Comics

Animated Part 1: The PopMatters Exclusive with Full Clip's Schwarz Brothers

Drawn Together: In their creation of the psychologically riveting Damaged brothers Michael and John Schwarz rely as much on their interpersonal dynamic as on their shared love of popculture.

The real story of the Schwarz brothers isn't their improbable and meteoric rise from being marginalized by the Australian film industry to Hollywood. But the generational shift they bring to traditionalist thinking in the media of both comics and film.

You know when you write this part up," says John Schwarz, "you should write it up like a classic L.A. crime noir novel." There's an exuberance in John's voice. Like he's talking to me across the chasm of a great and improbable triumph. Like if right now we'd fade to black, this would be the ending the audience deserves. But this sensation is only the briefest of flashes. At the mention of "crime noir" and "LA", Michael immediately jumps in. "Of all the offices in all the world, why'd she have to walk into mine…." And a split-second later, John completes the frame. "We don't actually tell people this, but Mike's last name is Hammer." There's a deep, resounding chuckle from all round, breaking through the Los Angeles morning.

It had started when Michael began talking about settling into L.A. over the last 10 months or so and how Full Clip Productions, a partnership between brothers Michael and John Schwarz, and a third partner had made the seemingly impossible jump from marginal status within the Australian film industry, to setting up in Hollywood. It was early afternoon and Michael left the exterior door to his office open.

This was the door that opened onto a courtyard. "It's really great sharing office space with Radical," Michael had began. He goes on to talk about the stunning array of A-listers that frequently appear at Radical. Some of them often mistake his office (his exterior being opened more often than not) for the reception area of Radical itself. "So it's happened more than once," Michael continues, "Getting the people you're used to seeing on a movie screen walk through my office like it's the most normal thing in the world. Recently it happened with Rosario Dawson. She just walked across the courtyard and into my office."

It's hard not to imagine this scene playing out in a cinematic metaphor like John Woo's 'bullet-time'. Everything slows down to super-slow-mo, and moments take up minutes of screen time. Michael continues, "She was really polite, and asked if this was Radical Studios' offices. I was dumbstruck, then I realized I had to direct her to where she needed to go." There's a brief chuckle, then John interjects with a suggestion. "You know when you write this part up," John Schwarz says…

If anything this animated reciprocity, this throwing back-and-forth of ideas, each round building on what the other brother had just said, lies at the heart of the Schwarz brothers interaction. And it's this that allows for the vibrancy in Full Clip's first foray into comics, the brothers acting as creators on the Radical-published book Damaged. It's a thing to behold, even at the distance of a phone call. Michael or John would have an idea, but not a complete idea. Rather it would be the germ of an idea, the seed, and in a matter of moments there'd be a first teasing out by the other brother, and then a second expansion when the idea's originating brother gets the idea again.

Talking with the brothers you get a sense, in the immediacy of what Japanese culture labels The Now, of exactly what a steep psychic price can be paid for creativity. It's being lost in a forest. There's no immediate peril, but all danger lurks all around. And fortunately for you, the Schwarz brothers are acting as guides. Their banter is of the kind that allows you to immediately, instinctually trust them.

The dynamic of their relationship is most likely at the core of what makes Damaged so psychologically gripping. The story of two brothers on opposite sides of the concept of justice (one a police officer, the other a vigilante), is animated by the Schwarz brothers' own interpersonal dynamic. It's hard to offer up a clear comparison of what Damaged is, because the book is almost peerless within comics. You'd have to reach beyond the mass-market appeal of the 90% that fills the market. But you do get rare glimpses of the territory Damaged is mapping out. David Lapham's (who scripts the actual issues of Damaged) Stray Bullets, for example. Rick Remender's Last Days of American Crime, Ed Brubaker's first collection of the original Criminal, a storyline called 'Coward'. Don Rosa's psychology of success so often portrayed in his Uncle Scrooge stories.

The truth about Damaged as that at its heart, it's best compared with something Shakespearean. There's more than enough of Othello or Romeo and Juliet or Henry V, where interpersonal relations set the tone for a much broader social unraveling. But there's an equal amount of Hamlet or, especially, King Lear, where there's a brooding, a meditativeness and the world seems on pause.

As our conversation continues, I ask about the particular comparison to King Lear. Damaged's fictive brothers, Henry the vigilante and Frank the cop, are after all on the cusp of seeking their own proteges. With Frank's already having made an appearance in the form of Detective Jack Cassidy. How do the brothers deal with the psychological intensity of writing characters at the ends of their career? Caught in that King Lear moment of needing to appoint successors.

The answer, which comes after a pause, is anything but the easy, simple resolution that you might mistakenly expect from the creators of such riveting true crime fiction. "That is the real crux of the story," Michael begins to answer, "That is really what Damaged all boils down to; what are your ideologies, what are your codes? And how do you pass that on? And when you do pass that on, it truly is tested, truly is questioned. It's then that you find out whether you're right. Whether your life's work has been the right thing."

But it's more than just that. John offers his point of view. "The real drama comes from whether or not a code can be passed on without being radically changed. You'll pretty quickly discover that Damaged is about generational change. It's about the arrogance of youthfulness." And back to Michael, "In the first issue already you can sense that there's a desperation with Frank. He's being forced out into retirement by his superiors. And this young jackrabbit is taking over his work. So in Cassidy, Frank can see the chance to create someone in his own image. Someone who can stand for the same morals he does, and keep the work going."

Both Michael and John are just at the beginning of their careers and not the end. So is there any cognitive dissonance at writing this kind of story at the start of a career? There's the most polite of sighs. As if the question has really struck home. And then Michael begins to answer.

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