Casey & Suriano Throw a "Charlatan Ball" at Image

Joe Casey is well known for pushing the boundaries of comics, from his work with company-owned characters like Marvel’s Cable and DC’s Superman, to his creator-owned work on the Kirbyesque sci-fi epic Gødland as well as numerous graphic novels. His latest collaborator, Andy Suriano, is an animator whose worked on such high profile series as “Samurai Jack,” “Duck Dodgers” and “Star Wars: Clone Wars.” Both sat down with CBR News to discuss their new ongoing series from Image Comics, “Charlatan Ball.”

“It's about all the big themes that make up the fabric of human existence,” Joe Casey told CBR News. “It's about the Technicolor corners of our own brains, and how we can tap into them. It's about everything that means anything. With a little magic thrown in for good measure.”

“I always saw 'Charlatan Ball’ as sort of like that old sci-fi show 'Sliders,’” said Suriano. “But, you know, without the fat kid from 'Stand By Me.’”

“Charlatan Ball” follows a down-and-out stage magician reduced to performing for audiences of drunks and strip club patrons who won’t even pay attention to him pulling a rabbit out of his hat. The magician is named Chuck Amok, and that rabbit is a supporting character named Caesar. The series finds the pair plucked from “jiggles-n-biscuits” circuit and dropped into a dimension where magic is much more than just another word for sleight-of-hand. In this reality, magic actually functions. Only someone, or something, known as The Demon Empty can answer the questions that ensue from Chuck’s plucking.

Casey, of course, has the answers, but he’s keeping it close hold. Asked about Chuck, the writer replied “Here's a little something about Chuck that's never been revealed: he loves peanut M&M's.”

Said Saurian, “Chuck Amok is a cheap stage magician in a gaudy costume who gets thrust into these surreal landscaped worlds and forced to fight terrifying opponents in a sort of magical death match -- sort of like 'Highlander’ (the good one). This sucks for Chuck because he doesn’t actually have any real magical powers. It would be like Carrot Top fighting Doctor Strange. Only less gay.”

“Chuck's no different than the rest of us,” Casey added. “He wants to pay the rent. He wants to follow his bliss. He wants to have a deep and meaningful experience with a beautiful woman.”

If it sounds as though this concept comes from a weird place in Casey’s brain, you may be right. “A few years ago, I discovered my own Technicolor corner of my own brain,” Casey said. “Using virtual reality technology, I was able to go in there with a pick ax and carve out a few pieces that I was able to fuse to the actual script pages. I encouraged my collaborators, Andy, Marc {Letzman] and Rus [Wooton], to do the same and the book was born.”

Suriano spoke about his initial reaction to Casey’s ideas. “I start from a plot summary Joe gives me first, you know, the old 'Marvel way.’ Since we started so long ago, it kind of felt like I working in a vacuum, wondering what on Earth Joe was going to put on the pages -- but oh man, oh man, when Joe sent me his script for [the first issue] I was blown away. He’s been advertising our book as a mind-melter and let me tell you he isn’t kidding. That man is insane -- in the most freeing aspect of the affliction. Not the walking around in a robe and slippers eating pudding cups kind of way.”

“For me, it's structured chaos,” Casey added. “And it'll get as weird as it has to.“

How does an artist bring that ineffable insanity to the printed page? “When we started, I really wanted to live, eat, and breathe Gene Colan’s 'Doctor Strange.’ Joe’s partial to Paul Smith. Of course neither of us can escape the Fourth World of Jack Kirby. I’m younger, but very much a traditionalist.”

Said Casey, “Andy brings a style that we don't see very often in a so-called mainstream comic book. That alone is worth checking out. It's something different, something new.”

Suriano continued, “[One of the biggest challenges is] settling into a style to fit the book -- finding my style from panel to panel. I really should have decided on how I was going to draw Chuck. By issue four, it’s almost consistent. Ha ha ha.”

“The biggest challenge: letting go,” he added. “Freeing my mind to where it can meet somewhere, anywhere close to where Joe’s coming from. He’s always pushing me. We have a really cool character named Wrathburn in issue three. He’s supposed to be this fiery-type character with armor. I gave him a cape and had flames sprouting out from it -- to which Joe suggested: 'Why don’t you just have his whole cape be MADE OF FIRE?' Joe’s really training me to take everything one step further.“

“Some things are simply meant to be,” Casey said of his artist. “Andy wanted to get back into comics and once I saw his style, I knew he was the perfect co-conspirator to bring some of my more hallucinogenic concepts to life.”

Suriano talked a bit about the circumstances that lead to their partnership. “I worked with Joe’s beautiful wife Megan at WB Animation. Since finishing 'Samurai Jack’ and 'Star Wars: Clone Wars,’ I’ve more or less been doing permanent development and pilots at the various animation studios.

“Anyway, I was dying for the creative freedom of doing a book as opposed to dealing with networks and children’s programming so I would inundate Megan with drawings to show Joe -- I think she was the one who actually suggested the two of us collaborating on something. I was in love with 'Godland’ so I was more than excited to brain-melt on a book together.”

With such an unusual premise and the promise of frequent “brain-melting,” who is “Charlatan Ball” intended for? “Good question,” Suriano said. “I suppose I’d always hoped to put out a book that I myself, would want to read -- and my tastes are pretty varied to say the least. I guess I’d say our audience would be anyone longing for a FUN comic-book experience. One that energizes you after reading it, that you can’t wait for the next issue. Remember those? Thank you, but if I wanted an hour-long courtroom drama about whiny lawyers, I’ll watch ABC. What the hell happened to fun comic books?!?”

Casey answered the same question much more specifically. “Kids 6-10 and adults 35-42. And no one in-between.”

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Image Comics forum.

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