ECCC12: Christos Gage Rides Into "Sunset"

Sat, March 31st, 2012 at 12:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

It's often been said that you can't retire from organized crime, and comic readers are going to feel how true that is this July courtesy of Top Cow's creator-owned Minotaur Press imprint and writer Christos Gage.

This summer, Gage teams with "The Darkness" artist Jorge Lucas for "Sunset," an original graphic novel announced today at Emerald City Comic Con. The book spins the story of retired Vegas mob enforcer Nick Bellamy. Years after double-crossing his way out of the business, the Korean War vet finds a life of crime barreling down his condo door. As it's the first OGN published by Minotaur, Top Cow has decided to give fans a first taste to sample the book in the form of a $1.00, 32-page "First Look" of "Sunset" on sale the same day as the graphic novel, July 18.

CBR News spoke to the writer about the origins of the comic, it's many film and crime literature influences, how he relates to angry old men out of step with modern times and why Florida is the perfect place for a revenge story.

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CBR News: Let's start with the book and then look at how it came to be. "Sunset" seems to mix up a few genres at different -- revenge story, crime caper, retirement romance even. To you, what was the initial inspiration for the story, and how do you personally view the story now that it's in its final form?

I think the initial inspiration came from reading more and more stories of people in what we would call their "sunset years" -- seventies, eighties and above -- accomplishing physical feats most of us would consider impossible for people their age: running marathons, fighting off muggers -- hell, look at Clint Eastwood. He's eighty, and would you mess with him? I wouldn't. From there I started thinking about what it would be like for someone from an era gone by to suddenly be revisited by a violent past in a world that's passed him by... and what would happen if he was still well equipped to face it.

You're right, "Sunset" combines elements of noir, revenge stories, crime capers, romance -- but at heart it's what Duane Swierczynski calls "Old Man Noir." It has common ground with movies like "Unforgiven," "Taken" and "The Limey." As for seeing the story in its final form, I love it. Jorge Lucas did a masterful job. My wife isn't a comics person, but we co-wrote our episodes of "Law & Order: SVU" together, so she knows something about hard hitting crime fiction, and she constantly raved about his work.

Gage and Lucas get gritty with "Sunset" in July

From conception, how did you bring this along to Top Cow? They certainly have published some crime material over the years, though I can't say it's what I readily identify them for. Was there a way in which the style or tone of this story was a good fit for them?

I think it actually started out when I was discussing doing a noir-ish "Darkness" story with them, a couple of years ago. For one reason or another that didn't work out, but since it had some parallels to "Sunset" (it was set in Vegas in the past, featuring Jackie Estacado's father or grandfather -- I don't recall the details) I said, "You know, I'm not sure it'd be quite up your alley, but I have this idea..." They really dug it, and felt it would be perfect for them and where they wanted to go. Originally it was going to be a miniseries, but at some point they came to me and asked me what I would think of making it an original graphic novel. Suffice it to say I was enthusiastically on board with that!

Piggybacking on that, this is the first graphic novel from the returned creator-owned imprint Minotaur Press. You've done so much work on both the WFH and original comics front, what's it feel like to be kickstarting this new phase for the company?

I'm honored to be part of something like that, and I hope to justify the faith Top Cow is showing in me. It's true, I do a lot of work for hire books and I love them, but this is a really exciting time for creator-owned and original comics -- which is a happy accident because I began work on "Sunset" well before the current resurgence -- and I am thrilled to be a part of it. I'd love for "Sunset" to be just the start of a wave of exciting original graphic novels from Top Cow and Minotaur.

Back to the core of the story, Nick Bellamy strikes me very much as someone defined by the phrase "old school." What was the hook for you in writing not just a protagonist who was older but one who seems to have a bit of contempt for the modern era?

I guess the hook is that now that I'm, shall we say, "outside the 18-to-34 demographic," I'm noticing that kind of attitude in myself. I mean, what's with young people adding all those extra letters to the end of words? And seriously, do you have to share everything on Facebook? See what I mean? If I had a lawn I'm sure I'd be yelling at people to get off it. I've read about how the business world is coping with new workers who grew up with helicopter parents who constantly told them they were the most special thing in the universe, playing in soccer tournaments where everyone gets a trophy so no one's self esteem suffers, and now they expect constant praise and for the boss to work around their schedule, not the other way around.

