Jim McCann first made a name for himself in the comics world as a public relations ninja for Marvel Comics. A few years back, he stepped down to follow his dream of becoming a comic book writer. In addition to penning Marvel projects such as "Hawkeye & Mockingbird," "Widowmaker" and "Chaos War: Alpha Flight," he also teamed up with artist Janet Lee to create the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel "Return of the Dapper Men" through Archaia. April sees the next step in his comic book career as McCann makes the leap into the world of ongoing creator-owned comics with "Morning Glories" cover artist Rodin Esquejo and colorist Sonia Oback.
The Image Comics-published "Mind the Gap" follows the adventures of a young woman named Elle who is brutally attacked and finds herself in a coma. However, that doesn't mean she's not awake somewhere. The series revolves around the amnesiac Elle trying not only to figure out who attacked her, but also remember who she is -- all while trying to reconnect with her body, which she is separated from on another plane of existence.
CBR News first spoke to McCann at New York Comic Con, right after the series was first announced, but with the premiere on the way, we caught back up with the writer once again. After discussing his unorthodox schedule, his recent attendance of reading of "Reservoir Dogs" starring Terrence Howard and a failed attempt to find out what some of his more oblique tweets have been about, CBR News finally got down to business with the writer to discuss the series' more metaphysical elements, working in the creator-owned realm and making comics with "Morning Glories" cover artist Rodin Esquejo and "X-Men Legacy" colorist Sonia Oback.
CBR News: Sometimes, when cover artists work on interiors, they use a different style or don't look as crisp as we're used to, but Rodin actually looks as good if not better than we're used to seeing on his "Morning Glories" covers.
Jim McCann: Yes, that can happen. He colors himself normally on his covers, but Sonia is coloring him on this. It's a dream team. I think some of Sonia's best work is done over open line art and Rodin's lines are so fine and also so refined that it gives her a chance to really render and model and highlight the coloring as well. It gives it more of a depth and almost a 3D quality. On the first page, when Elle is waking up and answering the phone, there's something about that second panel where it's raining outside and there's buildings in the background and she's reaching for the phone; you get a real sense of depth.
You previously spoke to CBR about the art team, but now that you've worked with them more, are you still as excited?
I'm super excited because this is a dream art team for me. I've been a fan of Rodin's since I saw his "Morning Glories" cover work and I actually met him a couple years ago at a convention and he had some interior sequence samples done and I was like, "Ah man, Marvel or DC are going to snap this guy up." Then he was doing covers and more covers. Sonia I had worked with once before, and I'm really good friends with and wanted to work with her again. It was at Comic-Con International in San Diego this past year, it was literally the day after "Dapper Men" won the Eisner, so I was riding a little high and I got a little lucky and was in the right place at the right time. Sonia was there and Rodin was there and they were both there in front of my table and I said, "I really want to work on something, I know the exact project." I had a couple ideas of what I wanted to do next, but when I saw them together and I knew they both had openings I was like, "I know what I'm doing next and I want you to do it, I will send you breakdowns. Please, let's make this happen because I absolutely want to go with this." Fortunately they read it, they liked it and said, "Yes, we'll do an ongoing with you."
That really is the textbook definition of being in the right place at the right time.
I couldn't have wished for a better moment which goes into that saying that a lot of people say about breaking into comics, which is patience, persistence and professionalism [are the keys] -- and patience isn't usually my strong suit. [Laughs]
Without getting too much into, "Where do you get your ideas" territory, how long has this one been bouncing around your head and do you actually remember when or where it appeared?
This idea actually came in the shower. I do a lot of my thinking in the shower. I think Jason Aaron said the same thing in one of his columns on CBR and a lot of us I've found do that. I think it's because there's nothing else to do other than cleaning yourself. Your brain can just kind of go anywhere.
Actually "Mind the Gap" was initially a TV pilot that I had cooking in the back of my head that could make a pretty good film, but I was thinking TV pilot because I really, really like whodunits and wanted to do an Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" where each suspect is ruled out -- or killed -- until you finally get to who it was. The idea of a girl in a coma trying to solve an attack on her life and how would she do that, how can she gather and relay information to the physical world, [was really intriguing]. Everybody says that if somebody's in a coma or while they're recovering from a surgery, they can hear you and so you should be positive. I thought, "Well if they can hear you, what would that be like for you?" Are they trapped in their body or are they trapped from getting to their body? I decided the latter was more exciting. What if she can't get to her body? What if there is a space separating her and what if there are other things there? Is it just her or are there other people in comas wandering around in another layer of reality that's more metaphysical.
