PopCultHQ had a chance to interview the creators behind 451’s ‘NVRLND‘: Writers Dylan Mulick and Stephanie Salyers, and artist Leila Leiz. The series, which we have reviewed its first three issues, is an exciting, fresh take on J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, but with an updated L.A. vibe. This isn’t the fairy tale you might remember… this is NVRLND!
But before we get into speaking with this awesome team, we want to share with you a brand-new video created by 451 and their ‘Imagination to Burn’ series featuring Stephanie and Dylan. Sit back, enjoy, and find out what NVRLND is all about!
PopCultHQ (to Dylan and Stephanie): How did the two of you meet and decide to work together on this title? How did you end up connecting with Leila to be your artist?
Dylan Mulick: Stephanie and I met through Ballers and Entourage TV writer/EP, Rob Weiss. I worked for him and Stephanie was a development associate writing script coverage better than the script she was covering. And she kept talking about this Peter Pan idea. Leila we would meet later in the deep dark forest of The Internet where 451 introduced us.
Stephanie Salyers: Dylan and I sort of had this immediate banter… even just in texts and emails, it was like we had a very similar inner dialogue. I loved his writing, and psychoanalyzing him through his characters… but then one night I was reading an amazing script of his and he described the personality of a teenage girl by the music she listens to and the books she reads…. And I knew I wanted to and could write with him. I told him about Wendy and this modern Peter Pan idea and within our first conversation about it, we had this intense collaborative relationship creating NVRLND.
451 was tireless in searching for the right artist for NVRLND and we saw so many fantastic renderings but Leila was the perfect fit. In addition to make things even better, she totally got our style and music references, and all the nuances of the world so we could just trust her and eagerly wait to see what she’d make. It was like that with the colorists, Thomas Chu and Edgy Ziane, as well. As creators I feel like we’re all really simpatico.
PopCultHQ (to Leila): Explain how you met Stephanie and Dylan and what was it that made you decide to create the artwork for NVRLND?
Leila Leiz: 451 proposed NVRLND to me and as soon as I read the first issue I was instantly taken with the concept. Working with Stephanie and Dylan was so much fun and their universe was so clear to me that I understood what they wanted from the very beginning! I am so happy about this collaboration, they are amazing people and I hope to work with them again one day.
PopCultHQ: You have written and created a unique and urban environment that happens to mesh perfectly with the characters and dynamics from the tale of Peter Pan. How exactly did this story come to fruition?
DM: It began with Stephanie’s idea to retell the Peter Pan myth. We developed the idea together and I’d say it came from a mutual interest in/obsession with punk rock, film noir, David Lynch, Los Angeles, and Wendy Darling.
SS: Haha, there’s a really long kind of pedantic version of this answer about me and my obsession with the Peter Pan myth and the Wendy Darling archetype, but I’ll spare you that!
At the heart of it, it was pretty simple. Looking around LA, you can just see these characters. Each group and character revealed themselves in different ways and at different times. We also treated J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy as source material to investigate and find answers within. I love how dynamic the female characters are, and felt like they deserved more attention and consideration.
We also looked to the darker details of the original story and wanted to answer questions like, “Why is Hook obsessed with these kids?” and “what sort of dark little fucker cuts off a man’s hand and crows about it?” We had a lot of fun!
PopCultHQ: Given the retelling of a classic tale, were there any obstacles or hurdles regarding the character use and other spins you both out on the story (such as Pixie Dust being a drug pushed by Hook)?
DM: NVRLND was a pretty intuitive process. Once we decided on the world and tone, a lot of the original story elements found their place. Los Angeles felt like the perfect world to tell this version of Peter Pan. We definitely grounded it, but grounding the story in such a fantastical setting (Hollywood) allowed the danger and magic to come alive very organically. The mythology of LA itself played a big role: youth, glamor, iconography, sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, black magic, a history of corruption. That whole, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” NVRLND didn’t feel like a stretch. It fit.
SS: Not really… I read Dylan’s answer to this and it’s so true and really well said, so I hope you just use that… but to add to it, I think the fact that we were writing together made this so much easier. We were able to bounce things off of each other and see what felt right.
PopCultHQ: Leila, your artwork is fabulous and has a very sharp, crisp, clean, and has a bold look to it. You also have a great understanding of depth and can give the characters such personality in your drawings My favorite characters in NVRLND based on your illustrations is Tiger Lilly, whom I love her look, style, and sass, and James Hook, because of the detail required for his tattoos, the presence he emits and his ‘hook.’ From where did you learn and how would you describe your style?
