Playing the Spy Game

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Car chases, hot women, guns and tuxedoes—you’ll get a pass if can’t recall that James Bond’s favorite drinks are wodka martini and Dom Perignon, but if you don’t know that the four aforementioned ingredients are in the trademark mix for a good old spy thriller, then you’re out of the game.

Someone who loves all those ingredients, though, is Chip Mosher, writer and creator of BOOM! Studios’ upcoming mini-series, Left On Mission.

BROKEN FRONTIER: To some extent, the concept of Left On Mission can be described as a mix of James Bond and The Bourne Identity. What kind of story elements make those comparisons hold true?

CHIP MOSHER: I think that once people read the whole series they will see that Left On Mission is its own animal. The series is both more overtly political and personal that either Bond or Bourne. But on the surface, I mean obviously Left On Mission is a spy thriller, so you have that.

Also, I have travelled fairly extensively and wanted to use that in the story—the comic takes place in Havana, Cuba, Ibiza, Spain and Fes, Morocco—so it has that Bond-esque international flair. Also, Eric Westfall has some of the self-questioning evident in Bourne, well the movies at least.

Click to enlargeBF: Is Eric, your series’ protagonist, more like a Jason Bourne or a James Bond?

CM: In many ways he is more sadistic than Bond, and more caring than Bourne. But I would like to think that Eric Westfall is more like himself. I think he’s more real as a character. Or at least I tried to make him so.

BF: What does the mission Eric has to go on entail exactly?

CM: In the world that the Left On Mission character’s inhabit, being a spy, being an assassin, being someone involved in torture,  all these activities takes a toll on your soul.  While working in this world, Eric Westfall is asked to come out of retirement and is given the mission of eliminating the one person he's opened his soul up to—Emma.

So, on one level it's about that story and his journey in coping with this horrible situation. On another level, it's an action-packed thriller. On another, it's a meditation on the moral dilemmas and repercussions that we face in the new war-on-terror world.

BF: Comparisons to Hollywood productions aside, at the core, this book is really your post-9/11 tale. How much did the impact of that day on your life influence Left On Mission, from basic idea to execution?

CM: Back then, I was working in special effects in a field called motion capture. That’s where you capture people’s motion and graft that motion onto 3D characters. And so we had to have a big enough area to do the “capturing” in—which was an airport hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. So right when 9/11 happened, I couldn’t work for a week or so. They wouldn’t let any of use near the airport. This just added to my whole sense of unease and my feelings of being connected to the events happening.

Then later on that year we had to do a motion capture session for a war game using military contractors. I ended up working with this guy who was previously in the Special Forces. And I discovered that unless this guy is being shot at, he can't really concentrate on anything. He's just wired differently, which made his personal life a total train wreck. This guy’s only good at one thing and in one situation. Then finally people started writing weird stuff in the major news magazines.

I read a November 5, 2001, column titled "Time to Think About Torture," by Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter. The article basically made the argument how we needed to keep an open mind about using torture in the war on terror. I read this column and I am pretty shocked by it ... shocked that someone I respect would even think about contemplating torture. Well, I don't think I need to go into what kind of trouble this line has gotten the U.S. into…

All these things made me start thinking about the human toll that state-sponsored torture, assassinations, spying would have for a real person. I wanted to look into what it means when you cross lines no one should ever have to cross.

So, I just started writing and out of nowhere came Eric and Emma and it grew from there.

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge

BF: The project was originally titled Left On Mission & Revenge, and was intended as one, big graphic novel. Now, at Boom, it’s presented as a five-issue series. Why did you change the title and format? And besides the title, the book also changed artists, with Francesco Francavilla replacing Nye Wright. How did that come about?

CM: I had written several things in the past, but I had never attempted anything this ambitious before. So after a couple of years of working on parts of the story off and on in notebooks I sat down and just wrote the whole thing, which ended up as a 160 page graphic novel script.

For SDCC 2006, Nye Wright, who is probably best known for Image’s Lex Talionis, worked up a 20-page preview of the script. Through that process, Nye decided to recommit to his creator owned project, Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park... When You Are 29 and Unemployed.

As for how things happened at Boom, well I had known Ross, the publisher of Boom! Studios, for years. So after bugging him a bit, he read the manuscript… and lo and behold he loved it. Then at his suggestion, I broke it down to 5 issues, shortened the title a bit, and Ross introduced Francesco Francavilla to the project and the rest is history.

BF: What made you settle on Francesco as your new artistic go-to guy? Was it his work on Ape Entertainment’s The Black Coat?

CM: I wanted to write a comic that would be something that I wanted to read. I wrote my script with some of my favourite comics in mind: Krigstein's Master Race, Cerebus, the infamous "Silent Interlude" issue of G.I.JOE. I love the art side of the comics equation and always feel there are too many words in comics. I hate reading a comic and being told what is going on and seeing exactly what is in the caption in the art. Why have the freaking caption?

Click to enlarge

Both Ross and I knew we needed someone to pull that off because that of course puts more pressure on the artist to convey the emotion and the choreography of the action and have it make sense. When Ross brought Francesco on board and Francesco did some pages, it was like, "Wow!" This is it." Francesco really got it. His whole Alex Toth meets Joe Kubert style was perfect for the book.

BF: Do you have any other comics work lined-up post Left On Mission?

CM: Weirdly enough, I come from a marketing and sales background, so right now I have been really focused on using those skills to try and expose this book to as many people as possible. I cold called about 60 retailers before the orders for the first issue were due, and I have a bunch of other things for the book I have been working on.

Also, I wrote a screenplay called Blacking Out that Brad Blondheim, the producer of the great documentary Scratch, is putting together for us to do later this year.

All that’s been fairly time-consuming, but I have a couple of ideas in the hopper, so we’ll see...

Left On Mission #1 goes on sale May 16th through BOOM! Studios. For more information, visit http://www.boom-studios.com/leftonmission/

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