The Briefs: The Dregs from Black Mask Studios

 Welcome to The Briefs, where we open a door for our readers. Today we are looking through The Dregs from Black Mask, via five simple lines of questioning.
[this was edited lightly for clarity]

EC: First, can you introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about everything you do, or did, on The Dregs?

ZT: I’m Zac Thompson, one half of the writing team on the book. Together with Lonnie I wrote the series and outlined the damn labyrinthian thing along with doing all the research that went into building the world. It was a lot of work but something I did gladly as I got to share the workload with Lonnie every step of the way.

LN: Lonnie Nadler here, the other half of the writing team. Not much to add to what Zac said. I guess aside from being writers on the book Zac and I kind of see ourselves as producers, to borrow from film terms, in that we also organize a lot of stuff behind the scenes, both creatively and administratively. There’s a lot more that goes into making a book like this than meets the eye so we do our best to keep everything organized and on track.

Thanks for the time.

When I see a book like yours, I note some things. It is always interesting to see what seems amplified. Can You tell us a bit about what was in mind at the beginning of The Dregs? Points or aspects you, or the team, wanted to focus on?

ZT: It’s funny because the book really began as this core idea of what would a city look like that literally consumed it’s homeless. From walking around Vancouver, especially in the downtown eastside, you experience this really harrowing look at extreme poverty and community. Lonnie and I really set out to explore what that community looked like in the face of encroaching businesses and apathy thanks to gentrification. Once we had those core themes we wanted to infuse the narrative with a specific genre influence. A lens to help make sense of these things, that came through with noir. I think we all approach The Dregs as a detective story first, and a commentary on gentrification and major cities second. Although each of these elements are core to understanding the story as a whole.

LN: When we pitched the book to Eric initially he really loved the human element and dealing with a homeless person and his real struggles. That pushed Zac and I to write a story that was dense and layered with multiple thematic elements. In addition to dealing with gentrification and homelessness we wanted to add other thematic elements so readers didn’t feel like we were beating them over the head with social justice issues. Also, that’s just not who Zac and I are as writers. So we knew, near the start, that we wanted to make this a character driven book about a protagonist that is in way over his head. He’s in no state to be undertaking the journey he insists on taking, but that steadfastness makes him all the more interesting to write.

Sort of following along the development process. #4 is the conclusion, right.? When you are trying to make a miniseries, a very short run, is it more difficult or less than making an ongoing title happen?

ZT: Well, I’ve never had to tackle an ongoing comic book so I’m not entirely sure how different the process would be. But, with The Dregs we set out to craft an incredibly tight story that works on its own where each part informs the other. The miniseries format is really rewarding in its own right because you can really focus on tight setups and payoffs and plan out every piece of information and reveal. While I think you can still do that on an ongoing, there’s certainly a lot more of finality with a miniseries that really allows you to tell the best story you can in a really tight and restrained way. Plus it has a definite conclusion that the story is building toward. Every moment in every issue can live in service to that.

LN: I’ve always had a preference for shorter narratives. I don’t know why, but I guess I like being able to dive into a world or mystery and get the whole narrative in only a few hours. It’s much easier to revisit that way as well. I also generally think of stories in terms of mini-series, feature films, or short stories. The idea of undertaking an ongoing, longer project was really daunting to me in the past, but now that we’ve done a couple books, I think it would offer new challenges, but also new rewards. Ongoing books are just much harder to sell, especially from two no-name writers on a creator owned book.

It’s also important to consider how artists work. Doing a miniseries for artists is much more manageable and gives them the time to get ahead on the book, or take a slight delay without it ruining the entire schedule down the line. I think this freedom allowed Eric to do some of his best work, and if it were an ongoing with a tight schedule, the book probably would have been much worse.

In The Dregs I see literary allusions and obvious quotation. Which quotation is your favorite? Also, it seems, from the book, You have probably read some Burroughs and some Bukowski. Which contemporary writers are You reading now?

ZT: My favorite quote in the book is “to say goodbye is to die a little.” It shouldn’t be a secret why that’s the case. It hits super hard right at the end of Arnold’s journey and honestly perfectly encapsulates how I feel about finishing the series. I’ve never actually read any Bukowski but I’m pretty enamoured with Burroughs. For contemporary writers, I can’t get enough of Nick Cutter’s work. I feel like he’s the best voice in contemporary horror right now and too few people are reading his stuff. His most recent novel, Little Heaven, rocked me. I’m also obsessed with Jeff Vandermeer’s work. His Area X trilogy still haunts me to this day. He’s got a really unique voice and there’s really no one like him writing today.

LN: I don’t I have a favorite quote from the series. They all mean quite a lot in the context in which they are placed in the book, so that would seem a bit reductive to me. I have read some Bukowski, and I like his work, but I shamefully have never read any books by Burroughs… However, I have read a lot about his life. I’ve been waiting to dive into his work for years, so I’ll probably get there soon. I read a lot of post-modern writers like Paul Auster, J.G. Ballard, Italo Calvino, Mark Z. Danielewski. I’m also really into some contemporary weird fiction and horror by writers like Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron. Otherwise, I don’t read too much contemporary lit. I prefer to read books and writers that have stood the test of time, so it’s a lot of classics.

From a critical reading, the initial irony (the readers know what Beck knows, while the entire storyline is Arnold throwing himself into his ignorance) aligns the reader with Lasko and the patrons of LA Mancha. Do You see or would You agree that much of society is complicit in many of the troubles The Dregs brings to the surface? If so, other than being mindful of that and internalizing it, what more can We do?

ZT: I think some of the messages in this book are things that you can carry with you on your day to day. I’m not going to tell you to stop patronizing businesses in gentrified areas or anything like that. There are good sides to gentrification too but I guess I would hope that if this empowers you to want to make a change that you reach out into your local community and invest some time volunteering to help the homeless. Be it at a safe injection site, a soup kitchen, or a homeless shelter. More than that go out and get to know the homeless in your community, attend rezoning meetings, make your voice heard about your communities at large.

LN: I think people are generally selfish and tend to ignore the world around them and we’ve acquiesced to a lot of issues that stare us in the face every day. I’m guilty of this too, so it’s not like I put myself on a pedestal or anything. Writing this book has certainly helped me to think differently about people who have been displaced and about how cities consume in order to grow, so I hope it has some impact, or at least plants a small seed in readers’ minds that there is a world outside of ourselves and it’s one we should care more about across the board. Awareness is the first step.

Cover of The Dregs #1While I see the storyline of The Dregs as relatively singular and compressed, likely appropriately so considering the miniseries form, I find considerable layering, textual and intertextual reference, and metaphor and imagery. Perhaps one of the more profound moments happens in the final book when the conceit of the more poetic density seems to be drained away and the reader is faced with the potential of a more personal and internal twist.

ZT: We wanted to take all these allusions we had made during the entire narrative and make them close in around Arnold. Those last pages of the book were conceived of at the same time as the first pages of issue #1.

LN: We tried to layer the book as much as possible. All of our favorite books, films, and comics are incredibly nuanced and packed with ideas so we wanted to try our best to create something akin to our influences. We really strove to write a book that could be read multiple times, and each time you read it, you discover something new. Eric and Dee also brought a lot to this aspect, hiding repeated motifs throughout the series that all relate to Arnold’s journey.

Thanks again.

EC Wells

Hmm... Let Me go work on this.

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