Made Men writer Paul Tobin talks the legacy of Frankenstein

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Aug 22, 2017

SPOILER WARNING: Minor spoilers below for the new comic book series, Made Men!

Most stories didn’t happen how you think. They’re pieces of fiction and truth sewn together to give them meaning, and they change with every telling. For example, in the original Frankenstein, the titular scientist never said the words “it’s alive,” despite what people may think. And in the new comic book series Made Men, Victor Frankenstein wasn’t even the brains behind the operation—his sister was.

Made Men follows a modern-day descendant of the Frankensteins—a Detroit police officer named Jutte Shelly—as she re-discovers her ancestors’ secrets in order to bring back her coldly murdered team for a revenge mission unlike any other. This story comes courtesy publisher Oni Press, artist and colorist team Arjuna Susini and Gonzalo Duarte, and writer Paul Tobin, the latter of which answered a few of our questions about the new series.

Tobin, recently best known for his work on Colder and Bandette, talked with us about the world of Made Men, its relationship with the original Frankenstein story, and much more. I got to check out the first issue of the series, and it’s one of the most intense opening chapters of a comic you’ll read this year. It’s the perfect blend of crime-revenge and classic horror, and is definitely worth adding to your pull list next time you’re at the comic store. Read on for the interview, as well as a 5-page preview of the first issue, out Sept. 6, featuring covers by Susini and Juan Ferreyra.

The story of Frankenstein has a rich history of being taken apart and put back together in new ways and new genres, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it mashed up with a gritty crime story. What initially inspired you to explore the potential in combining the two?

PAUL TOBIN: I think it was the wealth of crime dramas and detective shows on tv and in the movies, etc. Somebody is always getting murdered and then someone steps in, tracks down the murderer, either killing them or sending them off to prison, and there’s always this moment of, “Ta-dah! I solved everything!” But I was always thinking of how... no. They didn’t solve everything. That guy’s wife is still dead. That woman’s boyfriend was still murdered. And, as satisfying as it was to watch John Wick extract horrible vengeance… it didn’t change the fact that his dog was dead. So, I wanted some way for the good guys (or the good-ish guys, in this case) to step in and say, “Yeah. I really DID solve this. Your wife is alive and, incidentally, John Wick, here’s your dog.”

Jutte is a Frankenstein, and is obviously our lead character, but what about the rest of her team? Can you give us an introduction to the other Made Men?

PT: There’s a man named Ex, which is his nickname based on how Jutte and he used to date, and it ended very messily, and they are very much not a couple anymore. They’re still fond of each other, but that door is closed. One of the background themes of Made Men is how Ex tries to establish himself as an individual again, rather than just an “Ex,” someone who Jutte used to love. The other members of the Made Men are Gemini, Hadry, and Leo. They’re a bit hard to describe without including all sorts of spoilers, so I’ll just say that Jutte did the very best that she could under the circumstances, especially considering how this is all new to her, and the state of her friends’ bodies, and the limited assortment left in the Frankenstein family collection of “extra parts.” It’s a bit like when you were a kid, forever losing parts of your action figures, and doing the best you could, so that sometimes Barbie had G. I. Joe’s head, He-Man’s sword, and a leg from the Lone Ranger’s horse.

Made Men has one of the more intense opening scenes that I’ve seen in a comic. Can you talk about what went into writing that scene? Was the plan always to have the whole cast killed immediately, or was there a version of the script where we were introduced to them first?

PT: It was always my plan from point one. I wanted to get Jutte’s sense of loss on the page right away. This is THE event that changes Jutte’s mind about who she is, and her legacy. It forces her hand, changing her entirely. She simply can’t be the person she was trying to be anymore. Maybe I was inspired by Peckinpah a little? Or some of Kurosawa’s works? It’s hard to really say what influences me, as so much of it is internalized, but I knew I wanted to get feelings of overwhelming chaos on the pages, as well as a lonely sort of helplessness. I’ve always thought that “lonely” would be a terrible way to die, worse than “pain” or “agony” or anything else, so even in the midst of her dying friends and all the killers, I wanted Jutte to feel lonely.

