Jim McCann “Minds the Gap”

by  in Comic News Comment
Jim McCann “Minds the Gap”

McCann, Esquejo and Oback “Mind the Gap” at Image in May

Jim McCann first made a name for himself in the comics world as a public relations ninja for Marvel Comics. A few years back, he stepped down to follow his dream of becoming a comic book writer. In addition to penning Marvel projects such as “Hawkeye & Mockingbird,” “Widowmaker” and “Chaos War: Alpha Flight,” he also teamed up with artist Janet Lee to create the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel “Return of the Dapper Men” through Archaia. April sees the next step in his comic book career as McCann makes the leap into the world of ongoing creator-owned comics with “Morning Glories” cover artist Rodin Esquejo and colorist Sonia Oback.

The Image Comics-published “Mind the Gap” follows the adventures of a young woman named Elle who is brutally attacked and finds herself in a coma. However, that doesn’t mean she’s not awake somewhere. The series revolves around the amnesiac Elle trying not only to figure out who attacked her, but also remember who she is — all while trying to reconnect with her body, which she is separated from on another plane of existence.

CBR News first spoke to McCann at New York Comic Con, right after the series was first announced, but with the premiere on the way, we caught back up with the writer once again. After discussing his unorthodox schedule, his recent attendance of reading of “Reservoir Dogs” starring Terrence Howard and a failed attempt to find out what some of his more oblique tweets have been about, CBR News finally got down to business with the writer to discuss the series’ more metaphysical elements, working in the creator-owned realm and making comics with “Morning Glories” cover artist Rodin Esquejo and “X-Men Legacy” colorist Sonia Oback.

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CBR News: Sometimes, when cover artists work on interiors, they use a different style or don’t look as crisp as we’re used to, but Rodin actually looks as good if not better than we’re used to seeing on his “Morning Glories” covers.

It sounds like you have a very clear vision of where the story will go and who’s behind it all, but do you have a specific goal in mind in terms of how many issues the series will run?

No, I know what the ending is and I know when it will end, but I don’t know the issue number. I know all the information we need to give and also a lot of the secrets that need to be revealed and what secrets need to be kept until the end so it’s still suspenseful. I love suspenseful mysteries and this has been my love letter to those. I’ve watched a lot of Hitchcock and a lot of film noir, things that sink into that sort of genre, but then also it is very much “X-Files” meets “Twin Peaks” because there’s a preternatural element to it, there’s a mystery behind it and everyone’s involved. The tag line I’ve had in mind for this is, “Everyone is a suspect, nobody is innocent.” That’s the mantra for this book.

How do you physically keep track of all the mysteries? I’m sure there’s documents on your computer, but I know that TV shows often use wipe boards as well.

I have a document and I have a wipe board that I outline every issue on and also has off to the side what characters or elements to introduce. It’s physically there in the corner of my eye by my desk. When I did the character descriptions, I put in there what major roles they play in the overall mystery so that Rodin and Sonia know what that character was eventually going to do — what Elle is going to do, what is she like in the two worlds. They know who the character under the hood is, so there are a few things that they’ll do to give little hints.

The story kicks off pretty quickly, throwing the reader right into the story. Was that idea there from the beginning?

It drops in right after Elle has been attacked. We’re in the hospital, there are already relationships and friction between some of the doctors. There’s friction between Elle’s family and her boyfriend and her friends. We definitely get a sense of being right in the middle of the story with them. It’s kind of a cold open where it just goes — bam — right into it. You’ll learn a lot more about them and how they got there as the series progresses. One of the reasons I wanted to drop the readers into the middle of the story is because in addition to being in a coma and being able to see what everyone is saying, Elle has no memory. She has to play detective, not just behind the attack, but in her entire life. It is playing with the idea of identity. How do you see yourself and how much of that is influenced by what people say about you and what traits they remember and ascribe to you most. We’re going to see somebody try to piece back her entire existence and also try to solve this attempt on her life before whoever’s behind it strikes again. I want the audience to be in Elle’s shoes. She’s really our POV character.

It seems like comic readers, especially ones who are looking at Image books, will be okay with being dropped right into the story.

They’re patient. One of the really good things about Image and creator-owned books in general is, you can do that, you can start in the middle of a story because you’re telling your own story. You’re not telling a Spider-Man story and you don’t have to worry about what happened in issue #554 when you’re writing issue #692. You are writing issue one and the audience is right there with you. We’re all in this from the beginning, which I love.

I think this is one of the reasons you’re seeing a resurgence in creator-owned books as far as popularity goes because [readers] want to jump in and they want to be a part of the story from the beginning. One of the things that Image is doing great is the Experience Creativity campaign. You can see from their line that there’s a whole gamut of books that are out there and a lot of them are by people who write or have written superhero comics. I think today’s audience still want the superhero books, but are also more willing to follow the creators because they like what they do with the superheroes. So there’s almost as much of a following to the creators as the characters. I feel like in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s, it was more about a loyalty to the character and now there’s a certain sense of liking this girl or guy’s work and wanting to check [their creator-owned work] out.

[For example,] I love Scott Snyder on “Batman” and then you read “Severed” or “American Vampire” and you’re like, “Oh my god, this is the same guy.” And Jonathan Hickman. He’s got two ongoings coming up from Image [“The Manhattan Projects” and “Secret”] plus his Marvel work [like “Fantastic Four”]. He brings a unique voice to both. His take on the FF is fantastic and you can tell it’s Jonathan Hickman, but it’s also the FF in the best possible way. One isn’t interfering with or overshadowing the other. Then you go and read “Manhattan Projects” or “Red Wing” or “Nightly News,” that’s Jonathan at the purest level. That’s just him letting loose and that’s one of the things I’m finding is that I can go full throttle and not have to worry if someone’s using this character or [being told] I can’t use that character because there’s a movie. Who wouldn’t want to write “Batman?” Or, I love Hawkeye, I would love to write him again. There are a lot of characters I’d like to tackle, but right now I’m tackling the characters that are in my brain, so I can get them out and show the world this story.

Image doesn’t have editors in the traditional comic book sense where they’re telling you which characters to use, but do you miss that relationship or do you just bounce ideas off of friends and colleagues to see what works best?

It’s friends and colleagues, which I really think is a benefit both to Image as a company and other creator-owned companies as well as the creators. We get to hear each others’ ideas. You can break stories with them and take parts of it or leave it whereas in a larger company, there are lanes the creators and take the characters into but there’s always going to be limitations in the mainstream universe. Like in the Ultimate Universe, they can go out and do whatever they want. Kill Peter Parker? They did it. But, you try and kill Peter Parker in the mainstream universe and everybody knows that he’ll be back. There’s no way that the Marvel Universe will not have Peter Parker. With these stories, it’s my vision, it’s the creator’s vision, unhindered, unhampered, assisted, obviously, which is what a good editor does. But there is no limit here, nobody’s safe and that’s exiting. [Robert] Kirkman has shown that in “Walking Dead” and “Invincible” and Brian K. Vaughan showed that in “Y: The Last Man.” People get a chance to tell their story and show you that this is this story, it exists in this world and this time period, you’re not going to see Daredevil swinging by in the background. These are these people and this is the story of these people, jump on and get ready for a ride because you probably won’t have any idea where I’m about to take [it] — but trust me, you’re going to like it.

If you’re willing to jump in, check out “Mind the Gap” from Jim McCann, Rodin Esquejo, Sonia Oback and Image Comics May 2.