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Follically Challenged Productions Presents:






 

ANYTHING GOES: TRAUTMANN ON THE TRIGGER

THE BACKSTORY:
I first met Eric Trautmann on Free Comic Book Day 2007, when I appeared with Greg Rucka, Jen Van Meter and Matthew Clark for a signing at the fantastic Olympic Cards and Comics in Lacey, Washington. Eric’s wife Gabi owns the store, which had come well recommended to me by several trusted advisors. I walked in not knowing anyone, but I walked out with a great new set of friends.

To be honest, I didn’t really get a good read on Eric at first, but after some e-mails back and forth, we’d really settled in to a nice groove. After hanging out a few more times, we began to discuss the possibility of working together. Several projects were put on the table, and we quickly discovered that we work very well together. It’s sort of like watching two very slightly retarded cousins pounding out the script to Hamlet with stones and sharp sticks, but it gets the job done.

The first fruit of our collaborative labors will appear in Image’s Popgun Vol. 2 anthology. It’s a piece called WIDE AWAKE that we put together with David Messina (Star Trek, Angel) and hope to turn into a series at some point down the line. There are other works in the pipeline, but I’ve been sworn to the usual secrecy about those. You know how it goes.

I’ve found a good friend and close collaborator in Eric, despite the fact that our friendship seems to consist primarily of outrageously insulting verbal sparring and an endless stream of “yo mama” jokes…

BJ: When your name first hit the comic shelves - for some via PERFECT DARK: JANUS’ TEARS, for others on CHECKMATE - some readers may have believed that you came into this gig from out of left field. The reality is quite different, though, as you’ve been putting creative pen to (virtual) paper for some time now. Share your Secret Writer Origin with us.

ET: Oh, lord. I forget the name of the publication, but I sold my first piece when I was around 14 or so. Some regional interest magazine in upstate New York (where I grew up). They paid me for the article – a “funny” piece about school bullies – and promptly went under before producing a single issue.

My first paid work that saw the light of day was a horrible short adventure for the STAR WARS roleplaying game as published by West End Games. I would gleefully burn every copy in existence. Not because it's a bad piece per se (though, well, it is, actually), but because I sat down to bang out the piece without really having a good handle about how long it would end up being. I cranked out 40,000 words, and a pretty complex scenario, which I then had to brutally gut down to the mandated 8,000 words.

Ugly.

BJ: Have you ever pursued any Star Wars comic work? It seems like you’d be a natural.

ET: No, I haven't, really. I'm not as well-versed in the property as I used to be, and the areas that interest me personally – I'd love to see more of Han Solo in the Corporate Sector, for example, or material about the Republic Commandos or Page's Commandos – are probably not what the market, or more specifically, LucasFilm and Dark Horse, would want to see.

BJ: I’ve worked in licensed projects long enough to know that you must have a great story about the process. Spill it!

ET: I've mentioned this one elsewhere, so it's probably safe. One of the tasks I had to perform in my West End Games Star Wars days was continuity vetting; Lucas Licensing (who could approve or disapprove all of our books, and thus held our corporate future in their cold, iron grip) would, for example, get in a draft of a new Star Wars novel, and just send it to US, to point out continuity errors or suggest potential areas of overlap.

So, it wasn't unusual to get a call from them at strange hours. One Sunday, I was in the offices (they were closed, so I could get work done), and the phone rang. At 7 am, Eastern Standard Time. Which, of course, is FOUR IN THE MORNING at Skywalker Ranch.

The person on the phone was from Lucas' legal department, and they were in the process of “reviewing” our work to make sure we hadn't exposed Lucasfilm to liability. And she just had one question, in regards to “The Star Wars Sourcebook.”

“Did you obtain permission from General Motors to call this particular spaceship a Corellian Corvette?”

I actually laughed, and then said, “No, really? What can I do for you?”

I explained the whole “corvette is a class of sailing ship, and the term has been in use for centuries” thing, which she didn't believe, and asked me to provide her with any and all references I had handy as verification.

