Back in 1998, pretty early on in the life of my online magazine, Meanwhile…, I was contacted by an artist by the name of Ed Flynn. Ed was promoting a comic book he was working on that was being written by a young filmmaker named Darren Aronofsky. Darren had a movie he had been working on and, as part of the process of putting the film together, he wanted to launch a four-part comic book story to act as a companion piece to the film. The film was his first feature entitled, Pi, and the comic book would be called, fittingly, Pi: The Book of Ants. The full graphic novel told in four volumes, as originally planned, has yet to see the light of day and most likely never will. It is, however, something I occasionally think back to and lament as something of a missed opportunity for the sequential art world to see a filmmaker like Aronofsky personally expanding on his original ideas and the world he created. He would, in fact, fulfill some of his comic book writing ambitions with the adaptations of The Fountain and Noah, but Pi is a story I would have genuinely liked to see he and Ed explore further.
My interview with Ed led me to finding the film at a local art-house theatre, which I saw and kicked off my long-standing appreciation of Aronofsky’s work. It also led me to my first paid writing assignment when he asked me to be a contributor to a little online magazine of his own (in league with frequent collaborator, Joe Mauceri), FEARSMag. A great gig for a young guy back in the early days of online publishing. I still have that first cheque.
I haven’t spoken with Ed in a while and I wonder what he is up to from time to time.
If you can get your hands on a copy of the one and only issue of Pi: The Book of Ants (published by Dark Horse Comics and Artisan Entertainment) I would reccommend doing so. There was so much more story to tell that we never got to see but the single issue still helps illuminate some of the mysteries of the film and is just a cool relic of a simpler time. Also kind of cool that it was published on my birthday.
Going over the interview to format and copy edit it for the blog I couldn’t help but notice, and cringe a little, at my novice interview style but the point of this archival project is to republish all of my older material as it originally appeared so I’ve only stepped in and changed things if I found significant spelling or grammatical errors.
If I remember correctly this interview was also conducted either via email or ICQ which, for anyone not born before or around the late ’80s, was an early precursor to MSN Messenger. Still, I think it reads amazingly well, all things considered, and was a pleasant trip down memory lane and reminder of a book and film that I think it’s time I revisit.
MEANWHILE…: Most of our readers probably aren’t all that familiar with you or your work, so maybe we could start this off with, who is Ed Flynn?”
ED FLYNN: Oh, man. Who am I? Well, essentially I am a struggling illustrator, and I have been doing editorial illustration since 1986. I went to school for it in Buffalo, and moved down to the Big Apple in 1988 in hopes of becoming the next Brad Holland or Seymour Chwast. Tthose of you who know illustration will know who I am talking about.
Unfortunately, like all young illustrators, the going was tough. My work is just too dark and nasty for most lighthearted assignments, so I pretty much fell back into working in the advertising field while I waited to catch a break. In the meantime, I honed my craft and got published in mostly off beat underground publications.
MW…: So, your background is in traditional illustration and not, in fact, in the comics field?
FLYNN: This is true. I know it sounds like I am some kind of pretender to the throne, but I did have some experience with comics. In college and in high school I had a strip in the school’s published newspapers. Unfortunately, I developed a habit of pissing people off with my straight to the point, no holds barred, often sarcastic and biting commentary.
Also, as a kid, I would spend hours copying the work of Richard Corben, Neal Adams, and Bernie Wrightson.
MW…: So, you’ve always had a soft spot for the medium?
FLYNN: Definitely. I was pretty much raised by Warren’s Eerie and Creepy. I guess I was pretty wacky for a kid. Instead of following the regular superheroes I would opt for guys like Plastic man, The Shadow, horror comics and, oh yes, Captain Marvel.
MW..: Are we talking Shazam/Marvel, or Nega-Bands/Marvel?
FLYNN: Shazam. Yeah, I know. What the hell is he reading something so wholesome for? I am not sure, but I did love the simplicity of the stuff. Hey, I was [totally uncool] as a kid. Of course, now I am way cool. Yeah, right! I am still a weenie sometimes.
MW…: You actually came by your recent Pi: The Book of Ants assignment through rather unconventional means, did you not?
