IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard of Limbo
By Buddy Beaudoin
In what seems like ages ago, I took the opportunity to sit down with Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard, the creative duo behind Image’s acclaimed neon-noir series, Limbo. We spoke about the success of the series, the origin of Limbo, and the future plans of Dan and Caspar themselves, as well as some insights into working in creator owned comics.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Before the interview starts, our readers should know that Buddy reviewed Limbo from the start of the series. You can read all of Buddy’s Limbo reviews RIGHT HERE! Also, FanboysInc would like to clarify that this interview uses the abbreviation, DW, which stands for Dan Watters. Just in case, this is not to be confused with FanboysInc’s own DW of IncCast and The DW and Incredible Jeff Show.
Buddy Beaudoin: Where did the idea for Limbo come from? It kind of seems like it’s the amalgamation of a lot of things, all put into one book.
Dan Watters: Yeah, it’s definitely that.
Caspar Wijngaard: So it was two concepts really, wasn’t it? I had a comic book that I was formulating that was basically Limbo without the Voodoo side of things, and Dan was writing a Voodoo story, or had the outline for a Voodoo story, at least. I wanted to write this huge comic book that I would have never ever made, probably, but I liked the idea of it so I tried to cut it out and make it it’s own thing. Me and Dan had already worked on a book together, and I said to Dan, “What do you think of this idea? Do you want to work with it?’ and Dan said ‘yeah, that could work with this Voodoo idea I’ve got”. I said, “That’s cool, we could set it in Louisiana in the swamps and it would be awesome”. But, we didn’t actually set it in Louisiana, we decided to make our own thing.
DW: We didn’t want to do any actual research.
(We all laugh)
CW: Thematically, we liked it, but we didn’t want to get to the point where it was like, “well you’ve got this completely wrong”. It was easier to just kind of make our own world because then the rules are our own as well. I’ve done so many books that were set in the real world, and there’s guidelines and rules to what you can and can’t do with that. If you’re making your own book, you can make your own rules. So, I thought it would be more fun to throw that out and just make it. It was more fun for me to draw that way, and create…where it was like, “This shop’s going to have a giant skull on the front of it! Why not? I’m the architect of this world. I can do what I want with it”. So I just took things that inspired me as an artist, and that’s how the world was built.
DW: Then it was a mix of using our own world, but then you’ve got something like Voodoo, which is a real living, breathing, religion. It was a balance between taking artistic license with that, but then also respecting it as a thing that people really practice in the world. Certain names got changed and everything to make it apparent that this was our own sort of take on things. We didn’t want to get too bogged down in the real world, even though I did do plenty of research and things on that side.
CW: I think it was more just kind of out of respect for all of it, you didn’t want to make any mistakes. (Talking to Dan) You’d done a short story before, too.
DW: Oh god, yeah. When I was a teenager. I met someone who were Voodoo masters or something in Louisiana Voodoo and they went, “This is all wrong. All wrong”. So, between then and starting Limbo, I picked up a huge stack of content and started learning a lot about Voodoo. The biggest thing I learned was that they don’t really release a lot of information about the practice of Voodoo, and also, because it’s survived by being an extremely fluid religion, and a set of sort of magical practices, it spread from Africa, down to Haiti, and to Louisiana, and incorporated elements of Catholicism and other things. So it seems a very fluid religion, and then you’ve got people practicing Haitian Voodoo in Louisiana and all sorts of things, so it’s a really, really interesting topic to dig your teeth into as a researcher.
CW: I think that’s the only real, solid, thing in the book as well. We actually call it “Voodoo”. Everything else, we don’t mention a date or we never wanted to say what year it was. I don’t even think that we mentioned it was in The United States of America. It was always a story that was completely left to interpretation. A lot of people say that it’s set in Louisiana, but it’s not. I guess I could see why you would say it was. It was just one of those things where it was like, “That street, that wouldn’t work. He was just in the swamp. Why do they have a swamp so close to the high street? Why was he climbing a fence and now he’s in the swamp”?
(We all laugh)
BB: All of that vagueness seems to bring out all of those noir tones of it. Did noir have any influence on making it an evasive setting and not really coming out and saying what it was?
DW: Yeah, A friend of mine has this thing he always says about noir about it being a really architectural experience because it’s always about a detective trying to push their way through a city and trying to pick out answers of little corners of the city. It’s something you can see. French noir has its own town as opposed to stuff set in Chicago or Los Angeles. So, with Limbo, having this city that was made, and the detective, it was always something that seemed to be folding into itself. We never give any evidence of moving in between “levels” as we say in the book. We never really leave the city. You never really see the world outside the city. It gives it the isolation that I wanted to go for.