And if I'm rolling my eyes and muttering, "In my day we had Atari and I didn't hear anyone complaining," what would someone from the era of Bogey and Mickey Spillane think? Especially if he could kick your ass? Everyone loved the line from the movie "Machete" where Danny Trejo growled, "Machete don't text." That's Nick in a nutshell, but he's coming from an even more old-school place. He was a legbreaker for the mob back when mobsters tried to stay off the TV. Now he's turned loose in a world he has little use for, having to track down a son he doesn't even know, who he can't relate to. But one thing he does know: dealing death. And he's going to be doing a lot of that.

Riffing on that, how does having a senior at the heart of this comic change the revenge story paradigm from what crime readers would normally expect?

Nick is a guy who, thirty years ago, got a couple guys together and pulled off the fabled "one last heist" to set them up for life. And it worked. They got away with millions, and framed the mob boss they worked for so he ended up in prison, where he couldn't touch them. Nick lived quietly for thirty years. Recently he's watched his wife deteriorate from Alzheimer's. He's alone, he knows the world has passed him by, and in a lot of ways he's just marking time until death. So when the mob boss gets out of jail and comes after him, killing his ailing wife and going after the first wife he hasn't seen in decades and the son he's never known, Nick embarks on a journey of revenge. What makes him extra compelling due to his age and place in life is that he really has nothing to lose. He doesn't care if he dies. He fully expects it. And he brings fifty years of experience wielding violence like a maestro to everything he does. Going up against that is terrifying.

Of course, this isn't your first rodeo with an OGN after projects like "Area 10." What does having that full story and its scope offer you when writing as opposed to a story where you're serializing things on a month-by-month basis?

You can tell your story more like you would in a movie. It has a different feel to it, a more defined focus. More of the traditional three-act structure: beginning, middle and end. You set your characters on a path knowing they will reach its end sometime soon. I like serialized stories a lot, but original graphic novels let me work different muscles: I'm here to tell this story, and tell it in the best way possible.

On the art side of things, you're working with Jorge Lucas. What does he bring to Nick as a character that's melded with how you conceived of the lead, and what other aspects of his work do you feel fit well with how you wanted "Sunset" to look?

Jorge's art has an edge and grittiness to it that are perfect for this story. Nick is craggy and rough. The world he moves in is stark and brutal. There's a realism to Jorge's work, which is crucial, but it's stylized in a subtle way so as to enhance the violence. At the same time, he is capable of executing more character-oriented moments perfectly as well. I'm extremely pleased with how "Sunset" looks. It's what was in my head, but better. No writer can ask for more.

Lastly, the other big part of this announcement is that Top Cow will be getting a first look of the story's start out there to entice fans. What do you want to say about this story tease for readers coming to this kind of material for the first time?

I think it's fantastic, and I couldn't be happier that Top Cow is willing to take this step. What this basically is, is a recognition that we're still in a tough economy, and a crowded comics market, and it's not a small thing to ask readers to make the financial investment in an original graphic novel featuring characters they're not familiar with. Hopefully there will be many who pre-order, because they like my work, or Jorge's, or they think it sounds like a cool story -- and I can't even begin to express how much we appreciate that. But we want this book to reach as wide an audience as possible, so Top Cow is giving folks a chance to sample the first chapter of "Sunset" in a single-issue format at the bargain price of just a dollar!

And just to make it extra special -- to give the people who pick up the preview something unique -- it'll be in color, whereas the GN itself is in black and white. That's a little bit of a "DVD extra" thing -- like a deleted or alternate scene from a movie. At one time we were considering doing "Sunset" in color before deciding it worked better in B&W, so for process junkies like me, it'll be fun to compare it to the GN and see how it feels different. But at the end of the day, what we wanted to do was give as many people as possible a low-risk way of trying out "Sunset" and seeing if it's for them. I hope many will take advantage of that!

Stay tuned to CBR News for more from Emerald City Comicon all weekend!

TAGS:  eccc2012, top cow, christos gage, sunset, jorge lucas, minotaur press

 
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