Interview: Rylend Grant On PEACEKEEPERS, The State Of Comics, & How Poker Prepared Him To Be A Writer

Monkeys Fighting Robots spoke with writer Rylend Grant about his new comic THE PEACEKEEPERS, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

All hell breaks loose in quaint a northern Michigan community when a team of in-over-their-heads bank robbers kills a beloved Sheriff’s Deputy. In a small town with BIG secrets, local detective Richard Holton races to peel back the layers of a depraved down home conspiracy before the bungling Federal Agents assigned to the case send everyone involved to ground.

THE PEACEKEEPERS is a dark, quirky crime drama in the vein of Fargo or No Country for Old Men. It’s a love letter to case-a-season police dramas like True Detective and The Wire, to Elmore Leonard novels, and to comic masterpieces like Criminal and 100 Bullets.

kickstarter preview peacekeepers

Grant is a screenwriter by trade, having worked on projects for A-list directors (you can read more about that below). He’s co-created PEACEKEEPERS alongside artist Davi Leon Dias, colorist Iwan Joko Triyono, and letterer HdE.

The series is drawing comparisons to Fargo, The Wire, and Grant himself calls it his Pulp Fiction in our interview, so if you’re a crime fiction fan, PEACEKEEPERS is a project you can’t miss.

You can read the first 11 pages of THE PEACEKEEPERS right here on Monkeys Fighting Robots.

And read on for our interview with Grant:

Monkeys Fighting Robots: Well, first off, your comic BANJAX was nominated for four awards at this year’s Ringo Awards, including Best Series, so huge congrats on that. Combining that with your nominations and win at last year’s Ringos, how does it feel to receive that kind of recognition so early in your comics career? Is there anything you would attribute that critical success to?

Rylend Grant: My first published comic book series – the political action thriller Aberrant – won a Ringo Award last year for BEST VILLAIN and was nominated for two others… BEST SINGLE ISSUE and I was nominated for BEST WRITER along-side Scotty Snyder, Jeff Lemire, Brian Michael Bendis, and Brian K. Vaughan. Banjax was nominated for BEST SERIES this year along-side Bitter Root, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, and Something’s Killing the Children

It’s so crazy to be in that company. I honestly haven’t really fully processed it yet. Being nominated/winning has opened so many doors for me. I’m staring at a lot of wonderful opportunities in the comic book world right now. I’m so thankful to the folks at the Baltimore Comic Con for actively championing smaller books like Aberrant and Banjax. It’s made all the difference.

In terms of that attributing the critical success… I think it has a lot to do with my day job. I’m a screenwriter by trade. I’ve spent the last 15 years writing movies and TV shows for folks like Ridley Scott, JJ Abrams, Justin Lin, Luc Besson, and John Woo. I’m fairly new to comics, sure, but I’ve been telling great stories for a long time. I had my proverbial 10,000 hours in before I ever even wrote a comic page. I think all of that made the transition a whole lot easier.

MFR: And your new series is THE PEACEKEEPERS, a small-town crime drama in the vein of Fargo. It seems like a departure from your previous work, which has featured superheroes, military action, and high concept sci-fi. Were you purposefully trying to change things up with this new project, or did it just kind of happen?

RG: Banjax and Aberrant were my way of processing 30+ years of consuming traditional comic books. Those are definitely superhero stories. If you look deeply, Aberrant is kind of my twisted take on Captain America. Banjax is my Batman story. I’ve kind of been there and done that now. I don’t know that I’ll do supes again until/unless Marvel or DC come calling.

The Peacekeepers is me branching out, spreading my wings. I don’t think there are enough stories like this in comics. These are the stories I truly love and so I am enthusiastically filling that void while pissing in the wind and howling at the moon.

MFR: What can you tell us about PEACEKEEPERS? What excites you most about working on this book compared to your previous ones?

RG: The Peacekeepers is a story I’ve wanted to tell for 15+ years, but haven’t been able to. I grew up amid the Sundance movement. I saw Pulp Fiction and said, “Hey, I want to do that!” I went to AFI and got my snooty filmmaker education. But by the time I got spit out into the workforce, Hollywood stopped making those movies.

