HEROES INTERVIEW :: JASON LATOUR

August 25, 2011 at 12:46 pm By:

If you’re a regular visitor to Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, HeroesCon, or the Charlotte MiniCon, you’re probably familiar with the work of local creator Jason Latour.  In recent years he has worked on high profile books for Marvel and DC, and most recently, saw his co-created book Loose Ends see print from 12 Gauge Comics.  His work as both a writer and artist has received acclaim from comics fans, retailers, critics, and professionals alike.  This week I got a chance to talk with this longtime friend of Heroes about the development of his comics career, and how he worked to add writing to his extensive resume.

Seth Peagler: Jason, you have thus far in your career been primarily known as an artist, but Loose Ends marks your first major comics effort as a writer.  What is it about this concept that made you want it to be your first venture as a writer?  Was this an idea that you developed over a long period of time and planned on producing as a comic, or did it start out in another medium?

Jason Latour: Maybe it’s a muddy analogy but you’re a musician so you may relate—  I always knew that if I’d drawn Loose Ends myself I’d have forced it to be a quiet, solo acoustic album despite knowing full well that it needed a different scale. It needed a wall of sound to come alive and Chris (Brunner) and Rico (Renzi) were the only team I knew of who could provide that. Knowing they were involved pushed me to consider things about the story and about crime fiction that I might not have otherwise. I opened myself up to other point’s of view and I honestly feel like my contribution to the book has  gotten better for it.

As for why it’s the first one– It just became the project I’m most invested in. So much so that it seemed necessary to hit the brakes on any other potential writing projects and put  all my eggs into this basket. It was a hard choice to make just because logistically–given what I knew first-hand about the difficulties of doing creator owned comics– I wasn’t sure how we’d get it done. But I knew it was worth it to do the book I wanted to do with the team I wanted to work with. It seems like not long after that decision was made things picked up for me as an artist and I became able to afford a greater peace of mind that maybe a lot of writers working on their first project don’t have.

SP: I can tell by reading the first issue of Loose Ends that this project was a real labor of love for you, Chris, and Rico.  Since you all live so close to Heroes, I’ve gotten to see how hard and how long you worked on the book together.  As far as the story of Loose Ends is concerned, knowing that you were working with the Kickstand Kids from early on, did you shape the story specifically for them, or did it stay pretty similar to your initial thoughts about it? What are some aspects of their specific styles that informed how you approached the scripts?

JL: It’s hard to give specific examples without diving too much into the messy realm of “director’s commentary”, but there is a kind of a general philosophical approach. Our case is clearly special in that we live and work so closely, but I’ve found that when you invite someone else into your creative life, you end up inviting them into your personal life to some degree. It’s not always a deep interpersonal connection but when it is, there is a real opportunity to better understand what the other artists wants or needs are.  So a big part of my job is not only to make an effort to communicate my point of view clearly but to consider theirs. I try to look for natural areas of the story that open themselves up as a showcase for their particular talents and to listen to them when they bring me ideas. Being an artist helps, in that we speak the same language. But they also possess great storytelling instincts. So it’s a two way street. My hope is that they have license to try things that they might not if they didn’t know what I’m like outside of the page, or understand my sensibilities.

Other than that I basically just write the story the way I feel it best communicates. If it doesn’t I just try to be there to listen and put out fires where I can.

SP: I would imagine your work on the visual side of comics had a great effect on how you went about writing for comics.  Can you tell me a little bit about some of the writers both in and out of comics who have influenced the way you approach your own storytelling?

JL: Yeah, it’s difficult for me to parse out. I grew up reading comics and comic strips. Most of my favorite stories were done by cartoonists or close knit creative teams. That was still very much alive in mainstream comics at the time. Mignola, Miller and Mazzucchelli, Walt and Louise Simonson, people like that.  So for a long time even though I knew that the credits of writer, penciller, inker, etc were different jobs I don’t think I quite grasped how different they can be. When I sat down to draw my own comics for fun or for sample pages I felt very much like just an artist drawing panels of the story he wanted to tell. That lasted well into my early 20s when I was doing a humor strip. I remember showing one to Rico and he offhandedly said something the effect of  “You’re a good writer, you should do more of that”. That might have been the first time the switch was fully flipped and locked into position and I realized that learning the craft of writing comics was a completely separate but equal pursuit to drawing them. So anyone out there who hates my work should find and punish Rico Renzi. He’s solely, utterly, woefully at fault. Luckily I came to that realization before I ever drew anything for anyone else. So it kind of informed my approach and opened me up to trying to learn on the job. I’ve been fortunate to work with some really good, in some cases great comics writers over the years and in drawing every script I really tried and still try to think about what they do or don’t do and why.

SP: Since we’re still on the subject of Loose Ends, are there certain crime writers in particular who got you interested in writing within that genre?

JL: I always enjoyed crime fiction because much like the comics I’m into it was both entertaining and at the same time very heady, challenging stuff. I started with Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy, but it wasn’t until I read No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy that I actually sat down and got serious about Loose Ends.  Something in that novel caused the gears to start clicking. He has a way of being both present and hidden in his work that I really admire and in some ways aspire to.  Other influences– Everyone who’s seen The Wire knows how much of a genius and force David Simon is, but Richard Price is probably my favorite modern crime author. His work is very much about crime as a flash point for human drama, it’s no surprise that a great deal of his work forms kind of the backbone of The Wire.

