Interview: Jonathan London on His New MIAMI VICE Digital Comic
By Dan Casey on February 28, 2014
Before we get into the meat of this article, allow me to set the mood. Just press play and let the glorious waves of ’80s synth wash over you like waves lapping at your feet.
All right, that’s better. This week brought plenty of new comics, but one that you don’t want to let slip through your dragnet is Lion Forge’s Miami Vice #1, written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Geanes Holland. Forget the gritty 2006 reboot film; This is the return to the world of Miami Vice you’ve been waiting for. As some of you may recall, this past summer, NBCUniversal tapped comics publisher Lion Forge to adapt many of its classic television properties (Airwolf, Knight Rider, Punky Brewster, Saved by the Bell, Miami Vice) to digital comics. And if Miami Vice #1 is any indicator of quality for the rest of the line, it’s one of the smartest decisions NBC has made yet, especially considering the lasting impact the series has had on the pop culture zeitgeist.
Recently, I had the chance to catch up with series writer Jonathan London to discuss where the series fits within the wild world of Miami Vice, the challenges of adapting a beloved franchise, whether or not he now exclusively wears pastel suits, and much more.
Nerdist: Tell us about your new Miami Vice series. Where does it fit into the continuity of the existing series?
Jonathan London: This is a new Miami Vice original story that takes place between Seasons 1 and 2 of the original ’80s TV show. I’ve been friends with the guys at Lion Forge for a few years and we’d been wanting to work together for a while in some capacity. When they told me that they’d secured the rights to several NBC Universal TV properties from the ’80s, I immediately asked which ones. The only one I cared about was Miami Vice. Out of any of the shows from the ’80s, Vice really exemplified the era and you still see its influence in things like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Archer. So many big actors and creators cut their teeth on Miami Vice, and hopefully it works the same way for me!
This first storyline starts off right where Season 1 of the original show ends. All of the episodes are streamable on Netflix, so it’s been very helpful in getting reacquainted with the characters and what storylines might still be worth exploring. That’s not to say that you need to have ever watched a single episode of the show or be a big fan. Our story starts slowly, introduces all of the characters, and then starts picking up speed as the case picks up. I love how much of a procedural the original show was, and we’ve worked really hard to keep that voice and style. But obviously with comics, there are a lot of things we can do in the story that they couldn’t afford to do on TV, so expect our boat chases, car chases, and action scenes to be a bit bigger!
N: What about the world of Miami Vice excited you as a writer? Did you do all your writing wearing a sharp pastel blazer and t-shirt ensemble?
JL: I was just excited about celebrating the era of the ’80s and exploring the relationship between Sonny and Tubbs and the rest of the team. They don’t always get along, especially in those first two seasons where our story takes place. TV in the ’80s was a lot different than TV today, and the storylines weren’t as airtight from week to week or season to season as they are now. They were more episodic. Sometimes characters and plot threads would just pop up and disappear randomly from episode to episode, like Sonny’s off and on romance with Gina or the change in boats, cars, and weapons between seasons. Most of these were caused by production reasons, but I’m making sure that our issues, although they can 100% exist on their own and be fun, fill in a lot of those gaps for old school fans in order to bring a modern “binge viewing” feel to the story. They’ll read the book and suddenly be like, “Ah ha! So that’s how Tubbs went from the sawed off shotgun to the pump shotgun in between seasons!” It will make the gap between seasons pretty seamless, and as a modern TV fan, I love the chance to do that.
I didn’t dress in a blazer when I was writing the issues but I would stop from time to time to play with the mini Hot Wheels car I got of Crockett’s black Spyder. That car is always within arms length when I’m writing, just in case I’ve gotta take it for a spin around my desk!
N: Did you listen to any 1980s jams to get into the right mood?
JL: Yes. But I was doing that anyways. Tommy Shaw’s “Girls With Guns” got played at least once a day to get me pumped to write, and Fire Inc.’s “Nowhere Fast” from the Streets of Fire soundtrack — that’s a much overlooked mainstay. And, of course, you’ve got to have a lot of Phil Collins.
