Smash Pages Q&A | Luke Arnold + Chris ‘Doc’ Wyatt on ‘Essentials’

The writing duo discusses their crowdfunding project for the new graphic novel from The Lab Press.

Luke Arnold is an actor and writer best known for his roles as Long John Silver in Black Sails and INXS frontman Michael Hutchence in Never Tear Us Apart. His first novel The Last Smile in Sunder City came out in 2020 as part of the ongoing series The Fetch Phillips Archives.

Chris “Doc” Wyatt is a writer and producer whose work includes independent films like Napoleon Dynamite and Coyote, as well as animated series like Rocket and Groot, Lego Ninjago: Dragons Rising, Ultimate Spider-Man, Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and many more. He’s also written comics for Marvel, Dark Horse, 1First Comics and more.

Together, they are the writing team for Essentials, a new graphic novel coming from the newly formed The Lab Press. The story centers on a mathematician who predicted the end of the world but failed to prevent it. He discovers there are other survivors, but they’re trapped in alternate realities full of zombies, robots, mythical creatures and more.

Each of these alternate realities will be illustrated by a different artist, including Vince Locke, Andrea Mutti, MK Perker,Brendan McCarthy, DaNi and Jason Howard, with colors by Jordie Bellaire, Brad Simpson and Wesley Wong, and lettering by DC Hopkins. Bill Sienkiewicz provides a chilling main cover.  

The graphic novel is currently up on Kickstarter, and has already reached its goal. (Please note that the interview was conducted prior to the project’s launch). I spoke with Arnold and Wyatt about the project, working with seven different artists and what’s “Essential” in this story. My thanks to them both for their time.

Essentials cover by Bill Sienkiewicz

Luke, you’ve had success on the screen and with your recent novel series, but what brought you to comics?

Luke: Working in comics was always a dream, but it was really the idea of Essentials that led us here. It’s a story that spans multiple dimensions and realities, taking us in and out of the subjective realities of different characters, and this is the perfect medium to make that kind of story sing. Once we started imagining what we could do, there was no turning back.

Essentials” is an intriguing title, but doesn’t seem to reveal much about the overall story. Can you talk about the significance of the title? 

Luke: The central question of the story is, “What is Essential?” It’s really about what makes life worth living, and what we decide to hold onto or fight for. Then in more specific terms, the three toys you see on the cover are “The Essentials.” 

Doc: Also, on a more literal level, the “Essentials” are those three toys you see on the Bill Sienkiewicz cover. When our main character, Harris Pax, was building a bunker to protect himself from the inter-dimensional anomaly that almost destroys the world, he tried to get his family to join him. He asked them to give him their essentials, so he can keep them in the bunker when the time comes. The only one who hands anything over is his niece, and she gives him a suitcase containing her three favorite toys. To her, those are what is “Essential.”

Essentials cover by Jason Howard

As far as first graphic novels go, this one is very ambitious; any writer would be lucky to work with a single name on your list of artists, but you get to work with all eight of them. How did the project come together, and what made each artist the right choice for their particular part of the graphic novel?

Luke: When we suggested using a different artist for each reality, we thought The Lab would shut us down for sure. But it turns out, they’re crazier and more ambitious that we imagined. The logistical work really fell to them, cold-calling each artist, telling them about the project and convincing them to come on board. I still can’t believe they said yes. 

Doc: We had written the entire script before our publisher approached artists, and I’m glad it worked that way, because if we knew the big names that were going to be drawing these pages I would have been so nervous when we were writing them!

In terms of your previous work, across stage, screen and prose, were there tools or elements you were able to draw from that helped in creating this graphic novel? And is there anything you’ve learned from the process you can use in those other mediums?

Luke: Well, a comic is everything. There’s prose, dialogue, and images. You need to be really economic in your storytelling while leaving room for the artists to create some real art. But as it’s a document to one person (or in our case several), you get a really clear idea of what people are imagining when they read your writing. When you write a book, you know that different readers might picture things differently, and it can be interesting to hear different interpretations. Here, you write a script for an artist and then find out exactly how they interpreted it. So it’s been a fantastic litmus test for the clarity of our writing, but it can also be really freeing. It’s great when we’re able to say to the artist “here are some ideas but you just go nuts” and eagerly await the results.

Doc: I feel like writing Essentials required us to draw from all our experiences. It’s just that kind of book. It demands a lot.

Essentials cover by Glenn Fabry

You’re not only creating a brand new story here, but you’re also working with a brand new publisher. What’s it been like working with the crew at Lab Press?

Doc: The Lab Press is a new publisher, but the Lab’s team isn’t new to us. Most of the people in that office are friends we’ve both worked with off and on over the years on various creative projects across film, TV and print. There are some legendary stories. Those people are all maniacs. Like, as in actually dangerous.

Luke: There’s something really exciting about being The Lab’s first release. I’m sure there is some pressure on Essentials to do well, but none of that gets passed onto us. Instead, the whole process has been about making this the best book possible. About reaching the full potential of this idea and making a book that will be enjoyed by everyone who reads it. A lot of people talk about putting creativity first, but The Lab really lives up to that promise.

I know it’s still early, but if the Kickstarter proves successful, do you have plans for any kind of follow-up? And do you have other ideas or plans for future comics projects?

Luke: There is more story to tell in the Essentials universe, and hopefully other stories for us to tell with The Lab. I really feel like we’ve got on at ground level with the kind of publisher writers dream of working with. Then, who knows? I love writing with Doc, and I think we could have a lot of fun branching out into other worlds in the future.

Doc: Good news, I just got back from a visit to the future of this timeline, where it turns out Essentials is successful, and we do write more. I shouldn’t get into too many details, because I don’t want to Butterfly Effect everything– but let’s just say that when I was in the future I got to read some exciting stuff, and as soon as we eventually write it you’ll get to read it too!

Find out more about Essentials on Kickstarter.

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