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Slow City Blues: Jim Shooter Opens Up About His Image Comics Debut

Longtime Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter, founder of Valiant Comics, Defiant Comics and Broadway Comics, makes his Image Comics debut with the upcoming ongoing series, Slow City Blues. Samuel Haine, the writer and creator on the series, started working on the book six years ago before saving up enough money from working in a restaurant to pay someone to draw some sample pages for the concept. Through those pages, he met veteran comic book inker, John Livesay, who serves as the series editor and inker for the comic. Livesay brought in Shawn Moll on pencils, JD Smith on colors and Thomas Mauer on letters/production. Livesay was the inker on Jim Shooter's most recent Legion of Super-Heroes run for DC, so Livesay connected Shooter with Haine and the comic book icon came aboard the project as the story editor.

Slow City Blues is about a detective named John Loris, who is trapped inside his own imagination following his accidental shooting of a little girl while in the line of duty. Loris tried to take his own life but instead found himself in the imaginary world of Slow City. Loris continues to work as a cop in this strange land of imagination where everyone knows that he is "The Creator" of the whole fantastical setup. He is partnered with a six foot six, wisecracking skunk and the two partners must stop a gang war before all of Slow City is destroyed.

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In an interview with Jim Shooter, CBR discussed how the iconic editor approached working with Haine and whether this series draws any similarities with some of Shooter's most famous works. Samuel Haine, the writer and creator of Slow City Blues, also shares some thoughts, as well.

CBR: Jim - when you were working at Marvel, one of the ways you stood out from other editors was your willingness to use the submissions pile, working with aspiring comic creators. Now, you're working with Samuel Haine, an aspiring Image Comics creator. How has working with Samuel compared to your time at Marvel? Are you digging into some of your old Marvel techniques, or are you approaching this differently from past projects?

Jim Shooter: I got my first job writing comics for DC by sending in an unsolicited submission, three, in fact. DC bought those, published them and hired me as a regular writer. Therefore, I have tremendous respect for those who put their hopes and dreams in a manila envelope and send them off to a publisher. Okay, no one uses manila envelopes these days, it’s all electronic, but back in the Jurassic Period, we sent our carved stone samples via pterodactyl mail.

The editors who worked for me at Marvel—Archie Goodwin, Larry Hama, Louise Simonson and lots more—were similarly inclined. Without prodding from me, they welcomed submissions. They gave people who showed promise a chance. They taught. They helped and inspired new talent. Speaking of talent, they comprised the greatest assemblage of editorial knowledge, skill and ability ever. I was so lucky to have people like them with me.

I should mention Al Milgrom, Carl Potts, Ann Nocenti, Bob Budiansky, art director John Romita, Marie Severin, Mark Gruenwald and…more. The list is too long, and I’m leaving some great people out, but you know who they are as well as I do.

I was at a con with Larry Hama over the weekend. After the show we were talking about all the road we’d traveled and almost as an aside, he threw in how much he enjoyed those times at Marvel. He said he looked forward to every day. Me too. I think all of us did. When passion is your fuel, you try to pass it on.

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Sam is different from the guys sending PDF’s over the transom. He’s already a pro. The big difference is that I’m just helping him get acclimated to a new medium. Yes, I pitch in some ideas, help organize the story—writing is architecture as well as art—and yell at him when he wanders off course. Amazingly, he says, “Thank you,” and tries again. Actually, we all know there is no try, there is only do, and he does. He amazes me.

This is a big story. Too big to contain in your brain while you’re typing away, focused on the current batch of words. I think everyone needs a second pair of eyes.

And to answer your question directly, yes, I throw every technique I know at Sam. I worked with, and learned from, in no particular order, Stan Lee, Mort Weisinger, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller—who started as a raw student, but glorioski, before you know it I was learning things from him—Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, Don Perlin…. Again, too many to list. I paid attention to every word they said. I wrote a lot of it down. So, now, I’m trying to pass along the Wisdom of the Ancients to Sam. Wait, there is no “try.” Fortunately, with Sam, it isn’t difficult.

P.S. I also learned from all the great editors who worked for me. We could have traded sides of the editor-in-chief desk and it would have made no difference, except that I was more patient about dealing with the business stuff and wrangling with the bureaucrats upstairs.

Slow City Blues is about a man dealing with being the creator of his own world. That brings to mind some of your most famous stories, like Solar: Man of the Atom and Secret Wars II. Was it that aspect of the story that drew you to the project?

