This interview with Leo Partible is reprinted from the archives of Infuze Magazine. The interview was done by author Robin Parrish in September 2004.
Robin: Can you explain a little bit about what DPG Visions is?
Leo: Yeah. DPG Visions is a group of three who have joined together to develop comic book and film properties. The “D” is the Dabel Brothers, they’re comic book publishers. They published a series called The Hedge Knight, which is an adaptation of the George R.R. Martin novels. They also publish Raymond Feist’s The Wood Boy, and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which is going to be out pretty soon.
Then I’m the “P,” and there’s Kevin Grevioux, the “G.” He’s the writer and producer of the movie Underworld. He also played the head werewolf in the film, Raze.
I had no idea that the guy who created that movie was a Christian.
(Laughs.) We’re all Christians, everyone involved in this company.
That’s pretty amazing. How did you all hook up?
What happened was, there were a number of properties we wanted to do, so we decided to band together. Kevin and I are also transitioning into directing, and we’re screenwriters as well. But we wanted to work all of our stuff out through comic books, but we didn’t want to do “Christian comic books.”
Even though we are in negotiations to get into the Christian market with materials that are all-ages fare, with a Christian worldview. We really wanted to keep away from focusing only on that. We wanted to keep with the tradition of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien or Madeleine L’Engle and Flannery O’Connor. Anyone who’s ever a Christian who just told great stories.
I wholeheartedly agree that that’s a tradition worth continuing.
And there’s a huge number of Christians in Hollywood, believe it or not. That’s one of our biggest frustrations here is that we keep trying to tell the church that. This emerging church movement that’s tying together things like art and church is fantastic, but it’s still frustrating to us because we want to tell Christians, “You don’t have to use art to create propaganda!” We want to go beyond that.
I’m also involved in a ministry called Act One, a group of Christians that train screenwriters. There’s a new program launched recently under Act One called F.O.B., which will train executives for Hollywood. It’s all under the umbrella of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church, and it’s even funded by the Vatican, too.
(Laughs.) Yeah. Christians from every denomination are welcome, as long as you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. That’s the criteria. It’s going really well, and we’ve had a lot of people pass through our doors.
What do you do at Act One?
I’m an instructor. Every year, I teach a class on “How to Pitch Your Script to Hollywood.” This last year, instead I did a class on the comic book genre and the Christian worldview that’s inherent to comic books, and to superheroes particularly.
I’d like to hear more about that.
I’ve contributed to a couple of books on this subject. I wrote the foreward to a book called Who Needs a Superhero? by H. Michael Brewer that is coming out I think in late September or early October. I wrote a couple of chapters in a book by Peter Lang Publishing called The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion in Pop Culture. There’s a number of us who contributed to that one, some professors from Biola University, too. I’m also on the Biola Studio Task Force, which is headed by Ralph Winter.
The Biola Task Force is co-chaired by Ralph Winter and Phil Cooke and headed by Craig Detweiler. They’re trying to build up the school’s film department into something along the lines of a USC film program, but within a Christian college. The Task Force brings in all these professionals from the industry every quarter. There’s so many people involved in this… Scott Derrickson, who wrote and directed Hellraiser: Inferno. Lee and Janet Batchler, who wrote Batman Forever. There’s Mark Joseph, who wrote The Rock & Roll Rebellion…
Yeah, I know Mark.
And there’s Craig Detweiler, head of the Communications Department at Biola — he wrote Extreme Days, the movie. He also wrote a book called A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.
Forgive me for being stunned, but I had no idea all these people were Christians, or that there were so many in Hollywood. We never hear about these folks.
Yeah, we know about them here in California, but I guess it’s not as well known in the outside world. There’s so many more… Barbara Hall, who created Joan of Arcadia. She’s very open about her faith. There’s Dean Batali, a producer on That ’70s Show, and he was also a writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s a number of people at Pixar who are believers.
My friends in the comic books world — there are so many of them who love the Lord. Like my friend Ed McGuinness, who recently worked on the bestselling Superman/Batman title. Jim Krueger, who wrote Earth X and Paradise X for Marvel — he’s a very prolific comic book writer.
There’s Mike Miller, who works with us at DPG. We’ve got a number of projects from him on the way soon. There’s a project I’m developing as a feature called The Imaginaries, that’s based on a comic book he’s creating.
There was one your website I saw called Deal With the Devil that I thought sounded particularly intriguing.
Yeah, that one’s really cutting-edge, very Flannery O’Connor-esque.
I gotta tell you, I was floored when I looked over your website. Because everything that you guys are about is exactly the kind of stuff we talk about all the time. It was like, “Man, how have I not heard of these guys before?”
