One of the reasons I like reading superhero comics – as dorky as this sounds – is because I get to put myself in the mindset of a hero. With so many shades of gray out in the world today, it comes as a sort of relief to view situations through the eyes of those with noble intentions. However, sometimes the opposite can be fun, too.
In "The Killer," readers get to experience the ins and outs of a professional assassin's life. While many movies have tried to capture this experience, most rely on contrived storylines regarding madmen with Oedipal complexes and fancy names, like "The Badger." The hitman in this book (published by Archaia Studios Press is just a guy trying to do a job so he can earn enough money to retire. The simplicity with which he views killing scares me more than anything Hollywood could ever dream up.
Originally published in France as "Le Tueur," the book is written by Matz with art by Luc Jacamon. With issue #4 on stands this month and a hardcover collection solicited in the most recent Previews, CBR News was fortunate enough to catch up with the book's writer for a quick session of Q & A (translated from French courtesy of Archaia). Matz began by sharing some information about his writing background.
"I have been writing comics for quite some time now, as my very first book came out in 1990, and was written in 1989," Matz told CBR News. "I was quite young back then, so I'm not that old now, even though it seems like a long time ago. Since then, I have published fifteen comic books, including five installments in 'The Killer' franchise.
"Over the last twelve years, I have also published a novel (under my real name, Alexis Nolent), translated a Donald Westlake book in French, wrote a little bit for TV, co-wrote and co-directed a short movie featuring Oscar-winning actor Omar Sharif, and consistently worked in video games as a writer and story editor; so I am very much dedicated to writing, whatever the medium. Comics are great for me as they provide an unparalleled freedom, without too many constraints. I can go to whatever location I feel like going and I can deal with whatever topic I want, as 'The Killer' shows quite eloquently."
Considering he can "deal with whatever topic" he wanted to, you may be curious how Matz decided to lay open the mind of an assassin. For the writer, it was a great way to explore some deeper issues regarding humanity that he had questions about. "'The Killer' basically deals with conscience. I have always been fascinated with the issues related to conscience. How do people live after they have committed certain acts; why and how do they come to the point where they perpetrate such acts? I have always wondered how the mind of a man who is asked to kill someone works – like these soldiers we see firing at a civilian crowd, for example.
"A hitman is a figure that allows dealing with such matters in a non-apologetic, non-judgmental way; and therefore allows us to tell a story that relies on his state of mind as well as his actions. So we have action sequences – and violence – justified by an approach and a reflection on facts of life I believe most everybody can relate to, despite my character's profession."
As mentioned, the book has already been published in France for quite some time. And while the writer seems pleased with the reception of "The Killer" in his home country, he sounds particularly curious about how it is seen here in the states. "The series got a pretty slow start in France, but by the time the third book came out, it met a quite large audience, and – according to most reviews and websites – has become a cult series in France," explained Matz. "It's quite popular, and most people interested in graphic novels and comics are familiar with it. I sure hope we do at least as well in the U.S.
"From the American reviews that I have read this far, I get the feeling that the American readers have had, right from the start, a much deeper understanding of what I intended to do, which is a weird and great feeling. They seem to have cut straight to the core of it, get my exact intentions and liked it. That's very encouraging and I believe those who have liked the first book will also like the following. It's also reassuring because I grew up on American movies and novels and I always hoped that this work could meet an audience in the U.S."
European comics/graphic novels are often formatted differently than those in America. Those differences can range from the shape of the book to the number of pages it contains. As for the version Archaia is releasing, "apparently, nothing much has been changed, other than the fact that each American release is basically half a European book," replied Matz.
"If I had known that early enough, I may have done things slightly differently, so that we would have a cleaner, sharper break, but I hope it will be okay as it is. There isn't that much time to wait between two issues, so it should be okay. In France, you have to wait a year between two issues, so you need to give some closure, some reward, some cliffhanger so that your series lives on even though the readers have quite some time to wait."
When reading a book about someone's mindset, you can probably imagine that every word spoken or thought gives a hint to the character's true intentions. Therefore, the translation of these aforementioned words in "The Killer" was especially important. Matz naturally had some concerns about this, so he took care to make sure this job was done by a person who knew the story intimately, and it was, even if the book's credits indicate otherwise. The writer relayed the amusing anecdote to CBR News.
"I did a translation into English of the entire series, in order to help the publisher sell it to American publishers, and my translation has ended up being printed in the American version, minus a few corrections and changes (probably done by Archaia) – and then it was credited to my partner, artist Luc Jacamon, who is very amused by it. I just hope this will be fixed in the next release."
For those who are curious about the story Matz has translated, the writer was more than happy to describe the tale he is telling. "The story is basically the autobiography of a hitman. We meet him when he is staking out his next assignment. As he waits, longer than expected, he reflects on his life and his activity. But the longer he waits, the more aggravated he gets. He gets close to losing it, but gets a grip on himself just in time to discover he's been framed, and needs to put up a good fight to maintain his cover and safety. He compares himself to an alligator and he is obsessed with his survival…at any cost.
"Only, during the course of his adventure, he will find himself in situations where he has to build relationships with people, in a way that he has never done before," continued Matz. "His entire life is changed, and he has a whole new set of issues to deal with. The story is pretty international, and it takes place in modern time. The stakeout is in Paris, but he lives in Venezuela. He has contracts all over the world: Argentina, New York, etc. He travels a lot – under many different identities – and, as a matter of fact, the Killer has no name. We never learn what his real name is."
