Interview: Kurtis Wiebe On ‘Grim Leaper’

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Kurtis J. Wiebe stole our hearts last year with his incredibly dark murder-mystery, “Green Wake”, and he’s exploded onto the comic scene ever since. He’s got a brilliant mind full of ideas, and he stretches his work across multiple genres proving that he’s no one-trick pony. Although he’s new to the comic world, he’s already made a huge impact, proving himself as a talented storyteller.

His newest book, Grim Leaper, is a tragic, gory, romantic comedy that mixes Final Destination with Groundhog Day. It follows Lou Collins, a man who cannot stop dying, only to wake up in the body of strangers. But his monotonous life takes a wild turn after he falls in love with a fellow leaper. We caught up with Wiebe about his new series, wrapping up “Green Wake”, his plans for the future, and a whole lot more.

We can just start it off nice and simple here. Could you give us the quick and dirty on Grim Leaper.

KW: Grim Leaper is a gory love story, the Final Destination Rom-Com you’ve been waiting for! It follows the life and deaths of Lou Collins, a man stricken with the curse of continuously dying in seriously ridiculous and bloody disgusting fashion only to wake up in the body of a complete stranger. He’s stuck in this insane pattern without any compass or clue as to why and just when he thinks it couldn’t get any weirder, he meets a woman with the exact same curse.

They start dating.

The two central characters, Lou and Ella, are not exactly alive. Could you explain a bit of their backstories?

KW: They were, up until their untimely death, normal people. Of course, they never knew each other in their lives that came before the curse, but fate seems to have a plan for these two lovebirds. This story isn’t about who they were, but who they become when they learn that each life they’re given isn’t the last and that there are very few consequences to their actions.

What would you do if you knew you had a fresh start just around the corner? It makes for some interesting ideas when it comes to dating.

What have you learned from writing Green Wake as an ongoing? What do you think you can bring from that experience into your future projects like Grim Leaper?

KW: Honestly, the biggest lesson I learned from Green Wake was the ability to sell the story in one or two sentences. Green Wake was an extremely complex story that simply couldn’t be summarized in an elevator pitch. There were too many layers and to find a succinct way to promote it was nearly impossible.

If you want that word of mouth, a fan has to be able to spread the word in the easiest way possible so that their friends will get it right away. Otherwise word of mouth doesn’t happen.

You’re fairly new to the scene but you seem to have an almost unlimited wealth of ideas brewing somewhere in your mind. Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

KW: Life, mostly. I take my experiences from the last ten years and find a way to make a narrative from it. You can see hints of it sprinkled throughout my work, much more direct in a series like Green Wake. It’s pretty difficult to separate what is happening in your day to day experiences from your writing because they are so intertwined. I think that’s why it became more difficult to write Green Wake later on in the series, I just wasn’t hurting anymore.

I was sad the series was canceled, but it was definitely becoming a challenge to delve into a very dark place that was necessary to make that series the story it was.

Love, or strong relationships in general, seem to be a pretty steady theme throughout a lot of your work. How does this figure into Grim Leaper?

KW: Grim Leaper was inspired by my dating life and some of the more hilarious aspects I discovered about dating in my 30’s.

It’s a whole different ballgame, my friend.

Relationships define who we are in a lot of ways. We constantly make decisions based on the people in our lives and all these consequences fall out of that. I thought this series could study that a little. I’m taking a look at what makes us love people and how we choose to act because of our connections with them.

In another interview, you described the series as a mix between Final Destination and Romeo and Juliet, both of which are pretty tragic in their own rite. Does this mean we can expect some tragedy in the series?

KW: Grim Leaper is definitely a black comedy but people are going to be surprised at the character growth that happens very early on the series. Lou begins to realize that these deaths have a real impact even if they don’t directly involve him. There’s a beautiful scene in issue #2 that really hit my heart when Aluisio illustrated it. It was far gentler than I ever expected and I knew in that moment Grim Leaper was just more than an over the top gore laced romantic comedy.

I never thought I’d say the last part of that sentence in connection with my work, for the record.

Are you a big fan of the FD franchise, or just the ideas behind it?

KW: I loved the first film and stopped watching after the second. I enjoyed the second one as well but I’d heard no so great things about the follow up films. I attempted watching the third film but lost hope about 15 minutes in, the feel of the original two were lost.

The series looks to be a romantic splatter comedy, if you will. How are you able to combine the gore/haunting aspects with the romantic comedy? They seem like two very opposing genres that would be tough to mesh together.

