Secret Identities Interview with Jay Faerber and Brian Joines
Sometimes superheroes wear masks to protect themselves from more than just the public at large; sometimes the secrets that lie behind that mask aren’t as noble as they would have you think. Comprised of a diverse group of heroes that tap into the myriad of history of superhero comics, the Front Line is a super team on the verge of becoming undone by each members’ harbored secrets from their peers. Adding a new member that is covertly trying to destroy them from within certainly doesn’t help matters. Co-writers Jay Faerber (Copperhead, Noble Causes) and Brian Joines (Krampus!, Imagine Agents) took some time to answer All-Comic’s question about the book’s origins, make-up and what readers can expect from Secret Identities.
All-Comic.com: Firstly, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions about Secret Identities. Right from the start it’s evident that The Front Line is a really diverse group of heroes, both in terms of power sets, background and representation. When you guys were first developing each character, what tended to be the starting point (e.g. gender, superpower, genre, etc)?
Jay Faerber: Brian, Ilias and I were each responsible for a few of the characters. We each brought some to the table, so to speak. We wanted to both honor the archetypes of the genre, but also play with them and subvert them in places. For instance, I think that Punchline — our super-strong, wisecracking girl — is a pretty interesting combination of the “powerhouse” and “wisecracking” archetypes that you usually find in a super-team. Rundown is our speedster, and what makes him unique (you’ll have to read issue #1 to find out) didn’t come until his powers and costume were already in place. We certainly didn’t want to have thinly-veiled analogues of DC or Marvel characters. I think readers have seen enough variations on the Justice League over the past decade or two, right?
Brian Joines: Some of the characters were brand new and came out of discussions back-and-forth between the three of us, while some we already had ideas for and submitted them for consideration to our three-person review committee. I can think of three or four cool characters we considered but ultimately got left on the cutting room floor, for whatever reason. But the team we wound up with is multi-faceted and diverse and not blatantly catering to a “Big Seven” or “Original Five”-type line-up. Jay and I both love the superhero teams where the characters are from vastly different backgrounds and have a lot of odd quirks to their make-up. I think we captured that sensibility really well with the Front Line.
A lot of superhero teams tend to form seemingly by chance; often against a force far too menacing to face alone and the first issue makes several references to The Front Line’s origin via the greatest team headquarters possibly ever. Will we be seeing a full flashback to this inaugural battle or is that going to be delivered piecemeal over the course of the series?
Jay Faerber: Funny you should ask, because we’re in the middle of putting the origin together right now. You will see it, for the most part, in issue #7. Yes, we’re that far ahead. I don’t think I can accurately say it’ll be a “full flashback,” but you’ll get a pretty clear sense of how the team came together.
Brian Joines: Yeah, we just sent the script to Ilias earlier this week. A number of things we touch on within the first six issues, you’ll see those seeds being planted during the first meeting of the team.
Just from the dialogue and the breadth of ideas, it seems like you’re both having a ton of fun playing in a superhero sandbox of your own creation. With such a range of genres being published nowadays (including the many great titles you’ve both been working on) what made you want to dive into superheroes again? Or would you classify Secret Identities as a mash up of different genres?
Jay Faerber: I think our book is definitely a superhero book. It plays with sub-genres within the superhero genre, for sure. But it’s a superhero book, through-and-through. I’ve always had a love of superhero books. My first work in comics was on superhero titles, and while I moved away the past few years, I recently got the itch to play around again. But because I’ve already got so much on my plate, I asked my pal Brian if he wanted to co-write. We’ve always bounced ideas around for our various projects, so this just made it official. And it’s been great. There are some books we both really enjoy and are influenced by, and there are other points where we really differ. So this book is a nice fusion of our influences, but the influences of Ilias Kyriazis, who’s a real artistic force to be reckoned with. He’s so much more than “just” an artist. He contributes plot and character ideas all the time.
Brian Joines: My first book was a super-hero satire back in 2000 and I’ve always wanted to get a chance to play with those toys again, be it satirical or straightforward dramatic material. So when Jay asked me to develop a new super-hero book, I jumped at the opportunity. And it’s been fun, meshing Jay’s and my sensibilities together; what’s great about the book is that it is lets those sensibilities shine: the “mole in plain sight” and hidden secrets storyline that drives the book benefits from Jay’s love of the crime genre, and with my default setting seeming to lean towards the comedic, characters like Punchline let me flex those muscles as well. And then Ilias takes it all, asks questions and gives his thoughts on the story to hone it into shape even more, before creating his ridiculously amazing artwork.
There is a ton of energy in Ilias Kyriazis’ art, how did he get involved and what was it about his style that made him the perfect choice?
Jay Faerber: I was introduced to Ilias by our mutual friend Yildiray Cinar (who I worked with on Noble Causes). Ilias and I were going to do a different book together, but it never quite got off the ground. So when Brian and I were putting Secret Identities together, I showed him Ilias’s stuff and there was never any question that he was the guy. Ilias’s art is such a great blend of cartoony and “realism.” There’s literally nothing he can’t draw, and his page layouts and energy are off the charts.
Brian Joines: I’m a huge Doom Patrol junkie, and my first exposure to Ilias’s work was an unsold Doom Patrol pitch he did that made the round on a few comic websites a while back. When Jay mentioned he had an artist in mind for Secret Identities and I saw what Ilias was doing , it absolutely blew me away: I wanted him drawing our stuff, no questions asked. And he’s been a tremendous asset to the project, above and beyond “just” artwork (I say that as if it’s an easy thing to do). Funny thing is, I didn’t realize he was the Doom Patrol guy until about two months ago!
