Comics: Robert Tinnell on Flesh and Blood

The Raw and the (Barely) Clothed

By , Columnist

Neil Vokes & Matt Webb

Robert Tinnell, or Bobby as he’s known to his many friends and fans, is a multi-talented creator who just might have been the original multi-tasker.

After establishing himself on the West Coast as a gifted script writer and director, he then decided that he might enjoy doing comics on the side. Championed by Mark Wheatley and the rest of those worthies at Insight Studio, Bobby, along with his occasional writing partner, Todd Livingston, and a select group of like-minded, exceptionally talented artists released one exceptional original graphic novel on an initially unsuspecting, but increasingly appreciative and growing readership.

While the specifics might vary from title to title—from Black Forest to Wicked West, from Feast of the Seven Fishes to The Chelation Kid, his controversial webcomic based on his experiences as the father of an autistic child—they all are elegantly wrought, thoroughly engrossing entertainments worthy of multiple readings.

More recently, Bob and his wife packed up the kids and their household and moved back east to be closer to their family, in search of a life a little less hectic than the one they enjoyed out west. These days, in addition to developing, writing films and comics, and directing films and commercials, Tinnell is current the director of The Factory Digital Filmmaking Program at Douglas Education Center, in Monessen, Pennsylvania, where his duties including working in concert with Tom Savini’s Special Effects Program as he oversees students filming the original web series, Here There Be Monsters. Fact of the matter is that he’s probably busier than he’s ever been, but seems to thrive on it all.

Still, what matters most for our purposes is that first volume of his newest project, Flesh and Blood, is due to hit the shelves of comic shops across the nation any day now. Bobby somehow found a few moments in his schedule so we could sit down and talk about the origins of this new series, his love of the horror genre and distaste for certain kinds of film violence, as well as the allure of childhood among other topics in this wide ranging interview, exclusively from TMR.

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How have you been describing this new series you’re doing with Neil Vokes?

Flesh and Blood is a monster rally—like the House of Frankenstein—only instead of the sensibility of a 1940s Universal classic horror film we draw on the traditions of the great British horror films from the late '50s through the early '70s. So we’ve got color and more adult situations.

What provided the original spark that led to this hot property, and how has it changed between that moment of inspiration and now?

We keep saying the books are meant to be the films we wish companies like Hammer had made when we were kids. That’s one aspect of it. There’s more to it than that, however.

For me, I’m also working through a lot of the inspiration I derived from David Pirie’s brilliant book A Heritage of Horror — which dissected British horror and opened up my impressionable fourteen-year-old mind to the thematic and sub-textual possibilities of Gothic horror. It was a real gateway experience reading that book—it changed me.

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As Flesh and Blood so ably demonstrates, you’ve become known for your unique reimagining of the classic tropes of horror. So, aside from Pirie’s impact, what is it about horror in general—and these iconic characters and their colleagues in particular—that keeps you coming back to them time and again?

I keep deferring to Tim Lucas. Tim wrote the introduction to Flesh and Blood Volume One and he really does a good job of assessing my motives and inspirations and recurrent themes.

I don’t know, really, why I keep going back. I don’t think it’s just nostalgia for the characters and stories and times—although that has to be a factor. Tim thinks I like to write about these sorts of things because they transport me to a simpler time in my life. And that may well be true. But I was obsessed with this stuff when it was a simpler time in my life so I think there’s more to it.

I really enjoy these characters and I like the swashbuckling aspect and the romantic aspects of their adventures. Plus I love the way horror can let us entertain even as we’re exploring deeper issues.

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you at least one important question before now: Who, exactly, are your main influences, what about their work fired your imagination and work, and how did you go about making it all your own?

There are so many. I mentioned David Pirie. Terry Fisher—who directed many of Hammer’s best films—films that have stood the test of time. Of course, and you can go back years and find me being really consistent about this, but Tomb of Dracula was a tremendous influence. I loved that book—love it still. Loved the Marvel black and whites like Dracula Lives.

And outside of comics there are probably too many to mention—although George Romero and James Whale certainly affected me. Charles Dickens. Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and Archie Goodwin in comics, again. And as much as anyone, my late grandfather, John Oliverio, who turned me on to making movies and magic and fishing—all of which were a huge part of my childhood and continue to interest me, obviously.

Comics, on the other hand, were something I found on my own.

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You’ve published a lot of your work with Image in the past, with some real success. So why go with a new, fairly untested publisher? What is it about Kerry and the rest of the Monsterverse crew that singled them out as the imprint for this series?

A few reasons. Kerry and I go back several years. We run with the same group of horror movie fans known as the Monster Kids. Kerry even contributed a pinup to The Black Forest—absolutely gorgeous.

Anyway, we were watching what he and Sam Park were doing with the Bela Lugosi anthology, and it was impressive. But even then I was afraid to approach them with Flesh and Blood. It was Neil who took the initiative.

And I’m so glad he did. Kerry is a great publisher, a great editor, and a great designer. And Sam Park is a publicity machine. They are carving out their own niche in comics and it’s the perfect home for us.

Since we’re on the topic of strong pairings, you’ve worked with Neil a number of times now, on a variety of well-received original titles. What is it about Neil and his work that makes him one of your main choices when it comes to drawing your comics?

