[14 July 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Comics, as John Schwarz reminds me, is something of a long game. “We try to work out exactly what it is we expect from the story,” he says talking about the brothers’ process in developing high concepts. “One of the things I love about comics and always have loved is the episodic nature of how you tell the story. It’s a long form that you can’t really do in film, even in a film trilogy, in that way. So that’s how I like to approach it. Something like Damaged, when we conceived the idea, I couldn’t see it any other way, other than a comic at the time.”
“And as you’ll see when you read the six issues that there is something unique to comics you can do with the way that time passes. You can have a break between issues where the next issue picks up at the second that the previous issue left off. Or it picks up months or a year after the previous issue left off. That’s one of the things I love, you can’t even get that across even in television. That’s one of the things we want to do with Damaged, and one of the many reasons why Damaged works in a comic rather than in a film at this point.”
It’s easy to get lost in the thought. There’s clearly been years of practice not only at the design of ideas, but at the meditations that go around making art. And the Schwarz brothers benefit from each other. Like the Mandarin word for “strength” which is simply the ideogram for two men (while one rests the other works), the brothers are locked in a creative and symbiotic two-step. Never quite in-sync, they always seem to expand the topic by offering unexpected insights.
Rather than simply commenting on the tensions of the social media generation the Schwarzes seem to be reenacting these dramas in their creative process. But it reaches deeper than simply two brothers hanging out together, exchanging shared codes. They’ve always been nested in a creative group.
“We’ve always had a cluster of friends back in Australia,” Michael says, “A lot of them are actors John went to acting school with back in Sydney. And we’ve always been trying to get into things in the Ozzie industry. I’ve always been trying to get into writing and directing. It’s a really tough industry in Australia to break into; it’s smaller, it’s not really based in genre things and the kinds of things we like. “
“It just so happened that one of our creative partners back in Australia became a big movie star, all of a sudden. And through him we were able to get this partnership going in America, which is a creative new playground for us. It’s where the genre stuff that we love is really encouraged and embraced. I came over to America last March, and John was already here as an actor, and we just formed this company with our partner Sam.”
The “Sam” referred to is none other than Sam Worthington, star of the phenomenally successful Avatar, the reimagining of the Ray Harryhausen classic Clash of the Titans and the upcoming Last Days of American Crime. “Sam’s our third brother,” I’m told later in the interview. Was it by Michael or John? What stands out is not the author, but the signature of their shared faith in the confluence of the creative process.
“The important part is that we’re all mates trying to battle it out. Sam is like a brother as well,” Michael says. “It’s no different Johnny and I working together, than working with him.” This only reinforces the idea that the brothers have always considered the mechanics of creativity nestled within the folds of an artistic cohort.
It’s this foreknowledge that sets the stage for a certain kind of expectation when I ask the brothers about the psychic price paid for their first creative foray into comics being a project like Damaged. The brothers are after all at the very beginning of their careers, not at the end. So is there any kind of cognitive dissonance they experience when writing this kind of story? There’s the tantalizing silence a brief hesitation that hangs in the Los Angeles morning. Have I hit on the one question that the brothers were wholly unprepared for?
Not at all in the slightest. There’s a slight chuckle by Michael. Could he have anticipated this as early as my opening salvo of questions? John steps in to answer, almost immediately, “In one sense it’s about the end of careers, but it’s also about the start of careers. It’s basically something we looked at from the angle of the two new proteges (Frank’s and Henry’s). Basically they’re starting up their careers as well.”
There’s another chuckle from Michael, “If those themes are there they really come from a subconscious level. Retirement’s not really a thing I’ve thought about.” It’s striking to measure both responses against what I have already established about the brothers’ creative process.
With John’s response there’s a clear sense that even I’ve been drawn into the brothers’ creative milieu; reframing my question as he did is something he’d done only with Michael thus far. It is abundantly apparent that the brothers both are able to extend their creative process to respond directly to whatever environment they find themselves in. There’s an adaptive intelligence at work here, one that secures itself by extending itself.
Michael’s response is no less striking. It comes as a deep-rooted recognition of the possibility of being shaped by the world, and a simultaneous refusal to be that simple clay shaped by unconscious forces. Michael underlines the secret valor of creativity; that being creative is a quiet and abiding resistance that transmogrifies mere existence into basic human-ness of living.
And these unassuming but thoroughgoing responses probe me to revisit they earlier dismissing of their big break (with Sam Worthington’s success) coming as nothing more than a stroke of luck. With the kind of determined resilience their responses betray, would they really have hit the big time only as a chance encounter? The brothers certainly evidence enough concerted drive and imagination for them to adapt their circumstances. And it seems clear that they would have made a big splash anyway, that luck rather than simply happening “to” them, is something they’ve been manufacturing themselves.
The self-effacing attitude to their own success engenders something else; a kind of stymieing of any resistance to their creativity. At the very moment of John’s answer when even their interviewer was being imbricated in the brothers’ creative process, I deeply wanted to participate.
Perhaps this is key to the new kind of projects the Schwarz brothers and Full Clip Productions are ushering into the world. The establishing of a new kind of creativity that does not so much “capture” the audience as implicate them, offering them infinite opportunities for participation. The idea that social media is not a fad, not juvenile but a sober, functional idea is confirmed by the kind of creativity the brothers bring. Their profound and abiding collaboration with Radical points to this being the case; a place transmedia exists as a concept. And spearheading this beguilingly elegant revolution in entertainment is the story of a dream come true, of a creative team finding the place in the world they always deserved.
It’s hard to remain jaded in the face of this. Damaged, and Full Clip could just be the beginning we’ve all along deserved, perhaps even without our realizing our need for it.