Mike Carey on Suicide Risk: exclusive interview (english version)

Suicide Risk Mike Carey Comic Talk Interview

Jeffzewanderer Par

British writer Mike Carey is the author of many superb series such as The Unwritten (and its ongoing sequel The Unwritten: Apocalypse), Lucifer, Crossing Midnight, as well as notable runs on Hellblazer and X-Men Legacy and also several novels including the Felix Castor series.

He is also currently writing the great Suicide Risk, with art by Elena Casagrande, published by Boom. We asked him to tell us more about this book and its universe.

Let’s start off with a traditional question : can you tell our readers what Suicide Risk is about ? It seems it started as a revenge story but very quickly became something much bigger.

I guess at the outset it’s the very familiar scenario of a man who wants to see justice done – and wants it badly enough to take it into his own hands.  Leo Winters is a cop in an America that’s seeing a wave, almost an epidemic of supervillains.  And the process whereby you get superpowers is ridiculously easy, so he decides to do it.  He goes to these street dealers and buys himself some powers, even though he knows that most of the people who do this either start out bad or go bad very quickly.  However good their motives are, they end up using their powers for selfish and illegal ends.

Leo thinks he’ll be different – he’s sure that he can handle it.  But it’s only when he’s on the other side of the procedure that he gets some inkling of what he’s done to himself – as he begins to experience memories of another life as another man, the supervillain Requiem.

We always intended the series to open up gradually from a very intimate and personal story to one that was much bigger and more epic in feel.  And at this point the reveals are coming thick and fast.

Suicide Risk Mike Carey Comic Talk Interview

Leo Winters getting his powers

The world of the series indeed seems to become more complex (in a good way), especially with the latest issues (#10-12 as I’m writing this). Can you tell us a bit more about your « world building » process ? It seemed to me, among other things, that in order to avoid having to explain too much, you took advantage of the fact that some elements (super-villains and super-heroes, magic…) are self evident to comic-book readers…

Yeah, very much so. As with The Unwritten, we wanted readers to feel pretty certain they knew what they were reading – and then to deviate from that template once we were underway.  With Suicide Risk, the superhero narrative is the kernel of a bigger sci-fi narrative that expands to fill the frame once Leo starts to remember his other life and the other world where he lived it.  All of that stuff was in the pitch – in fact, made up the core of the pitch – so the mechanics of how the two worlds are connected and the crisis in [Requiem's worldUltramar that has led to the current situation all had to be worked out in advance.  Much as Tom’s arc had to be fully worked out in advance in The Unwritten.  There’s plenty of scope for varying other elements, but the skeleton is rigid.  I guess that’s how I’d describe my world building.

Another characteristic element of the book is the rather realistic way in which the superpowers are handled, especially their mechanics (Leo/Requiem’s manipulation of primal forces, Plane Jane’s bio-rythms…). How important is this « real world » aspect to your writing ?

It’s very important in this case, yes.  There’s a reveal coming up soon about how Leo’s powers really work, and it has to be grounded at least a little bit in real-world physics or it will fall flat.

But more generally I like fictions that take the trouble to be consistent and committed.  For example the rule of names in Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, or the many rivals types of magic in China Mieville’s Bas Lag novels.  These things are the skeleton and scaffolding of the story, and if the writer doesn’t invest in them everything can end up feeling very cheap and flimsy.

But it’s very definitely a case of horses for courses.  There are also types of story where giving too clear and worked-out an explanation can do more harm than good.  In a lot of horror, the implicit trumps the explicit.

Suicide Risk Mike Carey Comic Talk Interview

The realistic handling of superpowers

Speaking of Leo, the title of the book, Suicide Risk, clearly refers to him I think. Can you tell us a bit more about this ? In what sense is he a suicide risk ?

When he first starts to use his powers, everything he does rebounds on him so he’s in danger of killing himself.  When he manipulates the water in the pipes in issue 2, for example, there’s a period of time when water flows away from him as though it’s afraid of him. In the first instance the title refers to that.

But by the time we get to the current arc – around about issue 12 or so on – it’s clear that there are really two minds, two personalities, existing side by side inside Leo.  He can be himself or he can be Requiem.  He can’t be both.  If he’s going to continue to access the Requiem persona inside himself, then the Leo Winters persona has to cease to exist.  And in the same way Tracey can either be Leo’s daughter or Requiem’s – Tracey Winters or Terza Nimari.  There are some tough, not to say devastating choices to be made.

Family is an important theme in the story, isn’t it ?

Very much so – and that’s true for most of the things I write.  Even The Girl With All the Gifts [Note : Mike Carey's Latest novel] is really built around a relationship that’s quasi-mother-daughter.

