Making And Breaking The Rules: Kurt Sutter On The Return Of Lucas Stand
by Hannah Means Shannon
Kurt Sutter’s first original comic series, co-written by Caitlin Kittredge (Coffin Hill) and illustrated by Jesús Hervás (Penny Dreadful), appeared in 2016 from Boom! Studios in Lucas Stand. The 6 issue series followed the life and times of a military vet who, driven to edge when failing to integrate back into society post-tour, finds himself without much left to lose and makes a deal with a demon to stay out of hell. That deal means hunting down rogue demons as they flee through time. The result is a highly charged exploration of a conflict raging behind the scenes of normal life, but one that brings Lucas Stand a sense of purpose, something he had previously found in short supply.
Now the title returns to Boom! Studios for a second series in Lucas Stand: Inner Demons. If you think you know all the rules and possibilities of the world set up by Sutter, Kittredge, and Hervás, they are pretty determined to prove you wrong this time around. Things get pretty crazy, even within the first issue of the new series, but we’re in for some big revelations and quite a different storyscape in this arc. Inner Demons thinks bigger in many ways, and looks like it will dig a lot deeper into the nature of good and evil.
In returning to the series that started his exploration of the comics medium, Kurt Sutter is continuing to pursue many of the themes that interest him most. He joins us today to talk about Lucas Stand: Inner Demons on the same day that issue #1 arrives in shops for you to pick up.
Hannah Means-Shannon: To start with, I want to ask you about Lucas as a character. What qualities does he have that keep you interested in working with him, not only through one comic series, but into a second one. The two of you have spent a lot of time together at this point.
Kurt Sutter: I’ve been with this character for awhile. He started out in a TV script for Fox and I couldn’t figure out how to make it work in that medium. It worked with Boom! Studios. I didn’t know a whole lot about creating content for comics and graphic novels, so it’s been an education for me. I think it’s flourished well. I just dig him. I get to bring all the shit I continue to need to work out with my TV stuff, like my anti-heroes, and bring that tool kit to this project. And yet it’s a world that is supernatural, too. What I love about the idea of this character, is that he lives in a world, even in the “normal” world, where nothing is black and white. Everything is shades of grey.
At certain points, he might trust people, but he’s wondering “Are they a friend? Are they an enemy?” The same principles of that reality also apply to the supernatural. The lines between Heaven and Hell, angel and demon, are all blurred. There are so many shades of grey, that at what point does the demon land on the side of a line that he normally wouldn’t, and vice versa? To be able to keep shifting that kind of stuff around, and really to be able to fuck with the genre a little has been great. And Caitlin [Kittredge] has been so amazing at navigating the nuances of that. She’s been having a lot of fun with it. The worst thing, as a showrunner or creator, is to hear a pitch that makes you feel bored. With Caitlin, she knows this character so well, almost better than I do at this point, so instead of that, half the time, I’m having to pull her back!
KS: In TV, I get to make the rules of my mythology, but then I have to stick to those rules. I can slowly transition them, but I can’t go from episode to episode and change the rules. But the great thing about the comic book world is that you can. You can make the rules, then you can break the rules, then you can repair the rules, and you can really play with the different shades of grey. I love that we have Lucas on this journey where he just starts to actually feel a little bit, or embrace some redemptive quality, and then we just fucking turn it upside down again.
But to me, all of that is part of the bigger theme of mirroring war. In war, you’re hunting or pursuing, or defending yourself from this enemy, but you don’t know this enemy. You have an idea from what people tell you, but you don’t know the heart of a man you just killed. The parallel for Lucas is in terms of who to trust, what is real and unreal, or whether he’s being played, where nothing is as it seems to be, and in the real world, we often learn all of these things about wars decades after the fact. We may think they are straightforward at the time.
HMS: In the new series, we see an even bigger landscape of conflict that we didn’t even know existed in the first series, really. Without giving too much away, we see that it’s on the macro level.
I was looking through the collection of the first series, and I was struck by how conflict driven it is, as if the conflicts and struggles between different entities are just going on behind the scenes of our world in a similar way to our own. It’s a universe that is in chaotic conflict at all times, and though most humans in the story aren’t aware of it all, Lucas has to be in the middle of it constantly.
KS: Yes, in both worlds. That’s one thing that, as much as this is a shifting acid trip that Caitlin has us on in the supernatural realm, if you break it down in terms of relationship, and motive, and action, it’s usually something similar or something simple in comparison to something that could be happening in his “real” life.
