So, you’re writing an Eisner-nominated ongoing series (“Lucifer”) that you’re going to bring to a close in the next three or four years, you’re rumored to be reviving a popular eighties superhero (Firestorm), you’re writing a decades old popular anti-hero (Constantine) and you’ve signed exclusively with arguably the biggest company in comic books. What’s a critically acclaimed, beloved comic book writer to do next? The answer’s simple- write a love story of course. As CBR News reported exclusively from the Comic-Con International in San Diego, Mike Carey will be releasing a four-issue, creator-owned mini-series from DC Comics Vertigo imprint next spring entitled “My Faith In Frankie” and was more than happy to share some juicy details about the upcoming series.
“The basic concept is ‘supernatural romance’ if that makes any sense,” Carey told CBR News. “We’ve got a girl – a very bright, talented, vivacious, attractive girl – with two boyfriends. One of them is dead, the other one’s a god, and they both think it’s time she made a decision. Actually that’s the kind of over-simplification that you make when you’re giving people the high concept. In fact the god has never really come out and said that he loved her in so many words – he’s just sabotaged her love life all the way through high school on the grounds of ‘protecting’ her. So the choice she has to make is an implicit one, at least when the story starts. ‘My Faith in Frankie’ is a weird mix of genres really, with horror and comedy in there along with romance. And it’s a funny, sexy, silly sort of book that still has – we think – a really strong narrative hook. Plus it’s the first thing I’ve ever done which is entirely creator-owned. That makes it sort of special, in a way I can’t really define.”
One of Carey’s trademark writing strengths is his ability to create unique and enthralling characters, something he hopes to do with “Frankie” and he shares with fans the plans he has for the players in this story. “There’s a sort of trinity of main characters, really – consisting of Frankie, the heroine, her best friend, Kay Watson, and her god, Jeriven. Then there’s Dean, the dead guy, who is outside this magic triangle because none of the three have seen him since he died and then came back from the dead when he was about seven or eight years old.
“Frankie is described in the book as a golden child. After all, she’s got her own god. Everything has always gone right for her as she was growing up – she’s been spared all the pains, emotional and physical, of just getting by in the world and learning the ropes. No harm has ever touched her. And inevitably that’s had an effect on her. She’s a wonderfully warm and generous person in most ways, but there’s a kind of shallowness and self-absorption to her that comes from never having been tested against even the mildest kind of adversity. So you can’t really tell which way she’s going to jump when she’s suddenly presented with this all-important choice.
“Kay is the perfect right-hand man, even if she’s a girl. She’s absolutely devoted to Frankie – loves her, but with lots of awe and respect and maybe just the tiniest smidgen of envy mixed in with the love. She’s been Frankie’s best friend ever since they started grade school together, so she knows all about Jeriven, Frankie’s god. She’s never seen him – only Frankie can see him – but she’s heard all about him and she’s in two minds about the whole concept. She’s always thought of Jeriven as being along the lines of an imaginary friend: but at the same time it’s obvious that someone is looking out for Frankie, because she’s got a blatantly charmed life. So Kay doesn’t know what to think, but the bottom line is she doesn’t care. Frankie is her friend and she’s never going to call her on this.
“Jeriven is a very young god. He had a lousy childhood in Godtown, being bullied and leaned on by bigger and meaner gods, and his parents weren’t exactly protective of him – they just told him to smite his enemies and stand on his own two feet. Then when he came wandering down to Earth, he found that the age of religion was more or less over and nobody could even see him – except for Frankie. So she’s his chosen people, by default. And he’s watched over her with maybe a slightly unhealthy intensity. And now, somewhat late in the day, he’s finally coming to terms with the fact that he’s in love with her.
“Then there’s Dean. But you have to make up your own mind about Dean – he’s kind of an enigmatic character, at least to begin with.”
The age of all these characters has a strong hand in the thematic aspects of the book as well, explains Carey. “Well most of the main characters are on the cusp of eighteen, so it’s about the sort of themes that are deadly serious to everyone at that age. It’s about love and sex, at a time in your life when love and sex occupy most of your thoughts and are responsible for most of your pleasure and most of your pain. It’s also about loyalty, and the bizarre and indefensible things that loyalty can lead you to do. And honesty and self-deceit. And growing up. All of this was really implicit in the original pitch – which was very concise for me, and very straightforward. The characters have evolved and changed a little, but the story was right there in that one-page outline, and the themes arise very naturally out of the story.”
Listening to Carey speak about “Frankie,” one can’t help but notice the positive energy permeating the conversation and the writer explains that he’s having a lot of fun with the series, even if he’s had a few small problems. “I guess the hardest part of writing ‘Frankie’ was to make a satisfying whole out of all the different elements and the different styles that we’re playing with. We’ve got scenes set in a city of gods – but we’re dealing with the squabbling god-kids, not the austere and solemn godly grown-ups; we’ve got flashbacks from Frankie’s childhood done in a sort of early newspaper strip style; and we’ve got action that ranges from the broadly farcical to the near-tragic. It does all work, and it does all come together – I think really well – but some of the transitions needed a lot of thought. The easiest part, and the most fun part, was writing the best friend, Kay. It was weird. We already had really fully worked out character concepts for Frankie and Jeriven, but Kay just grew and evolved as we worked on the first two issues, and took on a life of her own. We all felt this – Shelly, Sonny, me. I think we all ended up having a really soft spot for her – and it got to be really effortless to write her because I had such a strong affinity for her.”
