See Jack Run… B. Clay Moore talks "The Expatriate"

Wed, December 8th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

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Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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Next February sees the release of a new ongoing series, "The Expatriate" from Image Comics. "Hawaiian Dick" and "Battle Hymn" creator B. Clay Moore writes with art provided by Jason Latour. It's affectionately described as a spy book…without spies. What it will have is action and adventure on a high level and Moore spoke with CBR News about the series.

"It's the story of a man named Jack Dexter who's on the run from the CIA," Moore told CBR News Tuesday. "He doesn't know why, but he knows he can't be caught dead or alive. He's out of the country, running from a couple of nasty CIA agents who have a propensity for popping anyone who gets in their way.

"In the first issue, Jack is stumbling through a nameless banana republic when he runs into the wife of a local politician. And she manages to complicate things, with the CIA right on his heels.

"Anyway, Jack only knows one thing: He cannot get caught. If he gets caught, some incredibly weird shit is going to happen. And he manages to avoid being caught. For a while, anyway."

In addition to Jack, readers will also be introduced to Agents Conrad and Murphy.

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"Conrad's the older, more experienced of the two, and Murphy's younger and more by-the-book," said Moore. "But neither one is likely to cry at a wedding. We open the book with an intentionally shocking act of violence to help demonstrate where these cats are coming from.

"In the first issue we also meet Maria Lobo, wife of a local politico, and her brother, Luis. When Jack, trying to lay low, witnesses a heated debate between Luis and Maria (and some fat dude) he feels compelled to step in. Even though he doesn't understand a word they're saying. Turns out Maria speaks English. Naturally, she complicates things for a man on the run from two maniacs in black. She has plans of her own."

Clearly there's a larger mystery going on here, but the question is how long are readers going to have to wait for answers? Often times with stories that involve deep conspiracies readers are taken for a long ride with few answers, but Moore said he won't be teasing readers for too long.

"We'll give them many of the answers within the first four issues," said Moore. "You can't really beat around the bush that much in comics, or you lose your audience. So, yeah, we jump into the strange stuff by the end of issue three. In fact, if anyone says they aren't surprised by what ultimately happens to Jack, they're reading our notes. Or Robert Kirkman told them.

"Of course, we won't reveal all the answers then, but enough will be revealed to give readers a pretty clear idea what kind of ride they're in for. They should expect the unexpected. And, yes, things will continue to evolve, as well. The book is ongoing, after all."

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One comparison to "The Expatriate" that comes to mind are the Jason Bourne books written by Robert Ludlum and popularized in the feature films starring Matt Damon. While you might think it was an inspiration, Moore says he's never read any of the Bourne books, nor has he seen the films. "My parents were Ludlum freaks when I was growing up. Maybe I absorbed something through osmosis.

"This is going to sound ridiculous, but the initial inspiration for the book came from a Jimmy Buffett song. There's a song of his called 'Banana Republics' (which was actually written by Steve Goodman), about 'expatriated Americans' who have split for some tropical hideaway. The chorus goes:

"Some of them are running from lovers, leaving no forward address


Some of them are running tons of ganja


Some are running from the I.R.S.

"I started kicking around the idea of a guy who's running from his country, and then started wondering why he'd be running. Jason Latour is the only guy in comics I know who doesn't run in terror when Jimmy Buffett's playing, and once I realized that, it made it easier to explain the genesis of the idea to him.

"Other than that, I was inspired by a whole range of pop cultural icons. There's a lot of sixties-era pulp and spy fiction in there, of course. I'm always influenced by writers like Warren Ellis and Alan Moore when it comes to building characters (particularly through dialogue)."

And Moore points out that even though some may try to draw comparisons to other spy thrillers, he's set things up in "The Expatriate" to go in unexpected directions.

