Generations of Comic Creators Team for Image's 'Slow City Blues'
There’s a space between life and death, and that’s the setting for Image Comics’ new fantasy noir series Slow City Blues. But as compelling as the concept behind Samuel Haine’s new comic book is, the story behind the comic may be just as interesting, with the comic newcomer teaming with industry legend Jim Shooter to bring the title into existence.
Haine saved up $1,500 while working at a Mexican restaurant and living on food stamps to commission the first few pages of his story, and eventually teamed up with Shooter, the former Marvel editor-in-chief.
This Week In Heat Vision breakdown
Slow City Blues centers around John Loris, a disgraced cop whose suicide attempt lands him in Slow City, a world entirely shaped from his own imagination — but that means that it’s just as full of crime as the real world, if not more so. The title is written by Haine, with art from Shawn Moll, John Livesay and colorist J.D. Smith, with Shooter serving as the series’ story editor.
Ahead of Slow City Blues’ launch next year, Heat Vision talked to Haine and Shooter about the book’s origins, their collaborative process and what each brings to the project.
Why don't we start by actually talking about the origins of the project? Not just where Slow City Blues came from as a story, but — I was introduced to this project through your own story, Sam, so perhaps you could talk about that a bit more.
Sam Haine: It was probably six years ago now, maybe a hair's breadth under, a company that shall not be named, partially because it is now bankrupt — it was a video game company — I was going through the hiring process, we had gotten through the tests, you do test script writing, you go through HR, we're right at the precipice of being hired. I was already discussing salary and relocation and they were helping me find apartments, and where I should go, where I'd live, and they said, "Okay, it's between you and this older gentleman that does quality assurance, and we like you, you're really great, we can form you to the company culture; either way, we'll let you know. If it's a yes, if it's a no, we'll let you know either way."
They didn't let me know at all. Completely and utterly ghosted me, just left me hanging. And so, a lot of the inception of this kind of begin where a lot of things I think begin: out of spite. I said, "You know what, if you don't think I can do it, I'm going to do it." You know, I had never written a noir before, but they had a property that was akin to it, and I said, "I liked writing a mystery! I could do it!"
One day, Slow City Blues kind of fell out of my head. Not fully formed, obviously, as Jim would let you know. At the time, I was working at a restaurant and I had saved up money — $1,500, scraping it up, at a Mexican restaurant that tips aren't ... you know, it's rough. I think I even worked on food stamps at the time, if we're being completely and utterly honest. So I scraped together the $1,500, and I went got the first handful of pages commissioned from that.
Then I met John Livesay [the series’ inker and editor], and John saw [the pages] and went, "Eh, this art, but this story… I like the story." As John would tell you, he thought, "I think it's good, but I want confirmation." So who do we go to? The person who can tell you definitively if the thing has got some blanks or not. I got introduced to Jim, and Jim read it and he will say what he said, but the clouds parted and sun came down, at least in my own head canon, and I've got to get to work with Jim. That was three years ago, I think. To go from working at a Mexican food restaurant to having a book come out, you know, with Jim through Image, and our great team and all of everything else. It's still surreal.
Jim, so what was your take on this? You were brought in as story editor, but what was your first take? Did you look at this as, "Does this thing have legs?"
Jim Shooter: I didn't know anything about it at first, I would say. I'd been working with John since before, and he asked me to have a look at it, and I thought that the ideas were incredible. I thought that the thought and the creativity was wonderful, and that Sam was amazing. In terms of structure and craft, I was someone that I could help a little bit.
I've done this for a long time, and have worked with some really great people who have taught me an awful lot. I worked very closely with Stan Lee for 12 years, I was friends with him for 40. Jack Kirby, [Steve] Ditko, they both worked for me, and I listened to every word that they said. Wally Wood ... Mort Weisinger ... Gil Kane. I learned on the fly and got to have some interesting jobs: Marvel Comics editor in chief, started three companies of my own, worked for DC Comics for a long time. Worked for lots of other people — Dark Horse comes to mind.
I shared what I can. I'll say this for Sam — I said some pretty harsh things. He’s an adult, so I just tell it like it is, and he thanks me, which is unusual. We get along really well, and he finds some of what I say useful. It has been coming together for a long time, but it has been coming together. These guys have done some terrific art, also some really nice covers for this series.
