We spoke to Stephanie Salyers and Dylan Mulick on how they created one of our favourite new comic-books, NVRLND.
To start off, would you introduce yourself to the reader and tell them how you got into writing comic books?
Stephanie: Hi readers! I’m Stephanie Salyers and I am one of the creators of NVRLND. This is our first comic book project and we entered the world rather unexpectedly. I was always a fan of comics and studied comics and visual narratives, but it wasn’t until we met 451 that we decided NVRLND should be created as a comic. Of course, the comic is one piece of a “trans-media” platform. We also have the music video, animation and more cool ways to consume the content.
Dylan: My career began in the film, tv and music video industry but comics were something I loved as a kid. Black Hole by Charles Burns also really impacted me as a teenager. When the idea of NVRLND came about, we felt it would be perfect to do in the comic book form, and we had an opportunity with 451 Media. So I’d say the project happened to be forming right when Joe Grano from 451 offered us the opportunity to do it with them.
Where did the initial concept for NVRLND start?
S: NVRLND is in many ways “Wendy’s story” so the whole thing started as an idea about telling the Peter Pan myth from Wendy’s POV and setting it in present day Hollywood. Then as each character was fleshed out, we saw how their lives would intersect. Adding in the procedural element started to give the narrative it’s shape.
D: Stephanie always wanted to retell the Peter Pan myth. It’s close to her heart. I love film noir and began my career directing punk rock music videos in LA. Mix those two sparks with the fact that very quickly and intuitively we saw how the characters of Peter Pan could fit into a contemporary LA teenage crime story, and you have NVRLND.
Given the classic story, how did you tackle bringing the fantastical elements into the 21st century?
S: It all came together really organically. The Peter Pan story has always felt allegorical to me so extending the lessons and archetypes of the story into today’s world came naturally. I think a lot of it came more from how we read the original vs. how we went about writing our version. Even as a child, I read the book and saw the Disney version as being all about rebellion, adventure and romance. I loved that Wendy didn’t want to grow up but ultimately, Neverland was her right of passage. The original is a coming of age story, we just had the benefit of extending to a YA genre, then got to play with adding in some cool shit. Like punk rock, tattoos and Hollywood noir.
D: If your setting is LA, then Peter needs to be the front man of a band. Hook had to be a biker drug dealer. Tiger and her mom, Chief Lily, fit perfectly in LA’s Mexican Boyle Heights neighborhood and the LAPD’s history of corruption. And of course Wendy being the new girl in the middle of everything made for a great entry point. But again, it just felt like the LA I know and experience day to day just lent itself to the archetypes of Peter Pan.
Hook is a truly captivating villain, what was it like delving into such a dark character?
S: So much fun! I get excited to see what kind of crazed things this man will get into. He’s the ultimate super villain so he had to be sexy and charming and dangerous for the teen girls in the story. I always liked the phrase that the devil takes a pleasing form. But I don’t believe in all evil, inherent meanness or soulless super villains so his back story was very important. I hope we can share the mythology we created for him. His history is like Tom Riddle and Anakin Skywalker, where he was once the darling and his fall from grace lead him on a dark path. But where we see him in NVRLND, he’s not yet to his worst, we get to see him flirting with his own evil and I think that’s an interesting time for an antagonist that we don’t always get to see first. And thank you! I’m glad you enjoy him too.
D: I’ve never ridden a motorcycle but I’ve spent time with a few Hells Angels while working on a movie. I also feel like Shamrock Tattoo and Mark Mahoney are about as cool and iconic as anything in LA. Who else would be a modern day pirate? These signposts also kind of steer Hook towards a cooler and charismatic type of guy. I think that, and given the fact he’s selling dust and tattooing underage girls, makes for a really creepy, compelling and attractive criminal. He’s kind of a monster, but he’s really cool and oddly calm.
How did you get the inspiration for fleshing out Tiger Lily’s character and her musically influenced background?
S: Oh she’s a little bad ass! Tiger has to still be a princess, but we also saw her having a warrior spirit, and is the quintessential girl of Los Angeles. She’s rooted in her heritage and identifies as Latina, but as an LA girl, she’s eclectic and can run in all the tribes of this city. She’s a pop-culturist and has a dramatic, actress flare. Tiger is pretty much the physical embodiment of the LA music, film, and fashion scene. Her love of Morrisey comes from her dad who was Mexican-American Rockabilly. He was the sensitive, heart throb of the Savages and Tiger’s a daddy’s girl. When she loses him, his style and music is all she knows really and all she has left of him. And important side note, all of the characters benefit from Dylan’s own musical taste, which is excellent.
D: It’s Los Angeles. I have friends who went to Hollywood High, and the idea of being a teen going to school in the middle of Hollywood boggles my mind. You’re in the middle of everything, you have access to musicians (many of them alumni), actors, wealth, poverty, drugs – you’re literally a couple miles from the Sunset Strip. Tiger is the center of this scene. She’s also (more importantly) a girl from Boyle Heights whose dad ran the Savages street gang and was gunned down in front of her. This event turned her mom’s life around and she went to the Police Academy, rose in the ranks to Chief. But I feel like both Tiger and Chief Lily have one foot in the legitimate world and one foot in their old life. Both characters are working to leave the place they were born into, but it’s not a clean process. These are my two favorite characters. There could be a whole series focused on the year Bobby (Tiger’s dad) died, Emiliana turned her back on the gang, and the Savages lost their luster in the LA underworld.
We loved how important the female characters are to the story – how did you approach bringing them to the forefront rather than as sidekicks?
S: Thank you! Honestly, I don’t think they should have been sidekicks in other versions. Originally, J.M. Barrie wrote Peter and Wendy, but over time it turned to Peter Pan. As female characters they were unfairly put behind Peter and Hook instead of running parallel or going head to head. They aren’t super heroes, so they are limited as human beings, but they fight, love, and feel the same as any male character. They make mistakes and they take chances. I think every character, like every person, is the hero of their own story. Right now, Wendy is central and has the most to learn. But let’s say Tink or Tiger come to the forefront, they’d need to be multi faceted and able to take on challenges. People aren’t two-dimensional and we wanted the characters to reflect that.
D: Wendy was always the hero. And I personally fell in love with Chief Lily and her agenda. We see this world through Wendy’s eyes. She’s the uncorrupted character facing every form of temptation for the first time. And Chief Lily is kind of running the scene. Her intention is to be moral and ethical, but she comes from a lifestyle vastly different. She’s in a position of power and, when given the chance to make her and Tiger’s lives better, she’s more than tempted.
Looking ahead to the future, can you give us an insight into anything else you’re currently working on?
S: We’re working individually on a few things, but together we’re writing a sci-fi story called Mutable. It’s in the development phase so I can’t say too much, but if we are blessed it will be like Deadly Class meets Interstellar in the mountains of Colorado at a military academy. A small group of disenfranchised teens, who are under the control and supervision of the government enter their freshman year, seemingly meant to integrate, but we’ll learn just how unique they really are!
D: It’s kind of The Breakfast Club meets Star Wars with a lot of Black Sabbath and The Cure. We hope to get it out in early 2017.