Interview: Jeremy Haun and Ron Rick Loverd of Berserker

At NY Comic Con Tedd and I had the privilege of interviewing Jeremy Haun and Ron Rick Loverd of Top Cow about their book Berserker. The book features the creative input of Milo Ventimiglia of Heroes fame, and is rapidly becoming a book that is becoming all the rage.

Omnicomic: How did you get involved in comics?

Loverd: For me, it was totally accidental. I've always admired the form, but I had never intended to have any kind of career path in it. What happened was I wrote a TV script and my agent gave it to Milo Ventimiglia who then said this would make a great comic book. And Milo very first comic book meeting was with Top Cow and the very first thing I was asked by anyone at Top Cow was "who's your lawyer."

It was really sort of a haphazard kind of thing. Now that I'm learning the form and have learned the form through this, everyone has been very patient with me. It’s been so enjoyable. Now I'm sort of doing it, like, I've done the whole thing backwards where I'm doing pitches and trying to get other books.

Haun: It was a long road, but I had a pretty easy experience. Back in 1995 during my first trip to San Diego Comic Con I showed my portfolio and they kind of looked at it and laughed. From there though I took all the advice and really tried to listen. So I was in college and I focused on my design and drawing classes where I really tried to do things the way that I wanted to do things as opposed to the way that was popular at the time.

From there I published my own book Paradigm with a co-creator Matt Cash and we originally did it for a company called Two Irish Guys Press. It was our own little thing where we drank whiskey and talked about comics. But from there I handed it to Jim Valentino at a con not really expecting anything and I got a call saying why didn't you talk to us about this. And Jim was really great about it and encouraging and kind of said let's do this thing and from that point I've worked for just about every company around. From Devil's Due to IDW to Oni to Marvel, onto DC, Top Cow...just everybody.

Omnicomic: How did you guys hook up? Is it your prerogative to choose your writer or vice versa, or is Top Cow assigning you to each other?

Loverd: We had a really long list of illustrators and Jeremy was on the bottom of the list.

Haun: I was on the bottom of the list (laughing)?

Loverd: We were looking for somebody who had a more open style and Jeremy's name was brought up by Rob Levin. He had worked on Alibi and I had a copy of Alibi and thought that would be awesome. And then they called him and asked if he graciously wanted to get involved.

Haun: I'm finding as time goes by that I have to be more and more choosy about the projects that I take. When you get started in the industry you'll take anything. You hit this point where you realize that you can afford to be a little more choosy and you want to do things that interest you. I work about 10 hours a day seven days a week so if I don't like what I'm doing I would probably just shoot myself. Whatever they approach me about a project you hear the one pitch and I was thinking to myself this sounds kind of cool...I might be interested in that.

It’s an ultraviolent book where I get to do some crazy stuff and its set within the real world pushing limits. I said I think I could get behind that book so let's talk more about it. I got on the phone with some chatty Cathys and an hour and a half later I was thinking that I want to do this book and I kind of want to hang out with Loverd. Part of the way Rick presented the book was that we talked a lot about the feel of things...kind of a blue-collar feel from Middle America mixed in with violence.

Omnicomic: In your own words how would you describe Berserker?

Loverd: It’s about normal people discovering that they have an extraordinary power. Its based in Norse mythology and the discovery is not pleasant.

Omnicomic: Where did you come up with the concept and did you have to educate yourself about Norse mythology?

Loverd: There's a character in the book that's got a pretty big shout out -Trucks- who is a good friend of mine and resident guru on many things, Norse mythology included. I kind of stumbled into it looking at shapeshifters across cultures and a berserker is the Norse version of that. I mentioned it to my friend and he mentioned that there was a berserker in Norse mythology and that shit is violent.

It's all really dark and I thought it was a really cool way to update some of these stories. The first six that we're doing are more of an introduction to the world and hopefully we're going to be launch into more from there. I think there are a lot of stories to tell using some of those ancient stories as sort of a backplot.

Omnicomic: When you heard the concept did you think your illustration style would fit or did you think you would have to adapt?

Haun: I pretty much do what I do. I think there's always a tiny shift when you're drawing something ultra-violent in that you wouldn't draw it quite the same way as something happier.

