Clockwerx: Interview with Jason Henderson and Tony Salvaggio
After nearly five years after its initial French publication, the Steampunk/mystery graphic
novel Clockwerx finally makes an English language appearance. Originally written in English
by Jason Henderson and Tony Salvaggio and lavishly illustrated by Jean-Baptiste Hostache, the
story first appeared in two French graphic
albums: Clockwerx, Tome 1: Genese (2008) and Clockwerx, Tome 2: Deluge (2009). I
sat down with Tony and Jason to discuss the work's unusual publication history, translation,
the collaborative art, and of course Steampunk.
How did two writers from Texas end up doing a graphic novel with a French artist for a legendary French publisher?
We heard from a friend that Humanoids was looking for submissions around 2000/2001 to start a program where they would pair
up writers and artists from different countries respectively to work on graphic novels. Jason and I had been working
on the screenplay for Clockwerx since late 1999 and we pitched it along with 2 or 3 other books -- a zombie book set
on a cruise ship submarine (kind of Resident Evil meets Poseidon Adventure), a sci-fi entry (which
became Psy-Comm published by Tokyopop), and I think the rough outline for a giallo/gothic horror book. They
liked Clockwerx and we moved forward from there. They liked the zombie one as well, but they had a zombie book
and a submarine book (separately) already, so they passed on it in the end. I wish we could have put that out before
the Resident Evil movie hit theaters.
I will gladly accept Tony's version of events! He's exactly right though that Clockwerx was one of several ideas we
pitched. And I'm still convinced that Zombie Submarine is a book we need to make.
Having first been published in 2008 in French, why did Clockwerx take so long to make its first English-language appearance?
It boils down to just random luck and weird shifts in the comics market. Humanoids has put out some really fantastic books and
we started out really excited, but at each step we didn't know if it would ever hit shelves at all. We signed on in 2001 or
so and completed scripts for books 1 and 2. But it seemed to take a long time to get an artist (although each one that was
signed on was great, and kept getting better up until Jean-Baptiste who blew everyone out of the water). Humanoids lost
publishing partnerships in the US, and they may have had some financial difficulties as well. We ended up going through 5 or 6
editors and eventually we went from a 3 book series to a 2 book series with some re-writes being handled in France. Over
the years, Clockwerx has been my baby and I just kept asking and plugging away. Once Jean-Baptiste started on it,
it slowly became a reality, which was pretty exciting. After working in the video games industry since 1996, I was really
scared it would end up like so many games and other projects -- canceled and forgotten. However, Humanoids battled back and
did a great job with publishing the book in France, Germany, and Spain and now they look ready to rock it in the US as
well. We've maintained a great relationship them and our new group is focused and dedicated to the project; it's pretty great
so far. One of the good things that came out of this gestation period was that the final graphic novel is much tighter than
the screenplay we did. Other than a few changes here and there (some character stuff and a couple of big action scenes I
wish we could have had), I would say this one makes a great shooting script.
Here's the thing: as writers the most we can do is do the best job we can whenever we can -- the publishing side is always a
mystery. Why did it take from 2008 (the French release) to 2013 for an English release? The real question is: isn't it
amazing that, thanks to Tony's leadership and championing the book, when Humanouids started looking westward, Clockwerx
was at the top of the heap? I am AMAZED and thrilled, especially since whereas we didn't have much control over the French
version, so the American version is almost a new creation.
Did you have any input on the French edition?
We tried as much as possible, but not being fluent in French, it was sometimes hard to keep track of how close it was to
our original script. We didn't have a lot of say in the re-writes, but we did get some say in the initial phases of that. When
the choice was have it come out or not, we did what was necessary and trusted in Humanoids and their knowledge of the French
Graphic Novel market. Luckily with the US edition we've been able to tweak it back a bit and Humanoids has been really great
about having us involved in this edition. It's even getting re-released in French which we dig. We're proud of our team on both
sides of the ocean on all the editions, so this is icing on the cake.
It's actually really funny how the English version actually worked, too. Our original English script essentially didn't
exist; the new "Golden Source" was the French script. So when Tony and I learned an English version was coming out, we got
the script and found that it was in fact a translation from the French into English. We asked for and were given the task
of then re-editing that French-to-English script. Really this was all good: that script was actually written to go with
the art. So this assignment was kind of like the assignment we might get if someone took any given French or Italian comic,
gave us a rough translation, and asked us to polish it. The only odd part was that in fact we had been the writers who had
written the original source material, as well.
In other words, Tony and I were writing an English polish on a English translation of a French translation of an English script that we wrote.
