This week sees the release of the second “Near Death” trade, collecting issues 6-11. Last month, we talked with series artist Simone Guglielmini, and now writer Jay Faerber sits down to tell us more about the title. He also discusses his upcoming project, “Point of Impact”, with artist Koray Kuranel.
Jay Faerber: Near Death is about a contract killer named Markham who’s gravely wounded during a job and has a near-death experience in which he gets a glimpse of Hell. When he’s revived, he’s so terrified by what he saw that he decides to change his ways — to turn over a new leaf in the hopes of avoiding Hell and maybe getting into Heaven. So in an effort to balance the scales, he sets out to save a life for every life he’s taken. And he’s taken a lot of lives.
Now he uses all the skills he’s acquired as a hitman to act as a bodyguard and save people, instead of kill them. And he won’t kill anymore, so he needs to find other ways to deal with threats.
Would you recommend a new reader buy the trades or hunt down back issues?
JF: I have no preference. The individual issues have more content to them — they have back-up stories and essays. The only bonus in the first trade is an early draft of my script for the first issue. I’m not sure what kind of bonus we’ll put in the second trade.
Near Death bucks the industry trend by having mostly done-in-one stories. What inspired you to try this? After the recent three-parter, is it something you’re planning to stick with?
JF: The decision to have mostly self-contained stories was really just a creative challenge I set for myself. I wanted to be able to pack as much story as possible into each issue, and not cop out at the end by just leaving things dangling, to picked up some other time. I think that’s a habit writers can fall into pretty easily in serialized comics — they don’t provide strong endings, because it’s too easy to just kick the can down the street and follow up on it in a later issue. And I say that as a huge fan of serialization.
But at the same time, one of more common complaints I heard about the book was that the stories felt “too short.” So I decided to do a 3-parter and see how that felt. It was fun, and well-received. I’m not sure what the ongoing format of the book will be. It’ll probably fluctuate with the needs of each story we’re telling.
For the time being, the book’s going on hiatus after issue #11. Sales aren’t great, so we’re gonna take it off the shelf for awhile and regroup and figure out our next move.
It’s funny you mention that being your most common complaint. I felt that way about issue 8. Have you ever thought about varying the page count (and price point) to give a self-contained issue some extra room?
JF: That’s a tough one. I did a Dynamo 5 Annual a number of years ago, where we packed it with content. I think it was 48 pages, and we charged $4.95 (I think). And all people did was bitch about the price. The fact that there was more content was completely irrelevant. All that mattered was the price tag. So I’m not eager to go down that road again.
As we look at our options for continuing the book, we may keep it going as a series of one-shots or something, in which case it would be longer stories with a higher price-point. But for reasons I just stated, that’s a pretty risky proposition.
In an earlier interview with Image publisher Eric Stephenson, he said it frustrated him when high-quality books like Near Death didn’t fly off the shelves. What were your hopes for the book when you started, and were they met?
JF: All I hoped for was a book that connected with its audience, and sold well enough to keep itself afloat. I’m proud of the work we did on the book, and I’m pleased with the critical response. But as far as keeping itself afloat … we’ve fallen short on that front.
Now that you’re eleven issues in, is there anything you do different? Anything you wanted to include, or wish you’d left out?
JF: Creatively, I can’t think of anything I would’ve done differently. As I said, I’m really proud of the book we put out. This is exactly the book I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. I wish we had the same kind of audience that FATALE or THIEF OF THIEVES has. I think we appeal to those same kinds of people. But I can’t think of anything, creatively, I’d have done differently.
The series went on hiatus after issue eleven in August. Any idea when we can expect number twelve?
JF: No idea. We’re still looking at all our options, to figure out our next move.
You’re writing for comics and for television. Have you thought about trying a screenplay or novel?
JF: I have a couple feature screenplays sitting around, and a couple ideas for more. But I prefer ongoing stories. It’s why I gravitate more towards comics and TV. I like getting to know a group of characters over a long period of time.
In the issues’ back matter, you’ve mentioned lots of television shows as inspiration for the comic. Has there been any effort to get Markham onto the small screen?
JF: Yeah, we’re shopping it around as I type this. There’s some interest here and there, but we’re not far enough along yet for me to be able to talk about anything.
You suggest crime books, movies, and television shows to readers in every issue, but are there any other comics you wish more people would read?
JF: I think Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s STUMPTOWN deserves to be read by more people. It was a 4-issue private eye series from Oni Press. It’s one of the very rare books I’ve bought twice — I bought all four single issues, and then bought the gorgeous hardcover, too.
They’re launching a sequel mini this Fall, and I hope more people give it a look.
You’ve been published in comics for almost fifteen years now. If a reader liked Near Death, what would you recommend out of your catalog? Is there anything you’d recommend avoiding?
JF: If people like Near Death, I think they’d also like a little graphic novel I did years ago called Dodge’s Bullets, from Image. It’s a private eye / crime thing that I had a lot of fun doing. It was drawn by James Francis and I’m really proud of it. There’s also another short graphic novel I did for Moonstone Books called The Hat Squad.
It’s a 1940s crime piece about the cops who tried to keep the mob out of LA. I don’t think it’s still in print, but I’m sure you can find a copy somewhere.
And then there’s my super-hero stuff — Noble Causes and Dynamo 5, both from Image. They’re both available in trade. I had an Image series with Jamal Igle called Venture that only lasted 4 issues and was never collected. It’s worth tracking down. And there’s another Image project called Gemini that was planned as a 5-issue series, and so far we’ve only finished 4. We’re still hoping to get that last issue out, though.
You have a new mini-series coming out next month, Point of Impact. What’s it about?
JF: Point of Impact is a crime book unlike anything else I’ve written.
It’s a murder mystery centered around the death of a young woman, and how three people in her life investigate her murder: her husband (an investigative reporter), her friend (a homicide detective), and her lover (an ex-soldier). So it’s one mystery, told from three points-of-view. It’s about how one person can mean different things to different people, and how we don’t always know the people in our lives as well as we may think.
Will Point of Impact be a stand-alone story, or is it something you may return to someday?
JF: It’s a stand-alone story. We’re not trying to set up a franchise. This is a story with a definitive ending.
Neither Near Death’s artist Simone nor Point of Impact’s Koray are native English speakers. How does that affect the way you write?
JF: I don’t think about it much. I’ll try to keep colloquialisms to a minimum, and I’ll sometimes over-explain things just to make sure I’m describing it accurately. But Simone and Koray aren’t the first foreign artists I’ve worked with, and I’m fortunate that everyone I’ve worked with has been a very good communicator.
Point of Impact is going to be black and white. Was that your decision, or Koray’s? What inspired it?
JF: I think it was my idea, and Koray happily agreed. It was for a number of reasons — I thought his art would look particularly good in this format, and I liked the idea of embracing b&w, to the degree that EVERYTHING is going to be b&w — the covers, the inside covers, any ads. All of it. And it’s also, frankly, an economic decision. Not having a colorist is one less mouth to feed, so to speak.