The Story Of Bringing Snake Plissken To Comics
Out!/Issue 2/1997/US) By Kim August
Part 1: Editor Mark Paniccia
Editor/Writer Mark Paniccia has seen much in his tenure as a Senior Editor and
Comic Scribe at Malibu/Marvel Comics. Long versed in the Star Trek universe (Paniccia
even wrote a couple of Thomas Riker issues), Mark was the perfect candidate to
head up the team that would bring in famous Outlaw and Bad Boy Snake Plissken to
the comic realm.
Being that Mark has a history with Paramount's Star Trek properties, this
landed him a slot of Editor on The Adventures of Snake Plissken. "I
have a very good relationship with the people at Paramount." he says. "Having
worked on the Deep Space 9 comic
for over two years and solidified friendships that I'll always have. I was happy
that they requested me to work on this project since Marvel wanted relaunch all
of the Star Trek books out of their New York office. Escape From New
York has always been one of my favorite movies and I was jazzed about the
chance to do a comic based on that character and his environment."
When I first heard about the project, it was mentioned that the comic book would
be a graphic novel version of Escape From L.A., this was not the case.
"When Marvel entered an exclusive publishing deal to handle all of Paramount's
properties, one of the things we agreed on with the exception of Star Trek
movies, was NOT to do adaptions. They didn't seem to make sense anymore. At one
point, adaptions came out prior to a movie, so there was interest in them. But
now, the studios are so concerned that a secret from a movie or the movie's
ending will be revealed and somehow affect the box office receipts," but
Paniccia knows better. "When you think about it, the typical movie goer isn't
going to rush into a comic store to ruin the movie for him or herself. And the
comic fan is going to se the movie anyway. Since studios would only allow an
adaption to come out weeks after the movie has been released, you're only giving
the reader a flat version of what they have seen on the big screen with Snake
Comic Interviews: Pt 1M. surround sound and flashy effects. As I mentioned
earlier, straight adaptions just don't work anymore, so we decided it best to
give the reader new material featuring the characters and the universe that they
Paniccia's reasons for chosing the team of Artist Rod Whigham and Writer Len
Kaminski were simple: both really were into Snake. "I have a great working
relationship with both, and I feel that they are quite talented at their crafts.
Rod has worked with me on DS9 before, doing excellent likenesses, and I
thought they wanted Snake to look like Kurt. But they declined likeness rights
and Rod still pulled through with an action-packed story telling and great art.
Both Len and Rod were perfect for the job. Len knows the Snake universe like the
back of his hand."
And Len and Rod weren't the only ones who appreciated John Carpenter's
anti-hero. Mark too is a fan. "Snake. He's a rebel. He doesn't care, but he's
not stupid. He looks around at what the world has become and is the ultimate
survivor. In a fictional world he's the archetypical anti-hero," Paniccia is
quick to add what made Snake so real. "Of course, Kurt Russell's portrayal of
him had a lot to do with his believability."
Part 2: Artist Rod Whigham
Roy Whigham, a veteran artist of the industry has had his hand in many series:
Terminator 2: Nuclear Dawn, Star Trek: DP9, Demolition Man
etc. But of all the projects Rod's lent his penciling prowess to, few have
brought as much pleasure to this artist than working in the Escape
universe and 'capturing' Snake Plissken and the very ugly world he roams in.
Rod, you mentioned that you had ideas for a Snake
comic 8 years ago.
Yeah. I pitched it to DC and Marvel. The people I spoke to about it said
it was a movie that came and went, nobody paid attention to it. Well Escape
From New York obviously has a solid cult following, but they wouldn't nibble
at it. I had some ideas about chasing Snake all over the country, and different
parts of the world. And designing that dystopian future. Starting in one place
and going, so every new set of stories would be completely different situation.
It's kinda weird and surprising that all these years later I got to do Snake.
Paramount rejected your original concept art for Snake
because it bore Kurt Russell's likeness?
We thought the comic would be more closely tied to the second film, and
that Paramount would want likeness, so I literally did a realistic Kurt Russell
as Snake Plissken. Apparently, they had been thinking about getting Snake into
comics for a while and they had their own ideas about the approach. They wanted
it to look more like action comics. We were informed that they wanted something
that looked like more superhero. Like the Punisher and kind of a Conan
direction. Real rough, tough. I never did find out why they didn't want to go
with Kurt's likeness. That took a little bit of the pressure off, not having not
having to do likenesses. When you're not dealing with this, it's easier to make
the stuff a little more dynamic because you don't have to go back and match your
work to photographs. So it was a trade off.
