In the first part of this two part exploration into Jay Faerber's current comic related endeavors, the writer spoke about "Robotech" and what to expect from the DC/Wildstorm series. This time, Faerber wants to talk about something closer to his heart, a creator owned Original Graphic Novel (OGN) to be published by Image Comics entitled "Dodge's Bullets," and spoke with CBR News in depth about the philosophies behind the series.
"I had the character's name, Webster Dodge, for awhile, but I couldn't think of what to call the book," admits Faerber. "I wanted it to be something snappier than 'Dodge, PI' or 'Dodge: For Hire,' or whatever. I don't know how it came to me, but it just did. I remember exactly where I was when I got the idea, too. I was walking out of a grocery store late at night, in Los Angeles, and it just hit me.
"'Dodge's Bullets' is about Webster Dodge, a 20 something struggling musician who moonlights as a private eye to pay the bills. Dodge's father, a sergeant on the Seattle police force, pressured Dodge from a very early age into becoming a cop. Dodge went so far as to join the Police Academy, but he dropped out just before graduation, and become a private eye - as a sort of 'screw you' to his old man. He's not a passionate crusader by any means. If he had his way, Dodge would never tail another cheating husband. Instead, he and his band would play to packed houses every night.
"Elliott is Dodge's best friend, a Japanese guy who was adopted by a Jewish couple. Elliott is frequently suckered into helping Dodge on his various cases. Elliott's girlfriend is Mutsumi, who works at a cyber café that Dodge uses as his 'office.' She sort of serves as his secretary, much to her chagrin. The last regular character is Dodge, Sr., who isn't in the book a whole lot, but his shadow looms over everything Dodge does.
"Plot-wise, the book's about Dodge's latest case. He's hired by a guy in his 30s who's come to Seattle to find the father he never knew. Dodge is given precious little to go on, but he manages to track the guy down, and that's when all hell breaks loose. I really can't say anything more, because the fun of the book is discovering what's really going on. All I can say is that nothing should be taken at face value."
While you may think that Faerber is more of a superhero writer- from his exploits on DC's "Titans" or Image's "Noble Causes," the truth is that he's a big fan of the mystery genre and he didn't need a lot of pressure to start working on a crime OGN. "The book's inspired by the same private eye characters that really hooked me on the genre in the first place. Namely, Magnum, Rockford, and Spenser. I'd wanted to do a private eye comic for a long time, but frankly, it took me awhile to get off my ass and write it. Most of my super-hero work seems to be character-driven stuff - stuff that gets noticed for the strength of its characterization and dialogue, and I really wanted to do something that forced me to plot a really, really tight story. A straight mystery seemed to be the way to go. The book then went through a number of delays on the artistic front, as my first two artists both had to back out of the book when their schedules became too full. But, once I landed James Francis, the book proceeded along at a solid pace."
But don't interpret Faerber's decision to broaden his horizons as a message he dislikes superhero comics or working with superheroes. "Not at all -- I love super-heroes, and I feel there's nothing wrong with writing or drawing super-heroes. I've always got more super-hero ideas than I have time to write. But, there's more to me than that. I've always had a big interest in private eye stories, ever since I got hooked on 'Magnum, P.I.' reruns as a kid, and especially after I discovered the Spenser series of novels by Robert B. Parker. There are other genres, other subjects I want to write about, too. I'd love to write about police detectives, and firemen, to name just two."
To some it seems as though private eyes are en vogue again in comics and while Faerber isn't quite sure if he agrees with that statement, he does feel that the P.I. stories are inherently interesting on a creative level. "I don't know that they're en vogue again. I mean, you've got 'Hawaiian Dick,' and what else? Maybe I'm forgetting something. Brubaker and Lark's 'Scene of The Crime' was fantastic, but that was about 5 years ago.
"At any rate, I don't think private eyes were ever 'unpopular' - I think it's just that comics are continuing to diversify, in terms of their subject matter. You've still got your strong core super-hero audience, the guys that go to the comic store every week. But having a stronger comic presence (in the form of TPBs) in bookstores and online, has made it possible for creators to branch out into more genres. So, you're seeing creators - even 'super-hero creators' - bring their other interests to the table. For me, that 'other interest' is private eyes.