"Mind the Gap" is in a different genre from "Hawkeye & Mockingbird" which is different from "Dapper Men" -- was that a conscious effort on your part?
I had already written crazy superhero spy stuff, I've done a really out there fairy tale, so I wanted to do something that was grounded in reality and science, but also push it a little into the preternatural, which is different than supernatural. Preternatural is something that many people scientifically agree exists, but just can't prove it yet, as opposed to supernatural which is usually mythology-driven. So I wanted to blur those lines a little bit and not do a superhero book. I wanted to do a mystery, a whodunnit. I wanted to introduce a cast of characters, sort of drawing on my soap [opera] background but also more updated the way a lot of TV shows have their mythologies that run through a season. That's what we'll be doing, working on the overall mythology and then delving into it. I'm also inspired by things like "Y: The Last Man," "Fables," "Ex Machina" and "Unwritten" where you kind of get the feel that there is a limit where the envelope can be pushed to, so you know this story will probably end, you just don't know when and you don't know how. Then, you get to a point where you think, "Will this story end? There's a lot of story here." And when you answer one question, it raises two more. I really liked that you could do that.
When you decided to shift the idea from a TV show to a comic book, did you have to do significantly alter the story or just adjust it to fit the monthly comic book format?
It's a little bit translated because, one of the things you have to think about when writing a TV show is what's your week-to-week? What's going to keep people coming back? You can have your overall mythology, but on a show like "White Collar" or "Burn Notice "or even "Buffy," they have series long arcs, but what kept you coming back each week? So I thought that I could have the week-to-week to be more of the "A" subplot and the mythology be the "B" subplot and walk that line or just go 50/50. That was one of the things I had to work with because obviously each issue wouldn't equal one episode because we only have 24 pages. I do picture this in my mind as living, breathing human beings. Which is also why I wanted the art team for this because they do real people and real atmosphere in a way that comic book readers will still look at and go, "I really like this art, I'm in for the story."
As far as tweaking, there were a few things that I did tweak especially in regards to some of the higher levels of mystery that it's way too soon to get into, as well as [something] you'll see in the artwork -- the person in the hoodie. There's definitely a mystery of who is that? Is it someone we've met? I will say that within the first four issues you meet every major player and at least one of them, or more, is behind all of this. It's not going to be out of left field. It's plotted and that's one of the cool things, being able to do this in the comic book format allows us to plant things within the art for people to go back and [see] and very specifically do it at its purest essence. I could have done this as a pilot and maybe it would have been picked up and it would have been great -- honestly, I still think it could be a TV show. I think the initial presentation to show people, what we have here [as a comic], is something really special, especially the way it's being executed. It immediately sets a tone in the first issue for everybody involved.
It sounds like you have a very clear vision of where the story will go and who's behind it all, but do you have a specific goal in mind in terms of how many issues the series will run?
No, I know what the ending is and I know when it will end, but I don't know the issue number. I know all the information we need to give and also a lot of the secrets that need to be revealed and what secrets need to be kept until the end so it's still suspenseful. I love suspenseful mysteries and this has been my love letter to those. I've watched a lot of Hitchcock and a lot of film noir, things that sink into that sort of genre, but then also it is very much "X-Files" meets "Twin Peaks" because there's a preternatural element to it, there's a mystery behind it and everyone's involved. The tag line I've had in mind for this is, "Everyone is a suspect, nobody is innocent." That's the mantra for this book.
How do you physically keep track of all the mysteries? I'm sure there's documents on your computer, but I know that TV shows often use wipe boards as well.
I have a document and I have a wipe board that I outline every issue on and also has off to the side what characters or elements to introduce. It's physically there in the corner of my eye by my desk. When I did the character descriptions, I put in there what major roles they play in the overall mystery so that Rodin and Sonia know what that character was eventually going to do -- what Elle is going to do, what is she like in the two worlds. They know who the character under the hood is, so there are a few things that they'll do to give little hints.
The story kicks off pretty quickly, throwing the reader right into the story. Was that idea there from the beginning?