FLYNN: Oh, yeah. It is one wacky bit of fate. Darren Aronofsky, the director of PI, the movie, was at the time a struggling director who was putting together this low budget sci-fi flick. He and his producer, Eric Watson, weren’t really sure how this totally wacky film was going to play but he knew that he was either going to be a director or a graphic novel writer. So he made a post in one of the usenet groups, and my friend Carmi, God Bless her twisted little heart, saw it and passed it on to me. Essentially, Darren was looking for an artist to illustrate his script and create a graphic novel. I contacted him and set up a meeting.
When he saw my portfolio, I guess he figured, well, this guys work is definitely nutty enough to do the book. At the time I decided to try my hand at comic books because I was getting really bored at always getting called on to draw the same old illustration assignments, which consisted mostly of drawings of the Devil, or Rudy Guiliani, New York’s evil mayor.
At first when I started to work on this book I really dragged my heels – not being really sure whether or not this book would get published, or if I would see any rewards from it. That may have been because of my having had past dealings with certain unscrupulous underground publishers which made me somewhat gun shy to committing to a project that might never go anywhere. But Darren was great. He definitely kept me going with his drive to see this project through.
As he was finishing up the film’s editing, I would often meet with him to show him drawings and ideas that I had. He’s a great motivator and sounding board. I remember one time, I came into the editing room with a series of drawings for Max’s daydream about his next door neighbour, Devi. I am not sure if I had too much sex with my girlfriend that week or what, but these drawings were way over the top. Triple X-rated.
MW…: The infamous Blue Velvet Pages, right?
FLYNN: Oh, yeah. Darren, Eric Watson, and their editor, Oren, busted a gut. Darren said, “What are you thinking? Do you want this book to sell in the Porno shops!?!” I jokingly said, “Hey, it might sell a few more.”
MW…: I noticed that the storytelling in the book was mostly visual, with most of the text just adapted from the original script. Did you have a lot of control over the finished product?
FLYNN: I did have a lot of control. Darren trusted me, and when the movie took off, he was completely swept up in this world of movie promotion that took up all of his time. Thankfully, before all this happened, we also managed to get together enough and plan out what was to be the first books storyline.
MW…: Did Darren use the book as a an opportunity to add material that was cut from the film?
FLYNN: Somewhat. When we decided to do the books, we wanted something that wasn’t just a mirror to the film. We planned it to be more of a compliment to it, and have it delve into different topics that were in his earlier scripts.
Believe me I have enough material to make twenty books.
MW…: There’s a strong design element to the book, what with the layouts and the background with the number of ants increasing with each page. Was that important to you as an illustrator, or is that just second nature?
FLYNN: Design is very important to me. If there is one thing that really bugs me, it is poor design and a book that looks like it was just dashed together. I didn’t want to make just a comic book, but something a person could sit there and stare at for hours.
A good example of that, I think, is a book out there called Blue Loco. That book is amazing!
MW…: The movie is simply entitled, Pi. Why was the decision made to call the comic book, The Book of Ants?
FLYNN: Originally, when Darren and I put this comic book together, we planned on a series of four books, each having a theme. Book One: The Book of Ants, Book Two: The Book of God, Book Three: The Book of Euclid, and lastly, Book Four: The Book of Spirals.
Each would have increasingly intricate design going on in the books, and the last book would look like some kind of crazy math book. Unfortunately – and here’s the real kick in the ass – the entertainment company that bought the Pi movie would only fork over enough cash to do the first book, and they only paid Dark Horse to print and distribute it, but not promote it! Aargh! Which essentially has left it up to yours truly to do the majority of the promotion.
MW…: Yeah, the first time I even heard of Pi, either the movie or the comic, was when you had e-mailed myself and several others asking if we wanted previews of the book to review.
FLYNN: Yes. You would think that the movie studio would look at a successful publishing venture as a win/win situation for promoting the movie. But alas, I think it was more of tax write-off for them.
MW…: Ahhh…The dread demon of commerce.
FLYNN: Oh, so true. But on the plus side, the way that we worked the contract, Darren and I maintain the rights to the graphic novel. So, I have been shopping it around to other publishers.
