Jay Faerber’s new SF series from Image Comics, Copperhead, has already earned acclaimed from creators such as Saga’s Brian K. Vaughan, who’s proclaimed it his favorite new book of the year. It’s the story of Clara Bronson, a lawman..er, woman, in a far future who heads out to a new job as sheriff of the titular interstellar settlement with her son Zeke in the aftermath of a mysterious tragedy tragedy.
The new frontier ain’t easy, and her deputy, a hulking local named “Budroxifinicus,” is mostly ticked that he didn’t get the sheriff gig, but at least some things stay the same no matter what planet you’re on – specifically domestic disturbances, corrupt businessmen, and plenty of secrets. We talked to Faerber, creator of such previous Image series as the long-running Noble Causes, about the new series, which premieres this September.
Newsarama: Jay, how did the idea for Copperhead come about?
Jay Faerber: I've had it kicking around for years. The germ of the idea was basically "Deadwood with aliens." I wanted to take the classic Western town -- with the sheriff and the saloon and the gunslingers and the town doctor and all that -- and put it in a sci-fi setting. So it's definitely a frontier kind of town, but it's on an alien planet in the 24th century. It took me a long time to get around to doing it, but here we are.
Nrama: And how did you develop the character of Clara Bronson?
Faerber: I honestly don't remember if the idea of Clara being female was my idea or co-creator Scott Godlewski's. But we knew very early on that our central character was going to be a newly arrived sheriff, and we pretty quickly decided she was going to be a woman.
And we started developing the book about two years ago -- in mid-2012. And we didn't do this to fill any quotas or anything. We just liked the idea of Clara being a single mother, who's very maternal and nurturing towards her son, but she's able to also be a kick-ass, take-no-s*** sheriff.
The people she routinely comes in contact with are really rough around the edges (to put it mildly) so she has to keep up a tough exterior. I believe cops call it "command presence."
Nrama: Clara and "Boo"'s relationship is tinged with multiple elements -- racism, favoritism, etc. How did you develop that and how do you see that evolving?
Faerber: We'll get into this a lot more as the series progresses, but Clara and Boo are on opposites side of a recently-ended war. The humans won, and Boo's people lost. And there's a lot of "second class citizen"-stuff going on with that.
Despite being a great cop, Boo has no chance of becoming sheriff. He knows the town, knows the people, all that. But instead, the mayor brings in Clara, someone who's never set foot in Copperhead before. Boo, obviously, takes that very personally. And he's got a prickly personality to begin with.
Plus, Clara, being the new kid in town, is sort of overcompensating for her lack of familiarity by coming across like a real hard-ass. So there's a lot of friction between these two characters.
Obviously, I'm not spoiling anything by saying they'll grow closer as the book progresses, but it's not going to be an easy journey and they're going to have to overcome lots of obstacles.
Nrama: There's elements of the Old West and classic SF, along with a distinct COPS "domestic disturbance" feel to this. What were the biggest influences in developing the setting of Copperhead and the style of the book's storytelling?
Faerber: It's a whole mix of influences, really. There are previous sci-fi/western mashups like Firefly and the old 80s cartoon Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers – which is superior in every way to Bravestarr, by the way.
Nrama: Pff. I’ll defend Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs to my dying breath.
Faerber: There are the classic movie westerns like Once Upon a Time in the West, High Noon, and many more, plus the classic TV westerns like gunsmoke.
Despite there being sci-fi elements to the book, I think it has more of a western feeling than anything else. But I'm definitely influenced by Saga, to cite one current example. Brian and Fiona do such an amazing job of building this completely alien universe, yet making it so accessible at the same time. There are no captions explaining what things are. You pick up everything through dialogue. They make it look easy.
And as for the cop stuff, I'm such a cop nerd that that stuff comes second nature. It's practically in my DNA at this point. I'm influenced by all kinds of stuff, but for this particular project, I'd say it's the more grounded, authentic cop shows like The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street, and a great memoir by NYPD detective Edward Conlon called Blue Blood, no relation to the Tom Selleck series.
Nrama: How much more of this world are we going to get to see beyond the town?