N: What’s the biggest challenge in taking an existing franchise like this and adapting it for a new audience?
JL: The biggest challenge was in nailing the tone of the original show but also making it keep pace with modern, faster paced comic book expectations. I’m 100% confident that old Miami Vice fans are going to be sold from page one. We’ve worked hard on keeping things faithful. For new fans, there had to be an injection in both the art and story of a modern Grand Theft Auto feel. Things have to move a little bit faster in 2014 without breaking what made Vice so good as a procedural or as a character drama. Ultimately, though, the show was my guide. The TV episodes hold up today, and so we stayed painstakingly faithful to them. There’s no reason a new audience won’t enjoy these issues if they’re open to visiting Miami Vice for the first time.
The real challenge was for the artists! I kept giving them notes like, “that’s not the right gun! He doesn’t get that gun until later on!” or “the side view mirrors on the car are round not square!” As a Miami Vice fan myself, I knew these little details would be important if we wanted to claim these stories as canon! I’m just glad Geanes and Carl didn’t kill me!
N: Are there a set number of issues or is this an ongoing series?
JL: We’re putting out eight issues and then a bigger one shot called Brotherhood that Carl’s drawing that explores Sonny’s relationship with his previous partner Eddie, who Jimmy Smits played in the original pilot. It also shows Tubbs’ relationship with his older brother Rafael. Both relationships ended in tragedy in the pilot episode, and fans of the original show never got much more information beyond that. I’m really excited for people to read that story, because it’s got a lot of revelations that tie into both the original TV episodes and our eight issue comic series. Plus, it has some Yakuza in it and swords, so it’s not all drama and flashbacks! Once everything is published digitally, we’ll get a nice collected trade that can sit handsomely on the shelf next to your Miami Vice DVDs. Hopefully, you put them between Seasons 1 and 2! And of course if these do well, there will be more Miami Vice issues down the road!
N: Geanes Holland is providing the artwork for the series. How did you get connected with him, and how did you work with him to craft the visual tone of the series?
JL: Our editor Shannon Denton found Geanes, and he’s been great. He’s been so patient with my ridiculous requests for the most minuscule of detail changes to keep the story consistent with the show. He and Carl Reed also did a good job of mixing a retro ’80s Patrick Nagle influence with a more modern style. That Patrick Nagle silhouette stuff was in my original pitch to the Lion Forge guys, and I’m happy that it’s in most of the book. Geanes and Carl were amazing in finding that balance. I’m really proud of how the book looks, and it’s all because of them.
N: Are you more of a Crockett or a Tubbs?
JL: I’m a Tubbs fan. I love Sonny but don’t think Tubbs got as many moments to shine in the original series. He’s due some serious attention. We’re hoping to fix that with this story. If you’re a fan of Sonny’s, you’ll be very happy, but if you’ve been waiting for Tubbs to kick some ass and prove why he’s Crockett’s equal, you’re going to love what we’re doing.
N: What other comics are you reading and enjoying right now?
JL: There are so many. Anything Jeff Lemire writes. His Green Arrow is great and so is his creator-owned stuff. IDW’s Ninja Turtles comics. Anything Mike Mignola at Dark Horse plus the Conan books. Justice League and all of the Batman titles at DC. I like how Forever Evil feels like an old school DC event. Hickman’s Avengers books and Bendis’ X-Men books at Marvel are awesome, plus Waid’s Hulk and Daredevil. The new Punisher series is fantastic, as is Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn’s Deadpool, plus Cullen Bunn’s Night of the Living Deadpool. Cullen is writing Night Trap for Lion Forge, and that’s a fun, creepy horror comic. And of course Image is putting out very high quality books. Velvet, Saga, Lazarus, Fatale, and Sidekick are incredible. Comics are creatively very healthy right now, so I read a lot of titles each week. It’s inspiring. Hopefully somebody will soon say the same about Miami Vice!
You can pick up Miami Vice #1 from Lion Forge now. Have you read the comic? Let us know what you think in the comments below.