If you’re a graphic novel fan, there is absolutely no question that you’re already reading “Blank”– and if you’re not, you’re going to want to check it out RIGHT NOW!!! It is, without question, one of the most sophisticated, profound and brilliantly illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever read, and it’s just in its beginning stages of development. Don Richmond and Ian LeWinter are the geniuses behind is inception, and were gracious enough to talk with me about the magical, moral and mythological world they’ve so intelligently created.
Love and Water- How was “Blank” brought into existence?
Don Richmond- We wrote it for really intelligent people like yourself.
Ian LeWinter- Which is really saying something, because we’re not that smart, so we’re not really clear how managed to create something like “Blank.” We think we’re being managed by other beings.
L&W- Wait, who is speaking right now?
Ian- This is Ian, and Don is right here.
Don- Just quote Ian for this entire interview. He’s sitting here with a gun, in case I say something stupid.
Don- I’m not kidding-
Ian- It’s a 45 caliber pacemaker and I’m holding it to his forehead in case he says something that embarrasses me.
L&W- (nervous laughter)
Don- This thing weighs like six pounds.
L&W- Well please don’t hurt each other.
Ian- I’ll try my best.
Don- So what was the original question?
L&W- Where did the concept for “Blank” come from? Although you may have just answered that…
Ian- Well, Don and I work for the same advertising agency. We’ve always done other things in the writing world, and one day Don walked into my office and said, “I have an idea…”
Don- I said I have this idea for a graphic novel. Whenever I’m in a mind-numbing work meeting, I seem to always draw this girl with skeleton hands. I can’t think of anything else, and I try to take notes on her but nothing is coming. I just keep drawing her. I see that she’s coming to this hitman and he’s the only one who can see her. I want to write something about them, and their relationship, but I don’t have a bad guy. And Ian turned to me and said, “the bad guy’s name is Ouranos Gaia. And he wants to destroy the world.” And I said to myself, I knew Ian already had a solution.
Ian- And that’s how it started. The things that became the story had already been growing individually in our minds. I think I actually wrote the first piece for “Blank” when I was around 14. It was just in that moment that everything lined up, and bits and pieces of this other story that I had been carrying around in my head suddenly became part of this. I invented Ouranos in the early 90’s. The first scene in “Blank” was written for something else, and it fit so perfectly for this story.
Don- You know the two guys who started U2? They put a sign up looking for a lead singer and guitar player, and ended up with Bono and The Edge. Those two guys at some point had to turn to themselves and say, “we’re the luckiest two schmucks on the planet, because look who fulfilled our request!” That’s how I felt when I told Ian about my idea. It was like getting Bono and The Edge, together.
L&W- I’ve been a huge fan of “Blank” for a while now, for many reasons. Can you explain what it’s about for those not yet familiar with the book?
Ian- Kind of not really, and the interesting reason why is because we don’t want you to know. And let me explain why. We’re trying to create a contract with you as the reader to want to read it because you don’t know where it’s going. We are working to make it such an enjoyable and confusing ride by making each incremental step interesting and beautiful enough in itself that you want more.
Don- it’s like if at the end of your life somebody asks you, “what was your life all about?” If you could explain that in a paragraph, I would bet you had a pretty boring and one-dimensional existence. So what if you had a story that was bigger than this life, and incorporated the next world, how would you describe that in a paragraph? You couldn’t do it, because you simply couldn’t do it justice.
L&W- Well you’re doing an amazing job of that, because I’m completely enjoying the “Blank” ride- I was just hoping I’d get some inside scoop.
Ian- Let me offer you this small tidbit- there is a single question that “Blank” has an entire work built around. The first book is called “Blank: Death,” the second book will be called “Blank: Strife” and the third will be “Blank: Life.” The central question that all three books are asking and answering is whether or not man should be allowed to occupy its place on the planet earth after a reasonable analysis is made of how he has lived here today. So it’s an environmental question about the moral sphere and its inhabitants.
Don- It’s a question as well about how we’ve been treating our moral plane and ourselves on an ethical, social and moral level.
Ian- It’s wrapped up in the essence of Greek myth. The myth of Beginning. There are many characters and similes around the original Greek mythological stories in “Blank.” Interestingly, Ouranos Gaia has been told from the moment he was born that he was the single highest spiritual being on this planet. His parents believed it, and everyone involved believed it, so there was no dishonesty over it in his mind. He knows with every fiber of his being that it is his responsibility to save the earth. So that is what he sets out to do. He has no problem doing whatever it takes to achieve this, and taking whatever measures necessary to do so. In the Greek stories of the Beginnings, the gods were out to restore order by measures they deemed necessary. If that meant destroying the earth to achieve that level of balance, they had no problem doing so.
L&W- I found “Blank” through my own Google search for awesome graphic novels (the “awesome” part is my own personal criteria). Since it’s only on the web for now, what are some other ways people have connected to “Blank?”
Ian- Every Thursday at 1:15pm I go to different street corner and start yelling. (moment of laughter) We’re both flash animators and advertising execs, so we knew we could build a delivery system. So the question then became how to build an audience, and we decided to use social media. We launched on May 1, 2009, and since then I’ve tweeted over 19,000 times.
Don- Ian’s being kind here when he says “we.” Every Thursday he goes into hibernation and talks to the world all day long- he actually reaches out through Twitter as much as he humanly can. If there’s anybody that would get in his way of talking with people, he would mow them down, because he loves to connect with everyone he can. The people who created social media didn’t realize they were creating this monster known as Ian. We have 50,000 followers on Twitter, and it’s only been 10 months, and it’s all because of Ian’s passion to connect.
Ian- I figure since I wrote my part of it- we both do the writing and Don does all the illustrating- Don is now taking our words and creating the visual pages. So I now build our network, which is the least I could do for the work we have put out.
L&W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had so far working on “Blank?”
Ian- I wrote my part about a year and a half ago. I now just sit and wait for Don’s pages to come up on my computer screen. There are times when the spread comes up and I feel so uncomfortable- I’ll call Don and say, “hey, we have to change those words because they’re wrong…” And he’ll say, “really? Because when I read what you wrote there…” and I’ll say, “I wrote that??” It’s amazing to me that I wrote something that he interpreted visually in such a way that made me forget that I wrote them. He’s that good, and those are pretty moving moments to me.
Don- I remember the most moving moment I’ve had. We had just started working on “Blank,” and a blonde jogger gets killed pretty quickly in the first chapter. I wanted to try to do something really beautiful with that, and I remember showing my girlfriend the spread, because it was one of the first pages I had done and I wasn’t sure of it, and she started crying. And I said, “what??” And she said, “that’s just beautiful.” And it’s a page where the girl is hitting the windshield, and blood is flying everywhere, and I said, “but do you see what’s happening?” And she said, “yes, it’s just beautiful.” That was such a moving moment for me, because it gave me such a confidence that what we were doing was effective.
Ian- One of the ways to describe our relationship is this: Don will walk into the room and say, “what if we have a car run over a baby, sitting in a bassinet…” And I’ll say, “that’s good, but how can we make that a little more fucked up?” It’s something really twisted that leads to the crux of something really profound and beautiful, and we both understand that on such a deep level.
L&W- Is there anything else you want people to know that we haven’t talked about?
Don- Send help. I’m stuck with this guy and he scares me.
Ian- We’re both really honored that you’re doing this feature on us, and if there’s anything we can do for you in return, please don’t hesitate for a second to let us know. We also want to say that we are eternally grateful to our readers and look forward to hearing their responses. It’s what we put this out for.