By Brendan F. Hodgdon. “Killers once feared Piotr Petrovich. Now, they’ve sent his son home to him—in a body bag. Haunted by his failures, Piotr journeys across Russia to learn what type of man his son really was, while hunting the bastards who killed him. And once Piotr finds them, they will learn to fear him once more…”
Such is the premise to Crude, an all-new creator-owned series from GLAAD Media Award-nominated writer Steve Orlando, Black Road artist Garry Brown, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Thomas Mauer. It’s a story about fathers and sons, failures and tragedies, set in the bleak landscape of Blackstone, a refinery city where a gay man named Kiril went to seek a semblance of freedom and prosperity in a country that would otherwise stomp it out. What happened to Kiril, well — it’s in the synopsis above, a sobering indicator of what Crude is all about.
“The world creates an ecosystem of freedom fighters and heroes, because it wouldn’t listen to polite requests,” Orlando tells DoomRocket. “So while the book itself is the tragedy of Father and Son, played out with ‘Oldboy’ violence, the extreme tensions across the world against the LGBTQ+ community are the toxic alchemy that makes this story possible.”
Crude focuses on Piotr Petrovich, a retired assassin languishing in the past, left behind by his own unshakable stoicism and his inability to reach out to his only son before he was taken from him. It’s a revenge thriller, but it has a lot more on its mind than mere Bessonian gunplay and fisticuffs. Crude is about learning how to open up, to be vulnerable. To be a human being. Says Orlando: “When we force ourselves to be islands, as the characters in this story do, we end up alone, or misunderstood, or both.”
Messrs. Orlando and Brown took time out of their schedules to speak with DoomRocket contributing writer Brendan Hodgdon about Crude, and what it might have to say about that old, destructive chestnut, toxic masculinity.
1. How did this project come together? Have you guys been meaning to work together or was this team-up just a right-place, right-time happenstance?
SO: Garry and I have been looking for a place to do a book for a long time. I first saw his work on Catwoman, and since meeting up with him — the young, energetic Scot emigrate — I’ve been teaching him about the complexities of the world. We’ve just been looking for the right project, so when Skybound approached with developing Crude, a spiritual sequel in some ways, or a continuation of the themes of, my project Virgil at Image with J.D. Faith, Garry came to mind. We wanted to do a high octane, blood and guts action piece with a progressive, aggressive heart — and he was perfect for it.
GB: I’ve been wanting to work with Steve for a while. Been a big fan of his since I read Undertow. So when I found out he was writing, it was a no-brainer for me to sign on the book.
2. Steve, you’ve received acclaim for your work crafting stories with gay characters. But with ‘Crude’, you’re also bringing your Russian background into the mix. What motivated the choice of the Russian setting, versus setting it somewhere in America?
SO: The tension, no question. With Crude, we wanted social life to be a tinderbox, a powderkeg that could explode at any moment. When it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, Russia offers that. With groups hunting and entrapping queer folks, especially queer men, and Chechnya (though not part of Russia, a similarly tense and rigid culture) opening up concentration camps, this is where the stakes would be the starkest. And that comes from the gender roles — men, after all, are not supposed to talk about their feelings, or show weakness. And here, that adherence to norms is the true tragedy between this father and son, a deadly tragedy.
3. Garry, how did you approach depicting Blackstone and modern Russian culture? Was there a lot of research involved? Was there any specific input from Steve?
GB: Lost for reference, which Steve was great for getting. Blackstone is a pretty diverse collection of environments, so that was fun to mess around with. Slums, oil refineries, high-rises, etc.
4. Steve, a lot of your work externalizes the emotions of the characters through hard-hitting action. Would you say this applies to ‘Crude’ as well, or will this be a more low-key affair?
SO: It definitely applies! As I said above, progressive and aggressive! The leads of Crude are sick of living under people’s noses, and out of sight. They come to the harsh refinery city of Blackstone knowing it will be back-breaking work, but fed on the promise of freedom as a reward.
So when that blows up in their face? They’re angry. And that doesn’t even begin to talk about the rage of a man, a former assassin, who finds his own stoicism drove his son to Blackstone, and inadvertently caused his death.
5. It seems like the emotional focal point of the series will be Piotr learning about who his son Kiril really was while on the quest to avenge his death. Will we see Kiril’s life on his own, possibly from other characters’ POV, or will we only see what Piotr remembers about him?
SO: We will see Kiril live past death through the memories of other characters, as well as Piotr’s own increasingly surreal thoughts and flashbacks. Piotr, the lead, is an ultimate failure as a father, kneecapped by his own shame at his former career and himself. As he learns more about Kiril, his guilt twists his own memories, making them more bizarre and Lynchian.
6. Obviously we should expect to learn a fair amount about Piotr and Kiril over the course of this series, but what other sort of characters will factor into the story?
SO: Everyone on Blackstone has a secret, and someone else there is always willing to exploit it. So you will see the vendors paying off their grandparent’s debts, you’ll see the hyper-masculine co-workers hiding deals they made and regretted. You’ll see multiple factions signifying the great power structures of our world: crime and industry, both at war, both equally corrupt.
And hidden there, you might find a group fighting for what Blackstone should be, what they said it was, what it’s supposed to be. The young, the angry, the defiant, leaders and lovers.
7. Given the ongoing oppression of the LGBT community in and around Russia, and Russia’s perpetual place in the news cycle these days, it feels like ‘Crude’ would have ample opportunities to be a Political Story. Did you guys make an active effort to reflect on world events and the ongoing culture wars as you put this series together, or would you say that these parallels are just incidental to telling a more personal story?
SO: The world of Crude does reflect the moment, but it is definitely a backdrop to a personal story. The parallels are not incidental, this book exists because the world forces queer folks to make hard choices in order to attain their freedom. The world creates an ecosystem of freedom fighters and heroes, because it wouldn’t listen to polite requests. So while the book itself is the tragedy of Father and Son, played out with Oldboy violence, the extreme tensions across the world against the LGBTQ+ community are the toxic alchemy that makes this story possible.
8. Garry, I think a lot of people were surprised to see you attached to this series, as you’re still doing ‘Babyteeth’ with Donny Cates. How have you managed to juggle two books at once, and what’s it been like working on such disparate projects simultaneously as an artist?
GB: I’ve been working on two books at a time for years now. Luckily Babyteeth is entirely digital and stylistically is a more simplified look. It’s fairly quick work due to it being mostly drama/horror. It’s been interesting working on both. Crude was more intense to work on due to subject matter and environments.
9. Steve, you’ve mentioned elsewhere that masculinity is a major thematic focus for the book. So for both of you, what do you think guys should take away from this story?
SO: The hope is we see that there are more important things than pride, and that there is nothing wrong with vulnerability. When we force ourselves to be islands, as the characters in this story do, we end up alone, or misunderstood, or both. Strength comes from human connections and letting other people in, rather than being a monolith.
10. Finally, what should we expect from the future of the series? Is there a long-term plan in place or is this a quick in-and-out potboiler?
SO: Hard-hitting action from open to close, rough personal inventories, rough jabs to the face. This is the long, bloody, explosive final act of an ongoing story that started with the birth of Piotr Petrovich Bilibin’s son, Kiril, but doesn’t end with his death. It ends when, after a long fought war, Piotr, and only Piotr, says he’s done.
‘Crude’ #1 hits stores April 11.