Earlier this year, Daniel Freedman and Sina Grace burst onto the Image Comics scene with “Burn The Orphanage.” A fantastically wild series that is one part eighties revival, one part Nintendo beat-em-up, one part heart, and six parts insanity “Burn The Orphanage” creates a smooth mixture that breathes new life into old ideas. It manages to capture the spirit of a lost time. It’s a series that constantly surprised as much as it entertained. It was filled with entertaining characters, witty dialogue, and razor sharp art.
Now this Wednesday May 7th sees the return of the series in “Burn The Orphanage: Reign of Terror.” Bloody-Disgusting caught up with the two creators of the series to talk about defying expectations in this new chapter, the new team dynamic, and whether their love of eighties culture is healthy, or have they been indulging in too many Hulk Hogan films?
That was a trick question. One can never have too much Hulk Hogan. Now find out about a comic that is even more badass than The President being kidnapped by Ninjas.
Bloody-Disgusting: Can you pitch “Burn The Orphanage” for people new to the series?
Daniel Freedman: Burn the Orphanage is an action comic about Rock, the sole survivor of a fire, who with his best friends and fellow street fighters, battle waves of thugs, gangsters, corporate villains, aliens, anthropomorphic wrestlers, topless stripper ninjas and the occasional stilted ex. The book is full of throws backs and homages to our youths, the 90’s, specifically video games from the 8 and 16 bit era as well as all our favorite action movies. While doing this, the book hopefully finds its own voice and makes you laugh. Also, if we can pull on your heart strings at all, then that’s just extra gravy.
BD: What was the motivation for creating “Burn The Orphanage?”
Sina Grace: The exact origin is a little muddy, but it stems from me and Daniel having a pretty surreal experience at a Sleigh Bells concert, where the phrase “Burn the Orphanage” became an inside joke so good that we had to turn it into something. I don’t remember quite when that spun into being a send-up of old video games. Daniel, do you?
DF: We were riffing on the characters for months, never really taking it too seriously, until one day Sina just started drawing. I was like, are we doing this? And he was like, yeah. That’s pretty much how it was created.
BD: In “Born to Lose” the story seemed secondary to the fun, where “Reign of Terror” seems much more focused on story, but I’ve been tricked before. Are your plans for the second chapter still focused on lighthearted action?
SG: We’ve had a crystal clear idea as to how silly we wanted things to start, and to take those silly characters and have them deal with real drama. Reign of Terror- and its intended follow-up Bitter Rivals- is gonna let us explore how that goofiness is bolstered by being in deadly serious situations.
DF: We’re really never going to get that far away from the fun. Fun is still the first and foremost the must important thing. We never wanted the book to be just jokes though, because without a story and characters you care about, then the humor will always fall flat and single note. It’s been a little bit of a push and pull with readers to get them to accept this but I think we’re getting there.
BD: What are the main inspirations for BTO, eighties beat em up Arcade Games like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage, Mortal Kombat seem like easy reference points, but this seems like a love letter to something more.
SG: Uhmm, Daniel, help me out, hah! We love Final Fight, Street Fighter, and so on…
DF: Really, the inspiration for Burn the Orphanage comes from that nostalgic place we all experienced as kids, playing video games, reading comics and watching movies with our best friends. Uncontrollable laughter. Ridiculously detailed arguments about which super hero was stronger or who could beat who. Eating pizza bagels and too much fast food while watching the Robocop tv series back to back with Thunder in Paradise. (For anyone that forgets the hulk hogan spec ops in a speed boat meets bay watch show, watch this. You are welcome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8BKiigBsa8)
BD: Rock is a fairly roguish hero with a lot of strength and a heart of gold, what other characters served as inspiration for his creation?
SG: I try to approach Rock as a guy with two speeds: chill and rage. He’s a really fractured soul who is finally old enough and resourceful enough to build his identity and family after a lifetime of pain and tragedy.
DF: I’ve found that people who experience great trauma when young, usually either come out the other end up stronger and more moral, or they become broken and destructive. I think Rock’s moral compass was defined early on in his life and he’s felt a great burden to hurt those who hurt others.
BD: The influences are wild. At first it’s a by the numbers beat em up, but things get really weird after that, was that always the plan?
DF: Well, yes and no. Originally we just had the one story and were going to do a one-shot. But then we fell so in love with the world and characters that we decided to turn that into three self-contained stories, each one riffing on a different video game genre, so issue 1 was a brawler while issue 2 was a tournament fighter and finally issue 3 was a platformer. We weren’t sure how the book was going to be received and we did it just because we wanted to, but, after it found its audience we started talking about longer form stories. Reign of Terror is the first of about half a dozen stories we want to tell. So I think as we go, the original influences will always be in the DNA of the book but it’s also evolving into its own thing.
BD: You’ve established that anything is possible with “Born to Lose” what’s the craziest thing you’ve done in this new series?
SG: We can’t spoil the good stuff! All I’ll say is that Daniel and I have had intense conversations about how we one-up kicking off someone’s head, fighting a water bear, and biting off a man with a goat-head’s wiener. We’re finding that balance between bombastic and plain vile for the finale!
