‘Annihilator’: Frazer Irving crafts L.A. dreamscape for Hollywood tale

Sept. 11, 2014 | 3:38 p.m.

A few years ago, comic book creator Grant Morrison talked to Hero Complex about “a big science fiction story set in modern-day L.A.” called “Annihilator.” This week, the title hits comic book stores — complete with its twisted view of Hollywood.

The comic centers on hard-partying screenwriter Ray Spass, who is down on his luck and up against a deadline for a tent-pole script for a movie called “Annihilator.” Things become complicated once Spass is diagnosed with a brain tumor — his main character, Max Nomax, suddenly comes to life, leading Spass on adventures he didn’t bargain for.

Hero Complex caught up with artist Frazer Irving, who has previously teamed with Morrison on “Batman and Robin” and “Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy,” to get his take on the look and feel of “Annihilator” and what inspired the artist’s re-imagining of Los Angeles.

Hero Complex: What was your reaction to the script when you initially read it?

Frazer Irving: When I read a script, I see it as a document — something I have to unlock and something I have to solve and, in many cases, something I have to edit — as in taking out unnecessary scene descriptions. So, my reaction to it was twofold. First, it was to reacquaint myself with how Grant writes his scripts. There’s moments of ambiguity, and moments where you read a page description or some dialogue and you think “What?!” And the other reaction, once I’ve gone through that process, is to read it a couple of times and just go through the dialogue so that I can understand who these characters are. I was left with a sense — I was reading it in New York at the time — of nihilism and hedonism — this going to Hell in a handbasket in a fast car kind of thing. Even though I’d never been to L.A., I did also sense where that sense of nihilism came from. It’s from a very hot place, a very smoggy place. It’s a place I wouldn’t survive very well coming from rainy old England. And so there’s a sense of alienness, a sense of this other world, other universe — which is pretty much what Grant was going for, and I think he communicated that very well without telling me what happened. First scripts are notoriously vague in what they’re feeding for future events.

HC: In visualizing this tale, what kinds of themes did you want to convey through the art?

"Annihilator," page 3 (Legendary Comics)

Page 3 of “Annihilator.” (Legendary Comics)

FI: Given that I’m to interpret what Grant has written, that’s a tricky thing.  I can hijack some things for my own agenda, though. One of those things was to try and represent the world outside of fictional reality or echo the world that I see outside of my window.  Therefore, there will be less classically beautiful people in my stories and a wide array of ethnic types — there might even be people with limbs missing. Simply because I see these forms and people being underused and neglected for whatever reason in other comics.

So, within [the story], I noticed some themes that have crossed over. This idea of the way women are treated within places like Hollywood and in the movie industry, and a lot of Grant’s ideas in that respect do tie in with the way I think women should be treated and represented in comics. That is to say, with a full, varied palette, a far more varied palette than we’re using currently. So, in many respects, Grant and I are on the same wavelength.

HC: In general, what are your artistic influences?

FI: Those come from all over the place these days. thanks to Tumblr, I’m influenced by anyone from artists that died 400 years ago, like Jan van Eyck, to 14-year-olds drawing on Deviant Art. There’s just a lot more to draw from. I’m attracted to works that I would think I’d draw like. I was very much a Neal Adams, John Byrne fan as a kid, and I wanted to draw like Barry Windsor-Smith as a young man. But now, I seem to be ripping off Richard Corben or Bill Sienkiewicz, which is unusual because I didn’t really like them as a kid. The artwork I do now, I like, but it has all of the influences that I thought were things I didn’t like. This is an artistic revelation for me — that I’ve become the thing I hated as a kid.

HC: Could you describe in more detail how you chose to depict Hollywood?

FI: I decided to focus the ideas and imagery of Hollywood through my head whilst I’m in England, then putting it on the screen. To try and capture it accurately would be impossible, it’d be like trying to balance the Earth on a pencil. There’s so much to Hollywood, so much to Los Angeles. Why not just go with an impression? And then I realized that Grant was giving me his impression of Hollywood as well, so I was translating it again through another fictional view of it.  So the whole thing is like we’re inbreeding an interpretation of a city to get this  purified or distilled mutant vision, which is kind of the way I draw all of my stories.

I don’t want to draw the real world in its actual colors. I’m going to take aspects from it and then exaggerate them and put them on a pedestal and make them day-glo pink just so you can see them differently. The Los Angeles and Hollywood in “Annihilator” is very much the Los Angeles dreamscape. I do think, though, if I was going to go for reality, I’d pick a story that was more in touch with my day-to-day life, so in my story, I’d probably be drawing lots of rain. Los Angeles and the realm of “Annihilator” are equally fictional in my mind, and I put them on the page knowing that. So, if there is anyone who calls me up and says, “Hey! Los Angeles doesn’t look like that!” I’ll say, “Well, it does in my head.”

HC: Legendary is also a film production company. Did you envision specific actors when you drew the characters?

FI: No. I try to avoid that like the plague… There’s likenesses and other things that can boil up, but if I’m going to draw a character for pages and pages then they have to live in my head, and no matter how many times someone says, “Cyclops looks like Brad Pitt,” it doesn’t matter if I read the story and hear the dialogue and I see George W. Bush. That’s what I’m going to be drawing because that’s what I see. I think that in something like “Annihilator,” where I had the option of designing these characters, I chose to scribble based on abstract ideas like “crazy hairstyle” or “long face…” I think if it does get picked up for a movie they should use actors that don’t look anything like the characters. I think if you’re going to do it, do something new.

HC: How do expect readers will react to the book?

FI: A part of me looks at the artwork and thinks “If they don’t like this, then I’m just going to find another job — be a professional drummer or something.” I really like it and I do think it has a lot of nice qualities in it. But I’m also no stranger to the fact that some of the greatest works were often maligned or even ignored, which is always the worst thing. I’m at that stage where I don’t care. I can’t think about the critical reaction — you’d go mad doing that.

— Jevon Phillips | @LATHeroComplex

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