Local filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe has a passion for pop culture. His work has tackled pop cultural phenomena as big as Star Wars and as small as the strange case of the octopus that correctly predicted Germany's World Cup games a few years back. He's also hard at work on Doc of the Dead, an in-depth look at zombie culture. (Disclosure: I am slated to appear in Doc of the Dead in my capacity as a zombie expert; I receive no compensation for this beyond the joy of sharing my love of zombies.)
Now, in addition to his film work, Philippe has launched Fried Comics, a web-based comics imprint, with longtime friend and writer/actor Clay Adams. Fried's website just went live yesterday with the first pages of Pregnant Bitches of War, an alternate history that has Nikola Tesla mentoring a group of expectant mothers as they try to fix the horrible future that results when they accidentally kill a young Adolf Hitler, and Deadskins, a zombie apocalypse Western featuring a Harvard dandy and his blind, drunk sidekick. We caught up with Adams and Philippe in the middle of this maelstrom of work to learn about Fried, get a progress report on Doc of the Dead, and find out what it is about pop culture that gets Phillipe so excited.
Westword: Give us a quick overview of Fried Comics and what you hope to accomplish with it.
Clay Adams: Basically, Alex and I have been writing stories for years and realized they all had one thing in common, which is that the stories were just supremely messed up. We started to think about it in terms of food, and that it was like fried food. It was crispy, fatty, salty storytelling, and we're both huge lovers of comics. Alex, being a director, has a fantastic visual sense, and we decided with one series -- Pregnant Bitches of War -- to start that as a comic book as an offshoot of another script we had written. They both seemed to be so entwined, and Alex, liking to think in big terms, he suggested, "Why not release both as a comic at the same time?" and Fried Comics was born.
Why did you choose to launch it as a web/digital comic rather than a more traditional print medium?
Alexandre Philippe: We're starting it as a webcomic, but the actual, collected hardcovers will eventually come out. We felt it was right to start as a webcomic. First, you have to build a fanbase. You have to get the trust and the love from people, so we're releasing a bunch of free content Just now, at launch, we already have nine pages up of Pregnant Bitches of War, nine pages of Deadskins, plus a bunch of bonus features. So each page comes with its own set of bonus features. There's going to be free new content every weekday. People can go to the website every day for something new.
Adams: We obviously love the print medium. I think if you go to either of our houses, you'll see tons and tons of books. We're not interested in killing print, or anything like that, it's just that we're both very interested in the "freemium" model a lot of new media sites are doing now, which is to offer some stuff for free and then a paid option for getting something more in your hands, which is the digital download. If you want to buy the collected edition down the line, of course we're going to offer the book you can put on your bookshelf and it'll look fantastic. Initially, we just really love the immediate reach of the Internet, and how, being a start-up, we can reach so many more people via the web. It just seems like where the medium is headed and we wanted to be pioneers rather than followers.
So, if I understand correctly, Pregnant Bitches of War is a science-fiction alternate history story about mothers-to-be who work with Nikola Tesla to fix a horrible future they accidentally caused, and Deadskins is a zombie apocalypse Western?
Adams: That is correct. PBoW grew out of Deadskins, which was written first. So you may see a few parallels between them, and we've built in a fun way for the parallels to happen in story. The stories will intertwine. We're not going to be like DC and Marvel, where we do crossovers with everything and you have to buy everything; you can read each series separately if you want to, but if you're a fan of both series, there are some Easter eggs in both for you. You'll see how those series crossover and interrelate.
Philippe: There is, in essence, a "Friedverse," or Fried universe. The series will definitely have some intersecting points.
Who are some of the artists you're working with?
Philippe: Well, we have a whole slew of them. You can go to the website and check out the Fried staff. It's pretty extensive. Our main artist for Deadskins is Leila Del Duca. She's based in Montana. Our main artist for Pregnant Bitches of War is DJ Parnell. She's in San Diego.
I know you literally launched the site this morning, so it's too early to have any idea of what people think, but when you announced Fried Comics at Denver Comic Con, what was the reception like?
Adams: The reception was very positive, actually. We obviously hoped for the best, but we had a very responsive crowd. They laughed in all the right places, they asked a lot of questions -- good questions, interested questions -- which we weren't anticipating. And we actually had 100 percent sign-up rate for our sign-up list after the panel.
Is there anything else about Fried Comics you want to mention?
Philippe: I think the one thing to mention is that the website is really chock full of Easter eggs and fun surprises. You can really spend a lot of time there. Frieda is obviously a huge character on our website, our curmudgeon waitress. She's very interactive on the website. You can spend a good amount of time meeting our cast. Really spend some time looking for Easter eggs; they're everywhere.
