Daydreams as Stories: Jody Houser on Valiant’s New ‘Faith’ Series [Interview]
There are few superheroes like Faith Herbert, a.k.a. Zephyr.
Aside from the obvious --- she's a superheroine whose body type is uncommon among comics superheroines --- Faith also has an attitude and outlook few others share. She's a fan, and as a result, she sees the world in a way unique among superpowered heroes.
Until now, both in the previous and current Valiant Universes, Faith has brought the perspective mostly to team books, with only a 2014 solo one-shot to her name --- and that was more or less a Unity tie-in. January 27th sees the release of her first true solo series. ComicsAlliance talked to writer Jody Houser about what we'll see through Faith's eyes with the help of artists Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage.
ComicsAlliance: Let’s start with a little bit about where we find Faith in this series. People who are familiar with the character from her appearances in Harbinger know her as a member of that team. She’s often seen in the context of a team. Here, we see her out on her own. For people who aren’t totally caught up, can you talk a little about how Faith finds herself in this situation?
Jody Houser: Sure. Over in Harbinger, Faith was part of a group called the Renegades, They were all psiots with varying powers, and they were fighting against Harada and other organizations that wanted to control the psiots. After all that happened, she went off with one of the members of the Renegades, Torque, who was her boyfriend at the time. They were sort of having some disagreements on how they wanted to use their public face and their powers. She ended up leaving him to go join Unity, which is the big, premiere superhero team in the Valiant Universe.
She went on one mission with Unity, which was a bit of a bloodbath, and she decided this really wasn’t her scene. So she left Unity. Just got in a cab and went off on her own. That’s pretty much where the new series picks up with her, which should make it pretty easy for new readers to get into, but everything that she went through previously, getting her powers and the teams she was a part of, are still very much a part of her identity. That will still come into play in the series.
CA: You brought up Torque. One thing that’s really interesting in the first issue is that Faith, on the one hand, is very plugged into the world around her. She does that thing that all of us have done since Facebook started, which is checking in on an ex when you probably shouldn’t.
JH: That’s the thing, though. She hasn’t actually been checking on him. She’s been hearing things.
CA: Yeah, I guess it’s more like she’s just had to be faced with him.
JH: It’s all over the press. What Torque really wanted to be was more of a celebrity than a superhero. That’s part of what really drove them apart, so at this point, both of them have what they wanted. She’s off doing the solo hero thing and he’s starring in a reality show of questionable quality, as many reality shows featuring celebrities who maybe shouldn’t be celebrities are. He’s well known enough and the show’s popular enough that it’s in the press and on social media.
Even though she’s really not trying to check up on him, she’s still getting bits and pieces and knows enough of what’s going on. In the first issue, the show is actually playing at her day job in the break room. So she kind of doesn’t have a choice but to see what’s going on with Torque, and Torque’s new girlfriend and all that nonsense.
CA: Sometimes that stuff is impossible to avoid.
JH: Especially for someone with a job like hers. Her whole job is dealing with pop culture and the things that everyone is keyed into at the current time. It’s very hard to avoid. Even if it’s not particularly a thing you like, everyone else in the office is going to be talking about it. That’s sort of makes for a fun thing, when you want to avoid your ex, but he’s determined to be a celebrity and you deal with celebrities in your day job.
CA: Superhero comics have tried to represent the lives of young adults in a lot of different ways. This issue presented the life of a young adult in a way I haven’t seen before. Certainly there have been bloggers and attempts to update superheroes who work at newspapers, but this feels almost more like an organic thing. She’s working at a site that isn’t Buzzfeed or TMZ, but certainly has that feel—
JH: Yeah, I have a friend who works at Buzzfeed and has done a fair amount of comics coverage, so I think that’s maybe where a little bit of that comes from, and of course everyone spends a little bit of their day sneaking and looking at Buzzfeed.
The one thing that I think is interesting with Buzzfeed that did play into the model there is that it’s very much lists, time wasters, polls and quizzes, but they do genuine news coverage. I’ve heard a lot of discussion about the state of news and where it’s headed. Buzzfeed represents one possible model. In a sense, it’s a bit of a joke that journalism is dead, but there’s also the fact that journalism is changing. I didn’t want it to just be a joke. I wanted it to be a little more representative of where the world is headed.