I spend my days writing big poppy action flicks now and it’s a great time, but there is this other, more cerebral side of me that doesn’t always get nourished. Hollywood is a frustrating place. What you’re allowed to do as a writer there you can essentially fit on a postage stamp. They’re only making about five different kinds movies these days. They want you to tell those stories in a very specific way. I’m pretty damn good at writing those movies, but I needed to find another outlet to stay creatively sane.

The beauty of comics is you can tell any kind of story, in any kind of way, as long as it’s GOOD… and I think this is pretty damn good. The Peacekeepers is my Pulp Fiction.

MFR: You’ve worked with artist Davi Leon Dias before on ABERRANT – how did the two of you come to reunite, and what made his style the perfect fit for PEACEKEEPERS?

RG: Well, the truth is, Davi and I never really stopped working together. We did ten pretty kickass issues of Aberrant and then we moved right into another series – a Tokusatu joint called Suicide Jockeys – which got caught up in all of this COVID craziness and has yet to be released.

Davi’s a great artist and an even better guy. We’ve done excellent, award-winning work together. We know each other backwards and forwards at this point. It just makes things so much easier. The basic foundational stuff is already taken care of. It frees us up then to focus on subtly and nuance… and that’s how you end up with a great book instead of just a good book.

kickstarter preview peacekeepers

MFR: You’re currently funding PEACEKEEPERS on Kickstarter. Now, you have prior experience with crowdfunding, as well as experience going through a more traditional publisher. Why was Kickstarter the right move for this project?

RG: Well, it’s not like I choose one path over the other. I instead chose to do both.

You’re essentially talking about two different audiences. There are the people who pretty much exclusively buy their books in comic shops… and then there are the people who pretty much exclusively buy their books on Kickstarter. There is some overlap, but not nearly as much as one might think. If you are a creator and you’re only serving one of those audiences these days, you are doing yourself and your book a disservice.

It’s such a wonderful time to take a book to Kickstarter. There is a rabid and wildly enthusiastic fanbase there. If your book is good, it will be embraced wholeheartedly… and you can actually make a few dollars! Seriously. Very few of us make money putting books in comic shops and when you’re dealing with creator-owned titles like these, you’re often sinking tens of thousands of dollars – your own money – into art and printing… the idea that you can go to a website and make some of that money back is earth-shattering/a game-changer for a lot of creators.

Things have gotten really bad for everybody in the comics business amid this fit of COVID… creators, publishers, retailers. You had pencils down. You had comic shops closing. You had waves of layoffs and firings. That meant that shops had to be a lot more careful what they ordered/put on the shelf, publishers had to be a ton more careful what they greenlit, and it all resulted in fewer opportunities for guys like me.

But other things are changing… I actually think we’ve entered this age of “creator empowerment” in comics. We saw something similar happen in basketball over the last decade. We saw this era of “player empowerment,” guys like Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant ripping control away from the owners, deciding where they play and who they play with… Again, the same thing is happening in comics. Creators like me, we used to have to wait for permission from a publisher to make the book we wanted to make… well, we no longer need that. Today, we can just make our books and take them directly to the consumer via sites like Kickstarter.

It used to be that publishers were wary of Kickstarted books. That’s not the case anymore. Smart publishers like Scout Comics realized that Kickstarter can be a valuable proving ground for would-be titles. The simple fact is, if something does well on Kickstarter, it’s probably going to do well in a shop. Well, everyone is hopping on board now. Image is publishing Kickstarter books. Dark Horse is too. It’s a new game.

So, the plan is to kickstart the first “season”/story arc of The Peacekeepers and then take it to a traditional publisher. Then, I’m serving both audiences, getting the best of both worlds. You’re going to see a lot of creators doing this in the coming years. Bigger and badder creators too… if only because they can get a better deal. Shit, the Scott Snyders and Kevin Eastmans of the world are already doing it, running six-figure campaigns. More to come.

MFR: I know that screenplays often leave a lot of room for directors to interpret things like blocking and camera angles. Does your background as a screenwriter lead you to write comic scripts the same way? Do you leave a lot of space for the artists you work with to interpret things as they see fit?

