Jumping from one creative medium to another can be tricky business, but Kel Symons is up for the challenge. Known more as a producer in Hollywood than a comic book writer, Symons will step into that new role come December when "I Love Trouble" debuts from Image Comics. Based on an idea by Image Publisher Eric Stephenson and drawn by "Dragon Age" artist Mark A. Robinson, the book follows the adventures of a con artist by the name of Felicia who surprisingly gains superpowers during a plane crash. The new development leads to a change in professions for Felicia, and her new venture as an international assassin guides the direction of series.
The series is solicited as a six-issue miniseries and will work as a self-contained story, but Symons and Robinson have plenty more stories to tell with Felicia and her world. CBR News spoke with Symons about making the jump from movies to comics, working with a morally dubious protagonist, and the origins of the project itself including Stephenson's involvement.
CBR News: You've worked in Hollywood for years, but how did you wind up writing "I Love Trouble" and getting it set up at Image?
Kel Symons: Eric Stephenson's known me for years -- I used to be a production exec in Hollywood. In fact, I set up [Brian Michael] Bendis' "Powers" as a movie with Columbia many years ago. But Eric knew me even before then, and knew I always secretly wanted to be a writer, and had said one day we should work on something.
He actually approached me with the idea for "I Love Trouble." He wanted to create a universe populated by different characters who were all developing super powers of one sort or another -- nothing like flying or shooting lasers from their eyes, but "grounded" powers like telepathy, psychokinesis, clairvoyance, etc. The idea would be he'd have several different series' going in this world, with different creators. And the unifying theme would be that none of these characters would assume some mantle of responsibility to save mankind or put on tights and capes, but they'd use the powers basically for their own gain -- like what might realistically happen if some of us started developing super powers -- we'd use them as we use all our talents and abilities -- for our own gain, basically. So the guy with telepathy would read opponents poker hands across the table -- stuff like that. He told me his idea for a character that was basically one sentence, "A woman discovers she has some super ability in the middle of a plane crash and becomes a sort of international assassin, but she does it for the thrills." I liked the premise and took it from there.
Was the title "I Love Trouble" something Eric had already come up with or part of the collaborative process?
Yeah, the title was in place -- it was Eric's. And it sort of informed Felicia's character -- I saw her as someone who courted danger. Which allowed Mark and I to have a lot of fun with the character. Aside from that one sentence that was all he gave me pretty much, though we talked about what the world would be like.
From the solicit info, we know that Felicia is a grifter, what kind of scams does she run? Can you give us a brief history of how she came to that line of work?
I don't know if I can give you a "brief" history or not, because there's a lot that I want to tell about who she is if we develop this beyond six issues. I can tell you that I thought of her as someone who moved around a lot. When we meet her, she's living in New Orleans, on the run from gangsters there. But I see her as having moved around. She doesn't put down stakes for very long -- comes from a broken home, which we'll reference, has terrible relationships with men. I think it's part of her persona that she's never known a normal life. No 9-5. No stable relationships. And that's probably the way she wants it. She's always operated on the seedier side of things. Not always criminal, but she's not the type to take a job as a waitress or paralegal or some sort of career. I think the "straight life" doesn't appeal to her. She's a little edgier. She may not know where that next paycheck is coming from, but she doesn't tie herself to some job she'd hate, either. But I really stuck to the idea that she's not a "good guy." I mean, I think you're going to like her, root for her in the end, but she's definitely going to come off as seemingly unredeemable at times. It's funny, as Mark and I talked about her, as the scripts evolved, Mark never really said to me that he thought she was unlikeable -- she's bad, she's dark, but she's definitely human. And fun (I hope). You kind of want her to succeed, even if what she's a success at is often reprehensible.
As for the scams, I saw her running short cons -- simple jobs that get a little money that keeps her going to the next job presents herself. For instance, since she lives in NOLA, I saw her taking advantage of FEMA relief for victims of Katrina, applying for government funds under a bunch of aliases, etc. That was born out of Mark wanting to change the setting to New Orleans, and that scam just popped into my head, probably because I once served on a jury that convicted someone of doing something similar. And it was all in the news back then -- people pulling off those kinds of scams.
