Amongst the droves of DC banners, giant Hulk statues, and throngs of attendees in masks and foam muscled suits at third annual New York Comic Con, David Lloyd makes it very clear to me that he’s had enough ot the superhero genre. The artist has done his time drawing characters like The Hulk and Captain America, but it was never those well-established and thoroughly merchandised characters that established Lloyd, but rather his work on cliché-defying works like V for Vendetta, the graphic novel he co-created with fellow superhero survivor, Alan Moore.
Like that title, the British artist’s latest work, Kickback, finds him toying with a genre’s tropes, only this time around he’s traded the world of capes and tights for the equally well-trodden land of crime genre. In this second and final part of our interview, we discuss film adaptations, the thematic importance of airships, and why embracing clichés can be a good thing.
[Kickback] seems to have drawn a lot of inspiration from this ever-popular genre of cop movies.
Yeah, I always wanted to do a graphic novel that was like the crime movies that I admire. They’re a specific type of movie: Bullet, Dirty Harry, Point Blank, a TV movie called Hickey and Boggs, that had Robert Cult and Bill Cosby in it, 48 Hours—there is a specific style, where nobody says anything, unless it moves the story along. I see a lot of crime films now and everybody’s talking, all the time.
The Taratino effect.
Yeah, welll Taratino does like his characters to talk, and in fact, I actually held that against him, to a degree, until Kill Bill, in which people don’t say much at all, but he’s got some great writing, Quentin Tarantino. It’s all relevant, somehow, but I think a lot of the writing is really superfluous, in a lot of crime thrillers. Maybe it’s because the actors want more lines, or whatever, but I think it’s just terrible. I just want a sparse script and the characters to move me through it.
In cinema—and in comics, too—expressions can tell you a lot. You can just use a panel with somebody’s face, and it will tell you what they’re thinking. You can do that. There’s not enough of that. In crime thrillers, people get in the car and say, “let’s go.” I mean, man, you’re in the car! You don’t need to say that. But it’s little things like that. That’s what inspired Kickback—crime movies. I grew up with crime shows on TV, so I took the opportunity with it.
Save for a few examples, like Sin City, which fits into the pulpy noirish style, there aren’t a ton of high profile books that fit this mold. Do you think the lack of a proper place for this type has story has made it harder to sell?
I think there’s a growing interest in crime books now. When I wrote the rough script of Kickback, there wasn’t so much going on—there was Sin City. But now there’s much more going on. You’ve got 100 Bullets, Losers, Criminal, which is just out now, and I think there’s a growing interest in it. But the growing problem of superheroes dominating the scene is one that we’re all faced with, and I actually feel kind of sad about that. I think the constant focus on the superhero genre has distorted the market, and it gives people a biased view of what comics are all about. It’s only a medium. It’s word and picture, art and script, and it can tell as many stories as television can, but somehow we’re stuck in this whole superhero thing. And I think we need to get out of that. If we can expand the market, it would be really healthy for everybody.
At this point in your life, do you have any interest in doing a superhero story?
No. Absoultely not. I’ve done enough of them. I think the last thing I did was Madrox. I did a Madrox series for Marvel, which Peter David wrote. It was a very clever title. It was a good take, and he wasn’t running around in tights. I think that sort of stuff really works. And I did a Captain America story, a few years back. But now I’m just not that interested in superheroes. There are plenty of people who are, and there are plenty of great artists that are doing great stuff, but I can’t add anything to it, and I’m just not that interested.
Is V a superhero?
Well, he was described as such, because of the experimentation on him, in the concentration camp, he’s developed a strange degree of strength. But you can’t describe him as a superhero, in that sense. It’s a loose definition.
Certainly superhero books still play a large part in the public’s perception of the world of comic books, but it seems that the tide is moving away from that, a bit. Would you say that the success of the book and film version of [V for Vendetta] played a role in that?
I think what Vendetta did was present itself very cleary as being from a comic. I think that’s good, and I wish more movies would do that. That did reach more of a mainstream audience than, say a Fantastic Four. People did know that it came from a comic, and a lot people saw Vendetta and went and bought the graphic novel. But I wish people knew more that Road to Perdition was from a comic, and History of Violence was a comic. Those movies don’t seem to make a big deal about that, and I think it’s a mistake. If more people knew the wide variety of subject matter that you can get from comics, then they’d buy more. But there are all sorts of problems in getting people interested in comics.
More recently, there seems to be a slight shift toward this idea of creator-driven work, even in film adaptations. You’ve got Frank Miller’s Sin City or Will Eisner’s The Spirit.
Yeah, but there are still very few things like that around. I’d like to see more, but creator-owned projects like that are really about what you decide to do with your contract. And you need to have a reputation, to begin with. Let’s face it, Frank had to go through the whole process of being with DC, doing The Dark Knight Returns and of that stuff, before anybody knew who he was. You’ve got to establish a name and a reputation to do that.
Do you think that Kickback would make a good film?
Yeah. In fact, there’s been some interest already in that department, but we’ll have to see. These things disappear as quickly as they appear in Hollywood. But yeah, I’d love to see it made into a film, and I think it would be a very good subject for it. It’s already written. It’s already there. It’s all storyboarded out. But in terms of working in film in any other way, I’m not really interested. I’m not really interested in doing what Frank Miller does. I know how to do a good graphic novel, and that’s what I like to do. I’d like to see it translated from one form into another successfully, as V was. But I’m not interested in getting into the other side, per se.
When you’re working with a genre with so many well known tropes as the cop drama, do you feel that you’ve got to actively work against them?
Well, the way I look at it is a cliché is something you can use. It’s something you can play with and use to tell the story you want to tell. For me, what’s important is not the situation, but the character in the situation, and I think what I’ve done with Kickback is use a thriller as a way to tell a story. The way I used to describe it is as a detective story and a story about a detective.
I’m a big fan of Hitchcock. He’s one of my big influences, and every Hitchcock thriller that you ever saw was not just about the situation—it was about the characters. In fact, the people were the most important thing. Vertigo was about a murder, but really it was about James Stewart. And Psycho was about these killings, but really it was about Norman Bates. That’s what I think the value of clichés are—you can over turn them. A little tweak and a little twist, and they’re saying something different.
Genre is just a launching pad, really.
Yeah, it’s just a way of telling a story. The thing that really inspired me to do the story was not just about wanting to do a book about crime. I saw a documentary about airships, and I had this image of a man on the central maintaince platform, walking in one direction, while the airship is going in the other. He would never know that. Even on an airplane, if all of the windows are closed, you have no feeling whether it’s forwards or backwards. And I though the idea of a person going in one direction, while the airship is going in the other, is a very good metaphor for somebody not realizing the direction their life is going in. the corrupt policman is that kind of person. They’re actually blind to what they’re doing. Corruption has blinded them to the reality of their existence.