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Editor’s note: Hollywood likes to turn comic books into movies. Ross Richie, the founder and CEO of Boom! Studios, published Steven Grant‘s 2 Guns comic book, and also produced the film, which stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. In this four-part series for The Hollywood Reporter, Richie shares the disappointments, bizarre experiences and happy surprises as the film came together.
“Watch out! In about 15 years, you’re going to find yourself getting one-word answers. ‘Where you going?’ ‘Out.’ ‘When are you coming back?’ ‘Later.’”
— Denzel Washington to Ross Richie
It’s the week of the San Diego Comic Con in 2012. And for the first time in 20 years, I’m not at the show. I’m a producer on the set of 2 Guns, a new movie being shot based on a comic book I published that was created and written by Steven Grant, drawn by Mateus Santolouco with covers by Rafael Albuquerque and Kristian Donaldson.
2 Guns stars Denzel and Wahlberg, and at that moment I’m getting the aforementioned childrearing advice from Denzel because my wife is due any day now. Truth of the matter is I shouldn’t be there. I should be home with a catcher’s mitt waiting for Boji (our abbreviation for Bundle Of Joy).
Denzel warns me that girls are tricky, that raising boys is easier. I remember very distinctly wondering what that meant, and at the same time being completely sure I was about to find out …
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You know how you remember where you were when you read certain comic books? Where you were sitting? Who was in the car? How long you saved to buy them? I do.
Marvel Two in One #52 is like that for me. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s that, as a kid, I had a fascination with Moon Knight (he had those cool crescent darts) or maybe it’s because my first love in comics was The Fantastic Four. I mean one guy is made of fire, the other guy’s made of rock — what more does a six year old want, really, I mean let’s be real? Can I be made of rocks and on fire? Please? I think I probably still want that.
But right now it’s 1979 and I’m nine years old, and my mom is trying to kill me by taking me to Dillard’s and shopping for … something. I just remember we were near the lawn care section. Mom and I had a deal: I wouldn’t complain; I’d shut up as long as I had something to read. And that almost always (at least until junior high when I discovered Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Xanth novels, and Lord of the Rings) meant I needed to have a comic book.
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Now, as a fan of Moon Knight, I knew that he had several identities — but that one of them was the identity of Steven Grant. Rather, in order to satiate the 9-year-old me, a stickler for detail: Mercenary Marc Spector decided to start his life over again under an assumed identity as a rich playboy to distance himself from his dirty soldier-of-fortune background, so he adopted the alias Steven Grant.
Here’s the catch that blew my fourth-grade mind: according to the credit box, Grant wrote the comic.
It was 1979. We didn’t have a word for “meta.” I barely understood what disco was. But I can very vividly remember as a kid that I crept my way through the comic, waiting for the punchline: The kind of stuff Stan and Jack used to do, where Moon Knight and The Thing were going to walk down a New York City alley arm-in-arm, laughing while we get an indication in the final panel that the comic book that I had just read was a transcription by Moon Knight via his alter ego about the series of events that had “really happened.”
But Steven Grant didn’t write stories like that.
In July of 2006, I ran into Steven on the convention floor of the San Diego Comic Con. We’d known each other for more than 14 years by this point, and found ourselves in the Hyatt’s sports bar there.
I’d started a comic book publishing company out of the spare bedroom in my apartment the year before. Keith Giffen talked me into it. He told me I needed to publish. I disagreed with him. I thought he was crazy. “Don’t you know how many startups go out of business, Keith? I’ve had reams of friends lose all of their money and their houses to publishing comics, it’s crazy.” Keith leaned back, said ,“Nah, you’ll be fine.” It was a great technique. I woke up the next morning thinking, “Keith freaking Giffen thinks I should do this. The guy has been successful for 30 years in this business; I should stop being a noob and listen.”
Or maybe it was the beer.
I’d managed to figure out how to last a year publishing comic books. Wasn’t easy. I had a tremendous amount of super-talented folks front and center: Eisner Award-winner Dave Johnson would do covers relentlessly no matter how busy he was; Keith Giffen wrote and drew stuff; Mark Waid pitched in with short anthology stories; J.M. DeMatteis was bringing over previously published Vertigo projects; TMNT artist Andy Kuhn jumped aboard; Rafael Albequerque from American Vampire was this new Brazilian dude that we were breaking in the business; Carlos Magno wasn’t yet The Transformers and Planet of the Apes Carlos Magno; and up-and-comers like Tom Fowler (later, of Venom, Batman and Spider-Man fame) … There was a fun crackle that came from mixing up veteran creators with next-generation talent.
We were having fun, but we weren’t setting the world on fire. Big launches from new companies Speakeasy and Alias had taken the wind out of our sails and the attention away from what we were doing. IDW was surging as a new publisher; we were trying to elbow our way to the front. I’d have been happy to find a corner to call my own … but we weren’t there yet.
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Steven knew surviving at all was an accomplishment – he’d been working in the business since 1978, through several eras of accomplishment. In the early 1980s, he was a part of the pioneering of creator-owned comics with First Comics’ Whisper, a part of the cutting edge.
Then he and Mike Zeck triggered perhaps one of the biggest seismic shifts in comics during that era. In the mid-1980s there’d been a lot of talk about Batman — why wouldn’t he kill The Joker? The guy was going to get out of Arkham and kill again. Frank Miller and Alan Moore had made creative comics that were commercial hits. And then the artist of Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars stunned everyone by illustrating Steven Grant’s scripts where a vigilante just did it – he walked in with a gun in his hand and just blew bad guys away.
It was the 1980s, urban crime was rampant, and people were tired of hearing about something horrific happening again on the news. They were fed up, and The Punisher Limited Series tapped into that angst and delivered. This “villain” from the Spider-Man and Daredevil comics was the lead in his own series – and the Marvel Universe got a lot darker thanks to this dude with a gun who killed people … and was considered a hero.
To call it a runaway hit is an understatement. It made The Punisher a major publishing superstar. But more than that, it changed comics, spawning tons of imitators and changing the kinds of comics you could publish, in many ways broadening the market.
Grant had also written Badlands, a cult book loved for its conspiracy approach to the JFK assassination. He took a victory lap with The Punisher: Return to Big Nothing, which sold and sold and sold. And he created a series with the co-creator of the Silver Age Green Lantern, Gil Kane, called Edge, wrote Spider-Man, The Avengers, Catwoman, Conan, Daredevil, G.I. Joe, Hulk, Batman, Masters of the Universe, Thor … and Moon Knight. But we covered that.
Keith Giffen and Steven Grant had given me so much joy through the years, so having a shot at collaborating with them professionally was everything I had ever wanted. So we’re sitting in the sports bar at the Hyatt in 2006, and Steven’s kicking me different ideas. (I think one had dinosaurs). And then I lean over and say, “Hey, whatever happened to that idea you told me about back in 1998? What was that thing with the two guys that are undercover, I think one of them was DEA?”
“You mean 2 Guns?,” Steven replied.
I asked: “Yeah, that one. Is that available?”
“Sure, we can do that.”
Rafael Albuquerque signed up for the covers. Rafael’s studio mate Mateus Santolouco (the artist on The New 52’s Dial H for Hero) agreed to draw the book. We recruited Supermarket artist Kristian Donaldson to sign on for some variant covers.
And 2 Guns was born.
I’m parking the car on the set of 2 Guns in August of 2012, about an hour and a half outside of Albuquerque, N.M. Steven’s getting out of the car.
“What do you think, Steven?”
“I think the set always looked like that in my mind.”
Next: Nobody wants 2 Guns, or “Too complicated.”
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