There's another one-shot con that happens. It's what gets her in trouble with the mob after she swindles cash from a bookie -- that we really won't see, but we'll see part of the set up -- which I basically got from "The Sting." I think they refer to it as "The Honest Stranger" or something like that.
You mentioned Felicia gains superpowers during a plane crash. What kind of powers does she sport and will they help or hurt her grifting career?
Thematically it plays into her personality of always up and leaving -- taking off or disappearing from one set up to the next when things get too much to bear. She's a survivor, but she's survived by never getting too involved. The fact that she discovers this power opens up a whole new world of crime possibilities, but it's rather short lived, since as soon as the local gangsters get wind of it, she's basically under their thumb -- or at least feels like she'll never get out from under them, as they'll bleed her and her ability dry.
I don't know if you want to get into this too much, but how does the jump from cons to assassination change Felicia?
You're right, I don't want to give away too much too soon. But I will say it definitely changes her. She's not really equipped or prepared to deal with the morality issues that arise from what's she's doing. When she was pulling scams -- she got a thrill from the game, basically. But ripping off the government through her FEMA con, or taking money off of somebody who should know better, is a much different animal than killing someone -- even if some of the targets she's given aren't exactly innocents. It will weigh on her. Heavily. And not without consequence.
I don't even know that I fully intended to go down that road with her when I first starting thinking of Felicia -- it was really Mark who suggested she start to be really affected by what she's doing. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but in a few issues she'll begin to experience a real break with reality, sparked by her conscience rearing up over what she's doing.
Let's talk about the world of "I Love Trouble," is it like our world, your basic superhero one or something different?
It's definitely our world -- contemporary setting, etc. Like I said, Eric wanted this to be populated with all sorts of folks developing powers, and the plan was to have other creators come up with characters, and I think the plan was there would be crossover and interplay among them down the line -- a larger story line may evolve from these different characters. Unfortunately, the other character concepts never really came into being. But I love the ambition of what Image was going for, and I think the plan may be to use "I Love Trouble" as a sort of test balloon -- see if it finds an audience and if it does, maybe there's room to expand up on it, both with the Felicia storyline and with other characters eventually. I certainly kept to the idea that there were others like Felicia out there -- each with different powers, that were showing up on the radar of public consciousness. In "I Love Trouble" I introduce a whole corporate substructure of companies that are looking to profit from this phenomena. There's also references that the government is becoming aware of it. Like I said, Eric conceived of this as a whole universe, so when he pitched it to me, it extended beyond Felicia and "I Love Trouble."
Having worked in film and TV, what challenges did working in the comic book format give you?
It's definitely different than scripts for TV or movies. But not that much different. Probably the biggest challenge I faced was how structured and metered a script for a comic is supposed to be. I always tried to have a change of scene or set up a big action beat or reveal as you turned the page, so that wasn't always easy. And the idea of a limited number of pages (22, 24, etc.) wasn't easy to deal with either -- I'd be getting down to the end of a scene, or the end of the script, and realize I didn't think I could squeeze it all in and truth be told, I cheated more than once -- some issues might have 23 pages in them.
Fortunately I could rely on Mark's comic book experience, which was immeasurably helpful. He's very cinematic in his approach to what I wrote, and given my film background, that gave us an immediate shorthand. And whatever flaws existed in my script, or my inexperience with the medium, were deftly covered by his handling of the art, especially when I didn't have enough panels to cover all the action in a particular scene and he expanded them. [He] just simply made what I wrote that much better; much more exciting. He had my back on this, more than once.
How did you and Mark hook up for this project?
After I wrote the first issue, which Eric seemed to dig, he started hitting me with possible artists to collaborate with. He told me about Mark, sent me a link to his Deviant Art page, and what can I say, the guy simply blew me away. So talented.
"I Love Trouble" from writer Kel Symons and artist Mark A. Robinson debuts December 5 from Image Comics.