Paul Tobin on his career, video game comic books, and his recent work, “Made Men”

"...both of us acknowledging that our declarations would probably fail, and that we could end up as 45-year-old McDonald’s employees. But, 45-year-old McDonald employees who gave it a shot..."

Paul Tobin is an award-winning comic book writer whose career spans nearly three decades. In addition to working on popular characters, like Spider-Man, Tobin has written comic books based on the video games Plants vs. Zombies, The Witcher, and more. Tobin has also won multiple Eisner awards for his story of a teen thief, Bandette, and has a new weekly Webtoon called Messenger, as well as writing the all-age Genius Factor novels. Tobin’s most recent creator-owned comic is Made Men from Oni Press, which comes out soon in trade form (and which you should preorder here). Wanting to learn more about his background and current work, I’m grateful that Tobin allowed me to interview him for ScifiPulse.

You can learn more about Tobin by checking out his homepage and following him on Twitter at @PaulTobin.

Nicholas Yanes: When you were a kid, what were some stories you loved? Do you still enjoy revisiting any of those narratives?

Paul Tobin: I was fond of a lot of the pulp heroes, and the classic horror movies. Anything with Doc Savage or Flash Gordon. Tarzan. All those guys. And then Dracula (my desire to be a vampire has waned, a little) and Frankenstein. The werewolf movies were fascinating to me for the transformation scenes. Man to monster! Tons of comics were my jam, too. The Defenders was probably my favorite comic. This was at a time when it was the Hulk (my favorite hero as a kid) and Silver Surfer, Valkyrie, Clea and Dr. Strange. Perfect. Nighthawk was a member, too, but I didn’t care about him.

As far as if I enjoy revisiting some of the stuff: I do, but only from a nostalgia standpoint. Too little of it really holds up. Like anyone else, I’ve been “revising” the stories in my head over the years, and it’s a shock to actually look at them now. They’re often very little like I remember them!

Yanes: When did you know you wanted to be a professional writer for a living? Was there a specific moment this goal crystallized for you?

Tobin: I can’t remember any true defining moment when the clouds opened and the sun shined down or anything like that. I do remember, however, sitting in my terrible college apartment with Phil Hester, and both of us making declarations that we were going to be comic book creators, both of us acknowledging that our declarations would probably fail, and that we could end up as 45-year-old McDonald’s employees. But, 45-year-old McDonald employees who gave it a shot, anyway!

Yanes: You and I are both friends with Phil Hester. If we were to conspire to start pranking Phil, what should we do?

Tobin: Well, Phil’s extremely fond of his original comic art collection, and he has a lot of amazing pieces, so I think the best thing to do is if we teamed up and YOU snuck into his place and stole the entire collection, and then sent it to ME. I’m game for this awesome prank if you are!

Yanes: You have written stories based on The Witcher and Plants vs. Zombies video game franchises. What is like writing for video game properties? Do you find these projects to be more confining or do they just have a different type of creative freedom?

Tobin: Honestly, there’s little difference between writing for video game franchises, versus writing… for instance… someone like Spider-Man or Batman. They’re both owned by companies who have certain ideas and guidelines for how they want their characters portrayed, the types of stories, etc. In the case of The Witcher, I remember that my first series I could do pretty much whatever I wanted, but I could only use Geralt himself. None of the other characters. That was actually kind of fun, stripping him down to the essentials of his character, and what he’s about.

And for Plants vs. Zombies, I had an AMAZING amount of freedom. I came aboard when it was literally just the first game. ZERO story in place. And I was told, “We hired you because we trust you. Go ahead and create the world. The characters. The feel of the series. Everything.” It’s been an incredible experience. I’m actually working on more Plants vs. Zombies today, about a 1000 pages of material later!

Yanes: I’m really glad that I could interview you because I think Made Men: Getting the Gang Back Together is brilliant. What was the origin of this idea?

Tobin: The genesis was really two stories working together. The first is that I’d been working on a project where “The Modern Prometheus” was a theme that me and some other writers were working into our plots. It was the big Prometheus/Aliens/Predator crossover, which I worked on with several other writers. So I had Frankenstein in my head. And then I’m a big fan of detective fiction, mystery shows, things like that. And murder is a big theme in them, and by the end of the book/episode, they always talk about the murder being “solved.” But, it isn’t, really.

Now we just know who committed the murder. But the dead person is still…dead. I realized if I was to mesh these two thought-lines together, I could come up with a group of people who actually DID solve the murder. Like, we know who did it. And, we’ve punished who did it. AND… here’s the victim, alive again. That’s a real solution. Of course, Made Men ended up more complicated than that, but those thoughts were the starter’s pistol.

Yanes: Frankenstein was first published in 1818, why do you think it still continues to influence modern storytellers? On this note, is there a version of Frankenstein that has had a particularly large impact on you?

Tobin: One of the great things about the concept of Frankenstein is that it has such a great skeleton of a story. That makes it easy for writers to “Frankenstein” their own story, picking bits and pieces of what they love and building the body of a new story. And for me, any story that looks as much toward the Frankenstein family as much as it does the monster, those are the ones I really love. It’s like, okay, this family can create life. How does that affect not only the world, but THEM?

Yanes: The moment I heard your concept for Made Men, I immediately saw franchise potential. Where would you like to see Made Men several years from now? More graphic novels? A video game? A movie?

Tobin: Yes to all of that? I have a lot of stories I could tell in the Made Men mythos, so anything that just keeps those wheels turning, the better!

Yanes: As you developed Made Men from idea to script, were there any ideas or characters who took on a life of their own?

Tobin: All of the characters, really. That’s sort of how it always is with me. There’s always a moment when the characters move from game pieces that I’m pushing around, into actual people who push back and start wanting to do their own thing. As for ideas, there’s one that starting really pounding on my brain when I was on maybe the 3rd script. Depending on how much more I get to do, it’s probably going to be the central theme of everything, now. Can’t tell the details, obviously, but it’s a greater expansion of what I was trying to say, a natural “what if” in the waiting.

Yanes: When people finish reading Made Men, what do you hope they take away from the experience?

Tobin: I just want people to say, “That was a kick-ass read,” and to care about the characters. I have some projects where I want to change the world, and I have other projects like Made Men where I just want people to have a hella good time reading. I’m comfortable with both.

Yanes: Finally, what are some projects you are working on that people can look forward to?

Tobin: Lots of things! I just launched a free Webtoon called Messenger, the story of a bicycle messenger who gets hired by the gods to basically save the universe. And I’m continuing work on my multiple Eisner-Award winning Bandette, the story of a charming teen thief. I’ll be doing four more Plants vs. Zombies novels this year, as well a creator-owned graphic novel with Ron Chan, the primary artist for PvZ. It’s a lot different feel, and Ron’s art is much changed.

I’ve just signed on for a new creator-owned series of graphic novels that I’ll be co-writing with my wife, Colleen Coover. There’s a new horror series in the works that I’ve really been enjoying. And a D&D inspired series as well. Plus, there’s my novel writing. I’m currently writing a follow-up to my PREPARE TO DIE! novel that I’m really enjoying, but there’s a couple other novels that should reach the shelves before then, a middle readers novel and then a rather grim young adult novel. I’m hoping to find time to get another Webtoon out there, too. I really love the format of weekly story-telling. Oh, and I just remembered, I’ll be writing a new series for a media property I can’t announce yet. Whew! I keep busy!

Remember, you can learn more about Tobin by checking out his homepage and following him on Twitter at @PaulTobin.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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