This fall, co-writers Justin Jordan and Nikki Ryan join artist Morgan Beem for “The Family Trade,” a new Image Comics series.
Jordan, of course, has already enjoyed great success at Image with his hit titles, “The Strange Tale of Luther Strode,” “Dead Body Road” and “Spread.” So when he and his “Family Trade” co-creators were shopping their new series around, it only made sense that it would end up at a publisher already familiar with the writer.
Ahead of the Emerald City Comic Con announcement that the book is now an Image title, we spoke with the creative team and learned all about the ocean-punk metropolis that Jordan, Ryan and Beem have created. The trio also shared their thoughts on The Family, the apparently self-appointed protectors of the Free Republic of Thessala (a.k.a. The Float) and main character Jessa Wynn, as well as the intricate inner-workings of the floating city, like how, exactly, taxis and streetlights work in a place without fire or electricity.
CBR: My first question is obvious: Can you swim, and/or do you like being in water?
Justin Jordan: I can actually only kinda swim. I am fond of the water, despite that. What inspired my part of the idea of The Float, though, is equal parts of both places like Kowloon Walled City or the island in the middle of a lake in Africa, places that are geographically constrained but sort of no man’s lands, and just maritime culture.
If you look at what life was actually like on ships and such, it’s actually pretty fascinating, because you have people living in these close mobile quarters for months or years at a time. So the actual seaborne location for me had a lot to do with that.
And, you know, we haven’t really seen much in the way of like ocean punk in comics. Which is like steampunk but with fish.
Nikki Ryan: I’ve been swimming since the summer my father attached some water wings to me, threw me in the local pool and kind of hoped for the best. It seems to have worked out pretty well. Plus, I also liking drinking water because, you know, life.
Morgan Beem: Being in water and swimming is literally my happy place.
Jordan: Basically, it’s two mermaids and me. I’m [Pauses] probably a walrus. [Laughs]
You would think that “Waterworld” would have ruined the concept, even though I feel the Kevin Costner’s magnum opus has aged quite well, but I remain quite fascinated by the idea of a floating world. What can you tell us about the Float? Is the world now flooded due to melting polar ice caps? Or does it exist in a world with actual land masses like continents?
Ryan: The Float is a manmade island, so it’s like Waterworld there, but otherwise The Float and the world are pretty different. The Float is self-sufficient and you can leave, although most people who live there don’t.
The Float is very much a living thing the way cities are living things, always growing, always changing. The Float never stops trying to be better than it was, and the people keeping building and the city keeps changing. It’s a bustling city of routine chaos.
Morgan has really been able to capture that feeling in her art. She’s really the one who has brought the story and the world to life. When I first saw her draw the Toms, I honestly cannot think of a time when I was more excited.
Jordan: The world that The Free Republic of Thessala, a.k.a. The Float, is set in is Earth, but one where history is somewhat different than our own. The continents we know are all there, but the big points of divergence are that what we have alchemy, and other sorts of magic are possible, including the creation of The Float.
The Float, in this history, sort of serves as a sort of oceanic Switzerland – the world’s trade and politics sort of flow through it, which is why what Jessa and her family do is important, and the presence of it has changed history. Along with the alchemy and the fish magic.
I like that. Fish magic. [Laughs] So an alternate reality, yes, but is this story set in the past, present or future?
Jordan: When the story is set is actually a question. The reality definitely feels nineteenth century but the actual date is [Pauses] not then. Let’s call it an alternate version of Earth.
The high concept of the series sounds very much like a French or European comic, there is a classic Humanoids feel. Morgan, can you talk about your inspiration for the series?
Beem: I have a deep love for French and European comics, and love the style of a lot of watercolor or traditional media comics I have seen. Artists like Claire Wendling and Juanjo Guarnido have always been big personal inspirations of mine. However, “The Family Trade” had a lot of other influences, as well. A lot of the aesthetic feel, as Justin mentioned, came from the walled city of Kowloon. Another big artistic inspiration I drew from was Taiyo Matsumoto’s “Tekkonkinkreet.” The aesthetics and detail of that world have blown me away for a long time, so when it came to constructing a super packed, urban, patchwork city that was one of the first things I thought of.
The Family is “a sprawling family of assassins, thieves and con artists,” but are they good assassins, thieves and con artists like Robin Hood?
Jordan: They definitely think so. The whole purpose of The Family is to make sure that the Float continues to float. They put the preservation of the society above all else. The Clans are the ones who do the actual ruling, but The Family works in the shadows to make sure they don’t cause the whole system to implode.
Ryan: The Family keeps The Float in balance, stopping some from rising too high and others from falling too low. They do bad things for the right reasons, and sometimes good things for the wrong reason. It depends, really, on which side of the knife you’re looking down.
What can you share about Jessa Wynn, the youngest member of The Family?
Ryan: Jessa is smart, strong and beautiful. She is clever and fluent in a number of languages, and since The Float is a hub of commerce, she’s been exposed to other cultures her whole life, which has helped mold her into the amazing women she’s become. Even with her insecurities, and she has them like we all do, her confidence never falters for long. She really just wants to protect her family and do right by her home.
She’s based on my cousin, actually, who is a hero in her own right. She saved some kid’s life on the subway a few months ago in New York. I don’t think we could have picked anyone better to use as our inspiration. Now we just have to convince her to do the cosplay for us. [Laughs]
Jordan: Jessa had a pretty legendary set of parents, so she’s desperate to live up to their reputation. She’s incredibly capable, but she’s also impulsive and headstrong. Or, basically, she’s a really gifted teenager who doesn’t yet have a great sense of what she doesn’t know. This causes, as you’ll see in the first arc of the series, a lot of problems for her personally and maybe The Family and The Float in general.
