Last week, Black Mask Studios released Snap Flash Hustle #1 by writer Pat Shand, artist Emily Pearson and letterer Jim Campbell. The series follows an alternative model named Haley Mori who finds herself caught up in a money laundering scheme organized by a group of elite online models. Haley is so much in debt that she has no choice but to throw he lot in with this crime ring. I really enjoyed the first issue and I talked about it with Emily Pearson and Pat Shand.
Brian Cronin: What would you say is the "elevator pitch" of Snap Flash Hustle?
Pat Shand: We've pitched it as "Sex in the City meets Breaking Bad." That's the easy one-liner. Also, "Instagram models using social media to hide their drug business in plain sight."
BC: The tagline that you've used for the back cover of the book is what I imagine is the overarching theme of the comic, is just how much desperation debt can create. Haley notes that modeling is the only job she has ever been good at and she can't even afford a cup of coffee. You've really addressed the reality of how hard it is to make money in this world.
PS: Oh, for sure. I think that you don't have to be a model to relate, haha. This book is for sure about that hard overlap between turning your passion as a career, and being broke as fuck.
BC: Pat, your wife is a model, right? So is this all something that you've learned from her world?
PS: Absolutely. Some of the shit you see happen in the book is straight out of our experiences. There's a lot of real life in there.
BC: When it comes to the modeling, how much Instagram research did you have to do, Emily, or was it all pretty much straightforward stuff?
Emily Pearson: Well I was already following a ton of fashion, lifestyle and beauty accounts on Instagram. I took inspiration from what these women looked like, how they posed, what they wore, etc. It was really fun to experience that sort of lifestyle through drawing the characters. There are so many resources to look into someone's life through social media.
BC: I was really impressed by how well the both of you nailed that social media presence that someone like Haley would have to maintain. I especially loved the sort of forced friendliness from her Instagram post about the jerk photographer. There's a lot here in that male/female power dynamic that is sadly at play in a lot of these fields.
PS: Thanks! There was this one photoshoot where a photographer took pictures of my wife Amy and she felt it was a great shoot. And then he went on his Instagram and began posting her pictures with super religious captions. She had to reach out as professionally as possible to ask what that was about, haha. Photographers can be great, but it's real touch and go with some of them.
BC: The whole field of making money on the internet is such a mystery at times. How did it occur to you to take that mystery and apply it something criminal like this?
PS: That's exactly it. The mystery of it. The mystery of influencers. How much does a famous Instagram model make? Is Sommer Ray a millionaire? How much is Logan Paul worth? This is all a new kind of income that no one understands yet in full. Perfect for money laundering. So hey, when we get arrested, I'm blaming this whole shit on Emily.
EP: It's alright, I'll take the blame, I'm probably allowed to draw in prison.
PS: Those pencils and brushes are gonna demolish your commissary.
BC: One of the coolest aspects of the comics is the color schemes that you use to delineate the different characters/sequences. How do you figure out the "right" color for a character/sequence?
EP: It depends on the time of day during the scene, and the mood that's going on. So for instance if it's early morning, I'll use a yellow-orange color palette, whereas if it's late at night I'll use purple-blue. One thing I tried to do though is to use pink palettes during important scenes, or while characters are modeling. I wanted this book to give off a dangerous vibe when you see the color pink.
BC: Yeah, pink is a dominant color in the first issue, right from the first panel of the book. That was definitely very visually striking.
EP: Absolutely! Right when you see Haley, you're bombarded with pink. It's a very easy and fun color to work off and I felt like it was pretty fitting for the book.
BC: I also liked the use of arrowed inserts to spotlight certain moments. It adds a nice dynamic feel to the story.
EP: Thank you! I tried to make a lot of the panel layouts look like a website to bring the feel of social media back in, so circular insert panels helped a lot for that.
BC: Obviously, you rarely see polyamorous relationships in fiction, especially when it is not the main part of the plot, so how important was it to you, Pat, to depict one without it becoming the dominant aspect of the narrative?
PS: I drew from life from that, too. Some past experiences. Basically, I wanted to show a relationship that felt as real as any other. I wanted to show the negatives and the positives, the way that people make other people feel wanted and anxious and great and like trash.
BC: Yeah, it was cool that one of the first aspects of Haley's home life was basically her and her husband complaining about their lover's lack of job prospects. Bringing it all down to Earth.
PS: There's a bit about that later, too, that sheds more light on the job situation. How, when there are more people, the balance of responsibility and finances can cause some unique issues.
BC: It's interesting that Haley's husband is SO out of touch with her debt issues. That's realistic, of course, but yikes
EP: Pat's a great writer, because it shows that if Haley's willing to hide her debt from her husband, she's able to hide her drug involvement as well.