KW: Yeah, you’d think I would’ve realized that and said, “this will never work.” Truthfully, I did say that but I wrote it anyway because that’s just what I do. I get an idea and if I can’t get it out of my head it becomes something much bigger. That’s how Green Wake was, a small idea that eventually blossomed into something more.

I think it works because on a very simple level, this is a story about the difficulties of finding love. We’ve all struggled with it, faced huge obstacles in finding a person we are compatible with who feels the same attraction towards you as you do them. It’s one of those impossible things that we as humans seem to manage to get right every once in awhile. Pretty amazing, really.

Lou and Ella are in the same boat but their issue isn’t one of chemistry or lifestyle differences, it’s that they keep getting horrifically killed and are forced to track each other down once more. Their barrier is where the comedy comes from and I think that people will really root for our two leads because all they want is to find love.

Without being killed in sadistic ways.

Love and death are both really serious subjects to tackle, but you seem to be taking a more light-hearted approach with this book, especially switching over from Green Wake which was much more serious in tone. What made you want to switch over to a more comedic vibe this time around?

KW: Life is good. I’m happy. It’s a different place then where I was even a year ago and I’ve focused my writing on things that are a real joy to write. They are infused with my positive spirit, even if things get grisly. You’ll notice a real change in all my current and upcoming projects to a more adventurous or light toned narrative.

It comes from a place of loving life and being extremely grateful for all these amazing opportunities. When I start writing dark books again, you’ll know something bad has happened.

You’ve mentioned that you are playing with the idea of how not being able to die could effect one’s life. I’m not sure how into philosophy you are, but a lot of existential thinkers said that without death, life would really have no meaning. Is this something Grim Leaper draws upon? How does death affect their relationship?

KW: That’s definitely a huge part of this story, except it’s almost reverse of that. Lou felt his entire life that he had little meaning, that his existence counted for nothing. Leaping gave him a bit of purpose in that he was experiencing something new but even that grew old after a time.

Then he meets Ella and it changes everything. In death, he finally has something to live for.

I like that tagline, I’m going to use it from now on.

How did Aluisio Santos come into the project?

KW: When Green Wake was extended into an ongoing series, Riley wasn’t sure if he could commit to doing all the art, so we tested a few illustrators to share the task. Aluisio did a test that we both loved, but ultimately Riley stayed on board and finished the run on the series. I loved the page that Aluisio sent us and I stayed in touch, letting him know that when something came up that fit his style I wanted to work together.

He’s been absolutely nailing this series, every single panel is perfectly capturing the spirit of the story and I count myself extremely lucky to have met this rising talent.

With Green Wake done, Peter Panzerfaust underway, and Grim Leaper and Debris about to launch, you’re must be pretty busy. How do you find the time to manage all your work?

KW: You know, that’s a good question. The worst part is, I’m a chronic procrastinator, so I make things much worse for myself. When it comes down to the deadline though, I can pound out a script in ridiculous time. It’s always way more stressful that way, but it’s how I operate. I wish it was any other way, I drive myself crazy sometimes.

In an interview with Multiversity a while back you mentioned something about a book called Goblinettes. Is this still under way?

KW: It’s currently undergoing a team change and the pitch is being reworked with a new artist. I’ll probably have more information about that series around summer. Fingers crossed.

Any chance we will be seeing Green Wake again?

KW: No, I seriously doubt it. I think I said everything I needed to with that series, and given everything I mentioned already, there’s not a likely chance I’ll revisit it. I loved that series, it carried me through a lot of pain, but it’s also in the past for me.

Never fear, Riley and I are teaming up again in July for a series called Debris. It’s totally different to Green Wake and I think people are going to be hugely surprised by the final product.

For those aspiring writers out there, do you have any advice on how to break into the comics industry?

KW: Don’t give up and treat getting into the industry like you’re applying for a career. Don’t half-ass anything, that includes pitches, conversations with editors and meeting creators. Be polite and honest, and don’t be afraid of criticism.

Finally, write comics you want to read, not comics you think are popular.

I hate to ask this question, but I secretly love it…Can you list your top 5 horror films?

1) 28 Days later
2) Rec
3) Shaun of the Dead
4) Dead Set (BBC Mini-series)
5) The Fly (Cronenberg)

That’s a lot of zombie love there.

Thanks very much Kurtis. We’re huge fans of your work and we can’t wait for your future projects.

KW: Thanks so much for supporting my career!

Grim Leaper #1 hits next wednesday, May 23rd from Image Comics.