Welcome back for the eighteenth installment of THE COMMENTARY TRACK. This is the feature in which we invite creators to stop by and talk about their most recent releases, often in spoiler-filled detail. Go behind the scenes and into the minds of your favorite creators and flip through their comics with them. It's just like a DVD commentary, but without all the awkward pauses.
The saga of a family of world-famous superheroes, Jay Faerber's "Noble Causes" is one of Image Comics’ most successful superrhero franchises. Though it began humbly, the Yildiray Cinar-illustrated title now has multiple volumes in print and has spun-off sister books including “Dynamo 5” and “Gemini.” In conversation with CBR’s George A. Tramountanas, Faeber characterized “Noble Causes” as “'The Kennedys with super-powers. You've got a family of rich, powerful, larger-than-life heroes that the general public practically worships. They're the subject of gossip rags and paparazzi and all that. And, like the Kennedys, the stuff going on behind the scenes is more fascinating than their superheroics.”
“Noble Causes” underwent a big shakeup recently. Beginning with last month's issue #32, the series jumped ahead by five years, putting familiar characters into new situations and giving new readers a strong starting point. It's still superheroic soap opera, but the gap in time means relationships have evolved or completely changed. Villains are friends, lovers are broken up or brought together, and the bad guys are just as ruthless as ever.
In this COMMENTARY TRACK, Faerber talks about "Noble Causes" #33, the second part of the new story arc. You'll read about the cosmic space opera that almost replaced the series, the help with character designs that came from an unexpected source, how the book was created, and what went into its production.
As always, SPOILERS follow.
"Noble Causes" #33 cover
Artist Yildiray Cinar has a more old-school approach than I’m used to working with. And that’s not an insult. But when we were planning the revamp that took place in issue #32, Yildiray really pushed to have each story have a distinct title and to use sound effects -- two things I’d intentionally not been doing in the book for a long time. Since the book is modeled after a soap opera, it made sense to me not to title each story. After all, there’s an issue number on the cover. That should suffice to denote the book. But I wanted this revamp to be a true collaboration, so I decided to make the changes Yildiray asked for.
When he turned in his first sketch for the cover (based on my idea of Frost melting), it was very similar to what we ended up using, except the word "melt" wasn’t part of the composition. Instead, he had it just stamped across the bottom. It seemed to me that if we were going to embrace some of the more old school approaches to comics, than we should have "melt" spelled out by the water running off Frost. Which is what we did. And I think it turned out great.
One last word about the cover: Issue #33 marks the debut of our new series colorist, Ryan Vera. He takes over from longtime colorist Ron Riley, who departed to concentrate on "Dynamo 5" and other projects. I’ve worked with Ryan on various short projects over the years, and when Ron told me he was leaving, Ryan was the first name that popped into my head as a replacement. Luckily, he accepted our offer, and started turning in great work from the start. If I’m remembering the chronology correctly, this cover was his first work on the book as regular colorist.
Not a whole lot to say about this page, other than the fact that we’re opening on a splash page, which is something I don’t always do. Back when I was first breaking in as a writer, I came across a DC memo written by Christopher Priest (when he was still working as a DC editor). It was basically a "writer’s guide" to working for him. Even though it was a few years out of date, I found it remarkably informative. One of his "rules" was to always open a story on a splash. Always. This was the one "rule" that I found puzzling. It just seemed to be such an arbitrary thing. Surely a story could be opened effectively without a splash page, right? Regardless, whenever I open a story on a splash, I always think of Priest. He left editorial and went on to have a successful career as a writer, and I have to admit, I still smirk a bit when reading any story he wrote that doesn’t open on a splash.
Here we get our first look at some aliens that Frost is fighting. These guys should look a bit familiar to readers of my other Image series, "Dynamo 5." Yildiray and Mahmud Asrar (artist on "Dynamo 5") are good friends, and they collaborated closely on the design of these aliens, since they’ll be getting play in both series.
Tundra Cat! This character, seen here for the first time, where we learn he’s an old friend of Frost’s, has an interesting back-story. Back before we decided to revamp "Noble Causes" with issue #32, we were prepared to end the series after #31, and Yildiray and I were planning a pseudo spin-off. Issue #31 was going to end with Zephyr and Slate deciding to join a team of intergalactic heroes, who were based out of a remote space station in a strategic part of the galaxy. The book was going to be called "Outpost." Zephyr and Slate would be the only humans, and the only established heroes. The rest would be all-new characters.
Yildiray and I worked out the line-up and I started working on developing the story, and . . . it just went nowhere. I couldn’t get a handle on it. I’ve never been a big fan of outer space books, but I thought that because of that, I might be able to bring a fresh take to the genre. Turns out I couldn’t.
