IN-DEPTH: Jay Faerber on "Noble Causes" + "Dynamo 5"

Wed, December 12th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

"Noble Causes" #32
In today's comic book market, new ongoing series often face an uphill battle, and the statement holds true even if the book is put out by one of the "big two" publishers, Marvel or DC Comics. For whatever reason, it is just difficult to get readers to pick up new series and continue to buy them on a monthly basis.

With that in mind, the fact that writer Jay Faerber has amassed enough issues of his Image Comics series "Noble Causes" to fill not just one but two archives is a truly notable achievement. The two archives have been solicited by Image Comics for January and February, respectively, and will collect every "Noble Causes" miniseries, one-shot, and ongoing series issue to date. All in all, that's 46 issues of Faerber's creation, and a reason for the author to celebrate - especially after one looks at the number of times the book almost disappeared from comic shelves forever.

"Noble Causes" is the saga of a family of world-famous superheroes, the Nobles. "My basic pitch to Image was the single line: 'The Kennedys with super-powers,'" Jay Faerber told CBR News. "And that's still the premise, by and large. You've got a family of rich, powerful, larger-than-life heroes that the general public practically worships. They're the subject of gossip rags and paparazzi and all that. And, like the Kennedys, the stuff going on behind the scenes is more fascinating than their superheroics.

"The other thing I like to point out is that 'NC' isn't just a book about superhero slugfests (although we have those, too). It's a book where the character subplots are moved to the forefront. It's also a book that a lot of comic fans' girlfriends seem to be able to get into, at the risk of sounding sexist.

Page from "Noble Causes" #32
"The whole thing kicked off with 'Noble Causes: First Impressions,' a regular-sized one-shot designed to give readers a taste of the Noble family and their world." Jay Faerber told CBR News, discussing his project's publication history. "The thinking was that by releasing a one-shot before the start of a regular series, the regular series would be ordered more strongly than just starting the series from scratch.

"We followed up with what was supposed to be a monthly 'Noble Causes' series, but when artist Pat Gleason left after issue #4, we decided to take a route like 'Hellboy' and do a series of miniseries. So the next eight issues of the book were really two separate four-issue miniseries entitled 'Noble Causes: Family Secrets' and 'Noble Causes: Distant Relatives.'

"After 'NC: DR' ended, we decided to give it another shot as a regular, ongoing monthly series. So in 2004, we launched again as a regular monthly, and have been chugging along ever since."

Even though sales numbers for "Noble Causes" aren't huge, the comic's loyal fanbase is enough to ensure stores will see the book on a monthly basis. But while Faerber can feel fairly confident about the comic's ongoing existence, there were definitely times he was concerned about his comic family's future.

Page from "Noble Causes" #32
"There have actually been a number of cancellation 'scares' with the book; the most pronounced was at the end of 'Distant Relatives.'" Faeber confessed. "The book was originally published in black-and-white in an effort to cut costs, but that just seemed to cause numbers to drop even lower. But once we started the ongoing, with great, consistent art by Fran Bueno, we felt more confident about the longevity of the book."

Faerber and his crew's confidence paid off, and the "Noble Causes" archives will be out around Valentine's Day, and Faerber undoubtedly supports the idea of these books as gifts for loved ones.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," said Faerber, proud of what he and his collaborators have managed to do with "Noble Causes," and is pleased that he can share his accomplishment with others via the archives. "When I created the book almost eight years ago, I never thought I'd still be writing it at this point. So it feels incredibly gratifying that there's still an audience for these characters."

There are some changes coming up for the Noble family, making it a good time to look back before moving forward. And, according to the writer, he will be moving his team of superheroes far forward. "When the book returns with issue #32 in March, the series will jump ahead five years in its timeline," Faerber explained. "So issue #32 will be like a brand new #1. We even thought about re-numbering the book, but I see the fact that we've made it to #32 as a badge of honor in this marketplace.

Page from "Noble Causes" #33
"At any rate, issue #32 is the perfect jump-on point for new readers, because even the biggest 'NC' fan will be getting in on the ground floor, as the family has changed a lot during these five years. Some family members are gone, some new characters are on the scene - the family's status quo has evolved. The works.