MW…: Can you name any names?
FLYNN: Not at the moment. I don’t want to jinx anything, but let’s just say it’s a great company with the vision to take a risk on an unknown.
MW…: Sounds a little like Bob Schreck’s Oni Press.
MW…: So, what was the response to your initial Pi mailings?
FLYNN: The initial response to my mailings were very favourable. I got a lot of, “Where have you been all this time?” All the online reviews were amazing.
MW…: Why didn’t Dark Horse do more promotion for the book? Was it that they weren’t responsible for that end of the deal, or was it that it was an unknown property?
FLYNN: Once again, I think it falls back on commerce, and also an unknown property. After all, who the hell am I? I literally appeared out of the ether, so to speak. Dark Horse didn’t do much to promo the book mainly because of the arrangement with Artisan, which was screwy at best.
MW…: Now, call me thick headed, but what was the significance of the ants? I’ve read the book, watched the movie, and I still can’t figure it out.
FLYNN: I get this one a lot. I actually hid the meaning of the ants in the website. If you click on a certain ant in any of the banners it brings you to the Deep Meanings page.
But, because you had put up with so much to arrange this interview, I’ll tell you.
The Ants represent chaos. That uncontrollable force that prevents us from truly becoming masters of our universe. Are they an agent of God? Maybe. Perhaps he doesn’t want us mucking about in his business. Trying to elbow into the deity game. Simple but effective.
MW…: You may be the wrong person to be asking this, but do you find the promos for Pi emphasizing the stock market aspect of the story a little distracting from the real plot of discovering the whereabouts of God? To me, it almost makes the movie seem less interesting than it actually is?
FLYNN: A bit. I know from a promotion viewpoint, it is probably a bitch to try and sell this movie to folks who are used to watching all those mindless Lethal Weapon movies. I just wish the promo guys would contact me. I have reams of e-mails from their target audience – highly intelligent, slightly math obsessed, and great art appreciators.
MW…: How did the first issue do, by the way?
FLYNN: Well, as far as I know, to date there has been 5,000 orders. I am not sure about sales, but I am confident. And, I know that Artisan printed up an extra 7,000 copies and just gave those away!
Anyhow, in the meantime, I am working on some other projects just in case this goes nowhere. Now that I have the comic book fever, I just have to do more.
MW…: Can you talk about any of those projects?
FLYNN: Sure. I am doing a horror anthology called Dark of the Eye, written by a great guy named Joe Mauceri. He is the co-editor of World of Fandom magazine. Putting pictures to his text is just so easy because he is one amazing writer. We are shooting to have this out by next year.
MW…: So, other than this horror anthology, do you have anything else lined up, comic or non-comic related?
FLYNN: There is that, and I am slowly working on my own idea for a comic book called Outcasts. Quirky stories and weird events that I have written over the years. When you live here in New York, you just have to write down the things you see. I have ideas for other books, but there is only twenty-four hours to the day. I nearly put myself in the hospital with the breakneck deadline of the first Pi book. Scratchboard is one demanding kick-ass medium to work in if you are under pressure, but it just looks so sweet that I can’t picture myself using anything else.
MW…: You mentioned Wrightson, Corben and Adams earlier, are there any other influences on your work?
FLYNN: I loved Jim Starlin’s work and, although at the time I didn’t like it, Alex Toth has grown on me immensely. The guy is a genius. Will Eisner, of course! My collection of Warren Spirit reprints are among my most prized possessions. I would give my left buttock to tell a story half as well as him.
Virgil Finlay, Ralph Steadman, and Goya also influence me. Finlay for his draughtsmanship and use of tone, Goya for his subject matter, and Steadman just for his downright use of pure bile.
MW…: Well, I’ve run out of questions, I think. Is there anything else you want to say to the people of the world?
FLYNN: Just this: Thanks for the internet! If there was ever a place that was a true democracy where the little guy can do an end run around the wheel of commerce, this is the place! In my e-travels promoting this book I have seen some of the best comic art, comic reviews, and e-zines that, hopefully someday, will lead us all to a better place.