"I think what makes the private eye concept so appealing to me is the independence the characters almost always possess. They don't really answer to an authority, other than their client, who usually needs the private eye's help. I read somewhere that the private eye became such an American icon because he represented the American spirit of independence - that maverick nature was something that Americans, in general, could relate to. Personally, I have a hard time with authority. I'm not saying I'm some bad-ass rebel, but I don't do well in a structured environment. For instance, I hated school, because I don't like being told what to do and when to do it. So the private eye archetype -- the heroic rebel - is something that just pushes my buttons.
"Plus, there's an extra element of danger, there. Because the private eye isn't working with the police, if he's in a jam, he's usually on his own. He can't just call for back-up, or flash a badge and have people follow his orders. He's dealing with the same criminals as the police, but the risk for him is a lot higher, which can lead to some entertaining situations."
Creating the drama and tension- not to mention crafting a unique mystery- involves a lot of research and some writers would say you need to sacrifice some realism to up the drama quotient. "I've read some books about the private eye business - research-type stuff," explains Faerber. "But as a fan, I've always been more impressed with the private eye tricks that rely on simple human ingenuity, rather than stuff steeped in technical knowledge. So a lot of it is just common sense; putting yourself in the characters' shoes. Dodge isn't a forensics expert or anything. He mainly gets by because he's stubborn, he can lie, and he can think like a criminal. So that stuff's easy to fake, frankly.
"As far as sacrificing realism for drama - I'm trying to make the two work together towards a common goal, rather than work against one another. That's one of the nice things about working in a genre without space-ships and mutants. It's pretty easy to keep it 'real' and yet still be tense and entertaining. I did put a lot of effort into the plot, though - constantly coming at each situation from every character's angle, to make sure it all made sense."
Perhaps going on a tangent, there's been a steady flow of new crime/cop dramas on television, from HBO's "The Wire" to ABC's "10-8," to standbys like "NYPD Blue" and "CSI," and though some might label the shows as "police procedurals," Faerber says the term is more complex than people realize. "I think it's hard to describe exactly what's 'procedural' and what isn't, these days. For instance, of the [popular] shows you mentioned, I'd only call 'CSI' a 'procedural,' since its primary concern is the facts of the case. The character stuff is always secondary to the plot. 'NYPD Blue' is much more character-driven, with all the soap opera-style plots that play out over multiple episodes, and the emphasis on who's-sleeping-with-who, etc. The Law & Order shows are other examples of procedurals. But I'm nitpicking…
"To answer your question, I enjoy cop shows immensely -- but I'm pretty picky. Of the shows currently being produced, I'm only watching 'The Wire,' 'The Shield,' 'Third Watch' (the only thing cooler than cops is firemen, and this show's got both), and a Canadian drama called 'Da Vinci's Inquest.' I used to enjoy the original 'Law & Order,' but it hasn't interested me in years. I'm a huge fan of 'Homicide: Life On The Street,' and I'm devouring the DVD collections.
"I guess I have a hard time getting into a show if the characters don't interest me. That's why I lean more towards the character-based crime shows. If all I want is a good plot, I'll watch one of those true-crime documentaries on A&E -- because truth really is stranger than fiction."
Differentiating a police crime story from a P.I story is actually easier than it seems, according to Faerber. "Not to be flip, but the main difference is that the private story centers around a private eye," he smiles. "Another difference is that the private eye isn't necessarily interested in following the law. He may want to see justice done, or serve the best interests of his client -- but the P.I.'s agenda usually doesn't line up with the police's agenda … which I've chosen to exaggerate by having it bleed over into Dodge's rocky relationship with is father."
As Faerber mentioned earlier, Dodge isn't just a private investigator, he's also a musician, which may make some people scratch their heads as to how that combination came about (since not everyone is writer Joe Casey or artist Jock and has a rock band on the side). "Honestly, I'm hoping I haven't gotten myself in over my head here, because I'm not the least bit musically inclined, so I have to fake it all. Fortunately, my artist, James, is in a band, so I lean on him for the bits about music.
"But the decision to make Dodge a musician was mainly an attempt to help him stand out -- to give him a schtick, basically. Magnum's in Hawaii, and he's got the hot car. Rockford's an ex-con. Spenser's the literary ex-boxer. I wanted something that set Dodge apart. Plus, it gives him depth. It gives him an interest outside his profession as a private detective. And, it's a creative, artistic endeavor, so I know what's the like, even if I'm not musically inclined. I can sort of relate to how it "feels" to play music, just as a creative expression."
