This week, writer/artist Lee Bermejo launched Suiciders, his first ongoing series for Vertigo, which imagines a post-disaster Los Angeles where brutal blood sport is popular entertainment.
At the center of Suiciders is a televised sport known as the Suicide Games — a futuristic and deadly version of American Gladiators, where competitors have been enhanced by drugs and wear high-tech armor.
The series focuses on two competitors — The Saint, the reigning champion whose tattooed back is pictured on the cover to Suiciders #1, and the other an immigrant to "New Angeles" who wants to make something of himself, and has to work his way up the ranks of the Suiciders.
Previously, Bermejo was best known for his artwork on projects like the Joker graphic novel and Wednesday Comics: Superman. Working with colorist Matt Hollingsworth on Suiciders, Bermejo plans to release the comic in seasons similiar to Saga, with a monthly schedule that takes short breaks to help him keep the artwork his best.
And although Bermejo both wrote and drew the graphic novel Batman: Noel, Suiciders is his debut as a writer of an ongoing series — giving readers a preview of his writing skill before he unleashes the much anticipated DC title We Are Robin later in 2015.
Newsarama talked to Bermejo to find out more about the project, the characters at its center, and what fans of his art can expect from his work on Suiciders.
Newsarama: Lee, where did you get the idea for Suiciders?
Lee Bermejo: Yeah, I've had the idea kicking around for a long time. I mean, it was a different idea at that point. But I remember kicking a version of the story around even 12 or more years ago.
But the way my career has progressed, it was always something I wanted to do, but I don't think I was technically able to pull it off until now. It's a pretty complex story — probably the most complex narratively that I've done so far.
Nrama: This isn't the first story that begins with the premise of characters fighting on TV, but this concept looks like it kind of bumps it up a notch, particularly for you creatively, because not only are you creating a new setting in the future, but also these competitors have these enhancements and armor that you're creating visually.
Bermejo: Yeah. And you know, I keep hearing people talking about it as a reality show. That really doesn't have anything to do with it. It's a sport. It's a gladiatorial sport that becomes the main social form of entertainment for New Angeles, which essentially this walled citadel version of Los Angeles 30 years after this huge earthquake decimates the city.
Visually, there are some sci-fi elements to the story, and definitely some heavy noir elements to the story — that's just where my personal aesthetic leans.
But what I really wanted to do was tell a human story, something that had an element of… I don't want to say superhero element to it, but there are these guys in armor who are fighting inside an arena that comes alive and has these mechanical obstacles they have to survive while fighting each other.
But really these story is about two men. One is at the top of his game — he's the best of the best of these characters called Suiciders, these gladiators. He's a character with a lot of secrets, and those secrets start to really bite him in the ass at a certain point.
The other character is an immigrant character who comes to the city with dreams of being the best of the best.
So the story follows the lives of these two characters. I really wanted it to be a human story, wearing the clothes of a bigger, more muscular sci-fi book.
Nrama: So this "best of the best" is the Saint, who's mentioned in solicitations?
Bermejo: Yeah, he's the hero, so to speak. He's the David Beckham of the Suiciding world.
Since it is a blood sport that's played to the death, this guy has survived and it's a big deal. He's the reigning champion.
But he has a past, and that past is something that very much comes to life throughout the course of the series. He's billed as being this very saint-like character.
And we'll see if that really holds true over the course of the series.
Nrama: How are you approaching the art on this book? Because we've mostly seen graphic novels from you lately, is this in that same style?
Bermejo: I would say it's pretty similar to other things I've done. I don't usually think about what the structure of the book is going to be. I just approach everything with the same aesthetic. The book is taking a long time, and I'm trying to put everything I've got into it.
But one of the big things here — I was working with another colorist on quite a few of my previous projects. And with this project, I'm working with Matt Hollingsworth for the first time. He's coloring the book. And it's amazing.
The work he's doing, I'm in love with it. It's staggering to me. He brings an element to the book that's very poster-esque, almost, where some of my past work has been very… I don't want to say painterly, but there's an element of softness to the color that was there in the past, but what Matt's bringing is a complete different kind of palette and different sensibility to the colors.
So even though the art style I'm using is very similar, it still has a different feel. Matt is just a huge, huge part of this book visually.
Nrama: You're having to work with other artists on We Are Robin, which launches in June, but for Suiciders, you're writing for yourself. What's your process when you're the one drawing it? Do you write a full script?
Bermejo: I do write full script. I like to have all my ducks in a row before I start drawing.
But really, I work with a script that I write the same way that I work with a script from Brian Azzarello or from any other writer I've ever worked with. You know, I take that script and then, as you're actually drawing it, even as an artist trying to visualize, when you actually get to the job of drawing it, things change. Maybe you find better solutions to things. You realize maybe that you don't need a scene, or you realize you need to add a beat.
The brilliant thing about writing and drawing your own work is that you don't have to call the writer and say, "Hey, is it cool if I add another panel here? I really want this moment to breathe a little bit more."
So from that point of view, I still work fairly elastically but from within my own script.
Nrama: You're suddenly an active writer for DC with both this project and also We Are Robin. I assume Suiciders could be called a passion project for you, since you're drawing and writing?
Bermejo: It takes me so long to actually do a project, especially when I'm drawing it, that I definitely have to be passionate about it, in order to carry it for a couple years while working on it. So it's very accurate to call it a passion project.