Interview: ‘Red Range: Pirates of the Fireworld’
In Joe Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s graphic novel Red Range, African American vigilante Caleb Range and his young sidekick wreak vengeance on a murderous group of Klansmen and then are transported to another world where more dangers await. On the last page of that book, they stare out at a strange body of water filled with wrecked ships and a lone dinosaur, and the last panel teases the next story: “The Pirates of Fireworld.”
That was just a tongue-in-cheek ending to a comic that was an homage to pulp and Saturday morning serials, but now small-press publisher Drew Ford is running a Kickstarter campaign to make that book a reality.
Ford, formerly the editor of Dover Comics, now presides over It’s Alive!, which publishes new editions of forgotten but worthy older works, including Glanzman’s World War II stories and Trina Robbins’s adaptation of Sax Rohmer’s Dope. For this book, he has recruited writer Keith Lansdale (Joe Lansdale’s son) and the Argentinian artist Jok (Glanzman passed away in 2017), as well as six cover artists to produce the new comic, basically from scratch.
Red Range, which was set in the American South, started out with a horrific act of violence against a black family and continued with Caleb Range (a.k.a. The Red Mask) and Turon, the son of the murdered family, seeking satisfying but gory revenge on the attackers. It’s not kid stuff. But the sequel, Ford says, will be more in the 13+ range. We asked Lansdale and Jok to tell us more about their work in progress.
Is this going to be a full graphic novel or a serial comic? How long will it be?
Lansdale: It’s a four part series, equalling 80 more pages of the adventures of Red Range.
Pirates of the Fireworld looks like it will be very different from the original Red Range—I get sort of a Conan vibe from it. How is it different from the original—and how will it relate back to it?
Lansdale: The original Range comic shifted as it went. It started very much as a vigilante story that shifted into more of a Jules Verne vibe. The story picks up there and keeps pushing right on through this strange new world.
The original Red Range was very violent, starting with the opening scene. Will this sequel have a different tone?
Lansdale: Without wanting to give anything away, I’ll just say that our heroes still run the risk of bad things happening, but there’s nothing more horrific than something like those original opening pages, because as horrible as it is, it’s a real depiction of things that actually happened.
The other thing that struck me in the original was the copious use of the “n-word.” Times have changed. Will the characters’ language change as well?
Lansdale: Times may have changed, but these comics are about the times before it did. Trying to be more “PC” would miss the point entirely. You use comics like the original Range to shine a light on the ugliness, so people never forget. Brushing it under the rug would be disingenuous. The difference at the moment is the people in the next edition aren’t from the same world as the racists that use that word, but if it found those racist people, they’ll be accurately portrayed, hateful language and all.
Red Range seemed to change direction pretty abruptly, going from a semi-realistic story of racism and revenge in the American South to a strange fantasy tale set in a weird new world. Why did the creators change the story so abruptly? Was that part of the plan from the beginning?
Lansdale: Well, you’d have to ask Joe why he went that way. My guess is simply because thats where the story took him. We both tend not to outline, and just let the story unfold as we go. My best guess would simply be because that’s the story that unfolded.
Then the last page opens up a whole new world. Why did Joe Lansdale and Sam Glanzman stop there, and how much information do you have to work with about what they intended?
Lansdale: To be honest, I didn’t ask Dad what he would have done, or wanted to know. I wrote what I enjoyed and got his blessing after the fact. But he never really had any plans on taking the story farther, but he was pleased with the idea of me picking up the mantle.
What has been the biggest challenge of this book? What has been the most fun part so far?
Lansdale: I always have concerns when I am adapting or sequeling something of my father’s, as they are big shoes to fill. The moment he gives it his approval, I know I’m golden, but leading up to that is always the stress of wanting to make him proud and being true to his work.
Jok, How do you approach making this sequel in terms of following Sam Glanzman’s art. Are you trying to channel his style or moving off in a different direction?
Jok: Fortunately, I had the chance to color the first Red Range book a few years ago. When I color a book I kind of dive into the artist´s style and inking (sometimes even unconsciously). I came to admire Mr. Glanzman´s sense of drama/humour and characterization, his strokes were bold and powerful and his human figure vigorous. It was certainly a very fortunate coincidence having the chance to continue this series years later.
That said, my plan for the new book is being truthful to the atmosphere and characters, but in my very own way (I couldn´t do it using any other style than my very own, anyway). But I truly believe Mr. Glanzman is still a big influence on the new adventures. Also, we´ll keep a very similar color style to the first book, which also happens to work great with my art.
Bringing back lost comics from the past is obviously important, but why do you think it’s important to create original works based on them as well? What will Pirates of the Fireworld add to the current comics scene?
Lansdale: Really, it’s just the continuation of the same story that started 20 years ago. Dad started down this rabbit hole of this lost underground world and now I’m steering the ship through until we see where it ends up. So hopefully people are just as excited to see what happens to our heroes in the process.
Jok: For me, the biggest challenge was to keep a balance between making the hollow earth look exuberant (plagued with weird forestation… and dinos!) and keeping it believable to readers. The burning sky is a strong presence. I´ve been struggling to keep landscapes interesting but not too invasive, in order to focus reader´s attention towards characters (and action).
The most fun part is designing (and re-designing) characters. I believe it´s all about these guys, if readers don´t get involved with them, the scale of conflict won´t matter. I need readers to like and care about characters, once that happens, humor and drama tend to work way better. Also, establishing a sound characterization will make readers want to hang out with heroes and villains all the way to the end.
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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