By David Dissanayake
Joe Casey gives a damn good interview. Last week I talked to him about his book Sex from Image Comics. A masterful post-superhero story about repression, intimacy and personal redefinition, Sex follows Simon Cooke – a Batman/Iron Man/rich man superhero archetype – as he hangs up his cape and cowl in an attempt to leave crime fighting behind and reintegrate himself into civilian life after leading a life of serious repression.
Oh, and there is Sex. Lot's of it. In many different forms.
Here is the rest of my conversation with Joe:
David Dissanayake: I wanted to delve into the different kinds of sexual/intimate relations that are happening in the book and their reflections on the characters. Simon can't get it up, while Annabelle gets herself off with thoughts of her/Simon's past life, Keenan gets laid all the time from his smoking hot, affectionate, insatiable girlfriend, The Alpha Brothers do each other while they talk about power, The Old Man snuff f#(%s prostitutes, while the Prank Addict emotionally manipulates vulnerable women into sleeping with him – oh and Warren is into getting gangbanged by grandmothers with strap-ons. I'm interested in hearing from you about coming up with the different characters and sexual relations they have, and what those proclivities mean to you and to the characters.
Joe Casey: Just to clarify something… Simon can get it up, physically. He's got the tool needed to get the job done. He's just having a rough time getting it up, emotionally. So he can get it up, but he can't get it on (so to speak).
As far as the other characters, I just knew going into this series that one of its main aspects would be the characters' various sex lives. Kinda implied with the title, right? I also knew that there would be some obvious symbolism involved with whichever sexual preference or kink I associated with which specific character. It wasn't just picking names out of a hat. Each one serves as a way to illuminate character. Sexual characterization, I guess you could call it. It's not something you see in many comicbooks, so I guess we've got that going for us…
DD: Now I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your collaborators on this project. How did you come to work with Piotr Kowalski? Piotr definitely has more tall, angular, BD type of sensibility that really works for this book. How did you find him and what's it been like working together? Also, I saw that he'll be doing that new book with Peter Milligan over at Dynamite. Does this mean he'll be taking a break from the book?
JC: Like I said, there'll be the occasional fill-in as we keep things rolling on, as we've always planned to have. We've already brought in cool artists like Morgan Jeske on issue #9 and Chris Peterson on issue #14 and we'll continue that tradition with more guys (like the mighty Dan McDaid drawing a nice chunk of pages in issue #17). But even when we have other artists, Piotr is still there every issue, in some capacity. Frankly, he's a pretty good match for me… since we both tend to work ourselves to the point of exhaustion, often on multiple projects.
I honestly can't remember exactly how I first became aware of Piotr's work. Here in the USA, he'd only done the one mini-series at Boom (which I didn't even know about when it was out on the stands). I probably got his e-mail from an editor at Boom and I just wrote to him out of the blue, telling him I liked his stuff and asking if he'd like to work together. Luckily, he threw himself into the world-building aspect of this series as hard as I did, and the proof is right there on every page. Saturn City has a distinct visual identity, and that's all down to Piotr's talent. His style is also very understated, but without losing any sense of drama or power. It's perfect for this kind of book, where we present shocking visuals in a very matter-of-fact manner. We're not out to be exploitative, we're just telling stories and letting readers in on the inner lives of these characters, no matter how twisted they might be.
DD: I'm really interested in the teams approach to color in Sex. Brad Simpson is taking a really unique approach to the coloring with distinct palettes for adjacent scenes and I like his balance between muted and vibrant tones. I think it's interesting that sometimes he'll paint a character in a solid red or blue or yellow for just a single panel. Is that part of the coloring direction or a liberty that he takes, and in general, how much does color play into the scripting?
JC: Well, there's two things at work there. One, we wanted a striking color palette. Something more European in its sensibility. Colors that have more to do with emotions than with reality. I knew early on that straightforward coloring would not work on this series. The second part of it is… look at any comicbook from the 1970's and you'll see the wildest color choices, totally subjective, completely random, all over the place. It was the standard color vocabulary… and I'd imagine it was a way to make things pop in an otherwise drab newsprint landscape, where you couldn't even hope for subtlety. As the technology got better — with computer coloring and better paper and printing — you were able to get more subtlety, so naturally the coloring went in a more realistic direction. Trying to replicate movies or TV or just trying to convince you that Superman was real or whatever. But I don't necessarily think it was an overall better direction. Something got lost… a certain kind of emotional impact that bolder colors could provide. A certain madness got lost, too. And, of course, there was the influence of 1990's Vertigo books, where everything was brown…! God help us.
So, working with Brad, I was able to nudge him in that more radical direction. He's fairly new at this, he comes from a fine art background, so he wasn't completely set in his ways like a more established colorist might've been. He was open to try something different. It started on the Vengeance series at Marvel, where he colored Nick Dragotta but allowed Nick and I to make suggestions along the way. Once I saw what he was doing there, how good it looked, I knew that Brad was the perfect colorist for SEX. And, as it turns out, people have really noticed his contributions each issue, which is always a cool thing.
