Thomas Jane has played the Frank Castle, Mickey Mantle, a member of the Vegan Police, Jonah Hex, a soldier, a gigolo and more, but the thing that is most impressive about the every-man actor is his mind for comics.
More than a fan of the medium, I spoke at length with Jane about pre-code comics, Bruce Jones, and adapting the cult horror film (which and short story Dark Country (which Jane directed) to a wordless graphic novel by Thomas Ott. After that, we spoke about the future of comic book inspired films and I asked him if he’s done with The Punisher. I’m a big fan of twist endings, specifically horror; The Mist has a great surprise ending both on paper and on screen. Dark Country pulls it off as well, and like The Mist, it doesn’t feel like a cliché, it fits, but it’s also kind of shocking. Do you think audiences are getting harder to surprise?
Thomas Jane: Well, yeah. I think audiences are always getting more and more sophisticated and yes. Yes, that’s true, but we have to try. We have to keep trying. Every now and then we’ll slip one in.
The Dark Country graphic novel has a look that’s sort of reminiscent of the old pulp comics like Creepy and Eerie from Warren and others like that, what other inspirations did you guys pull from?
Jane: Well definitely from the EC comic book vein, the books that were drawn by Graham Ingels, Jack Davis and Johnny Craig, all of those greats. And certainly Bernie Wrightson was a big influence; he also did our character design for Bloody Face so his designs are included in the graphic novel as well as about 40 pages of production art and storyboards and stuff.
Yeah, I mean, what you said: all the Creepy and the Warren stuff and especially the work of Bruce Jones who had a great line of comics called Twisted Tales back in the eighties, that’s had a big influence on me, but Thomas Ott himself was a big influence on the film, the look of the film. I borrowed a lot of his shots and a lot of his moves for the film Dark Country and so when it came time to do the graphic novel I thought he was the perfect guy to ask to do it. The story was right up his alley. I sent him the story and he loved it.
You see a lot of actors kind of gravitate towards comics now, but obviously you know your shit. What is it about using comics and graphic novels as a story telling device that appeals to you? Is it the sense of freedom and does that always make up for the reduced exposure and does it depend on the story?
Jane: Well, we’re certainly not doing it for the money. I think graphic novels are a distinctly American art form. It’s an art form that I fell in love with when I was eight years old and its something that I continue to enjoy. I think people are always doing interesting stuff with the medium and my contribution to graphic novels has always been sort of a way of staying connected with the material that’s inspired me to do what I do.
I think that a lot of film makers are inspired by graphic novels and have been inspired by graphic novels in the past and it’s just a medium that I really enjoy. I enjoy the storytelling that you can do with a graphic novel. I enjoy the freedom; it’s kind of like a visual medium, but also a literary medium so it combines the two.
Thomas Ott’s signature style is to tell the story with only pictures, which I think is very clever and not easy to do, its kind of like a silent film and then the film both combines the words and pictures. It’s an interesting way of getting a story out there.
What are some of your favorite [graphic] novels?
Jane: I’m a big fan of Black Hole by Charles Burns; I’m a big fan of Daniel Clowes’ Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. I like the work of Kim Deitch, who’s an underground artist.
I really enjoy underground and alternative comics; I really like David Mack’s Kabuki, you know, it’s endless. I enjoy Mark Millar and I enjoy some of the mainstream stuff too; but really I like the old fifties pre-code horror and crime comics, those are some of my personal favorites and I have a pretty good collection of pre-code horror comic books.
I like Robert Crumb a lot, I like the Weirdo Magazine that he put out for a while, I mean there’s a lot out there.
Moving from comics to comic book movies, do you think that the expectations that are put on comic book movies (the need to sell action figures and make $300 million at the box office) because of the success of some — do you think that limits the amount of stories that are able to make the transition to the screen? Do you think it makes it harder to push out more adult stories?
Jane: That’s just the way the business is turning these days, these movies have to be more and more expensive and they have to hit a broader and broader audience, but like Road to Perdition, which came out probably ten years ago, that was a great comic book film, its probably my favorite comic book film and I was hoping to see more movies based on you know, sort of more literate comic books or stuff that wasn’t super heroes. But, [with] movies in general they’re making less of the of the sort of lower budget films and it seems to be more of the bigger budget movies across the board. And I would love to see more comic book films that were adaptations to film that were not super hero oriented.
You took the bull by the horns a little while ago with, well it’s sort of a superhero; an anti-hero obviously with Frank Castle and Dirty Laundry. Any Punisher short films in the future and also do you have any other plans to direct another feature?
Jane: Well as far as The Punisher goes I kinda said what I wanted to say with the short film and it was the version of Frank Castle that tI always wanted to see and it was very gratifying to finally put it out there. Phil Joanou — a great director — and Chad St.John — a fantastic writer — and we just kind of got a dream team of guys to put that together and I would love to see the three of us do a Punisher film, but I don’t know if that would ever happen. I don’t know, again it’s like the studio seems sorta bent on making a two hundred million dollar version of a comic book movie. So yeah, I think the fans are kind of missing out.
The other part of your question is yeah, I’m going to be directing another movie next year. It’s a western and it’s called A Magnificent Death From a Shattered Hand and we’re talking to Nick Nolte and Jeremy Irons (Jane would also play a role) it’s an ensemble cast and we’re putting it together now and we’ll be shooting it in the spring of next year. So we’re getting to start pre-production on it and I’m very excited about it.
As we we were winding down, Jane also mentioned that he was “planning on doing something on LA Noire” that he was honored that Frank Darabont (his director on The Mist who he almost re-teamed with on The Walking Dead) had asked him too, and that he was hoping that scheduling for that and A Magnificent Death from a Shattered Hand worked out.
The Dark Country graphic novel is out now. According to Jane, the book comes with the short story, Ott’s graphic novel, an empty DVD sleeve for your Dark Country DVD, and tons of art. He calls it unique and I call it a worthy addition to your collection.