Actually though, my introduction to the whole Norse mythology was in sixth grade. I was sitting in class reading Thor and my English teacher noticed I was back there and asked what I was doing. Meanwhile I'm trying to hide the Thor comic.

And rather than being pissed off that I was reading Thor in his class he said "you know that comes from somewhere else right?"

And I was like "Yeah, a comic book store. This is from the mind of Kirby right?"

And he said don't read comics in my class anymore and handed me three books on mythology. These were a really cool books, one of which was called the Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were and it has everything from vampires to werewolves, and you could read about the entire human mythos.

The focus that I was drawn to was the Norse part, and he had another book that was a really involved story of everything which caused my sixth grade mind to explode. I loved those things. Its funny when Rob initially talked about this because I was hoping for a crazy battlefield with guys with huge beards swinging axes at each other. He said it would be modern and it took me a few minutes to adjust the way I was thinking about it, but then I got really excited about the idea of drawing these guys that would go berserk in a supermarket.

You've got a guy in small town middle America in a food court, stands up and throws the table 30 feet that kills somebody.

Omnicomic: I was worried this interview was going to go that way!

Haun: Give me about five more minutes and it could…we're all a little tense. I love that possibility because its so much more exciting because there is something about telling a story about a guy that goes nuts that is ripping his friends arms off. Milo has faith in this book and that's the best thing. Selling these stories about a superhero that gets his power that is more terrible than you can imagine.

If this happened to me seriously I would probably kill myself. How could you ever trust yourself? Look at the Hulk, which is kind of a similar thing. The guy goes bad, gets big and he doesn't really ever hurt anyone...there's still that human piece inside of him. This is more than the gentle giant. You find out this is what you are, you're probably going to find it out by killing way to many people around.

Loverd: And the Hulk has the benefit of impervious skin and these guys are still mortal.

Omnicomic: Milo is involved, and the story is a lot like Heroes. Does that kind of worry you that these heroes are discovering these powers? Do you worry about that parallel?

Loverd: I think that's what Milo found relatable and I think you could say that Heroes is like a fair number of other things. You're never going to have something that you can't find one thing about it that would be completely original. And I think that it makes sense in a way that Milo is trying to create a sort of brand for himself.

Haun: Milo likes the things that he likes, and you can really tell by the choices that he's made. He's like everybody else in that if you like something you do as much as you can in that area. He’s doing what he wants to do.

Omnicomic: This comic on one level is about a supernatural mythology, but another level is sort of a horror level where deep down everyone is twisted. Is that one angle?

Loverd: That's definitely one angle we'll be exploring.

Haun: I read so many things and honestly you're reading a book about a guy that goes berserk and rips people apart. You automatically think that this is going to have some depth and human emotion, but Rick's different in a lot of ways in that there is that in there and its not just this guy's going berserk.

It's these guys are going berserk, doing their things and then realizing that they're monsters that did terrible things. I think that added depth is going to make it more than just something that the gorehounds can read. And frankly I think they're going to like it’s going to be good for everybody.

Loverd: It’s been refreshing to work with Top Cow too about showing stuff. Top Cow encourages going further.

Haun: Every comic book company has different levels about what you can and can't show. Working for the big two I'll be drawing something and I think I have to back off and they agree. I'm in back off mode and I read this script and I think "I guess I do this mostly over the shoulder."

And then I get a letter asking for spinal column.

Omnicomic: What is your favorite part of working on Berserker?

Loverd: I'd say the best part is being able to tell a story that I'm passionate about. I don't think there are a lot of people who go into their little closet or hovel or wherever they write and do something they really love and get to see it made.

For me, the best part is working with all these guys and really having the same level of excitement and passion about what we're doing. Milo is a huge comic fan and it really is for him and for Jeremy and for Top’s about really telling a story in a way that let's it be what it should be. And that’s the thing. When I see Jeremy's illustrations coming in I'm giddy.

Haun: Like I said earlier you get to a point where you can be a little choosier about your work, and I think whenever I get to work on a project like this it forces me to grow in a lot of good ways. It keeps me excited and I can't express enough that whenever I'm working on something like this how freeing it is as opposed to a lot of projects I work on.