As far as Loose Ends, there are obvious comic and film influences too. David Lapham’s Stray Bullets is a big one. There is a movie called HUD starring Paul Newman, based on a Larry McMurtry book, that I obsessed over at the time the book was forming. It’s not a crime movie but it was the first time I realized noir could be a tone and not a plot mechanic or genre convention.

SP: You mentioned how you came to understand noir as a tone.  I’m curious if whenever you sat down to work on Loose Ends if there were other elements, like maybe music, that you would surround yourself with during the creative process to match that tone you were employing.  Your art (and Chris’ in Loose Ends) definitely operates within a rhythmic sense of pacing and movement.  Are you a writer or artist who needs music around you while you create?

JL: Definitely. You’re kind of painting emotions and implying meanings in the same short form. Clearly it’s different being that comics are visual, you even see the words as opposed to hear them. But I imagine the energy is likely channelled a similar way. All of the musicians I like (be it 70s and alt country music, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan or rap groups like Outkast) tend to have a great facility for word play and telling very vivid complex stories in small spaces.

SP: Moving away from your work on Loose Ends, I’d like to mention some of other projects.  In the past few years you’ve stayed busy with work on everything from stories featuring Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Fist, and Daredevil, to an issue of Scalped and in Noche Roja, a full length crime graphic novel.  You’ve always seemed to have a lot on your plate, but it seems like the past few years you’ve really been booked solid with work.  A lot of people probably don’t realize that you’ve worked in just about every creative capacity in comics, writing, illustrating, coloring, and lettering.  As somebody who has spent a decade in comics and done so many different kinds of jobs, do you think your particular creative path is inevitably leading to a book where you’ll wind up doing everything yourself on a project?

JL: Yeah, but it’s increasingly complex. I don’t regret any of what I’ve done to this point because I’ve legitimately enjoyed most of the work and I feel like I’ve learned so much. But at times I’ve wondered if I sort of goofed up by not tearing into a book that’s wholly mine already.  Perhaps the great benefit of how hard it is to do comics today is that it’s forced a lot of the creator involvement, at least on a aspiring or independent level, to be about passion. There just aren’t as many avenues for making a living doing your own comics out of the gate. I guess on some level the path for me has all been about working toward a place where I feel like I’ve earned a shot at my own book. Not so much in the eyes of the publisher, but in the eyes of the readers. I’ve just never wanted to waste anyone’s time, my own included.

So the Catch 22 is that I feel nearly ready to try that kind of thing but I suddenly find myself in an incredibly lucky position where my upcoming projects are dream jobs. One in particular is a real opportunity to learn at the hands of a master, on a book he created and sheparded into kind of a cultural icon. That makes it increasingly hard to step away. So until I can I’m trying to think of it as a feedback loop. Channelling my energy and love into the things I’m working on now can only help build my acumen for making better comics in the future. Hopefully my own.

SP: In talking to both you and Chris at various times in recent months, I’ve learned that you each put some personal elements into the story, be they plot points or visuals.  While I know that Loose Ends isn’t an autobiographical story, I’m curious as to how you as a writer maintained the narrative as a fictional comic, while still allowing yourself the freedom to include certain personal experiences?

JL: It’s definitely personal. I’m from The South and know and draw from it intimately. But it’s probably more so in that to write each of the characters I try to walk in their shoes as honestly as possible. Some people are more open to new experiences than others but most of us at least subconsciously categorize people– we have some inner desire to recognize a threat or a friend as easily as possible. So we look for things we superficially recognize, the people “like” us. Unfortunately that leaves us with a short hand for everyone that’s not. And we do that with characters and stories too.

So when I started– all I had were impressions of people or situations I felt like I understood, or in some cases wanted to understand. Stuff I  felt compelled to comment on. What really shocks and surprises me is how much of myself has been filtered into those characters. I’m clearly not a soldier, or a black man or a drug dealer. But walking in the shoes of a character like Reggie– I instantly empathized with him and to a large degree understand even his worst choices. He taught me things about myself too. It’s like that for all of the characters, and a great deal of the situations in the book. So in some way it’s all personal to me. The hope is that it’s also entertaining.

SP: Jason, thanks so much for taking time to talk with me about your process.  I think readers of the Heroes blog will definitely enjoy what you had to say.  Before we go, I know you probably can’t talk about everything you have in the works, but are there any of your upcoming projects that you’d like our readers to know about?

JL: I’m currently drawing half of a Wolverine one-shot that was written by Ivan Brandon (Viking, Doc Savage). I’m not sure what the release date for that is, but I’m pretty happy with how it’s coming together. Immediately following that I jump right into art on the secret “dream gig”  I mentioned. Which is at least 2-issues long with potential for more. I’ve discussed some possible freelance writing work and there is lettering to do on the last chapter of Loose Ends. So I’m busy for the foreseeable future, which is cool but I guess my dream of becoming the modern Ray Stevens is on hold.

 

 

 

Share

Filed Under: DISCUSS, Interviews

  • www.flickr.com