Well, that’s the thing. It’s strange, because we’re all pretty open about it. Buzz Dixon, who wrote for The Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons — he’s a Christian. He’s one of the legendary animation writers, who’s really up there. But all of us Christians in these arts — I can’t tell you how many times we’ve tried to contact Christian magazines, and they’ve blown us off. Over and over again. Even though they’re the same ones who keep saying, “We need more Christians out in Hollywood!” And we’re like, “Here we are.” We keep trying to contact those guys, and nothing.
Then I’m glad we found each other. Do you spend a lot of time with these guys talking about Christians in the arts?
Yeah, even among non-believers, faith is always something we talk about. I’m really good friends with lots of comic book people like Marv Wolfman, who created Blade and Teen Titans. Or Len Wein who created New X-Men. Michael France, who’s a screenwriter for The Hulk. He also wrote Goldeneye, and the Fantastic Four movie they’re filming now. These guys aren’t Christians, but they have a worldview that includes a lot of Christian influences, so we have a lot of interesting discussions.
What’s your professional background?
I’ve always loved entertainment. That was my focus as a kid. I was really into Steven Spielberg films, George Lucas films. I was really into comic books. I started off reading DC Comics; my dad got me involved in reading them. Then I graduated to Marvel, collected both. Then I made my way into the independents.
When I first moved down here to Los Angeles, I was taken in by a mentor named Nestor Redondo. Nestor was one of the leading artists in comic books on titles like Swamp Thing and Sgt. Rock, and he was also a leading animator here in the animation industry, working for Hanna Barbera. And he was a Christian — and Filipino also, which was cool for me, because I’m Filipino. So I found all these people here who were Christians, and I found it to be this very small world. Nestor came in and mentored me for a few months while I was working on storyboarding.
Anyway, about four months after I moved here, Nestor died very suddenly. I didn’t know what to do after that, because I had no other “in” with the industry. I became an assistant over at Summers Entertainment, with 20th Century Fox, under Katherine Summers, a producer who had a deal over there. From there, I became Vice President of Creative Affairs for a company called Takoma Entertainment, and I developed a lot of comic book properties. That was basically my vision, was to develop comic book properties. I kept telling my boss, “We need to focus on comic books, that’s where the next hot thing is going to be! Hollywood is definitely moving towards that.”
My boss at Takoma was really receptive to that, so we developed things like Magnus: Robot Fighter, and we did a KISS movie with Gene Simmons, Detroit Rock City. Gene’s a huge comic book fan, too. Another example of how this is all such a small world is that Gene Simmons also worked with another friend of mine named Ken Tamplin, who’s also a Christian.
I know Ken. I interviewed him not too long ago.
He’s really awesome. And again, for so many people that you run into, they’re Christians. And before I came down here, I had pastors who were telling me, “Don’t go down to Los Angeles, it’s corrupt, it’s morally bankrupt, it will destroy you!”
That is the impression from the outside looking in. I’m way over here in North Carolina, and the general sentiment that I always hear is, “There’s such a strong anti-Christian bias in Hollywood these days…”
That’s a frustrating thing. It might seem like it [from outside], and there is some anti-Christian bias from some of the big executives, but they’re not as prevalent as you think. It’s happening much like all these musicians who are Christians that are impacting mainstream music — 12 Stones, P.O.D., Creed, U2, Sixpence, Lifehouse, Switchfoot… The list is endless.
I recently saw MTV mention something about how “the gospel is taking over hip-hop now.” The whole Kanye West thing with “Jesus Walks.” You’ve got all these people coming out with music that’s overtly Christian, talking about matters of faith. That’s exactly like what’s happening in Hollywood right now. It may not look like it yet from outside, but it’s happening.
Do you find that infiltrating culture by being in it is like walking a tightrope?
You know, I don’t think it should even be a problem. Because I don’t think C.S. Lewis ever had a problem with it, or Tolkien or anybody else. So long as you’re very truthful about who you are and what you believe, then that’s it. I find that people who have a problem talking about their faith, are usually people who don’t know as much about their faith or how to communicate it. C.S. Lewis was able to move between worlds; he would use pagan imagery in stories and then he would use Christian imagery, and no one ever called him on it. Maybe it was a different time and a different world, but even in today’s world, you don’t have people getting mad at Bono for quoting scripture. Because everyone knows that he’s being honest about it.
The problem is that evangelical culture is way too aware of who they are. To the point that they feel like, “I must talk about Jesus now,” every moment of every day. But if you have to do that, then maybe you should question whether or not you really believe in Jesus Christ. Because if you did, you wouldn’t have to force yourself to talk about Christ — it would simply come out of you naturally.
