Jim McCann and Janet Lee double down on Lost Vegas
Ever since the initial success of Jim McCann and Janet Lee‘s 2010 original graphic novel Return of the Dapper Men, fans have been eager to see the next project from the two collaborators. That wait ends this March with the debut of Lost Vegas, a four-issue miniseries from Image Comics.
The tale centers on “one gambler-turned-slave [who] has 24 hours to go all in and pull off the greatest heist the universe has seen.” In addition to discussing this new miniseries, McCann briefly acknowledges the self-described “limbo” that has delayed any follow-up to Dapper Men. I never tire of the opportunity to get the perspective of two storytellers at the same time. Enjoy.
Robot 6: How in the heck did the basic idea for this project evolve from “a day care center in space” to the story it is now?
Jim McCann: How most things evolve — you wake up in the morning with a hangover and say, “Huh?!” In our case, Janet and I tend to go on “creative binges,” where we just allow our brains to bounce back and forth — I babble, she draws, she babbles, I … don’t draw. We’re usually doing this while I’m driving (Janet never draws and drives — Oprah would not approve) or visiting the other’s house. And it’s always multiple ideas. I would say that during a creative binge, we come up with close to ten ideas, five of which could be useable, three of those we’d like to work on, and of those three Janet and I walk away until she gets a call from me saying “Y’know, I really can’t get out of my mind” and she’ll have been thinking the same thing!
With Lost Vegas, we knew we wanted to work together as soon as possible, and since Dapper Men is stuck in limbo at the moment while both parties (us as the creators and Archaia as the publisher) try to resolve issues and see if we can move forward, we thought of doing another book, this time solely creator-owned. Eric Stephenson and the folks at Image welcomed us and gave us carte blanche. The idea of taking a risk, owning it outright — succeed or fail — suddenly changed the game for us and we thought, let’s not do a strictly all-ages book. Let’s do a “Jim & Janet” book, but with other things that influence us. At the time, heist films and sci-fi trumped Muppet Babies in Space, but the core idea of a star cruiser that was just one giant Vegas strip for the highest rollers in the galaxy was really exciting for us.
(And we reserve the right to return to Lost Vegas, The Day Care Center if this book is a hit. Just sayin’ …)
Are you two changing up the storytelling dynamics at all, based on lessons learned while working on Dapper Men?
McCann: I think we have to, both given the mechanics of the book — this being a monthly miniseries versus an OGN — as well as the way we’ve grown as individual story tellers and as collaborators. The things Janet is doing with her art style, for example, completely changes the tone of the storytelling.
Janet Lee: Dapper Men was my first book so I feel I’ve grown a great deal as an artist since doing it. And Jim’s right: The pacing of a monthly project is completely different than an OGN, so our process has to change to accommodate that. I also asked Jim to really push me in Lost Vegas. I love heist films, sci-fi films, but this is something completely new for me artistically.
When going for a futuristic story, how do the two of you conceive ways to take present-day conventional aspects (like gambling) and give it a futuristic bent and look?
McCann: Personally, I like to keep sci-fi as rooted in the familiar as possible. It’s why things like Star Wars, Doctor Who and even comics like Nova tend to attract me more than sci-fi that almost goes out of its way to bee too far out there. That goes for everything from names to races to atmospheres and design.
Lee: I agree. It can be difficult to engage the audience in sci-fi and fantasy if it’s too foreign and you leave them no touchstones to their own experience. It has to remain relatable, human, in fundamental ways for it to work as a story. Sure, on Pluto aliens may absorb nutrients through their skin and interact by leaving scent trails, but as humans, that’s too alien to our own experience to work as a compelling story. And it sounds really nasty to draw.
Can you walk us through the evolution of developing Roland as well as the remaining Lost Vegas cast?
McCann: Roland’s always been this sort of “What if Paul Newman’s character in The Hustler ignored Fats Domino and snuck around, pressing his luck” with the ego I imagine Han Solo had in his early days — the “No way can I get caught” mentality. The rest of the cast evolved as I started to build the story and, as it happens with Janet and me, I started seeing her designs and realized this was no heist Roland could pull off by himself. Especially when you have a 10-foot stag and an alien made basically of sentient ink. What idiot writer would only want to use those guys in throw away panels. And Kaylex, our female lead … well, there’s always a woman in these, isn’t there? Gotta love a good is-she-or-isn’t-she-a-femme-fatale character.
Lost Vegas is the name of the story, but I am curious was there a name that was a close second — and if so, why was it not a winner?
McCann: *heavy sigh* There was one other title that fit perfectly, and was only one letter off — Last Vegas, as in the last chance. However, I looked it up, and this year (2013), every major actor over the age of 60 is starring in a movie with that name, pitched as “The Hangover for Retirees.” But who are we to argue with Robert De Niro?
Break down the best benefits to doing creator-owned work?
McCann: The absolute freedom. Image’s slogan of “Experience Creativity” works across the board, but I think it’s in its purest form in creator-owned. We all have stories we want to tell with toys in other sandboxes, but I also love building a sandbox, digging around, and seeing what I find, then writing the story of whatever it is I just discovered.
In a collaborative process, when you get to the end of your day, what do you have to accomplish to make yourself be able to say “this was a good day, creatively”?
McCann: Personally, if I wrote script pages or revised something or jotted down the germ of an idea. Collaboratively in general, seeing pages come in that sing either the notes I wrote or a whole new arrangement that surprises me in a good way. With Janet, we both have this feeling in our guts and we don’t even have to see script pages or art or email or talk- there’s just this connection that, when a thought crosses my mind or Janet’s about a project we’re working on, we smile, because we have complete faith the other will nail it.
Lee: My favorite thing about making comics is the collaboration. When it works, it means that together the team has made something better than any of us could have made individually. There’s magic in that.
As storytellers who know each other fairly well, where do you think you’ve seen the other get strongest in terms of your respective crafts?
McCann: We both get to push our imaginations in whatever we do, so from a strictly craft-aspect, I think Janet’s figurework and perspective is going to blow you away in this.
Lee: And Jim has become a master of these intricate, interwoven story lines. There’s nothing I like better than a story with a twist– unless it’s a Jim McCann story with a twist!