I've worked on projects before that are based on a level of suggestion and input where this needs to look like this and so on, but this is just a bunch of guys that want to make an awesome book and they're so excited about it. I don't get notes from Top Cow or Rick saying that Milo would like this. I get a message from Milo that this is awesome!

It's kind of funny because there's going to be comparison to a lot of other projects, but this is a project where a bunch of guys want to make a kickass comic. They don't care. Everybody likes working on it. Whatever comes from the comic is fine, but we're going to make the best book we can and we love it.

Loverd: Jeremy has had some very fantastic story ideas that I am really happy that we're able to engage in that kind of open dialogue where I can give him something and if he notices something the editors missed we can discuss it. Even more than that he wants to be an active part in the future of the story and where it’s going. Having that kind of relationship is exactly what I was hoping for.

Omnicomic: Yeah the writers and illustrators that collaborate well together are always the happiest it seems.

Haun: I've worked with so many writers and you get in situations where you don’t ever talk to them, you talk thorough the editor. And I understand why that happens sometimes, there are editors set up as a buffer zone. But you end up hating each other and this is a real exception to this process.

Especially my work with some other writers that have been good, but working on a project this big and this expansive its nice to be able to call Rick with an idea. Its amazing...I think we're both pretty excitable guys as far as anything do with this. He'll tell me something, and I'll give him my idea for the illustration and we go back and forth.

Loverd: I love that he adds details. His artwork has changed the book already in the sense that you haven't even seen the next script, but it’s opening up a lot because I want to leave more room on the page for the art. As we're moving forward he's changing the way the book is written by the nature of his art.

Omnicomic: What do you think is most challenging about Berserker so far?

Loverd: For me, it was learning the comic form and trying to be very respectful to the fact that I am learning the form. I was very fortunate to have editors who were patient with me. I don't think the first preview book draft was even readable and they really helped me a lot. It was a crash course, but I've learned so much and I do appreciate Top Cow.

It was a really funny moment where I’m sitting with Matt at Top Cow and it was literally like "so do we need to hire a writer," and I mentioned that I would like to write it. So he asked if I had every written a comic before and I said no, and he responded "cool." Just the fact that they were open to that and they gave me the opportunity I'm really happy about it and its been a really thrill to learn this medium.

Haun: Some people don't get it as far as comic writing goes. They understand this kind of pacing, this kind of way of doing things, but it may not be right. You talk to the editors and you understand their looking out for your interests. Loverd doesn't make these mistakes.

Like Panel 1: he walks in, picks up the gun and shoots himself. In panel 1? What about the rest of the page? Some writers just don't get it, but that's not the case at all here. Everything is well thought out and broken down. Loverd understands the idea about moving the story. Sometimes people can't make that transition from other mediums.

Omnicomic: Toughest thing for you?

Haun: Toughest thing for me probably backing off from it. I want to make it this more amazing book and I'll sit there and give it more grit, more blood, more anything. This is a fine art medium but it’s also a commercial medium where you have to get the book out on time and it has to look good.

At the same time it has to be a piece of artwork that is beautiful and what you want it to be. I run into this problem where I want to maybe add more bone or something. Just really knowing when to back off and understand that its done and it looks good. I don't have to add 15 pages to the book of various carnage.

Omnicomic: What makes you berserk? Loverd: Definitely in LA where you can't get around because of traffic…that really makes me want to rip the windshield out and smash it across someone's face. I'm actually, strangely, a pretty easygoing guy. Somebody told me that horror writers sleep the best because they get it all out on paper and honestly I do sleep well. It takes a lot to get me berserk.

Haun: Honestly I'm pretty easygoing too. It’s pretty pathetic. I get stressed out by the normal things, but I do draw comics. I go to work in my pajamas. I work out of my house. It's not like I really have to worry about anything. I get really really angry when I go to the store and they don't have my bread or something like that. And I'm like dang and I just walk off.

Loverd: The drama is in the anticlimax.

Haun: Yeah you have him going berserk and just saying dang. 50 kids all around and instead of wrecking stuff he just says dang.