In Suicide Risk I very much wanted to let the consequences of Leo’s decision play out fully – and the implications have to go far beyond him.  Every relationship he’s ever been in is suddenly thrown into the melting pot, and the most intense and meaningful ones are the ones that are most profoundly affected.  If it’s a tragedy, it’s a family tragedy more than anything.  So I tried hard to draw in the family relationships as vividly as I could in the early issues, and I kept the family in the narrative frame after Leo left them and got drawn into all the supervillain craziness.  I worry sometimes that [Leo's sonDanny gets left out of the mix, because there’s so much emphasis on Leo’s relationships with [his wife] Suni and Tracey.  But we do see Danny and Tracey together a lot, and perhaps we can infer from their scenes together how close and supportive a family this is. You need to feel that in order for the story to have any resonance.

Suicide Risk Mike Carey Comic Talk Interview

Leo’s family : Suni, Tracy and Danny

Will you also keep doing these single issues in between arcs like #5 or #10 to flesh-out secondary characters ?

I’d like to keep having the interstitial stories, but it might be something we forego as we accelerate towards the climax. There’s definitely one more coming, in issue 14, but it’s much more tied into what’s happening in the main arc.  It’s a two-hander between Tracey and Diva.  I think there might be one more after that, and then we’ll roll right on towards the big, final beats – which we’ll probably hit in the mid-twenties as far as numbering goes. That’s a comparatively short run, if your benchmarks are Lucifer and The Unwritten, but it feels right for the story.

When you say it « feels right », do you mean it’s something that became apparent as you wrote the book (maybe as part of the « varying elements » you mentioned earlier when discussing your world building process ?), or was this comparatively short run something you had set your mind to from the beginning ?

I didn’t go into the series with a clear sense of its duration, no. But I did go in with a rough road map, in the sense that the climax was largely worked out and I knew what I was building towards.  But there are always lots of different roads that will take you through a story. Once I was fully embarked on Suicide Risk, I found I was taking one of the shorter roads – getting to major turning points in the plot quite quickly.  There’s an element of conscious forward planning and an element of organic growth.  Hopefully they work together in a seamless way, but not always.  In this instance once I got to the close of the Nightmare Scenario arc [Note : #6-9] I thought « there’s just no reason not to go there ».  No reason not to bring Leo and Requiem into direct conflict.

Suicide Risk Mike Carey Comic Talk Interview

Leo or Requiem?

Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration with the artists on the book, especially Elena Casagrande ?

Working with Elena is great.  This is a book with a very high head count – a lot of characters to be imagined and rendered, and a lot of superpowers to be visually expressed.  She’s great at both the human and the superhuman sides of that equation.  I mean, she draws believable and relatable people, and she also has a great feel for how to render the kind of special effects you need on a superhero book.

There’s a continuum in terms of how closely you get to work with an artist, and it generally depends on how well the editor does her job – I mean, the part of her job that has to do with communications.  Elena always does character sketches and lets me comment on them before she starts laying out pages. And Dafna is always punctilious in letting me see concept art and layouts as they come in. So it feels like a very organic and rewarding collaboration. It doesn’t always work out like that.

How would you describe the look of the book ? What are you and Elena Casagrande going for in terms of design ?

I think it’s a fairly classic realist style, which is what you need in a mainstream superhero book to make the audience suspend their disbelief.  There are shifts and modulations once we get to Ultramar and into the more science-fictional side of the story, but that’s the main palette.

Suicide Risk Mike Carey Comic Talk Interview

Nightmare Scenario (counter-clockwise from bottom-right corner): Prometheus, Just A Feeling, Cage, Transit, Sockpuppet, Plane Jane

And finally, given the high head count of the book as you said, how do you come up with all these cool superhero/villain names (Memento Mori, Just A Feeling, Dr Maybe, Plane Jane…) ?

I think I just wanted to take a sideways step from the various dramatic abstract nouns we’re used to seeing.  It’s hard to find new ones, and even the new ones feel like old ones.  So I went for names that were slightly quirky and eclectic – and in many cases downright whimsical, as though the people who chose them were going for the opposite of dramatic.  It seemed to work – possibly in a similar way to how the names of the sentient spaceships work in Iain Banks’ Culture novels.  Sometimes it’s great to take a convention that’s become invisible and re-problematise it by doing something odd.

Well I guess that wraps it up. Is there anything else you’d like to add as closing words ? Or even a little teasing ?

Only to say that everything and everyone we’ve seen in the course of the series is relevant to the denouement. It’s a BIG climax! :)

Interview by Jeffzewanderer. Thanks to Mike Carey for his time and kindness.

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