When it comes to fantasy epics, there's a formula that is pretty consistent: the story always features a war. However, most stories stop with that war, never exploring what happens next for the characters living in that world. For the new fantasy series Fairlady, however, it's that post-war world that writer Ben Schirmer fully embraces.
Written Schirmer with art by Claudia Balboni and colors by Marissa Louise, Fairlady follows Jenner Faulds who returns from her service in the army home to The Feld and works as a specially licensed private investigator known as a "Fairman." However, Jenner is unique among her fellow Fairmen as she's the only woman in her field -- the only Fairlady -- and thus gets stuck with the unwanted cases. Along with her partner Oanu, who himself is a bit special as he has the appearance of a large anthropomorphic cat, Jenner sets out to solve these cases all while dealing with sexism and other issues most fantasy stories rarely choose to tell.
ComicBook.com recently had an opportunity to chat with writer Brian Schirmer about Fairlady, where his inspiration for the series comes from, how he world builds, how the series handles the all-too-real sexism Jenner faces as well as the significance of each issue of Fairlady being its own complete story.
Keep reading to find out all about Fairlady!
ComicBook.com: How would you describe the concept of Fairlady?
Brian Schirmer: The kernel of the idea was "a gender-swapped Magnum, P.I. in a post-War-of-the-Ring world." Each issue tells a standalone story over 30 pages, and follows Jenner Faulds, the lone female private investigator in this world. It's set in a fantasy realm, complete with magic, dragons, giants, and the like. However, our stories focus more on street-level investigations, rather than epic quests. Most of the action takes place in and around The Feld, a city built out of the husk of a massive mecha, a casualty of a long-forgotten conflict.
The world of Fairlady is populated with some very interesting characters, especially Oanu who looks like a really buff cat on two legs -- and in many ways also sort of has the personality of a really intellectual, chill real-life cat as long as you don't, you know, compare him to one. What inspired Oanu specifically and some of the more unusual characters populating the Fairlady world more generally?
Oanu was originally going to be a seven-foot anthropomorphic hare. But the more I thought about it, it felt a little too Usagi Yojimbo, even if ours was more barbarian than ronin. Claudia [Balboni] designed a few alternatives, and we all agreed the cat look was the way to go. And yeah, I'm a cat dad. One boy, one girl. Sacha and Mira. Hi, kids! Papa loves you!
As for beyond Oanu, I definitely wanted there to be non-human characters. That said, I didn’t want it to be orcs and elves and dwarves, nor did I want it to be the panoply of creatures like you see in Star Wars. We see some lizardmen, a couple fire-breathing beasties, a few undead, but it’s all rather reined in. And there is a purpose behind that. It’s not a big mystery. It’s tied into the backstory of this world, and we’ll reveal why we see mainly human folk as the series progresses.
How did you go about building the world of Fairlady?
How long do you have? [laughs] It was a weird combination of both throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and deciding what the world isn't, and chipping that away. I knew it would be high fantasy, but we kept the Tolkien-ness to a minimum. I looked at a lot of Miyazaki, a lot of artistic interpretations of Moorcock’s Elric saga. I devoured Avatar: The Last Airbender. But in the end it’s not like any of that. Which is precisely what we wanted.
The idea of a town built out of the skeletal remains of a Gundam-esque robot came about rather early in the process. That might’ve also stemmed from a bit of love for the old Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon, where everyone’s living in this fantasy world that’s actually built over the wreckage of our world, and it all has no meaning to them.
Other elements came into play as I was writing, and as I was looking at the initial artwork coming in from Claudia and Marissa [Louise]. Part of what’s really cool about writing a fantasy series is being able to riff off of what your collaborators put out there. Is it a little like jazz? Yeah, I guess it’s a bit like jazz in that way.
Jenner is a fascinating character. She's tough, she's savvy, but she's also sympathetic and a character that the reader can identify with despite being from a fantasy-style world clearly not our own. What was your process in creating Jenner? Did you have any specific inspiration for the character?
I started with the kinda flawed private investigators of ‘70s and ‘80s television, like Jim Rockford and Thomas Magnum. These were characters who were far from perfect, who played hunches and made mistakes. I also really liked the idea of the fierce woman warrior who was told she couldn’t join the military, but who then sneaks into the war. So, at her heart, Jenner Faulds is the daughter of Thomas Magnum and Eowyn, Rohan's shield-maiden who posed as a man to fight in battle. The name came from an acquaintance of mine. It was familiar yet different.
Her physical traits, her hair, her attire, that was all Claudia and Marissa. I gave them very little input. I knew that together they would find the character, and they did.
Jenner deals with sexism as the only woman in her field, but we also see issues of gender through other elements of the story. How do you, as a male writer, approach this?
Sadly, it’s very easy to draw from real life. Sexism, ableism, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ+ movements -- you’d need to be turning two blind eyes to not see these everywhere these days. Some of this I’ll consciously infuse into the writing, most notably -- as you point out -- by having our protagonist be the only woman in an all-male field. I also made a point to both illustrator Claudia Balboni and colorist Marissa Louise that I didn’t want this to be a Straight White World. Marissa really took this ball and ran with it, making Jenner a person of color, which I thought was just brilliant.
One of the really interesting things about Fairlady is that it is a complete story each issue.. That's not something that always happens in comics, as they tend to leave you with something unsolved or undone to prompt you forward. What made you decide to tell a full story each issue?
I was intrigued by the challenge. It's classic episodic storytelling. We don't see that as much in comics these days -- nor in television, film, or even games. So much entertainment demands more and more of your time to just get one story. I'm not against that; I just wanted to try this. Warren Ellis has played with this format off-and-on for years -- Planetary, Fell, Global Frequency, Moon Knight, Secret Avengers. I re-read all of those while plotting Fairlady.
Standalone issues are terrific. They free you to tell a different type of story each month, not only introducing readers to new characters and situations, but also different conflicts, different tones, different themes.
How does Fairlady differ from your previous work?
Probably the biggest difference is our choice to make every issue over-sized and a standalone story. When so many books show up -- particularly new series -- with a $4.99 price tag, we just felt it was time to do something for readers and retailers. It was important to us to give readers the most bang for their buck, and so we're pricing a 40-page comic at $3.99, and with no ads.
Also, with each issue of Fairlady being a one-and-done story, that should make issues #2, #3, and beyond an easier sell for retailers, who can inform their customers that they needn’t have read what came before. Basically, every issue is fundamentally a new #1.
What is your favorite thing about Fairlady thus far?
Honestly? The early response from both readers and retailers. It’s hard to describe the exhilaration a creator gets when somebody comes up to you at a convention or writes something on social media, talking about how thrilled they are for a book, or a character, or even an idea -- and it hasn’t even come out yet. And stores have really gotten behind this book. It feels like we might have actually tapped into something with Fairlady, and that’s an amazing sensation.
If there is one thing you want readers to take away from Fairlady, what would it be?
The feeling that they got a fun, intriguing, entertaining comic that was worth their time and money.0comments
Fairlady #1 is set to release in comic shops on April 10th.