Faerber: The bulk of the series will takes place in and around the town of Copperhead, although we will likely be cutting away for interludes in other parts of the galaxy.
But what I like about this setting is that stories can come to us. We don't need to go to them.
Nrama: How did Scott Godlewski come on board, and what does he bring to the book?
Faerber: I reached out to Scott a few years ago, after seeing his work in Boom Studios' Dracula: The Company of Monsters and Codebreakers. I just love his work, and asked if he wanted to collaborate on something for Image.
I had another series in mind, actually, but could never quite get the kinks worked out. The idea never gelled to my satisfaction. So we tabled that, and then I approached him again with this other idea, that was basically "Deadwood with aliens." And he liked it and we started exchanging emails where we spitballed and spun this whole world together.
We may even reprint some of those exchanges at some point, so you guys can get a look behind the scenes.
Nrama: Who are some of the characters we're going to meet as this goes on?
Faerber: Well, I don't want to spoil too much, but in the first issue we meet Sheriff Clara Bronson and her son, Zeke. Zeke's about 10 or 11, and isn't real pleased with having his life uprooted and coming to Copperhead. But he's got an adventurous spirit and soon finds plenty of things to keep him busy -- and in trouble.
There's the aforementioned Deputy Budroxifinicus, or "Boo" as Clara and Zeke call him, much to his annoyance. There's Benjamin Hickory, who owns the copper mine that the town is built around. He's not an elected official, but he basically runs the town because he employs most of the people who live there.
Hickory employs a bunch of "arties" (artificial humans) as his personal protection. Arties were bio-engineered by the humans to help them win the war. With the war over, the arties have no purpose, so most of them wind up working as hired guns of some sort.
There's Doc Mosley, the bumbling, possibly alcoholic doctor. There's the Sewell family, a bunch of hillbilly cyclopses who live outside the city limits. And there are more that we'll meet as time goes on.
Nrama: What's it been like working with Image on this -- you have a long history with the company.
Faerber: It's interesting, because I haven't launched a book at Image in over two years. Point of Impact was the last thing I did there, and that was before Brian and Fiona launched Saga, and before Image really saw this resurgence, with lots of high-profile creators launching books there. Image's profile has definitely risen and I couldn't be happier.
I launched my first book at Image in 2001. I've been doing books there consistently longer than pretty much any non-partner. So I've seen the company change a lot of over the years -- and always for the better. Each move they've made has been in the right direction. I couldn't be happier working with them.
Nrama: Give us the hardest of hard sells on this.
Faerber: Copperhead is unlike anything I've ever written before, and I'm having the time of my life working with Scott, colorist Ron Riley, and letterer Thomas Mauer. If you like action, adventure, thrills, twists, and even some laughs, this is the book for you. It's equal parts gritty western, imaginative sci-fi, and puzzling whodunnit.
Nrama: Any other books/creators you're currently enjoying?
Faerber: As I said before, I'm absolutely loving Saga. I love so many of the Image books that I'll look like a company shill if I list them all.
But the real stand-outs, the ones that go to the top of my pile each month, are Southern Bastards, Velvet, Thief of Thieves, Five Ghosts, Sheltered, and Invincible. Daredevil is the only non-Image book that makes it to the top each month, too.
Some recently concluded books I really enjoyed are Krampus from Image, and Red Team from Dynamite.
Nrama: What else is coming up for you?
Faerber: After keeping a relatively low profile in comics the past couple years, I'm coming back with a vengeance. I'm launching a new Image mini-series in October, then three more series in the first half of 2015.
The only one I can talk about in any detail is Near Death. Simone Guglielmini and I are hard at work on a new story arc for that book. The first issue is completely drawn, and the second is almost done. We haven't scheduled it yet, but it'll be out sometime in 2015.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Faerber: If Copperhead sounds intriguing to you, I urge you to let your local comic shop know! Whether it's in the form of a formal pre-order or just a friendly heads-up, it's really important that retailers get support for creator-owned books from their customers.
Copperhead is now available for pre-order with Diamond Order Code JUL140436.