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If you think you know what to expect from Max Landis, prepare to be surprised.
The latest project from the Chronicle and American Ultra screenwriter is Green Valley — a comic book published by Skybound Entertainment, the Image Comics imprint of The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman. Taking place in ancient times, the nine-issue series follows the fading fortunes of the finest knights from Kelodia, who have stood together and beaten all challenges … only for them to discover that the world doesn’t necessarily behave the way they’ve always believed.
With art from Giuseppe Camuncoli and Cliff Rathburn, with colors from Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Green Valley debuts in comic book stores today. Heat Vision talked to Landis about the project’s origins, unexpected influences and the joy of playing with expectations.
Green Valley might throw a lot of people off guard, because it’s not what many people would expect from a Max Landis project. A story about historical knights that quickly heads in a direction that no one expects from the opening pages isn’t the most obvious from the man behind Chronicle and Superman: American Alien. Is this where we find out you’ve always wanted to tell a fantasy epic all along?
Without spoiling anything, Green Valley came from where a lot of my ideas came from — I get a very specific image in my head, and I try to think “Where has that image been? Where has that image been used, what kind of story does that image fit in?” And the image that came into my head for Green Valley, I assumed had been done a million times, and I actually thought I was remembering it. I thought I was remembering it from something I’d seen, I was that sure it’d been done. So I did Google Image searched it, and it hadn’t! I continually Google Image searched this particular combination of words, and nothing came up, and I thought, ‘Oh, I have to write a story where this happens.’ And the image doesn’t happen until, I think, issue seven! I built everything around that one image in my head.
Despite that origin — and also the great visuals from Camuncoli and Rathburn — Green Valley feels more intimate than something based purely on spectacle. The first issue feels like a very human story.
Most of my stories start with an image, but to me, the bulk of what I write is making those images mean something. For me, I think, ‘That’s such a great image, so what does that image mean?’ Every bit of work I do is trying to make it that, when you finally see the image that spawned the story, you don’t just see it with your eyes, you feel it inside you. It’s counter-intuitive, but by the time you see the image that spawned Green Valley, I need you to care. I need you to go, “oh shit.” You can’t do that if you don’t care about the people, so I need to make you care about the people before that.
By the end of the series, you’ll see that all of Green Valley is about loss, and moving on, and being trapped in the past and by decisions you’ve made. That was my mission statement from the first page, when you see the characters on top of the world, looking at the barbarian horde like they’re a joke — from day one, these guys are going to make some kind of mistake. All of Green Valley, everything that comes from then on whether it’s comedic or dramatic, or as you’ll see in future issues, things get kinda weird, it all comes from decisions they made that have an echo that goes through the rest of their lives.
Now I’m imagining you writing the opening of the first issue, with the jokes and the derring-do, gleefully knowing that you’re about to pull the rug out under everyone. Is it fun preparing to mess with the audience’s head like that?
[Laughs] It’s the best feeling in the world. It’s like architecture, you know? You set something up, and when you know you’ve done it just right, there’s real catharsis in that.
This really isn’t what many would expect from you, but there are familiar touchstones in there…
I would say a really, really huge influence, although it hasn’t shown its face yet in the first issue, is Terry Gilliam. Another really big one is Rod Serling. I would say, if anything, Green Valley evolves and changes in a way that’s very evocative of The Twilight Zone, in that it uses a steadily increasingly strange situation to tell an emotional story. Honestly, Gilliam and Serling are the two I would lead the hardest into because of the type of things the characters are going to go through.
It’s interesting that you mention Gilliam because there is a Monty Python feeling at times — and a Blackadder reference at one point, as well. You’re obviously working on the Dirk Gently TV show right now, so what is it about British comedy that you find bleeds into your work?
I really find that, if you play good British comedy right — and I do think of Green Valley as British, because they’re f—ing knights — if you play Brit comedy right, there’s one way you can play it as so dark and brutal, like you see in the first issue. But there’s another way you can play it where it’s so charming and lovely, and I really dip into both of those in Green Valley. I want you to think that these are just blokes. You want to hang out with them! You want to spend time with these guys. But as the series goes on, you’ll see more of the dark, cringe-y, very stiff, world. That’s the best-case scenario.
Without spoiling things, what lies ahead in Green Valley? How dark are things going to get for the knights of Kelodia?
Ultimately, the story is about time. How time can make wounds in you worse, or it can heal things. And the worst thing a human can do is to live in the past. Everything in Green Valley stems from that idea.
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