Now that you mention it, in terms of scope, it does remind me of Secret Wars, Solar, UNITY, Steel Nation, etc. But, what caught my attention was that SCB is unique. It’s brimming with new and wild imaginings unlike any I’ve ever seen. I liked the concept. Make that concepts, myriad concepts. I liked the illimitability of it. I thought, all it needs is a wheel alignment, a navigation system and maybe a racing stripe. Along the way I learned to turn a wrench.

I also like the way Sam writes, once I correct his spelling.

The title, Slow City Blues, evokes the classic 1980s TV drama, Hill Street Blues. That series ended up being an influential one on the world of comics, as well, with its use of continued stories and interconnected ensemble cast. Is Slow City Blues an ensemble work, as well, or does it mostly focus upon Detective Loris?

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Cover art for Slow City Blues #1, by Yasmine Putri

The way Sam explains it, John Loris is the focus, but the main members of the ensemble around him play “huge roles.” I think that’s correct. Every character is indispensable.

Jim, the mixed worlds concept of Slow City Blues evokes one of your old Defiant series, Dark Dominion. An interesting aspect of that series was the famous clash you had with Steve Ditko over the philosophical approach of the book, which ended with Ditko leaving the comic after the #0 issue. Obviously, that's not happening here, but I imagine that's a concern you have any time you work on a new concept with another creator. How have your and Samuel's "philosophies" gotten along?

I’m not here to inflict my philosophy on Sam. It’s his story. I just try to help him realize his vision. Wait, no “try.”

At the center of Slow City Blues is a man dealing with psychological trauma. You were at the forefront of the industry on that topic with your work with Hank Pym in the Avengers in the 1980s. Since then, the topic has been explored by a number of other creators, including more recently DC's Heroes in Crisis event, which was built around the effects of trauma. I must be fascinating to see the rest of the industry catch up to where you were in the '80s. Why do you think that is, and do you feel we're better acclimated to tell and read stories with this approach today?

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When I embarked on the Hank Pym/Wasp story in the 80’s, I got a lot of hate mail for putting Hank through such trauma, for breaking up a long-standing marriage. It worried me enough so that when Stan came back from LA for a visit, I asked him what he thought. He said he used to get angry letters and hate mail about Peter Parker’s trials and tribulations in and out of costume. “Why can’t he have a girlfriend?” “Why does he have to suffer so much?” “Why is his life so hard?” Etc. He asked me how sales were doing. I said they’re going up ten thousand copies a month. He laughed and told me to press on and dread nought.

The real gist of what he said was that if people care, if people worry about Hank and Jan as if they were friends and neighbors, you’re doing it right.

That was always my goal, even back to my first DC stories.

If, today, more writers are catching on, that’s good. It’s not that the audience has come around. The bedrock hasn’t changed for 40,000 years: tell a good story, tell it well, make people care, and you’re doing it right.

Slow City Blues is an ongoing series rather than a mini. How did you, Samuel and John go about determining the best approach for the series, with regard to beginning as an ongoing rather than opening with a miniseries first.

The overall concept has evolved into a series of mini-series, each one stands alone but is part of a larger tapestry.

Regarding the initial inclination to do it as a seamless series, Sam’s volunteer answer to your question is: “I think it was a bit of overzealousness on my part. We have, Jim, one of the best Story Sherpa/Shaman to have ever worked in narrative. So how could we not take full advantage and tell a story as wide as it is deep? Which, believe you me, Jim was instrumental in. I mean, for chrissakes, when I was still looking for what the end of the series was going to be, he handed it to us on a silver platter it, and said "Right here. Here's your end point. Start at the beginning and work toward that." But that was a handful of years ago, and now we know exactly where we are going and how to get there. So really, it's a series of arcs that join together into a much bigger arc.

Throughout your career, you've worked on ongoing stories in a variety of ways. When you launched Magnus: Robot Fighter, you opened with four one-off issues that collectively introduced readers to the world of Magnus, but you've also worked in the more traditional, serialized style on other projects, like your most recent Legion of Super-Heroes run. Which approach will Slow City Blues be taking?

I wrote the Legion of Super-Heroes story the same way as every other series I’ve ever written: stories that can stand alone (some two or three-parters, maybe) but with continuing threads to tie them into the overarching story. I recommend that approach. SCB, because it is now segmented into cohesive arcs that have definite, satisfying endings follows that logic. The hope is that the audience will find each story, and each mini-series arc so exciting, enjoyable, excellent, etc. that they’ll want to know what happens next. This I guarantee, Sam, John Livesay and the rest of the creatives are swinging for the fences. I just show them how to swing level.

Image Comics' upcoming new series, Slow City Blues, is written by its creator, Samuel Haine, with pencils by Shawn Moll, inks by series editor John Livesay, colors by JD Smith, letters and production by Thomas Mauer and story editing by Jim Shooter.

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