Image Month: Jay Faerber Talks Writing, Near Death, and Image's Legacy

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Jay Faerber is certainly no stranger when it comes to being his own creator, and Image Comics offers ample proof of this, publishing notable titles like Noble Causes, Dynamo 5, and most recently Near Death, Faerber’s first crime comic about a hitman who changes his mercenary ways after a near death experience leaves him with a terrifying vision of hell burned into his consciousness. The story itself presents quite a hook for readers, and it’s always a bonus to get a closer look beneath the surface of a story idea and to peer into the pasts of versatile writers like Faerber.

Broken Frontier was able to get an inside look into Faerber’s rich ten-year history penning his own stories with Image Comics and also touch upon some of the numerous reasons the Big I has remained a powerhouse of storytelling and top tier artistry since its Savage Dragon days.

BROKEN FRONTIER: First, a bit background to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Image Comics: Where were you in your career when Image was just starting up 20 years ago?

JAY FAERBER: 20 years ago, I was still in college and hadn't yet started working in comics. I was studying Creative Writing and concentrating mainly on mystery novels. I still plan to write a novel one of these days, but I kinda got side-tracked by comics and TV. If I remember correctly, in 1992 I was just getting involved with a Teen Titans APA (amateur press association) called TitanTalk. It was there that I met my good friend Devin Grayson, who was instrumental in getting me into comic book writing.

BF: And going with that, what was your favorite title that Image released when it first launched back in 1992?

 FAERBER: I really only read Savage Dragon and Youngblood and Savage Dragon was my favorite. All the Image books had great art, of course, but let's be honest -- the writing on that first wave of books left a little to be desired. But I thought Savage Dragon was both well-written and well-drawn. It was (and still is!) a fantastic package, cover to cover.

BF: Okay, now, onto you: Did you always want to be a writer? If so, and because you apply your skill to different forms of writing, was comics your first choice?

 FAERBER: I always wanted to tell stories, but for a while I thought of myself as an artist, not a writer. I would write and draw my own comics as a kid, and continued doing so into high school. I then studied as an art major for a semester in junior college and that was a real eye-opening experience. I realized that while I may have a small degree of natural artistic talent, I don't have anywhere near the discipline to really learn the craft. I just don't have the patience to spend hours and hours on a single page of art. It helped me realize that all that time I spent writing and drawing my own comics, it was the writing that I really enjoyed. So I switched majors (to English) and my grades immediately improved.

In college, I was interested in three mediums: novels, comic books, and TV. I went to Shippensburg University of PA and they didn't really have film/TV or comic book classes, so I focused more on prose writing. But I was (and still am) equally interested in all three mediums. I was on a path to really try to become a serious novelist when I met Devin Grayson, who was just starting to get interest from DC Comics. So her experiences kind of galvanized me and I switched my focus over to comic book writing. I graduated college in 1994 and I think I sold my first comic book story in 1997 or 1998.

BF: Where do you find inspiration for the characters you’ve created, particularly the ones you created/worked on for Image Comics?

FAERBER: I don't really know where I find inspiration. I just know that I write the kinds of stories I'd like to read. So I tend to gravitate towards crime and adventure and super-hero stories, and I tend to stay away from fantasy stuff.

BF: Near Death is your latest series for Image Comics following successful runs with Noble Causes and Dynamo 5. What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned from writing such diverse characters –– from superheroes (the Nobles) to the not-so-average Joe (Markham)?

FAERBER: I guess the most important lesson is that every character is the hero of his or her own story. The Nobles all had their flaws (some more than others!) and Markham definitely has his demons, but they all see themselves as doing the right things for the right reasons. And that goes for the "villains" of the stories as well. Villains shouldn't
usually consider themselves "evil" or "villainous." I think that's something worth remembering when writing stories of good vs. evil –– most characters consider themselves to be the good guys.

BF: Near Death is a title that pushes the envelope of storytelling and reminds me of exactly why I was immediately drawn to Image Comics back in the early ‘90s. How did the premise for Near Death come about?