Yeah there were a few panels in the comic where Snake
looks quite beefy.
They wanted Snake to be much heavier than Kurt, not muscle-bound but much
more of a comic book looking character. I love Kurt Russell, he's been in 10 of
my all time favorite movies, but I also like Snake. The challenge was to have
Snake look like Snake but not Kurt Russell. Snake's cool, he's not that big.
He's kind of lean. The fact that he is so nasty makes it even better!
So what is it about Snake and his universe that has
appealed to you for so long?
The entire concept. It just sort of boils down to what kid that grew up
in America as a teenager didn't kind of want the whole thing to fall apart. And
just go and dust anybody that got in your way. There's a sense of distrust and
angst. The whole idea of 'If you're doing what you know is right and no
one gets in your way'. I think that's a centerpiece of a lot of Carpenter's
stuff. His films are vaguely subversive. It's like the Old West. It's not so
much that people don't play by the rules. If you know the entire game is stacked
to begin with. So you walk around it and everything else you go right through.
So what was your favorite page or panel to draw from the
Oddly enough, it was the simplest one. The splash page. Just Snake
Plissken. A full shot of him in a dead run coming towards the camera.
The 'Plissken has left the building' shot?
Yes. The title page. Everything went into that page and it came out. I
was really happy with it. And Len said, "Well I wrote a page where Snake is
running down an alley, but damn!" I've been in love with Snake since the first
movie came out. I waited a long time to draw that...
Part 3: Len Kaminski
Chances are if you follow comics, you've read at least one of Len's books. From
Iron Man to Ghost Rider 2099 to Bloodshot (which he is also
working on the video game version of for Aclaim), Len has 'been there and done
that' for years. When I rang up Kaminski to set up the following interview, I
didn't expect to speak to someone who digs Snake Plissken as much as myself. Our
conversation bled into his pet project at DC; Scare Tactics. The book
that arose from the ashes of Fate, resurrecting the paranoid Arnold
Kaminski acknowledges that Escape From New York showed him which
direction his writing style was going to take. Escape From New York was,
I can't overestimate the impact it had on my sense of aesthetics in fiction. I
had just begun thinking about writing for a living," he recalls. "And it really
had a major impact in my interest in what kind of characters to write. All of my
favorite characters are outlaws, misfits, anti-heroes. I wouldn't know what to
do with Superman. I can enjoy a Superman story written by someone who really
knows him. But if they asked me to write him I'd be like 'What do I do... So the
chance of getting to write Snake... when Mark Paniccia called and asked me if I
was interested I said, "How much do I have to pay for the privilege!'"
After landing the project Kaminski spent endless hours editing and reworking his
script, fellow fans of the character juiced up the pressure of getting Snake
right. "When I first got the comic I called up penciler Jim Fry (An Image
artist) to tell him. He said, 'I gotta tell you if there is one person in the
world I trust with Snake Plissken, it's you'. And writing that I did a lot more
drafts than with most comics." the writer says. "This one, not only did I do
several drafts before I handed it in, but I would call them back 2 days later
and say, 'Wait! I want to change a couple of things.' I wrote the Snake comic
full script which is not the way I usually do things. Mark Paniccia was really
helpful in suggesting that we do it that way for the movie people. So I made it
look and read like a screenplay. This format is a lot harder. When I started
getting pages in and began comparing them, I was like, 'Oh man! I have way too
much dialogue on that page!' So I was calling Malibu up and saying, 'I've got to
rewrite page 1 otherwise we won't have art, just a full page of word bubbles'."
Kaminski recants. "Malibu was paying me the lowest rate I'd ever gotten from
anybody but I was like, 'I don't care about the money!' There may never be
another Snake Plissken comic book and I'm NOT going to fuck it up!"
One thing that I really enjoyed finding in the book were all the Carpenter
in-jokes. References to The Thing, They Live, Big Trouble in
Little China, Elvis and one that caught Len by surprise.
The glowing green virus in the vials-a nod to Prince of Darkness.
"The Prince of Darkness liquid in the vials! I hadn't even thought of.