BD: Videogames are huge influences in the first series; will that tradition continue in ”Reign of Terror?”
SG: The video game references will be more organic this time around. We’ll be using the plot to get characters to different “levels,” and for me, I’m excited to focus on fleshing out some throwaway concepts that were a part of fighter games. Like: who are those people watching a street fight go down on an airbase (lookin’ at you, Guile).
SG: The world you described is one that is fun to look at, and allows us the freedom to be tongue in cheek when we want to, and also gives us a spectrum of moods we can cover without feeling like we’re grossly betraying our genre.
DF: That’s also the world we grew up in, or I should say, on. As much as I fight it, I can’t seem to get away from that world. Hyper-real is just more fun and interesting then plain old reality.
BD: What is it about that culture you find so appealing?
SG: For me, I love being unapologetically silly and unapologetically serious. We’re lucky that fans are similarly vining on that balance. As long as it’s Rock, Bear, and Lex being true friends and true fighters, anything else goes.
DF: Cool jackets, neon lights, stylized street gangs and iconic badass babes… that’s the world I want to live in. Fuck Starbucks, corporate chain stores, LED street lights and dime-a-dozen xerox copies of whatever label some celebrity is wearing.
SG: Except for McQueen.
BD: What is your scripting process like since you also draw the book? Who is the inspiration for Rock’s appearance?
SG: Daniel and I figure out the story together, then I disappear and draw how I think it should progress page-by-page. At that point, I’ll make a skeleton of a script and then Daniel comes in and breathes additional life into it. There’s a lot of unstructured back and forth about it, but we’ve found a way so that it’s not inherently chaotic or doesn’t put us in any corners.
Rock’s design started out as me drawing what I thought all those dudes in side scrollers looked like from memory, so he starts out more thuggish and skinny. Daniel looked at it and said, “more bracers.” From there, we played with Rock ’til he was the right amount of buff/ dumb/ sweet/ cool.
DF: Well… the pipeline for this book makes no sense and should not work. But it does, and so were not changing it. Normally I’m a very structured writer, planning and charting out everything before hand. But with BtO, Sina and I will generally sit down and shoot the shit, throwing as many ideas into the fire as we can rattle off and then forming some loose narrative that will get Sina drawing. From there, we attack each scene as it comes, allowing the book to veer off the anticipated track. Sometimes to greater success than others. For example, ifSina draws some random background character, I may ask who the hell is that and then we figure out who they are and all of a sudden, they’ve become part of the story. In a way, it’s the most organic process I’ve been a part off and also the most dysfunctional. Again, it shouldn’t work, but it does… for this book only.
BD: What can you tell me about where the series is headed? The world is incredibly expansive and your previous arc was anything but predictable.
SG: I wanna stay in Rock’s home town for a few arcs, and play with all the quirky characters we established in that very first Born to Lose issue. Thematically, Daniel and I both love exploring revenge as this unending cycle. So far, we’ve seen the characters react unwittingly to this cycle, but in future arcs, someone in the group may make a bold move in ending the violence.
DF: We like the idea of telling contained stories that then continue. That allows us build to the world organically as well as destroy it. Like Sinasaid, we’ll be in the City for the next few arcs but that doesn’t mean what you expect. If you like things like King of Fighters, the Warriors and Robocop 2 then you’ll like where things are headed.
BD: The core focus seems to be on character in this new number one, with the new team there sees to more conflict among the group, do you consider this new arc a team book?
DF: Yeah. We realized early on that friendship was one of the core themes of the book. Again, harkening back to that feeling when you were young hanging out with your friends. But, friends don’t always get along. We wanted to shake things up in Reign of Terror and then see how that affects the group going forward. Playing Streets of Rage alone was never as fun as playing with all 3 or 4 playable characters on screen, same goes for the X-Men brawler or even the Simpsons brawler. Today, multiplayer is fun but it’s just not the same as when you were actually sitting with the person you were playing with. Now any 14 year old with a headset can yell racial slurs at you from across the PSN network or xbox live without any deprecations. Damn, I miss the old days…
BD: Will Bear ever find true love?
SG: Yeah, Bear is the only character really looking for true love, so he’ll find it before Lex, and he’ll find it much sooner than Rock will find himself.
DF: I feel like what Sina just said was some kind of underhanded jab at me…
BD: What is your favorite part of doing this series?
SG: I love the whole experience. Hanging out with Daniel, watching him play Castelvania while I blather about the stripper ninjas needing to be decked out in certain ‘90s designer outfits… sitting in a coffee shop and drawing pages that challenge me and make me smile… going to conventions and getting to hear what readers think. For a book about people breaking into fist fights on the reg, I’m in a pretty zen place because of it!
DF: Just being able to exorcise all the silly demons in my head. So rarely do you get to create something just for fun. And I think that comes across in the book.
BURN THE ORPHANAGE: REIGN OF TERROR HITS WEDNESDAY MAY 7TH. I LOVED IT! YOU WILL TOO!