I rang off, called my boss, who shrugged and said, “go ahead,” at which point, I went to our reference library, which had about ten years of Janes' volumes – thousands of pages of various corvettes from around the world. That, and the dictionary page with the term's definition.

I spent that Sunday photocopying and faxing. After about 200, 250 pages, they called back and said I could stop.

Best part? The “Star Wars Sourcebook” she was concerned about had been published about nine or ten years before, and had been out of print for, maybe, five years.

Firebreathing go-getters, those guys.

BJ: How did you get involved with CHECKMATE? ET: The short answer? When I was at Microsoft, one of my jobs was editing Greg Rucka's PERFECT DARK novels. During that process, we got to be pretty good friends, and he seemed to like the suggestions I brought to the table during the process of crafting those books.

At one point, he mentioned that we should work together on something, not writer/editor, just partner up on the writing chores on some project.

There was some kind of two-fisted pulp...thing…we discussed in general terms. And every so often, he'd say, “Yeah, we should do that...”

But then more novels cropped up. And 52. And he got more and more busy, so the project just kind of stalled.

And then, really quite out of the blue, he just asked “Hey, want to cowrite Checkmate with me?”

Obviously, I said “Yes.”

And then I immediately panicked because I had NO IDEA how to write the Royals. Especially Mr. Terrific. Gah.

BJ: The final issue of the current Rucka / Trautmann era (# 25) is out this very week. How are you feeling about that?

ET: Pretty good. I think the work I did stood up to the work Greg did, which was always a concern of mine. The fact that, in most cases, folks can't tell who wrote what pleases me.

I'm obviously disappointed that I didn't get to continue on – but that whole mess has been well-documented elsewhere – but on balance, it was a really positive experience and I learned a great deal. And I don't think I destroyed the book utterly, so there's that, at least.

One of the things that really surprised me, though, was just how ARDENT some of the title's fans are. When it was announced that Bruce was taking the book – and I hasten to add, it made a fair amount of logical sense, and I'm not particularly upset by that decision, just so's we're CRYSTAL CLEAR on that point – I was quite frankly shocked at how SUPPORTIVE they were. I saw one blog post on CBR that was titled something like, "Eric Trautmann Wuz Robbed," and "Eric Trautmann Deserves A Gig," stuff like that.

That show of support was REALLY nice, and caught me totally by surprise.

I'm also quietly amused that the best press of my career is about a book I'm NOT writing.

BJ: You have a real affinity for military / espionage writing and you also love collecting and using guns. Where does that come from?

ET: Most likely from Mom not letting me play with toy guns as a kid. See? SEE, MOM?! SEE WHAT YOU DID?!!!!

In general, I'm a research nut. And I write an awful lot about people shooting at other people, so it seemed reasonable to learn how the damn things work. That's a big part of it.

The shooting, on the other hand? No idea. I just find it remarkably relaxing. There's something deeply satisfying about the focus and concentration necessary to shoot and shoot well, and with discipline. I'm a real stickler for range safety, and proper handling of firearms, and a lot of that requires practice, building muscle memory, being aware of your surroundings, and so on. So, when I started carrying a firearm, it made me really LOOK at stuff around me. If you're going to carry, you have a responsibility to make sure that you're as safe as possible, for yourself, and everyone around you.

Probably that's the biggest charge I get out of it—the mental exercise.

As for the affinity for the writing? I know an awful lot of military personnel and veterans, and as a rule, these are folks who take their profession very, very seriously. As a result, I tend to approach the depiction of that profession equally seriously. I ask a lot of questions, I try and learn as much as possible, and I try to be as honest as possible to make sure I'm doing my level best to portray that profession honestly.

Wow. Deep.

BJ: What’s your favorite firearm?

ET: My favorite to shoot? Probably a no-frills Colt 1911-style automatic. For “practical carry,” if I'm gonna be all gungeeky here, I prefer a .45 ACP round to a 9mm or some such.

