With only five days to live, is it best to spend your remaining time with those you love, or to spark a last-minute crusade to bring those responsible to justice? In "5 Days to Die," a five-issue miniseries shipping weekly in September from IDW, Detective Ray Crisara survives a car accident that kills his wife and puts his daughter on life support, though Crisara himself is left with an injury that will claim his own life in the space of a workweek. Written by IDW Senior Editor Andy Schmidt with art by Chee and covers by David Finch, Michael Avon Oeming, Ben Templesmith, Gabriele dell'Otto, and Pablo Raimondi, the series follows Crisara as he decides who he is to become in the last days of his life. CBR News spoke with Schmidt about "5 Days to Die" and juggling his own hectic schedule between writing, editing and teaching the craft of comics.
"Ray is an older cop who's really gotten into his work," Schmidt said of the "5 Days" protagonist. "He's by no means a suicidal cop-on-the-edge type of stereotype, but he's work obsessive, on one big case for most of his career to take down the city's biggest drug dealer, Hoverman. And he's finally just about got Hoverman backed into a corner when - bam - his life gets turned completely upside down.
"Ray isn't the greatest father, for reasons cited above. But he loves his daughter and his wife," the writer continued. "He's sort of estranged from his wife, though not divorced and still living together. He tries to be a good dad, but work often intervenes. But he's not a jerk either. He's driven and he knows (and he's right) that his work is important.
"In all honesty, Ray's a lot like me. My son is turning three soon, and I work a lot. I've got basically three jobs all at the same time." Indeed, in addition to his work as a writer and IDW editor, Schmidt also founded Comics Experience, where he teaches writing, pencilling, and coloring for comics. "I never have time to get them all done, and that means I don't spend as much time with [my son] Cale as I want. Obviously, Ray is keeping drugs off the streets and I create comics and teach how to create comics, but you see what I mean. I'm often torn between spending a little extra time with Cale versus getting more work done so that I can build up a college fund for him and provide for our family. This story, while an action-noir romp, is also personal and true. I think there's a lot to relate to in it for hopefully a lot of people.
"Oh, and I'm happy to point out I'm not estranged from my wife. She's great!"
Schmidt expanded upon the idea of Detective Crisara's dilemma, adding that the natures of both the crime and his relationship with his family add another layer of complexity to the story. "In the opening sequence, Ray, his wife and his daughter Suzie are all hospitalized. And that's really when the clock starts ticking. Ray's got five days before he dies. He has to choose to stay with his family and hope he can protect them while they recover or leave to go find the killers before they come back," Schmidt said. "I mean, it's a tough call, right? Protect them by being proactive or be with them in your final days because you love them. Man, I don't know what I'd do. But Ray has little evidence to support his claim, thus it's very difficult to convince someone else to go get the bad guys for him.
"And to top that all off, Ray's relationships with his wife and Suzie aren't the best. He's got some making up to do before he goes...
"This is exactly what I meant when I said there's relatable stuff in here," Schmidt added. "And Chee and I decided early on not to do over-the-top action, but the kind of action you can feel. That's part of the relatability, too. Ray doesn't kill off five guys with machine guns out in the open. In fact, I don't think there's a machine gun in a single scene - I mean, who uses those things, really. They just don't come out that often in a street fight. And Ray is actually injured the whole story. He's got a bum wrist along with the head wound that's killing him. We decided any action scene that was more spectacular than anything in the original 'Die Hard' was too much. But you'll feel it when you read it. If someone gets shot once, even if they're not dead, they're out of the fight. That hurts. So, that was very much on our minds as well. I think it makes the fight scenes that much more exciting, personally. But, yeah, sorry, he doesn't take out a Harrier with his .45."
