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Off the top of my head, I cannot recall the tale of a hero told from the perspective of a corrupt cop. But in Nightwatchman (Kickstart Comics), the new 96-page graphic novel from the writing team of MarcBernardin and Adam Freeman, that’s exactly the kind of story you get. To mark the Dec. 5 release of the book, the writers spoke with Robot 6 about their collaboration with artist Javi Fernandez.
Tim O’Shea: How long has this story been rolling around in your respective heads?
Marc Bernardin: It’s been on the runway for a while, one of those ideas that we loved but only had the kernel of. It needed time to ferment, like so many of these things do.
Adam Freeman: You know there’s something to an idea when it keeps rattling around up there. If you can’t shake it you have to explore it or it will drive you crazy.
Did you always know that you wanted to have the story told from the point of view of the crooked cop, Carl?
Freeman: Yeah. We wanted it be through the eyes of a cop who is struggling with his own moral compass while encountering a guy who, although may be mentally unbalanced, is doing more good for society than he is.
Bernardin: We really wanted to kind of reimagine the origin of a Batman/Punisher-style urban vigilante without the romanticism. Like, what if Commissioner Gordon wasn’t the best cop on the force, but was a guy on the verge becoming one of the worst? What would he do if he came into conflict with someone who was everything he’s not? And to really tell that story, we needed to ride along with the cop, not the crusader.
On some level is this a tale about potential redemption?
Bernardin: For me, it’s a tale about choice. About the decision to do the right thing when the wrong thing is so much easier. If redemption is a byproduct of that, so be it. I don’t think Carl Troutman wants to be the best guy in the world — he knows that ship sailed a long time ago — but he’d like to not be the worst.
Freeman: It’s harder to be good. Not caring or trying is so much easier. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. The universe is ethically biased. I admire those people that fight the uphill battle to be good. And some times those people lose the battle.
How did Nightwatchman land at Kickstart?
Bernardin: Way back when Monster Attack Network – an OGN we wrote for AiT/Planetlar back in 2007 – was optioned by Disney, Kickstart was the production company riding herd on it. When they decided to get into comics publishing, we started talking about projects we could do together; the first result of that collaboration was Hero Complex, a superhero comedy OGN which came out last year. We were happy with the process so we got back in the saddle.
How did Javi Fernandez come to join the project?
Freeman: He was the artist on the aforementioned Hero Complex. He was really fast and had a really clean style, and we were eager to see what he could do with some darker subject matter.
The story is an urban drama — and it is colored that way, did you all give colorist Juan Manuel Tumburus any specific requests for how you wanted the book colored, or did you leave that totally up to him?
Bernardin: Absolutely. We were very specific in that we wanted the book to feel like David Fincher’s Seven: We wanted it to be set in a city that didn’t have a name, where it was always overcast. Like, if not for some splashes of color, it could almost be a black-and-white book.
Freeman: We requested everything be muted and dreary. We sent photo references and color palettes. That’s a real challenge for an artist because you could end up with just a big blob, but I think he nailed it.
At one point, in narration, you have Carl say: “A crime scene is the cop version of the water cooler.” It’s a great line. Is that one you two have been holding onto to use at the right moment, or did it just come naturally in the course of writing?
Freeman: It just popped out. I always see these crime scenes, whether in reality or tv, and there always seem to be so many people just standing around with Styrofoam cups. The person is already dead. Did you all have to come?
This is not a book that lends itself to comedy, but I loved the bit early on when a relatively inexperienced Nightwatchman finds himself trying to elude cops with a flowerpot stuck to his foot. Did you hesitate using that element for fear of causing too much of a shift in tone?
Freeman: I don’t think so. We need to show the Nightwatchman’s progression throughout the book. If you notice, he is also heavier early on. He’s basically wearing a black hoodie. But as he learns, as he commits to his quest he gets leaner and meaner.
Bernardin: Like the color palette, some of that was informed a bit by Seven. There’s a great moment when Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills is doing research and comes across the Marquis de Sade. But he pronounces it like the singer, Sade (“Shar-day”). And it’s funny, but it also reveals something about his character. We wanted to show that, at this early stage in the Nightwatchman’s development, he’s clumsy. He’s still finding his way.
Carl is clearly an unsympathetic character to a certain extent, his daughter asks for $20 when he has it in his wallet, but he opts to just give her $10. But he’s not a complete lost cause, how did you go about striking the balance with the character to make him somewhat sympathetic?
Freeman: He is trying his best to do the right thing and constantly coming up short. He is a good cop, and is ostracized by his fellow detectives because of it. He doesn’t take bribe money so he has $20 to his name when all his co-workers are flush with cash. Like I said, it’s harder to be good.