In the recently debuted miniseries 25 To Life, an experimental unit of the F.B.I. is called in to solve these targeted killings, and to do it they use criminals against one another. After profiling the suspect in a case, they seek out incarcerated criminals who fit that same profile – ‘Mirrors’ they call them – and try to get inside the mind of their suspect by getting inside the mind of these prisoners. In the case of this race crime, they have to saddle up with a racist militia leader and somehow strike up a partnership in order to catch the killer.The first issue of 25 To Life hit the streets last week, with the remaining two scheduled for October and November. Last week we talked with series mastermind Eriq La Salle, and this week we turn to his accomplices, writer Doug Wagner & artist Tony Shasteen...
Newsarama: In 25 To Life, it revolves around an experimental FBI unit that uses incarcerated criminals to gain insight on outstanding cases. Can you tell us how this team works?
Doug Wagner: There are volatile, high profile cases out there that could erupt into riots and general mass chaos if not solved swiftly. In these types of situations, the government and the public demand and need results in a short amount of time. That’s where our experimental FBI unit comes in. The FBI has been given permission to make “deals” with guys in prison for 25 To Life in exchange for their knowledge and insight. If they don’t help solve the case, the deal is null and void. There’s not only pressure on our team to solve the case, but pressure on the criminals they incorporate to solve the case as well. The concept is an expanded version of the classic concept of “it takes a thief to catch a thief.” But in these cases, we’re dealing with crimes that are much more violent and malicious. Who better to catch a racially motivated murderer than…an ex-racially motivated murderer?Nrama: What can you tell us about Santana and the rest of the team?
Wagner: Santana is an African-American in his 40’s and the leader of this team. At his age, he should be higher on the FBI food chain, but he has this problem with authority figures. Lucky for him, he's brilliant. Santana uses his cop intuition and street hunches to solve crimes, trusting his heart before his head. He is an excellent detective and investigator with his own dark secrets.
Espinoza is a hot Columbian female with a violent streak. Psychologist by trade, she picked up her gun skills and bullet-proof skin on the job. The smile is genuine, trustworthy and sincere 'til the end – but you definitely do not want to mess around and end up on her bad side. Her only blemish is a nasty ex-drug habit that's had her suspended, threatened and moved from city to city like a military brat. She’s clean now, but struggles to remain so.Roschard, “Roach” to his teammates, has a background in chemistry and forensics from his military days, and he has always been an over-achiever in both. Though tough enough on the streets, he is better suited in the lab, and everyone knows it, including him. As a result, he constantly feels as though he has something to prove. Roach is logical and analytical, using a scientific approach to crime solving.
Shepard is the new blood on the team. A 24-year-old right out of the academy, he’s still the by-the-book kind of agent. On this team, his insights are rarely appreciated and often rejected. The son of a prominent government official, Shepard has to constantly establish that nepotism did not get him the job on this team, even though it did. Usually, he’s convincing himself more than those around him.Nrama: Eriq told us this was originally planned as a TV series, before the idea to do it as a comic came about. Tony, how’d you go about taking these characters in a script and developing them into fully visualized characters?
Tony Shasteen: Eriq thought through the characters pretty well before it ended up in my hands. He had put time into who he would cast in the roles, their backgrounds, age, ethnicity, etc. That gave me a good starting point. I didn't want to use an actor's likeness, but knowing who he had in mind really helped. Once I have the look, I try to breath some life into them with the way they carry themselves, the clothes they wear, and with their body language. By the time I was done with the book I really felt as though I knew the characters. As campy as it sounds, I knew I would miss them when I was done.
Nrama: The case they’re working on involved the murder of three African-American police officers. Why was this experimental FBI unit brought in?Wagner: Hate crimes, especially those involving murder, can send a community into turmoil. America is still very much dealing with racism and the topic is sensitivity and extremely explosive. This is one of those cases where the turmoil in the community could continue to expand, reaching state and even national proportions. For this exact reason, Santana’s team is brought in. Solve this case quickly and by any means necessary.
Nrama: To gain insight, the team tries to work with an imprisoned white power militiaman named Pratt. How does that go?
Wagner: As badly as you might imagine. Pratt is the leader of a racist militia group and is serving life for murdering non-Caucasians. He’s a complete asshole, but a very intelligent asshole. He “agrees” to a deal where he has to answer to a government unit lead by an African-American and a Hispanic. Is there anything much worse for a racist militia leader than that?
Nrama: Tony, How did you settle on a tone and style for the look of 25 To Life?Shasteen: I wanted to use a more graphic style for 25 To Life than I had used in previous projects. I believe the project dictates the style. This being a police procedural/crime/mystery, it deserved a darker mood. Also, too much detail would just bog down the pacing, so I kept it as streamlined as possible. I hate to be influenced too much during a project, but I was looking at a lot of Viktor Kalvachev, Sean Phillips, and Chris Samnee at the time. Not so much for style, but because those guys know how to use black and white. I hope a little of that seeped in there. As far as the tone goes, it changes over the course of the story. I went darker as the story gets darker.
Nrama: Let’s give the silent man in the room a chance to speak – 12 Gauge Publisher Keven Gardner. Keven, how’d you hook up with Eriq LaSalle to do this book?
Keven Gardner: Eriq’s production company had contacted me about the rights to one of our properties a few years back. We had some great conversations and the topic of developing something together came up. Eriq told me about this idea, 25 To Life, and I totally fell in love with it. The concept was strong on its own, but this story in particular just blew me away. So many times you hear a good idea, but the writer and/or creative team don’t close the deal. That isn’t the case here. Eriq’s story was well developed and Doug came in and turned it into a great comic script. Tony totally owned the art and JD did a fabulous job on the colors. I am so proud of this book I can hardly stand it!
Nrama: After getting Eriq’s story, how did you match-make the rest of the team with Doug, Tony and JD?
Gardner: Doug has been my right hand since the day we decided to publish our first comic, The Ride, through Image. In that first limited series he was working with four very established, talented, (and opinionated!) comic book artists. Once he pulled that off I knew he could write just about anything. Doug is now writing comics full-time and has really honed his craft, so it just made sense to give him a call first to see if he’d respond to Eriq’s idea. He loved it and jumped on board immediately. I’d previously worked with Tony Shasteen on Rosario Dawson’s O.C.T. comic series, and was a big fan of his work. I’d also gotten to know him and to really respect his work ethic. He read the pitch and signed on immediately. JD Mettler was the last addition, coming on board at Tony’s request. I’d been trying to get JD on a 12-Gauge project for a while and was very, very happy to have a colorist of his caliber put his stamp on this project. It is very rare to have an entire creative team respond to something like everyone here did with 25 To Life, and I think it really shows on every page. As a publisher it has really been a dream come true.
Nrama: Guys, what made this project something you wanted to work on?
Wagner: In the beginning, it was simply the story Eriq had created. I jumped at the chance to deal with such passionate themes and varying viewpoints. The story from beginning to end was a thrilling ride that I couldn’t wait to write. However, as Keven started to assemble the cast, I became more and more excited about the project. I mean…C’MON!! I get to work with a great publisher like Keven, a multi-faceted talent like Eriq LaSalle, one of my favorite artists in Tony Shasteen, and the incredible colorist JD Mettler. Besides being my good friends, they are some of the most talented individuals I know.
Shasteen: First and foremost, the story. I enjoyed reading the script and I knew that would translate into a fun time for me. Until now I haven't had the opportunity to illustrate a book like this. I'd love to do more. Secondly, the team. Eriq, Doug, Keven, and now J.D. have all made this a very easy and enjoyable project. Everyone knew his part and we all meshed well.