They say when luck’s on your side, the key is to keep playing. And for Return Of The Dapper Men creators Jim McCann and Janet Lee, they’re doing just that. On March 6, Image will debut their new miniseries Lost Vegas, a rollicking roulette-filled adventure with gamblers, slaves and aliens where high stakes aren’t limited to the casino games.Lost Vegas follows a luxury space station from which the series takes its name, where a dapper con-man gambler named Roland finds out that when you can’t pay your bets, the only thing left to give – and to be taken, against your will –is your freedom. McCann and Lee are trading in the clockwork fantasy of Return of the Dapper Men with science fiction fantasy with a heavy dose of classic casino heist stories. Newsarama spoke with the two creators to find out what the score is and how the games aboard Lost Vegas are played.
Newsarama: First off Janet and Jim, what can you tell us about Lost Vegas, J?
Jim McCann: Lost Vegas is a sci-fi heist caper set aboard a luxury star cruiser that is one long Vegas-like strip x 1,000 in the glam and glitz department; a place for only the highest rollers, of “whales”, in the galaxy to indulge themselves and bet it all- no-limits on anything here. That, of course, is the surface level. There are many secrets that lurk in Lost Vegas, from the truth behind what happens to those who are too far in over debt down to the shadowy figures that may possibly be running the place- much like the mob in early Las Vegas.Janet Lee: Lost Vegas is the story of a gambler named Roland- the kind of guy who's too clever for his own good and can't imagine a time when his luck will run out, Until it does. In order to pay off his debts, Roland is imprisoned on a fabulous intergalactic casino where he launches a daring heist and bid for freedom. Artistically, Lost Vegas is an opportunity to completely cut loose with character and world design. I get to go farther than ever before.
McCann: The book, Lost Vegas, is sort of my childhood influences meets my grown-up loves- part Ocean’s Eleven /heist films, meets scoundrels like Han Solo in the smuggling years and Fast Eddy in The Hustler, and topped off with a dash of class and reluctant heroism as seen in Casablanca.
Nrama: This book has a dark twist in the gambling aspect in that those who are in debt to the casino must work it off in the form of being slaves aboard the gambling vessel. How’d that come to you, and can you talk about this form of indentured service?
McCann: I won’t lie- I love the adrenaline rush of a casino, especially when it’s hot. When the tables are going and the people are in it, the dealers are playing the table as much as they are cheering, hearing people win—it’s a rush. I don’t make it out to Vegas or other places like that very much, and I definitely don’t have a backer or deep pockets, so when I go to play, I look at it as setting aside $X as “entertainment”, like I would if I were traveling and wanted to see a show and a nice meal or two. I bring the money with me and hold strict to not going to the in-house casino if I bust. It’s fun and a game for me, but I’ll sit back and watch the high-stakes games, and it’s a totally different world on that side of the velvet rope. Honestly, it’s one that scares me a little, and one I can see someone getting sucked into. You see it all the time in movies, and then they guy gets busted for cheating or can’t pay back what he owes and gets the crap beat out of him in a snowy parking lot (I’m looking at you, Ed Norton in Rounders). But the REAL high-roller tables are more civilized, which is creepier. When I see or think of something like that, I sit back and follow the thought of where a story would lead.
For Lost Vegas, it’s the idea of not only people who bust big on the cruiser (because “whales” bust all the time- they can afford it, and then they come back), but the people who are there on borrowed money and borrowed time. They have the chance to go all in and win big or they end up whisked away. The same is true for the gamblers across the galaxy, especially the ones who are so far in they’ve attracted the wrong attention. Lost Vegas will settle their debts and take these poor souls (in every sense of the word) aboard the ship to “work off their debt.” One of the creepy things you’ll find in the book is a partial nod to Return of the Dapper Men, even though it wasn’t until AFTER we came up with the idea that we realized what we were doing in the way we present the slaves who work the floor as servers, bartenders, etc, for tips so they can hopefully one day get back their freedom.Nrama: And how does Roland fit into all this?
McCann: Roland is a REALLY good gambler, charmer, and a bit of a con man whose streak has dried up when we meet him. He’s also the kind of guy who figures he’ll never get caught because the next hand will change everything for him and he’ll be back in the black, so to speak. And if he can’t do that, he’s not above creating his own “luck.” That doesn’t always work out, as we see in the opening pages. The biggest thing about Roland is that he’s smart. You can’t con a con man, cheat a cheater, or bluff a bluffer. He’s run the numbers and knows that, like every thing in a casino, even the indentured servitude is in the house’s favor. It would take decades to work off your debt to Lost Vegas, if ever at all. That’s when he starts to form his own plan that will take charm, risk, and a massive con to pull off a heist that will get him onto the floor, win enough money to buy a ship, and get the hell out before getting caught—all within less than 24 hours.