In describing this nameless killer and the other characters of the book, the writer added, "The Killer is a man who takes his job seriously and looks at it like it's any other job. He is a very lonely guy, and his loneliness is starting to get to him. He sees the world as a merciless hostile place, where good is nowhere to be found. He is not desperate though, he thinks that this is a tough world, and that he needs to be tough to survive.
"The other characters are his girlfriend, who, like him, has no name. Then there is his 'handler.' I also have a series of secondary characters, such as the Colombian guy who works for a Cartel and hires him to clean up the mess the first contract has created for them. There is also his neighbor, who is a bitter cop, fed up with his job, and of course, the Killer's victims."
To get inside the head of a murderer, there are various sources one can tap into without resorting to experience, thankfully. Matz, however, indicated that he didn't need to rely on any intensive exploration of killing to tell this story. "I've been reading both fiction and nonfiction about this topic for a very long time, so I guess that qualifies as research even, though it was not done with this project in mind. It's always been something interesting for me. As a matter of fact, you can see some results of that research in the Killer, as the character is a well-read individual that has taken some time to build theories that can be disturbingly accurate. To me, putting myself in the head of that character was both the interesting and appealing thing about this project, as well as it was for me the true literary work.
"'The Killer' is written a lot like a novel," continued Matz. "Actually, I originally intended to write it as a novel, but got to thinking that a comic could be a very interesting medium to convey these ideas and emotions, especially when it comes to showing one thing in the panels and then deal with something completely different in the balloons. A true writer doesn't necessarily need to completely research something to get it right. There is instinct and skills at play. One of the most vivid books about America was written by Kafka, who never took the trip there. Still, he got everything right. Writing is not journalism, it's something else."
Hitmen have long been a subject of many books and movies, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. In discussing which characters – literary or filmed – might resonate with Matz's protagonist, the writer responded, "When it comes to that, there is a pretty obvious reference (even though it might not be very familiar to the American audience): it's a movie called 'Le Samourai,' by director Jean-Pierre Melville, starring Alain Delon as the silent killer. It was made back in the '60s and it's a masterpiece. I think that movie was published on DVD in the USA by Criterion and I encourage people to have a look at it. There is another book that was released after I had done the first episode of 'The Killer' that I find has similarities in its purpose and intentions, even though I would not dare to compare myself to that great American writer and that's 'The Ax,' by Donald E. Westlake, which is, to me, one of best novels of the '90s."
While the writing of "The Killer" helps you get into the character's mindset, the art is what sets this book apart from others in this genre. Artist Luc Jacamon's portrayal of the Killer is not some strong, strapping figure who looks like he could kill you with his thumb. Instead, the character looks unassuming – like someone you would walk past on the street and not think twice about. In other words, the Killer could be anyone.
Needless to say, Matz is delighted with his talented partner-in-crime and filled us in on how they met and their process for working together. "Luc was originally the friend of a coworker of mine who introduced us. He was interested in drawing comics. I wrote a little test for him, and right from the start, it showed he had everything to make it, so I gave him 'The Killer.' I had been waiting a long time for the right artist and I felt this was the time. 'The Killer' is Luc's first work. We since have worked together on another series, called 'Cyclopes.'
"At the time we started, we were both living in the same city, Paris, so we could meet quite often. Now that he has made it big, Luc has moved to a remote seaside area. I have stayed in Paris. So now, we work through emails and hardly ever meet anymore. The way I write – I write a description of each panel, each strip, each page, with the size of the panels, everything that is to be seen in each panel, with the dialogue and the balloons. I hand that over to the artist, who naturally has some latitude to make the changes he deems are necessary, to make sure he can do the best possible image every time. So it's a lot like a movie script, only maybe slightly more detailed."
The joy the writer feels regarding his artist extends to his entire experience with the book. As a matter of fact, when asked about the one thing that excited him most, he rattled off an entire list. "Putting myself in the Killer's head is quite a thrill. Dealing with subjects that could be very difficult to deal with otherwise is very stimulating and it offers a lot of difficulties that are fun to cope with. The fact that the guy has no name is funny and the way he thinks is quite interesting. I have to give a lot of thought into how to take out people, which I wouldn't do on a regular basis. Also, what is really exciting for me is to do the panel-by-panel breakdown, which is actually the part of the job that allows the story to gain its full scope and impact."
For those readers who have already discovered "The Killer" and are interested in other works by Matz, you're in luck – if you read French. Thankfully, the writer does offer some hope for those of us who are "French-impaired" when listing the projects currently on his plate.
"I am currently working on 'The Killer' #6 (which would be #12 in the U.S.). I am also working on 'Cyclopes' #3 (also with the same artist), and then I have another series called 'Shandy,' which takes place under Napoleon's reign and has an English hero, on which I am working on book #3. In addition, I have just completed another script for a graphic novel which is an adaptation of a novel by Jim Thompson, called 'Savage Night.' The artist is a very gifted American named Miles Hyman. I have always had a passion for Thompson, and this is a great opportunity to bring it to a wider audience. This is going to be part of a new collection that will be launched next year, which consists of adaptations of great noir novels in lengthy, very high-profile graphic novels. Maybe some day you might see it in English, too. After all, many of the novelists we work on are American."
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