Jay Faerber: Saving Lives as a Means to an EndA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
Jay Faerber loves writing comics, and after long runs on his own Dynamo 5 and Noble Causes Jay is deep into his new series, Near Death. I caught up with Jay at this year's Emerald City Comicon and had a great conversation with him about Near Death and other topics.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: For readers who have never read Near Death, can you tell them what the series is about?
Jay Faerber: Near Death is about Markham, a hitman who is wounded on assignment and "dies" on the operating table for a couple minutes. During his brief "death," he gets a glimpse of Hell. When he's revived, he's so shaken by what he saw that he decides he has to balance the scales in his
life so he won't go to Hell when he truly dies. To that end, he decides to save a life for every life he's taken. And he's taken a lot of lives.
CB: The highlight of issue #1 was that spooky view of all the people that Markham has killed. Are we going to get more supernatural scenes like that, or will this series stay more grounded in reality?
Faerber: It's my intention that the series will stay more or less grounded in reality. I don't plan on including any other supernatural elements. And one could argue that the Hell Markham glimpsed was nothing more than a fever dream. So whether it's truly supernatural or not is up for debate.
CB: Is Markham continuing to grow and change as the series goes on?
Faerber: Yes, for sure -- whether he likes it or not. That's why I tend to lean towards ongoing stories rather than finite stories. I like spending long periods of time with a character, and watching the character develop.
CB: At the same time that Markham's life changed, his personality still seems the same. He's still really rough and tough and headstrong. How do you approach a character with his approach to life?
Faerber: That's a good observation -- Markham is still the same man he was when he was killing people. He's basically a sociopath. He doesn't really CARE about anyone. He's only saving lives as a means to an end -- to ensure that he doesn't go to Hell when he dies. But he still doesn't care for the people he saves. Does that make him a hero? Do your motives have to be clear in order to truly be a hero? Or are the actions enough? Those are questions we plan to continually play with in the series. When I started writing the series, I initially intended Markham to be a much more "serious" character, but once I got into his head, I found this nice, dry sense of humor. Markham's frequently making wry, sarcastic comments and it makes writing him more fun than I'd originally imagined.
CB: Does Markham actually have a first name?
Faerber: Of course! He just never says what it is.
CB: This series has a bit of a darker and grittier approach than Dynamo 5 and Noble Causes; how has the reception been for it?
Faerber: The reception's been good -- sales aren't great, but the critical response has been good. I think it took a lot of people by surprise. I've spent so much of my career writing super-heroes that I think people thought that's all I was capable of. But I've been a fan of the crime genre for a long time, and have always had an interest in writing something where I could flex those muscles.
CB: Simone Guglielmini has a really uniquely grounded art style that seems a great fit for the book. How did you approach working with him?
Faerber: I've been working with Image long enough that I've got a really good relationship with Eric Stephenson. When I told him the idea for the book, he was sold immediately. We just needed an artist. Once I came across Simone's work, I knew he'd be perfect, and I was able to approach him by telling him the book was already approved -- we just needed him to come aboard. There was no pitch process. He agreed, and here we are. I've been really fortunate in my career to have worked with some amazing artists, and Simone is right up there with the best of them.
CB: Has it been fun and different writing such a different series from your previous two series?
Faerber: Very much so. I still love super-heroes, but I've been writing them almost exclusively for 10 years and I needed a break. Working in the crime genre has allowed me to really push myself as a writer, and show off a different side of my interests and abilities.
CB: Do you have an ending in mind for Near Death?
Faerber: Yes. I know how the series will ultimately end, but I don't know WHEN it will end.
CB: You've mentioned that you see Near Death as like a Stephen J. Cannell TV series come to comics; what are some of the characteristics of Cannell's work that you see on the printed page?
Faerber: I think that's really a question for the readers to answer. I don't want to flatter myself by comparing my work to Cannell's. But I've always appreciated how character-driven his stories are, and I strive to do the same with Markham in Near Death.
CB: How has your work on the TV series Ringer affected your approach to this series?
Faerber: I don't know that it's changed how I approach the series, but being in a writers' room all day has definitely made me a better writer. It's made me push myself more, challenge myself more.
CB: Why have you worked pretty much exclusively for Image Comics over the last few years?
Faerber: I'm just at a point in my career where doing work-for-hire stuff doesn't really interest me. I'm much, much happier working on my own concepts and characters, and there's no better publisher for that than Image Comics. They offer complete ownership and complete creative control and I don't know of another company that offers that.
CB: All right, one last question: Really?! The leather jacket era Avengers is an underrated run? I'm sorry, Jay, but with all due respect, are you smoking crack?
Faerber: Yep, the "leather jacket" era Avengers is, to me, an underrated run. It had everything -- fantastic Steve Epting / Tom Palmer art, great character-driven stories, a big, sweeping arc that had adventure, suspense, romance, action -- everything I like in a comic.