Yildiray had put the most work into designing the leader of the team, a cat-like character. So, when we eventually scrapped plans for "Outpost" and decided to continue "Noble Causes." I promised Yildiray that I’d be sure to include the cat guy, so his design wouldn’t go to waste. That’s what led to Tundra Cat (who wasn’t named until I wrote this 'NC’ issue) being included in this story.
Nothing to see here . . . except a damned cool double-page spread of our heroes in action! Funny story: when Yildiray first drew this spread, he got so into drawing the whole family in a dramatic shot that he included Frost. Which doesn’t make sense, since we just saw that Frost is on the ground, in serious need of a rescue.
Yildiray is such a strong storyteller that I’ll sometimes let him map out the action. Page six is the first time I did this. I just told him to show the Nobles fighting the aliens for a page, and by the end of the page, the aliens are defeated. When he turned in the page, I went back and wrote dialog for what he drew. This is basically the old "Marvel style" of writing, where writers would plot out the action in broad strokes, then the artist would draw it, then the writer would come back in and dialog it. I normally work in the "full script" method, which is exactly what it sounds like: I write a full script that includes panel-by-panel descriptions and full dialogue. But sometimes, I’ll break form and let Yildiray run loose with the choreography. He’s never let me down.
Something else about this page: I particularly love panel three, where Minutiae is spin-kicking the alien. I love her pose, and the speed lines. It just works.
Hmm, the aliens are all dead, and Frost seems oddly affected by his encounter with them. Wonder what’s up with that?
Here we’re seeing Frost publicly recognized for the heroism he displayed in an off-panel adventure. Celeste and Zephyr’s dialogue kind of hits this home, but for new readers, this is quite a departure for Frost. Until this point, he’d always been more of a rogue, and was never publicly acknowledged as a hero . . . by the Nobles, or anyone. So this scene marks a big change for Frost’s status quo.
And yes, the mention of "Squad 51" is indeed a shout-out to "Emergency!," a beloved TV show from my childhood.
This page shows Doc and his new wife, Olympia, talking about Frost. They’re aboard the Pegasus, their new aircraft. I know, I know . . . it sounds like I’m totally ripping off "Battlestar: Galactica" by having an aircraft called the Pegasus, but I established long ago that Doc names things based on Greek myths. He had a robotic assistant named Icarus, remember?
This scene reestablishes the twist ending to last issue, where we learned that Surge’s girlfriend, the apparently normal Amy Wells, is really a spy, working for Crucible, a known super-villain.
Here we also get to see Celeste interact with her elderly husband, the former super-hero called Colonel Comet. I love their relationship because it’s so unexpected, and I can’t wait to tell the story of their courtship.
Here we get a few character bits, with Olympia showing how Amy is completely accepted into the family.
I love the shot of Minutiae riding on Rusty’s shoulder. Rusty was redesigned by Erik Larsen, by the way. He submitted a whole bunch of character re-designs, and Rusty is the only one we took completely, without making any changes. We also took his Frost redesign, but made a few slight adjustments here and there.
The conversation between Slate and Zephyr is deliberately vague. Slate has two sisters (twins, in fact, named Dusk and Dawn) so we’re unclear which sister he’s talking about here. This is a subplot that won’t pay off for a while. But when it does, look out!
Here’s where things start to go sideways . . . or, according to plan, if you’re Amy. She’s bumming a smoke off of Frost, and then starts putting the moves on him. Longtime readers will have a different appreciation of this scene, since Frost had a long-running affair with Celeste, who was, at the time, married to his brother, Rusty. So now we’ve got Frost about to have an affair with the girlfriend of his step-brother, Surge. Is history going to repeat itself? You’ll have to buy the book to find out!
I’m afraid that’s as far as this COMMENTARY TRACK is going to go. I assure you, the second half of issue #33 is fantastic, but you really should read it for yourself. I hope you’ve found some of my ramblings informative. I had a great time reliving this issue, and talking a walk down memory lane. And if you’ll indulge me in a shameless plug, if any of you are interested in getting into "Noble Causes" on the ground floor, we just released the first "Noble Causes Archives," a 597-page black and white collection of the first half of the series. A second volume is being prepped right now, which covers everything up through issue #31 (just before the revamp with #32). And best of all, each 500+ page volume is only $19.95. It’s a fantastic deal.
This is normally the spot where we'd plug the work, but Faerber took care of that for us.
Thanks to Jay Faerber for stopping by and giving us even more of the soap operas that can happen behind the soap operas he puts down on the page every month with "Noble Causes."
As always, If you have any titles or creators you'd like to see in THE COMMENTARY TRACK, or you’re a creator with a book due out that you’d like to talk about in detail, drop us a line. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!