CA: There’s also a really great sequence in the issue where she kind of daydreams a little bit about saving an actor named Chris. It’s noted that he’s in superhero movies. There are a number of Chrises that could be. That’s not necessarily her going on Tumblr, but it sort of read like a nod to Tumblr. You don’t force it, but it just seems like an essential part of her character that she’s plugged into social media. This is her thought process.
JH: I did try to pull from my own life, my own experience being a fan online a little bit. Faith isn’t the same type of fan that I am, necessarily, but I think all fans when you’re trying to reach out and geek out about the latest episode of Doctor Who or speculate about what’s in the next phase of Marvel movies, there are the sort of general places on the internet that you go. That becomes a frame of reference for a lot of us in referencing being a geek and fandom and all of that.
There’s a little bit of shorthand there, sometimes, like, “Oh, you like this character? Who do you ship them with? Obviously yourself.” I actually do really love the Chris thing. I wrote him to be an amalgam of all the Chrises in superhero movies. He doesn’t even have a last name. He’s just Chris.
CA: Chris Chris. Chris Christopher.
JH: Chris Christiansen.
CA: On top of her savviness, though, there’s also almost a level of naivete to her. She always wants to do the right thing, but her approach is occasionally a little reckless. For example, she gets involved in an argument with her neighbors. Another time, she commutes to work in an interesting way and gets caught on camera. Is that part of her arc for his series, maybe learning some things?
JH: She’s not just fairly new to being a superhero. This is really her first time out on her own as an adult. I think all of us go through that phase of, “I’m an adult! I can eat ice cream for dinner! I can stay up all night!” We sort of have to get to that point where we figure out how to balance the choices we make and what’s good for us and what we want to indulge in a little bit. She’s doing that on a larger scale because she has the superhero stuff to do with. She loves superheroes. She’s always wanted to be a superhero.
Her decisions right off the bat, by herself, aren’t necessarily going to be the best ones because she’s so blinded by her love of what she can do and who she wants to be. There is very much of a learning curve for her here. She doesn’t have a team and a larger goal at the moment to guide her, so she’s kind of playing it by ear and basing on the comics, TV shows and movies she grew up with. There’s a little bit of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. A lot of it is based on the idea that she’s so happy and having so much fun. That’s good. It’s good to have a positive view on life. But maybe you should proceed with a little more caution than she has.
CA: Something that invariably always comes for Faith is that she is one of very few superheroes who are plus-size. Do you feel that there's a need to address that in the series, or is it best to just let her be her without pointing to it?
JH: I think it's fine to address it if it comes up in a way that makes sense for the overall story, but I don't want to shoehorn something in just to call attention to it either. The way I keep phrasing it is that she's a superhero who's plus size rather than a plus-size superhero, which I feel is an important distinction to make. She's too rich a character to be defined solely by her body type.
CA: Do you feel like you should point to her size if only because, for some readers, she's the only superhero who looks like them?
JH: I've gotten a wonderful response from some readers, women in particular, who have reached adulthood without ever seeing a superhero who looked like them on the cover of a comic book. So it is important to let the audience who has been waiting for this book know that it exists. But I know that most of those readers want to see a fully-realized character as well.
CA: We see quite a few of Faith's daydreams in the first issue, and I think it's a great storytelling device we don't get in team books. For example, there's a really funny part where she imagines some bad guys she's about to face. What made you decide to use that as a storytelling technique?
JH: I initially included it in the first issue as a fun way to get a look inside Faith's head. When I found out that we were able to get Marguerite Sauvage on the book alongside Francis, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to expand that throughout the series. Everyone has their little daydreams and fantasies and they really say a lot about who the person is.
CA: In one panel, there's a robot who definitely looks similar to, but legally distinct from a Dalek. That's just one of several nods to Faith being a fan of what you might call nerdier hobbies. How much of those little nods are in your scripts, and how much of it is just Francis Portela having fun?
JH: I think the script said something along the lines of "resembles these characters just enough so that no one gets sued.” Part of the fun of writing a character like Faith is including all of the nods to comics and sci-fi and fantasy that she and many of the readers love.
CA: What would you tell fans who aren't too familiar with Faith to get them to check out the series?
JH: More than anything else, Faith is one of us. She's the superhero fan who gets to be the superhero and make a difference. Her moral code was inspired by the same characters that we all grew up with. I think she's one of the most identifiable characters in comics, and she's really been a joy to write.
Faith #1 is on sale this week, Wednesday 27 January.