Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics: The Fanboy Comics Staff and I are very excited about your upcoming graphic novel, The 36, for which you are currently raising funds for production on Kickstarter.com. What can you tell us about The 36 and its characters?
Kristopher White: First, thank you all for taking the time to chat with me! The 36 is a project that our entire creative team is very passionate about; we’ve put a lot of thought into it thus far – and we aren’t even in production yet.
The idea for The 36 is based on an ancient Kabbalistic legend that states that there are 36 six people out there that, were it not for them, the world would be destroyed. It doesn’t muse on who these 36 people are or how they save the world, just that they emerge from anonymity when the time is right. Each of these 36 people has an ability that is their gift (and their curse). These abilities range from something subtle like speaking to animals, to, on the other end of the spectrum, wielding electricity. A lot of the conflict in the book arises from the fact that my idea of saving the world might be drastically different from your ideas. Much like real life, there is no road map, no guidebook from beyond, to what “saving the world” looks like. That ambiguity puts several of our 36ers in direct conflict with each other.
However, the heart of the story focuses on character. Specifically, it focuses on the “caretaker” of the 36 – Noam. Armed with the fabled Staff of Moses (the same one that split the Red Sea), it’s his job to protect the others and lead them, even though he doesn’t know who they all are, or what exactly he’s leading them toward.
For Noam, all he wants to do is go back to his former life. He’s a classic reluctant hero. Indeed, the price of being the leader of this group is already too high for him. It cost him the love of his life – who is now trapped in a coma. He’d give anything to save her. That relationship is really at the core of this first series of stories.
BD: Your Kickstarter goal is to reach $10,000.00. If (and when!) you reach this goal, what is your vision for the book in terms of in terms of its production and story line(s)?
KW: The 36 was written to be a stand-alone story told in five chapters. So, the end game here is to gather them into a trade paperback that someone could, theoretically, read in one sitting. Of course, if the idea does well enough, there are definitely more stories to be told in this world. However, right now we want to focus on making sure the story we have is the best it can possibly be.
In terms of production, all of the monies we’re raising on Kickstarter pretty much will go into the production of the book in black and white. Since we started, we’ve been surprised at the amount of interest people have show in the book. We’re currently finalizing a deal with an outside producer that would allow us to producer The 36 in color, once our Kickstarter goal is reached.
BD: The premise of your graphic novel stems from the Kabbalistic belief that there are 36 Tzadik Nistarim (concealed righteous persons) in the world. Given the religious nature of the story, do you feel that The 36 is accessible for all audiences, in addition to those of the Jewish faith?
KW: The 36 is really for people who are fans of stories like LOST or Avatar: The Last Airbender, in other words, fans who love great character stories and adventures that take elements from existing mythologies and create something fresh. (If you haven’t guessed, we’re fans of both those shows.) Being Jewish may help some readers have a leg up with some of the references, but it’s certainly not a pre-requisite for entering the world of The 36.
Similar to those other two shows, we’re building a world steeped in a complex mythology that many cultures share. This is a world of magical-realism with golems, Leviathans, and other things that go bump in the night… oh, and 36 humans (not necessarily Jewish) that have a “gift” and the duty to save the world.
That being said, we are very cognizant of the mythology we’re tapping here. We want to pay homage to our roots and make sure we’re representing the legend appropriately, especially since I’ve never seen this story told this way before. (On a related note, one of the things I’m interested in exploring in future books is where these legends intersect with other mythologies and cultures.)
To borrow from the creators of LOST, this story is sort of like a game of baseball. You can enjoy the game on several levels, whether you’re a casual fan that simply likes to spend an afternoon at the ballpark, all the way down to the guy that loves crunching stats and figures. Both people enjoy the game, just on different levels. The mythology and story in The 36 will hopefully engage both of those types of fans on their own level.
BD: I read a preview of the graphic novel on your website, The36.net. The art by George Zapata (Pencils and Ink) and Micki Zurcher (Color) was stunning! At the end of the preview, the audience is alerted to the arrival of the Leviathan. What you can tell us about the danger that lies ahead for Noam and the others?
