One of the newest series at Image Comics to start turning heads is Blue Estate. Written by Viktor Kalvachev, the series brings together Italian gangsters, desperate Hollywood starlets, bad B-Movie stars, private investigators, drug dealers and the L.A.P.D, as everyone scrambles for the millions of dollars being laundered by Russian mobsters.
Blue Estate is eclectic and vibrant enough to keep readers on the edge of their seats, while flipping pages to find out what insanity lies around corner. Kalvachev’s Blue Estate delivers as a gritty, hard-hitting crime tale with great dialogue and frenzied non-stop action. The book plays out more like a Guy Ritchie (Snatch) or Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) film than a comic book.
We caught up with Viktor Kalvachev to discuss this 12-issue series, the unique creative process it utilizes, and how the “coolness” of the characters are the selling point for this title.
For anyone out there that hasn’t read Blue Estate before, give readers a quick rundown of what the story is about…
Viktor Kalvachev: Blue Estate is a really cool story about this Hollywood starlet named Rachel Maddox who is trapped in a loveless marriage to actor Bruce Maddox. Bruce is a B-movie star who makes really terrible action movies that are great for laundering money for the Russian mob. Things spiral out of control when a clueless private investigator named Roy Devine, Jr. starts digging around and the Russian mob clashes with the Italian mafia. Everyone gets trapped in the middle of all this, as things take a deadly turn. The last thing you can say about this story is that it’s boring or predictable! The story is based in modern day Hollywood and is full of stars, blood and laughter.
Blue Estate utilizes a unique creative process that utilizes different artists and artwork styles to depict different characters and scenes within the book. Why did you choose to work with different artists rather than one artist and style for the entire book?
Well, I wanted to tell the story in a faster way, because this story has so many twists and turns. Every time something significant happens, I want the reader to acknowledge it by changing the art style. I tried to really choose artists whose style would fit each particular scene or would exaggerate it to make a stronger statement. The main artists we have on the book are Nathan Fox (Haunt), Toby Cypress (Rodd Racer), and myself [Viktor Kalvachev], but I also have a lot of guest artists like Robert Valley (Massive Swerve, Gorillaz) and Marley Zarcone (PopGun), who all did some fantastic work. In the future, I’ll have Tomm Coker (Undying Love, Daredevil Noir) filling in as well. Once I get the black and white artwork, I color the pages to make sure it’s all tied together and smooth so the changes in style doesn’t get in the way, but rather help boost the story.
The book definitely has a cinematic feel to it. Was that a conscious decision to try and make it feel like a film?
Absolutely — storytelling is the hardcore element of comic books. It’s not about the art in my opinion, but rather the story that you are telling and how you go through it. That’s how I view comics, so how I convey the story is very important to me. I think movies have done a great job showing the difference between good and bad storytelling. So, in Blue Estate, we treat all the shots as camera angles and that’s how we discuss it when we put things together. It’s a very cinematic approach to storytelling, because we’re not just trying to make splashy pages, which is why I brought in this great screenwriter named Andrew Osborne (On_Line) to help me script the series.
The first issue of Blue Estate sold out rather quickly and now we are quickly approaching the release of the first TPB. How crucial was that initial success of issue #1 for an independent book like this to survive?
Well, every book is different and it depends on what kind of overhead each creator has. There are some young creators that literally live in their parents’ basement, so if they sell 2,000 books a month that will be fantastic. For me, I’m financing this entire book myself, which is tough because it means I have to hit some very high numbers to break even and eventually make money.
Is a book like this a tough sell in an industry that thrives on superheroes?
It is certainly a little more of a difficult sell than if we had a main character with incredible powers that could move a tank. All my characters are normal individuals who are inspired by normal people. For example, the private investigator in Blue Estate (Roy Jr.) was inspired by comic book fans, because that is who he is and that is who I am. What we try and emphasize with this book is the coolness of the characters and the fact that it is an interesting story that ties together from all angles. I think readers will be very impressed by how tight our story is. Each issue ends on a cliffhanger and I constantly have people writing me asking why we do that, because it makes them wait another month to find out what happens. The TV series Dexter does that, and I love it.
You mentioned your appreciation for the TV series Dexter. What is it about that series that you find inspiring?
I got hooked on Dexter about eight months ago. I never had watched it before because my wife hates blood or gory things, but I figured we’d give it a try and I loved it. I thought it was smart and extremely well written. The story kept me on edge the entire time and that is why the cover to issue #7 is an homage to Dexter.
The way I decide is by dissecting each issue. I take a look at what the strongest elements are and what I want to get across to readers. That is how it all starts and when you go back and read the issue, the covers kind of feels like a roadmap. I try and keep the covers simple and I want each one to make readers feel like they should understand it, but don’t quite have all the pieces yet. The covers get people’s attention, which is what a good cover should do. We want the cover to make people ask questions so they want to start reading, because once they flip that first page we’ve got them.
It’s a very special book for me because it’s my very first comic. I’d wanted to do a comic book ever since I was a little kid, but never had the guts. At the time the project came together, I was working for a video game company, and they asked me to put together a game pitch. I had this idea about a chick that kicks ass and has memory issues, and they let me do a 10-page story as a part of my job. It took me three months to do it and I freaked out about it for about two and a half months, but I had to suck it up and go for it. It turned out okay — and when it was done, Kevin Eastman saw it and asked me to do a longer story. PHERONE was originally published in Heavy Metal magazine in installments, and then we decided to collect it as a graphic novel with Image Comics. The hard cover of the graphic novel is currently sold out, but the good news is that the soft cover will be coming out on September 14, the same day as the Blue Estate trade paperback.
You have the new trade out for PHERONE, and Blue Estate is starting to edge closer to a conclusion. What’s next for you?
Well, the plan is to continue Blue Estate because people love it and they want to know more about the characters, so we are writing the second story arc of that right now. We are trying to make it even crazier and funnier. We’ll be taking the elements that people love the most and building on that. There are characters that die at the end of the first arc, so we may even do some short prequel stories with them in the future so the fun will continue. I have a couple more ideas, but at the moment, keeping up with Blue Estate is my top priority.
Where can fans find out more information about you and Blue Estate?
We’re very proactive online and fans can check out www.blueestatecomic.com where they can find a lot of downloadable content and freebies. Four of the characters from Blue Estate are on Twitter and are tweeting like crazy. Readers who follow them on Twitter can get clues to the story and stuff like that. You can also watch the animated PHERONE teaser trailer on YouTube. Like we all always say…Blue Estate is a state of mind!