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Comics being translated to the big screen is par for the course these days, but sometimes it goes the other way too.
We’re a long way from the comics adaptations that used to fill the news agent spinner racks back in the ‘80s (which is how I first encountered Dune, The Last Starfighter, 2010, Willow, and lord knows what else), but Umbrella Entertainment are changing that, packaging comic book adaptations with some of their upcoming physical releases.
The first cab off the rank is Brain Trenchard-Smith’s Ozploitation classic, Stunt Rock. We caught up with comics writer Darren Koziol of Dark Oz comics to get the low down.
“Early in 2021 I was talking online to Stunt Rock writer and director Brian Trenchard-Smith while also discussing ideas with Umbrella – and what we were all offering each other were pieces of the same jigsaw puzzle.”
Interview by Travis Johnson
What’s your background? How did you get into comics as a profession?
I grew up reading and collecting comics, I loved creative writing at school and always wanted to make my own comics, making notes in sketch books during class. In 2009 I decided to do it – to change my focus, to write, create and publish my own comic book. I’d also collected independent Australian comics over the years, so when I decided to make my own horror anthology, I tracked down some of those creators to join me. DECAY #1, an anthology of horror stories, was released in March 2010, and I’ve never looked back, expanding to science fiction and more. It was tough at first but as I continued publishing and my name became well known, more artists were looking to join DARK OZ comics, to be a part of this exciting adventure.
What comics artists and writers inspire you?
Disney comics were the first I read (I still love those old comics), then superhero titles. As a teenager I moved to 2000AD and Heavy Metal as well as old horror anthologies like Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. Most of my favourite comic book creators were in 2000AD – writers like Pat Mills, Alan Grant, John Wagner, and Alan Moore. Artists like Kevin O’Neill, Simon Bisley, John Hicklenton, Colin MacNeil, John Higgins. Also, incredible artists from the indie and horror anthologies, legendary names like Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Frank Frazetta, even H.R.Giger. Then, in 1991 there was a short run weekly comic called Toxic!, with Marshal Law (by two of my favourite creators – Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill) – it only lasted 31 issues yet it was a big inspiration towards my own first printed comics.
How did this project come together?
Everything came together at the right time – I’d been writing and producing comics for over ten years, making contacts in all industries, worked with many clients along the way, even produced a prologue comic for Luke Sparke’s 2016 Australian horror movie, Red Billabong. My anthology comics also work as a catalogue of artists and their talents. I am often contacted by clients who have seen some art they like and want a project in a similar style. Early in 2021 I was talking online to Stunt Rock writer and director Brian Trenchard-Smith while also discussing ideas with Umbrella – and what we were all offering each other were pieces of the same jigsaw puzzle. Umbrella Entertainment have been raising the bar in terms of quality and extra features with their recent releases, so the idea of including a comic book was perfect for everyone and a dream job for me. It is such a unique idea and, as far as I know, the first time any Australian movie has had an official comic book adaptation. These days more people are streaming movies, so the physical media market need to offer high quality collectibles with exclusive bonus features – Umbrella are doing that in spades!
What’s the process of adaptation like? What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is fitting a feature length movie into just 14 pages of comic book panels, while keeping the essence of the overall story. I had to focus on the main scenes, skip other parts – the challenge is selecting the appropriate areas to make it work as a coherent story. Comic books are frozen panels in time, very different to moving video images – you can’t show motion, and parts of the story that flow over several seconds or minutes need to be presented in just one or two images. I then find artists with a style to match the script and suit the atmosphere of each movie. Stunt Rock was the perfect choice to start with, with a fairly simple overall storyline and plot. The comic books are respectful to the stories and compliment the movies.
There are several whole scenes of the band Sorcerer on stage, playing some seriously awesome heavy metal rock music, so I condensed all of those scenes into an epic double-page spread – a montage of elements from the various performances during the movie. Keeping that as the central focus, I then wrote the front half and the back half. It took several re-writes, and then translating the requirements to the artists, and supplying reference material.
How many of these comics adaptations are you slated to do? What titles are coming up?
We are planning to make four movie comic book adaptations. The second is already finished. I have just started on the third comic, though at the moment I can’t reveal the titles. Once all four Blu-Rays have been released, I will be publishing the four short comics in one large collection, published under my own Dark Oz banner.
What artists are you working with on these?
I am hoping to source different artists for each comic so that, like my own anthology titles, the movie comics showcase a selection of Australian talent. These releases are truly unique as a celebration not only of classic older movies but also in showcasing current Australian comic book artists. The artist drawing the Stunt Rock comic is Ben Sullivan from Melbourne and the colourist is Dan Lynch from the Blue Mountains. The cover artist, who is drawing all four of these initial covers is legendary Australian illustrator Frantz Kantor from Melbourne. The second movie comic has been drawn and coloured by Tristan Tait, also from Melbourne. That’s all I can tell you for now…
Are you a fan of Ozploitation? What are some of your fave titles?
I am a huge fan of what we now refer to as Ozploitation – I’ve produced a couple of my anthology horror comics DECAY as Ozploitation specials. I believe it was Quentin Tarantino who coined the term, in an interview during the documentary Not Quite Hollywood. There are many forms of exploitation genres. Ozploitation covers all styles from Australia, mostly during the ‘70s and ‘80s (though extending later to movies like Wolf Creek, The Loved Ones, 100 Bloody Acres, etc). Of course, one of my favourites (as with most people) is the Mad Max series. I love all car chase and car crash movies: Midnite Spares, Running on Empty, and so on. I discovered other movies over the years: Dead End Drive-In, Dark Age, Turkey Shoot, Stone, The Cars That Ate Paris. But I also grew up with favourites such as Razorback, BMX Bandits, Frog Dreaming, Attack Force Z, Roadgames, The Time Guardian, etc.
What else have you got coming up that we should know about?
I have just launched a Kickstarter for my next science fiction anthology comic book, Retro Sci-Fi Tales – this is the milestone 10th issue special, a perfect jumping on point for new readers, and features famous monsters in Australia in the lead story, Horrorwood! It has a strong Steven Spielberg vibe to it – I’ve described it by saying “If Steven Spielberg or J.J. Abrams ever make a movie in Australia… Horrorwood will be it”. The comic is being released with four variant covers to choose from, each featuring the monsters. The comic is 52 pages, magazine size, full colour, and features five stories and several cover/pin-up pages by a total of twelve creators. I wrote four of the stories in this issue, each drawn by different artists.
You can purchase a copy of Stunt Rock and the comic book adaptation here.