An interview with Todd Hunt and Michael Fleizach, writers of Darling
Co-writers Todd Hunt and Michael Fleizach discuss their upcoming comic Darling from Source Point Press. Based on the journals of Fleizach's late brother, Darling is a story about addiction, hope, and a different kind of hero.
With all of New York City enveloped in the zeitgeist of a missing 8-year-old girl, lovable anti-hero Francis Darling accidentally stumbles onto the machinations behind her kidnapping and the drug war that ensues.
…but has he really?
A bit like chasing the Mad Hatter through a toxic chemical cloud, Francis’ inconceivable journey brings us uncomfortably close to NYC’s most crooked…most deviant…most irredeemable characters; the kind that can only be extricated from the drug-addled, guilty conscience of a failing brain.
How did you two meet and why did you decide to write this together, as opposed to having a single writer on this comic?
TODD: We had the good fortune to be placed in the same apartment when studying abroad in London. Spending countless nights discussing our shared passions, we know it was only a matter of time before the right project came along that we could funnel both of our talents into. There is an incredible unspoken dynamic that we have as creative partners, from writing plays together, creating and co-hosting a podcast (The Super Nintendads Entertainment Podcast) and working on the Darling series, we simply make each other better.
MICHAEL: That’s the long way of saying we like to bounce ideas. We have a habit of pushing each other into strange places creatively. I won’t say “That’s where the magic happens” because I’m on a cliché fast, but it’s where the something somethings.
What was the co-writing process like?
TODD: We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I think in themes and Mike just wants to write the most outlandish sh*t he can. We try to distill big ideas down to the one key element we absolutely love about them. We throw out a lot of pages and only know we’re on the right track when one of us loves something about the sequence.
MICHAEL: I’m terrified to put words to page. Todd is comfortable writing a turd of a first draft because he’s smart enough to know it all has to start somewhere. With me, I’ll rewrite the first line nine hundred times until I have “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. I’m not comparing myself to Dickens – that’s an a**hole move – but I think you know what I mean.
Michael, you’ve said this book was inspired by the journals of your brother. What was it like discovering those journals and translating them into a comic book?
MICHAEL: It was an absolute mind f*ck. How does someone make sense of something like that? It’s a world-shatter-er. It’s a biblical do-over. It washes everything and forces you to look at some things you wish you didn’t have to. His journals brought me close to him, but only after going through them did I understand the constant daily struggle he was dealing with. Some passages were written to me directly. I couldn’t save his life…I wish I could have.
When you have that much grief just hanging around mucking up the works, shredding my insides, the only choice you have is to channel it into something useful. That’s the world of Darling. Sometimes you just need a project, ya know? Your head has to be somewhere – anywhere – but where it’s at. In some strange, f*cked up way, I was bringing him back and hanging out with him again. I should probably put in a call to my shrink.
You’re donating a portion of the proceeds from Darling to programs dedicated to helping those who are struggling with alcohol and drug abuse.
MICHAEL: That’s correct – a percentage of creator proceeds will go directly to programs helping addicts in recovery and getting them back on their feet. Addicts are not the wretches of society; they aren’t cast-offs, no-accounts or people you should step over on your way to grab your third g*ddamn latte of the day. Every one of these people – every. f*ckin. one. – has someone somewhere who loves and cares for them dearly. And they need our help.
If you’re struggling, you’re never alone. Walk into any emergency room and someone will help you. They will help you get to the next step. Please, call your families. They miss and love you.
What do you hope readers will take away from Darling?
TODD: There is an expression “it’s never too late to turn it all around,” which is true…until it isn’t. Darling is about a lot of things but undeniably it is about making the change, taking the chance while you still can. This moment, right now, don’t waste it.
MICHAEL: I promise you know an addict. Or you’re just one friend or relative removed from one. It’s a crisis. But these people – addicts – their brains get hijacked; wires get crossed. But there’s still good in there. I hope people pick up the book and accept this different take on a hero.
Darling takes inspiration from the likes of L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and Studio Ghibli. Can you touch on how these different influences have informed the book?
TODD: Hayao Miyazaki taught us both how to imagine the fantastic in the mundane which is not so far removed from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice in wonderland. We both love the stark change in scene between the black and white of Kansas and the Technicolor of OZ. We often talk about how amazing it must have been to be in a theater to witness that Technicolor miracle for the first time. It must have felt like pure magic. Magic in the mundane…the everyday…this was a prime motivator when creating the world of Darling.
MICHAEL: Todd and I make mulligan stew. Whatever is lying around in our brain; whatever we are passionate about; whatever has moved us – we throw it in the pot. Baum, Carroll, Ghibli – they all get their readers/watchers to accept the fantastic. Like, oh of course the castle flies or this totally blitzed cat just has incredibly cryptic conversations. No one is ever like “whoa whoa whoa…hang on”. I love that. We often ask each other “that’s great but is it strange enough?”
Tell us a little about the setting of the book. It takes place in the 1980s NYC punk scene, why that choice?
TODD: Mike was in a band with his brother and my older brother was in a band and often played shows in NYC. This was the world we grew up in and it serves an incredible cultural reference point and touchstone for both of us. The gritty world of the blossoming punk scene in NYC is one of vivid color, dangerous substances, and harsh realities. It serves Darling as the perfect setting to tell the story of Francis Darling.
MICHAEL: Exactly. Music was very special for my brother and I. There’s no way it wasn’t going to be a part of this. If you look in issue one, you’ll find a splash where every little scene is based on a famous album cover that we loved. And then, of course, there’s the Elton John stuff…
Dave Mack Mims’s work is one of a kind. Can you tell us how he has elevated the work?
TODD: Dave and I have been working together for over 10 years on multiple projects. When we began to plan out the art design for Darling, Dave was the only choice. His extensive knowledge of NYC, graffiti, modern art, and music culture is the exact style we saw for creating the setting of Darling. He has taken some of our smallest scenes and turned them into the most special and detailed panels. He sees a wider and more wonderful world than we could even dare to write.
Darling would not be Darling without Dave Mims.
MICHAEL: Exactly. For once, I cannot say it better. You win, Todd.
How did you connect with Alex Riegel for the incredible variant covers for issues 1-4?
TODD: A contact at SPP connected us with Alex when we discussed wanting to mimic the look of the late 70’s and early 80’s movie poster that would adorn the streets that Francis would be travelling down. Alex was hands down the best choice for this. He created four unbelievable variant covers that could fit right in next to the movie posters of the era such as, Jackie Brown, Big Trouble in Little China, The Goonies and A Clockwork Orange. They are amazing compliments to Dave Mims’ original covers for the series.
MICHAEL: Yeah. It was just one of those immediate “This is the dude” moments.
Order Darling #1 now on sourcepointpress.com