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TV, Comic Books
Fans of USA Network’s popular spy series Burn Notice, now in its fifth season, may notice that Michael Westen, Sam Axe and Fiona Glenanne have been a little busier lately. The drama, which recently aired a prequel movie featuring fan-favorite Bruce Campbell, has already expanded into novelizations and games. Now add to that list A New Day, an interactive online comic penned by series writer Ryan Johnson and script coordinator Peter Laylaynis, illustrated by Tony Shasteen, produced by DC Comics and overseen by Burn Notice creator Matt Nix.
Nix recently spoke with Spinoff Online about the new comic, which treats fans to an interactive peek at the show while bridging the gap between seasons. “We haven’t really had, up until now, like a chunk of story to fill in or something that a comic book could service really easily, and then we had that this year, so that’s what we did,” he explained.
With the complicated histories and shifting allegiances that have played out over the past four years, Burn Notice has chewed through a fair number of storylines. When asked whether there was concern that the online comic might siphon off valuable story ideas, Nix laughed. “You actually sound like you were in our writer’s room,” he said. “We wanted to do something that definitely feels like the show. That’s definitely kind of a story that we would do, so it doesn’t feel like some radical departure. But at the same time, we don’t want to eat some story that you need for next week.”
With that in mind, Nix and his writing team began looking at ways to stay true to the tone of the show while exploiting the unlimited budget available to them with the comic book format. “This was an opportunity to do a kind of story that we really can’t do on the show,” he said.
Visiting exotic and expensive locales in A New Day, which has released nine installments to date, was a way to create new stories and explore the characters in a way that a television budget wouldn’t allow. “Savvy television viewers will realize that Venezuela does not look radically different than Miami,” he explained. “It’s not an accident that in the comic book we go to Paris, we go to Peru, which has mountains — which is not something that we have in Miami — so, we’re just sort of running through geographical locations that would just be impossible for us to do on the show.”
Nix, who grew up reading Tintin, is now enjoying comics like Mouse Guard and Bone with his kids. “I’d say my actual consumption of comic books are usually things that I’m buying with my kids or for my kids, and I sort of have a rule with that of like, my son can read anything that I think is cool enough for me to read.”
When it came to making the transition from writing and breaking stories for television to comics, Nix spoke candidly about the challenges. “You’ve been doing a TV show for a while, you’re like, ‘Oh, I know how to do this,’” he said. “It’s easy to sort of slip into this idea that you have some sort of generalized skill in making stuff and then you go into some arena that you’ve never done before and you’re like: ‘Oh, wait! I know nothing about this. Wow! I’m a total amateur in this arena!’ and that was my experience of going into comics.”
Another challenge for the writing staff was the small page and panel count in which to tell stories that felt like a true representation of the show. “In Burn Notice you want various elements: You want some interaction between the main characters that has that particular brand of dialogue, you want a certain amount of action, you want a little bit of voice-over, or they’re building something or there’s some technique to be showcased and you want it to end on a cliff-hanger,” he said. “That is an enormous amount to do in the very limited number of panels that we get.”
With the push to cater to increasingly fickle audiences who are watching television on anything but an actual television set, Nix was asked about the online “transmedia” approach that networks are employing to reach fans across all platforms. “If you talk to people in television, it’s a nut that everybody is trying to crack,” he said. “And I think that the thing that you have to sort of feel your way toward is like, what do fans actually want to see more of on your particular show.”
Burn Notice airs Thursdays on USA Network. The interactive comic is available both online and for mobile devices.