Last week, The Last Mortal #2 hit comics book stores from from Top Cow. The series documents the life of small-time hoodlum Alec King who botches a hit, and it costs him the life of his best friend. In an effort to end things once and for all, Alex attempts to commit suicide, but after the gun goes off he discovers he has been given the “gift” of immortality. The series is an extremely gritty crime-noir tale that brings to mind some of the genres best including David Lapham’s Stray Bullets and Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinx.
MajorSpoilers.com caught up with Top Cow publisher and Filip Sablik and co-writer John Mahoney, to talk about the series, the magic sales number that a new creator owned project needs to survive, and how the success of Top Cow’s ECHOES has impacted Last Mortal.
Tell us a bit about how the idea for Last Mortal began and how it developed into its present form?
JOHN MAHONEY: The original title for The LAST MORTAL was “The Forever Man”. This was the name Filip and I came up with high school when we originally conceived of Alec, the suicidal immortal. We still plan to follow the basic overall story structure, we set up for the Forever Man so I don’t want to reveal too much…but I do remember in the Forever Man scripts, Alec spent significant time tracking down and destroying images of immortality. That was a super-hero-y angle that did not translate to the current book.
FILIP SABLIK: As John alludes to, we’ve been working on this book on and off for over fifteen years, since we were teenagers. It’s hard to remember exactly when we created Alec and his world, but we know it was definitely before 1996, because as seniors in high school we created an ashcan we took down to Heroes Con to show around to publishers. Thankfully no one gave it much of a second look!
JM: The LAST MORTAL title didn’t come along until Thomas came aboard as artist and, with the new look he brought, Filip and I decided to refresh the story a bit, along with giving it a somewhat less “super-hero-y” title. A title more in line with Alec’s new attitude to live life like a zen koan.
FS: I think we seriously reinvested ourselves into this project about eight years ago after college when we were both working full time. We were both novice writers, so keeping the story as grounded as possible, while maintaining the core conceit of a guy who wants to die, but discovers he is immortal as the one supernatural element helped make it more of manageable story.
The lead character, Alec King, appears to be conflicted; he’s a criminal with the heart of gold. He seems to want to walk the straight and narrow, but the cards he’s dealt prevent him from doing that. Is that conflict within Alec what really drives this series?
JM: Yeah…you pretty much took the words out of my mouth. To keep your metaphor going, the early chapters of the story will deal with Alec’s realization that he can’t win as long as he keep playing with the hand he’s been dealt, so he goes out of his way to force a re-deal. In fact, you might go so far as to say that he brings a whole new set of cards to the game!
FS: As readers begin to see in issue 2, through a series of flashbacks, Alec is a fundamentally decent guy, who unfortunately has really poor judgment. He makes bad decision after bad decision, not because he’s a malicious or bad guy, but because he’s too cowardly to make the right decision. Alec putting a gun to his own head in the first issue is really the culmination of that character flaw. It’s his final attempt to take the easy way out. Now that he can’t he has to re-evaluate his life.
Why was Philadelphia the perfect setting for this series to take place?
JM: The series was originally set in Baltimore, where Filip went to college and worked for several years. But between the conception of the story and publication the WIRE came on television and pretty much set a gold standard for Baltimore crime fiction that we didn’t want to compete with!
FS: I think it was Matt Hawkins who suggested we set it in a different city. Both John and I were familiar with Philadelphia and it shares some characteristics with Baltimore that mad it a great match.
JM: We began looking for East Coast cities with large ports (where Alec could reasonably live in a shipping container) and the more we researched, the more perfect Philly became. We had to re-write the story a bit, to give it more of a PA vibe, but otherwise it was a pretty smooth transition.
The comic immediately remind me of some of the classic crime noir work from guys like David Lapham (Stray Bullets), Brian Azzarello (100 bullets) and Brian Michael Bendis (Jinx, Goldfish). Were you intending the book to have that kind of gritty noir feel to it and were there comics that you used as a sort of template to set the mood?
JM: As lifelong comic book fans it would be impossible for us NOT to be influenced by those books! Stray Bullets was, for my part, certainly an early influence on the book. But really I was trying for more of a Dashielle Hammett or Jim Thomson vibe for this book. I’ve read paperback copies of “The Thin Man” and “The Killer Inside Me” until they fell apart.
FS: Those are pretty high watermarks for comparisons and if we get anywhere near those crime comic classics I’ll feel like we’ve scored a big win. I think like most writers, we both have a ton of influences from comics, books, film and television that we internalize and then they surface in the comic without us realizing it on a conscious level. I’m certainly a big fan of all three of the writers you mentioned, but as someone who came from an artistic background, initially what I loved about the writing process was that I wasn’t over analyzing every choice I made (like I was when I was drawing). In recent years as my primary job has been as an editor and publisher, I’ve definitely seen those influences come in to the process.
