@’s by HARVEST writer AJ Lieberman!!!
HUMPHREY LEE (HL): We’ll go with the pitch question first. A comic book about human organ trafficking: why?
AJ LIEBERMAN (AJL): First, what better medium to tell a totally f*@ed up story about a substance abusing surgeon, revenge, a six year old freak and a Yakuza enforcer? This is the stuff comics are made for.
Second, the world of transplant tourism and organ harvesting is easily the most fascinating world I’ve ever researched. It’s worldwide business like nothing else out there.
Third, the idea of a guy, an ex-surgeon, taking revenge against the man who framed him for murder by going around and taking out already placed organs was way to cool and dark to not pursue 1000%.
HL: With our protagonist here, Ben, we see in the first issue that we have a guy who is a relentless cokehead, a bit of a sexual deviant, and basically a cocky asshole all around. So, did you deliberately set out to create the most unidentifiable lead character you could think of or did he just come out that way during the writing process?
AJL: Some of the best-written characters ever in pop culture are absolute pricks. I LOVE characters like Al Swearengen from DEADWOOD or Andy Sipowicz from NYPD BLUE. Detective Vic Mackey from THE SHIELD. Walter White on BREAKING BAD.
I wanted to create a character that pushed the envelope in everyway possible but still managed somehow, even at times despite him, to keep the reader in his corner.
HL: Do you find it hazardous to have a character that, up front, can be off-putting with his attitude and rather, let’s say, lascivious extracurricular activities? All the characters you just mentioned had their own road to redemption or hurdles to jump for the audience to accept them, but at first they are going to rub that audience the wrong way for a bit and that seems like a harsh corner to put yourself into as a writer.
AJL: In HARVEST Benjamin Dane, for sure, is one screwed up person, and he does some highly questionable things throughout the series. And trust me, even when he tries to do the right thing people still end up getting messed up but you still root for him. That to me is what makes a book worth buying. Well, that and the art, which in this instance kicks ass.
HL: Is there a bit of a social commentary you are hoping to achieve with HARVEST, or did you just think the idea was that strong for a comic book tale?
AJL: Social commentary? I’ll leave that to smarter guys with fancy degrees. No, once I created Ben and put him inside this black market world of rogue medical teams and motel room operations I knew it was a great world to set a book in.
It definitely is one of those real world issues that everyone knows exists but no one bothers to think about until they see a news story or piece of fiction about it.
It is a serious problem. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who knows someone or is aware of someone who needs an organ transplant. The sad thing is the main issue people have with organ donation being illegal stems from the fact that in 1983 the United States government passed Law 98-507, which prohibited the sale of human organs.
In 2011 I think the total number of organ transplants done in the United States was around 28,930. Impressive until you learn there are like, 110,005 people waiting on the national list.
Law 98-507 is considered by all involved to be utterly ineffective and is probably the biggest contributor to the fact that the black market for human organs has grown every year since being passed.
HL: Sounds like someone with a fancy degree just took over for a second there. Now, I notice HARVEST is, so far, slated to be a mini-series, yet there does seem to be a lot of plot threads and shady characters in play already. So, I have to wonder if this is going to be self-contained, or if the plan is for this to be the first of a series of minis?
AJL: I assume if the sales dictate we’ll continue on--something Colin (Lorimer) and I would love to do. It’s been a blast to write and I know Colin loves drawing it. The first 5 books are really tight. Things really move at a fair clip and issue #1 is 26 pages. And the deeper you go the more screwed up and twisted things get for everyone. Colin and I cannot wait for people to get sucked into this.
HL: Is there a particular reason you went for the mini-series/serialized approach to this book as opposed to just a singular graphic novel (or a series of them, if you have more than just this one story planned)? Is there a particular benefit you find to the monthly pace as opposed to releasing this on the market all at once?
AJL: I’ve done both. COWBOY NINJA VIKING was series and TERM LIFE was a graphic novel. For me it really depends on the type of story I want to tell. TERM LIFE would not have worked if you had to wait a month to pick up the next chapter or if it had to be told in 22 page increments. On the other hand, CNV worked as a series but wouldn’t have worked a graphic novel.
