In a small mining town on a faraway planet, Clara Bronson has found a new home. Ready to escape her past and start over with her young son Zeke, Clara has taken a job as Copperhead’s new sheriff, much to the disappointment of certain townsfolk. Among a diverse cast of unique aliens (including a couple of hillbillies fighting on the lawn, like they do), Clara begins to uncover her new home’s secrets while trying to keep her own buried. But in a town this small, nothing stays hidden for long and it’s up to Clara to keep the peace. Blending the whisky-stained danger of a Western with the alien landscapes of science fiction, “Copperhead” promises to be a can’t-miss part of Image Comics’ fall lineup.
Writer Jay Faerber saddled up to CBR News, giving us a sneak peak at the first issue and sticking around to entice us with details about the upcoming series, including how he connected with the book’s artistic team of Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley and Thomas Mauer, and what made Brian K. Vaughan call the comic “the best Image debut of the year.”
CBR News: Tell me a bit about the development of “Copperhead.” Is this something you’ve been working on for a long time?
Jay Faerber: Yeah, I’veÂ been wantingÂ to do a “Western on an alien planet” for a long time now. I’m certainly not the first person to mash up these two genres; “Star Trek” was pitched as “‘Wagon Train’ in space” all those years ago. But I liked the idea of setting our story in a town, a set location, rather than on a spaceship. I wanted to play with the iconic Western archetypes you see in those movies — the sheriff, the doctor, the mayor, the bartender, etc. It wasn’t until I hooked up with ScottÂ GodlewskiÂ that the idea started to get fleshed out in detail. But I’ve had the basic germ of the idea for a good ten years now.
You’ve worked with your colorist Ron Riley before, but how did Scott and Thomas Mauer come to the team?
I’ve been a fan of Scott’s stuff since he drew “Dracula: The Company of Monsters” andÂ “Codebreakers”Â over at Boom. I reached out to time about collaborating on a new project, something different. And I just could never crack the premise — I couldn’t get it to work. So eventually I pitched him this Western/sci-fi idea and he liked it and we just started spit ballingÂ back and forth. I’ve got dozens and dozens of emails with all of our various ideas. It’s been a really great collaboration.
Likewise, I’ve been a fan of Thomas’s lettering and design forÂ a whileÂ now too. When it came time to look for a letterer/designer, he was the first guy I approached.
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Did you have a clear aesthetic in mind of the various worlds and creatures that we see?
â€¨I really didn’t. What you see on the page is almost 100% Scott. On a few occasions, I had some small notes or adjustments, but visually the book is all Scott.
In the first issue, we meet Clara Bronson, the new sheriff of Copperhead. We learn two things about her right away: she can take care of herself, and she can take care of her son. What are some other important aspects of her character?
We see right away that Clara is self-sufficient. She has to be. She’s really got no one else to rely on, and that’s almost a shortcoming of hers. You can see in the first issue that she doesn’t seem to respect or even trust her new deputy,Â Boo. So her self-reliance is bothÂ a strengthÂ and a weakness. She’s also very smart, she’s a good detective and she’s also a good mother. She’s there for her son as much as she can be — which isn’t as much as she’d like to be.
When you’re writing a character with a complexÂ back-storyÂ like Clara, how do you decide which aspects of it inform her character?
Everything about Clara informs her character. She’s the sum of all her parts. But I’m not the kind of writer who maps out everything about a character from the start. I know there are writers who can’t write until they’ve carefully constructed an entire biography for each of their main characters. I don’t work that way. I like being locked in like that. I like discovering things as I go.
Are there things that you’ve discovered about who Clara is in the process that have surprised you?
I don’t think I originally anticipated the size of the chip on her shoulder, the ways in which she seems to over-compensate for being a “woman in a man’s job,” so to speak. That hard edge started showing up in her conversations with Deputy Boo and rather than tone it down in the editing, I wound up letting it come through as-is. I think it’s an interesting flaw — if such a thing even is a flaw, which is certainly debatable.
We meet her deputy Boo in the first issue, and learn a bit about what he’s been dealing with. Who are some other main characters we will meet?
In issue #1, we also meet Hickory, the owner of the big mine that the town of Copperhead is built around. He’ll be an important player to the series. Even though he’s not an elected official, he acts as if he owns the town because he kind of does. The town exists to support the mine, and he knows it. There’s also Doc Mosley, who we’ll meet in issue #2. He’s the town doctor, and he’s a hoot. Scott gave him such a great, quirky visual that IÂ wannaÂ write him for a long time. There’s also Clara’s son, Zeke, who has his mother’s fearlessness but not her experience — which leads to him getting into trouble. AndÂ there’sÂ theÂ Sewells, a family of alien hillbillies living outside town.
All of the otherÂ life formsÂ have such cool designs — can you talk a bit about their development?
We went back and forth on the design for Deputy Boo quite a bit, but everyone else was all Scott. I had very minimal ideas in my head about what these characters looked like, so Scott had free rein. In a lot of cases, I didn’t even specify if the characters were human or alien — I left that up to Scott. Doc Mosley is a good example. I left it up to Scott as to whether Doc was a human or an alien, and Scott decided he’d be a human, but he’s still got this wonderfully expressive, quirky look to him.
Brian K. Vaughan said that this was his favorite new release as of late — what was your reaction to that?
All I can say is that I’m glad we got such a ringing endorsement, considering what I had to pay him to say that. I had to take out a second mortgage on my house! But I think it’ll pay off in the long run.
Are there any other projects that you’re working on?
I’m out pitching new TV pilot at the moment, and I’ve got a few other Image books in the works. One that launches in October, and three more that will launch sometime in early 2015.
“Copperhead” debuts in September from Image Comics.