Some things in life make sense together, like peanut butter and jelly. Inversely, there are things that should never be combined, like salmon and white chocolate. (I’m assuming; food freaks, please correct me as needed.) And then there’s things that maybe don’t seem like an obvious fit but still work together. That’s certainly the case for Operation Dragon, a graphic novel debuting this week via Dark Horse Comics.
The 184-page story combines dinosaurs and WWII. I’ll repeat: dinosaurs and WWII. More specifically, it follows three American soldiers — “a disgraced ex-cop, a mobster trying to escape his past, and an intelligence officer with mysterious motives” — as they do battle with actual dinosaurs trained by the Japanese army. This wacky little project is the brain-child of a sizable team, including writers Bill Groshelle and Branden Cahill, artist Germán Peralta, colorist Kristian Rossi, and cover artist Randy Gaul.
Is it a silly premise? Sure, but that’s why it works — Operation Dragon expertly blends WWII-era accuracy with dino-centric weirdness for a noir-tinged, pulp-style adventure. Ahead of the book’s debut tomorrow (August 4), Groshelle gave us the deep dive into this super fun new GN.
AIPT: What’s your elevator pitch for the book? Is it like “X meets X?”
Bill Groshelle: It’s mythic. It’s noir. It’s filled with snappy dialogue and it’s a crazy mashup of WWII and dinosaurs. But it’s more than just action, there’s a human story that unfolds between the three main characters, and it’s ultimately about sacrifice for the greater good and redemption.
AIPT: Why focus on WWII? There’s so many stories across mediums, but why does that area still prove to be extra fertile ground for great fiction?
BG: Simply, I’m a World War II buff and I grew up with movies and TV shows and comics that focused on the war. I’ve always said that World War II was the true beginning of the modern era- advanced technology, women in industry, and the nuclear age. I think that’s why it’s still fertile ground for literature and films. It was Really about good versus evil.
AIPT: Similarly, why choose dinosaurs? It seems like that’s another thing that’s been explored in comics, films, TV, etc. almost to death?
BG: Yes, there’s a lot of dinosaurs out there. Again, it was a fascination from childhood for me, these behemoths that ruled the world for millions of years. When I first embarked on this project, a friend told me it was fertile ground because in the third Jurassic Park film, the military shows up, but they never engage with the creatures, and many people found that to be a big disappointment. In the book, we have small units of G.I.s take on weaponized dinosaurs augmented by Japanese troops. Dinosaurs have been done before, but not quite like this.
AIPT: This series really works because of our three main characters. What led you to pick these three (ex-cop, mobster, and intelligence officer) in order to tell the story?
BG: I’m a huge fan of noir in both literature and film. I wanted the characters to have the kind of backstory that sets up a conflict between them. It’s a blood feud, really. But, in order to survive the circumstances they are in, they are forced to cooperate. The intelligence officer, Lt. King is a woman, and she’s the glue that holds them all together. Ultimately, she and Tony Bruno, the ex-gangster, have a romantic attachment. She’s like a femme fatale because she’s such a bad-ass soldier, but she’s also the moral compass that swings Tony’s ultimate redemption.
AIPT: In terms of great WWII-centric art and stories, is there anything you drew on for the look and feel or even for parts of the story proper?
BG: I developed the cover art with Randy Gaul before work started on the book. It was visual development for the screenplay I wrote, which ended up as the graphic novel. I did tons of image research and created a number of mood boards for the look and feel of the cover art.
We hit on the idea of samurai armor for the dinosaur, since he’s a Japanese weapon. So, there’s a mash up of super real WWII imagery in terms of clothing, weapons, aircraft and vehicles with this more fantasy/historical look of the samurai. We used that as a jumping off place for the art of the book. German Peralta is really a genius and took it and ran with it.
AIPT: What was the collaborative process like?
BG: I wrote a screenplay that had the story and characters and much of the dialog. The screenplay was written with a graphic novel pacing and style in mind. So, we had that as the roadmap for the book. Working with Brendan Cahill, we adapted the story to be eight chapters that each end in a cliff-hanger. In that process we edited some things that were in the screenplay to fit the format. We also fleshed out the dialogue.
We found German and Kristian in Argentina. German really ran with the script, and the collaboration, all via e-mail, was remarkably smooth. Brendan and I had thought it all through, but sometimes, German would have a new idea of how to lay out a page or spread. We usually went for what he had in mind.
AIPT: I like the idea of telling a serious story (WWII) in a slightly silly way (dinosaurs). Was that your larger aim, and do you think there’s something to that kind of “formula?”
BG: The book was written a few years ago. At the time, there were a spate of mash-ups in popular culture such as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Cowboys vs Aliens, and a story on Reddit about a modern military unit transported in time to battle a Roman legion. I thought it was a really interesting literary trope and still do. I’m working on a new book that takes a somewhat similar approach to mixing genres and time frames. It can be tricky, but I think there’s room to have fun with it, and to tell stories that resonate with people even though the circumstances or
settings are unusual.
AIPT: Despite the sheer insanity of this book, there’s a real sense of historical accuracy (especially in the overall feel). Was it important to achieve that accuracy for any reason despite what was going to eventually happen?
BG: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a big WWII buff. I just felt that the craziness of the idea could be balanced with historical accuracy.
AIPT: Press for the book talked about the pulp influence, and I think that gets thrown around some. What about old pulp-y entertainment — books especially — is appealing, and how do you classify those specific influences?
BG: I’d go back to the idea of noir. As an example, James M. Cain and Jim Thompson’s work started out as super pulpy books you might buy in a drugstore. The storylines are quick and nasty, and sometimes over the top. That’s definitely an influence on the arc and pacing of the story. Also, there’s the cover art of those early pulp books which was an influence. I think we achieved a bit of that with the look of the book. German brought this whole dark and shaded chiaroscuro look to the art. Kristian enhanced that with his fabulous color work.
AIPT: If you could be a dinosaur, which one one would you be and why?
I’d have to go with a T. Rex or other top of the food chain therapod. Why not be the king? Better to be to top dog and not get eaten.
AIPT: Why should anyone pick this book up?
BG: Two reasons.
One: The story is much more than an action movie in book form, there’s the human story and three lives are changed irrevocably. There’s real revelation and redemption for each of the characters.
Two: The artwork is amazing and beautiful. It’s really a visual feast.
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