Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
With Butcher Baker in the rear-view mirror and Godland about to wrap up, you might be wondering what Joe Casey has planned for 2013. The answer is Sex – lots and lots of Sex.
Announced last summer at Comic-Con International, Sex follows a retired superhero as he tries to adjust to a “normal” life. The monthly series, drawn by Piotr Kowalski, kicks off in March from Image Comics. I spoke with Casey about the new series, superheroes and sexuality, and what else he has planned for 2013.
Robot 6: There hasn’t been a lot said about your new book Sex as of yet, but I did find this rather intriguing statement you made when it was first announced: “Superhero comics have always sort of brushed against the concept of sexuality. It’s time we just embraced it.” Could you talk a little more about superheroes and sexuality, and how you plan to embrace it in the new book?
Joe Casey: They kinda go hand in hand, don’t they? Aren’t most superhero comics basically pornography with fight scenes instead of sex scenes (with the knockout punch acting as the cum shot)? Aren’t superheroes usually depicted visually as naked human figures with lines drawn onto them and colored as costumes? I think I remember Frank Miller once saying that, in his first run on Daredevil, the scenes where Elektra and Daredevil would fight were basically the two of them consummating their relationship. That’s the way superheroes do it.
Now, all this doesn’t have too much to do with my Sex series, except maybe on a purely conceptual level. When I put a sex scene in my book, it’s a full-on sex scene. In a way, it’s a book about what happens when superheroes and supervillains stop fighting. How do they carry on? What kind of lives do they lead?
So instead of, say, Cyclops and Emma Frost heading off panel to get it on, I’m assuming what happens off-panel in Sex doesn’t necessarily stay off-panel?
Why would it? This is a book for adults, and I’m assuming adults can handle whatever adult situations we choose to show on-panel. I could be wrong about that … but I guess we’ll all find out, because there’s going to be plenty of things that will stay “on-panel.”
Can you talk a little more about the title? Obviously it’s attention-getting (and lets you have some fun with the marketing, as you guys did with the “Image Comics wants you to buy Sex” campaign last summer) but you also mentioned that it probably wasn’t what people were expecting.
Marketing is one thing, execution is something else entirely. Yeah, we’re trying to create awareness for the book, and sometimes you have to be “clever” about it, just to cut through all the white noise out there. But I have a feeling this is going to be one of those books that might piss some people off, when they finally get down to reading it. I’ve done plenty of work recently that’s been fairly experimental in nature, which is a lot of fun to do… but I think maybe that’s what most readers who follow my work expect from me now. I don’t know if Sex is going to satisfy them. For me, it’s experimental in a different way … just not in an obvious way. This book is much more character-based, rather than concept-based. I’m anxious to start putting issues out into the world, so maybe I can stop trying to sell the overall concept and readers will just get into the characters and the way they move through the world we’re creating. I’m not making some grand statement about comic books here, aside from simply pointing out that, within the medium, you can do anything. More than that, this is about telling stories about compelling characters in an environment that should be somewhat familiar to regular readers of good ol’ superhero comics, but forces them to look at a lot of those time-honored tropes in a different way.
It’s an ongoing, monthly series for as long as we can keep it up. As for what it’s about … it asks a question that most superhero readers have probably asked about their favorite superhero: What happens when a superhero retires? And we’re not talking about a gold watch/retire-at-65 kind of situation. To me, superheroes are like professional athletes … they retire young. So the real question this series asks is, what happens when the power fantasy is over? What comes after that? And everyone in the cast has to deal with it, not just the lead character.
What can you tell us about the main character, and where do we pick up with him when the series begins?
Simon Cooke’s basic dilemma involves spending more than ten years as a costumed vigilante superhero, operating in crime-riddled Saturn City and doing everything he could to clean things up. But a deathbed promise leads to him giving up the superhero lifestyle and, for once, trying to live in the world as a normal, healthy adult. Unfortunately, all those years as a superhero left him no time to cultivate some the social skills that you and I probably take for granted. Needless to say, he’s pretty ill-equipped to live a life outside of the superheroics he was so committed to. There’s a lot of social awkwardness, a lot of sexual repression there to be dealt with.
What does Cooke decide to do with all the free time he now has?
Well, there’s a lot involved with trying to be “normal.” He’s got a business to run … something that acted primarily as an entity that secretly funded his superhero career. Now he has to pay closer attention to it, which he may not be 100 percent equipped to do. He has friends that he might’ve looked at previously as pawns in his master superhero plan, but now he has to forge real, honest relationships with these people (something else he’s not great at doing). Then there’s the subject of women… something he was able to avoid all those years as a superhero. Before now, even talking to women was all about keeping his secret lifestyle intact. Getting laid wasn’t even part of his cover (as it might be for, say, Bruce Wayne). The interesting thing about Simon is that, like a lot of geeks out there, he’s not unintelligent. His former lifestyle has turned him into a bit of an eccentric, I guess. He’s just been concentrating on other areas of life outside of the typical social graces and interactions with the female of the species. But he’s definitely curious… and he knows he’s been missing out on some fundamental shit.
Sex involves a fairly large cast of characters. I tend to write ensembles, even if the central concept involves a single character’s journey. As the Armored Saint, Simon definitely had his very own rogues gallery and, even though he’s retired, most of them are still around. But that superhero/supervillain dynamic was a big part of their lives, too … now that it’s gone, they’re feeling the loss as much as Simon is, only in different ways. One of them, in particular, is forced to re-examine his own life and it sets him on a very interesting path. So, yeah, there’ll be a lot of attention placed on his former adversaries.
You told Chad Nevett earlier this year that you tend to build projects around the specific artists you want to work with. Is that the case with Piotr Kowalski? What does he bring to this project?
This was one of the rare instances where I came up with the concept first, got fairly detailed with it, then looked around for an artist to work with. What attracted me most to working with Piotr was that his art, his storytelling, his approach to comics was very European in nature. Which makes perfect sense, since he lives and works there. And that approach fits perfectly with what this book needs to be. I also knew he wouldn’t balk at the heavy sexual content in the series and, at the same time, he could present it in a very non-gratuitous manner. He’s also an artist that can grind it out, which is pretty important when you’re committing to a monthly series.
How did the two of you meet?
Internet, baby. Aside from that, I honestly don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across his work online, but once I did, I got in touch immediately to see if he’d want to do this book with me. I wish there were a better story there … but I really just offered him the gig, and he accepted, and we were off and running.
I get a general handle on the world, the environment, I set up the basic concept, I develop the cast of characters to a certain point, then I just dive in and swim. So while I have some general ideas on where I want things to go, at the same time I’m leaving myself completely open to wherever the characters want to take me. It’s a fun way to write and it keeps me interested and on my toes. I want to be as surprised by what these characters do as the readers are. And I’ve constructed them in a certain way — as I do with most of the characters I create — so that they can’t make a wrong move. Even if they do something that will add some complication to their lives — and not in a good way — that’s the story that’s going to be told. In the end, I’m just trying to keep up with them.
What else are you working on right now? I imagine your days stay pretty busy with Man of Action stuff. What does your 2013 look like, in terms of projects?
My 2013 looks pretty packed right now. And, yeah, MOA looms large, as always. Lots of animated TV stuff still going on, from the Marvel shows we’re doing to the Disco Destroyer shorts for Liquid TV to the international co-pros we’ve recently gotten involved in. But there’s a few live-action projects from all of us in the pipeline, and of course we’re always doing comic books as much as we can. I’m probably the most prolific on the comic book side of things, but that’s just due to my own irrational love for the medium. I just can’t stop myself. I’m lucky in that I can do pretty much whatever comic books I want to now. Whatever my fevered brain can come up with, I can usually make happen. It’s just about finding the time to do them. I always start out a new year thinking it’s going to be definitive in some way… but it ends up pretty much as it’s always been. Some projects come to a conclusion, new projects start up. It’s all very fluid and even though sometimes I wish I could just calm down, completely clear the decks and concentrate on one thing at a time, my creative ADD probably wouldn’t let me do that, even if I had the chance. There’s only so much time and I guess I’m trying to pack in as much cool shit as I can.