Switching from superhero work, as character centric as his tends to be, isn't as simple as Faerber donning a trenchcoat and getting in the "mood" to write a mystery. "Well, from a technical standpoint, the visuals are all different. In most super-hero books, one of the things you have to remember to do is make sure the book has a certain amount of visuals to it. You want your shots of people flying and punching and using their powers, etc. That doesn't necessarily involve fight scenes, but it's a certain mindset you have to get into. With a crime book like this, that's firmly set in 'the real world,' you don't have those visual requirements. But, at the same time, you're under pressure to make the book visually appealing, so it's not all just talking heads. This is where you work in your fancy "camera angles," or make sure you've got the characters walking around doing stuff, or whatever else it takes to keep every panel from just being a shot of a guy's head, talking. Of course, a large part of this burden falls on the artist, but I try and carry my weight by providing visual cues in the script.
"As for the actual plotting of the mystery story - for me, it involves lots and lots of outlining. I like to know how the book ends before I begin scripting it. I want every clue, and every action a character makes, to make complete sense by the time you get to that last page. There may be moments where you're not sure of a character's intent - in fact, that's deliberate - but by the end, everything should come together. And for me, the best way to achieve that is to just outline the hell out of it. I map out every scene, even if it's just a sentence or two, covering what Dodge learns in that scene, or what happens that advances the plot. Once that's all done, it's just a matter of going in and scripting it. That outlining process is, to me, the hardest part of writing the book."
The OGN, shipping in February 2004, is eighty pages long and while the number isn't conventional, it is what Faerber feels the story needed. "When I sat down to plot the story, I did just that - I wrote an outline without any regard to page count. I originally planned the story to be a mini-series, anywhere between 3 and 6 issues. So I took a look at the outline I'd written, and figured it would span about 3 issues. So I chopped it up into three parts and worked in cliffhangers. I wrote the whole thing as three separate chapters, and then, after the book was approved, I was in the process of changing artists, and Jim Valentino suggested we just do the book as an OGN, since mini-series seem to be an increasingly tough sell these days. So, I ran the idea by James Francis, the incoming artist, and he was totally into the idea of doing the book as an OGN. That's all I needed to hear.
"And yeah, I think 80 pages is enough. The scenes aren't cramped, and nothing's too rushed. I think the story should dictate the page count, whenever possible. And that's one of the great things about working with Image - there are so many different formats and lengths available to us."
"I think that, for projects like this, [the OGN format is] better. If I was to publish 'Dodge' as a 3-issue mini-series, I think a lot of people would just wait for the trade. And, of course, if sales on the individual issues aren't strong enough, there won't be a collection. But by going the OGN route, the entire story is there from the start. I think that there's definitely still a market for the monthly super-hero title, but for other genres, I think the OGN format is more appealing."
Faerber mentioned the name James Francis earlier and he's the artist on "Dodge's Bullets," where the writer believes Francis will make a name for himself. "The book's drawn by James Francis, an amazingly talented artist who just showed up on my virtual doorstep. He'd seen on my website that I'm always interested in working with new artists, and sent me his samples. This was right at a time when the previous artist assigned to the book had to back out because he was over-committed. James is a graduate of the Joe Kubert school, which he attended with Brent McKee, another promising new artist that worked on my 'Noble Causes: Extended Family' one-shot. In fact, Brent is helping out with some inking on 'Dodge's Bullets.'
"James is great. His layouts are strong, he's got a great style, and he's located right here in Western Washington, so he really gets the look I'm going for, with the heavy gray skies and the mist in the air - all that stuff that makes Seattle Seattle."
If you're already hoping for more collaborations between these two, you might just get what you wish, with Faerber saying, "I hope so, but I'm waiting until James finishes this book before we talk too much about what's next. I've definitely got more stories for Webster Dodge, though. That's for sure."
Jay Faerber is going to be a busy man in 2004 and he explains which projects he will be working on and which ones you shouldn't expect to see him handling. "Well, I've got 'Strykeforce,' a new super-hero book from Top Cow, on sale in March, and later this summer we're re-launching 'Noble Causes' over at Image. I've got at least two other creator-owned projects in development (which will probably end up at Image), and there will almost certainly be more 'Dodge's Bullets' in the future -- but whether it's as a series, another OGN, or even a novel, remains to be seen.
"You should not expect to see me writing 'Powers,' because I don't own that book. You should not expect to see me writing an issue of 'The Walking Dead,' because I don't own that, either. And you should not expect to see me draw an issue of 'Ultimate X-Men,' because, really -- no one deserves to see that."