Super Armored Cowboy Ninja
The armor is all mental... and steely cold!
With two graphic novels out this summer, Keith Champagne has been a busy writer. That's not even taking into account his continued work with Titan's WWE books and the game you can play of finding him popping up inking DC books left and right over the past couple of months.
In actuality, the first of the graphic novels to hit, IDW's Death Valley, has been in the works for a while, and it's gratifying to see it in its entirety after catching occasional preview pages online. Though I'll do a full review later, suffice to say that it's a giddy high concept that... oh, let's just let Keith tell it...
Derek McCaw: Cowboys vs. Ninjas seems like a perfect high concept. What brought you to that idea?
Keith Champagne: You know, Derek...I'm glad you asked me that because for quite some time now, I've been meaning to tell people I'm a genius. That's the simple truth: genius-level ideas spring forth, fully developed, like rabbits breeding. Just this morning as I was making my two sons breakfast, at least fourteen ridiculously amazing concepts burst forth. True story: when Grant Morrison runs dry, he calls me.
In this case, though, I had a little help from my big brother Kenny. We were shooting the sh*t between fights of a UFC card a few years ago and started debating who could win a fight: Dracula or aliens? Zombies or Yetis? And when Cowboys vs Ninjas came along, it stuck in my head. Probably because I was raised in the 80's, when ninjas were cool as hell in comics and I have a soft spot for them.
Derek McCaw: How did you determine which classic gunfighters would make the cut on your Dream Team?
Keith Champagne: It was actually formed through research, when I sat down to figure out who was alive at the same time and could have possibly known one another. I'm a fan of Doc Holliday so I drafted him first and then built my team around who else was available.
Sitting Bull makes a grim discovery.
We ended up with Billy The Kid, Black Bart (who goes by his given name, Charles Bolles, in the story), Doc, Belle Starr, Sitting Bull and Tiburcio Vazquez. And I took a left turn and added the less appreciated Frank James instead of his more famous brother because I saw a chance to do something different with the character.
Derek McCaw: Were there any you wanted to include but couldn’t?
Keith Champagne: I played around with including Wyatt Earp, I thought it would be fun to have him and Doc on an adventure together. But having the two of them together, the book quickly became a Wyatt/Doc story with a bunch of hangers on and I wanted to play with more of a true ensemble.
And for good measure, I threw in a samurai.
Derek McCaw: How much crossover are you doing with actual history? Are you filling in the blank spaces in some of your characters’ lives?
Keith Champagne: I actually kinda am. When I researched the outlaws, I had the advantage of being able to read their whole histories. For instance, in Death Valley, Sitting Bull is older and this is his last adventure before, in real life, joining Wild Bill's Wild West Show.
One of the outlaws dies around the historical time of this adventure--under mysterious circumstances--so I was able to play with that. Another disappears, something else I was able to intertwine. I tried to stay true to the basic gist of history but also add my own twist.
Derek McCaw: How much did your approach change the more you worked with Shawn Moll?
Keith Champagne: My approach didn't change at all. I write in full-script, turn it in, then Shawn, like all the artists I work with, takes my chicken scratches and turns them into something magnificent. He was born to draw a western and I wouldn't be surprised to see him do another one in the future.
A shot of Covalt's coloring.
We were also aided by Tom Nguyen and a Spanish artist named Mariano to drag this book over the finish line. Among the three of them and the amazing color work of Andrew Covalt, the book looks amazing.
Derek McCaw: It’s been a couple of years since this project first got announced, and now it’s coming out as a full graphic novel instead of individual issues. Which method of graphic storytelling do you prefer?
Keith Champagne: I think I prefer single issues. They're shorter and less intimidating to write than a full graphic novel.
As long as I know my ending, I also like to plot in shorter increments. Unfortunately, I'm not really a genius so I find everything easier to keep track of when I plot shorter and tighter, while keeping my eye on the bigger picture.
Derek McCaw: Has the 5th Dimension launch gone as smoothly as you’d hoped?
Keith Champagne: I don't know if I could even call it a launch yet. We got Death Valley finished and also remastered Armor X, as well as got a bunch of stuff available for download via Graphic.ly, including Dan Mishkin and Tom Mandrake's magnificent CREEPS.
But the original projects/properties are still in development. I'm trying to go slower, being more careful and deliberate about what choices we make. When sales come back on DV and Armor X, that'll be a good indicator of what is going to be next.
"I might not have been as altruistic about the use of the power I was granted."
Derek McCaw: Returning to Armor X, what has changed in your thinking since you first did the mini-series?
Keith Champagne: I think I've grown as a writer. Armor X was my first creator owned book and the third comic I'd ever written at that point in my career. I'm proud of the original, it was the best I could do at the time, but it was hard to flip back through it and not wince at some of what I had written.
So I put the ol' money where the mouth is, doubled down, and tried to make it better--not just for me but also for the readers. It's almost a brand new reading experience now, the remastered version is, and Nick Barrucci was kind enough to team up with me and let me distribute the book through Dynamite in order to give it more exposure in the market. I can't thank him enough for that.
Derek McCaw: What major elements did you have to revise?
Keith Champagne: I tightened the plot considerably--which now branches off in a slightly different direction. The entire series is redialogued from start to finish, which allowed me to hint a little more at what the armor actually is and its relationship with Carson Deeds, the kid who wears it. It's hard to say exactly without giving away too much stuff.
Derek McCaw: How much more material is there for the readers that picked it up the first time around?
Keith Champagne: Well, again...new plot. New dialogue. New art by Andy Smith. Completely relettered by Charles Pritchett. And an amazing coloring job by Cirque Studios, as well as covers by Andy Smith and Bart Sears with colors by the REAL genius, Moose Baumann.
Derek McCaw: Think back to a younger Keith Champagne: what sparked Armor X in his head in the first place?
Keith Champagne: Wow...thinking back to my younger days, I think I started playing with the idea of Peter Parker, and how if it had been ME bitten by the spider, I might not have been as altruistic about the use of the power I was granted. And from there, it quickly took on a life of its own.
Derek McCaw: What will be next on your plate?
Keith Champagne: As far as creator-owned projects, through 5th Dimension, I'm looking at doing a book called The Last Zombie and then another OGN called Barbaric, a barbarian story. There's some work coming up in the video game field, and there's always stuff on deck from DC. I also reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaally want to write Godzilla. So stay tuned.
We will, and thanks to Keith for taking the time to answer these questions. Look for Death Valley from IDW in shops this week, with Armor X hitting some time later this month.