Because we’re dealing with these supernatural components and concepts that are Biblical, and epic in terms of how far back the tome goes, they seem overwhelming, but if you strip them down in terms of what they actually are, they are just relationships, agendas, and duplicity. Like “Are you my friend? No, you’re an uneasy ally. But now you’re my enemy. But now you need me. So…” It’s all a big clusterfuck where everyone is just moving, hoping that on the next square that they jump to, they are going to be okay for a moment.
HMS: I noticed something like this in the first issue of the new series, where we have a couple of characters who just seem like ordinary mobsters, ordinary heavies, with their own agendas, and then added to that, oh right, they just happen to be demons, too. You can understand them based on the first set of assumptions. The second might add some complications.
KS: Yes, right.
HMS: But that kind of begs a question that’s been on my mind: Do you think of this as a horror comic? And if so, what does that mean to you?
KS: [Laughs] The thing is—sometimes my naivete, in terms of this world, this medium [of comics] that I’m still being educated in, works to my benefit. Because I think that if I knew too much, or was trying to reach for a certain identity, or genre, or to be like a certain thing, my sense is that I’d fuck it up. So, I really don’t try to reach for that, and it’s the same thing with TV.
I don’t try to write something that’s intangible in that way. Once you do something, you can look back on it and identify characteristics and think, “Oh, it’s that”. But for me, anyhow, I can’t really do it ahead of time. That just feels handcuffs, if that makes sense. So that’s just a very long answer to say that I don’t really think about that, which means I probably don’t know.
HMS: Well, a lot of scariest things in the first series are relatable in ways that don’t have to draw on horror traditions. The scariest things are about human experiences. But I would say that the new series seems like it might be much more frightening, in a way.
I’ll aggressively avoid spoilers here, with the new comic landing this week, but I think this new series might end up being scarier than the first. Just because you’re suggesting ideas about the nature of the grey areas between good and evil that could be more frightening than previously.
KS: Yeah. I think you’re right. If those archaic or entrenched values can’t be trusted, what’s the fabric holding all that shit together? Caitlin’s done such a fabulous job on the comic, and I bring broad strokes to it on places I want to go, with things I want to continue to land on, but she really knows this character so well that she trusts herself to know that we’ve done enough work here, and we know who this guy is, so that now we can dig a little deeper.
We can peel another layer of the onion off and we’re not going to lose people. Or write ourselves into a corner. Then you get to circle back to the broader strokes, setting up a potential arc. But I agree with you. I didn’t think of it in terms of being scarier, but yes, when you peel back some of those layers, the tone is definitely darker.
HMS: Last question: In the first series, there was so much movement through history, jumping between locations that were important to the plot of Lucas’ demon hunting through time.
In the first issue of the new series, we’re going to jump around particularly a lot due to the needs of the plot, so how did you choose and decide on the different historical periods you wanted to use in the first series, or here in the new one?
KS: The project started off as a television script, so the first two episodes were loosely connected to the French Underground, and I love that period of history. My favorite TV show was Deadwood, so we go to go to Deadwood. I knew we wanted to tap into Lucas’ dad and Vietnam. I did know that we wanted to do something that, even though it became more of a universe created by Pennemue, we moved forward in time. It was often collaborative. We’d come in and have a bunch of ideas on the table. And then it would be dictated by character and where we’d want to go. Asking what world could best service those character choices or those emotional arcs. And I love what Caitlin did in that first episode [of the new series]. Like, “Here’s what you think the rules are. And fuck you, those aren’t the rules.” [Laughs]
Ultimately, Lucas lands in a place, but he’s got a task, and it’s like he’s going to different hardware stores looking for what he needs. People think we’ve got a formula, but we mix it up a little bit. You have to go to some places that feel iconic and identifiable, so that people can feel, “I know where they are”, so that you don’t have to have four panels explaining where they are. But then, within that framework, once you know where you are, and who you are operating with, you don’t have to follow the rules. Without giving too much away, we do that in the second issue. We set up certain expectations, but we don’t have to follow the rules of that world. We get to play within it. We do what we do in the shadow of very iconic historic backdrops.
I would say we definitely have cool places we want to go to, but then we really try to let character and emotional arcs make some of those choices for us. The first six issues just turned out really well. We got to go to all the places we had talked about. We struggled a little with the idea of the flash forward in time, and Caitlin came up with the idea of having that be a manifestation, rather than an actual place, and I fucking loved that. We continue to do that as well.
Big thanks to Kurt Sutter for his patience and time in taking part in this enlightening discussion, and to Boom! Studios.
Lucas Stand: Inner Demons #1 lands in comic shops today, February 21st, 2018, and in your very wide choice of comics to choose from, you won’t go wrong in making this one the top of your pile.