The first time I spoke to Ryan Schiffrin it was for the DVD release of his debut film, Abominable – the best Bigfoot movie since The Geek (look it up). Ryan’s follow-up to that film, Spooks, ended up taking a different path – right into comic book stores. Working with the man behind GI Joe, Larry Hama, Ryan turned his Spooks screenplay into a four issue series for Devil’s Due. The book has been incredibly popular, and it looks like Spooks might be turning back into a screenplay in the near future.
The fourth issue of Spooks - the final issue of the current story – hits stands this week, and I took the opportunity to get on the phone with Ryan and Larry to talk about the book and their other projects. Ryan was also cool enough to send along some exclusive pages from the fourth issue of Spooks; you’ll find one page in this interview, and the other in tomorrow’s interview with Larry Hama. Click on the image to see the page in full size. And check out the cover to Spooks #4, to the right. Yup, that’s a Drew Struzan painting. Not too shabby.
Is a Struzan cover not enough to impress you? In that case, click here to visit the Spooks website, which features music for the comic composed by Ryan’s father, the incredible Lalo Schiffrin. Now that’s pretty damn cool.
How did you and Larry Hama hook up to get this going?
When I was pitching this to producer Daniel Alter I told him that this
was different from Hellboy and all these other things where you have a
secret government organization hunting monsters, in that I wanted it to
be about a military unit. I wanted it to be like GI Joe. And I grew up
reading every single Marvel GI Joe comic that Larry wrote. He created
Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Cobra Commander, all the characters we know.
I was speaking with RA Salvatore, who is also helping on this, and his
former editor at Del Rey mentioned that he ran into Larry and would I
like to get in touch with him. I showed Larry the screenplay for Spooks
and said ‘We’re turning this into a comic, and would you like to write
this with me?’ He read it and said he’d love to.
How does that process work?
It was different because we were adapting a screenplay. We had all the
story beats worked out, and the characters and everything else. Larry
lives in New York and I live in Los Angeles, so we would send stuff
back and forth. He would break it down into panels and layouts, and he
would also make changes to the story, because he had ideas that would
make it better – both the story and the characters. He would send me
the layouts and I would do a pass on dialogue and he would do a pass on
dialogue, and we would kick it back and forth until we thought it was
You have the freedom of a comic book now – has that changed your approach to the story of Spooks?
The only limit is what you can imagine, which is a lot of fun. You have
space constraints and everything, but you can work around that. You can
blow up as much crap as you want.
The first issue sold right out, and the second issue as well?
Actually the first three sold out.
How has that impacted the progress of Spooks as a movie?
We’re definitely talking to studios about it. There’s been interest –
just having the comic helps. It’s like having an illustrated screenplay
and you can show the executives just what the movie will be.
I’ve talked to people who have told me that having a comic is a nice shortcut to getting your genre ideas noticed.
Yeah. And movies are a business as well as a creative endeavor, so when
you have a brand it’s a lot more attractive. That’s why you see so many
remakes and adaptations of video games – anything that’s a pre-existing
property, a brand name that people recognize. It’s a safer bet for a
studio to turn that into a movie rather than a spec screenplay.
How many issues of the comic will cover the original screenplay, and
what happens after that? When you’re done with the original screenplay
will you keep going forward?
It’s four issues to cover the original screenplay, and then it’ll come
out in a trade paperback in July. And the other thing I want to do is
this thing we came up with during the development of the comic that
wasn’t in the screenplay, which is a division of Spooks called the
Omega Team, which is the hardcore assassins, the guys you send in to do
the dirty work. Larry is like a Method writer, he likes to let the
characters decide where the story goes. He doesn’t like to know the
ending of the story in advance. So I think it was a pain in the ass for
him to stick with the story we had on this, so I wanted to give him the
freedom to do whatever he wants, and to design the Omega Team so that
he could do a monthly series where he can take those characters,
develop them, do whatever stories he wants with them and run with it.
And we are going to do a sequel to the story as well.
What’s up with you when it comes to filmmaking? Anything else lined up? Maybe Abominable 2?
I had worked with Dave Parker who is doing The Hills Run Red for Dark
Castle, and we came up with a treatment for Abominable 2. I was
enjoying working with Larry, and he writes screenplays as well, so I
went ahead and asked Larry to write the screenplay for Abominable 2
based on this treatment. So he just finished that, so we have some cast
attached. We’re bringing Jeff Combs back. We’re in the process of
setting that one up. And I have another I can’t say anything about
right now, but it’s a bigger buddy action horror movie.
Is it possible that outside of the Spooks universe you might be doing more comic work?
The thing with comics that’s so great is that they’re fun and you can
work on them from home. You can do them in your pajamas, and you can do
all the work by phone and e-mail! It’s been more fun than I thought it
would be, and I do want to keep on doing comics. It’s much more fun
than just writing a spec.