Haine: I don't want Jim to downplay his involvement at all. Like I said to him, I love a Jim Shooter email. I love a Jim Shooter email that isn't directed at me, but I love it. He treats you like an adult. He calls it like it is. I feel like everyone has to use kid gloves now but it's like, he takes me to the mat, and it's fantastic to be able to actually have a frank conversation.
The ending changed drastically. I had it all laid out in my head, but because of his involvement in ending itself came together. It was this nebulous, "OK, well, this is where I want to do," and Jim started throwing out ideas and it just hit me like a bolt of lightning: 'That's it!' He put his finger on it.
Shooter: You do the math. And when you do the math, sometimes you see, this is what's needed here. So I made a suggestion, and Sam made a lot of changes to the story to get to that point. That's probably the biggest contribution ... this little suggestion.
Haine: "Little suggestion." Crafting the entire narrative... Just that little thing. (Laughs.)
Shooter: Anyway. We had fun.
Sam, you were just talking a couple of minutes ago about the sense of excitement and validation that came from working on this. When Jim likes the ideas and gives his approval to what you're thinking, is that the moment when you think, "Oh, I really do have something. There is something here that is real"?
Shooter: There always was something. I'm literally just organizing stuff and he listened. You know, it's architecture as well as art. You have to build it. And if you do it properly, then you get this foundation for your art. What Sam had is great; great dialogue and all the stuff slips along, it's great. They say story editor; I call myself the coach.
Haine: He very much is. Sometimes it feels like that. You don't need to be coddled, he really does, he takes you to the mat and he calls me on my bullshit. The last call we had was for the sixth issue, which is the end of the first story arc. I went, "I want to make sure we stick the landing. We need to make sure it comes together, we need to stick the landing," and he goes, "If you want to stick the landing, then stick the landing.' (Laughs.)
Shooter: Like I said, it's architecture and I wanted to make sure that the team paid off, and I saw a way that it would pay off better.
I'll say one thing about a comic book, and that it's that each panel takes you about the same time. So, if you want to really play out a moment and emphasize it, you're going to have to play it out and use several panels. I think sometimes a story this big — and I've written some, so I'm very familiar — there's so many moving parts and also you're involved in it; you're seeing it in your head, and you know perfectly what's supposed to be. But other people, they just see what's on the paper, and they're not seeing the work you did in your mind. That is your job, is to make readers of the comic book see the same movie that's playing in your brain.
So, I'm pretty good at pointing out, "Nobody's going to understand this," or "This isn't going to be clear" or "People are going to misread this this way." Then we work out whatever the solution there might be, and Sam's been pretty good at it. He's been really creative coming up with solutions.
Sam, one of the things I'm getting from this conversation is how collaborative you are. I mean, comics is an art of collaboration. But there are people who are very married to their ideas and refuse to budge. And you seem just the opposite. Is that what you think will make it successful?
Haine: Knock on wood, fingers crossed. We'll find out how how successful very soon in the coming months. Chekhov said that art is the collaboration between the writer, the director and the actor. I think it's the same across any creative medium. There are a handful of times where I'm talking to Jim, and he'll be like, "No, think about this," and then I'll do it. And then Shawn will get it pencilled and even now, we'll get pencils and inks and I'll go in and I'll have to adjust the dialogue, like, "I didn't even think of that. We'll shift this, we'll move this around."
It's this great — everything grows, and yes, you have the idea in your head, but seeing it with pencils, with inks and finishes, with colors, sometimes you have to throw things out because better things come in.
To wrap things up, let’s do what we should have started with: Can you give a quick pitch so that people reading this will have an idea what to expect from Slow City Blues?
Haine: Yeah! This is a redemption story about a detective, John Loris, who after accidentally killing this little girl in the line of duty subsequently tries to take his own life. He ends up in Slow City, which is the physical manifestation of his imagination. He is both revered and reviled as the creator, the God of this universe, but he's so wracked with guilt that even a Slow City god is just another slob, so he goes back to doing the only thing he knows how to do, which is be a cop. And this is where we first meet him, and our first story arc, but everything's starting to change. You know the wheels of his mind are in motion. We kick off with this double homicide that happens that he is personally connected to, and he has to bring this killer to justice before a gang war consumes and destroys the city.
Shooter: And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Slow City Blues is set to launch in February.
by Lesley Goldberg