Ian Melton writes for Bleeding Cool. And spoke to Steve Lieber about The Fix, out from Image Comics tomorrow.
Steve Lieber: I wish I had comics to hand out to kids… I literally have nothing at my table that I would give to a 10 year old (laughs). It's the one big gap in my production is that I haven't done comics for kids… I want to someday…
Bleeding Cool: You and I spoke about the Harley Quinn special you did a long time ago (Harley Quinn: Our Worlds At War #1) and how you are really looking forward to The Fix, but in particular doing humor in comics and that special was your first time you got to draw something funny.
SL: Yeah, it was just four pages but Harley is a character that encourages you to be funny, so I guess that was my trial run at being a funny superhero cartoonist.
BC: So then what else do you feel you've done that is funny? You've got Batman and Gotham Central and those are definitely not funny books.
SL: The first place I learned I could be funny successfully was on Superior Foes of Spider-Man. I don't know if they were looking for me to be funny, but there were places in Nick [Spencer]'s first script where I thought 'I can get a laugh with this.' Not just like, theoretically funny, but laugh out loud funny. Steve Wacker, who was the editor on the book at the time, encouraged that and wanted comics to be entertaining… not a common attitude. So I went for it and people really liked it. They responded well towards it, and our book very very quickly became an intentionally funny book. People tell us all the time they laughed out loud, which means a lot to me as creator. Now I don't want to do anything else … (laughs) I shouldn't say that, but I really like it and it changed my goals as an artist. Changed the way I draw, too because the way you sketch a panel, the way you lay it out, the way you finish it for a joke is very different from a scare, or a thrill.
BC: You are reminding me of discussions I've heard about comic book art and I wonder how much that has been covered. It's a very good point, that it is a very different … almost medium for doing humor in comics.
SL: For me the biggest difference is I try to make my art look less impressive. Sounds like a weird goal for an artist. "You want to make it impressive' is the normal thought. But the jokes are better told deadpan. I found myself pulling the viewer away from the scene, pulling the camera away. Some stuff is funnier… like if you watch a guy bang his knee and jump around, holding his knee after he hurt it. If you view that from across the street, it's funny. If you're right next to the guy, your empathy kicks in and it's someone in pain. (Laughs) So I found myself staging action further from the camera, instead of moving the camera in close or framing things for spectacular effects. I'm intentionally showing people from very ordinary angles, using that to heighten the absurdity of a situation. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man was all about visual absurdity. I always said my goal when I was drawing the costumed characters was to draw them like they came in third at the cosplay contest at Emerald City Comic Con.
With The Fix we don't have characters in bizarre costumes; unless you count the terrible 80's outfits I put people in as bizarre costumes.
BC: Has a very Miami Vice feel…
SL: Very much so! I dressed them to express spiritual qualities rather than to show what they would wear today. What I'm showing instead of costumes or flying or Fin Fang Foom, is awful, just wretched human behavior. The worst people on Earth, and they are completely blasé about doing horrible, messed-up things. So I find myself putting the viewer in the place of somebody who is witnessing the scene, like you are there seeing it for yourself.
BC: Worked for Seinfeld for ten years…
SL: So true. But the influences I'm drawing on for the book are very different… When I'm doing a straight super hero comic I'm thinking of adventure films, I'm thinking about Spielberg, I'm thinking about Kurosawa, I'm thinking about James Cameron, all that kind of stuff.
When I'm working on the Fix, I'm thinking about scenes I've actually witnessed myself. Or if it's amedia, it'll be something like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or All in the Family, or Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. … anything that has cool ways to sell a joke.
BC: Was Superior Foes [of Spider-Man] the first time you worked with Nick Spencer?
SL: Yeah. We hadn't met before and I think it was Steve Wacker who put us together. Nick had pitched the book, and they were looking for an artist and I had just done a Hawkeye story for Steve at Marvel and they knew I was interested and available to do more for them so they asked me 'hey you want to do a villain book?' And I said, 'yeah sure' and I figured it would last six issues but it will be an interesting challenge to draw these second banana characters and I had no idea it would change my career.
BC: Very true. The Fix got the cover of Previews with your artwork and everyone wanted to see the ashcan from the ComicsPro in Portland.
SL: I was thrilled that people at Image Comics are reading this and liking it. I like hearing that they like it in the office. Those people read a lot of comics, so their opinion means everything to me. Same with the retailers. There are a TON of books out there and it's hard to stand out, so it's hugely exciting when I hear that they really enjoyed it.
BC: I love seeing the excitement from you. What are you guys aiming for [with The Fix]? Ongoing? Mini-series?
SL: It's ongoing. There is an eventual end point but we can go through all sorts of twisted alleyways to get there.
BC: Well for those who have read Morning Glories they know Nick Spenser can take a tale and give it plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
SL: I'm very glad with this because it is just going to keep being funny and entertaining along the way. Part of the pleasure of humor is that even in the middle of a story, funny is funny.
BC: You are someone who has a great reputation for keeping a monthly deadline. Are you guys going to do the Image approach of doing an arc and then taking a month off?
SL: I don't know right now actually. I'm certainly fast enough to do it [monthly], but Nick has a million commitments. He might need a month off.
BC: True, he writing on the big Marvel crossover that is going on right now (Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill).
SL: True. He has three monthlies at Marvel, plus the crossover, plus his commitments on Morning Glories and The Fix. That's a whole lot of writing! (Laughs) He's super good and super in demand. If he is able to keep everything going I'm fine to keep going, but it is also a strategy for marketing.
BC: Very true. It is a strategy Image likes. Do the first arc, five to six issues, put out the first trade in the month hiatus, and then come back fresh with the start of arc two. However that ends up working…
SL: And that's the sort of decision best made by someone who has been staring at all the spreadsheets for a couple of years and knows what the retailers prefer.
BC: In wrapping up our chat, can you sell The Fix to me in a couple of sentences?
SL: Sure. We have two deeply corrupt cops with the LAPD at war with a drug sniffing beagle named Pretzels.
BC: … (Laughs) Ok. The two main characters are the ones in the promo art, correct?
SL: Yes, that is Mac and Roy and they are human garbage. They're just awful people. We can call them our protagonists. I would not call them our heroes. The only hero is the dog.
BC: The Fix is all you have coming up, correct?
SL: Yes, though the omnibus of the Superior Foes of Spider-Man just came out and I'm really happy about that. It has the whole story in one place and Marvel really indulged me on the DVD extras. I had lots of extras, For all the retailers who loved the book and posted about it on social media, I'd draw a gag on a postcard and mail it to them. I took photos of all these and Marvel put those all together as a collage. Most of them have never been seen before. I also did a fake "official" entry for "Inspector" for the Marvel Universe Handbook . (He's the dog Speed Demon stole.) I did a sort of director's commentary for the last issue of Superior Foes that they reproduced in its entirety. You can see the complete portrait of the true face of Doctor Doom… A lot of fun stuff that's only in the hardback.
BC: To bring it back around you could always do The Fix kid's comic one shot…
SL: The Adventures of Pretzels…
BC: They do it with Poyo over with Chew.
SL: It's a natural.
The Fix #1 by writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber will launch 4/6/2016 from Image Comics. Check it out at your local comic book store this Wednesday or from Steve Lieber himself at Emerald City Comic-Con starting Thursday 4/7/2016.