RG: Well, for whatever it’s worth, I have a Masters degree in directing from the American Film Institute Conservatory (where David Lynch, Terrence Malick, and Darren Aronofsky went) so I tend to approach each comic issue like it’s a little film I’m directing.

The cool thing about writing comics is there is no set format. Everybody kind of does it a bit differently. My scripts tend to be half screenplay/half director’s notes… everything that I’d hand to a Cinematographer, Production Designer, or Costumer on a film gets handed off to my artist and colorist. My scripts get very specific… “Panel 1 – Wide shot. Low Angle. This character is in the foreground. She’s wearing this. There’s a car in the background. I want it to be this specific car, this specific color. In my experience, artists like it because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of their job.

All that said… I’m working with some extremely talented people here and the first thing I say to every collaborator is, “my scripts are very specific… but if you see a better way to do something, PLEASE let me know.” I’d say about 95% of the time an artist or a colorist comes to me with a change, it ends up on the final page, and the book ends up much better for it.

MFR: You had a very interesting path on your way to comics. Prior to writing, you made a living playing poker, right? Is there anything you learned playing cards that you’ve been able to use in your comics career?

RG: You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em… know when to fold ‘em… LOL.

I’m kidding. Kind of. There was indeed a time in my life where I paid my bills playing poker online and in card rooms around Los Angeles. It’s a great game and yes, playing it for a long time has no doubt helped me in my film/comics career in a number of ways. Poker teaches you patience and discipline, it forces you to set emotions aside and analyze situations logically. I think more than anything, playing for years changed my relationship to failure. You fall on your face a lot playing poker. You can’t let any one hand or any one session sink you. Success is measured over time. Success is won by soldiering on, by getting up after falling over and over and over again. If that isn’t applicable to a career in film, TV, and comics, I don’t know what is.

MFR: And finally, you recently launched a podcast with David Avallone to fill the hole in our hearts where comic conventions used to be. Can you talk a little about the genesis of the project, and what listeners can expect when they tune in?

RG: David Avallone (writer of Betty Page, Elvira, and Drawing Blood with Kevin Eastman) is one of my closest friends in comics and a frequent convention wing-man. He and I have done more than a few of these online cons in the wake of COVID and they have been great, but certain itches were not being scratched.

The thing we missed most about the “con experience” was something many call “bar con…” it’s what happens after the show. After a long day on the floor, we creators always get together at the bar across the street from the convention center and just shoot the shit for a couple of hours. We generally start talking about the day, about the state of the comics union, but it tends to quickly degenerate into us arguing about old Star Trek episodes or something like that. It’s a gloriously beautiful mess.

Anyway, we put our heads together and figured out a way to approximate that in podcast form. The show is called THE WRITERS BLOCK. It airs on a number of YouTube channels now (most notably the COMIC CORPS YouTube channel) and will make the jump to Apple/Spotify very soon. Basically, we get a couple of our fancy creator friends together and just throw a party for an hour or so. The fan/viewer is cast as a fly on that wall. We’ve had some really great guests on… Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals), David F. Walker (Bitter Root), Kevin Eastman (TMNT), Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo)… It’s something that we really look forward to every week and it’s something we’ll definitely keep doing once this COVID ship rights itself. Look, 95% of comics podcasts are exactly the same… one hour, one-on-one interviews… How did you get into comics? What are you promoting right now? There are a few good ones out there. Don’t get me wrong. But we didn’t want to do that. This is something new. It’s something exciting. It’s something real. And folks really seem to be digging it. Tune in!

Thanks again to Rylend for taking the time to chat with us. Be sure to check out THE PEACEKEEPERS on Kickstarter right here.

Anthony Composto - EIC
Anthony Composto - EIC
Editor-in-Chief for Monkeys Fighting Robots. A lifelong fan of Spider-Man and the Mets, Anthony loves an underdog story. He earned his B.A. in English because of his love for words, and his MBA because of his need for cash. He considers comics to be The Great American Art Form, and loves horror movies, indie dramas, action/thrillers, and everything in between.