Tres Dean Rocks Out With the All Time Low: Young Renegades Graphic Novel

For nearly 20 years, the band All Time Low has been preaching the gospel of pop-punk rock'n'roll, touring the world with best-selling albums and high-energy live shows. Now, the band is teaming up with comic book creators Tres Dean, Robert Wilson IV and Megan Huang for the original graphic novel All Time Low Presents: Young Renegades. Published by Z2 Comics, the story delves into the world of parallel universes introduced in the band's 2017 album Last Young Renegade, which evokes classic high school movies as a young couple takes those tentative first steps towards romance.

In an exclusive interview with CBR, Dean discusses working with All Time Low to craft the story for the graphic novel, his own personal love of their music and how the band's music lends itself well to comic book storytelling.

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CBR: With this, you get to work with All Time Low, Robert Wilson IV and Megan Huang. How did this opportunity with Z2 Comics come about?

Tres Dean: I was at my desk last August, and I got a text from Ryan Cady who was, at the time, working at Z2 in an editorial capacity. He asked if I liked All Time Low. And I told him I used to be really into All Time Low, and I still listen to them a bunch. He explained that the band was exploring doing a book at Z2 and I said I'd absolutely love to do that. I had known Josh Frankel, the co-founder and publisher, for years, and I always thought it would be cool to do a book with Z2, but it would depend on who the band was; I wouldn't want to do it with a band I wasn't into, and I didn't have to fake it with All Time Low.

In high school, I saw them play truly more times than I can count, between stops in Richmond and Norfolk and the Warped Tour; they're from Baltimore so they always played in that general area. And as so many people do with music they listened to when they're younger, I had fallen off a little bit; I hadn't heard anything past their 2012 album Don't Panic -- which I liked -- but I was very aware they were still active.

What is it about All Time Low's music that lends itself to comic book storytelling?

Dean: That was sort of the question going into it. When Ryan first put my name forward for the book, I approached it with a sort of caution in that I wanted to be sure it was what [the band] wanted and that I was the right person to do it; I just know what I can bring to it is that I'm a fan of this band, and I have been for a really long time. I have some really treasured memories connected to seeing them live with friends. The way the book came together, and the reason I felt comfortable exploring the idea of doing a comic book with them  - and what lent itself so well to it - is I was thinking of what All Time Low's music signified at large.

My first thought definitely wasn't that we could do a sci-fi epic or something, that doesn't feel like this band, but let me see what they want. From the beginning, they've put a lot of trust in the creative team, but the first thing on the list of things they wanted to do with it was to connect it to their 2017 album Last Young Renegade which, for those that aren't familiar, was sonically a big departure for the band and with the music videos they did for the album. They created a mythos surrounding the album, with a parallel universe and parallel versions of themselves in a band called The Young Renegades, and they wanted to incorporate that.

The other thing they said was that they wanted it to evoke classic high school movies and they mentioned Can't Hardly Wait. I've always wanted to do a comic like that, that's my favorite kind of movie, but I didn't really know if there was a space to do it in comics. What ended up lending itself so well is we were very much on the same page of what it could be because, to me, All Time Low is about being between the ages of 18-22 and learning how love works and, through that, learning about yourself; that was my experience with them.

Z2 wanted to admittedly expedite the process of getting this book done by having two artists on board and with the fact that this book was going to involve flashbacks to experiences the characters had at All Time Low shows and flashes to this parallel universe where the band is set up, I decided to have one artist in the present and one in the flash-sideways. And with that, I realized this wasn't going to be a storyboard for a high school movie I never got to write but it was going to be a comic; I can use the visual language of the medium to best tell this version of the story.

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Was there a specific song or lyric that helped you crack the story?

Dean: The one trip I took during the pandemic was to visit my hometown of Richmond for a couple days right around the time communication [with the band] was starting, and I listened Last Young Renegade on the drive down to hone in on it. I listened to the whole album, but I kept coming back to the title track and there was a point between Maryland and Delaware where I listened to "Last Young Renegade" probably two dozen times. One, because it's legitimately my favorite All Time Low song now, but it also all came to me as I listening to that song on loop; I knew exactly what I wanted to present to the band.

There was a meeting in the middle where we needed to incorporate the mythology surrounding the album a little bit more into it, and the input they had was really helpful but this was a version of the story that I came up with listening to that song on loop which I didn't expect at all.

You've gotten to write an entire book of essays about The Rock and now you're working with a band about adapting their work. Does that added responsibility change your writing approach?

Dean: I can't say from experience, but it's probably not all that different from writing the Ninja Turtles or Superman. You approach it with the understanding that your job is to make a version of this story that a very specific group of people want told and for them to have input on it.

How was it been working with Robert and Megan and how has that refined your writing process for the book?

Dean: Having Rob and Megan on board is sort of the best of both worlds because I love working with artists I've never heard of, and I hadn't heard of Megan until we connected through the book. I've known Rob for years and always wanted to work on something with him and availability lined up and Rob was into the story. I remember talking to Ryan and several artists came up and I said "I can't help but think this would look really good if Rob drew it" but I get bashful about working with friends and I didn't want Rob to feel pressured because we are friends. Ryan reached out and made it happen and, as soon as Rob was on, I knew it was going to be sick and it has been.

Megan draws a slightly more significant page count than Rob, because of the nature of the book, and working with Megan has taught me a lot about scripting and learning more about what a character needs to be emoting, which is hard panel-to-panel because it's a drawing, not a person. I've tried to avoid cinematic parallels because it's not a storyboard, but it does draw so heavily from a specific genre of film that it's kind of inevitable. Without going into spoilers, it's taught me a lot about writing romance and what a certain sect of comic readers would call "yearning," which is very complicated and a very hard needle to thread. It's been cool learning how to do that better because it can make [the little moments] mean so much more if you have made everything that leads to that moment mean something.

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With this book set to ship this June and already doing gangbusters in preorders, what are you excited about getting to share with fans with this book?

Dean: I'm a person in 2008 on MySpace reading bulletins trying to decipher what "Remembering Sunday" was about and, because of that, I feel like I know how to play to what the audience really likes, and one of things that I talked about with Alex [Gaskarth] really early on in the book was how we could appeal to and stoke the Reddit threads about the Last Young Renegade Universe that they've set up; there are intense conspiracy theory threads on Reddit about what it all means.

I got a peek at this paying off when the book was announced, and I saw people in the replies immediately theorizing who the characters were and how they connected to Easter eggs in the videos. There's so much of that in the book so, if there's something I'm most excited to see, it's how the fanbase responds to that and the directions in which they run with it. We're still in the process of making the book ,and I'm the most excited about anything I've ever done to see Rob and Megan draw the book's emotional climax which is going to look really spectacular.

Written by Tres Dean and illustrated by Robert Wilson IV and Megan Huang, All Time Low Presents: Young Renegades is available for preorder now through Z2 Comics.

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Sam Stone is a 10th level pop culture guru living just outside of Washington, DC who knows an unreasonable amount about The Beatles. You can follow him on Twitter @samstoneshow and ask him about Nintendo, pop punk, and Star Trek.

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