Nrama: Who are the other characters in Lost Vegas?McCann: Like most gamblers, Roland is playing his own hand, but knows that, especially in a game like blackjack, the odds are in your favor if you play with a table. To that end, he has slowly formed a team, each with their own reason for taking part in this, working their own agendas, but realizing they work best as a “table”. We have Loria- our “woman on the inside”; Renfret, or “Rinny”- our kind of mad inventor who, as the machines and devices became more advanced above on the floor, the more obsolete he became until he was basically left to his own work down among the prisoners, occasionally fixing things for the guards…and Roland.
Nrama: When I hear space-ships and outer space, I think aliens. Do you have any aliens in this you could tell me about?
Lee: Heck, yes. Designing aliens is one of my all-time favorite things! There's Ink who is sort of a cross between Venom and a sentient ink blob. He can manipulate his form almost like a liquid. There is a 10-foot-tall bad ass reindeer-like body guard named Atho. The idea for Atho came after Jim and I discussed the female interest of the story. She's still a bit mysterious though, so I can't tell you much about her yet. There are shadowy evil mastermind characters and their foot soldiers who grew out of modified Valkyrie designs. It's the kind of book where even the background characters are fun.McCann: We have Ink, an amorphous, sentient blob of ink that serves a variety of purposes, but one very specific job. There are characters Roland will meet who we won’t be sure if they are friend or for, including Atho, a 10-foot stag, and Kaylex, a cold and beautiful mystery of a woman. And then there are our adversaries, whose presence is only felt at first, but once they are revealed, everything changes. All of these are AMAZINGLY designed and brought to life by my partner in crime, Janet Lee, who is honestly a muse to me and with whom we have developed a very organic process to scripting and crafting story. And we’re very excited to have Chris Sotomayor coloring over Janet’s insanely detailed lineart, giving it a whole new yet still very Janet-y feel.
Nrama: Give us a tour of this casino spaceship, Jim. What’s it like being a guest?
McCann: What would you like to have on it? Seriously. That is what Lost Vegas is designed for- it’s where you go and gamble and spend money beyond most people’s wildest dreams just to have your own fantasies come true. The floor brings in about 35-40% profit- enough loss to make the players feel like they are winning- but the attractions, the shopping, the dining, the accommodations, the sights, the…ahh “pleasures”… THAT is why the fat cats, kings, emperors, owners of suns, anyone worth seeing and being seen come aboard Fabulous Lost Vegas.
Nrama: Your previous book together, Return Of The Dapper Men, was very all-ages material, but Lost Vegas is distinctly not. Was it a conscious choice to try something more mature?McCann: It was, mostly because of the collaboration with Janet. I’m already pushing WAYYY out of all-ages with my other Image ongoing series Mind The Gap, which is twisty, turny conspiracy thriller with a supernatural element, but still rather grounded. I wanted to go out further. And I wanted to do that with Janet.
Lee: When working with Jim, the problem is always too many new ideas. I think we have four or five stories we're brainstorming at any given time; so it becomes a matter of picking the project that's speaking to us most strongly. Jim has been working on Mind the Gap, which is this complicated, interwoven, supernatural who-done-it.
McCann: We talk all the time and see each other about five times a year. At any given moment, we have a project we’d love to get to, one we know we’d like to do next but isn’t quite cooked, and THE ONE that is ready. We had two this time- an all-ages, and Lost Vegas. Coming off of Return Of The Dapper Men, and knowing that it would be a while before we could go back due to certain things to work out, we wanted to stretch ourselves and also scratch an itch I think we were both feeling- sci fi. I LOVE her aliens. They were some of the first things she started doodling years ago, so I’ve been dying to do it.
Lee: I've been itching to work on a story filled with exotic locales and loads of action. We both are huge fans of heist films and grew up on science fiction. Lost Vegas was the one.
Nrama: In Return of the Dapper Men you found the humanity that a clockwork robot could have. Where do you find the humanity in Lost Vegas?
McCann: At its core- finding the humanity you may have buried inside yourself or that has been beaten out of you. The strength and will – and wits – to overcome obstacles to take back control of your live. What is a fantasy and what is REALLY living.
Nrama: Janet, last question for you before we go: Return Of The Dapper Men was your first major book on your own. Since then you’ve grown and done other books – so how would you say you’re different taking on Lost Vegas than you were when you began tackling Return of the Dapper Men?
Lee: Return of the Dapper Men wasn't just my first major book; it was the first book illustration I had ever done. Before that I was a part-time gallery artist with a full-time day job. So, it's hard to know where to begin describing the differences. I'm extremely grateful to Marvel for the opportunity to work on Jane Austen's Emma and Northanger Abbey for them. That experience taught me so much about affective storytelling and helped develop a more sophisticated inking style. I know it sounds odd, but I had always colored my own work before, and that allowed me to be a lazy inker in a lot of ways. Going into Return of The Dapper Men, my primary goal was to make art that was worthy of notice. Hopefully with Lost Vegas, I'll see that bet and raise.