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Luke Arnold, Doc Wyatt talk the teamwork and insanity that defines 'ESSENTIALS'

Comic Books

Luke Arnold, Doc Wyatt talk the teamwork and insanity that defines ‘ESSENTIALS’

The compelling new OGN is funding via Kickstarter.

You may know Luke Arnold as Long John Silver in the Black Sails and/or INXS’ own Michael Hutchence in the Never Tear Us Apart miniseries. Doc Wyatt, meanwhile, is best known for his production work on the iconic Napoleon Dynamite and the animated Rocket and Groot for Marvel. So, what happens when a lauded actor and a TV writer/producer get together? Why a brand-new graphic novel, ESSENTIALS.

For ESSENTIALS, Arnold and Wyatt were brought together in part by The Lab Press, a new publishing outfit that focuses primarily on graphic novels. Together, the pair then collaborated with a veritable smorgasbord of comics artists, including Bill Sienkiewicz (who does the cover), Dani, Jason Howard, Andrea Mutti, and Glenn Fabry. (The book’s colors were provided by Jordie Bellaire, Brad Simpson, and Wesley Wong, with lettering from DC Hopkins of AndWorld Design).

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Once fully assembled, this superstar team behind ESSENTIALS set about crafting a story in which “the world you see around you is not real.” More specifically, we follow “disgraced mathematician Harris Pax” as he and Buttons (an “interdimensional being possessing his niece’s favorite toy”) set about smashing the walls of this faux reality. ESSENTIALS asks some big questions — “What matters most in a well-lived life? Is joy more valuable than truth?” — just as much as it’s a rollicking, dimension-hopping adventure story.

ESSENTIALS is currently crowdfunding via Kickstarter, with the campaign having raised $13,000-plus (of a seemingly $1,111 goal) on the way to its May 16 deadline. (Head here to contribute.) To get a better idea of the work that went into ESSENTIALS, we recently got to field questions to both Arnold and Wyatt. The duo spoke about the somewhat involved creative process, the big themes at the book’s heart, working with The Lab Press, and much more.

Luke Arnold, Doc Wyatt talk the teamwork and insanity that defines 'ESSENTIALS'

The talent behind ESSENTIALS. Courtesy of The Lab Press.

AIPT: I’m curious: what’s the collaborative process look like between a TV writer and an actor making a comic book?

Luke Arnold: It’s hard to summarize this process because there are so many stages. We broke most of the story on zoom between Australia and LA. Then, we outlined in pieces, trading them back and forth multiple times, rewriting and recrafting until we were happy. After that,we’d take a chapter each, write them, share them, editing and/or rewriting each other’s work. Then, it would go to the artists, and we’d wait for the first sketches to roll in.

Because the team (Doc, myself, and everyone at The Lab) is spread around the globe, we found that the best place to review artwork was actually in VR. We all got Oculus headsets that allowed us to sit around a table together with the art displayed on a huge board in front of us, marveling over the work and deciding on any notes to send back to the artists.

The next few stages would take place over email, and then when all the art was finished, Doc and I would get back on Zoom to take another look at the script. Once you have those final pages, you can quickly realize that a lot of dialogue feels unnecessary, so we’d go through and make changes before sending everything to the letterer. That was one of my favorite stages, as you have an opportunity to write some parts all over again, inspired by the work of the artists.

Doc Wyatt: Luke’s an actor, but he’s also a novelist. His novels blow me away. I knew Luke first as an actor, and on set, he was talking about these fantasy novels that he wanted to write. But when it actually happened, I was blown away. The Last Smile in Sunder City was Luke’s first book, and it kicked off a series that’s a mashup of the noir detective genre with urban fantasy. Anyone who’s missed it should catch up with it.

Luke Arnold, Doc Wyatt talk the teamwork and insanity that defines 'ESSENTIALS'

The ESSENTIALS main cover by Bill Sienkiewicz. Courtesy of Lab Press.

As a writer, Luke is intricate. He works in levels and layers, meanings behind meanings, and philosophical underpinnings. It was a really rich and rewarding experience because we’d start out talking about the story we were breaking, but the conversation would drift into all these other, unrelated places… until suddenly it would snap back into story mode, but bringing along all these influences from our seemingly unrelated conversations.

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for ESSENTIALS? It seems like there are a lot of big questions churning at the heart of this book.

LA: Our world has collided with another dimension and reality has become untethered. Most humans were killed in the collision, and those that survived are now trapped in their own subjective realities as their beliefs, thoughts, and fears become manifest around them. Harris Pax – the only scientist who foresaw this apocalypse and managed to protect himself – has teamed up with Buttons – a being from the other dimension.Together they must travel into these subjective realities and convince the people inside to give up their illusions and return to the real world.