I really like shooting large caliber handguns – I'm fond of my .44, and I just HAD to get one of Smith & Wesson's ridiculous new hand cannons—a .500 Magnum. It's insane. It's fun to shoot, but rough on the hands, and frankly is overkill to an epic degree.

BJ: Do you have any feelings on the current relationship between U.S. citizens and firearms and/or the political state of gun control?

ET: I'm somewhat atypical of gun owners, at least as far as the media tends to portray us. I don't have a lot of problems with legislation that makes owning firearms a bit more challenging or expensive. I have no problem with instant background checks at gun shows, or any of the other hotbutton issues that prompt, um, vigorous reaction from pro-gun folks.

I'm of the opinion that it should be at least as hard to get a gun license as it is to get a driver's license. Proficiency testing would make sense to me. Again, a background check isn't a huge issue for me. Because, I'm NOT A FELON.

I think any law abiding citizen that wishes to own firearms for sport or home defense should have that option, but I would really like to see some kind of requirement for the shooter to show basic competency.

BJ: Shifting gears a little, I feel compelled to mention your wife Gabi and Olympic Cards and Comics in Lacey, Washington. Both of these things are near and dear to my heart, of course, but how did they become near and dear to yours?

ET: Heh. Well, I met Gabi some years back (ironically, as I was buying Christmas presents for the woman I was dating at the time), and we just really hit it off. We were good friends for a good long while before we became romantically involved. She's just this incredibly sweet, generous person – so obviously, she definitely compensates for MY weaknesses, what with the loathing of my fellow man and whatnot.

I remember distinctly hanging out with her at her best friend's home, strumming away on my guitar, when Gabi's toddler niece wanted to strum the guitar. So I showed her how, and she banged away on the strings for a bit.

When I looked up, there was this moment of eye contact between Gabi and I, and, well, I think that's when we just knew.

Cue the violin music now.

BJ: What’s your role in the store (besides pounding out scripts in your office)?

ET: I tend to spend most of my time handling our print advertising, in store signs, schmoozing with the customers (most of whom are really just pals now), recommending stuff I personally like to folks. It's pretty effortless.

BJ: Your life is so connected to comic books these days. Where’s the escape hatch for that? What do you do to get away from comics?

ET: Wait. You can escape from them?

WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?

I'm a hopeless movie junkie, so I've been known to lose a weekend here or there to a dozen DVDs that catch my eye in the video store; I read; I play blues guitar; I cook. In most respects, I'm a pretty boring guy, all told.

And in all seriousness, I really haven't felt the need to escape from them. I'm pretty immersed in them lately, because I am terribly unhappy when I'm not writing, and I have developed a real fondness for the script form for comics. They're just FUN to write.

BJ: You and I have been working together and it’s been great so far, and you obviously get on well with Greg, but let’s face it – you’re going to snap eventually. When you finally have that psychotic break, how will it play out? You seem like a clock tower sniper to me, but I want to hear your version.

ET: Oh, no. I want my own theme music and bumper graphic on CNN. It'll be a Peckinpah road movie with Tom Savini effects and a jazz soundtrack. It'll be “In Cold Blood” but not as funny.

BJ: Finally, the Big Question that many writers hope to face at some point: you have twelve issues on any book, past or present, that you’ve never had anything to do with before. What is that book and what do you do with it?

ET: ...So...Many...Choices...

My dream project is so impossible and unlikely, though. A DC/Marvel crossover that blends the two universes during WWII. I want to see the Invaders and the Blackhawks flying a mission as a feint to allow Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury to invade a Nazi castle ...

I might like a crack at Iron Man, actually. I'd love to really deal with that whole “hey, I got my superhero gig after testing weapons systems against Foreign Peoples of Various Colors, check me out,” thing. As far as deeply flawed characters go, Tony's kinda up there on the list.

For more of Eric Trautmann's ravings, visit him here!

Brandon Jerwa

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