In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, writer David Pepose talks about pulling off the perfect heist while Going to the Chapel #1 (Action Lab: Danger Zone). Find out what happens when a simple wedding event turns out to be a heist job and a hostage situation.
It was the wedding from Hell – and that was before the bank robbers showed up. What do a conflicted bride, her dysfunctional family, a gang of Elvis-themed crooks, and one relentless sheriff have in common? They’re all about to discover love is the ultimate hostage situation.
With Going to the Chapel #1 out in stores now, David Pepose discusses the challenges of writing a nonlinear narrative, balancing crime with wedding day jitters, and what readers should expect with the second issue. Readers should check out the review of the first issue as Pepose and I head on over the writer’s studio to discuss the craft of storytelling.
Villain Media: How did Going to the Chapel come about?
David Pepose: Going to the Chapel is the product of me being the world’s worst best man, who planned the worst bachelor party in history. Everything that could go wrong at that party, did go wrong — everything from the Airbnb being trashed to me getting laid up in the hospital with a kidney stone and missing the entire thing. While I was hopped up on painkillers, I kept thinking our bachelor party from hell reminded me of The Hangover, which is one of my favorite comedies — and then I started thinking about what it might look like if that curse spread to the entire wedding.
The idea of bank robbers taking over a wedding was a super fun idea — we’ve all seen bank vaults and casinos, but what happens when you try to pull off a big score amongst all the spectacle of someone’s big day? But what really got me about Going to the Chapel was the central core of the story — namely, about fear of commitment, about dysfunctional families, and about the leap of faith it takes to say ‘til death do us part. I realized there was some real drama to mine underneath all the comedy, which is always my favorite kind of storytelling.
VM: The timeline jumps between the past and present. Tell me about the challenges of writing a nonlinear narrative such as Going to the Chapel.
DP: It’s definitely a big challenge — when you’re jumping backwards and forwards in time, you can’t leave anything up to chance. I wrote and rewrote the treatment for Going to the Chapel numerous times to get the unique rhythm of our series down pat. At one point, I wound up choreographing the story almost like a football play — knowing that Emily would be in one part of the chapel, while our lead bank robber Tom would be in another section of the building, while Emily’s hapless fiance, Jesse, is in another place entirely trying to make an escape.
The way I tend to structure my work is based on my background as a journalist — structure is a big part of putting together articles. A lot of times, I think of my stories in terms of discrete sections, which I then chop up and restructure to maximize momentum and impact. Ultimately, it’s all about striking that balance to make sure that you keep readers on their toes, but still give them enough clarity to keep following the story. Sometimes it takes a little bit of trial and error, all the way down to the lettering stage, but the effort pays off in the end.
VM: The dialogue really pops out with wittiness and energy. Tell me about how you and letterer Ariana Maher captured the banter amongst the characters.
DP: Well, thank you! Despite our business being called “comic” books, I think it’s hard to find a lot of books that really focus on the humor. Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber do it really well in The Fix, as do Kyle Starks and Erica Henderson in Assassin Nation — because you don’t have an actor delivering a specific line, you’ve got to really hit readers with that moment of surprise from the moment the words hit their eyes, and hope the phrasing gets the point across.
And to that end, Ariana really was the perfect letterer for this project — I had thoroughly enjoyed her work on Nancy Drew, so I knew she’d be able to give our banter the bounce needed to sell the comedy. Often times when I work with letterers, it’s often about streamlining my dialogue to make sure I’m not overpowering the art — but with Ariana, she really went above and beyond to ensure the clarity and flow of every line, to make sure each gag connected the way it needed.
VM: I love how the artwork by Gavin Guidry captures wedding day jitters and the tension of the heist. Tell me about mixing the family drama with the suspense of walking down the aisle.
DP: The best part about working with an artist like Gavin is that he really exemplifies the two threads of a book like Going to the Chapel — stylish crime action with dysfunctional family comedy. Selfishly, having two different extremes to choose from is enormously helpful to me as a writer — if I ever get stuck in one gear, it’s easier for me to shift to the other. But it’s easy for me to do that — it’s all the more impressive when an artist like Gavin can actually execute laugh-out-loud gags to moments of really deep introspection.
Gavin is definitely a methodical artist — we talked a lot about the fashion that went into this wedding day from hell, but also had very in-depth discussions about the action choreography, to literally build out a fully rendered, three-dimensional chapel on Sketchup for Gavin to manipulate scene by scene. But I think you nailed it, that Gavin’s greatest strength is how expressive he makes his characters — he really breathes so much life into our cast, and even when we have a limited page count to work with, he makes every appearance sing.
VM: Not only does the setting takes place in a church and outside is the desert landscape of Rockford County. Tell me about how you and Liz Kramer aimed for the western look and feel.
DP: I say this in every interview, but Liz really is our secret weapon on this book — she takes Gavin’s already impeccable linework and just elevates it to an even higher standard. What I like about Liz is how literate she is as far as color inspiration — she and I talked a lot about Matthew Wilson’s work on Black Widow, as well as Patricia Martin’s work on Secret Weapons, particularly with her use of accent colors.
Liz also adds such a great sense of texture to our pages, which allows her to use unconventional palettes in a way that still works for our story — there’s that western element with the golds and oranges that plays off nicely with the romantic pinks and purples. Going to the Chapel is a book that doesn’t look like anything else on the stands, and we owe a lot of that to Liz’s tireless work.
VM: How did Going to the Chapel change you as a storyteller?
DP: That’s a great question! I think it really helped me level up in terms of structure and pacing — when you’re juggling 15 characters in ever issue, you quickly learn how to get the most out of every expression and every one-liner to get everyone’s personalities across while still keeping the story moving forward.
The other thing is just to be able to keep telling stories that are outside of the norm of sci-fi, crime, or superheroes — I think the Direct Market often gets so wrapped up in spectacle and ever-escalating continuity, but having a human core to our stories is what really matters most. Beyond the cops or the multimillion-dollar necklace, Going to the Chapel is about love, doubt, and self-determination. It’s something that everyone can relate to.
VM: What can readers expect from Going to the Chapel #2?
DP: If Emily thought the Bad Elvis Gang crashing her wedding was bad, wait until the police show up. As the pressure ramps up, our blushing bride is going to find some surprising reasons to team up with these rockabilly bank robbers — but Emily’s going to quickly discover that playing both sides of the law isn’t as easy as it looks…
Meanwhile, don’t expect Emily’s in-laws to not take this hostage situation lying down. When you’ve got that many people locked in close proximity to one another for an extended period of time, people start to get real weird, real fast — this is a powder keg waiting to explore, and Emily’s fiance Jesse is going to step up in a big way in the hopes of rescuing his bride-to-be.
VM: What are you working on now?
DP: Tons! [Laughs] I’m almost wrapped on scripting for GRAND THEFT ASTRO, my upcoming sci-fi book with artist Jordi Perez over at Top Cow. I’ve also got an epic fantasy story that we’re in the process of finding a home for that I’m very excited about, as well as a pair of sci-fi stories that I can’t wait to pull the trigger on.
Meanwhile, I’m working on outlines for two more projects — one is a crime story that, if I can pull it off, will be one of the most ambitious stories of my career so far, while the other is a post-apocalyptic story that brings a new twist on one of the country’s most historic institutions. Things are very busy over here, but it’s the kind of busy I can’t complain about!
[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Links are highlighted in bold.]
Going To The Chapel #1 arrives in stores on September 4th, 2019.
By Jorge Solis