Thomas Nachlik’s style is a perfect fit for this book. Where did you find him, why haven’t we seen more of his work in comics and where can fans learn more about his work?
FS: I met Thomas back in 2007 at WizardWorld Chicago doing a portfolio review at the Top Cow booth. I thought he was spectacular, one of the best guys I’d seen at the show, but at the time I told him I thought it was unlikely I’d be able to find him work at Top Cow. This was when I was still the VP of Marketing & Sales, so I wasn’t the one doing the hiring and it was when we were just starting to do projects like Pilot Season and really expanding the branding of Top Cow to be even a bit more broad than it had been previously.
But I was so taken with his work; I contacted him after the show and asked him if he’d be willing to work on a backend personal project of mine. He read the pitch for Last Mortal and really connected with it, so he agreed. Prior to this he’d worked on Flying Friar with Rich Johnston and in a fitting bit of irony since then he’s worked on Pilot Season: Forever for Top Cow. I know he’s currently working on some Batman pages for DC and also about to start another Pilot Season project for us.
JM: We have many more stories written for Alec beyond the present 4-isue miniseries. We just need readers to show enough support for the book that Top Cow is forced to green light further issues!
FS: Let’s just say John and I have definite plans beyond the four issues and are working on some innovative ways to get them out into the world with Thomas.
How has the recent success of ECHOES from Top Cow/Minotaur impacted Last Mortal?
FS: I think we definitely saw stronger orders on Last Mortal #1 because of the great response that Echoes received. Hopefully if we’ve done our jobs right, Last Mortal continues to build the Minotaur Press brand in a really positive way and the next Minotaur series launches even stronger.
You celebrated the release of the first issue by getting the books dragon insignia tattooed onto your back. What prompted you to do that?
FS: Well, John already has an ouroboros tattoo, which is part of the inspiration for the design featured on the covers and the logo. The ouroboros is a symbol for the cyclical nature of life and an endless loop, which seemed fitting for Alec’s story. It plays into the story itself down the line as well. When Thomas first turned in the design, I immediately knew it would make an amazing tattoo.
I think for all three of us, this book represents the culmination of a long journey and a dream to create a really personal comic story. What better way to mark that occasion than to have it permanently inked on your body? For myself, tattoos are a way of commemorating really seminal moments in your life and this definitely qualified. The marketing guy in me couldn’t help but turn it into a promotional stunt at the signing.
JM: Two words: suicidal immortal. A black and white noir book grounded more in the spirit of Hammett and Thompson than Lee and Kirby.
FS: In the spirit of classic noir revenge tales, Last Mortal is the story of one man’s bloody path to redemption with a supernatural twist.
There has a been a lot of talk about market share and falling sales within the industry, for a book like Last Mortal to survive what would it need to sustain itself? Is there a magic sales number you need to achieve to allow this book to survive?
FS: There is a number that would allow Last Mortal to survive and sustain and it’s not that hard of a number to reach, but in the current market even that number is a tall order. The market is very tough currently, but fortunately we have new avenues opening up to us every day. Like any other entertainment medium, there are no guarantees, all you can do is pour your heart and soul into each project and hope that what you make resonates with fans and retailers.
What’s your take on the reboot of the entire DC Comics line in September with 52 new issue #1s?
FS: Both as a publisher and as a creator, I truly hope it pays off for them and the comic market in general. A re-energized DC would greatly benefit the entire market and draw in new readers both in stores and digitally. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding though, so we’ll have to wait and see. You can have the greatest marketing and promotion in the world, but if your editorial content doesn’t deliver, you won’t get return customers.
JM: I would have a stronger opinion if I had read a core DC comic in the last five years. I really feel like the BATAMN line could use some new artistic blood…someone like THOMAS NACHLIK!!! That Frankenstein book looks pretty interesting.
What are some of your favorite books hitting comic shelves each month?
JM: Jim Zub’s “Skullkickers”, Dan Corey’s “Moriarty”, Dave Lapham’s “Caligula” and anything CROSSED.
FS: Well, obviously all of the Top Cow titles, I wouldn’t publish them if I didn’t enjoy and believe in them. I’ve also really been enjoying a ton of Image books like Nonplayer, Butcher Baker, Who is Jake Ellis?, Shinku and Skullkickers. Archaia puts out great material as well and I find I tend to enjoy most of their output.