Writer Jay Faerber is best known within the comics industry for his work on his creator owned superhero series Noble Causes and Dynamo 5, as well as runs on
Generation X and The New Warriors for Marvel. Now after more than a decade of writing superheroes, Faerber has hung up his cape to delve into a world hardboiled crime and get his hands dirty in the new ongoing series from Image Comics Near Death.
Near Death is the story of Markham, a hit man for hire that gets a glimpse of the hell that awaits him in the afterlife following a near-fatal gunshot. Now having seen hell, Markham is determined to avoid his grim fate and sets out on a path to redemption.
Near Death takes the tough-as-nails noir of critically acclaimed crime comics like Criminal and 100 Bullets, and infuses it with a sense of nostalgic edge of your seat excitement that pioneering TV crime dramas like The Rockford Files and Magnum, P.I. executed so perfectly. Faerber is breathing new life into the crime genre with Near Death and this series is absolutely essential reading for every noir-junkie.
We caught up with Jay Faerber to discuss his decision to leave spandex behind and jump into a world of hitmen, crooked cops, perverts, and mob style double-crossing.
Near Death is a crime comic with a unique twist to the series, where a
hitman is trying to redeem himself for the lives he’s taken over the years.
Talk about the genesis for this series and how it differs from your typical
I always have a hard time explaining where I got the idea for a book or a character. Ideas just happen, you know? It’s part of the creative process. All I know is that I’ve had the idea for five years or so, before I decided to take the plunge and actually DO IT. I’ve always been attracted to stories about redemption — bad guys trying to go straight, and I thought a hitman who’s going straight because he’s afraid of going to Hell when he dies was an original angle on the redemption story. The concept itself is also broad enough that I can tell all kinds of stories within it.
What are some of the key elements that you feel make a great crime story?
I never really think about stories in terms of ingredients. But I think all stories — crime or otherwise — have to have interesting characters that you care about. Everything else is secondary. I also like to surprise readers, to resolve stories in ways they may not have seen coming, or to have characters they THINK they understand act in surprising — yet in-character — ways. But again, that applies to all stories, not just crime stories.
So far the stories have been self-contained in a “one and done” format. What
was it about that format that made it work for Near Death?
It’s really just a way to give myself a new challenge. I’ve written serialized super-hero stuff for so long that it became very easy to kick the can down the street at the end of each issue, and leave a lot of the story dangling to be picked up at a later date. I always want to grow as a writer, and make each story better than the last, so I felt that by telling largely self-contained stories I’d be flexing different muscles than telling heavily serialized stories. That said, there are multi-part Near Death stories. Issues 4 and 5 comprise a two-parter, and issues 8 and 9 will also likely be a two-parter. But I hope the heart of the series remains tight, done-in-one stories.
Near Death is a complete departure from your previous bodies of work on
Noble Causes and Dynamo 5, which were superhero books. Why was now the
perfect time to launch the book and did you make a conscious decision to
step from superheroes with this book?
I definitely made a conscious decision to step away from super-hero books, and that was for two reasons. Reason number one is that I’ve been writing super-hero comics quite regularly for 13 years and I was getting kind of tired of it. Reason number two is that as much as I love super-hero stories, I also really love crime and adventure stories. I
read and watch a lot of crime and adventure novels and TV shows, and I wanted to play in that sandbox for awhile.
Near Death features art by Simone Guglielmini, who work is relatively
unknown to the US comics market. Where has this guys been hiding and how did you discover him?
Simone’s been working on the outside edges of the comic book industry for a little while now, and if I hadn’t grabbed him for Near Death I’m sure he’d be working with someone else by this point. He’s already had interest from other publishers since Near Death started, but I’m fortunate in that he really loves the book and has decided to stick with it. I found him on DeviantArt and I’ve really lucked out in finding artists online in the past. Mahmud Asrar and Yildiray Cinar are two great examples, and they’re both getting great acclaim at DC Comics these days.
Tomm Coker is handling the covers for Near Death and doing some of the best
covers on stands. What was it about his style that made it perfect to create
covers for this series?
It’s a funny story about how Tomm joined the book. He had pitched a series to Image called Undying Love. Image publisher Eric Stephenson loved it and wanted to do the book, there was just one problem – I already had a book in development called Undying Love. It’s something I’ve been working on very slowly with artist Fran Bueno. So Tomm asked if I’d be willing to change the title of my comic and in return he offered to do cover work for me. I agreed, and that’s how we got Tomm to do the covers for our first five issues. I think the arrangement worked out really well — and you should all check out Undying Love. It’s great stuff!
