Interview: Steve Lieber
Smart, debauched, well structured, and most importantly, maddeningly hilarious, The Fix is an absolute treat. Three issues in, it continues to entertain and show off sharp comic storytelling thanks to the lockstep synchronization of writer Nick Spencer, artist Steve Lieber, color artist Ryan Hill, and letterer Nic J Shaw. Like most, we loved the debut issue and continue to enjoy shaking our heads in guilty disgust as the story continues to unfold. Steve Lieber graciously took the time to answer a few questions about the collaboration, the nature of the subject matter, the research, and that lovable dog, that make up The Fix.
ALL-COMIC: What was it about this story, one that certainly has some of the same elements as your Superior Foes of Spider-Man run, that made it right to take to Image as a creator owned work?
STEVE LIEBER: Image is enormously supportive of creators who want to do their own thing. The Fix is a crime comedy, a hybrid genre that doesn’t have much of a track record in the industry, but Image has been behind us 100%. They’ve done wonderful marketing. They put us on the cover of PREVIEWS! They even rushed to get our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th printings out to retailers. When our story requires a couple of extra pages in an issue, no one tells us that a comic can only be 20 pages long. No one at Image is sticking a house ad in the middle of a gag, killing the joke.
AC: The creative rapport you two have really comes through in the work with the sense of timing and placing of comedic beats feeling sincere and natural in all aspects of the storytelling. I think I’ve read that Nick writes the scripts as a mix between “Marvel style” and something more full-script? There’s obviously a lot of trust in the collaboration, but what’s the typical process like that supports that mind-meld? E-mail exchanges? Phone calls? Singing a song at the same time as you stare at the same moon from disparate locales?
SL: It’s just email and email attachments. I loathe talking on the phone, and we don’t text or anything like that. Nick generally sends me 2 or 3 pages at a time. Sometimes Nick writes Marvel style- a paragraph or two with a loose description of what happens during the scene, maybe some suggestions for possible gags. Other times, he’ll send a few pages of dialogue exchanges for me to interpret visually, leaving it up to me to work out panel and page breaks. Drawing in comics is the second half of writing, and I’m very, very happy to have a collaborator who respects that.
After I’ve finished drawing an issue, Nick adds captions and dialogue to the Marvel-style pages and polishes the dialogue exchanges. I don’t think we could make the comedy work any other way. Because of that loose structure, I’m able to make every sequence play to my strengths, and Nick can fine tune the prose as needed.
AC: What types of challenges does Nick present you with in his scripts that keep you excited and motivated to keep pushing yourself as a storyteller?
SL: I had never tried to do any sort of sustained comedy before working with Nick. Just finding that I could do it at all was a huge surprise. I don’t think I’d ever drawn dogs, either, come to think of it.
One of the challenges that come with Nick’s scripts is that it’s almost never about creating a single impressive drawing- a wild splash page or a money shot of a character being awesome. I spend a lot more time working on less surface-oriented aspects of comic book art: staging, composition, subtleties of acting, how one panel works when juxtaposed with another. That’s the stuff that determines whether a gag gets a laugh or not.
AC: Because of the great and occasionally relatable humor throughout The Fix, it’s hard not to get caught up in rooting for Roy and Mac, even though they’re committing pretty despicable acts by most moral and legal standards. There’s an element of cheering them on as the little guys just trying to get a piece in a world that’s rigged, so they decide to not only break the rules, but make the rules to a degree because of their positions as police officers. However, police abusing their authority is a very real issue in many communities and one with real consequences; is this something you thought about as you shaped the story? Or do you feel the farcical nature of it all works to underscore that?
SL: I can’t speak for Nick on this. I have a ton of influence on how scenes play out, but almost no influence on the overall arc of the story. I’d certainly understand anyone for whom jokes about wanton abuse of authority are too close to home to be funny. But I’ve also heard from a lot of readers who appreciate us not trying to tell them that the trouble is “just a few bad apples.” The systems that make abuse possible aren’t some new trend. They’ve been with us for as long as we’ve had law enforcement. A lot of our readers are happy to see a comic about people in authority who are as awful as the ones they’ve encountered in real life. When I showed the first issue around at a comic-con in Mexico City, the most common reaction was delight at seeing the sort of nightmare cops they frequently encounter. “This is great. These are like the police we have here.”