The gang of killers that took them out is just as colorful and interesting as the Made Men. For spoiler reasons, I’m sure you can’t get into much detail about their backgrounds or motivations, but how did you and artist Arjuna Susini land on their unique looks?

PT: On this one I really tried to let Arjuna play with who they were, letting him know that they were going to be appearing again, so they should have distinctive looks. For each one, all I really did was specify one or two features, saying something like "'70s inspired guy with muttonchops" or "torch singer-like woman," with added thoughts (which go into all my scripts, no matter what title I’m working on) to not have everyone be a white guy in his late twenties, which gets tiresome to my eyes. I love to see different ages, a range of genders and cultures, and something that makes each person unique.

Susini’s work here is really perfect for the book, with just the right blend of gritty noir and nightmarish horror. How did you come across his work, and what aspects of the story have evolved as he—and colorist Gonzalo Duarte—have brought the book to life?

PT: A couple years back, I was going to do a series called Small Change over at another company. For one reason or another, it all fell through, but the editor had matched me up with Arjuna Susini, an artist that he’d come across and really liked. I was really impressed with Arjuna’s work in the first few pages that were turned in before the project stalled, so I kept in contact, and when I began Made Men, I knew Arjuna was the guy. He has all the qualifications I need, such as crafting solid individuality for everyone on the page, lively art, actual crowds in crowd scenes, and a beautiful home in Livorno, Italy, where I can visit! Gonzalo Duarte, as our colorist, really brings the atmosphere and mood of Made Men to life. I’m not actually sure where he lives, though, or if I could crash on his couch.

When Jutte discusses her heritage as a Frankenstein, she mentions that Victor’s sister was the real brains behind the operation. How much of this was inspired by the struggles that Frankenstein author Mary Shelley went through as a woman, having to publish her work anonymously at first?

PT: It’s interesting the up and downs of how Mary Shelley has been perceived over the years. She was somewhat fairly regarded in her lifetime, but the pendulum has been swinging back and forth over time, often being overshadowed by her husband and having all her works but Frankenstein dismissed. So, yeah... it feels good to have Made Men star a female lead, and that the Frankenstein family’s past -- as depicted in Made Men -- is largely the work of a woman, Cecilia Frankenstein, who had far more radical ideas and successes than Victor. But, like you say, Cecilia is an unknown factor in the world of Made Men. She’s the anonymous author of many of the resurrectionist diaries that play a part during the course of the story. And while Jutte begins the series aware of what Cecilia accomplished in her lifetime, she’ll soon find out she only thought she was aware.

Jutte seems like she has lived most of her life pretty determined to reject her heritage, but when things go south, she’s pretty quick to make the same types of mistakes her predecessors are notorious for. Just how familiar with their stories is she?

PT: She’s learning as she goes, and it’s just like anything else in life. When you learn as you go, one of the first things you learn is the wealth of your own ignorance. The true history of the Frankenstein family is going to be a constant surprise to Jutte. The secrets she uncovers will shock her, and fundamentally change her again and again. And, as Jutte explores, I’m myself going to be exploring how this knowledge changes her.

So we know that some version of the Frankenstein story actually occurred in the world of Made Men, but is that all that is different about it? Are there any other similar works of literature that might have been more than fiction in Jutte’s world?

PT: At current, it’s just going to be Frankenstein that has life in the world of Made Men. I did consider some other works, but quickly decided that it’s better to focus on one thing and do it well, rather than create a title that was a morass of “checkmarks” of classic literature. That becomes too much like a game of “spot the allusion,” rather than a story.

As non-spoilery as you're able to answer this, what are you most excited for readers to experience in upcoming issues of Made Men?

PT: One of the big themes that I’m going to be exploring as the series progresses is... what exactly was the Frankenstein family doing? What were they trying to accomplish? In specific, when Victor (and Cecilia) managed to patch together the dead and bring them back to life, was that the culmination of their work, or just the beginning?

Made Men #1 is on sale Sept. 6 from Oni Press. Art by Arjuna Susini and Gonzalo Duarte, variant cover by Juan Ferreyra.