PS: For sure. There are all these stories about men hiding finances from women. Stories always have men as the one in control of a household’s finances. As if the reverse never happens, haha. I wanted something different. Haley is definitely the person who is more in charge of their financial situation – they're essentially three artists living together. But yeah, totally yikes.
BC: Will we learn more about how the current "throupling" began as the series goes on?
PS: We'll see more of that, for sure.
BC: How did you figure out when to place the cliffhanger of the book? In other words, with the first issue of a series, it is always a risk on where to put your break. Is it the reveal of the "hook" or AFTER. You went with after, and I was just wondering what the thought process was on that decision.
PS: I think a lot of comics are too focused on the plot, and they prioritize getting to that plot beat rather than the character beat. To me, character is everything. We had to end with Haley, because the comic isn't about the concept, you know what I mean? Plot is nothing to me, really. It's about the people and what their choices, fears, and hopes turn them into.
BC: Yeah, it was unusual (but cool) to see the issue pretty much end on a character bit between Coral and Simone, before showing Haley, of course, with the two debts canceled out.
PS: Thanks! Coral needed a little moment there to show you who she really is.
BC: I loved the bit with Simone and Coral there where Simone addressed how crazy it was that she was able to hold Haley up like that.
BC: Because I was definitely thinking during the scene, "Damn, how is she able to hold her up like that for so long?"
PS: Simone has been busy in the gym, making all kinds of gains.
EP: Buff girls are the best girls!
BC: That must be such a difficult scene to layout, Emily, as there probably are not a lot of "people holding up other people by their feet" scenes to compare to.
EP: Yes! Haha it can be hard to find reference for scenes like that. A lot of the times it just helps to take your own pictures.
PS: As an aside, the inspiration from that was when Suge Knight hung Vanilla Ice out of a window.
BC: You mention Breaking Bad as part of the pitch for Snap Flash Hustle, but an interesting aspect of that series is that the whole drug thing just sort of brought out the darkness within Walter White that was already there. Do you think Haley has a little bit of that darkness already in her or is it more a matter of her having to adapt to this world more so than a Walter White did?
PS: You know, what I'll say is this. The idea of the comic is exploring what debt and the monetization of passion does to someone. Beyond that? I want to hear what Emily thinks about this one, haha. I'll skrrrt out of the responsibility there.
EP: Well I think getting into a business like this will absolutely bring out the worst side of someone, no matter who it is. I think for Haley, a lot of that is explored in future issues through her relationship with Jamie and Pauline.
BC: Will Jamie and Pauline be getting their own plots as the series goes on, or are they mostly there to show Haley's home life and the effects of her new life of crime?
PS: Something is going on with everyone, for sure. We won't much spend time with them alone, because part of the point of the questions I'm asking the reader about their relationship comes from the fact that we're essentially seeing them through one biased POV (Haley's), but yeah -- everyone in the book has something going on beyond what we see at first.
BC: Will we be learning more about Coral in the next issue?
PS: For sure, Coral is in every issue. After Haley, she's the second lead. A lot of this book is about comparing the two characters.
BC: How many models total are involved in the scam?
PS: We meet a small group, but there are more. There are different crews of models, and the one we roll with in this series is operated by Drew, with Coral as his second-in-command.
BC: An impressive part of the book is how well you're able to keep the nude model aspect of the book from veering into anything that could even possibly be seen as exploitative. How important to you both was it in keeping the book from going that direction?
PS: Definitely important, but to be honest, it's never something I worried about. Emily draws people that feel real, with dignity. She draws with empathy. I wouldn't have created this book with someone who didn't have that in the fabric of their art, because of that exact reason.
EP: Yeah from my perspective, Pat never scripts anything that I feel like is taken too far. This comic is from Haley's perspective so I think nude modeling is very normalized for her, so we both tried to make it feel normal for the reader as well.
BC: Yeah, that's an excellent point about Emily's character work throughout the book. It gives off so much emotion.
EP: Thank you! Drawing emotion and character acting is my favorite thing to do, so I'm glad it came across well.
BC: Well, you've both succeeded in that, as it just seems as normal as, say, the car wash business in Breaking Bad.
EP: Yep! Nothing suspicious going on behind the scenes...
BC: Okay, how about a quick teaser about what to expect from #2?
PS: A colorful splatter!
EP: You did not.
PS: Really did.
PS: And an amazing, real-life acronym that plays a double meaning in the issue.
PS: It's definitely the best and most ridiculous thing I've ever named an issue.
BC: I WAS wondering how that title was going to play into the next issue.
EP: Oh yeah that's a treat. You'll see a lot of Coral, lots of Haley, and you'll get to meet Rosabelle and Tiff as well!
BC: Looking forward to it!