There is no denying that Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith have some filthy ideas. Thankfully, those twisted thoughts are being put to good use in the form of "Choker," the upcoming miniseries from Image Comics launching on February 24, 2010. With inspirations ranging from Raymond Chandler to "Tank Girl" and featuring a cast of characters sporting names like Dick Puncher, "Choker" promises a stomach-turning ride with plenty of surprises in store for the denizens of Shotgun City. In order to learn more about their plans, CBR News spoke with McCool and Templesmith who also provided CBR with six exclusive panels from the first issue, representing some of their favorite moments of "Choker" thus far.
The story of "Choker" brings readers to Shotgun City, a place that Templesmith recommends readers don't bring their grandmothers to - not without a tetanus shot, at least.
"It's a place so loathsome it'd make Camden, New Jersey seem like Disneyland," McCool told CBR. "Shotgun City is like a crazed amalgamation of 1930's gangland Chicago and 'Blade Runner's' Los Angeles. It's as much inhabited by bowler hat-wearing wise guys as it is technology-infused cyberpunks. Dark, miserable and gritty, it's - in [series lead] Johnny Jackson's own words - where angels go to die. There are definitely elements of 'Sin City' in there, as well as Batman's Gotham and 'Transmetropolitan's' futuristic hellhole. As the story progresses, the city almost becomes a character in itself; it helps mold the identity of the story's players and offers an apt backdrop for the worst deeds you could possibly imagine inflicting upon humanity."
Walking the seedy streets of Shotgun is Johnny "Choker" Jackson, the titular antihero at the center of the miniseries. "Once a hotshot cop, he's degenerated into a hate-filled slob, a figurehead for all-round nasty bastardness - or, at least, it starts out like that. Once the terrible hand that life's dealt him becomes apparent, we'll start to understand him a little better, root for him and, dare I say it, even relate to him," said McCool. "He's the kind of guy that people will root for once they know where he's coming from. He's a slob, hates people, and he's been dumped on from a colossal height. But now it's time for him to clean up and fight back. If nothing else, Johnny is genuine and he certainly doesn't stand for any nonsense. As the story progresses, he'll showcase how much fun it is to see an antihero fuck up people even sleazier than he is."
Johnny's road to redemption - or, at least, to retribution - starts with the chance to revisit the past. "A high profile con Johnny once put behind bars is at large, and not even the city's elite has been able to track the sleazebag down," said McCool. "The police department is prepared to offer a deal, and the repercussions will be as epic as the crime spree destined to follow. In a word: mental."
McCool and Templesmith have made sure that Choker won't be alone on his quest, drawing from a cast of characters that includes an unlucky secretary and a take-no-prisoners female cop. "Seaton 'Worm' Price is unlucky enough to be Johnny's secretary - smart, reliable and as dorky as can be, he was hired after City Hall banned Jackson from ever again employing a female member of staff," McCool described of Johnny's right-hand man. "He ends up with a significant role to play in the story's conclusion - and a fucking odd one, too."
"Flynn 'Dick Puncher' Walker, astoundingly, is a female police officer working Shotgun City's streets," the writer offered of the story's female lead. "She caught her husband in bed with her mother, sister and best friend - three separate incidents would perhaps have cushioned the blow - and, as a result, implements a special kind of hatred into her work. Flynn is handed the responsibility of overseeing Johnny in his newfound position. The outcome will be nothing short of bonkers."
While McCool is responsible for the characters' vulgar words and deeds, it's up to Templesmith to visualize these actions. Aside from Choker himself, Templesmith mostly had free reign over the design of Shotgun City and its population. "The descriptions of the characters' traits let the mind run wild," the artist said of the design process. "I tried to give Flynn 'Dick Puncher' a bit of a hard look, though she's not going to appear until issue #2 anyway. Worm is just the end result of too much aristocratic inbreeding, really, with poor eyesight, a weak non-existent chin, and social skills to match. The characters really draw themselves if they're any good, so I guess that means hopefully, they're good!
"For me, ['Shotgun City'] is awash with colors, with glitzy signs and decadence everywhere, with an overall layer of dirt and decay," Templesmith continued, describing the appearance of the story's setting. "It's past its prime, but doesn't realize it. Also, it has a slight retro feel as McCool has in the descriptions. Hopefully I've gotten it somewhere close to what Ben wants that's also comfortable for me to shape and draw. I really start with a vibe and go from there."
According to the creators, Shotgun City rides a fine line between a realistic seedy underbelly and a city filled with fantastic freaks and other extraordinary elements. "I didn't want to work on a fantasy book since I've done plenty of them already, so everything that happens in [the city] should be believable in a vaguely scientific sense of explanation," said Templesmith. "It's clearly not the real world, though McCool knows exactly what's in store."
"It's pretty much right down the middle," added McCool. "There are freaks, geeks and cybernetic nutjobs, but also some very human, very real people trying to contend with life in the madness that is Shotgun City. Hardboiled reality blended with otherworldly elements; a night out in one of the city's bars is as likely to get you laid as it is to transform you into a supernatural brain-sucking monstrosity."
Creating a delicate balance between realism and fantasy requires a fine-tuned collaborative relationship, which is something that McCool and Templesmith have. "It's been a fun ride so far," said McCool of his collaborator. "Working with Ben Templesmith has been a delight, and we both seem to be on the same page when it comes to creativity. That is, we both very much dig fucked up shit. We've had no drastic bust-ups, no creativity stifling differences - just a whole lot of fun putting the book together. Hopefully that shows in the final product."
And while that "final product" has yet to make its way into readers' hands, the decision-makers at Image Comics have clearly been impressed enough by McCool and Templesmith's ideas. "[In planning 'Choker,'] McCool and I had a lot of discussions about the lay of the land and the nature of creator-owned work and what that actually does and should mean," said Templesmith. "Image Comics, being created by creators for creators, really was and is the best place to do a book if you can handle the longer term investment in things and have a relative grasp on how to do things. It's a direction I've been heading towards for a long time, and thankfully Image - with [Publisher] Eric Stephenson and [PR & Marketing Coordinator] Joe Keatinge especially - were well behind me doing stuff with them when I initially approached [them]. Obviously, since then and since bringing 'Choker' in, they've given the book and both of us huge support, which we're both insanely grateful and humbled by."
The success of "Choker" is clearly important to both creators, but as this is McCool's highest profile comic book work so far in his career, the writer is aware that the book's debut is essentially his own debut as well. "It's absolutely my most prominent work to date, and seeing as I've concocted the story and characters myself, I am definitely a little nervous," McCool admitted. "This is where I'm hoping my career really begins. But for now, it's all about the readers. I've given the book my very best shot and I hope I've produced something that justifies them taking the time to check it out."
McCool and Templesmith have plenty of plans to get "Choker" into as many readers' hands as possible, including a new official website and an upcoming signing tour, but there's nothing like a good old fashioned personal appeal to win over the hearts and minds of fans everywhere. "It's likely the only comic book you'll ever read to feature a bunch of baddies called the Nan Munchers," McCool appealed. "Lock up your grandmothers, and probably your grandfathers, too. You know, just in case."
"I think people who liked 'Fell' and could put up with my art will probably really dig the book, and fans of 'Wormwood' will also see shades of things in it too, I'm guessing," Templesmith added. "Also, if you don't buy it, I might come around and eat your dog."
"Choker" #1, written by Ben McCool and illustrated by Ben Templesmith, hits stores on February 24, 2010, courtesy of Image Comics.