We spend so much time being insular about our subculture. Christian bookstores, Christian t-shirts, Christian bracelets and bumper-stickers and all these things that have been stamped with the “Safe For Us” seal of approval. We’ve been programmed with this mindset for so long, it’s no wonder that some people are made uncomfortable by you working in comic books or Doug Jones acting in movies like Hellboy.
It’s sad for me, because I go to a Christian bookstore and I don’t see Madeleine L’Engle on the shelves. I see probably a quarter of C.S. Lewis’ books. I don’t see Lord of the Rings. I don’t see Anne Lamont or Flannery O’Connor or any of the other great Christian writers. It’s just sad.
Look at Left Behind. I’m not knocking those books, but not every Christian believes in Dispensationalism. That’s one example of some peoples’ opinions within the church; and it might be a valid opinion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gospel. Why aren’t the views of people like Anne Lamont and Madeleine L’Engle given equal exposure?
I can tell you why; my first job was at a Christian bookstore. Everything that goes through those stores must first go through a filter. Usually the filter is nothing more than the reputation of the publisher or record label or whoever publishes that product.
And whenever a customer would walk into that store, it went without saying that they knew that everything they would find inside those walls would be “safe” to expose themselves and their children to. The problem with that is that we’re relinquishing all power of discernment when we walk through those doors. We no longer have to take personal responsibility for the quality or accuracy of anything we expose ourselves to, and that terrifies me. You can check your brain and your faith and everything else at the door.
Exactly. You nailed it, exactly. My concern is that these retailers are not taking in all materials created by Christians — they’re taking in stamped and “approved” materials that are very mediocre. If it continues, then teenagers and young adults are not going to go there looking for their spiritual brainfood. They’re going to go looking for materials by Christians that’s outside the Christian bookstores.
Wal-Mart’s already gearing up for that, and other places are, too. If they don’t watch out, these big stores are totally going to take over and the mom and pop stores will diminish in great numbers. Either they’re going to move with where God is taking Christian culture, or they’re going to fade away.
Getting back to your career and your life as a Christian in Hollywood, where do comic books fit in?
I believe that comic books are a big key. Even though people seem to think comic books are dumbing-down literature, they’re not. I mean, think about it: when you put great literature and amazing art together, you’re getting an incredible artform. Just imagine if you could paired some of the best literary writers of years past with some of the best artists of the time. Imagine Shakespeare paired with Michelangelo.
This is what’s unique about comic books. It’s a very special kind of partnership — one guy writes the prose, another guy strictly does the artwork. The two of them are conveying a message through that medium together. Both are equally important, and neither can work without the other. If it were Shakespeare and Michelangelo, you wouldn’t say, “That’s not a valid artform.” You’d think it was something really grand and bold.
Can you give me a quick rundown on all of the projects you’re currently working on?
I’m working on Killer Stunts, Inc.; I’m co-writing that with Scott Kinney, who created the property. He’s also a Christian. We’re developing Scott’s comic book into a feature film with movie producers Chuck Gordon (Die Hard, Field of Dreams, The Rocketeer) and Adrian Askarieh (Spy Hunter).
I’m also shopping The Imaginaries around right now. There’s a lot of interest in Hollywood over that one with all the different studios. We’re going to be going out with that property pretty soon. That comic book will be out soon, and I’m co-writing the screenplay with Ben Avery, who’s working on the comic. It was created by Mike Miller.
I’ve got a property I created called The Trouble With Grrrls, which I’m going to be doing as an independent feature film, and also as a graphic novel. It’s basically a riff on the Hard Days’ Night/Elvis Presley thing. Based mostly on my own experiences, but I also wanted to do a fun movie that goes back to the roots of rock & roll — the stuff that U2 and Elvis and the Beatles and Led Zeppelin did. Merging different styles of music together. It’s a romantic comedy musical.
I’ve got another sci-fi project that I’m doing as a graphic novel; we’re working that one out right now, and I can’t really talk much about that one yet.
And also Lions Tigers and Bears, which I’m also developing into a feature film. The comic was created by Mike Bullock and Jack Lawrence. I’d describe it as a cross between Monsters, Inc. and The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.
It sounds like you guys are equally interested in the world of film and comic books.
For us, they go hand-in-hand. Anything we develop for one format, we have plans for the other. That’s our intent. We’re also interested in video games, too. Because this multiple-format planning is where the focus is these days.
But it is important to us that we be known as Christians. We want Christians to look at our material, look at what we’re doing, and yes, buy it. We want to appeal to everyone, and we need everyone’s support.