"What if superheroes were real?" is obviously a heavily mined premise for countless expressions of American comics' most enduring genre category. Less common is the premise, "No, I mean, what if superheroes were really real?" put forth by Jay Faerber in many of the comics he's written over the last decade, most especially the multi-volume Noble Causes and its spinoff Dynamo 5, which detail the personal lives of a dynasty of heroes. Faerber's fascination with the intersection of real people and fantastical powers continues in Anti-Hero, a new digital-first work for Monkeybrain whose first issue imagines how a superhero's lifestyle would impact the stability of his family, with an added twist: what happens when that superhero's secret identity is compromised by an opportunistic street criminal?

ComicsAlliance took a first look at artist Nate Stockman's completed pages from Anti-Heroand spoke with Faerber about his new work and the appeal of the digital-first model.

ComicsAlliance: Jay, I'm intrigued by what you've said about your previous work dividing along genre lines -- superhero and crime, specifically-- and your desire to fuse them somehow. Was this the actual impetus for creating Anti-Hero, making something that would consciously take from two different aesthetics?

Jay Faerber: Yes, Anti-Hero was born out of noticing a real divide along the people who've read my previous work. Sure, I'm lucky to have people who've read and enjoyed both my superhero books (like Dynamo 5 and Noble Causes) and also my crime books (like Near Death and Point of Impact). But I've come across a number of people who are only into crime or superheroes -- not both. So it got me to thinking -- is there a way to come up with something that might appeal to both sides at the same time? A book that has enough superhero stuff to appeal to the superhero fans, with enough of a crime book sensibility for the crime book fans? And then one day, the idea for Anti-Hero just popped into my head.

The book's about a low level mobster who discovers the secret identity of Paragon, a superhero, and uses that information to blackmail the hero into essentially doing his bidding. And I should acknowledge, of course, that I'm nowhere near the first person to do this sort of genre merging. Characters like Batman and the Punisher already merge the superhero and crime stuff, and Ed Brubaker has done marvelous things with Sleeper and Incognito. The point is, this was a new approach for me.

As I write this, I've already written five issues of Anti-Hero, and I honestly can't say how well I walk that tightrope. Some people may feel it's too much of a superhero book, or too much of a crime book. But I hope they'll sample the series and decide for themselves. I'm having a helluva fun time with it.

CA: You've described being blown away by Nate Stockman's work. I'm always curious to know what qualities creators see in each other that inspires the collaboration. What was it about Nate's work that struck you as so perfect for this book?

JF: A few things. I like coming across a new (to me) artist who has a lot of work in his or her portfolio. Frequently I'll come across an artist's website and the stuff will look great, but there's very little of it. A few sequential pages, some sketches and some pin-ups. But when I come across someone with a lot of work, it says to me that they're inspired and they're hungry and dedicated. That's the vibe I got from Nate. For someone relatively unknown, he had a ton of material to show.

And within that material, his sequentials showed a wide range. He wasn't afraid of drawing two people having a conversation. He wasn't afraid of drawing "the boring stuff." He wasn't afraid of upshots or downshots, or crowded panels, or big action-y pieces.

I had the same reaction to Nate that I had when I came across Mahmud Asrar and Yildiray Cinar -- a sort of "where have you been all my life?" kinda thing. In all of these cases, I'd immediately wonder what the "catch" was. Were these guys really slow? Flakes? A--holes? Fortunately, so far the answer has been "D" -- none of the above.

CA: You're one of a relatively few veteran American creators who's producing digital-first projects. It's easy to see the appeal for up and comers with respect to economics and distribution and so forth, but I'd like to know what someone who's come up in the traditional system thinks about the digital first business and Monkeybrain in particular, with whom you've done two books so far.

JF: It still feels like uncharted territory for me. I love seeing what Mark Waid has been doing over at Thrillbent, and I'm an avid fan of the entire Monkeybrain line. What really appeals to me is the immediacy of it all. Earlier today I asked [Monkeybrain co-owner] Allison [Baker] just how late I can wait to get her issue #2 of Anti-Hero, because I want to put off writing that issue's text piece as long as possible so it's as current as possible. And the answer was surprising. And I'm sure there's some cushion in there, since Allison needs time to format and upload all the stuff to ComiXology. But it's still a nice, narrow window, which you don't get with print.

I also like playing with price and issue length. Our first issue is 16 pages for 99 cents. Issue #2 is eight pages for 99 cents, and issue #3 and up will generally be 10 pages for 99 cents. I considered beefing up issue #2 a bit, to get it to at least 10 pages. But honestly, eight pages felt like the perfect length for that installment, and any attempts to expand it just felt like padding. But I like writing these short, pulpy chapters with big cliffhangers each month and a brisk pace.

I'm not ready to say that individual comic books (the monthly releases, not the trade paperbacks) are going away, but I really like the "digital first/printed trade paperback later" model, and that's what we're pursuing with Anti-Hero. That's not to say I'm never going to release single issues again. I've got some other projects in development that we're taking the traditional route. But I like having this digital world to experiment with and I'm very eager to see what kind of results we get.

Anti-Hero #1 goes on sale June 26 at ComiXology. It can be digitally pre-ordered starting right now.

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