The intertwined stories of Eliot Ness and Al Capone are the stuff of legend. Ness, the stalwart lawman tasked with enforcing Prohibition in a crime-infested Chicago, and Capone, notorious gangster and bootlegger, are classic archetypal figures, and Ness’s efforts to take down Capone have been depicted numerous times throughout the years in books, TV, and movies. The period of Prohibition, during which the sale of alcohol was illegal in the United States, combined with the mystique of the Roaring Twenties provide a riveting backdrop for the clash of these two titans.
Tommy Gun Wizards, the new Dark Horse miniseries by Christian Ward, Sami Kivelä, and Dee Cunnife, reimagines the stories of Ness and Capone, with a twist: Prohibition’s not just for alcohol, but for magic as well. For Ward, the Eisner-winning artist of books like Black Bolt and ODY-C, Tommy Gun Wizards is his first time solo writing a series, and starting out with material readers might already be somewhat familiar with is a smart move. The addition of the fantastic to what is already a fascinating historical period adds a new layer of mystery to a familiar tale. The Beat had the opportunity to talk to Ward and Kivelä about the development of the series, their collaboration, and Ward’s transition from artist to writer.
Joe Grunenwald: Christian, you’re an incredibly talented artist in your own right, and Tommy Gun Wizards is your solo writing debut. What made you decide to just write Tommy Gun Wizards as opposed to both writing and drawing it? Have there been any unexpected challenges along the way?
Christian Ward: I’ve been working on Tommy Gun Wizards for five years and originally drawing it was exactly the plan. I’d even got ready to pitch it as a fully solo project (back then it was called Moonshine) when I met Matt Fraction and we decided to do ODY-C. Since then it’s been sat in my back pocket, forever the project ‘I’d do next’.
I came to a twin realization—one: that it’d be another year at least before I had time myself, and two: that maybe I wasn’t the best artist for it anyway. Though I’d love illustrating the fantastic elements I knew Tommy Gun Wizards would live and die on the art bringing 1930s Chicago to life. I was aware of Sami’s amazing work on both Beautiful Canvas and Abbott, the latter of which was a period piece set in the ‘70s so I knew he was the right artist to breathe life into Tommy Gun Wizards. Though, of course I couldn’t let Sami have all the fun so I’m also drawing a backup story to add an extra dimension to the story which I think will surprise readers.
For the sake of a dramatic answer I wish I could say there had been more challenges but working with Sami has been a dream! He’s been the best artist I could have ask[ed for] for my first collaboration. It’s been really easy for me to trust him and just let him do what he does. It was important to me that I allowed Sami the creative freedom that I’ve been allowed on previous books. He’s often surprised me with a page or different take on a scene and every time it’s been a joy. He’s an incredible artist and uses time (he does these little snap shots of quick moments within the action that is genius) and page structures to fantastic effect. Each issue has floored me more than the last. As I write this, he’s finishing off issue 4 and I can’t wait to see it. I’m proud and excited to say I think this is his best work.
Grunenwald: Sami, how did you get involved in the project? Has working with a writer who is also an artist impacted your experience or your work on the series?
Sami Kivelä: Chris did a variant cover for Beautiful Canvas, the book I did with Ryan K Lindsay two years ago, so we knew each other that way. Last year Chris was looking for an artist for a book, which actually isn’t Tommy Gun Wizards, and I got interested right away! We started talking and realized we both wanted to do a book together. One thing led to another and we decided to make Tommy Gun Wizards happen. And here we are! I think that every writer and every story impact an artist’s work. Chris and I are passionate about art and storytelling. Despite being a modern master of comics, Chris gives me space to do my thing. It’s really an honor to get to draw this book.
Grunenwald: Christian, you’re sharing colorist duties on this series with Dee Cunnife. How is that being split? Are there specific scenes or story elements that you’re focusing on?
Ward: Though I wanted to color the book (so that fans of my work could hook onto a familiar aesthetic) I knew with my workload on Invisible Kingdom (not to mention being a dad to a 2-year-old!) that would be tough to do. Dee to the rescue! I previously worked with Dee on ODY-C where he did my flats so I knew we worked well together and since then he’s grown into an amazing colorist in his own right. Here he does something somewhere between traditional flats and full colors, basically the first layer of flat colors for me to paint upon. I tweak the colors here and there, then adding tone, texture and all the magical elements that readers might recognize from my previous work.
Left: Dee Cunnife’s flat colors on page 4 of Tommy Gun Wizards #1; Right: Ward’s finished colors
Grunenwald: This story is set in a very specific time period, albeit an alternate version, but still one that a lot of people might already have a preconceived idea of. How much research has gone into both of your work on this series, and how concerned are you with historical accuracy?
Ward: A big part of the success of the story is feeling like all this other worldly power is happen[ing] in a world that we recognize. The reality sells the fantasy. This is where Sami is so key to the comic’s success. His attention to detail is second to none. From the fashion to the architecture, and vehicles especially. in fact, he mentioned enjoying drawing the cars so much I put more into the scripts!
Our Chicago is a dark mirror of the real one, as such though I researched Prohibition, it was important I wasn’t a slave to it. Instead, I let it inform how our world should behave. Though we have ‘high powered users’ for the most part the magic in our world is mundane; It’s used to warm baths. To get your hair just right. To dance better. So, people miss it when it’s deemed by the church and government to be immoral and banned. That had to feel authentic. That and giving Capone and Ness a historical foundation to build upon was where the research informed the writing.
Kivelä: I always do a lot of research for every book I’m working on, especially for the ones that take place in history. I want buildings, guns, clothes etc. to feel like they belong to that time. In Tommy Gun Wizards, we have magic and fantasy elements, which makes things a bit more out of this world. That has given me a liberty to be looser and not to focus too much on making everything 100% accurate. However, I want readers to recognize Chicago and other well-known locations as well as Al Capone, for example.
Grunenwald: The conflict between Eliot Ness and Al Capone is one that’s been presented many times in pop culture, from TV to movies to comics. How are you hoping to add to or reframe that narrative with Tommy Gun Wizards?
Ward: The exciting thing is we can use that pre-existing knowledge to our advantage and subvert it in interesting ways. We’re able to put these two ordinary men in this extraordinary world and have them react in ways you might not expect, all the while keeping their characters and their animosity true to history. Throughout our story these two very much keeps their sights on each other without realizing that perhaps they’re not the threats that they should be watching out for.
Grunenwald: The visuals on the magical elements, whether it’s displays of mystical power or characters who may or may not simply be magic, are stunning. How did you go about developing the visual representation for magic for this series?
Ward: As far as the color goes. I wanted the magic to feel like a neon blast of color in a world where neon doesn’t exist. So, the world is full of brown, greys, greens and natural shades and then our magic bursts off the page, sizzling and at odds with reality.
Kivelä: Basically, I wanted those magical elements to look a bit old-fashioned, so to say. Nowadays the digital tools give artists so many chances to do all the magical effects and stuff like that, but as this book is set in the 1930s, I decided to take a bit more analog approach. I hope it gives the book a touch of that era. I also knew that Chris would add an extra layer of uniqueness with his brilliant colors.
Grunenwald: What’s something readers can look forward to if they choose to pick up Tommy Gun Wizards?
Ward: A comic that lives up to its title: Bewitched bullets, vomit golems and protection spells that walk, wearing white suits.
Kivelä: Some crazy 1930s action, magic and humor in one package! Definitely worth picking up!
With a final order cut-off date of Monday, August 5th, Tommy Gun Wizards #1 is due in comic shops on Wednesday, August 28th