I wanted to do HARVEST as a series because I wanted to write to those Page 22 cliffhanger endings that, IMHO, make comics such a great storytelling medium. It forces us, as the creative team, to really create these tense moments and establishes a pacing that allows the reader to get psyched for the next chapter.
HL: Obviously we have a bit of a crime thriller on our hands with this book. Your most recent project (that I know of for sure), TERM LIFE, was also of that thriller/noir genre as well. Also, COWBOY NINJA VIKING, probably your most known work, had its espionage and underworldly matters as well. So, basically I wonder if you think of yourself as a “crime guy.” Is it a genre you feel particularly comfortable in? Or are these kind of grimy and dirty stories just what you like to read and thereby write?
AJL: I’m not sure I think of myself as a crime guy. I think it just happens that I feel that the crime genre allows for a lot of dark storytelling, which I’m attracted to.
Having said that, I’ve also completed an all age adventure graphic novel for Scholastic where no one does drugs or goes to hookers…though some people do die. In fact, people die on page 1 so, huh…maybe I do have issues.
HL: And I might as well address it since I invoked it with the last question but, for those who do not know, COWBOY NINJA VIKING has been optioned for a movie and, last I saw, had a director attached. Care to give us the lowdown on where that project is at and any commentary on where this leaves the comic?
AJL: Yes, Universal Studios acquired the project from Disney and Marc Forster is attached to direct. He’s finishing up editing WORLD WAR Z with Brad Pitt. And for sure, it’s a boon to have someone of Marc Forster’s talent associated with the book. Of course, he could wake up one day and say, “Cowboy Ninja what..? Whoa, what did I agree to..?”
HL: And I believe you have some TERM LIFE news as well…
AJL: Yeah, TERM LIFE was recently purchased by Wild West Picture Show - that is Vince Vaughn’s production company - and I am writing the screenplay, which I’m really excited about. To have to reconstruct the puzzle that was TERM LIFE into a screenplay is really fascinating.
HL: One more thing I want to ask, mostly because you are really the first person I’ve chatted up that has hit the bulls eye with this, is if you have any personal feeling on this boom Image has been seeing lately since you've basically been there at the heart of it. Have you felt, given how you've had some success with options, obviously WALKING DEAD is huge, and material like CHEW is in television development, do you feel that this is the company that seems to be the go to place for Hollywood raiding for comic book ideas? And do you have any feelings that could be a good thing for comics given the exposure or a bad thing because now projects might start getting written more as a Hollywood pitch than an actual comic story?
AJL: For one, I don’t see it as raiding. Say what you will about Hollywood but they want solid, well executed stories. Look, lots of comics get published. Some get optioned. Most do not. Of those that do, some get made into movies. There are a lot of factors why one comic book becomes a movie and another doesn’t but one thing that helps a project get to the next level is the fact that it starts out as a solid, well told, cool looking book.
Are there publishers out there who are just pumping out crap to see if they can attract some studio to their IP? Absolutely. But I think readers can smell that crap a mile off.
If Image is going through some sort of boom it’s probably because first and foremost, they’re a comic book publisher. They only care about the comic. They respect the medium. That’s why I think TERM LIFE was bought and why COWBOY NINJA VIKING has taken that huge step towards getting made into a feature. They are comics first.
HL: Lastly, any other bouts of pimpage you have to do? This is the space for it…
AJL: Always appreciate space for pimpage. I guess I’d take the space to bring up something Colin and I are both really proud and excited about which is the fact that all 5 HARVEST covers are interlocked. All 5 work as single covers but when stacked side-by-side-by-side will create one large poster. It’s amazing. They’re sick, fascinating and wild which just brings an added bizarreness to the reading experience.
HL: Sick, fascinating and wild seem like three very apt adjectives to describe HARVEST so I will leave it at that. Without going the full review route, since this is a couple months out, I can say this is a book worth checking out if you like your books on the darker side and have the patience to work with a (very) flawed lead. As noted earlier, this book is in the newest volume of PREVIEWS on the stands (June 2012 for specifics) and angling for an early August release for your preordering consideration. Cheers…
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, Facebookand a blog where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G