On the art side again, Charlie Kirchoff’s colors really add set a great tone in issue#1, how was he brought on board?
Jay Faerber: Charlie was recommended by Ilias. I believe they’d worked together briefly on another project. And Charlie did a great job with the first issue, but he had other commitments that made it tough for him to focus on our book, so he stepped aside. He’s a true professional — he brought this to our attention before it became a problem, so the book didn’t fall behind or anything. There are no hard feelings whatsoever. We then reached out to Ron Riley, who I’ve worked with for years, on a number of Image books. He colored Brian’s book Krampus!, as well. And Ron has done a great job of maintaining the look that Ilias and Charlie established.
Brian Joines: Yeah, losing Charlie was hard…I still remember the first time I saw his colors on Ilias’s work and it just made my jaw drop, is was that good. But Ron coming on the book…man, if you look at the work Ron has done on just other books by Jay and myself, like Copperhead or Krampus!, and then see what he’s doing on Secret Identities, you really understand what a talent this guy is. We were extremely lucky twice.
Jay Faerber: Yeah, Ilias just takes our ideas and runs with them. In designing the characters, sometimes Brian or I will have certain ideas in mind and we’ll ask Ilias to use that as a starting point. But other times, he gives us something he designed from the ground up. Some of the characters were home runs right from the start, and a few took a few tries before we had a design everyone was happy with.
Brian Joines: Exactly. There are some great designs that didn’t make it, for whatever reason, but Ilias just kept pushing through and eventually found the design that made us wonder how we ever could’ve considered an earlier look. And as we create new characters for the book, Ilias takes our basic notes and challenges us and questions us (in the best way possible) to make sure he gives us the best design he can.
The title really says it all, of course each of these superheroes has a secret identity from society at large, but it seems that each one of them is hiding secrets about themselves from the team. Can a house divided stand or will there be some irreconcilable differences?
Jay Faerber: That’s gonna be the fun, right? Seeing just how these characters continue to balance their double lives — especially when someone is actively working to upset those lives.
Brian Joines: As truths are discovered, it’s going to be interesting to see how our characters deal with that, what they’re ultimately capable of with their backs against the wall. One nice thing about this book is that these are our characters alone, so there can be dire consequences that people might not walk away from, and we don’t need to undo anything because of licensing deals or whatnot.
This is an ongoing series and if the first issue is any indication, one rife with interesting stories to mine. If everything goes as planned, how far into the future have you mapped out Secret Identities?
Jay Faerber: We’ve got the first year mapped out pretty thoroughly, and have plenty of ideas that go far beyond that, but we haven’t nailed down anything beyond the first year. I like to leave enough wiggle room for improvisation as new ideas present themselves.
Brian Joines: Exactly. It’s all well and good to plan ahead, and we have stories we’d like to get to down the road, but I think if you plan things down to the minutiae too far ahead, it can be a trap. Part of the fun of writing these books is setting yourself up to “zig” and then, at the last minute, you get the idea to “zag.” And it opens up an entirely new direction for you.
One of the biggest appeals to a team book are seeing the team dynamics, both good or ill and clearly The Front Line looks to have lots of friction coming to the forefront in the near future. Any chance there might be some good ol’ fashioned team softball games or nights on the town to be seen down the line?
Jay Faerber: So far the team hasn’t socialized together yet. But I love the idea of a softball game. I always loved those X-Men issues.
Brian Joines: Some of the characters are definitely more social types than others, so it might be hard to get them all together for something like an Avengers poker night. But that could also be a great setting for some secrets to come out.
You’re each working on a number of other, radically different titles (Copperhead and Krampus! are both tremendously great stuff) so is it challenging to switch gears and stretch different writing muscles with Secret Identities? Or switching from solo writing duties to co-writing?
Jay Faerber: I think it’s fun to have a few different projects to juggle. One project serves as a palette cleanser for the next. I think I’d get bored if I was just writing the same series all the time, going from one issue to the next. And co-writing is pretty fun. I work in television, which is very collaborative, so I’m used to the back-and-forth nature of being in the writers’ room. Writing with Brian is different, of course, because it’s just the two of us, and we’re doing it long distance. But I think it’s a nice arrangement.
Brian Joines: I like having multiple projects to work on at the same time. I tend to write beginning-to-end, without a lot of jumping around to later scene in a project and then back…so when I get hung up on something, working on a different project is a good way to clear the mind, create a bit of objectivity for the first project. And co-writing is great…like Jay said, we’ve been bouncing ideas off each other for our own projects for years. It’s fun to do that towards something we’re developing together.
Thanks again for the insight on the book. Before we wrap, let me ask you: it’s 3am after a fun night with friends downtown in Toronto and you lost your wallet, which member of The Front Line do you call for a lift home?
Jay Faerber: It depends on how quickly you want to get home. If you need to be home ASAP, you call Rundown. But if you wanna stop off for another drink or three, you call Punchline.
Brian Joines: If it’s a bad part of town, the Recluse…NOBODY will mess with you then. But if you’re just looking for the next party, then I’d say Punchline or Vesuvius are the way to go.
Secret Identities #1 by Jay Faerber, Brian Joines, Ilias Kyriazis, Charlie Kirchoff, and Ed Dukeshire will be available February 18th from Image Comics.