I’ve read that before issue #1 of Near Death even hit stands you had 4 issues completely in the can. As a creator owned project that’s almost unheard of. How did you manage to get so far ahead without knowing if the series would be successful?
Yeah, issue #3 should be out around the time this interview is published, and as I write this Simone is inking issue #7. I really want the book to maintain a regular schedule, so I’ve been very adamant that we didn’t solicit the book until we had a very generous lead time. I’ve been very fortunate that Simone was willing to work this way since it’s a gamble for everyone involved — me, him, and Image.
Image Comics has had a history of notoriously late books in the past, how important is it to you that the series comes out on time?
Very, very important. A wonky schedule can kill a book in its infancy. As it stands now, issue #3 is shipping a week late and that’s no one’s fault but mine. We had the issue done, but I made a mistake in not getting the book approved at the printer in time to make our ship date. So even having a good lead time is no insurance against human error. But I’m bound and determined not to let that happen again.
How difficult of a sell is an ongoing crime comic in today’s superhero driven marketplace? Is there a magic number that Near Death needs to hit sales wise to continue to thrive?
It’s very, very hard. We had the misfortune of launching the same month that DC launched their New 52. So we would’ve had an uphill battle to begin with, but it was made especially challenging by DC’s aggressive launch. There is a segment of the audience that likes crime comics, but that segment is still dwarfed by those that prefer super-heroes and only super-heroes. I don’t know if there’s a “magic number” we need to hit, exactly. And we’re prepared to let the book find its legs, but if it’s not successful after a certain point, we’ll have to make the decision as to whether we’re going to continue it or not.
You got started in comics with runs on Generation X and The New Warriors for Marvel, but then shifted to creator owned work at Image with Noble Causes and Dynamo 5. It seems like the industry trend at the moment is for
artists/writers to get their start doing creator owned material and then
they move away from creator owned projects that as they get more work from
Marvel/DC. With your time working on comics so limited these days, why
continue creator owned series verses doing work for hire?
I think the recent trend of people starting on creator-owned work and “graduating” to work-for-hire is ass-backwards. Creator-owned work should be what people aspire to. You may tell the greatest Spider-Man story EVER, but at the end of the day, Spider-Man isn’t your character. You don’t own him, or the stories you tell. Don’t get me
wrong, it was a great thrill to write some of the characters I grew up reading. But that doesn’t come close to thrill of creating – actually CREATING — characters and worlds that I own. So it’s actually BECAUSE my time is so limited that I’m focusing on creator-owned work and not work-for-hire.
Near Death is now available digitally the same day as print on Graphically
and Comixology. What is your take on the whole digital verses print debate?
Is it more important to embrace digital for creator owned works?
It’s a balancing act — the digital platform isn’t at a place that anyone can really make a living from it yet, so we still need print comics. There’s no doubt about that. But digital comics ARE on the upswing, so I think it’d be foolish for creators not to embrace the format.
What are some of the book that you are currently reading on a monthly basis?
I think my favorite book these days is Daredevil. Mark Waid, Marcos Martin, and Paolo Rivera are really hitting it out of the park each month. I really loved what Bendis, Brubaker, and Diggle did on the book, but Waid has really taken it in an interesting, fun new direction.
You are a staff writer on the CW TV series Ringer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, tell us a bit about the show for those that haven’t seen it…
Ringer is about Bridget, a girl on the run from the mob, who ends up assuming the identity of her presumed-dead twin sister, Siobhan, only to find out that Siobhan’s life is just as dangerous as Bridget’s. It’s a fun, twisty, neo-noir show. There’s really nothing like it on TV. It’s part thriller, part nighttime soap and I’m having the time of my life working on it.
In closing give us your best pitch for Near Death, to someone who hasn’t
read the series?
Near Death is about a hitman who has a near death experience and gets a glimpse of Hell. Upon being revived, he’s so terrified by what he’s seen that he decides to start saving a life for every life he’s taken. And he’s taken a lot of lives. The book is about a bad man who does good things for a very selfish reason. Does that make him a hero?
That’s the question that will be addressed as the book progresses.