Whereas some writers might be worried about all the fantastic elements of the story overpowering the realistic and “human” aspects of the story, Carey doesn’t worry too much about losing that balance in his work. “Well, having written ‘Lucifer’ for three years doesn’t hurt a bit there. Okay, the tone of Frankie is completely different, but the same problem or tension arises in ‘Lucifer’ too – and we’ve always turned the problem into an advantage there, showing the most mind-numbing cosmic stuff from the perspective of relatively clueless and powerless human characters who are caught up in it – so you get both the grounding in human reality and the sense of totally superhuman scale at the same time. With ‘Frankie,’ though, we’re playing for laughs – and there’s a certain comedy that arises out of showing the doing of gods and demons in very human, or anthropomorphic terms. In issue one, we see Jeriven in Godtown having a bad time with the local bullies, and they’re catcalling things like ‘Hey Jeriven, your Mom doth reveal herself unto the heathen!’ And the gods and demons we meet (not to give too much away) mostly act out of entirely recognizable human motives. So the layers or levels are more organically mixed in together than in Lucifer, and the resulting flavor is very different. Although issue 28 of ‘Lucifer’ – the Gaudium story – is probably influenced in some ways by the sort of stuff I was doing in Frankie at the same time.”
Displaying confidence that is reminiscent of the title character from his “Lucifer” series, Carey explains that while “Frankie” is very much different from his other comic book projects thus far, he welcomes the challenge and thinks he will rise to the occasion. “It’s the first time I’ve ever really done a funny book – except for Lucifer #28, which was actually written later. It’s also the first time I’ve had a cast of characters who were this young. I’ve done children before, obviously – for example Elaine Belloc, the half-angel kid in Lucifer – but not young adults in that transitional stage between still being able to be kids and having to grow up whether they’re ready for it or not. What with that and the supernatural elements, it was almost Buffy territory. And that forces you, really, to make personal relationships the central focus of the story whatever else is going on. Which is fine, because it’s a love story: but there are friendships and rivalries and enmities and alliances in here too, resurrected from my own past and probably familiar to 90% of people who’ve ever been seventeen.”
With all his obvious energy and love for the series, there’s an obvious question for Carey that no one’s asked: why only pitch “My Faith in Frankie” as a short, four-issue mini series? “That’s funny,” chuckles Carey. “A four-parter doesn’t seem so short to me, because Shelly is very, very keen on lean and spare and concise story-telling. Whenever I pitch a four-parter to her, her first question is ‘could it be done in three?’ The original ‘Lucifer’ mini was only three episodes, and Petrefax was four. It’s a length I’m comfortable with, and it seemed to be right for this story. I guess the main drawback is that even if it does well it’s not likely to be collected – eighty-eight pages is a bit short for a trade. I never even thought of pitching ‘Frankie’ as an ongoing. It’s a story that builds to a pretty final conclusion, and although you could carry on telling the story of some of those involved, the end point is – I think – both logical and convincing. So you’d have to throw in some new catalysts to make things start moving again, and that would probably feel a little artificial.”
As mentioned in CBR’s previous teaser about “My Faith in Frankie,” Carey is excited about new artist Sonny Liew, who will be making his debut on “Frankie,” “Shelly [Bond, Vertigo editor] found him. I don’t actually know whether he pitched some samples to her, or whether she hangs around outside of art schools and says ‘Pssst, little boy, wanna be a comic book artist?’ Either way, he’s an amazing find. Sonny has a totally unique style. I try to describe it by saying ‘A bit Sam Kiethy’ or ‘Sort of like Moebius,’ but really he’s just himself. He does fantastic character designs – just cartoony enough for the book’s tone, and for the mix of real and surreal that we’re aiming for – and he’s got a real ability to set up place and situation simply and economically. Plus he’s a great visual storyteller. His handling of the flashbacks was nothing short of glorious – he’s done this incredible Schultz/Baxendale/Sterrett pastiche that was so funny and so beautiful I had to resist the urge to throw in more flashbacks just to make him do it again. And now we’ve got the chance to have an equally stupendous inker working over Sonny’s pencils, but I’m not allowed to mention his name until he actually says yes. So the book is going to be a visual treat, whatever else it is. Or your money back. (Offer void where anyone actually tries to pin me down on it).”
As fans look forward to “My Faith in Frankie,” Carey hopes that they will pick it up as it ships because he’s not sure it will be collected as a trade paperback and not so sure he’ll do a sequel. “I’d, but it would be possible, now I think about it, to tell other stories set in the same world. The Godtown crew are pretty funky, and there are characters there – especially Quinx, the god of journeying – who could definitely be taken further. But right now I’m too focused on putting the finishing touches to *this* story to think about sequels. And if at all possible, getting those finishing touches out of the way before we go on holiday tomorrow, because if the laptop comes with us again my wife is going to feel obliged to kill me.”
“And there’s never a god around to intervene when you really need one.”