In addition to Detective Crisara's conflicting priorities, there is also some ambiguity as to the sequence of events leading up to the fateful car crash and Crisara's perception of them. "Perception is a big theme in the book. For example, Hoverman himself is not written as an all-evil, all-the-time kind of bad guy. As much as I love Mr. Joshua from 'Lethal Weapon,' this isn't him," Schmidt said. "The perception that Ray has of Hoverman has him characterized as Satan himself. When we meet Hoverman, he's not exactly what you'd expect. He cares about his 'business,' but he also cares for his employees and so on. Some of my favorite stories are about perceptions - things like 'The Truman Show' and such. So, yeah, there's definitely more than meets the eye.
"It's actually something I'm a bit worried about when it comes to getting people to pick up the book. With the covers the way they are, and the set up, I worry that it looks too much like standard action fare or something. But then again, maybe that just plays into the theme even better..."
As for why the series will be published in five weekly installments throughout the month of September, Schmidt said, "It's all in the title. He's got 5 days. I can't put out a daily comic, but we could do weekly, so we looked up a good month with five Wednesdays and did it there. It was a happy coincidence that the content suggests itself to this kind of release schedule. That actually wasn't decided until we almost solicited issue #1 many months ago. And IDW hasn't done a weekly comic stunt like this before on its own. So we're really doing this as a test case, but I'm confident the content is strong and I hope people really connect with these characters. There's a lot to them, I just hope I was able to bring that all out in them. And Chee did a fantastic job capturing their facial expressions and movements. He's a tremendous talent just waiting to break out."
"5 Days" artist Chee Yang-Ong, most often credited simply as Chee, previously worked with Schmidt on the BOOM! Studios miniseries "Challenger Deep," created by Andrew Cosby. "I have the glorious Mark Waid to thank for that," Schmidt said of that first collaboration with Chee. "Mark had just joined BOOM! Studios and I had just left Marvel Comics to start Comics Experience. I called Mark to see if there was something I might be able to write for him and he offered me 'Challenger Deep.' It was a concept that BOOM! had, and they asked me to flesh it out. I had a great time working with Mark on it (man, did I learn a ton from him). But Mark had worked with Chee and knew that I really wanted a storyteller for the series and he hooked us up.
"I love Chee's stuff. We've worked together on two other projects since then and before '5 Days to Die.' I wrote a 'Star Trek II' adaptation that Chee knocked out of the park and I edited a 'Transformers: Bumblebee' mini that Chee illustrated."
Schmidt also shared a bit of behind-the-scenes drama related to his and Chee's first outing together. "Anecdotally, when 'Challenger Deep' #1 came out, I was so excited and I called Mark up and yelled at him because he had re-written part of my dialogue," the writer told CBR. "I mean, I really went primadonna on him and he just started apologizing. He took it so seriously that it took me about five minutes to calm him down and convince him I was joking. I mean, seriously, I'll let Mark Waid change my dialogue. He's one of the best there's ever been. I have nooooooo problem letting him make me look good. I didn't make that joke again. But it was really funny."
Providing covers for "5 Days to Die" are some of comics' biggest names, quite a coup for a writer's first creator-owned mini. Asked how this came about, Schmidt replied, "I worry a lot, that's how. I have no illusions. I'm not a big name creator, and neither is Chee, yet. And the market has just really been rough on creator-owned properties lately, so I decided to get my own covers done with some bigger names if I could," he continued. "I did have the advantage of having been a Marvel editor for about six years, and I was back in the editing game at IDW now, too, so I started making calls from home at night. David Finch had a couple of weeks between his Marvel contract and his DC contract, so he slipped it in there. Mike Oeming and I have just been friends for a long time, going back to when we really started working together on his 'Thor: Disassembled' story. Ben Templesmith I had only met relatively recently, but he was so nice to do a cover. Gabriele Dell'Otto had promised me a cover when I left Marvel after we had worked on 'Secret War' for, like, two years together. Thank you, sir. And Pablo Raimondi, who did the final cover, has been a strong supporter of me both in my career and personally, and this is just one more favor I owe him.
