‘Expiration Date’ graphic series creators exult as 5-year-project culminates in a novel

ST. GEORGE – Everybody’s life has an expiration date.

In a world where disease has been eliminated and cloning technology has allowed man to achieve near immortality, a new problem has presented itself in the wake of this wondrous accomplishment of science – overpopulation. With people living longer and lacking an “expiration date” as it were, a way has been put in place to give them one.

“Everyone has a small device implanted in their heart at birth that, sometime randomly after their 18th birthday, will open and cause you to die in your sleep,” artist Lee Wiley said. “It’s a population control program.”

That’s how Wiley, a St. George resident and illustrator, introduced the future dystopian world of “Expiration Date,” a five-year long project he has collaborated with a Hollywood screenplay writer to bring to life through the pages of a five-issue comic book series that both plan to have collected into a graphic novel.

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The plot of the story is the brainchild of Robert Zappia, a screenplay writer who wrote the story for 1998’s “Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later” and various television programs across different genres, according to IMDB.com.

The story penned by Zappia starts with the death of a United States presidential candidate who opposes the population control program. As he gains momentum, his implant activates and kills him. Shortly after that, the death device implanted in the coroner conducting the candidate’s autopsy also activates and he dies.

“The remaining clues fall to Dack Cutter, a former police officer, very jaded in life, and it’s basically up to him to make sure (the truth) gets out or he’s going to die trying, and the trail stops there.”

As a tagline for the story goes: Time is running out.

Poster for Expiration Date | Image courtesy of Lee Wiley, St. George News
Poster for Expiration Date | Image courtesy of Lee Wiley, St. George News

The story behind the story

“Expiration Date” was originally intended to be a film.

Having written in both television and for feature films, I always envisioned Exp. Date as a live action thriller,” Zappia said in an email to St. George News. “I wrote the screenplay on spec and crossed my fingers that a major studio would pick it up for development. The screenplay was well received, but it was a tentpole film with a wallet-busting budget and no big star talent attached (sadly, no Tom Cruise).”

While Zappia would have great meetings related to the script and even get a few well-paying writing gigs as a result of those meetings, the idea of “Expiration Date” as a film wasn’t coming to pass.

Instead, Zappia would turn to the world of graphic novels, which looked like the perfect alternative for his story.

“In the comic book format budget wasn’t an issue!” Zappia wrote. “I didn’t have to worry about the cost of practical sets or CGI (computer-generated imaging) effects or Tom Cruise! Win-win!”

Once the decision was made to convert the story into a comic book, Zappia didn’t have to look far for the artist he wanted.

The Illustrator

Lee Wiley holds a copy of the first issue of Expiration Date, a comic series he has illustrated and labored over since 2011 with Hollywood screenplay writer Robert Zappia, St. George, Utah, Aug.27, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Lee Wiley holds a copy of the first issue of Expiration Date, a comic series he has illustrated and labored over since 2011 with Hollywood screenplay writer Robert Zappia, St. George, Utah, Aug.27, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“I’m an illustrator and an aspiring artist of all sorts of projects,” Wiley said.

Wiley has been drawn to comic books, and drawing them, since he was a child.

As a youngster in the ’80s, he recalled his parents getting him a copy of “Batman: A Death in the Family,” which sparked his interest. That spark was fanned into a fire as the years wore on and he was drawn to the illustrative works of comic artists Jim Lee and Frank Miller in the early ’90s.

“Wait a minute, these guys draw books and comics for a living?” Wiley said he realized one day, adding, “I need to learn how to do that.”

It wasn’t long before a young Wiley was creating his own comics out of computer paper and staples, he said. He passion for drawing, and his ability, didn’t go unnoticed by a particular family member.

“Lee is actually my nephew,” Zappia said in the email. “From a very early age I recognized how talented he was! The first drawing of his I remember vividly was a drawing of a comic book hero called Mayhem. It blew me away.”

A scene from the Expiration Date comic book series, illustrated by Lee Wiley | Image courtesy of Lee Wiley, St. George News
A scene from the Expiration Date comic book series, illustrated by Lee Wiley | Image courtesy of Lee Wiley, St. George News

Wiley was fortunate to have parents who supported his wanting to be an artist for a living, he said. He eventually graduated school with a Bachelor of Arts and has gone to work as an artist for Ydraw, a video marketing company in St. George.

When not engaged in creative endeavors at his day job, Wiley works on his own art and projects. From 2011 till now, the biggest project has been “Expiration Date.”

“It’s been a real high seeing the written words as (they) come to life in illustration form on the page,” Zappia said. “Lee has brought an immense amount of creativity and imagination to the project and elevated the screenplay to the next level.”

The time grows short

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Wiley said reflecting on the last five years working with Zappia and bringing “Expiration Date” to fruition. “It’s a very rewarding feeling to see it finish.”

In order to produce the first issue of “Expiration Date,” Wiley and Zappia turned to the Kickstarter crowdfunding website for help – and it worked. The first issue was funded and produced.

The publication of additional issues have been financed privately and personally, Wiley said.

A scene from the Expiration Date comic book series, illustrated by Lee Wiley | Image courtesy of Lee Wiley, St. George News
A scene from the Expiration Date comic book series, illustrated by Lee Wiley | Image courtesy of Lee Wiley, St. George News

“Honestly, in the beginning, I wasn’t even sure we’d make it past the first issue,” Zappia said. “It was a thrill to get that first one published, but we had no idea what the response would be and if we would be lucky enough to garner enough interest in the series to get us to the fifth and final issue.”

Zappia also said it’s been great to see Lee’s ability as an artist grow over the last five years with the production of each issue.

“I think this fifth issue is going to be the best one yet,” he said.

It’s hard to believe it’s coming to an end, Wiley said, as “Expiration Date” has been a huge part of his life since 2011.

“I think it’s a fantastic character story and a fun action piece,” he said. “I want as many people to enjoy it as much as I have.”

There is currently a Kickstarter campaign online underway till Sept. 9 to help fund the production of an “Expiration Date” graphic novel that collects all five comic book issues into one book. Individuals who wish to donate can visit the Kickstarter page here.

The anticipated delivery date for the graphic novel is December 2016.

“We have many of the same readers who come back each year telling us how excited they are to read the next issue,” Zappia said. “More than anything, I’m looking forward to getting this final issue in the hands of the readers who have been so patient with us. To steal from our tagline ‘time is running out’ and in this case, it’s a glorious thing!”

The covers of each issue of Expiration Date and the potential graphic novel | Image courtesy of Lee Wiley, St. George News
The covers of each issue of Expiration Date and the potential graphic novel | Image courtesy of Lee Wiley, St. George News

Resources

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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