DD: What can you tell us a little about the highlighting approach to lettering Rus Wooton is using in the book? I take it certain color highlights in the dialogue indicate certain inflections? Which colors mean what?
JC: There's a method to the madness, but I hesitate to really spell it out… because what would be the point? Not everything has to be explained. It's no fun when some writer or artist comes along and spoils my personal interpretation of something they did, something I already liked… even if it was for my own made-up reasons. So I'll do my best to avoid that same trap when it's my own work.
DD: While I have you here, I'm curious what your thoughts are now on the market. We're now well into this rise of creator-owned comics and a much more diverse market in terms of the types of books available now. As someone whose been doing this for a little while now, I'm curious what your thoughts are on comics as both an artistic medium and as an industry as it stands at this particular moment in time.
JC: I suppose I have less of an opinion about industry machinations right now than I normally might, mainly because I've been too busy busting my ass working on my own shit to pay that close attention or to expend energy formulating some incendiary opinion that looks good in an interview like this.
But how's this? As an artistic medium… it's never been healthier in its entire one hundred year history. And by saying that, I don't mean that we're all doing better work (although I think there's plenty of great work happening right now)… what I mean is that the potential exists in a way it never did before. The opportunities exist in a way they never have before. Between the Internet and self-publishing and the various independent publishers — and, by that, I guess I mean everyone that's not Marvel or DC — if you want to make comics then you can make them and you can get them seen. Nothing's stopping you. The connectivity of things just blows me away. I've found plenty of new artists to work with just from seeing their work online. It's how Piotr and I found each other.
For me, personally, things have never been this good, in terms of pursuing my own creative urges. I can follow my bliss in a way that I could've hardly even dreamt of as a kid. It's a fucking amazing thing… how I make comicbooks now is as close to what it felt like when I was ten years old, sprawled out on the floor of my parents' den, writing and drawing my own horrible comicbooks on ruled notebook paper, starring my own dumb superhero knockoff characters. It's that same buzz of creating something from nothing and having complete creative control. There's nothing else like it. Having the ability and the opportunity to create art — of any kind — is such a deeply profound thing, I can hardly express it with words. Forget about sales figures and royalties and the parts of this equation that involve money for just a second. That shit's all well and good, but I've never really chased the almighty dollar in this business. What it comes down to is that I get to have ideas, I get to develop them as I see fit and I get to see them through to completion — printed and distributed to comicbook stores nationwide — and, on top of that, I own or co-own them. It's hard to describe how satisfying that is, just on a purely human level. So, at this particular moment in time, I think about that… about how lucky I am right now… and I ride my own melt all the way down.
DD: To wrap up, I'm interested in hearing about what you've been reading/listening to/watching these days. What has you excited and inspired?
JC: I've been so busy working, it's been tough to read/listen/watch as much stuff as I'd probably like to. I just saw Richard Linklater's Boyhood. It's such a good film that you almost forget just how much ambition was involved in the making of it. And I'm all about big ambition. In terms of music, for whatever reason I've fallen down some Jane's Addiction-circa-1991 rabbit hole that I'm still trying to climb out of. But I'm not out of it yet, and I'm rediscovering my appreciation for the Ritual de lo Habitual album, in particular. I'm still thinking it's some kind of twisted masterpiece, but after all these years, I may be reassessing my reasons for why it's a masterpiece. And I'm completely fascinated by the Gift movie made by Perry Farrell and his then-wife. As a film, it's dark and strange and amateurish and kinda groundbreaking all at once. Obviously, I remember when these things were brand new, but I was so living in the moment then, I didn't have a certain perspective that, in hindsight, I find pretty valuable. And I guess I like the archaeology aspect of going back and revisiting some of these things, more than twenty years on. I do the same thing with comicbooks, too.
Comics-wise, I'm always digging Michel Fiffe's COPRA. Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree was really great, and I just snagged the second volume at SDCC. Part of a fairly large Comic-Con haul that I haven't been able to dive into just yet. I just got some of Benjamin Marra's latest comics in the mail — Blades & Lazers 2 and Terror Assaulter OMWOT — and they're both pretty fucking amazing. I'm looking out for the continuation of Paul Pope's Battling Boy characters, whenever that stuff hits. I've been getting a big kick out of Warren Ellis' Moon Knight issues, and for the first issue, at least, I'm digging his Supreme head trip. Generally, whatever Image Comics is doing, I'm keen to at least check out, because that's where the real action is right now. Interesting people doing interesting work. On the more mainstream side, I'm really psyched for Grant's Multiversity series.
But, y'know, what ultimately "excites and inspires" me, if I'm being perfectly honest, are the comicbooks that I don't even know about yet. The ones that are being created right now, somewhere out in the universe, probably by someone I've never heard of… and that have the potential to blow my goddamn mind. I know they're out there… just waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting and unprepared industry. And I'm just the kind of weird motherfucker that holds out the hope that one of those things will come out… and change everything.
Sex Vol. 1 and Vol 2. are available in stores now.
You can buy Sex digitally here.
Sex #15 is in stores August 27th. Ask your retailer to pre-order you a copy using Diamond ID: JUN140497