A Human Story in a Dystopian World: Lee Bermejo Discusses ‘The Suiciders’ [Interview]
This week sees the debut of The Suiciders, a new ongoing Vertigo series from writer/artist Lee Bermejo set in a post-apocalyptic near future Southern California where enhanced gladiators fight to the death for the public's entertainment. It's Bermejo's first major comics work in a few years, and his first ever original ongoing series, so we took some time to talk to him about how he conceived of the project, and the disparate elements that he's blending together to create this story.
ComicsAlliance: In the first issue you cover a lot of ground --- introducing the cast, establishing the setting, and setting up an undercurrent of social and cultural issues that, I anticipate, will play a large part in the ongoing story. The Suiciders incorporates familiar elements of dystopian sci-fi, while also touching on politics, and giving nods to reality TV and entertainment culture, and it's not all that easy to summarize in a simple sentence. So how did you go about pitching this series to Vertigo, once you came up with the concept?
Lee Bermejo: I pitched it as post-apocalyptic sci-fi, mixed with L.A. noir. That's essentially what I wanted to do: something that had the trappings of an '80s sci-fi movie like Mad Max, Escape From New York, Robocop, or something like that, but mix it with the kind of story that I like to tell. Something where you have this muscular, bombastic element that's visually rich and fun, nestled inside of a more human story.
So that's what I set out to do. You mentioned there are pieces that seem ripped from the headlines today, and I definitely think that's true… Obviously, the concept of immigration is a big element of the story, and will become more so in future issues. And that's something that's pretty close to me. I'm an immigrant myself. I'm American, but I've lived in Italy for eleven years, and that's something that here, like in the US, is a big deal.
And I grew up in Southern California, so I grew up in the shadow of this possible huge earthquake that was supposed to decimate everything, and that seemed like an interesting starting place for some kind of sci-fi story.
CA: Well, Southern California, and Los Angeles in particular, has a long history of post-apocalyptic interpretations, from Blade Runner to Demolition Man to Resident Evil. When you started creating your own spin on this, how did you go about constructing it? Did you use reference for Los Angeles as it is today, and then transform that? Or did you invent a lot of it wholesale?
LB: I invented a lot of it, but… Growing up nearby, I'm pretty familiar with it, so I know more or less the trappings of what makes L.A., and I didn't want to be a slave to drawing any particular location. I wanted to do something that allowed me to be creative.
With most of the projects I've done, even when I've done Batman, I try to do Gotham in my own way. It's something that I really enjoy, artistically. So I'm trying to give it the feeling of L.A., that's what [colorist] Matt Hollingsworth and I have been talking about, is just having if feel like Los Angeles. And that's kind of a difficult thing to describe or verbalize, but you know when you get it right.
CA: How carefully do you have the world mapped out? Do you know how all the locations fit together, did you sit down and make charts and figure it out, either in your head or on paper, or are you letting it grow naturally?
LB: Well, I've had this idea kicking around in one form or another for like ten years, I remember talking to Scott Dunbier about it back when I was still at Wildstorm – it was a slightly different idea, but still had most of these elements. So this is something that I've had a long time to internalize, and I suppose the kind of storyteller that I am, the rules of the world are more important to me than the specific details.
I mean, I know where the wall is, and all the different areas, you kind of have to know where all those things would be. But there's that fantasy element allowing you to play within that, within the rules and the history. It's like I've set up a huge place to play, and now I get to fill in the areas as I go.
I guess if anything, I wanted to do something like what Frank Miller did with Sin City, and create a world that I can explore all the different dark corners of, and know that I can always find places for anything I decide to include in the story.
CA: So then, not just the world, but the direction you're taking the world – how carefully do you have this all plotted out, and how far in advance do you have the story planned?
LB: Well, I know I have eighteen issues. And there's a lot of room to go from there, and a lot of directions I want to explore beyond that, and even within that --- I haven't scripted everything, and like I said, there are dark corners to get lost in along the way --- but eighteen issues is what I have fully, fully mapped out at this point.
CA: In the first issue, we're introduced to a few different characters. There's the fighter, who's the obligatory lead; there's the characters who set up the immigration dynamic, and give us a sense of the black market, criminal underbelly of this world; and then there's the reporter, who gives us, as readers, a way into the story. Do you have more plans for her to take a more active role as the series rolls on, or is her primary function to be the audience's stand-in?
LB: She's definitely in the first three issues, and… Well, the first story arc is essentially about establishing two main characters, and setting up a series of supporting characters. The first main character in this story is The Saint, who is the best Suicider, the best one of these futuristic gladiators --- and the second main character is an immigrant character that you'll get introduced to in the second issue, who essentially comes to the city to become one of these fighters.
So it's really a story about one guy who's at the top, and his life starts to unravel for various reasons, and then you have this other character who's trying to get to the top. I was really interested in setting up these two parallel stories, and how they could play off of each other. I like human stories about what it takes to get to the top, what it takes to be really great at something, what you have to give up along the way, what you have to do to yourself to accomplish certain things. And what people are capable of doing to make their dreams come true.
The Suiciders #1 is available online and in stores now.