You found one I didn't know! But now that you mention it, yes. The final script
had things in my descriptions what Sasmor becomes: 'this big, tumorous,
shuddering monstrosity, almost Thing from Another World.' This was done
to make sure that Rod got the point. I hadn't worked with him before, and when
that happens you usually have to work a little harder."
Len's fondness for Escape From L.A. also shaped some of what showed up in
the book. Such as the ending where Plissken finds that cigarette to celebrate
with. "I loved that scene. Seeing Carpenter do that and finding out that he's a
die hard smoker and I am too - partly thanks to him!!! - was where I got the
smokeasy in the beginning. If there's one thing in the comic that would have
given Carpenter a chuckle that was it," Len laughs. "I was really pleased with
that bit and seeing Snake going through the whole movie, 'You gotta smoke?'"
As mentioned in the intro, Scare Tactics, Kaminski's current pet project
at DC comics is also something held close to the writer's black heart. The one
complaint that he's experienced in doing this series was that it didn't start
with the origins for the teenage monsters acting like a punk band. "Issue #1
opens with them arriving in NYC having been on the run. These characters:
Screamqueen (a vampire), Slither (a reptilian mutant), Fang (a werewolf) and
Grossout (a victim of a freak encounter with a meteorite) were to be introduced
in Fate issues 26-27. However, Fate was cancelled at issue #22. Since I
had already written the first three issues of ST I decided to start
playing the origins as a deliberate mystery and pretty much ducktailed doing to
the characters which was for the readers to get to know them as the characters
get to know each other,"
Of all the characters, the one that would appeal to the masses the most is the
conspiracy happy Arnold Burnsteel from Fate. Not surprisingly, as an X
Files Fan, Kaminski admits Burnsteel is his favorite character. "He was the
character that got me to say yes to Fate. I didn't see much that
interested me until I received the first scene where Burnsteel shows up. Fate
goes to him for advice, because Burnsteel knows all this arcane shit and
Burnsteel is freaking because Zero Hour screwed up his filing system! All
reality has been changed so now he can't find his photo of the five Hawkmen!
I was like 'okay I'll do it!' When Fate was cancelled, I said I wanted
Burnsteel. I get custody of him because Scare Tactics was already in the
development stages and I wanted him to drive the bus. Burnsteel's digging and
discovery of this Government project (the R Complex) where they had these kids
held captive. He and Fate were going to rescue them. That's where it all
ties together. The idea of having a team book where Burnsteel is the most
normal character appeals to me," he smirks. "If ST goes south, I have
yet another project I'm going to try and sell them with Burnsteel. I want to
have Burnsteels version of the DC universe. Have all this absolutely insane
connecting the dots stuff. Like Burnsteel would have proven conclusively that
Bruce Wayne was Superman! My take on him is that he thinks X Files Lone
Gunmen are really naive!"
Which revolves back to the type of characters Len enjoys writing.
"I wrote Iron Man for 3 years and I thought I never really hit the mark."
he says candidly. "And it wasn't until I'd been off it for a year before I
realized the reason was I never understood Tony Stark and his character.
All of the characters I intuitively grasp are the misfits, anti-heroes. Like the
Scare Tactics kids and Snake Plissken."
When talk of why Snake appeals to us came back into the conversations, Kaminski
fondly reveals what Snake Plissken did not just for his writing but habits too.
"I saw Escape From New York 6 times when it opeened. I had successfully
quit smoking for 8 months. Very successfully quit smoking and the first thing I
did after walking out of the first showing was to buy a pack of cigarettes! And
his rejection of authority. You can kill Snake, you can imprison Snake. You can
never make him do anything." The writer elaborates. "I think somewhere in my
script I described him as the 'Free-st Man on Earth' because he allows nobody to
have power over him. There is only so much they can do, but they never really
impose their will on him. My personal philosophy is 'All I've ever wanted was
for the rest of the world to leave me the fuck alone. All I want is the
opportunity to fail on my own terms.' And right from the first movie that
grabbed me. It's not that I like that he kills people. I have lot more
ethical problems with most of Schwarzenegger's films than I do with Snake. Snake
is an island. And it's got a really, really well equipped Navy. That degree of
independence, just not needing anything from anybody else. He's independent in
every sense of the world. That has always appealed to me..."