the undistracted graphic nature of that style of storytelling. I wanted to experiment with limited color to see if I could capture that graphic feel, but also the limited palette seemed to fit right in with the fixed experience of the main character.

Jim: Your artwork has a fluid feel and is a cross between an animator style and a more pure realism style. What is your formal art training and who do you count as influences? Is your style still evolving?
Duncan: I fell in love with the notion of superhero comic as allegory and I always felt that a strict “realistic” style was unnecessarily compromising those built in attributes. As far as realism, there needs to be an entry point for the reader/viewer if you go too far with your style you may loose your audience. It's a balance that I am always looking to find.

I hope I will always be evolving – it’s an old chestnut but if you ain’t growing you ain’t learning.

Jim: A friend of mine and I are always talking about how technology is changing the fact that "original art" is becoming a thing of the past. How do you produce your artwork? (What is the process?) Do you have "originals"?
Duncan: There are aspects in the backgrounds that I draw on computer but almost all of it is hand drawn.

I do think that technology is changing the medium and that you need to be proficient with these new tools to provide some the “production qualities” that are expected nowadays. Some of the artistic reasons for doing the Great Unknown (limited color palette, cartoony shapes etc.) was to see if I could use some of these new technologies and still keep an organic feel.

Jim: Is "The Great Unknown" a one and done mini-series or if successful do you have anymore more stories for Zach?
Duncan: I do have an open ended aspect to the story that could lead to the following exploits of ol’Zach . There is something quiet universal about him that’d be hard to shake.

Jim: Is "Man of Action" Studios a true studio or just a group name to incorporate your projects with your partners?
Duncan: Steve Seagle, Joe Casey and I all live in Los Angeles. Joe Kelly lives in New York. We don’t sit in the same room, but we are on the phone all day long, use video cams and all sorts of im tech to keep in constant touch. We work together on many projects and the ones we don’t we share with each other all along the development process. So in the same way technology is changing the medium I guess it is also changing the notion of what a studio is.

Jim: You have had a chance to work at the big two, are there any other characters that you would like to try you hand at from Marvel or DC?
Duncan: As a kid I was mostly Marvel all the time – with a few limited DC titles (Metal men being one). I do love those characters, and they are a part of my d.n.a. After having said that, in many ways they are unrecognizable to me now. Many of them have become references of themselves. What I loved the most from both houses was the pure unmitigated level of imagination and creativity. I loved the pioneering spirit that came out of the titles and that is what I what to do now. I think I will find that more out here in the independent world.

Jim: In both Metal Men and The Great Unknown you are throwing in some terrific science concepts and various theories. Is this a passion of yours?
Duncan: I did grow up in it. My house was one big science experiment. I have a soft spot for scientists. I really appreciate what they do for us all.

Jim: When not creating comics or TV series what do you do on your downtime?
Duncan: I’ve got three kids. I have no down time.

Jim: The Legion of Super Pets had Comet the Super Horse, Streaky the Super Cat, Krypto the Super Dog, Beepo the Super Monkey and a lump of protoplasmic gel called Proty? Who was your favorite and why?
Duncan: I love ALL monkeys. Chim Chim from Speed Racer is my personal favorite…I know it’s not on your list or in comics for that matter, but I do love him.

After having said that Streaky has been point of extreme interest. The cat’s name is streaky.

Jim: Where you always a comic fan or did you fall into it?
Duncan: 1973 Avengers #115. I read it in the back of a Ford LTD Station Wagon on our family summer vacation. I was hooked. I never looked back.

Jim: Any new comic projects on the horizon that you can talk about?
Duncan: I am working several other artists at the moment putting together new books to be published at Image through Man of Action studios. I can’t go into detail, but I can say that will be performing the writing duties on these …and I am looking forward to seeing what worlds the artist create. I am also writing and drawing another solo project that I will be announcing down at the San Diego Comic con. Beyond that Man of Action, among its many projects, has a new show on Cartoon network. It is based on a comic that Joe Kelly and I created several years back, and has been developed for TV by the studio. It will be airing in the first quarter of next year. I can’t reveal the title – because that is still in development.

Jim: Do you have an entire book worth of "Unsung A**holes", that was such a great one page in the back of the book, where did you come up with that idea, it is genius, funny and I'm sure so damn true. Loved the Roman Gladiator with the beer in his hand.
Duncan: Honestly it was a last minute notion. I thought it would be a nice addendum to the book. My plan is to put in different excerpts of historical asses at the end of each book. I don’t have enough material as of yet to put out a complete series, but it is something I would love to do.

Jim: Marketing as an independent is a hard job. How do you go about pushing your project?
Duncan: It is hard. It is a full time job in of itself. I have the help of Man of Action’s notoriety to aid me in getting the book out there. We are doing a whole series of books and hopefully we will build up a library of quality material.

Jim: What do you see as the future for comics? More digital, print on demand, motion comics?
Duncan: I think there will always be room for print, but digital and motion comics are the powerful new way to tell stories. This is where I think “comic stories” you will have their new home in the future. I have been working several different formats for digital material and it is exciting. I wouldn’t call them comics per se, and that is where I think a lot of creators get hung up - the terms don’t fit the medium. It will be something, but not “comics”.

Again thanks to Duncan for taking time out of his schedule to give us anwers for a long list of questions. I know Lee can relate to having no time down with three kids as for me raising my children is now becoming a distant memory.

Now go out and buy the Great Unknown and if you don't like it let me know and I will tell you why you are wrong :).

For more info on Duncan:
The comic database page for Duncan.
Duncan’s web page.


  1. Credit as inspiration for "Unsung A$$holes"? Best part of the post.

  2. LOVED Metal Men. I did read the whole thing again once issue 8 came out, and I'm sure it will read better as a trade. Or better yet, it would make a great anime.

    I also dug Ben 10, but I have to admit that it lost its charm when it became Ben 10: Alien Force. I watched nearly all of the first series, but quit watching the second early on 'cause it wasn't as "fun" anymore, just dark and depressing, a big jump from the first series.

    I'd not heard of The Great Unknown, but it sounds interesting. The art in this interview looks good, like a sweet blend of JH Williams and Chris Bachalo.

    Oh yeah, btw:

    ...the Bjork song Army of One...

    Heh. Sound like an Army commercial ;-) The actual title is "Army of Me." Björk rules!

  3. I use to read super man but I have never read what you write . I liked reading how oyu drew your back ground isn't that both time comsuming and a lot more work then is needed today ? We are living in the digital age I feel like I am driving a car and you are riding in a horse and buggy . Not meaning to sound sarcastic .