FAERBER: I can never remember how I came up with any given idea. Near Death is a series that's been kicking around in my head for over five years now. I think it's important to have a really good hook when doing something creator-owned. With Spider-Man or Batman or whatever, you've got a built-in audience for that stuff. But when you're launching something that's truly new, you need something with a strong hook. So whether it's a nighttime soap about super-heroes or the illegitimate kids of a dead hero becoming a super-team or a hitman who changes his ways after a near death experience -- I wanted something unique. And I think Near Death has that. I've been a fan of crime fiction for a long, long time and yet 99% of my comic book output has been super-heroes. So I had been looking for the right vehicle to branch out a bit, and I knew Near Death could be that vehicle –– provided I had the right artist. And once I came across Simone Guglielmini's stuff, I knew immediately that he was the right artist.

BF: I remember you mentioning in “Death Certificates” at the end of Near Death #1 that this comic is one you’ve wanted to write for a long time but didn’t because it needed “the right artist,” which turned out to be Simone Guglielmini. But once you did write it and Simone finished those first five issues, did you have to pitch it to publishers, or was it written specifically for and/or with Image Comics in mind?

FAERBER: Before I found Simone, I had briefly entertained the idea of doing Near Death at another publisher –– one that would find an artist for me and handle all of that stuff. So all I would need to do is write the scripts. I had an offer from them, but at the time I didn't really have time for the series, plus I was hesitant to do something outside of Image. I've been working there for over ten years now, and they truly offer the best deal in comics.

I consider most of their staff to be personal friends –– especially publisher Eric Stephenson. I happened to tell him the premise for Near Death over drinks one night, and he got immediately excited about it and said that if I could find an artist, Image would publish it. So when I approached Simone, I was able to say "This book is already approved by Image." So there was no pitch process. He was able to immediately start working on the first issue.

BF: You’ve obviously had a lifetime of research in the crime fiction genre, growing up with T.V. shows like Magnum P.I. and Lee Child’s novels. What kind of current research, if any, have you been immersing yourself in to further color Markham’s world?

FAERBER: Most of my research involves doing "location scouting" for where each scene will take place. The first story arc took place in Seattle (a city where I lived for about ten years) and then Markham moved to LA (where I currently live). I've always loved stories with a sense of place, and when I started working on Ringer, one of the best parts of my job was working with our location manager as we prepped for the
first episode I wrote. If I wasn't a writer, I'd love to be a location scout. Weird, I know. But anyway –– I spend a great deal of time coming up with interesting locales for the Near Death stories.

BF: How has working with Image Comics in particular helped shape you as a comics (and/or television) writer through the years?

FAERBER: The thing about Image is you have absolute creative freedom. Once Near Death was approved, I just wrote it. There were no notes from Eric or anyone else at Image telling me what they think I should do, which is awesome. But it can also be a burden, because if a book sucks, I can't say, "Well, if I had been able to do it my way..." –– because I did do it my way. So working at Image has made me become my own editor. The buck stops here, you know?

BF: From Spawn and Savage Dragon to Near Death and The Walking Dead, what, in your opinion, is one aspect of Image Comics that continues to keep its status as a force to be reckoned with? And, going with that, why do you enjoy writing for Image specifically?

FAERBER: I think Savage Dragon exemplifies everything that's great about Image. It's Erik Larsen, writing and drawing his series, month in and month out. That's what Image is designed for, and I love how Erik has embraced that. If you read his book from the beginning, you can literally see the evolution of a creator.

And I enjoy writing for Image specifically because of the creative freedom I've been talking about. In fact, I don't even really consider myself writing "for" Image. I write for me, or for my audience. And Image supports it. That's what's so great about it.

BF: Are there any other projects on the horizon for you, and/or are there any projects tapping at the gateway of your mind just waiting for the right artist to help unleash it?

FAERBER: I have a new crime mini-series that will probably be launched in August. It's a 4-issue murder mystery/conspiracy thing. It's black-and-white and is a very different kind of crime story than Near Death. I've got an 8-page story coming out for the Double Feature app this summer. Near Death remains my one monthly gig, and with my TV job, one monthly book is pretty much all I can handle. But I've always got ideas kicking around somewhere inside my head.

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