"So, we decided to put out the archives in January and February so that fans that really wanted to bone up on their 'NC' history before the relaunch had the opportunity, but it's really not necessary. The whole point of the five-year jump is to give things a fresh start."

Omnibuses and archive collections seem to be all the rage in today's comics industry. As these collections are merely reprints of work the company has already paid for, it might be somewhat surprising to comic readers that we don't see more of them. However, this is not surprising to Faerber.

"I can think of a big reason - they're expensive to print," he said. "Having the work paid for is only half the battle. These things are big, so even printing them in black and white costs a big chunk of change. They're not going to pay for themselves right away, so publishers are taking a risk each and every time they decide to do one of these big b&w 'phonebooks.' It's the same thing with trade paperbacks, which are also really expensive to print. It's not the no-brainer people tend to think it is."

Page from "Noble Causes" #33
In addition to the cost factor, there is a fair amount of labor involved in putting together an archive. Luckily, Faerber didn't have to kill himself to get this special collection together for fans.

Unlike "Noble Causes," Faerber's "Dynamo 5" has been a strong seller from the start. is The tale of five young adults who discover that they are all the bastard children of a popular and recently deceased superhero named Dynamo, "D5" owes much of its success to lessons Faerber learned with "Noble Causes."

"Most of it was 'behind the scenes' stuff, like marketing and promotion and scheduling," Faerber explained. "With 'NC,' I was also learning how to make comics as I went along. Sure, I was a pretty experienced writer by that point, but I didn't know anything about actually making comics. With D5, I have seven years experience backing me up.

"We were able to produce two complete issues of 'D5' before retailers had to place their orders for the first issue, so we could show them completed issues, which let them order with more confidence. We could also show those same completed issues to all kinds of reviewers, and get some good word of mouth going from the start. That's the kind of stuff I learned on 'NC.'"

"Dynamo 5" #12
Considering all that the writer has on his plate, Faerber must plan ahead. And while he can't say for sure where his characters will be story-wise in five years, he's pretty confident that he knows what they'll be doing in their books this summer. "I always have ideas swirling around in the back of my head, but I really only plot out about six to twelve issues in advance, so I can lay the proper foundations for the cliffhangers and reveals. So everything that's happening in each book was fairly recently concocted."

As both "Noble Causes' and "Dynamo 5" share a common theme in family dynamics, fans have speculated as to shared storylines between Faerber's two books. "Each book is so distinct in terms of approach that I've never been tempted to use one story in another book," Faerber stated. "I'm proud that my books are very character-driven, so it'd be next to impossible to swap stories like that."

However, Faerber did remark, "I am finally getting to be in the position where I can use villains from one book in another, and that's pretty fun."

On top of making the villains able to "book-hop," other characters from the "Faerberverse" will soon be making special appearances in Faerber's comics. "In March, we're putting out the first 'Dynamo 5 Annual,' which features a bunch of 'untold tales' from both Captain Dynamo and Dynamo 5, and each of these stories features other characters from my little corner of the Image universe - 'Noble Causes,' 'The Firebirds,' and even 'Venture.'

"Dynamo 5 Annual" #1
"Before the Annual, issues #11 and #12 feature some of Dynamo 5's villains teaming up to take on our heroes. So this will be the first time Dynamo 5 has had to contend with an entire team of supervillains - that should be fun. On the personal front, one of the kids' parents learns of their dual identity, which causes all sorts of chaos."

As if archives and annuals weren't keeping Faerber busy enough, he is also putting out a new book this spring that will bring another character into existence in the comic book world he's created. "In May, I'm launching 'Gemini,' a new Image superhero book with artist Jon Sommariva that's best described as 'The Manchurian Candidate, but with superheroes.' It's about a guy who's controlled by some shadowy organization to become a superhero."

Whether it's a Kennedy-like clan of superheroes with ego problems or a group of brothers and sisters struggling with their personal identities, this writer seems to understand the intricacies of family relationships. When asked why Faerber is drawn to this theme - if it's a coincidence or if he's working through unresolved issues - he says, "Totally a coincidence. With 'D5,' I just wanted some new 'hook' for a super-team, and it just turned out to be a family. I didn't sit down and consciously think: 'I want to make another book about a family.'

"Of course, there may be some unresolved issues, but that's between me and my therapist!"

Now discuss this story in CBR's Image Comics forum.

 
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