I love her look, too. Morgan, can you please talk about her style, and most importantly, her brilliant head of hair.
The hair. The hair is everything. I was so pumped when Nikki and Justin sent me the character description. Hair, of all shapes and sizes, is literally one of my favorite things to draw and color. I like to think that Justin and Nikki recognized this going into this project and threw me a bone. I have a lot of friends who have a ton of gorgeous, wild, curly hair and I was excited to channel them while I thought of Jessa. Another thing that was important to me was thinking of Jessa’s athletic build. She is lean and limber, but has a larger lower body, helping give her that power to climb all over her city. #thickthighssavelives
[Laughs] Which other members of The Family are featured players?
Jordan: There’s Jessa’s uncle Christian, who is an extremely gifted member of The Family, and is quite happy to remind everyone of that when the opportunity presents itself. And if an opportunity does not present itself, he is likely to create one.
There’s also the Bookmaker, Jessa’s cousin and the leader of The Family. He’s been keeping an eye on her since her parents died when she was a child, and has enormous fondness for her, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from how he acts.
And then there’s Ri, Jessa’s cousin and her best friend, who mostly gives semi-helpful advice and steals Jessa’s stuff. You can’t count on Ri to not read your diary, but you can count on her to have your back if everyone on The Float is trying to kill you.
And while we have The Family, you also mentioned the Clans. Are The Family and the Clans at war?
Jordan: The Clans do not, as yet, know The Family exists. This is actually the primary driver of the plot in the first story. Jessa finds out, while undertaking a mission she was not supposed to be on, that someone knows about The Family and is exposing their secrets. This is the sort of thing that could literally end with The Float being destroyed, and unfortunately, she’s having a hard time proving it. And, you know, surviving.
Ryan: The people members of the Family are when they are ‘on the job’ is really different from who they are when they’re out in the world, so the Clans don’t know they exist. Yet.
It sounds likes this story explores the seedy underbelly of this floating city. Morgan, how have you played with dark and light as obviously some of these story beats will happen in the shadows but being set on the ocean, there will also be heavy amounts of really bright light that will also be a factor?
Beem: Well, one of the interesting things about The Float is that it is this huge, dense, spiraling metropolis. With the city shooting up on all sides and constantly building on itself, there are plenty of places for dark things to lurk. I also tend to think about coloring more for mood, and less local color – so less the color of the actual object, and more color for building feeling. This helps greatly in freeing me to build whatever mood might be needed for the story.
Justin, you mentioned the first arc so am I right in saying that this is going to be an ongoing series and not a limited series?
Jordan: It’s ongoing. That said, the series is structured as stories. So you can pick up the second story without having read the first one and still enjoy it, and each story is complete, although some subplots and stuff builds as it goes.
It will all be called “The Family Trade” and the numbering won’t restart, but from a storytelling perspective it’s similar to what we did with the “Luther Strode” series.
How did you three connect for this project?
Ryan: Justin and I first met at Awesome Con a few years ago, and we had a mutual hate in common, so naturally I decided we would become the greatest of friends.
Jordan: [Laughs] Yes, Nikki and I did indeed bond over mutual hate. She’s a really talented writer and artist in her own right, and we started kicking around the idea that would eventually become “The Family Trade” and were lucky enough to get Morgan on board.
Morgan I met through the SCAD network. Or basically, through [“Luther Strode” co-creator] Tradd [Moore]. But her watercolor style was freaking amazing, and I wanted very badly to work with her. We’ve been friends for a few years now, but we haven’t found the right project until this. And she is totally the right person for this. Like Nikki said, seeing her actual art made the book really become itself to me, if that even kinda makes sense.
Justin, we just spoke about your new Vertigo series, “Savage Things.” Why was Image Comics the right home for “The Family Trade”?
Jordan: Honestly, for me it was that Image offers the kind of total creative freedom I think the book needed. As is probably pretty clear, it’s very different than anything I’ve done, and it’s also fairly different than what’s happening in mainstream comics right now. The thing, the pragmatic thing, is that a bunch of stuff needs to work for everyone to make an Image book happen, and we were lucky that all of us were in a position where all the pieces fell into place to let it happen.
Now I really hope everyone digs our little beasty. At the core of it, “The Family Trade” is an adventure story where the hero survives by her wits and her bravery. We were trying to do something that if you liked “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Indiana Jones,” you would like this. Rollicking action and adventure with beautiful art in a world you’ve never seen before.
Beem: I just have to add that I have loved just playing with the patchwork and lively designs of The Float in general. The gritty, urban setting is so much fun, but also trying to capture the sheer size of The Float has been a challenge at times. I love this kind of feel and aesthetic, and I can’t express enough how much I am truly enjoying building the look of this world. It has my heart in it, as I know it does Justin’s and Nikki’s. You can feel it on every page. One of the other things, I’ve enjoyed thinking about is how things like taxis would work in a mostly water city without a lot of metal or electricity. I call them tukboats. My other favorite part of The Float is the Lampreys. There is no fire or electricity in the float – obviously, fire is a no-no in a mostly wooden city – so street lamps are achieved by magical, glowing fish in small tanks. Justin calls them, ‘lampreys.’ [Laughs]
“The Family Trade” is coming this fall.
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