China is indisputably one of the world’s most important nations, but in the ’70s and ’80s, while they still clawing its way to the top, a culture of lawlessness prevailed. What was a board meeting one moment could become a hostage negotiation the next. Chinese businessmen saw fit to travel with highly trained personal bodyguards, and it was this real-life practice that inspired Aspen’s “Executive Assistant Iris.” CBR News caught up with writer David Wohl to get the details.
Wohl got the idea for “Iris” from an article he read some years back in the New York Times. “The boardroom wasn’t exactly the safest place, so high level corporate executives would hire bodyguards for protection,” Wohl told CBR. “Unfortunately, some legitimate businessmen tended to get insulted by the presence of a hulking bodyguard, so a compromise was created: a young woman– an Executive Assistant– who would act as a bodyguard and secretary rolled into one. And schools were created to train these people. Girls would enter when they were very young and would be trained in everything from typing to hand-to-hand combat, and everything in-between.”
Iris is one such executive assistant, in the employ of a very powerful and successful businessman by the name of Mr. Ching. “Iris is basically an indentured servant to Ching,” Wohl said. “Her job is to do anything he asks of her, no matter how mundane or dangerous, and she follows his orders to the letter.”
Iris takes her job very seriously, and takes pride in doing it well. “Whether it’s pouring tea or defending her boss, she’s all business. She lives to serve Mr. Ching and nothing else,” Wohl continued. “She doesn’t date, she doesn’t go to movies, she doesn’t socialize — except with the people that her employer tells her to, all in the name of business.”
At the beginning of the story, Iris is willing to sink to any depths to safeguard Ching and his business interests, and does so without compunction. “She never questions the ethics or the morality of her actions, her job isn’t to judge what he’s doing,” Wohl explained. “But over the course of the story, as his requests get more and more questionable, she begins to realize that things aren’t quite so black and white as she previously believed. And that realization is quite a shock to her.”
The first issue of “Iris” starts out with a bang, and sees the title character save her employer from not only a business deal gone bad, but also from an assassination attempt at the hands of his partners. “Ching then sends Iris after his partners in retaliation, and the story unfolds as Iris travels across the globe to seek them out,” Wohl said.
But many of Ching’s former partners have executive assistants of their own, who hail from the same school as Iris. The first assistant Iris has to contend with is a girl named Rose, who she encounters in “Executive Assistant Iris” #2. “Joe Benitez did an awesome design job on her. She’s a bad-ass!” Wohl said.
“Along the way we slowly reveal what life was like at Iris’ school, and Iris begins to come to terms with what happened to her in her past,” Wohl continued. “She also begins to contemplate her position in life and what she’s really doing for her boss. She begins to develop a conscience, something that’s a liability in the world of executive assistants.”
David Wohl co-created “Iris” with the late, great Michael Turner. Wohl had been looking for an opportunity to re-team with Turner since their collaboration on Top Cow’s “Witchblade,” but their busy schedules had rendered that impossible until recently. “I had been spending a lot of time at Aspen, hanging out with the guys while I was doing my writing, and I asked if they’d be interested in a project that my business partner Brad Foxhoven and I had been working on for a few years,” Wohl explained. “At the beginning we wrote up the general storyline and had some character designs done by the great Joe Benitez. We had some fits and starts with other publishers, but it hadn’t taken shape yet.”
Wohl pitched “Iris” to Aspen’s Frank Mastromauro and Vince Hernandez as a project that might be just up Turner’s alley. “They took it to Michael, and luckily he liked it! He immediately was visualizing set pieces for the story and traits of the character. It was very cool!”
Wohl originally met “Iris” artist Eduardo Francisco on MySpace. “I saw these beautiful pin-ups that he did and felt that he had a really good grasp of the female form,” Wohl said. “Then I saw some sequential work that he had done in the past and he seemed like a natural.” And when Wohl pitched the artist to Aspen, they didn’t take much convincing.
The development process of “Iris” was bittersweet for David Wohl, as Turner’s health was already in a downswing. “I was really happy to be working with Michael and his company again, but it was difficult as well because of what Michael was going through,” the writer said. “In the end, I’m very happy with the way the book is turning out. Michael’s contribution, along with Frank, Vince and Peter Steigerwald, has been invaluable. And once we got rolling, my goal has been to make a book that Mike would be proud of, and so far I think that we’ve succeeded.”
“Executive Assistant Iris” #0 is on stands now, and issue #1 is coming to a store near you on June 17 from Aspen Comics.