Interview: Matt Wagner Gets Legendary With 'The Tower Chronicles'

It’s tough to launch a new comic book property, let alone an ongoing series of graphic novellas. But it doesn’t hurt if you have Matt Wagner ("Grendel," "Mage") writing it, Simon Bisley ("Lobo," "Judge Dredd") on art, and the power of Legendary Comics behind it. That’s just the advantage that the new book "The Tower Chronicles: Geisthawk," which just hit stores this week has going for it; but that also doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges involved in the process.

Chatting with Wagner on the phone in advance of the book’s release, we found that the writer was initially reticent to take the project on. It helped that he’d worked with Editor Bob Shreck before, and the Publisher promised him that he’d be able to bring his own ideas to the table. In fact, Wagner brought so many ideas to the table, the book grew from a standalone graphic novel to a series of shorter novellas.

“The main character has a deep and richly textured back-story that slowly gets exposed,” said Wagner, explaining why the project grew exponentially. And for those not in the know, the book focuses on John Tower, a supernatural bounty hunter. “He’s a very aloof character whose clientele spans all sorts of class and character types,” continued Wagner. “But we get the feeling right off the bat that hunting monsters isn’t really his goal… It’s a means to an end.”

In order to balance the fun of hunting monsters with the continuing back-story, Wagner expanded the story to a serialized trilogy, 280 pages in each part, broken into a number of sixty-eight page prestige format graphic novellas.

Getting a bit into spoiler territory, we chatted about the first scene where a terrified woman is chased through back alleys by a menacing man… Only for it to turn out that she’s a demon, and he’s the hero. “That’s something I love doing,” said Wagner. “Going against type, going for the unexpected. I’m a bit of what you’d call a genre-masher.” Wagner explained that to him, the Tower Chronicles is a bit classic adventure story, a bit superhero, a bit horror, and his aim was to take those genres and put them together to see what happens.

“Supernatural bounty hunter… It’s almost a fairly ubiquitous monotype,” continued Wagner. “How do you give it a different twist? The main twist that always seems to work is to try and find the true humanity behind the character. We have to give a damn about it.”

That extended to the monsters, as well… Wagner wanted to take on traditional monsters like ghosts and vampires, but find a new way of approaching them. To do that, he looked to world mythology, and then once again, gave things his own twist.

Taking a small leap away from the story, we then talked about the link between Legendary, and developing a comic when it may be immediately mined for other mediums. “There’s always a thought in your mind that it may jump to other media,” said Wagner. “It’s just never informs the way I’m thinking about the story. The story has to make sense narratively to me, it has to be exciting. It has to exist, first and foremost as its initial telling. If you don’t have a real kick-ass story at that stage, there’s no chance it’s ever going to go anywhere else.”

But on the other hand, in a blatant cash grab, Wagner named the lead female protagonist “Hardwicke,” after Legendary partner Chris Hardwick, right? After Wagner stopped laughing, he said, “That never even occurred to me!” Wagner then clarified that Hardwicke is actually our window into the world of Tower, an FBI agent thrust into the land of supernatural mystery – and not, in fact, nerd icon Hardwick in a wig.

How about the character design? Wagner is known for his simple, clean looks on books like Mage and Grendel, yet there’s a lot going on with John Tower. Turns out, that’s for good reason. “Tower’s costume has a lot to do with Tower’s history,” said Wagner. “There’s a lot of gear on him because he has to be equipped to face a lot of scenarios, and a lot of different creatures. At the same time, he does not have the iconic look that a character like Batman has, because he doesn’t have a symbol that stands out as being his totem. It’s almost much more of an arcane commando.”

Talking about his previous creations, Wagner continued, “Grendel has a design that’s meant to scare people, he’s supposed to look like a freaky, psychotic clown. Whereas Mage is pared down and simple… Dude is just a hero in t-shirt and jeans. Here, we had to have something that reflected the character’s history.”

Before we let him go, Wagner chatted briefly about why fans should pick up The Tower Chronicles, with him stating that part of the reason they went for the format was to entice new readers. “In this economy, you can’t be asking readers to plop down thirty-five bucks on a maybe,” said Wagner, explaining that the current release is cheaper, but still has the “champagne format” Legendary was looking for. He also promised that, “As it goes, the story becomes more and more engrossing, the threats become more and more exciting… And his back-story is a very cool thing. Once it stands unveiled, I think fans are gonna dig it.”

"The Tower Chronicles: Geisthawk" is now in stores from Legendary Comics!