I just got off the phone with Gotham Chopra, the chief creative officer and editor-in-chief of Virgin Comics, and he was choosing his words carefully. "Turbulent? Yes, I guess that’s a word for it. Things have been turbulent."
Two weeks ago, Virgin put out a brief press release about a "restructuring" of the company, but corporate-speak couldn’t hide the grim reality for the company that made such a splashy debut in 2005: The New York offices were shuttered and the staff of eight there was let go.
What a turnaround. It was just in April that Virgin Comics announced a major new initiative with Stan Lee creating a line of superhero titles, and that was just weeks after the company inked a deal with Hugh Jackman to create a series. At Comic-Con International in July, Chopra and his Virgin team were excited about their Hollywood ventures as well, chief among them "Virulents." (More on that movie, by the way, in a minute.)
Chopra told me that details will be coming next week about the future of the comic-book company. He said that the downsizing was driven not so much by the publishing business as it was by the macro-economic realities facing its namesake parent, Richard Branson’s vast Virgin Enterprises Ltd. "It’s been tough times."
Chopra said to check back next week with him to find out the next chapter in the Virgin story. I’ll keep you posted. He was much more cheerful when I asked him about the film adaptation of "Virulents." "That’s not affected by anything going on with the comic-book company, that’s a licensed deal." Chopra told me that there are several movie projects that are in ramping-up modes but that "Virulents" looks to be the one on the fast-track. "In my opinion that’s the one that, considering the quality of the script and the role of John [Moore, the director] that is going forward the fastest. In a lot of ways, that one is proof that what we want to do can work."
Chopra was referring to the mission statement of Virgin Comics to devote much of its energies to tapping "the vast library of mythology and reinvent the rich indigenous narratives of Asia in a unique, compelling, and entertaining way." Chopra told me, ‘We believe these stories are universal and that we reach a wide audience and keep the stories authentic in spirit."
I talked to Moore a few weeks ago about his new film, "Max Payne," and he said he is passionate about the idea of bringing "Virulents" and its supernatural tale to the screen. I made the mistake of referring to it as "a vampire tale" and he moaned into the phone.
"With ‘True Blood’ and ‘Twilight,’ we may be coming a bit late to the vampire trend, right? Actually, with ‘Virulents’ you would only call it a vampire story in the most hasty of descriptions. It’s quite different and it’s part of a vision of examining the history of the sub-continent and its rich mythology. This is wonderful material and is largely untapped. This story, I suppose it’s going to get described in these generic terms of ‘zombies‘ and ‘vampires’, but the closer you look the more surprising it is, and that’s very exciting."
The crux of the comic book is about the awakening of an ancient, mystical evil in the mountains of war-torn Afghanistan, where two military units, one American and one Indian, find themselves fighting terrorists as well as an enemy that is far from human. The moral of the story is to be careful of the war you start and to also be sure you know your true enemy. Here’s a trailer for the comic-book series:
John Cox is the writer for the "Virulents" screenplay and, after talking to Moore, my own sense is that the tone of the film would be be somewhere between "Three Kings" and "Predator," but spooky, a la "30 Days of Night," another bloodied comic turned film. (Moore didn’t mention any of those films, by the way, all of that is just an inference on my part.)
Moore said if everything falls into place, the film could be in theaters next summer. (Don’t be surprised, either, if Mark Wahlberg is the lead in the movie.)
Moore, by the way, is a very funny guy with a wry Irish wit. When I asked him about violence in "Max Payne," he told me he wanted it "to have resonance and weight, to feel more substantial than it does in too many films where you feel as if you’re playing a video game." Then, after a long beat, he chuckled at himself. "But it ain’t exactly ‘Saving Private Ryan‘, is it now?" He also went on a rant about the focus on franchises in Hollywood. "Before you even make the movie, they’re talking about the sequel. It’s vulgar. I think you should deservedly fail if you’re talking about an encore before the audience has even seen the first film. It’s like we haven’t had dessert served yet, and you’re talking about the after-sex cigarette."
Hah! Very funny stuff. He also had a great riff on the upcoming blood-sucker projects and their impact on "Virulents," which I’m hoping works out for him.
"If ‘True Blood’ and ‘Twilight’ do terribly, then people will say that there’s nothing in the genre there and we will get shut down. If they do very, very well, then people will say we are imitators and it’s all played out. So really we need them to be just … average. So there you have it."
— Geoff Boucher
Images and video courtesy of Virgin Comics