In 2013 Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner and writer/producer Don Handfield created The Combine, a production company focused on high quality, dynamic and emotional storytelling. The company is currently producing The Founder starring Michael Keaton and the new scripted series Knightfall premiering on The History Channel in 2017. Now they’ve set their sights on the comics industry with a plan to bring the same high-quality dramatic storytelling to the graphic novel format. Partnering with Red 5 Comics, The Combine will present its first comic series in January 2017.
Presented by Renner and written by Handfield and Richard Rayner, The Rift tells the story of a single mother, Mary Ann, and her son, Elijah, whose lives change forever after witnessing a WWII fighter pilot from 1941 crash-land in present-day Kansas. They find themselves drawn into the work of Section 47, a secret government organization responsible for responding to Rifts that open in space and time. Section 47 – so named because they have only 47 hours before these Rifts close – must safely send all matter from the past back through these portals before time runs out or else the Rifts go nuclear.
Past disasters have been covered up by well-known incidents like Roswell, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. The scientists believe it’s a matter of physics, but Mary Ann suspects something more spiritual in nature. She believes people arriving from the past have unresolved problems that must be settled before the rifts can close without harm.
The Rift will be four issues running from January to April 2017 with an additional story in the Red 5 2017 FCBD issue.
I got a chance to ask Hanfield some questions about what we can expect from the series and their concept of time travel.
Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for the Rift come from?
Don Handfield: My grandfather was a test pilot in World War 2 who was a father figure to me I lost young. I was in traffic on the 405 one day and missing him and had this daydream of a sonic boom and a WW2 plane crash landing on the freeway, then seeing that this plane was my grandfather coming back to me through a rip in time and space. The idea sprung from there.
GP: The Combine is currently producing a film, what got the company interested in comics?
DH: Whether it’s Jeremy (Renner) and I as producing partners, or Richard Rayner and I as writing partners, our job and our passion is to tell stories and create content in whatever medium. The beauty of comics is we can really control the process from start to finish with a singular vision. It’s been an amazing experience on this book for everyone involved.
GP: You’re releasing The Rift with Red 5 Comics. How’d you get involved with the publisher?
DH: Honestly, we went to comic shops and found books we liked, then reached out to the publishers. We thought RED 5 had great books and speaking to them they really talked us through the process in a clear, straight forward way that made it easy to partner with them.
GP: The first two issues I read had this real solid Twilight Zone feel to it. What were some of the influences for the comic series?
DH: Twilight Zone certainly is a bit of the vibe, but we were really influenced by the magical realism and emotion of movies like Field of Dreams. Spielberg was a big influence, whether it’s Amazing Stories or how he took a subjective entirely everyday character approach to an alien encounter in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We always loved how it wasn’t the expert taking us into the world, it was these everyday characters.
GP: Though the series is very sci-fi, there’s a touching human aspect to it. The second issue is really emotional on top of the ticking clock aspect to it. As creators how hard is it to properly balance the two?
DH: The high concept was always conceived as a vehicle for emotion with a ticking clock. As the series develops it really becomes more supernatural than science fiction. We always saw the Rift as living more in the real of Star Wars as far as being more about fantasy/magic and dealt with feelings/emotion, than Star Trek or other science fiction series which are much more about the science and cerebral.
GP: How did Leno Carvalho get involved with the series on art?
DH: We put an ad on Digital Webbing and got hundreds of artists submitting work. His art was so perfect for portraying the realism slash Spielberg movie feel we wanted for this.
GP: There’s tons of time travel stories out there each with their own rules in how it all works. Did you sit down to figure all of that out?
DH: We established a set of rules to drive the series, but the biggest thing was that this would always be more about personal connection and emotion of the characters within it rather than changing or righting the course of historical events. A lot of these shows do the big moments in history thing effectively and it’s fun, but the stakes are a bit removed and the emotion is a bit binary, we either fail or succeed to kill Hitler, etc. We wanted the time travel aspect to bring in characters that could deal with different emotions almost in the vein of Highway to Heaven — a couple dealing with saying goodbye, a little boy dealing with abuse, a father looking to find out who killed his daughter. Personal stakes that lead to real emotional catharsis for our main characters was always the aim of this concept. 11/22/63, the Hulu series and Stephen King novel did a great job of making the story personal for the lead character beyond the stakes of the time travel stop Kennedy’s assassination element. We too want to make sure the focus of the series is always emotion and character over high concept. We were set from the beginning on the high concept always serving as a vehicle to increase the stakes in service of the character and emotion as opposed to the other way around.
GP: What have you found to be the biggest differences with putting together a movie compared to putting together a comic series?
DH: There are a lot of similarities as far as production flow — but with a comic you are responsible for a lot more aspects as a creator – and have a lot more creative control which is amazing.
GP: The series is four issues, do you have more plans for it?
DH: You will see volume one ends with questions — questions we hope people will want answered!
GP: Thanks so much and look forward to reading the rest of the series!