Comic Book Day: Following PROTOCOL with Michael Alan Nelson
By Dan Casey on September 11, 2013
Peter Facinelli is known for many things: the Twilight franchise, playing Mike Dexter in Can’t Hardly Wait, andbeing generally handsome, just to name a few. But, did you also know that he’s one of the driving creative forces behind BOOM! Studios’ newest original series, Protocol? Working with Day Men/Supergirl writer Michael Alan Nelson and newcomer artist Mariano Navarro, BOOM! Studios brought the actor’s vision to life and the results are nothing short of terrific. Packed with high octane action, likable characters and a sense of adventure, Protocol gives the sometimes overwrought spy genre a Pulp Fiction-sized shot of adrenaline to the sternum. To take you deeper inside the creative process, I caught up with writer Michael Alan Nelson to talk about crafting the characters, avoiding genre pitfalls and how to keep oneself disciplined while juggling three ongoing titles.
Nerdist: Mike, that’s a hell a first issue! Very well done and I’m eager to see where it goes next.
Michael Alan Nelson: Thanks! So glad you dig it! Wait until you read the next issue, though. It has one of my favorite scenes that I’ve ever written.
N: This first issue does an excellent job of setting up the stakes and rules of Protocol’s universe while keeping the action moving, which is a difficult task in and of itself. Tell us a bit about the character design and how you balance action with narrative development.
MAN: I have to say up front that a big part of that great balance between action and narrative comes from my editor Eric Harburn who is, hands down, one of the best in the business. He has such a great sense of pacing and tension and was instrumental in helping me get that balance right. Sometimes the difference between a scene working or not working could be as little as one panel too many or one page too few. And there were quite a few scenes that I was having so much fun writing that I’d spend too much time in it, limiting myself the space to properly convey other scenes. So I had to take an industrial-strength pair of garden shears and really trim away things that weren’t necessary.
What also helped was using flashbacks. These small vignettes that look back at the Orphans’ training really help give us a sense of who the characters are as well as informing the reader of the world these characters populate. And they are so much fun to write. They really give me a chance to explore some of the darker corners of my creativity. Nothing terribly graphic or anything like that. Just…dark.
N: I understand you co-created this with Twilight actor Peter Facinelli. How did that partnership come about? How closely did you two work together?
MAN: This is actually Peter’s brainchild and he deserves all the credit for this great idea. He had this wonderful story that BOOM! wanted to help him tell, but they also wanted someone familiar with scripting stories for the comics medium. They thought I’d be a good fit so they brought me in.
As for the process, once we have the beats of an issue worked out, I go off and bang out a first draft. Then Peter would give any notes or make any tweaks he felt it needed. We bounce the script back and forth like this until we’re happy with it. I know some people think that whenever a “non-comics” person is involved, it usually means I’m given a paragraph of an idea and then told to go off and make it awesome. While I’m sure that does happen sometimes, this most certainly is not one of them. This is Peter’s story and he is a major part of the creation process.
Even though all the work is done through e-mail, I sometimes like to tell people that we hang out by the pool, drinking things with tiny umbrellas and fending off super-models. And by “people” I specifically mean my mother. She still isn’t happy I never went to law school and is waiting for me to outgrow this whole “writing phase.”
N: Espionage thrillers can be rather difficult to pull off given how laden the genre is with cliches and been there, done that-type scenarios. What attracted you to the genre and how do you keep it fresh?
MAN: It really is tough keeping things fresh no matter what genre you’re in. We really are in a golden age of storytelling across all mediums and, as audiences, we are incredibly savvy to what is going on in entertainment. As a fan of great storytelling, this is wonderful, but it also leaves many of us jaded. So we creators have to work even harder to make stories that feel new and fresh. With Protocol, it’s my hope that the freshness comes through with the characters and in seeing how they became the people they are. We also really wanted to explore the limits of human potential. Just what, exactly, is a human being physically and mentally capable of? Once you start to approach an answer to that question, you have to ask, how do you go about training someone to reach that human limit of ability and instantly call upon those skills? That’s where we had the most fun and where I think Protocol really separates itself from other stories within the genre.
N: Visually, the comic has a nice balance of realism and an over the top comic quality. How closely did you work with Mariano Navarro to create the book’s visual aesthetic?
MAN: This is another instance where Eric really shines. He really knows how to match artists with stories that really allow them to play to their strengths. So I try to stay out of their way as much as possible and let them work on the book’s aesthetic. Whenever I write a script, I usually break it down, panel by panel with some pretty heavy description about what we see in those panels. But I also like to include why I want to see something a certain way so that the artist knows what I’m trying to achieve with that scene or that particular image. Being the artist, they might know of a way to better get that idea across visually. So once the script is finished, it’s fully in their hands. And Mariano has some very capable hands and has been knocking this book out of the part. He and Eric are fully responsible for how great this book looks.
N: You’re also juggling Day Men for BOOM! and Supergirl for DC Comics. Tell us a bit about your writing process and do you have any secrets to keeping yourself on task?
MAN: There’s this great panel from great comic strip Bloom County. It’s of Opus the penguin sweating profusely and furiously typing away at a typewriter as he tries to meet a writing deadline. Over his shoulder, his editor looms with a machine gun slung over his shoulder, casually looking down at his watch and saying, “40 seconds…” It’s a little like that.
In all seriousness, it can be a little tough juggling numerous projects. But it just comes down to time management. I usually divide my time for various projects by weeks. This week is Day Men, Supergirl the next, Protocol the week after, etc. The reason for this is that each project is different. A different tone, a different writing style. And it takes me a bit of time to get into the particular head space for a particular project. This isn’t a hard and fast rule since things always come up. Sometimes I have to divide up the projects into days, but I try to avoid working on two or more projects within the same day otherwise my brain claws itself from my skull and hides under the bed with a teddy bear and bottle of scotch.
N: What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?
MAN: Saga, Locke & Key, Hawkeye, Deathmatch, and Adventure Time are the ones that I’m really digging at the moment. And this isn’t a comic, but I just finished a fascinating book by Erik Larson titled Devil in the White City about America’s first serial killer during the Chicago’s World’s Fair in the 1890s. It’s amazing how much current technology came from that event. I highly recommend it.
N: Last question – and it’s a bit odd – what would be inside your ideal burrito?
MAN: A platinum ingot. Oh, you meant to eat. In that case, steak, salsa, a little bit of rice, cheese, and sour cream.
BOOM! Studios’ Protocol #1 by Michael Alan Nelson and Mariano Navarro is in stores this November. You can keep up with Michael’s many happenings on Twitter. Are you going to pick up Protocol? Let us know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter.