Jay Faerber Talks COPPERHEAD (Plus Issue #3 Preview)

Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, and Ron Riley's new Image series Copperhead is very well done. Its a science fiction western that centers around single mother Sheriff Clara Bronson and her son as they move into the a new rural area on an alien planet. It feels real, vibrant, alive, and enticing.   

The book has quickly gained a strong following including the likes of Brian K. Vaughan who famously called it his "favorite new comic." High praise to be sure, and not undeserved.

Jay Faerber and I had a nice chat this week about Copperhead which you can read below, including preview pages from next month's issue #3. 

I know in the back-matter to Copperhead #1 you mentioned that this whole series grew out of a single written idea which was “What if Deadwood had aliens.” I’m curious about the process of building such a vibrant world with truly remarkable characters out of such a short sentence. Can you tell us a little bit about your and Scott’s development process?

We basically just exchanged a ton of emails, bouncing different ideas off each other. I knew I wanted the central character to be a sheriff, but I honestly can't remember whose idea it was that she be female. I probably have it in my email archives somewhere.

I know it was Scott's suggestion that the series take place in the aftermath of a war, and that one of the "arties" be a Jeremiah Johnson-type character -- a mountain man who lived off the land.

Once we had enough of a shape of the world and the history, I just dove in and wrote the first issue. We consciously scaled back on a lot of the details when it came to exposition, letting readers pick up bits and pieces rather than have a bunch of info-dumps.

Why and how did you end up bringing this book to Image?

Image is always my go-to publisher. Eric Stephenson is a good friend of mine, and I've been doing books there since 2001. I had pitched a different book to Eric with Scott as the artist, and while it was picked up by Image, I was never able to flesh out the concept to my satisfaction. So we shelved that and went to work on COPPERHEAD (which was originally titled FRONTIER). Eric approved it once he saw the first 5 pages of issue 1 (which served as our pitch).

Is Copperhead designed to be a long ongoing?

Hopefully! Scott and I agree that we'll keep doing it until either we get bored, or the audience does.

What’s it like working with Scott on a truly collaborative project like this? Does it change the way you approach the actual writing to have someone else helping to steer?   

I like to think that I've always been a pretty collaborative writer, when it comes to how I work with artists. But this book is a departure because it's the first series I've written that requires a lot of world-building. So because of that, I'll check in with him fairly often on stuff. And I'll sometimes run ideas past him -- ideas for character developments, or cliffhangers, that kind of thing.

I just finished scripting issue 4, and there's a short sequence in there featuring Benjamin Hickory where I wound up changing the dialogue for the scene entirely. It's quite a different scene than the one Scott originally drew. His art is unchanged, but the dialogue is different than I thought it would be, giving the scene a different feel. And I ran this by Scott before I did it, of course, just so he wasn't completely shocked when reading the issue.

So obviously there is a bit of Firefly, and maybe even Star Trek in the series. Aside from those, are there any westerns or Sci-Fi stories that really made you want to try your hand at a story like this?

Well, as I said in the editorial in the first issue, another influence for this series is the 1980s cartoon, GALAXY RANGERS. But I find myself more influenced by Westerns than by sci-fi stories. Stuff like LONESOME DOVE and DEADWOOD and historical figures like Wyatt Earp.

But I gotta be honest -- I'm not hugely steeped in Westerns or sci-fi. I'm more of a crime/mystery and super-hero guy. Those are my two big genres. So I don't have nearly as deep a history with Westerns and sci-fi, which I think helps me bring a fresh perspective. Not that I'm doing a wild reinvention or anything. But I bring a different set of eyes to the material.

So if you're not particularly familiar with/steeped in westerns, what is your research/building phase of the story like, then? Did you you Go back and look into any famous westerns to get a feel for them, or is this a completely different approach to the western that you're just building from scratch. I ask because Copperhead really does feel like a true western, both in the world itself and in the characters and their roles in the story. 

I think the only Western I watched since starting to develop this book, that I hadn't seen already, was ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I think I've seen enough Westerns to have a good feel for them. Stuff like LONESOME DOVE and DEADWOOD and TOMBSTONE and SILVERADO and UNFORGIVEN and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALENCE. I just know that there are a ton of famous Westerns I haven't seen -- all the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns, for instance. I'm not a Western buff the way I'm a super-hero buff or a private eye buff. 

Plus, I should point out that Scott brought a lot to the table when it came to developing our world, and I know we have different points of reference and different experiences we're both drawing from.

What are you reading/watching/listening to these days? Anything have you really excited?

Well, I just read the first issue of BIRTHRIGHT, the new Image series from Josh Williamson and Andrei Bressan and it's fantastic. It has everything I love in a first issue -- a great set-up, intriguing characters in an interesting world, and then a great twist that upends everything you thought you knew. I can't wait to see where else this book goes.

And as I write this the Fall TV season is getting into high gear. I just watched the premiere of STAR WARS REBELS, the new animated series on Disney XD. My wife's a VP at Disney Channel so I've heard her talking about this series for awhile, and while I'm not as huge a STAR WARS fan as most nerds my age, I really loved this premiere. It seems to capture everything that made the original trilogy so much fun, while avoiding the pitfalls of the prequel movies.

And I was really impressed with THE GUEST, the new feature from the same writer and director as YOU'RE NEXT. It's a great thriller. The less you know about it, the better. That's all I'll say.

Copperhead #3 Preview Pages :