[[wysiwyg_imageupload:6762:]]Comic books outside the Big Two have been hot lately among fans, and writer Mike Carey is creating a super-powered world for us in a stunning new mag called Suicide Risk, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.
Cosmic Book News Managing Editor Byron Brewer sat down exclusively with Carey recently to discuss his new book, its characters and other secrets of writing for the Big Two as well as other publishers.
Cosmic Book News: Tell us how this project came about with BOOM! Studios, I believe your first writing foray outside DC and Marvel.
Mike Carey: Not my first-ever non-big-two project, but very definitely my first non-big-two monthly, so I guess that’s the key thing to stress. Suicide Risk is an ongoing, and it’s got a fairly ambitious scope.
It came about firstly just through me meeting up with the BOOM guys at New York Comic-Con and getting to know them. I already liked the books, was impressed with the range of what they were bringing out and the production values. But crucially it felt like a good fit in terms of personality. It always helps in this business – probably in any business – if you can work with people who you trust and feel comfortable with.
So yeah, after that meeting I pitched a whole bunch of things at Matt Gagnon, and some of them he liked and some not so much, and we went back and forth a while on one or two of them – one of which was a superhero book called Faultline. Matt liked the premise of the book very much, but felt that it was missing something crucial. “There’s no protagonist,” he said. “Well, it’s … you know, there’s a … the cast rotates.” “Can it rotate around someone?”
It was a very good point. I’d created what I felt was an interesting world, but the reader still needed a point of view from which to see it. So I went back and thought about it some more, and a scant two years later (stuff happened) I came back with a revised pitch.
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:6774:]]CBN: What type of a world is Suicide Risk set in? How is it different from our own?
Mike Carey: It’s our world, very much our own present day, but set against the backdrop of the first wave of superpower activations. Dozens and then hundreds of people are showing up with powers – a trickle that becomes a stream that threatens to become a flood. And almost all of them are bad guys, or at least use their powers for selfish ends. So there’s a very small group of heroes and a somewhat larger group of non-superpowered law enforcers trying to hold the line against a tsunami of supervillains. Our protagonist, Leo Winters, is one of this heavily outnumbered group.
CBN: Tell us about the character of Leo Winters. Is he super-powered? How does he meet his challenges as a lawman in this world?
Mike Carey: Leo’s just an ordinary beat cop when we first meet him, and he’s feeling the strain of trying to do an impossible job. He’s a good man, a good cop, very much concerned to do the right thing. But when his partner is crippled for life in a supervillain fight, he decides he’s got to take a different approach to the problem. He makes a decision in the first issue that will put him on the front line in the battle, and – as he gradually comes to realize – in a much wider conflict of which this battle is a part.
CBN: Was there any particular inspiration for the concept of Suicide Risk?
Mike Carey: Not directly. Indirectly, I guess Suicide Risk shares an approach with my Felix Castor novels. The Castor books are set in a world where the dead have started to rise, in a whole lot of different forms. We’ve got ghosts, werewolves, zombies, demons, even (much further down the line) vampires. But there’s a single explanation for all of these phenomena. A zombie is just a ghost that’s refused to leave its own dead body. A were-creature is a ghost that’s invaded an animal body and redecorated, and so on. Occam’s rasor. I like stories where you get a lot of mileage out of a single idea. And in Suicide Risk, likewise, there’s a single explanation for all the very varied superpowers and for the terrifying side effects that people experience when they get them.
CBN: How does working for BOOM! compare to working with the larger publishers?
Mike Carey: That’s a hard question to answer because for me everything comes down to editors rather than to imprints – to personal relationships. That’s one reason why I’ve worked at Vertigo almost constantly for the last twelve years: the people there are great, and it’s hugely rewarding to work with them.
The same seems to be the case at BOOM. I’m really comfortable with my editors, Dafna Pleban and Matt Gagnon, with the publicity team, with everyone I’ve met over there. They care about what they do and they do it really well. They also give me that elusive balance of guidance and creative freedom. I get serious edit notes that help to structure the story and keep me up to the mark – but I’m also free to take the story where I want to so long as I can justify what I’m doing in terms of the overall plan. It’s a good way to work.