At heart I suppose it’s the fact that we are both so inspired by the same stuff that we work kinda telepathically. It’s the same when I write with Todd Livingston. We just respond to the same things in similar fashion. We have a short-hand.

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My scripts for Neil are all messed up—they are more like conversations. Like, when we did Abomination, a story featuring our character Cotton Coleridge (from Wicked West). We were channeling Euro-horror from the early '70s. It’s one of my favorite things I ever wrote, and Neil just nailed it and I gave him almost zero description. The finished story looked exactly like I imagined it.

Beyond all that—let’s be honest: he does it so that after we get our books put out we have an excuse to go to cons to “promote”… which means we can then hang out in the bar and party with our friends. It all comes back to arrested development, I guess.

Well, speaking of arrested development, I asked Neil about some of the more overt sexual aspects of the book, and he kind of downplayed it all. But I keep thinking back to your original, off the cuff verbal description of the book from a few weeks back, and I’ve still this nagging sense that that’s an integral part of the series. So, just how integral is the characters’ sexuality to this story, and what you’re trying to do and say with it?

Originally, I think we were thinking that we couldn’t do this in the spirit of the films that inspired us and ignore the more adult aspects. Like all those movies about lesbian vampires in the early '70s, they were definitely attempting to lure in viewers by depicting nudity and all that.

But as I started developing the story, I realized that we were getting back to what was driving the original literature in stuff like Dracula—a real fear of women exerting their sexuality. And so for a big chunk of this, women are made to suffer for not conforming to the rules of the patriarchs. But that does change ultimately.

The one thing I didn’t want to do was anything that glamorized sexual violence. I just have a hard time with rape scenes—can’t watch them. And I hate the fact that a lot of films I otherwise enjoyed from the '70s—stuff like Tombs of the Blind Dead—actually present rape as a form of erotica. Just disturbs me to no end.

It's quite understandable, Bob. It is disturbing to see how prevalent it has remained, both in fiction and reality.

But please, just let me play the devil’s advocate for a moment and suggest that you’re just taking the easy way out, and that you could address those very same issues by simply upping the quotient of another, much more widely accepted storytelling device like, say, violence.

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So, why can’t you just use more blood and guts to tell this story, and leave all that sex stuff outta it?

You’re a funny guy, Bill.

We do indeed have some weird double standard regarding sex and violence (as a society). But I hate gratuitous violence—lingering on stuff to the point where some people are aroused. It does nothing for me.

Not that I don’t appreciate certain violent films—things like Bava’s Rabid Dogs—which isn’t so much physical as mental, actually. I love Romero’s Dawn of the Dead—but there’s a contextual reason for the violence. Ditto something like The Wild Bunch.

But Flesh and Blood? Okay, everything in it is there for a reason, whether it’s the world of the films that inspired it or the thematic elements or propelling the story. Gore and sex are present, clearly, but I hope they don’t define the books.

Given that, are you worried how about the more risqué aspects of Flesh and Blood might be received by readers with more Catholic taste in their entertainment?

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I was unaware we were forcing people to read it! [Laughter]

Seriously, what can you do? There will no doubt be people who are offended. But then there are people who are offended by Surf Nazis Must Die. There are probably people who are offended I insist on growing vegetables in my front yard instead of a sea of grass maintained by a ton of pesticides. I just can’t please everyone.

You've got an additional short piece in the back of the book illustrated by one of my favorite artists of all time supplying the art.

What led to the decision to add that little extra to the package, and what's working with one of the best, but sadly unsung, artists working in comics today—Bob Hall?

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As usual, dumb luck. Or shrewd insight on the part of Neil Vokes.

Neil invited Bob in and to our surprise he said “Yeah." So I got to write this nifty back-up story that will ultimately figure into the overall universe of Flesh and Blood. Very much inspired by Nigel Kneale’s sensibility.

And Bob is just killing it. He’s announcing his presence with authority. I’m very, very proud to get to work with him.

Well, what do you want readers to get from this book? How about your work in general?

Not sure I think it through. I usually just write stuff I’d like to read, so I’m pouring in things I’m thinking about at the moment, if that makes any sense.

But I do hope that, in the case of Flesh and Blood, that we’re giving readers a fun attempt at developing a unified world inhabited by the legendary icons of horror. That stuff is so appealing—we’re hardly breaking new ground here in that sense…

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And what do you get from doing comics? And what does the comics medium offer you that your work as a screenwriter and director don’t?

Creator-owned comics represent total freedom on many levels. At their simplest, you can—if you can get a crazy artist like Neil to draw it—tell any story you want. Whether others want to read it is a different issue. But having it exist is so rewarding.

And I’m still in awe that I get to even do comics. The twelve-year-old inside of me is so stoked. [Laughter] And the thing is—I don’t have a budget! We can make stuff as big, as epic as we want and no one’s complaining about budget and schedule.

Anything else you’d care to add?

I’m just really grateful we got the chance to do these books. Working with so many good friends on such a labor of love is a gift, you know?

And by the way, I’ve been remiss in pointing out Matt Webb’s fabulous coloring on the book. I can’t wait to see each new page. He’s not only coloring—his choices are advancing the story. Enhancing it.

Bill, thank you so much for your thoughtful questions and for giving me the chance to talk about the books.

And if you want to order a copy of Flesh and Blood Volume One, the Diamond order number is JUL111158 FLESH AND BLOOD GN VOL 01—it’s coming from Monsterverse.

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