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"While I've taken some heat from people who don't want to see comics grow beyond 1994, I really believe the only way to save the industry is to keep pushing forward," said Moore. "I think we need to take more chances, and realize the potential of a medium where anything is possible. This story takes a turn toward the end of issue three that will completely negate any comparisons to Ludlum.

"There's only so much excitement to be had in watching a guy run and run and run. If he's running from something beyond his imagination, then it's probably more interesting to see him get caught and see what it is that's in store for him. Right?

"So guess what happens to him?"

Moore is hoping to break some new ground with "The Expatriate," looking to go beyond the accepted and expected boundaries of the genre.

"Warren Ellis, in a recent Bad Signal, talked about telling the writer of a struggling superhero book that he might as well pull out the stops and pull some off-the-wall, crazy shit, since it couldn't hurt sales too much. Might as well go out with a bang, and maybe it'll turn people on.

"Well, I think there's no reason more people couldn't kick books off with that attitude. Inject some life into a dying industry. Go for the crazy ideas, and set aside the tired old stuff that has cost us so many readers over the years.

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"At various times during the Baltimore Comicon this year, I sat down with Jason, Robert Kirkman, Chris Piers and Tony Moore and ran the craziest ideas I could think of past them. The honest truth is I couldn't say what inspired the ideas, other than a desire to bend convention and break new ground. But they all reacted so strongly to the ideas that I decided to give them a shot. Kirkman was the one who insisted I make it an ongoing, and once I talked Jason into it, we were set.

"When I got back home, I called Image Executive Director Eric Stephenson, who I'd already talked to about the basic concept of a guy running from the CIA, and before I could tell him about my idea, he said, 'Yeah, Kirkman already sold me on the idea. Sounds great.'

"At that point Jason and I kicked the work into high gear."

Compared to Moore's previous work in "Hawaiian Dick" or his plans for the World War II super hero story "Battle Hymn," "The Expatriate" is a dramatic shift for the writer in style and format as "The Expatriate" is his first ongoing series. Moore said writing the series has presented some new challenges for the writer.

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"Well, planning long term is a new experience," said Moore. "While I've certainly got an idea of where I want 'Hawaiian Dick' to go in the long run, publishing the book as a series of mini-series means the focus is generally on the short term. 'Battle Hymn' was designed as a finite story, so my planning only extended to the end of issue five.

"With this book, I feel like I've got room to stretch out, introduce some subtle subplots, and build a storytelling web designed to snag the reader. We're going to be doing this book for a while, after all. And since we're at Image, there's no one holding us back from doing anything we want."

Moore calls his artistic partner Jason Latour "one of the most talented guys I know." Latour's been around, having produced the "Four Seats Left" online strip as well as one-page back-up strips in Robert Kikrman's "Invincible." "[Jason's] a lot like ('The Walking Dead' and 'Five Dead Men' artist) Tony Moore in that his growth curve is amazing. Both guys have gotten so good in such a short period of time.

"We met when I was first looking for an artist for 'Battle Hymn' a year or two ago, and hit it off right away. So we knew each other pretty well before we really dug into this book, which helped.

"Jason's one of those rare guys who pay attention to each panel without losing sight of the page as a whole. He's like a sponge, and he really listens to the advice he gets from the guys at the top of the field. He's willing to learn how to grow without simply imitating stuff he grew up on. As good as he is now, I can't wait to see where he is in a year."

If you're looking for a comic with big action sequences and a good deal of violence, you'll find that within the pages of "The Expatriate," but Moore says he won't be leaning on those story elements as a crutch.

"Jason's obviously been influenced by films, as have I, but I don't introduce action into a scene unless I can 'see' how it'll play out on the comic page," said Moore. "The comic book page has an advantage over film in that it allows you to 'linger' on an act of violence for as long as you want to. It's like taking a snapshot of a ballet. With blood.

"The violence in this book (and there is quite a bit) has been carefully choreographed. We'd like to blend the visceral thrill of violence with intelligent, intriguing, and addictive storytelling. And I think we're doing that."

 
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