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:6775:]]CBN: It seems that everyone is a big-bad in this book, but who are Leo’s major foes– and allies?
Mike Carey: His most important allies, without a doubt, are his family – his wife Sunita and his kids Tracey and Danny. They’re a very close and very supportive family, and believe me when I say their love for each other is going to be tested to the limits.
Leo’s former partner, John Ha, who is incapacitated in issue 1, is also someone who’s very important in his life. So is his father-in-law, Mitesh.
In terms of recurring villains, there’s a guy named Dr. Maybe who’s going to be pretty important – and a woman, Diva, who’s the living avatar of a goddess and is sometimes a villain, sometimes a hero (depending on what the goddess commands at any gives time). Then later we meet Diva’s sister, Aisa. And a very, very nasty bunch called Nightmare Scenario.
CBN: Are there any past story concepts you’ve worked with in X-Men or other superhero books that might find their way into Suicide Risk?
Mike Carey: Hmmmm. Not really. Although I was writing Age of X when I was doing some of the planning for Suicide Risk. There’s a bit of overlap, but not in any way that’s immediately obvious.
CBN: What about artist Elena Casagrande? Are you a fan? How have you worked together on this?
Mike Carey: I’m a big fan. I’d seen her work on Hulk and Angel, and I really liked both her character work and her action scenes – which let’s face it are the twin backbones of superhero stories. So I was excited when Dafna suggested her for the book.
It’s been a fairly free and easy collaboration so far. There were a LOT of superpowered characters coming into those early issues, and a lot of civilian characters too. I wrote rough descriptions, trying to give Elena a feel for the effect I was going for in each case rather than just stipulating physical details. She came back with sketches, I gave feedback on the sketches, she drew some more, and so on. That was pretty much how we got started.
Now that layouts and finished pages are coming in, I’m amazed at how she’s managed to express the superpower effects on the page. Some of them are fairly extreme, and she’s done them more than justice. The opening scene, in which San Diego cops tackle a massively overpowered villain team, is awesome. That’s an overused word, but still, it just is.
CBN: Suicide Risk is slated to be an ongoing. How far have you plotted your material out?
Mike Carey: As with Lucifer and The Unwritten, I worked top-down. The first year is planned out in a lot of detail, and then with subsequent events I hit the highlights – flagging up general direction without getting overly specific about structure and timing. That seems to me to be a very powerful and productive way to work on long-form stories. In the short term you need a very clear sense of direction. In the longer term you have just as big a need to stay flexible, because things will happen in those early issues that will deflect you. In a good way, I mean – things that you’ll want to incorporate because you had an inspiration and it was a good one and it deserves to be given story space.
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:6776:]]CBN: Any current or future projects you would care to discuss?
Mike Carey: Well, the “Unwritten Fables” event is looming close now – a five-part story arc in Unwritten that sees Tom meeting some of the cast of Fables in a setting that will come as something of a surprise (hopefully a pleasant one) for Fables readers. It’s a story that gets to the root of our biggest ongoing question in The Unwritten: how do stories relate to reality, and what happens when the two are forced into contact with each other?
We’ve also got an Unwritten OGN coming out in the fall – Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice. It’s the complete story of the first Tommy Taylor novel.
interspersed with scenes focusing on Wilson Taylor and what he was trying to accomplish in the books. And it ends with Tom’s birth.
And the other comic book project I’m working on at the moment is Houses of the Holy – a horror story set in 1930s Berlin against the backdrop of the Nazis’ consolidation of political power. The amazing Dave Kendall is doing the artwork, and regularly scaring the crap out of me – and it’s free, along with a lot of other wonderful comics, if you download the Madefire app for you iPad or iPhone.
Cosmic Book News would like to thank Mike Carey for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions, as well as Filip Sablik and Brianna Hart of BOOM! Studios who helped make this interview possible.
“Suicide Risk” hits shops May 1!