"In other words, I got darn lucky! And my thanks really goes out not just to the five of them, but to Chis Sotomayor, Chee, and Brian Reber for doing the coloring on those covers.
"Also worth noting that Chee did a cover for every issue, too," Schmidt said. "His are the 'chase covers' that are limited to 1 in 10, but we haven't revealed those yet. I think those are going to turn some heads, too. They're absolutely gorgeous."
While "5 Days to Die" is Schmidt's and Chee's first creator-owned series, Schmidt said he may return to this particular well at some point. "You know, this is definitely a labor of love, but it's also exhausting. I'd like to do more down the line, yes. But I think I'll see how fans react to this and use that feedback to build an even better book before I dive right back in with no new information," he said. "Also, to be honest, between my day job and my Comics Experience work, finding the time to write is not easy. I just love doing it too much to stop..."
Much of Schmidt's previous writing (and, of course, editing) has been for well-known properties like "Transformers," "Star Trek," "G.I. Joe," and "X-Men," and he explained that there are distinct challenges and benefits to working on existing properties on the one hand and original creations on the other. "When dealing with the franchise characters, you've got to get to the core of a character that other people have created. You can read the previous stories, or in many cases speak to the creators and get ideas and insights," Schmidt said. "Then, it's a matter of writing them 'properly,' but with something you create, at least for me, it's much more challenging. I don't have 30 years of '5 Days to Die' comics to read over to spark insight and inspiration. No one else knows who Ray is. I've got to build the core of the character as I'm writing it, and that's just darn hard, no two ways about it. Every time I write a new character, I just respect Stan and Jack that much more. I don't know how they did what they did.
"The benefits to doing your own characters is that you pretty much get final say. I mean, it's mine. If I don't like a note a friend gives, I can choose to ignore it," Schmidt continued. "That's not the case on 'X-Men' or 'Transformers,' so that aspect is really nice. I remember writing a Havok story for 'X-Men: Divided We Stand' #2, and I wasn't understanding a note or two from the editor (hi, Aubrey and Nick) and I got in trouble for it. Eventually, it got hashed out and the story was approved, but that was really scary for me. They wanted a different ending than I did, which meant I had to come around to their way of thinking and make it work. Ultimately, I think that story works. But had I owned Havok, I could have just gone, 'Nah, I don't think I'm going to do that. Thanks for the thought though.'"
While the pressures of holding three jobs in comics - those of IDW Senior Editor, founder of and instructor at Comics Experience and writer - might understandably take a toll, Schmidt said that the roles also feed into and reinforce each other, and his editorial and teaching experience serve to benefit his writing "Being an editor helps because I know when I'm doing something wrong. Doesn't always mean I know how to fix it," Schmidt said. "For the record it is 1000 times easier to edit someone else's work than it is your own. It took me nearly a year to write this book because I'd need to let the scripts sit for weeks at a time so I could come back fresh to them. As an instructor, I'm always teaching my writing students to experiment. Actually, I teach the penciling, inking and coloring students to do that, too, now that I think about it. So with every script I write, I try to do something, even if it's a small thing, differently than I have done it before. Just to keep me striving for something different and to learn.
"But really, between teaching the classes for Comics Experience and doing our awesome Book Club, the teaching just gets me that much more excited to create for myself," he continued. "I honestly don't think I could write half as well as I do without also teaching. The energy that these students bring to the classes is infectious. It's really the best way to get pumped about creating my own stories.
"If anyone's interested - and I hope you are - please check out comicsexperience.com to see our course listings - they're all online classes, but they do meet live. It's real professionals teaching really honest and solid classes. They're the courses I wish had existed when I was trying to break into comics. And we've got the Book Club now, where we meet once a month to discuss a great graphic novel. We've got lots of guest speakers and such, too. Okay, I'll stop now, but I just love it! It's hard to stop talking once I get going. More than anything else I've ever done, Comics Experience is my baby."