Adams: I think the only other thing to mention is just to reiterate that we're releasing just a ton of content for free. We'll be releasing a page a week of each series, as well as bonus content related to each page. Every day of the week we'll have new content up. If you want to read it for free, you can read it for free. Our ultimate goal is to have all of our comics up on the web, hosted on our site for free. But if you want to get the story a little bit faster, you can buy those digital downloads. It's only 99 cents. We're not trying to get rich, we just want to keep bringing people these fantastically nutty stories we've got going on.
Alexandre, outside of Fried Comics I know you're still working on the zombie documentary Doc of the Dead. You mentioned at Comic Con that you had secured funding for it from a major network and are aiming for a early 2014 release. Are there any more updates to that?
Philippe: Well, we're in the process of lining up interviews. We're planning a big trip to San Diego Comic Con. That will be joined with a substantial period of time in Los Angeles for interviews. That's our next big step. From there we'll make our way to the East Coast, and we have a European trip planned. We're in the process of figuring out our schedule now. Sorry I don't have more news, but we just got the engine restarted again -- just got it reanimated, as it were.
In addition to your recent foray into comics with Fried and the upcoming zombie doc, you've got The People vs. George Lucas doc and your Paul the Psychic Octopus doc on your resume. That's a pretty interesting selection of subjects. How do you choose these projects?
Philippe: [Laughs.] Well, you know it's sort of just been something that has just happened. I think, over time, I feel like the subjects have picked me, more than the other way. Now I can look back ten years later and say, "Okay, there's a pattern here." The pattern is that, first of all, I am passionate about popular culture. I'm dedicated to making people kind of look at it through, hopefully, a slightly different lens. I think pop culture is extremely important. It's something we don't really pay much attention to. We just consume it and discard it, but it is something that unites us. It is a form of universal language that brings us together over racial, political and social divides.
I think that we're at a point in history when we need to start looking at connecting points as humans, as opposed to constantly focusing on the stuff that divides us, which is what the news gives us all the time. I think we've fallen into a wrong kind of language, so I'm trying say, "Look, pop culture, first of all it's not fluff." If two billion people download "Gangnam Style" on YouTube, it says something. So first of all, we need to stop looking at it and saying, "This is not important." It is important, if we like it. If many, many, many of us like it, it means something. So that's the first step. The second step is to say, "This stuff is even more important, because it has the potential to unite us and to show us we have more common ground as humans than dividing points." So I think, in a nutshell, that's what I'm about, and that's what all these movies are about. Looking at this body of work, and everything I'm doing, that's kind of my mission now.
And that evolved organically, rather than being some kind of mission statement that you started out with?
Philippe: Correct. And I think that's probably true of every artist, at least if you stick with it and develop your voice, you're going to be attracted to things, right? You're going to be naturally going with what attracts you. Fellini said, "I keep making the same movie over and over again." There's a point where you do enough of that, and keep developing your voice, and as you do that, as an artist you have to look back and ask yourself, "Why do I keep being drawn to that stuff?" And that's when you start to really understand that it's something within that drives you to tell these stories, to make these particular films. The more you do it, the more clarity you have in terms of "that's what I'm about, and that's what I want to say."
I'm very fortunate that I've stuck with it. It hasn't been an easy path. It hasn't been easy at all. It's fucking hard to make independent films! And to launch a comic company, and all this stuff -- it's all very, very difficult. But at the same time, I have a clarity of purpose now that I didn't have ten years ago and I'm very excited about the future.
More than anything, I just want to keep being proud of what I'm putting out, just keep this dialogue going -- that whatever I do, whatever I put out there, will make people continue to have this dialogue about pop culture. I feel like it really has become this life mission, that when I'm gone -- hopefully many decades from now -- that whatever I've done, whatever I leave will make people look at pop culture differently and have a different dialogue about it.
I understand you're doing a TEDx Mile High talk this weekend? What will you be talking about there?
Philippe: Well, surprise surprise, I'll be talking about pop culture. [Laughs.] The talk itself is about the importance of pop culture, so what I've just talked to you about is going to be my TED talk. Especially this notion that pop culture brings us together and we need to start looking at that more than the things that divide us.
Not that you aren't busy enough between the zombie doc and your new comic company, but what else are you working on in the near future?
Philippe: Well, I definitely do have plans to make a narrative feature, but right now I just need to focus on the immediate future. I'm definitely toying with the idea of doing a follow-up to the People vs. George, probably a short. I don't know yet if it's going to happen, to be honest, but if it does it will be timed with the release of Episode VII. I kind of feel like the loop needs to be closed. There's a lot of things that have happened since the release of the People vs. George that are really, really interesting.
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I really want to focus on the comics. That in itself is a bear. It's a huge undertaking. We need to finish these books first of all, but Pregnant Bitches of War is a huge universe. I can't even tell you how excited we are to write it, because it just gets better and better and better with every issue. It's something we could write probably for decades. Our next series, Satan Claws, comes out next year and we have some other ideas for some cool series, so if Fried does okay I'm hoping to do a little more comic books and a little fewer movies. We'll just see what happens.