Seven Questions About Gravedigger

Here’s the newest installment of the Seven Questions About feature: This time I asked Christopher Mills, the writer of the wonderful webcomic Gravedigger: The Predators. I have talked about it a couple of times on this blog, and I really love that comic.

[In case you are new or need a reminder, this is how the feature  works: I ask seven questions. The first four are the same for everyone. This serves as a warm-up, and gives us the lay of the land. The last three questions are always quite specific, and based on my own interests.]

Now, enjoy!

Q1: Who are you?

My name is Christopher Mills. I’m a freelance writer and editor, who also does a bit of graphic design when the need or opportunity arises. Since 1990, I’ve been writing comics for a variety of independent publishers, in a variety of genres. Some of my comics projects have included Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals for Big Entertainment, Kolchak: The Night Stalker for Moonstone Books, and Femme Noir for Ape Entertainment. My current project is a three-issue miniseries called Gravedigger, which reprints a couple of crime stories originally published online as webcomics.

Q2: What is Gravedigger: The Predators about?

“The Predators” is the second chronicled adventure of professional criminal “Digger” McCrae. It opens with him being framed for the murder of a mob boss’ daughter, and subsequently hunted by the mobster’s men as he tries to escape the South Florida resort town where all this occurs. The idea was to write a comic book version of a “chase movie” like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, but on a smaller, more intimate – and more violent – scale. (The specific inspiration for this particular storyline was a little-known Patrick Dempsey thriller from 1991, called Run.)

Q3: Why and how did Gravedigger: The Predators get started?

Back in 2003-04, artist Rick Burchett and I collaborated on the first Gravedigger webcomic, called “The Scavengers.” After its run online, it was collected and printed as a one-shot comic book by an outfit called Rorshach Entertainment. Surprisingly, it got a fair amount of attention and critical acclaim. Almost immediately, Rick and I started receiving feedback from readers asking for a follow-up. Due to a variety of circumstances, it took us almost ten years to get it done, but “The Predators” debuted online in 2013, and was picked up for publication by Action Lab: Danger Zone earlier this year. The first issue went on sale in mid-July, and issue #2 should hit shelves any Wednesday now. [Timothy’s Note: It already has. Christopher wrote this a month ago.]

Q4: What influences made Gravedigger: The Predators into what it is?

The Gravedigger series is inspired primarily by my love of hardboiled paperback crime fiction, specifically the work of authors like Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake), Dan J. Marlowe, John Trinian, Mickey Spillane, Lawrence Block and Max Allan Collins. It’s my take on the “criminal protagonist” sub-genre, of which, Richard Stark’s “Parker” novels are probably the best known.

The Gravedigger comics are also influenced by my passion for cinema, and 60s-70s crime films in particular. I grew up watching lots of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin thrillers, and they’ve undeniably been a big inspiration.

I try to avoid flat-out pastiche (although I’ve been accused of it [Timothy’s Note:Honi soit qui mal y pense!]), and instead try to simply tell the best, most earnest genre stories I can. I’m not much interested in satirizing, deconstructing, re-inventing or “elevating the genre.” I like crook books, and when I write one, I’m writing the best one I can.

Q5: How much does the writing itself owe to the artist’s contribution?

In comics, the right artist is essential. Fortunately, Rick Burchett and I seem to be perfectly in synch on Gravedigger. He understands the character and his world as well – or better, sometimes – as I do, and often contributes ideas and bits of narrative that improve the stories we’re telling. That’s one reason the Gravedigger credits always read: “by Mills and Burchett.” It’s not a simple “Me write, you draw” collaboration. Some of the stuff people credit me for are actually Rick’s contributions, and vice versa.

Q6: How did you create and manage the breakneck pacing of Gravedigger: The Predators?

Honestly, I don’t do much in the way of pre-planning or outlining. In fact, what I usually plan goes out the window once I get going. I saw the story as a fast-paced “chase,” and it basically wrote itself. I always try to start my stories with a strong page one hook, which often ends up as a sort of cold open, but otherwise, I establish a situation and see how Digger deals with it. I’m sort of along for the ride, myself.

[Timothy’s Note: I’m quite surprised by this answer. Positively surprised, that is, because the result of this process is so great.]

Q7: Was Gravedigger: The Predators written as a period piece, or rather a timeless story?

Yes. The 1999 Brian Helgeland “Parker” film adaptation with Mel Gibson, Payback, created this sort of stylized, late 20th Century urban setting, with no mobile phones, personal computers, etc. I liked that idea a lot, and I write the Digger stories with that same sort of thing in mind. You won’t find smart phones or laptops in a Gravedigger story (although Rick did draw in some flatscreen TVs in “The Predators”). So, yeah – it’s both a timeless story (in that there’s no specific dates involved) and a period piece, although its period is a vague, late 20th Century America.

[Timothy’s Note: I think it’s pretty cool to understand the setting as a stylized environment that is only vaguely timed. This makes a lot of sense for that kind of story.]

If you want to read more:

You may want to read Five Questions For Christopher Mills on Trouble With Comics. By the way, that interview was what inspired me to add the Seven Questions About feature on my own blog.

Got any comments?

I hope you will find the answers as intriguing as I do, and you will agree with me that Christopher, just like his creation Digger McCrae, has got the details, and has got the style.

What do you find most interesting? Tell us in the comments!

Stay tuned!

In two weeks, on Oct. 14th. I’ll post another Seven Questions About, with Ron Randall, creator of the Trekker webcomic. As always, I encourage you to check it out in advance.

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