Monstrously Creative: Greg Wright on Comics & Cinema
Interview conducted by Anthony Cleveland
Greg Wright has written award-winning fiction, as well as the comic books Monstrous, Wild Bullets, and Holliston: Friendship Is Tragic, based on Adam Green’s cult favorite TV show. His screenplay for Monstrous, based on his comic series, is currently in pre-production. He earned his Ph.D. in American Literature and Film from Michigan State and has taught screenwriting, film, literature, humanities, and composition. He has never owned a pet monkey, but it seems like a lot of work.
Anthony Cleveland: With Monstrous you created a unique world with nods to steam punk, old school westerns, and the classic Universal Monsters. How did you come up with the idea to mash all these genres together? Was there a film that drove your inspiration?
Greg Wright: The mashup concept at the heart of Monstrous is an idea that’s been done before. It’s kind of a shared universe like Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or even some of the later Universal Studios monster movies). At its heart, Monstrous is a cops and robbers story, where neither side is as absolute as it seems. Instead, everybody is a little monstrous.
I’ve always loved The Monster Squad. Some parts of the comic feel a bit like that. But I really love when movies unexpectedly shift registers. All of a sudden, the story shifts genres, and the whole thing goes into an unexpected direction. Twists in a movie’s plot can be fun, but straddling genres strikes me as an even more engaging way to deliver the unexpected.
As is probably clear, I love westerns and old horror movies, and the Monstrous stories are my way of getting out all the toys from the toybox for me to have a turn playing with them. They are not exact analogs, but the first four issues of Monstrous correspond roughly to the John Wayne movies True Grit, Big Jake, Three Godfathers, and Rio Bravo, respectively. But there’s a ton of other stuff jammed in there, too: the Hammer Studios horror movies, RoboCop, Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13, Sin City, and the Three Stooges.
AC: What is it about John Wayne films that made you want to write 4 inspired comics?
GW: This question is a bit of a tough one. I really love old John Wayne movies—my favorite is probably The Searchers, which I will talk about in a bit—but I also recognize that some of their ideas might not age too well for contemporary audiences. They are filled with a lot of assumptions about gender and culture that I do not agree with, but at the same time I recognize how entertaining they are, as well as how many other positive ideas and values they have.
Basically, I thought I could use the rough plot trajectories of John Wayne movies to go another direction than the originals, while still keeping some of that exciting frontier action in a weird, different, steampunk setting. Also, only the first story keeps the genders the same. Otherwise, I have tried to switch things up so that there are father figures and daughter figures. There is no real hard motivation behind what I am doing. It just seems to me that comics in general tend not to tell too many father-daughter stories. I thought it would be a fresh approach to travel on a less familiar path.
My next Monstrous story is “Mad Dash,” and it riffs on The Searchers. Currently, people can pre-order it from the Source Point Press website, and standard orders will be available soon. Of all John Wayne’s movies, The Searchers strikes me as the one that most openly and critically engages the racism and toxic masculinity behind John Wayne’s iconography, and that awareness (that maybe he is ultimately the villain) makes it compelling. In my story, though, the plot setup is mostly an excuse to send Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll on a road trip in the Australian outback to blow up robots…
AC: Are there any other films or genres that drive your writing?
GW: It might sound weird for me to say so, but I sometimes do not realize how strong an influence something had on me until after I have created a story “under the influence,” so to speak. There were a bunch of movies I watched repeatedly in my youth, so much so that they are simply a part of creative DNA: the original Indiana Jones trilogy, the original Star Wars trilogy, and the Back to the Future trilogy. If you read Wild Bullets—a murder mystery I wrote about a family of pulp adventurers, including a detective, an archaeologist, a mad scientist, and a monster hunter—influential movies from my past really bubble up to the surface: Clue, Ghostbusters, The Royal Tenebaums, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.
I love a wide range of things, so it’s always difficult to choose favorites. It entirely depends on what the purpose is. Do I want to state something I’ve watched many times? Do I want to recommend something I think most people haven’t seen? Do I want my choice to be popular?
In no particular order, here are some movies I love: The Incredibles, Do the Right Thing, Casablanca, The Big Lebowski, Rear Window, and Rashomon. If I think about it tomorrow, though, I’ll probably have a different list…
AC: If you're in a creative slump, name your top 5 films you go to that will put you back in action?
GW: Aha! With these movies, it’s clear what the purpose is. Want a kick in the ass to get you back to work? Watch Crank, Shaun of the Dead, King Kong (any version), Mad Max: Fury Road, or Run Lola Run.
Just don’t overdose and bash your mom’s teeth in or something…
AC: You wrote a graphic novel sequel to Adam Green's Holliston, can you tell us a little about the background on how this collaboration came to be and the challenges of adapting a series like that?
GW: On a regular basis, I remind myself how lucky I am to have had the chance to write the Holliston characters for a graphic novel. I’m honored, grateful, and excited about it, and there is a second graphic novel on the way!
A few Source Point Press folks initially recommended Holliston to me, and I don’t want to boost any of their egos by limiting it to just one. (Sorry, guys! Your egos are all big enough!) When I watched it, it felt like discovering a show made just for me. I’m a lifelong horror movie fan, and riffing on that love in the half-hour comedy format as expertly as Adam Green does is really inspired.
Travis McIntire, the head of Source Point Press, was the one who initially asked me to write the script, and the story idea came from Josh and Gary Sobek. The process was an absolute blast, as I got notes from Adam Green himself. He added jokes, and so did Steve Sharar and Josh Werner, the two artists on the book. Each step of the way was more fun, adding clever little gags and hidden visuals for the fans.
At first, I was deeply intimidated by the task of writing not just someone else’s characters, but characters that are based on Adam Green and his life growing up in Holliston, Massachusetts. Here I was, writing a script for Adam Green to read, set in his hometown and starring “Adam” who is played by Adam Green and has never been written by anyone other than Adam Green. It was intense!
(Also, I don’t know if I can convey this idea well through an interview, but I’m a pretty anxious person at my standard, default setting.)
But I tapped into where I saw the overlap between his sense of humor and my own. And I surprised myself by realizing that a lot of my own jokes worked as “Holliston jokes.” But in the back of my mind, I kept trying not to get my hopes up, as creative people know that projects can fail at any time for almost any reason. But Adam Green was extremely supportive, and he even went on to write a glowing forward that lays bare the emotional stakes involved in the creative process for him. It’s personal, resonant, and tremendous.
So, yes, not to sound too much like an ad, but I highly recommend checking out Holliston: Friendship Is Tragic for Adam Green’s forward alone. It’s poignant and personal and hits at the core feelings that almost every creative person feels or has felt. And, like I said, the graphic novel’s been so successful that we have another one on the way, so stay tuned for Holliston: Carnival of Carnage.
AC: You've explored the horror and western genre, what's next??
GW: Oh, man, I’m geeked to talk about what’s in store for everybody. There are new comics on the way: a new Monstrous, a new Wild Bullets, and a new Holliston. Pre-order them, buy them online, and demand that your local store carries them! (Please?)
As for other directions and genres, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I have some things in the works for a superhero story, a kaiju story, and a story featuring killer robots running amok in a retro-futuristic house.
For those interested in keeping up with Greg and his comics, we invite you to check out:
If you're interested in buying Greg's comics, you can get physical copies delivered from sourcepointpress.com. Digital copies are available from DriveThru Comics, ComiXology, and Comics Blitz.
Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and be sure to stay in the viddy well loop...because an untied knot is just a string!