Written before the current Steampunk pop culture frenzy began, how did you conceive the concept?
It started as a kind of "what if" thing where we had Sherlock Holmes driving a steam powered mech, and then it took place
right before WWI, and then finally we settled on 1899 and a team of mech pilots. We kept the setting in London but we went
back to our roots as Texans and had the main engineer for the mechs be a Texan herself. We liked the idea that she learned
from her German clock maker relatives who came to Texas and that she learned Chinese from the immigrants building the
railroads and working in towns once that work had passed. This made her ripe for the picking when the Golden Shell
came sniffing around. It was serendipitous that as we nailed down both the heroes and villains in our story, we started
checking timelines for what was going on in the world during the years leading up to the story and everything lined
up for everyone. Having a historical basis for every character's place in the storyline was great and blazed a trail
for us to really dig into them. We even did a story bible for them along with a breakdown of how various parts of the
mechs work. Even though most of that doesn't come out in the story, it's always better to have the data around.
Well, Steampunk has had a lot of frenzies, but mainly we just wanted to write our own story and literally never thought
of trends. We wanted a mech story in Victorian England. And that just spills out the way it's going to -- the same way an X-Men story would.
Were either of you aware of other Steampunk works?
Oh yeah, I am an avid reader (admittedly I have read less over the past few years, which I need to rectify) and I started with
Wells and Verne and other classics and got really intrigued with stories that lead up to the Steampunk today. To be honest, one
of the reasons I started thinking about writing a Steampunk book was because I was dissatisfied with the lack of adventure
and pulp fun in a couple of more modern Steampunk novels I had just read at the time. Right when we were starting on the
screenplay version, the anime Sakura Wars came out in the US and I was actually a little scared we would be kind of an
also ran to that. Luckily we were different enough, and it was years later that our book came out. It's a good thing we
went with a team as well since the anime Big O had a detective/millionaire driving a mech (in a much more art deco and
less Steampunk setting). Although that character always seemed to me to be: "What if Bruce Wayne sans Batman drove a mech?"
I was a huge fan of Sakura Wars too -- but really we just didn't concern ourselves with other Steampunk. I think
we were more influenced by Gundam, in fact, especially with a lot of our conception of how these pilots would control
these robot suits. Boy, I loved working with Tony to figure that stuff out. Like, the mechs -- called Clocks in this book -- would
talk by either a phone wire shot between them, or by pressing windshield to windshield and talking through the glass. I loved all of that.
Unlike when you first wrote Clockwerx, the marketplace is now flooded with Steampunk, what differentiates this work from the others?
It's definitely a double edged sword. On the one hand, we have this awesome Steampunk community who potentially will
dig Clockwerx, on the other there's so much Steampunk out there, and it is hard to get above the signal to noise. I've seen
A TON of Steampunk comics out there, so this is a challenge indeed. We have a few things going for us, since we started a long
time ago, we have the advantage of the story being fairly original at the time. We also have a world where we're just beginning
to see the Steampunk tech like our mechs and other machinery come about so there is room to expand. In the Clockwerx
world, the Golden Shell (our evil consortium) is pretty much the only organization to have this tech and rest of the world
is grounded in reality (by the way, this made it very hard to sell as a screenplay, even though it seems like it would have
been cheaper to film. We got lots of comments like "Wait, so the whole world is like this? No? Why not?") Although we can be
assured that lots of governments and groups will be searching for clues as to what went on in London once the book ends.
The art style is also a bit different and super-detailed compared to some of the other books I've seen out and
about. Jean-Baptiste is one of the best artists I have worked with hands down. His pencils are so detailed I almost hate to
see them inked and colored. That might also be part of what took so long, but the artwork has been worth the wait. I'm still
in awe of it. He is a really great guy as well.
Also, for a few people who notice there are some nods to our favorite comics and anime. I'm hoping people get them and
discuss on our Clockwerx Facebook page. There's an obvious one that not many people have caught.
If you're going to write, you have to just write the story you want and not think about what other people are doing. Otherwise
you just chase trends. If you want to write zombies, write zombies, don't concern yourself with whether there are too
many zombie stories; same with Steampunk. Seriously, as William Goldman said -- nobody knows anything! But you have a special
gift, the coin of the realm: you can create things. So we must create and not second-guess.
The sequel (Clockwerx, Tome 2: Deluge) was published in France in 2009. Are there plans to publish an English-language edition?
Actually this edition is a re-translation and re-release of the Integrale' edition that Humanoids put out a while back. This US
edition will be a self-contained edition with some neat extras at the end, not available in previous editions.