CW: Then, visually, I really like the contrast of the black and white colors. In Limbo, especially with the colors that I chose to use in that book as well, I really wanted each page to be quite dramatic, even if there wasn’t a lot happening. If there was a lot of dialogue, you can get a comic where there’s five pages of dialogue of just people sitting around a table talking… it’s like… why are you reading a comic? I understand that sometimes plot has to be told, you need to move the story forward, but nobody wants to read a story of just five people sitting around. It was a matter of keeping things interesting visually, as well, if there was a lot of dialogue or whether there wasn’t a lot going on. I thought noir really helped. We were building the world as he (the lead character) was talking, so there’d be always be exterior shots or the narration showing, say for instance the children running down the street with the firecrackers and the punks, and other things going on in the background while he was talking. We’d build around it rather it being literally him just walking down the street. Whether he’s alone or he’s talking to Bridgette, there’d always be something to look at just to keep things cinematic.
BB: I noticed, in a lot of the pages anyway, there isn’t much guttering (For the Reader: that’s the blank spaces between panels), is that something that was done to keep the art in that vain or was that just a style choice?
CW: Yeah, well I sort of made extra work for myself, really. I think most of the pages were about four or five panels, and I would just add panel after panel. If there was something that I thought needed to be shown, or if there was something that I thought would just look cool, or if there was maybe a little too much dialogue that we could separate into two different panels and I thought of a cool way of showing that, I would do it.
DW: I never wrote a nine-panel page in that book, because if I sat and wrote nine panels he’d be livid because there’d be no space for extra panels.
CW: Yeah, it would come out to like twelve panels. It got to the point where I was like, “write as little of panels as you want, but keep the story in there and I’ll build the rest around what you’ve got”, basically. (Speaking to Dan) You kind of worked that out. I would send the pages off to you and you’d rough letter it and I’d be like, “yeah, that was kind of what I was going for”. We spoke all the time. There was never an issue with stuff like that. I’ve never made a book like this, but I think this is the way that I’d always want to make a book, if I was making a book. There was transparency between all the pages. If I had to end up changing something, I would find out straight away and we’d do the page together. With issue one, for instance, when the book got picked up, it was going to be an ongoing series, I think it was announced as an ongoing series. We pitched it as an ongoing with the possibility of wrapping it up in six issues. So, we did the first three issues before it got solicited, and then when the third book was solicited, it was solicited as a mini-series. So, it was like, okay, it’s not an ongoing series anymore and we’ve just done the first three issues that were all crazy. We were kind of having fun with each issue and bringing in new characters and keeping it interesting, and then it was like, no, we’ve gotta buckle down and tie this up. I had this huge freak-out where I was like, “Dan, I’ve gotta go back and do issue one. Issue one needs to change big time”. (He laughs). At the moment, it’s this moving story. So, I went back and we added quite a bit of stuff. I think every page I added extra stuff and extra content and we added about an extra five pages overall to just give it a bit of a foundation.
DW: To widen the world out a little bit.
CW: Yeah, it just kind of made sense. Before this, we were doing a slow burn, and then it was like, “well, this is a whole thing now”, so we had to develop things and move backwards now. I’m glad I went back and changed things. It was a lot of work, but, from print to me actually doing the first issue, was eleven months. I finished the issue, and it went to print eleven months later. I finished the issue, and then I changed everything about a month before it went to print. So, that’s why sometimes when you’re looking at the artwork, it might seem a bit jilted. Well I can see it anyway (he laughs).
DW: I think you’re the only one that sees, Caspar.
(We all laugh)
BB: Before you started doing any of the art, how much of the story was actually fleshed out? Because, it is a very complete story, even from seeing the title for the very first time to realizing what everything is in the very last page – is that something that was all planned out before you started working, or is that something that grew?
DW: There was a lot of growth in the whole series. We were planning it as an ongoing, but it was always going to be arc-based, because it was based off of detective novels. The six issues were always going to wrap up, somewhat. There was always growth and changes as we went through the book, and I think you can see that. In issues one to three, and four to six, there’s a slight shift.
CW: To like…depressing. (He laughs) We were trying to balance the fun and the depressing between one and three. I think two and three were loads of fun. Initially, when we were doing an ongoing, we wanted to do a super fun comic, every issue was different. You had the Teleshaman in issue two. Then there were the fishmen and the gators. We were going to introduce a monster of the week type thing. I don’t think it dropped too much, but it was definitely going to be a bit more episodic.
DW: Issue five was always going to be issue five. But, yeah. It was pretty well fleshed out. We knew what we were dealing with. We knew the city was and these sort of things. Then we each had our own different ideas, but we’d always circle back to the original idea and it ended up pretty much exactly as planned.