It drops in right after Elle has been attacked. We're in the hospital, there are already relationships and friction between some of the doctors. There's friction between Elle's family and her boyfriend and her friends. We definitely get a sense of being right in the middle of the story with them. It's kind of a cold open where it just goes -- bam -- right into it. You'll learn a lot more about them and how they got there as the series progresses. One of the reasons I wanted to drop the readers into the middle of the story is because in addition to being in a coma and being able to see what everyone is saying, Elle has no memory. She has to play detective, not just behind the attack, but in her entire life. It is playing with the idea of identity. How do you see yourself and how much of that is influenced by what people say about you and what traits they remember and ascribe to you most. We're going to see somebody try to piece back her entire existence and also try to solve this attempt on her life before whoever's behind it strikes again. I want the audience to be in Elle's shoes. She's really our POV character.
It seems like comic readers, especially ones who are looking at Image books, will be okay with being dropped right into the story.
They're patient. One of the really good things about Image and creator-owned books in general is, you can do that, you can start in the middle of a story because you're telling your own story. You're not telling a Spider-Man story and you don't have to worry about what happened in issue #554 when you're writing issue #692. You are writing issue one and the audience is right there with you. We're all in this from the beginning, which I love.
I think this is one of the reasons you're seeing a resurgence in creator-owned books as far as popularity goes because [readers] want to jump in and they want to be a part of the story from the beginning. One of the things that Image is doing great is the Experience Creativity campaign. You can see from their line that there's a whole gamut of books that are out there and a lot of them are by people who write or have written superhero comics. I think today's audience still want the superhero books, but are also more willing to follow the creators because they like what they do with the superheroes. So there's almost as much of a following to the creators as the characters. I feel like in the '80s, '90s and early 2000s, it was more about a loyalty to the character and now there's a certain sense of liking this girl or guy's work and wanting to check [their creator-owned work] out.
[For example,] I love Scott Snyder on "Batman" and then you read "Severed" or "American Vampire" and you're like, "Oh my god, this is the same guy." And Jonathan Hickman. He's got two ongoings coming up from Image ["The Manhattan Projects" and "Secret"] plus his Marvel work [like "Fantastic Four"]. He brings a unique voice to both. His take on the FF is fantastic and you can tell it's Jonathan Hickman, but it's also the FF in the best possible way. One isn't interfering with or overshadowing the other. Then you go and read "Manhattan Projects" or "Red Wing" or "Nightly News," that's Jonathan at the purest level. That's just him letting loose and that's one of the things I'm finding is that I can go full throttle and not have to worry if someone's using this character or [being told] I can't use that character because there's a movie. Who wouldn't want to write "Batman?" Or, I love Hawkeye, I would love to write him again. There are a lot of characters I'd like to tackle, but right now I'm tackling the characters that are in my brain, so I can get them out and show the world this story.
Image doesn't have editors in the traditional comic book sense where they're telling you which characters to use, but do you miss that relationship or do you just bounce ideas off of friends and colleagues to see what works best?
It's friends and colleagues, which I really think is a benefit both to Image as a company and other creator-owned companies as well as the creators. We get to hear each others' ideas. You can break stories with them and take parts of it or leave it whereas in a larger company, there are lanes the creators and take the characters into but there's always going to be limitations in the mainstream universe. Like in the Ultimate Universe, they can go out and do whatever they want. Kill Peter Parker? They did it. But, you try and kill Peter Parker in the mainstream universe and everybody knows that he'll be back. There's no way that the Marvel Universe will not have Peter Parker. With these stories, it's my vision, it's the creator's vision, unhindered, unhampered, assisted, obviously, which is what a good editor does. But there is no limit here, nobody's safe and that's exiting. [Robert] Kirkman has shown that in "Walking Dead" and "Invincible" and Brian K. Vaughan showed that in "Y: The Last Man." People get a chance to tell their story and show you that this is this story, it exists in this world and this time period, you're not going to see Daredevil swinging by in the background. These are these people and this is the story of these people, jump on and get ready for a ride because you probably won't have any idea where I'm about to take [it] -- but trust me, you're going to like it.
If you're willing to jump in, check out "Mind the Gap" from Jim McCann, Rodin Esquejo, Sonia Oback and Image Comics May 2.