DW: Honestly, it can sound complicated, but at the end of the day the story is pretty simple. A cosmic catastrophe has killed most human life, with the few survivors unknowingly stuck in their own bubbles of subjective reality. It’s the job of our heroes to pull them out of these private realities before they’re killed by them.

AIPT: Similarly, it seems like this book may be about/interested in simulations and subjective reality and the like. Why are those kinds of massive ideas interesting, and how do you come at them from a new angle?

LA: It’s a cliché now to say that we’ve never been so divided. We started writing this four years ago, and things seem to have only gotten worse. In this age of reactionary politics and algorithms, we really are starting to live in separate realities where even basic facts are up for dispute. But this feeling of disconnection was an existential issue long before the internet. Artists and writers have always explored the pain of isolation, our yearning for interconnection, and the despondency that comes from witnessing the perpetual division of the human race on both an intimate and planetary scale. With ESSENTIALS, we found two heroes, a villain, and a reality-spanning quest that allows us to dig into these concerns in a way that feels fresh and kind of limitless. There are already so many realities we’ve had to cast aside and many more we hope to include as the story continues.


The Jason Howard cover to ESSENTIALS. Courtesy of The Lab Press.

AIPT: What’s it like to be the debut release from Lab Press? Does that pressure help or complicate your process as creators and then also promoters of said creation?

LA: I can really only speak to it from a creative standpoint. It has awarded us a kind of freedom that is rare to find. The Lab and ESSENTIALS were formed at the same time, so the publishers had no preconceptions about what this book needed to be. There were no expectations, either from the reader or the company itself, so the book was able to find its form on its own terms. And being their debut, The Lab was likely more open to our wild ideas, such as jumping between so many artists in the way we do.

DW: For me, sure– it’s a little nerve-wracking to be the first book from a new publisher, because they’re going to be doing all their learning on our book. But that said, we believe in them. They’ve certainly taken a risk on our weird, little, indie book, so it’s only fair we take a risk on them!

AIPT: The book has a slew of talented artists attached, including Dani, Andrea Mutti, and Bill Sienkiewicz. What’s it mean to have such a roster of sheer artistic talent, and do you have any standout moments/pages?

LA: Even though this book has been in development for years, from the artists signing on to sending their pencils, their inks and colors, and now holding the final version, I still can’t really comprehend that we were able to work with artists of this caliber.

This is the first comic I’ve written, and so I was still wondering how all our scripts would come out after being interpreted by the artist. There’s a sequence in chapter two with a collage of a conversation that passes through a bunch of scenarios across a double page spread, and when Jason Howard sent us his pencils of that section, I started to believe that this world Doc and I had dreamed up could actually be realized.

I also have to say that I’m a huge Glenn Fabry fan. We gave him some of our weirdest pages, and his beautifully textured detail is everything we hoped for and more.


The Glenn Fabry cover to ESSENTIALS. Courtesy of The Lab Press.

DW: The Lab Press had us submit a list of dream artists we’d be dying to work with. We did, thinking–well, they’ll never be able to get these… But they did!!! They didn’t tell me that they’d gotten Bill Sienkiewicz for a cover, who has been a very important artist to me since childhood. Instead they just revealed to me the fully finished cover at a party at New York Comic Con as a big surprise, and I just about lost it. It’s such an amazing cover. And it’s so Bill while still being so ESSENTIALS!

AIPT: Do you have a fave sci-fi book/film/show/etc. that maybe made its way into this project in some way (intentionally or not)?

LA: Doc is a font of sci-fi knowledge, and our original scripts were stuffed full of amazing references. Eventually, we decided to remove most of them before sending the scripts to artists because we didn’t want to cloud their minds with other visuals before we could see what their imaginations offered up. On quick flip though, you could see references to Alien, The Blob, and Night of the Living Dead, but we’ve done our best to use that imagery as a starting block to build something weirder.

AIPT: Why should anyone support the forthcoming Kickstarter for ESSENTIALS?

LA: Because this book is done and it’s incredible. We’re teaming up with Kickstarter because it’s the best way to get the books out to everyone around the world. We’re not asking for support to get it finished or anything like that. Not long after we launch, the book will be out of the printers and in your hands.

DW: We love our weird little story, and we want to tell more of it in the future, but we’ll only get the chance to do that if people read and love this one. We want to get the word out any way we can, so backers will find and support and read the book. It’s strange, it’s heady, and it’s not for everyone, but the people who it’s for– we hope– will really love it!

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