CW: It definitely ends, in my head, exactly as I imagined it. There’s elements of when I was writing this book ten years ago and I had all of these ideas in my head – especially at the end, when he’s in the hospital and the doctor’s over him – certain elements like that. They’re maybe not exactly as I imagined them, but we’ve merged two stories together now. Maybe it would have ended (speaking of his recollection of it) with Bridgette explaining who she was rather than explaining who she was earlier on. The way it works now is perfect. There was no Voodoo in my version. It was more just a noir story, and I’m glad we changed it to what it is, because it was never going to be set in the 80’s – I basically wanted to make a comic book that was set in a really dodgy VHS movie, you know like the ones that you get that no one had ever heard of, that you just got from the VCR store – you know, like Cool World, Monkeybones, one of those really dodgy VHS tapes. I really wanted it to have that kind of style to it. There’s only so much of that you can get across in a comic. I think it looks as good as I think I can make it look, as far as the VHS aesthetic. You can’t overdo it, because in comics, if I wanted to do that screen tear in every single panel, you wouldn’t be able to tell what’s going on. So, I left that right until the end, so when you get to issue six and the tape is starting – like when you’re watching a VHS and it starts to go funny – that’s why I added it in on at the end of the book because it was getting to the end of the tape. It would get funny and cut in and out a bit, so you would have a panel of Clay and then the next panel would be warped a bit, like it was getting to the end of the tape. There was also this idea that someone had already taped over it with other stuff. In a world where I wouldn’t have to explain all that, it would be cool to have sort of random bits around. That’s why, when we did Mado, it was just kind of one of those extra story bits at the back, like Saturday Morning PSAs and stuff like that. We added another ad at the end. I used to read a lot of comic books around that era, and the ads are probably the best thing.
BB: Your characters really tell a lot of your story, and a lot of them are set in that religious Voodoo aspect, but I’ve heard you say that Sandy is the heart and soul of the series. Are there specific influences to that character that you felt you needed to include, or did she come about organically?
DW: Yeah, she was totally organic. I’m pretty sure that we didn’t really come up with her. I’m pretty sure she really exists.
CW: We never spoke about Sandy. We just knew she was going to be in it. We spent more time building Bridgette and Clay. I drew those panels of her dancing around the room because, obviously, that’s what she was doing when building the cassette. Clay’s a bit of a jerk, so I wanted to make her real fun, and we just made a really strong character that can always remind Clay that he’d be dead without her. That was it for her, for issue one. We knew when she’d be coming back, and she’s kind of like his sidekick in a way. In issue two, we really ramped her up. I can’t really remember how we decided that she was going to be the one…
DW: Again, it was just organic. She just sort of took over a little bit. I’ve got a whole, big, backstory for her as well. We know exactly where she comes from – why she is the way she is – her relationships and all these things. We know all these things. Maybe someday, we’ll get to go explore all that stuff. She just appeared sort of free-formed, and took over because Clay was so useless. She took over because, you know, someone had to do it.
CW: It’s the same with the Teleshaman as well. He was a character that we just fell in love with at the end of issue two. It was always one of those things where we always knew he was going to come back, we just didn’t know when or where. If we do more, he’s going to be coming back. I guess they all will apart from The Thumb…
(We all laugh).
BB: What has it been like watching people experience Limbo as an audience? You know everything that’s going to happen, but for anybody reading, obviously, it’s all brand new.
CW: I’m glad the response has been good. We had about four different ways we could have done that ending.
DW: Yeah, I have so many draw-ups.
CW: We were bashing our heads for a little while. I would be like, “Yeah, then the Teleshaman’s hand comes out of the TV at the end”, (to Dan) and you’d be like, “NO! Why would his hand come out of the TV”?!
DW: That would make no sense!
(We all laugh)
CW: I just wanted to put that last page in there, with the TV switching off. It’s like, is Clay dying, or is that just the end of that story? It puts us in a position where, if we’re able to pick up, we can pick it up. We wouldn’t pick it up where we left off, but we know exactly where this story picks up. We know where we can go with it. There’s a lot more to it than we were able to tell, but we know where to go… you know, we’re not JJ Abrams, we’re not doing LOST. It’s not going to end on an island with Clay and his mom and she’s like, “This is the fountain of youth. I’m going to put you into a VCR. You’ve gotta stop the Teleshaman from coming back”. (We all laugh) There’s definitely a solid backstory to Clay and Sandy, and there are paths that intertwine as well in a really interesting way.