LL: That is really funny you say that, because Tiger Lily is my favorite character to draw. When I draw her I always have a big smile on my face and mimic her poses and expressions, which I actually do when drawing all my characters by the way. I am a self taught artist. I am my own teacher. I’m a perfectionist and am never satisfied. I am unsure of how to define my style, I take inspiration from everything around me: movies, music, illustrators, comic pencilers, photographers and more than anything the beauty of life.
PopCultHQ (to Dylan/Stephanie): It can’t be a coincidence that you both are from Los Angeles and NVRLND features the characters attending Hollywood High and the nightlife found within the city. Are you, or have you been, involved in the current L.A. club scene? If so, would you say the depictions in NVRLND are a fairly accurate representation of the current climate of nightlife for teens/young adults in Southern California?
SS: Yup! But at the same time it’s a hybrid scene inspired by various subcultures and musical influences which give NVRLND a unique vibe. L.A. is delightfully eclectic and diverse though so it’s perfect here. Dylan 100% brought the East Coast CBGB, punk revolution into the story. He gave me a copy of Please Kill Me.
As for my personal story, I’m from L.A. originally but begrudgingly went to high school in CO. My best friend was ridiculously cool and had a car, so she took me into Denver for shows and that quickly became our whole world. We’d go to punk shows, Goth nights, metal shows, arena concerts, anyplace they had music. I went back to CA in the summers to see my aunt and wished that I could go to Hollywood High. I moved back here in my early 20’s and went to some really good parties.
DM: I moved to LA in my early 20’s. I worked on hip hop music videos, the scene in LA was Cinespace and EDM but I lived with my east coast friend, the Loaner rock musician/historian, SWilson (AKA The High Priest of Good Time), and then moved into a punk hovel (with filmmaker/musician Mike Cuenca who performers in the NVRLND music video with his band, The Dignitary), so I was exposed to a number of ‘scenes’.
But speaking for myself, NVRLND is kind of the wish fulfillment version of high school life from my point of view having grown up in small town New Hampshire. Certainly elements of my 20s in LA filtered in (The Smell being one), but NVRLND is more an adventure in the teenage world I wish I’d grown up in.
PopCultHQ: I know how writers can get writer’s block, so it would seem reasonable an artist very well could struggle with getting motivated for a project. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what is it that gets you refocused and inspired?
LL: There are times when I need to get away from the same old same old, to feel the rush and inspired, so I take my bag and travel the world. Sometimes the trips can be quite challenging, but they succeed in giving me a fresh outlook and returning to work feeling reinvigorated.
LL: Since I can remember I have always loved drawing, but didn’t really know where I was going with it…until the first time I entered a comic book shop. I remember seeing a comic book drawn by Marc Silvestri and I knew at that moment I wanted to become a comic book penciler.
PopCultHQ (to Dylan/Stephanie): What was the defining moment where you either knew you wanted to, or decided to, write stories for comic books?
DM: For me, it was NVRLND. I collected comics growing up, but my entry point to writing them came through serialized TV where I met Joe Grano. Aside from the freedom we experienced with NVRLND, the most attractive element was working with Stephanie and Leila Leiz. It wasn’t easy finding the perfect artist for NVRLND and I felt like we tested people’s patience by waiting, but Leila really elevated the material in the way you hope a perfect collaborator will. She makes us all look better. Just wait for the Mermaid Lagoon…
SS: I was in a comic book narrative course in college and fell in love with the medium. It’s unbridled creativity met with some of the most loving and supportive creators and consumers you could ever imagine. We didn’t know NVRLND would become a comic until we met 451, but I was very interested in writing comics and love that this got to be our first. 451 gave us a lot of creative freedom and their platform is perfect for our style.
SS: Rick Remender and Wes Craig’s Deadly Class is taking up so much room in my heart right now. I get really lost in the story and feel like the characters are visceral. It just does it for me. I also love Saga and call it “my stories” and I like the unadulterated trash mixed with acerbic wit, good old-fashioned family values, violence, and weird ass sexuality that makes me recoil for a second before accepting that it’s awesome. I think Fiona Staples is a super human and I will read anything Brian K. Vaughn writes. We love Paper Girls. Got to give it up for Brubaker, Justin Jordan, Alan Moore, and so many more. A few titles I’m also getting into right now are Bitch Planet, Sex Criminals and Velvet. I’m looking for more stories about assassins because I’m writing one right now. I’m afraid my Google searches have me on a government watch list.