How did the two of you start working together?
Jason and I met at the now defunct Austin branch of Maxis (Sim City/The Sims) before EA bought it and shut it down. We had a
mutual love of certain geek subjects that solidified with our love of the 70s anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (known
to many in the US as Battle of the Planets or G-Force). We started hanging out at coffee shops
and toyed around with the idea of pitching some stuff together. I tend to be an "idea man" so pitches flowed easily and we get
along great, so it just kind of grew organically. It helps a lot that Jason was already a published author and had worked
with both licensed stuff and his own cool series. We found our way and it works pretty darn seamlessly.
I am in awe of how Tony's mind works. He is so creative and knowledgeable and we shared so many interests. So working together
was an obvious choice. As long as we were going to be watching Black Jack and Ninja Scroll we may as well start writing something!
What is your working process?
It depends on the book and what is going on, but we usually start with an outline, sometimes broken out into an Excel document
by pages and panels and sometimes we just start writing (usually with some version of a Final Draft type of template but
edited for comics) and we trade RTF files around denoting the version number and initialing who last edited. Now that we
have online collaboration tools like Google Drive, we do a bit more of that, but usually we end up taking into Word or
whatever and tracking final changes. That's the boring nuts and bolts of it anyway. On the creative side, for the books we've
worked on together, I've usually started building the world and then we start putting the characters in it and see how
they play in it and what role they have to fill. We usually trade this off until we have really dug into who they are. Having
an animation background, I tend to handle a lot of the action scenes and Jason has handled a lot of the dialogue-heavy
stuff. He especially has a grasp on female characters. We trade a lot of that off as well, where we will tweak something if
we think a character would take a different tone or if it is out of character for them. We've asked our editors if they
can tell where the division of labor begins and ends, and so far they've only been able to detect a few things here and
there. I'd say that's a pretty successful collaboration.
We both came from software, so we're very methodical. For instance with a comic you always know exactly how long the book
is -- for instance if a book is Humanoids-size, you can do about 48 pages and 9 or so panels a page. And we outline it out,
first the story, then beats, then scenes, then panels. Sometimes we even use Microsoft Excel to outline the book! For the
manga, those are way bigger -- an issue of Psy-comm is 160 pages, four or so panels each!
BUT -- and this is important -- some things we couldn't prepare for. With Clockwerx, we really only did the first draft,
but a final draft was written in French, which, as I mentioned, we then polished again in English. So suddenly, scenes change,
actions change -- that's all part of the process. You affect what you can affect and then you let others do their jobs.
Are their future plans for the two of you working together?
I would take any opportunity at all to work with Jason. We have a few pitches we still would like to do together and even
though he's a few states away, we work pretty well remotely. We also hope to do more Clockwerx stories, if this one is
successful. We have our sights set on telling stories in China (I don't know if it will change, but our story there was a
kind of Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, only Steampunk instead of horror. Tai Chi 0 kind of did this
but our take is different for sure), bringing Molly back to Texas and then maybe back to Europe if people are along for the ride.
We also work together regularly on the Castle Dracula Podcast, where we talk about horror with Drew Edwards
the creator of Halloween Man and Jason's wife Julia who provides the non-horror geek female perspective on the movies we watch.
Tony and I are together nearly every week on the Castle Dracula Horror Movie Podcast which is developing a great
following. We're not giving that up! And I'd love to write more. I hope we get to soon!
What's forthcoming from you separately?
For me, I have mostly been concentrating on writing new music and gigging with my band, Deserts of Mars. That takes a fair
amount of time, but I do miss writing comics. I have a few pitches out there for some horror comedy things, a couple based
on my love of metal music, and a big epic action adventure that is part pulp and part all American answer
to Fist of the North Star. Jason has tons of writing stuff going on all the time, I wish I were as disciplined!
I don't know about disciplined but it will be a great summer. This summer besides Clockwerx I've got the
new Activision game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, which I wrote the screenplay for, and I'm busy
working on a comic miniseries for IDW that I can't announce yet. But it will be very fun. And then I hope to start working on
my next Alex Van Helsing novel.
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including
The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy,
Moving Pictures, RevolutionSF,
Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe,
Steampunk, and The Steampunk Bible.
Publisher Weekly called his anthology The Apes of Wrath (Tachyon) "a powerful exploration
of the blurry line between animal and human." Later this year, his new anthology Rayguns Over Texas,
a collection of original science fiction by Texas authors, premieres at Lonestarcon 3.
Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.