DW: I’m really quite pleased with how much we got away with not saying in the book, as well. At least, I think that we got away with it, in that there are just those characters and we kind of just drop hints as opposed to having to lay everything out, because, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen enough sort of same-ish backstories again, and again, and again. I didn’t want to do that. I guess the problem with doing creator owned is sort of having to tell where people are coming from. That wasn’t the story we wanted to tell. We just wanted to tell this weird detective story.
CW: And make it really unapologetic…
CW: We knew we weren’t going to make a lot of money out of this. It was never about that. It was about making the story that we really wanted to make. It was just the thing we wanted to make. There was no point in holding the audience’s hand and tying it up like we were doing it for them. We were telling the story that we wanted to tie up in our own way, which also was about letting the reader decide about how they wanted Clay to end up. The best outcome that we’ve had from this was everyone asking if there’s going to be more. People are like, “It’s just finished and it feels like someone is pulling the rug out from under us, because it was just getting to the point where we were really starting to enjoy it. Now it’s just finished“. A lot of people didn’t even realize it was ending after the six issues. Nor did we! (He laughs). It was a surprise for us as much as it was anyone else. We really want to come back, but I guess, financially, in the position we’re in right now, it’s going to be a bit before we can even come back and start even considering doing it. Hopefully that’s going to be a point sometime in the future and we can do it all again. (He laughs)
DW: Do the late notes.
CW: Do the late notes while crying into your coffee at three in the morning…
DW: Living the themes of the book.
CW: Yeah, staring into a screen for eight hours and forgetting if it was real or not. Yeah, I’d totally do it again. I’m so proud of this book. I’m super happy with the way that it turned out. I don’t think that I would change anything that we’ve done now. Because, we’ve had chances to change it. We could have gone back and just killed off Clay in issue three if we wanted to, but we carried it on and finished it the way we’d always wanted to do it and finished it the best way that we could as well. I’m happy with the way that it turned out and I’m glad that people received it well. I’ve not heard any negative reviews for the last issue, which is really cool…
DW: That’s because they’d stopped reading…
CW: Yeah, the six people that are still reading the book… (He laughs).
BB: Capsar, you’ve said that you can’t announce anything about your next series until July…
CW: Yeah, I did, yeah… I probably shouldn’t have said that…
BB: Are you able to say whether it’s both of you?
CW: No, this one’s just me. Well, me and another writer, but I don’t even know who’s writing it. That’s how secret it is.
BB: Dan, do you have anything coming up?
DW: I’ve got pitches in places and artists working on things, but nothing that I can talk about yet, I’m afraid.
CW: There’s always Limbo 2 if we’re allowed to do it…
DW: If our wallets allow us to do it.
CW: I’m meeting with Dan this weekend to talk about fleshing it out, just in case. It all comes down to the trade, really. If the trade does really well, me and Dan continue working on getting books out there, and there’s a demand for a sequel, I think that’s a strong case for us to come back and do it. It really comes down to the numbers. No one knew who me and Dan were before Limbo, and as far as I know, we’re the only two creators now who have a book on Image that have never had a book out before – published outside of independent publishing. Again, it was a gamble for anyone. They were like, “They sell books”. They were more like, “This book’s already weird, and I’ve never even heard of these people. So, do we invest in their book”? We didn’t know how to do it. We didn’t know that issue number one was supposed to be this really ridiculous advert for the trade, and we did this really slow burning first issue…
DW: There’s nothing but build-up in the first issue which is apparently not the thing.
CW: We should’ve started with issue two. (He laughs). We made all of the silly mistakes as far as making this a book that we could continue, but we literally didn’t know what we were doing.
BB: For people who missed out on collecting or reading the single issues, when does the trade come out?
CW: The 1st of June in comic book stores, and the 7th of June in bookstores and Amazon and the like. Not long! We’re just finalizing the trade now. I’ve gone back and I’m just tweaking bits. It’s kind of hard for me to let it go. It goes off to print on Friday, and I’ll be relieved when it goes off. At the moment, it’s like a child that’s sleeping in bed and I have to go in and check on it every five minutes to make sure it’s still there.
BB: Is there any new content in the trade?
CW: Yeah, there’s some extra content. It was more to do with page count, we could have added more, but it’s already a thick trade.
DW: 168 pages, I think, this trade is…
CW: The extra content is really just fun little things at the back, for the sake of the cost. There’s nothing really saying that if all things go well, we can’t get a second printing of it and add all those things we want to add, which will be cool, but we’ll see what happens.
BB: Well cool, I think that’s our time guys. Thanks a ton for sitting with us, and everyone keep a look out for the trade, June 1st!
DW: Thanks for having us on!
CW: Yeah, thanks, dude!
Look for the single issues of Limbo at your Local Comic Shop and keep an eye out for the Trade Paperback on June 1st, 2016!