Stories are not bound by pure words, impeccable editing, cream paper, and perfect-bound hardcovers. In this series, I sit down with other storytellers to talk about their works, how they came about them, and any surprises they found along the way.
For my inaugural post, here's when I sat down with the ever-talented Benjamin Chee and Wayne Rée (The Rolling Ronins) and talk about their first collaborative work together - a short-story-turned-comic named "Mr. Memphis".
Wayne, what inspired you to write “Mr. Memphis”?
I don't know if it's a bizarre side-effect of my Catholic upbringing or just a love for villains that was nurtured by all the cool bad guys from the shows I watched while growing up, but I've always loved writing stories about devils. One of the first stories I ever wrote way back when was about Lucifer and his best friend. Because of that fascination, the Faustian bargain trope, likewise, holds a special place in my heart. The western setting of the original short story was inspired by the atmosphere of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand". I think there's even a line in the original that references the "dusty black coat" line from the song.
Ben, Wayne’s book “Prompt” had many other stories, not to mention the fact that Wayne has other very interesting short stories. So why Mr. Memphis?
When I thought of adapting something Wayne wrote, I went through both of his books. There were a few stories that I liked a lot (The one with genesis-in-a-cup was my close second, but I can’t figure out what to do with it that ‘Sandman’/‘Lucifer’ didn’t already), but I picked MR MEMPHIS because I got flashes of images from it. I could imagine what it looked like as I was reading it, I could think about it easily in terms of images. It might have been the strong setting, the way the characters play off each other, or the dialogue. There might be also that part of me that loved ‘True Grit’, ‘Westworld’, and all those cowboy movies I watched as a kid, itching to do something Western.
Any characters you particularly enjoyed the company of? And would you: Have dinner with them? Travel with them? Or get into a fist fight with them?
Ben: Lou! I’d like to hear the stories she has to tell. My wallet won’t last at the pace she’s selling me drinks at, though...
Wayne: Lou Ann is probably the only really good person in the story. She strikes me as the kind of woman I'd love to share a drink with and who'd have the best stories to tell.
One of the most distinct traits of Mr. Memphis is the juxtaposition of two very different settings - Wayne wrote it, influenced by wild westerns, while Ben drew it, influenced by wuxia and clan wars. What, in your opinion, made it work in this form?
Ben: 'Westworld’, ‘East Of West’, and ‘The Sixth Gun’ - three visual works I liked a lot that fuses the Western genre with sci-fi/fantasy in a way I found quite unsurpassable. From there, I thought about what I would do differently with MR MEMPHIS if I were to adapt it visually. I grew up on Chinese wuxia tales (read all Louis Cha’s 14 books and more), TV shows, and movies, so that’s an aesthetic I really wanted to try my hand on. It dawned on me I could marry the two - if only to see what happens when you have wuxia characters speaking English that is not horribly-translated subtitles!
I felt that the Silk Road and the Wild West share something common - rugged gold rush adventurers and rich costumes, settings that one could use to inform their surrounding, intent, so combining elements from these two makes a nice juxtaposition but also not jarring. That might've been what worked.
Wayne: What made it work? Simple. It was Ben. When he approached me about adapting the short story, he told me that he wanted to keep the western dialogue, but place it in a wuxia setting and I immediately loved that idea. Everything from the characters' looks to the locations were designed by Ben. He's the one who found that perfect balance between the two genres.
Ben, most of your works have been done solo - how is it like creating something with another storyteller?
With MR MEMPHIS, in particular, it was pretty hands off, so I’m grateful for that. I had a lot of free rein and managed to work on the visual and story-telling adaptation the way I wanted to, so that felt good!
Wayne, on the other hand, you have worked with many other artists - how was this experience similar or different?
Up until now, almost all of the comics I've worked on have been developed from the ground-up with the artists. This was different because "Mr Memphis" is an existing story, so it was more of a surprise every time Ben would send me roughs or the fully inked pages. It's similar, however, in the sense that, as with all my past collaborations, I'm working with someone who's a storyteller and who understands their medium very well, so I do what any smart comic writer would do when working with someone like Ben – I get out of their way and let them do what they do best.
Has there been any feedback that surprised you the most / been the most memorable?
Ben: I enjoy feedback that tells me the adaptation was successful. Also, there was a person who browsed the book and on the first page exclaimed WOW WHAT AN UPLIFTING STORY and I still stand by my reply: “It gets...better”.
Wayne: The direction the story takes in the third act has surprised a few people, which pleases me to no end. This was my love letter to the Faustian bargain, but I didn't want it to be that straightforward. That, and the shock that people get from the first page, which was one of the scenes that Ben added to make the story work as a comic. I think my favourite comment from someone, upon flipping to that first page, was something like, "So... not a lighthearted book then?"
Without giving away too much - now that a certain character has been taken care of, what’s next?
Wayne: For the world of Mr Memphis, Amos and Lou Ann? Nothing planned. In my head, this was a done-in-one story. Also, this is the devil story that I'm proudest of writing, so I'd rather it be my last devil story – at least for the foreseeable future anyway. For work with Ben? Well, I absolutely love how "Mr Memphis" turned out as a comic. It's like that story of how Trent Reznor said that "Hurt" ceased to be his song when he heard Johnny Cash's cover. "Mr Memphis" is a Benjamin Chee comic that I'm so happy to be a part of. So, if the right story comes along, I'd jump at the chance to work with Ben again. Hell, even if he wants to go ahead and elevate any of my other prose pieces to a whole new level, he is always welcome to.
Mr. Memphis is one of your many self-published works. If there are any other works you’d like to promote, you have 20 words - go!
Ben: GUIDEBOOK TO NANYANG DIPLOMACY is like a punk version of 1915 Singapore history, out on Kinokuniya and BooksActually!
Wayne: You can get the two "Yellow Princess" comics I co-created for a special price at my website: https://waynereewrites.com/
Where can we get Mr. Memphis?
Wayne’s webstore! Or look out for Rolling Ronins at cons we’re heading to! At least for now.
Benjamin Chee adores food, stories, pixels, and historical novels. He makes comics set in a food-centric universe. 'Liquid City Vol. 3' and 'Asian Monsters' collected his short tales. Found online at charsiewspace.com
Wayne Rée is the author of 'Tales From a Tiny Room', co-author of 'Prompt', co-creator of 'Yellow Princess', and an editor and contributor to 'Pulp Toast'. More importantly though, he loves cold pizza. You can find him internetting at waynereewrites.com
Get your copy of Mr. Memphis here. Once again, I hope you've enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more features and indie works coming your way!
My adventures with in urban speculative fiction.