Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Saddling Up: Chuck Dixon on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Matt Brady

Dynamite is renaming and relaunching it’s The Man With No Name in July as something with a bit more zazz: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Spearheading this new launch, a no-brainer for Western comic fans: writer Chuck Dixon.
Together with artist Esteve Polls, Dixon will kick off the new series with the five part “Dead Man’s Hand” story, and we spoke with him about it.

Newsarama: Chuck - for your fans, you winding up on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a no brainer. Before we get into the comic side of things, can you tell us a little about what the movie is to you? Would you say it affected you and influences your writing?

Chuck Dixon: I thought it was a no-brainer too. But not everyone saw that at first. No brag. Just fact. Some writers are more suited to certain material than others and doing a comic based on an Italian Western was a natural fit for me.

The Man With No Name movies (and Spaghetti Westerns in general) are very influential on my work. The deliberate pacing. The attention to details of dress and locale. The way mood is set with visuals and the dearth of expository dialogue and the grand operatic themes have all had an effect on the way I approach telling a story in comics.

NRAMA: You've been listed as one of the writers on the book since before, when it was called by its other name. Were you approached by Nick Barrucci, or was this a case of you heard Nick had the license, and you tracked him down to get a slot in the writing lineup?

CD: I’ve known Nick for many years. When he first assigned the book to other writers I seriously busted his stone for not asking me first. Every so often a property comes to comics that I feel I could bring a lot to. The Man With No Name is one. And why I’ve never been asked to write an Indiana Jones comic is beyond me. Again, no ego here. But my track record indicates a certain range that I have success in and there’s a number of properties that fall into that.

NRAMA: As we've spoken with the other writers on the book, the films are one thing, and a comic book is another. Obviously, you have to carry some characteristics of the films over to the comic, but what's key in your view, in making sure The Good, the Bad and the Ugly comic book feels like the films?

CD: Period detail is important. The Sergio Leone films emphasized every detail from clothing to weaponry. There’s a kind of tactile intimacy in the movies that makes everything seem so real. Also the need to pull our point of view way back for the vistas and bring it in for the tight compositions to show shifts in emotion. The dark humor is important too. And sparse, sparse, sparse dialogue. These characters only talk when necessary and never talk directly about the plot.
NRAMA: Tell us about the Man With No Name. As his writer, how much do you even know about him? Is it necessary for you to have a back story in mind for him when you're writing, or are you keeping him more or less at arm's length even as you're writing him?

CD: The Man With No Name is the classic, iconic loner. He’s the man with no past. This allows him to be a universally recognizable figure that anyone can project themselves on. We learn all we need to know about him by what he does. And because we know so little and because his actions are the only information we receive, we’re fascinated by what he’ll do next. Even then we’re not sure of his motivations.

NRAMA: How did you "start" with your story? Did you have an idea in mind prior to this? The assignment got you thinking? Or are you making it up as you go, to touch on your Indy reference?

CD: It’s a Western and the genre is simplicity itself. It’s confrontation that ends and is resolved through violence. The writer’s job is what the confrontation is based on and how to get to that violent conclusion. At the end of the day, The Wild Bunch and Blazing Saddles are both Westerns.

I knew I wanted to deal with events just after the end of hostilities in the Civil War. I knew I wanted to have the action in Mexico. I knew I wanted to trump the final film and have four bad guys instead of just two. I had my opening and went from there. Italian Westerns are in my DNA. This stuff just flowed out of me.

NRAMA: That said, tell us about your story a little - what brings in “The Man?” And also – your story is called "Dead Man's Hand" - obviously there's some card playing...

CD: There’s a game of chance but not one you want to play.

The Man is after a train robber with a big bounty on his head. This outlaw joins the ex-Confederate soldiers who rode into Mexico by the thousands to sell their skills as mercenaries to Maximilian, the emperor of Mexico. So our hero has to follow his prey hoping to cut him out of an entire army and bring him back to hang in Texas. Of course, things go from bad to worse.

The card theme comes in with El Jugador (The Gambler) a sadistic bandit who plays a really sick little card game with anyone unlucky enough to cross his path.

NRAMA: For a moment, I thought there was going to be a Kenny Rogers cameo (laughs). Bigger-picture wise, are you allowed to touch upon elements from the films, or do you have to spin completely out in your own direction?

CD: I haven’t really been given any direction. I’m like a single cell organism when I write. If I bump into something that’s wrong I re-write to get around it. The Leone films are so spare that the only continuity is The Man himself.

NRAMA: You’ve said that the genre is simple, and the story is sparse – so in your mind, what are the "cant’s" involved in telling a story with “The Man?”

CD: For me, The Man is just a self-interested bastard. He’s only the hero because his enemies are bigger bastards than him. Even when he shows a rare moment of kindness it’s never one that inconveniences him. He’s no softie.

NRAMA: This arc is listed as being five parts - are you sticking around after that, or was this your one The Good, the Bad and the Ugly story and you're out?

CD: I’m here until the wheels come off. Nick let me in and I’m not leaving willingly. There’s Tuco hanging around out there. And I want to take The Man to other areas of the West and have him meet Spaghetti Western archetypes he hasn’t met yet.

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