Interview: Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber Go ‘Underground’

ug_01_00_colorBoth Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber are well-known in the world of comics. Parker, a veteran writer of such titles as Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four and Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper and Lieber, the artist responsible for drawing the monster hit Whiteout, have worked side by side as partners in Portland’s Periscope studios for years. But they’ve never worked on a project together before. That is, until now.

This year, the two have teamed up to create the five-issue miniseries Underground, which hits stores in September and is published by Image Comics. Parker and Lieber were nice enough to share some pages of the new book — which are featured at the end of the interview. I also had a chance to chat with the creators a bit about the new book, their inspiration for creating it, Steve’s reaction now that the Whiteout movie is finally on the way and more.

The Flickcast: Underground is an interesting title. How did it come about?

Steve Lieber: Tim Cahill wrote an essay of caving the made my brain explode. I knew the moment I finished reading it I had to draw a cave story.

TF: Tell us about the story? What was your inspiration for creating it?

SL: That one should go more to Jeff. I had a sense of the setting, and scenes, and the tone I wanted to strike, but I didn’t know who my characters were, so I didn’t have a story. I had a lot of conversations with Parker about it, and it was clear that he just had a much better sense of the people and the conflicts they’d find themselves in.

Where he grew up is an easy drive to the Kentucky state line, so he’s writing with some real understanding.

Jeff Parker: Yeah, I do kind of write it more like it’s the mountains of North Carolina, but if you ever go to the Blue Ridge area you find that really the Appalachians are like their own country. Also we wanted to invoke Mammoth Cave, the one most people know about, as the model that Stillwater Cave could become.

It’s also important to remember that Steve drew A LOT of snow in Whiteout, and he was very eager to explore a world of rock and shadows!

TF: Underground and, for example, Whiteout both have strong female leads. Do you guys prefer that?

SL: No. I just like a well-written lead. It made sense for Underground to star a female because women are the best cavers. When you’re in a cave, being small-boned and flexible is a huge advantage. You can wriggle through places others can’t.

JP: Ditto, women make great cavers. Yes, Wesley is a strong female lead, and being a park ranger is even a law officer, but she’s not experienced with things like homicide as Carrie Stetko was. So when a group of men fresh out of the penitentiary come looking for her with guns, it puts her in a position she’s never been in.

TF: What themes are you trying to explore with this book?

SL: The eternal themes: “Man vs. Man”

JP: “Man vs. Nature”

SL: “Man vs a Giant Metal Insect.”

JP: “Man vs. Skrull” Ok really, “Man Vs. Self.” This is a story where people make bad choices and it’s in an environment where you really can’t afford to screw up much. The hazards build upon themselves at a fast rate.

TF: Can you describe your working relationship a little so people can better understand your “creative process”?

SL: We just yell at each other all the goddamn time.

JP: I battle to keep the realism throughout the plot, and Steve keeps drawing bat-like subterraneanoids who crave surface-man blood.

SL: No, that’s you.

JP: Maybe. Actually, this is one of the few projects where I bother the artist with rough layouts and sketches, because the way the action happens is so particular. Normally I can communicate everything with a script, but the storytelling style we’ve adopted requires more back and forth.

SL: It’s a really organic collaboration. Parker knows how to draw; I’ve got an ear for good writing. There’s plenty of back and forth. And the covers are seamless.

TF: What were your influences from other comics, films, life or whatnot, if any, when creating this book?

SL: My biggest comics influence on this project were Stan Drake and Joe Kubert. Drake for the beauty of his ink line, and Kubert because he’s the greatest bad-ass of all time when it comes to real-life flesh and blood characters in a comic book.

TF: What made you guys decide to go full color with Underground?

JP: It certainly didn’t need it, Steve always thinks in black and white and composes that way. But we thought color would play up the natural world well here, and make for a starker contrast between the beautiful green world above ground, and the dark, washed-out caverns below.

SL: It just seemed the right way to go. A great color artist like Ron Chan could get a lot of mileage out of the difference between warm Kentucky sunshine and a dank cave, barely lit by a couple of headlamps.

TF: When does it come out and how many issues will it be?

SL: Five issues. Issue 1 solicits in the July Previews and ships September 23rd.

JP: Diamond order code JUL090341.

TF: Steve, are you excited for the Whiteout movie to finally be coming out? Any idea what took so long?

SL: I’m very excited. I haven’t seen it, so I have no idea if it’ll be any good or not, but the footage I’ve seen and the script I’ve read have me feeling optimistic. No idea what took so long. These are mysterious forces, unknowable by mortal men.

TF: What else are you guys working on together? On your own or with others?

JP: I’m currently writing Agents of Atlas and Exiles for Marvel, and just finished Mysterius the Unfathomable with artist Tom Fowler from Wildstorm.

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Want more? Be sure to check out all the news on Underground at the comics official site.

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