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A Love Story For The Modern Day: Plastic [Interview]

feature by David Brothers

Edwyn Stoffgruppen wanders the backwoods of America with Virginia, the woman of his dreams, in his old LTD. They try to stay under the radar and to themselves, because Virginia is a blow-up sex doll, and they enjoy their idyllic life together too much to ever have it threatened. But Edwyn used to be a serial killer, and he sometimes still finds that he has to give someone their just desserts. In fact, after a run-in with the wrong crowd in PLASTIC, coming soon from Doug Wagner and Daniel Hillyard, Edwyn is going to have to kill even more people to get Virginia back.

DAVID BROTHERS: Robert Kirkman himself called PLASTIC "the weirdest shit [he’s] ever read." For the people who haven't had the pleasure of reading it yet, how weird is PLASTIC? What kinda material are you dealing with here?

DOUG WAGNER: Everybody keeps using the term "weird" because I'm not sure there's a word that accurately describes PLASTIC. We've got a blowup sex doll as a major character, a serial killer obsessed with anything and everything plastic, a car trunk filled with a cornucopia of strange, and it all takes place in the creepiest small town in all of Louisiana. There are doughnut obsessions, people's heads in Ziploc baggies, and tiny little naked toy-army ladies running around everywhere. We're calling this a dark romantic comedy horror, and I think you can see why the only word anyone's used so far is "weird."

The story itself is really a simple love story. Albeit, a love story between Edwyn, our serial killer, and Virginia, a sex doll. Their lives together are blissful, touring the countryside and enjoying each other's company. Well, that is until somebody decides to "kidnap" Virginia in order to manipulate Edwyn. But manipulating a "retired" serial killer...not the best of ideas. See, Edwyn's neurons don't exactly fire like anybody else's, and he doesn't always react how one might want or expect. So instead of following directives, Edwyn decides to call upon his old "urges" and sever his way back to the love of his life, all while eating doughnuts and preserving heads in freezer baggies.

DANIEL HILLYARD: Ahem, you forgot the part where Robert Kirkman said that he loved it—very important, that bit. [laughs]

BROTHERS: Are you going for a full-on exploitation film vibe with the violence in PLASTIC, or something more skin-crawly?

WAGNER: Actually, we're attempting to pull off both. Yep, a cocktail of over-the-top action and gory, psychological horror intended to make the reader's skin crawl while activating their gag reflex. Daniel and I have spent countless Skype sessions and emails discussing how best to accomplish this. We've had at least one discussion per issue on whether we're going too far...then we've giggled mischievously like five-year-old kids and done it anyway. PLASTIC is truly something I think can only be pulled off in comics, and I'm hoping everyone gets a kick out of it in their own depraved way.

BROTHERS: What's Edwyn Stoffgruppen's history? Do you want readers to be fascinated by him, or repulsed?

WAGNER: There's not a lot to know about our sweet Edwyn. For most of his life, he's been a drifter, flying under the radar and staying off the grid. He's wandered from town to town working odd jobs...while occasionally cutting the head off folks that have offended his unique sensibilities. Maybe they slapped a waitress on the ass and didn't tip, maybe they tripped an old man and didn't help him up, or maybe they threw a cigarette butt on the side of the road. It doesn't really matter. If it was considered an affront by Edwyn, he ensured it wouldn't happen again.

Fascinated or repulsed? I'm not sure this is an "or" kinda question. Since the first day Daniel and I started working on PLASTIC, we agreed we wanted every page to make the reader feel uncomfortable, like something was off. Whether it's a love scene mixed with a creepy environment or a horror scene speckled with some humor, we've done our best to make the reader experience two emotions that don't normally happen together. At some points, we're hoping readers are both fascinated and repulsed by Edwyn. He's actually a pretty nice guy—sometimes a bit too sweet and jovial. He's in love for the first and last time in his life and would fancy it if people would just leave him and Virginia alone. The thing with Edwyn is, I think a lot of people will actually relate to him. He does what some of us fantasize we could to the shitheads of the world, but our morals keep us from actually cutting somebody's eyes out for looking at our significant other lustfully. Edwyn's creativity isn't hindered by reason, logic, or morality, per se. You push his buttons, he removes your head.

BROTHERS: Daniel, this book features some action, but there's a boatload of reaction, too—storytelling through facial expressions and conversation. How do you know when you've staged a conversation in an exciting way? What marks are you trying to hit?

HILLYARD: I guess the main one is making sure it's creepy—that's usually the topic of most the conversations we have about PLASTIC (aside from the usual stuff that you worry about when drawing any comic page, like, clarity, camera moves, character expressions, and leaving enough space for dialogue). We're always asking ourselves if it's creepy enough. 

We have these first few pages of the book that are just messed up, and we constantly refer back to them when working on a scene, no matter what it is, and try to hit the same level of...well, "creepy" on every page following it. Even something as innocent as Edwyn walking into a doughnut shop and striking up a conversation has to hit that same level of twisted. So when we're fleshing out these scenes, we're always looking at them with that reference as a filter and seeing what we can do to make them, I'm going to say it again, creepy. Hopefully we hit the mark and people get a kick out of it.

BROTHERS: What's it like working with the legendary colorist Laura Martin?

WAGNER: Like a dream come true, that's what! I was fortunate enough to be a studio-mate of Laura's for two years while we were both members of Gaijin Studios. Since we both tended to work into the wee hours of the morning, we of course spent many hours distracting each other (that was more my fault than hers) with talks about storytelling and how color can either embellish or diminish the tone, mood, and possibly even the theme of a story. It has always been a dream of mine to work with Laura, to give her the opportunity to cut loose and allow her the chance to experiment with telling story through her unique perspective. I gotta tell ya...from what I've seen so far, she's owning this. 

HILLYARD: Yeah, Laura's awesome. It had always been a dream of mine to work with Laura, too. When her name was suggested, I was like, "Yes, we have to win her over." I don't know what kind of voodoo Doug pulled, but I am so glad she agreed to join our sick little party. The stuff she's turning in is amazing, and she's super nice too.

BROTHERS: What's the core hook of PLASTIC to you? What gets you excited for the story?

WAGNER: Okay, here's the interesting thing about PLASTIC—whether I've been pitching the idea to my friends, to collaborators, to Image, I've found it impossible to get past this partial phrase, "So, there's this serial killer that's in love with a blowup sex doll..."

I don't know what it is about this phrase that brings a twinkle to people's eyes (maybe we're all sick in the head), but they usually cut me off with something like, "That's all you have to say. I'm in." This book is wrong...in every way. It's bloody, sexual, disgusting, and troubling. Some people are going to HATE it. With this kind of material, that's unavoidable. But, for those who can stomach it, for those who embrace the strange as beautiful, you're in for one hell of a disturbingly glorious ride.

HILLYARD: For me, it's got to be the Edwyn and Virginia relationship. It's this twisted kind of love that leads Edwyn down this twisted, bloody path, it's so messed up—and I love it!

PLASTIC #1 is available for pre-order now and debuts 4/19.