KW: Thank you! Both George and Micki are amazing artists. I’m constantly in awe of what they bring to the table creatively. Personally, I’m very excited to see what they turn out next as we get started on making the book.
As hinted at in the preview, the first two chapters of our graphic novel are a murder-mystery. Someone has released an ancient creature, known as a golem, and sent it on a murder spree. Our hero, Noam, must figure out the mystery behind who sent it, before it kills its next victim, a young woman named Lenore.
For me, the fun of these first two chapters is introducing readers to the legend of the golem, and then taking that tale and spinning it in an unexpected way. It’s also a great entry-point into the world, because Lenore has absolutely no idea what’s going on. So, she gets to ask all the questions our audience is thinking.
The last three chapters of the book deal with the fallout of the golem’s release. Releasing the golem, it turns out, was the first step in our antagonist’s plan to wake up the Leviathan – the master of all monsters. As you can guess, that’s not a good thing. It goes back to what I hinted at earlier – the idea to release the Leviathan is one character’s misguided attempt to “save the world.”
As for Noam, what would a story be without our hero having something personally at stake? Earlier, I mentioned that Noam just wanted to, essentially, wake up the love of his life and be with her again. He’ll have that opportunity. However, the price he’ll have to pay to do that may be too high. He’ll find himself with a choice, and he may not make the right one.
BD: Are there any writers, artists, or graphic novels that inspired your work on The 36 or in general?
KW: There are definitely a few key influencers for The 36. Working with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse on LOST taught me that the key to any story is character. Without that, you can have the coolest mythology in the world, but no one will care. How they handled that show has been a compass to me in creating this world.
Another key influencer, from the world of comics, has been Bill Willingham’s work, Fables. I love the way he systematically sets up this complex story that takes elements from stories we all know and makes them feel fresh. If you look at the first two chapters he wrote in Legends in Exile, I think you’ll see a lot of core similarities. In that arc, Big Bad Wolf is solving a crime: Who killed Rose Red.
Currently, I’m really enjoying Hickman’s work on The Fantastic Four. He’s not afraid to take really big ideas and translate them to the page – like he does in the first anthology of his run. Another series of comics I find myself returning to are Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The thing I really love about that original set of books is the way they focus on the Turtles' inner turmoil and conflict. It grounds the story in emotional truth and, in turn, helps the audience suspend disbelief. As a reader, you feel their world is real. For me that’s a hallmark of great storytelling.
BD: In addition to your work on this graphic novel, are there other past or current projects where fans can find your work?
KW: Fans of the show LOST have known my work as the producer and host of the Official LOST Podcast. I produced all of the video and audio podcasts, which turned out to be highly creative and very rewarding. However, as far as my writing goes – this is really my first foray into the public sphere.
Since graduating from the University of Southern California in 2000, I’ve been honing my writing style, learning at the feet of masters, and getting my work read. One of my scripts was a finalist for the 2009 Slamdance Teleplay contest. I have also been one of 24 people contending for a spot in the coveted Disney ABC Writing Fellowship. It’s all a process, an up-hill climb, if you will. I have been more fortunate than many, and am in constant awe with how things have been progressing.
Writers write. That’s what we do. All I’ve ever wanted to do was tell stories, and, since I’ve grown up on comic books, this seemed like a great way to do just that.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who are interested in learning more about The 36?
Getting indie comics made in this day and age is increasingly difficult – especially with the large market share that the big two (Marvel and DC) have. Kickstarter is one of those unique opportunities that fans can take advantage of to really help change that. It’s a great way for fans to make their voices and choices heard.
The nice thing is, Kickstarter isn’t just a donation. Everyone gets something cool in return for becoming a backer. At the most basic level, if you back us for $1, you get a digital copy of the first chapter.
Anyone that backs us on Kickstarter prior to August 8th will have a unique opportunity to get a variety of cool incentives that won’t be available after the book is made. One of my favorites is the chance to get original sketches and art from the book (which I think will be worth something… this guy George is going places).
So, whether you want to support an indie comic, tell the industry what you want to see, be personally invested in a comic (in the earliest stages), or just find out what happens next in the story, Kickstarter is a great way to make that happen. Also, anyone looking to be more involved in the book can reach me through the site or the Kickstarter page.