The Names: Talking High Finance And Bloody Revenge With Peter Milligan [Interview]
Today sees the release The Names #1 by Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez. Published by Vertigo and described as Kill Bill meets The Wolf Of Wall Street, the book tells the story of Katya Walker, a woman who is thrown into a web of financial and technological intrigue after the sudden suicide of her husband — a suicide that we learn in the first pages of issue #1 was not committed out of despair but at the behest of a man called the Surgeon, working for a world-dominating cabal of financiers known only as the Names. Dubious that her husband would take his own life, Katya’s search for the truth takes the reader through a violent, decadent and technologically advanced world of money and power that teaches the young woman not just about the chilling reality of how the world works, but about the role her husband was subtly preparing her to take should the Names ever go too far.
Drawn in a wildly expressive and sexy style by Leandro Fernandez with delicate, moody colors by Cris Peter, The Names has some aesthetic and narrative similarities to Vertigo’s revenge epic 100 Bullets, but with a very contemporary theme obviously inspired by current events such as the Global Economic Crisis and, presumably, the enduringly frustrating fact that its cruel architects have not been brought to justice.
ComicsAlliance sat down with Milligan to talk about the real-world inspiration for The Names, his plans for the project, and to break down some special moments from its first issue.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Names #1.
ComicsAlliance: The Names revolves around the world of high-tech and high-finance – shadowy figures on Wall Street, controlling money and information. Have you taken much of that setting from real life, or are you creating your own reality to some degree?
Peter Milligan: Some of the story certainly revolves around those themes. But the more I read and talked to people about the reality of the high-finance world, the more it became apparent that it’s a pretty dull place to witness: long gone are the days of Alpha Males with erections reading ticker tape. Now it’s all cyber space and flash buys. Fascinating, scary, possibly insane, possibly destined to be our downfall, but less dramatic.
So I’ve used some of the settings, and some of the reality of how I see the financial world to be, to create a system that’s powerful, creating uncontrollable Frankenstein’s monsters, full of internecine trouble, and dominated by psychopaths. In other worlds, probably not unlike the financial system that rules our world.
CA: This first issue is structured in a way that doubles up on the suspense – when we’re following Katya, we’re as mystified as she is by the events surrounding her, but we also cut away and get tantalizing glimpses of the bigger picture. Will you be parceling out more information to the readers as the series goes on, and shifting that balance at all?
PM: The Names is a story about a woman who might feel that she’s in a kind of maze. She’s unable to find her way forward or out because she can’t see the whole picture. So cutting between Katya, down in that maze, struggling with what little information she has, to the bigger picture, to characters like Stoker — a senior member of the Names — all this helps create a kind of tension and suspense. By peeping over the labyrinth wall, we might see the Minotaur waiting… which Katya cannot yet see.
CA: The story begins with an ending – the apparent suicide of Kevin Walker, a character we meet and lose almost immediately. Will he prove to be important as the series continues, or does he simply function as the catalyst for what’s to come, a device to get things moving?
PM: I wanted to start with the pivotal scene: the scene that changes Katya’s life and ends Kevin’s. But more than that, I wanted to introduce the Surgeon, the idea of the Names, and show that this is no ordinary suicide, this is no ordinary murder.
Kevin Walker’s death is the catalyst for Katya to go on her search. But though dead, Kevin will continue to have an influence on the story, and continue to be a presence in Katya’s life. Sometimes this will take physical form: sometimes it’s to do with Katya’s feelings for and attitude towards this man: Katya thought they told each other everything. She’s finding out that he had a very big and very dark secret.
CA: We first meet Katya in the morgue, where she insists on seeing her husband’s remains – and quickly jump to a single page of her in the gym, sparring with a partner. Those moments flash by, but are there specific details we should be paying attention to in those sequences?
PM: When we meet Katya in the morgue she refuses to believe the police. This tells us that she thinks she knows her husband, and she doesn’t believe he’d kill himself. But it also shows us that she’s the type of woman who’ll stand up for herself.
In the next scene we see Katya sparring with a partner. Whereas the previous scene showed us how mentally tough Katya is, this little scene shows us she can physically look after herself. But the wild way she fights in this scene also shows us how affected she is by Kevin’s death. And at the end, she fears that Kevin was keeping stuff from her. Fears that will be proved to be true.
CA: The pivotal sequence in the issue is Katya at home, watching her husband’s message, talking with her “friend” Marco, and dealing with the consequences of his visit. These pages are structured masterfully: small overlapping panels, leading straight into a vertical splash – and the focal color going from blue to red… Were all those elements in the script, or did you try different approaches to this scene or play around with the details to create the intended impact?
PM: The panels are laid out in the script pretty much as you see them, but not exactly. I believe the vertical splash was Leandro’s brilliant idea. Leo might play things around a little and have some wonderful ideas, in which case of they’re incorporated. Some artists seem to play around with panel shapes or layout purely for the sake of it Here Leandro has done it right. The layout should serve the narrative, tell the story. And in this critical scene we really get a sense of the thunderbolt that’s hitting Katya.
This is one of the first “messages” that Katya will get from Kevin from beyond the grave. I like its classic spy or suspense story feel. Note also that the phone Kevin’s left the message on is unlike your average iPhone or Androids.
CA: How did Leandro Fernandez come onboard the book?
PM: Once the concept and the story were pretty well sorted, we looked for an artist and Leandro just seemed a perfect fit. I think Will pulled him in; Leandro liked the story and signed up. Leandro then brought a new dimension to the story: his artwork, a little heightened but still realistic enough – was perfect.
CA: In general, the color is a vital element of the mood and story in this issue – are you and Leandro working closely with Cris Peter on this? Is he someone you’d worked with before?
PM: No, I don’t believe I’ve worked with Cris before. I have my input when the colors come in, but Leandro really does work closely with Cris here. Leandro is incredibly concerned to get the colors just right and he and Cris have a lot of interaction.
CA: Celia Calle’s covers to the first few issues are also stunning – mysterious, evocative, packed with detail. Were you familiar with her work, previous to her coming on to this series?
PM: I was aware of Celia’s work. I thought she was perfect for this book. She had that heavily designed feel of a mildly kinky film poster, with a kind of charged hyper-realism. I love what she’s doing.
CA: The first issue has a bit of a gritty ’70s thriller feel – a mix of brutality and intrigue, an innocent caught in a conspiracy. Are there any particular inspirations in terms of content and mood?
PM: I wasn’t consciously going after a ’70s feel, but I did want it to read like a thriller. I wanted something tonally that the reader could recognize and feel comfortable with and hold on to, amid all the confusion, mystery and enigma.
CA: In this first issue, you’ve set up quite a few… Well, I don’t know that it’s as black and white as heroes and villains, but let’s say opposing protagonists.
PM: There are some characters in The Names who are very much heroes and others who can only be called villains. But generally, as we get to know them, we see most of the characters are or at least become quite nuanced. There are more major players to be revealed, and major themes, and one major society within a society.
Continuing the tone of a thriller, The Names has a lot of twists and reveals, though hopefully never losing sight of its main story: a young woman trying to find out the truth about her dead husband, and in so doing uncovering disturbing things about her husband and the dangerous, powerful world he occupied.
CA: Is there a long-term plan in place with this series, and how precise is it? Do you have a definite roadmap, or just an eventual destination?
PM: The Names is planned as a nine-part series. I have a kind of road map: I know the final scene of episode nine. But as to exactly how we get there, what detours or horrible accidents we might have to pass through, I like to keep that a little fluid.