DM: Black Hole was the first graphic novel I read that impacted me in a more profound way than the comics I read growing up. But recently, it’s Ed Brubaker. The nuance and ambition of The Fade Out. Gotham Central’s take on a world within Batman I always loved. How Criminal explores the psyche of an outsider in depth over a single series run (How that’s not a TV series, I don’t know. Unless it’s because of True Detective…). I’m excited about Kill Or Be Killed. Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina (and Paper Girls) was a really personal take on a superhero (and post 9/11 NYC, talk about ambition) that I love. Recent inspirations are Marisha Pessl’s book Night Film, the score to Vertigo (The Raveonettes did a great Hitchcock/Lynch strings into to their wonderful song for NVRLND), Stranger Things TV series, Derek Ridgers’ instagram (https://www.instagram.com/derekridgers/). And certainly Stephanie and Leila.
DM: Stephanie and I just finished outlining an ambitious comic series called MUTABLE. The first issue opens on a particle accelerator haloing Earth and ends in a cave in Colorado with a group of kids experiencing gravitational anomalies to Black Sabbath while kicking government sponsored drugs. We’ll add sex to complete the trifecta of sex, drugs and Ozzy.
SS: I will tell you it’s like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets 2001: Space Odyssey for Gen Z.
LL: I am currently finishing the last issue of NVRLND and then will focus on Alters. I don’t feel the need to work on different series at the same time, so I can keep the quality of the work consistent and more than anything enjoy every moment of these wonderful opportunities. I’m feeling truly blessed.
PopCultHQ: Leila, not only are you working on NVRLND with 451 Media, but are also currently involved with another intriguing project in the new series Alters from AfterShock Comics. How did you become a part of that creative team?
LL: I met Aftershock editors Mike Marts and Joe Pruett last year at New York Comic Con and we discussed a future collaboration at that time. One year later they contacted me about Alters and I couldn’t say no, working with Paul Jenkins is an adventure I did not want to lose out on and the story he is telling truly moved me.
DM: We will! Social media is the best spot for updates.
SS: Yes! But 451 is still finalizing the schedule so please follow them on Facebook for the most up to date info.
DM: Do what excites you. Find a way to get it out. Then tell everyone you know about it repeatedly. I give 451 a lot of credit. Joe Grano championed NVRLND from a one paragraph synopsis. It didn’t fit their model as far as I know. And they primarily work with big name writers. We had a story that didn’t fit and no track record. But they took a chance because they liked the idea (please reread that last sentence). So if you can’t stop thinking about an idea, it’s likely at least a few others will have a similar reaction. Find them. Get their social security numbers. Apply for credit cards. And if they don’t want to publish your comic book, destroy them financially.
LL: I will skip the speech everyone has heard by now of ‘work hard, hang on and never give up’. We know those important words of advice at this point. The only words of advice I would add is that you better really like drawing, listen to people who take the time to give you constructive criticism, don’t become frustrated and always stay humble.
SS: Try to let go of your beliefs about what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing and just keep doing. Try to release the urge to be precious about your work, at some point, you will need to share it and sharing is a good thing. Trust that you are wonderful and if you want to create than you deserve to give yourself that gift. Love yourself. Ask for help. Keep going. Read more. Kill your darlings. This advice is a mix of what I learned from Dylan, my mom, and Stephen King.
DM: Won’t disappoint…
SS: To die, would be an awfully big adventure.
Special thanks to Leila, Stephanie, and Dylan for taking the time to speak with us. And an extra HUGE shout-out to 451 and even bigger for Jesse Senger, 451’s Marketing & Retail Coordinator and the man behind the scenes making the interview happen and being my point of contact with such a wonderful and exciting publisher!
Be sure to check out PopCultHQ’s reviews of NVRLND:
NVRLND #1 review
NVRLND #2 review
NVRLND #3 review
(on sale tomorrow, 10/12)
Welcome to NVRLND, where you’re either flying or falling…
451 Media Group is proud to present the original music video accompaniment to the launch of Dylan Mulick and Stephanie Salyers’s exciting new graphic novel, NVRLND. NVRLND is an edgy reimagining of the Peter Pan myth set in modern Hollywood. In this telling, Peter Pan is the lead singer of rock band The Lost Boys, who play at a secret underground club called NVRLND. Wendy Darling, the new girl in school, naturally falls for the brooding, bad boy rocker. But in this heightened reality, kids are falling victim to a club drug called “pixie dust” being pedaled by tattooed, biker nemesis James Hook, which makes them feel like they can fly. In this clip we are introduced to the key players, and we also get a sneak peak into the turf war that has been raging on the East Side of Los Angeles between Peter and Hook.
Be sure to follow the creative team from #nvrlnd
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