I’ve said elsewhere that I think a lot of laughter is a primate’s scream of horror, just broken up into bits so we’re able to handle it. That attitude informs a lot of the comedy in this book. It’s not for everyone!
AC: On that same note, there’s nothing really redeemable about Roy or Mac, but there’s definitely a refreshing honesty to who they are and how they see their world. For instance, in issue #2, Roy describes the character Pete Danielson in such a way that when paired with your visuals makes the reader go “Oh, yeah, I know a guy like that. Yeah, FUCK that guy.” It’s a cynicism that’s dialed all the way up, but is completely familiar and cathartic in a way.
SL: Part of the puzzle of making a comic like this is deciding how to deal with the matter of an unreliable narrator. Do the pictures tell the objective truth even when Roy’s captions are full of shit? Or should the pictures reinforce whatever self-serving nonsense Roy is telling his audience, the readers?
AC: Will we see Roy and Mac have something akin to a traditional redemption by the close of the story? Or is their “calling it like they see it” honesty sort of the real joy in going on this journey with them?
SL: I honestly don’t know. When it comes to plotting, Nick plays his cards very close to his vest.
AC: The Los Angeles setting adds a terrific vibe, thanks in large part to a lot of the little details sprinkled throughout the backgrounds and a lot of the tonally rich establishing shots. It gives this strong backbone to a riff on the L.A. Crime genre and while I assume the choice of L.A. is largely plot related to Roy and Mac’s movie aspirations, was there anything else that cemented this city in particular? What type of research, if any, did you both do to really ground the book in the city of angels?
SL: Setting it in L.A. was Nick’s call, and my response was “Sure! Why not?” My research for depicting L.A. is fun and easy, (particularly compared to, say Antarctica in Whiteout, which I drew before there was Google, much less Google Image Search.)
When I get a scene, I ask or decide where it needs to take place and learn as much about it as I can in the time I have available. Google street view makes it possible to drive a camera around the neighborhood. Then I’ll hit instagram or flickr to look for amateur photos set in the area. These are often way more helpful than professional shots. They’re more likely to be taken from awkward angles, and to contain the ugly, mundane, un-picturesque details that bring a comic like this to life.
AC: We’ve talked a bit about how well in tune the two of you are, but the entire creative team looks to be in lockstep synchronicity, which keeps that all-important rhythm to The Fix really strong. What made Ryan Hill and Nic J. Shaw the perfect guys to come aboard on colors and lettering respectively?
They’re both triple-threats. Skilled craftsmen, reliable professionals, and totally great to get along with.
Ryan Hill, our color artist, consistently does work that is conspicuously attractive, even striking, but he never loses sight of the need for clear storytelling. He reinforces the mood and creates movement from one feeling to another, sometimes gradually, sometimes jarringly, according to what the story needs. He controls the reader’s focus, organizing the elements in each panel into logical groupings using hue, value, saturation, and texture. He has to match the colors of real-world details we include in the comic and make them fit with the exaggerated palette that a book like this often requires.
Nic J. Shaw has two jobs on the book- lettering and graphic design. He kicks ass at both of them. As a letterer, he frequently has to find the perfect placement for captions and balloons with multiple exchanges of dialogue per panel across 8, 9 and 10 panel pages, and he has to do it in a way that delivers the gags and keeps them funny. “If we move this speech balloon over here, we get an extra pause. Does that make the joke funnier?” This isn’t something you can ask of most letterers. Nic makes it look easy.
Nic is also the graphic designer for The Fix, and he put together a bunch or our variant covers. Nic somehow arranges type and design elements to create perfect a balance of comedy and cool. His typography and design are a huge part of the voice of the book.
AC: And finally, as a dog lover, I ask that you assuage any and all fears by confirming that Pretzels will come out of this series safe, sound, and the true hero of The Fix.
SL: Oh god I hope so.