"I like to think that you swallowed it like an anaconda devouring its prey," artist Tommy Cannon says to writer Philip Haldiman.
The trio are the creative team behind My Big Break, a comics series about the making of The Room. Of the three men sitting around the table, Haldiman should know where that apple went: After all, he played Denny. But the Phoenix resident shrugs.
It's just one of many inexplicable events in that film that the three friends and collaborators are trying to make sense of.
Released in 2003, The Room is a million-dollar vanity project that finds Wiseau (who looks like the lovechild of Fabio and Skeletor) trying and magnificently failing to make a serious drama film. It's like watching the efforts of a man who's never seen a movie set out to create an Ingmar Bergman joint. It's a film whose construction is so inept and counterintuitive that it would be nearly impossible to recreate by anyone who knows how movies work. It'd be like a band that actually knows how to play their instruments trying to cover The Shaggs' Philosophy Of The World note for note.
For most people, The Room is an off-kilter world that they can visit and hoot at it with glee for a couple of hours.
For Haldiman, it was a part of his life. Living for a few years in Los Angeles, he got to witness the madness of this once-in-a-lifetime bad movie unfold before his own eyes. And now, with the help of Cannon and Bennett, he's bringing that insider perspective to the page.
When Haldiman and Cannon first started working on the series, neither of them had any experience making comics. They met each other through Haldiman's brother Sam, an improviser with the Torch Theatre where Tommy occasionally performs. A cartoonist, animator, and schlock-movie host (as his alter-ego Dr. Zombie), Cannon's Ed Wood-y aesthetic meshed well with Haldiman's stories about how bizarre and strange it was to live in Wiseau's world. Bringing in designer Kyle Bennett to add depth with inks and contribute his printing experience, the three men released their first issue at FilmBar and the book picked up steam from there.
When My Big Break started publishing, it was right around the time that an interest in behind-the-scenes material about the film started picking up. Haldiman's costar Greg Sestero (playing the wooden Mark) published a book called The Disaster Artist that is currently being adapted into a film by James Franco (playing Wiseau). Many of the other cast members make regular appearances at screenings and conventions, and are also working on their tell-all stories.
What separates My Big Break from other The Room books is its unique combination of autobiography and fan fiction. In addition to telling Haldiman's story, the comics also delve into the unexplored backstory of The Room, offering what-if explanations for questions like how Denny knows drug dealer Chris R or where Johnny gets his philosophies from.
"We want to turn it into a digest full of stuff that fans can really sink their teeth into," Burnett says. That's why the books are full of fun add-ons: mazes, an advice column written by Lisa's shrewish mother Claudette, recipes on how to make "Scotchka" ("Perfect for the man you don't love anymore!", the blurb reads), text short stories, fill-in dialogue bubbles that fans can submit new lines on, even poems that Haldiman wrote while he was living in L.A. "Not good poetry," Haldiman clarifies.
"It's the stuff that Archie used to do ... Mad Magazine... Disney... we're just following in the footsteps of our Golden Age predecessors," Cannon says.
For Haldiman, the bonus features also make sense on a thematic level. "Donald Duck comic books came to mind," he says as the team acknowledges the influence of Carl Barks' work. "They're so old-school and innocent. It's kinda how I was before I left."
The trio are currently working on their next issue, where they'll continue to fill in the blanks about Haldiman's time in Hollywood and puzzle out some of the movie's secrets — like why Chris R is named Chris R.
"They gave each character their own name! No other character in this film is named Chris," Cannon says. "He could have just been Chris."
Haldiman nods in agreement. "Nobody knows what the R stands for. I should have asked Tommy... but I don't even know if he knows."
The Room is screening on Sunday, August 27, at 7 p.m. at 51 West in Tempe. Back issues of My Big Break are available to order on Philip Haldiman's site.