In the fantastical world of the Feld, soliders return home and adapt to civilian life looking for direction, but some pick up the mantle of Fairman; a kind of private detective solving each and every kind of case. For Jenner Faulds, however, she’s a one of kind as she’s the only Fairlady. Along with her partner, Oanu, Jenner takes on the cases that nobody else wants to touch, giving her a reputation that she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty in the aptly-titled Fairlady, debuting this week from Image Comics.
Created by the Black Jack Ketchum duo of writer Brian Schirmer and artist Claudia Balboni (along with colorist Marissa Louise), Fairlady is an ambititous new series with a flavor that’s not really explored all that much: fantasy noir.
Schirmer and Balboni spoke with Newsarma about Fairlady, where their inspiration came from, and the state of fantasy comics in this day and age.
Newsarama: Brian, Claudia, in your own words, can you tell us about the Harshland and the purpose of the Fairman, or I guess, the titular Fairlady?
Brian Schirmer: We mention the War of the Harshland in the prologue - and it comes up once or twice in the first arc - but we keep it intentionally vague, so I don't want to spoil too much about it. Suffice to say that it's pretty well what it says on the tin - it's an unpleasant region, not for the faint of heart or weak of constitution - and it was the setting for this world's War-of-the-Ring equivalent. It was ugly, it was horrible, and it's not overly clear who won if anyone.
As for the Fairmen, they're akin to private investigators, who film noir tells us sprung up en masse after World
War II. They're the former soldiers who survived the War of the Harshland and found this to be their only way to re-enter society. It goes as well as can be expected.
Nrama: What makes Jenner Faulds so unique in this world?
Schirmer: Well, she's the only Fairlady. That is, she's the only woman who's taken a stand and said she's going to do this new job that everyone's arbitrarily decided will otherwise only be done by men. Sexism is very real in the world of Fairlady. As the only female private investigator, Jenner repeatedly endures an ignorant populace, spiteful constables, and aggressively bitter Fairmen. All of that said, I didn't want to write a one-sided, overtly patriarchal world, where Jenner is the one person to stand up for herself. There are plenty of strong women in Fairlady, and we'll meet many of them in this first arc.
Nrama: Claudia, you've worked on some Star Trek titles in the past; do you favor more sci-fi or fantasy elements in your own personal aesthetics?
Claudia Balboni: Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work on science fiction stories many times, but this time I got to work within the fantasy genre, and I have to say that I really enjoyed designing this story and creating the characters and locations with Brian and his ideas.
The environments, the atmospheres, the clothes are all surrounded by a different magic that catapults you into very different states of mind. So what I can tell you is that I love both, because everyone offers me the opportunity to take a different journey.
Nrama: Where did you draw inspiration from for a lot of these visuals?
Schirmer: I have a Google Drive folder that's filled with all sorts of bits meant to inspire - character designs, layouts, locations, cool panels, and so on. I tend to do that for every project, not to tell the artist what to do, but to just share things that strike me as cool and to see what resonates with them.
Just a quick random scan of that folder and I see Moebius' designs for Willow, some Matt Rhodes concept art, pages from Daredevil's "Born Again" and Multiversity's "Pax Americana," pics of Kinsale (Ireland), and more. Some of these inspired bits of Fairlady direct, others... you'd have to ask Claudia.
Nrama: How did you come together for the project?
Schirmer: Claudia and I had worked together previously on Black Jack Ketchum, our weird, existential Western over at Image. When it was clear that Fairlady was going to move forward, I reached out to her, and her schedule was about to clear up. We'd wanted to work together again, and this just seemed a natural.
Looking back, I can see Ketchum as a warm-up. We know each other better now. I know how to write for Claudia. That's part of the challenge of writing comics - tailoring your scripts to the needs of each specific artist, doing your best to write to their strengths. Most importantly, I trust Claudia. I trust her choices. As such, the vast majority of the designs in Fairlady are pure Claudia.
Nrama: With this being sort of in the vein of cop shows and murder mysteries, is there "big bad" or is this more of the Scooby-Doo villain every week formula?
Schirmer: It's pretty much a villain-of-the-month sort of series, but with some notable exceptions. I don't want to say too much, but there are definitely issues where things are not as they first seem. Such stories will have their initial question answered, but the answering will raise a bigger question that we'll just leave hanging for a bit.
Part of our goal with Fairlady was to craft a series where each issue gives you a complete story, but that also rewards readers who stick with the whole run. All of that said, maybe we should've gone the Scooby-Doo route and had Jenner pull the mask off the lizardman to reveal a crusty, old dude: "And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!"
Nrama: How long did it take to nail down the look of these characters?
Schirmer: Not terribly long, if I remember correctly. Claudia might have a different perspective. For the principles - Jenner and Oanu - I want to say she took a couple weeks and drew a few options for each. When we were reviewing them with our editing team, everyone knew immediately which looks were best, which just makes everything so easy. [Laughs]
Nrama: You've recruited a lot of fantasy artists for variant covers, including Autumnlandsi's Benjamin Dewey and Invisible Kingdom's Christian Ward. Did you both have any personal favorite fantasy comics as you grew up?
Schirmer: Not just while growing up, but straight through to today. Of course, the original Marvel Conan series was groundbreaking, but I also really dug Busiek and Cary Nord books at Dark Horse. Howard Chaykin and Mike Mignola's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Jeff Smith's Bone, Brandon Graham's relaunch of Prophet, Alan Moore and Zander Cannon's Smax, Matt Smith's Barbarian Lord, Si Spurrier and Jeff Stokely's The Spire. These have all kept the lantern burning in my fantasy-loving heart over the years.
Nrama: Lastly, you say that each issue contains a self-contained story, do you personally think that comics should go back to that model?
Schirmer: I think it depends on the story you're looking to tell. It just so happens that monthly comics lend themselves to standalone, self-contained narratives, and that's something that's generally been sidelined for the last twenty-or-so-years. There are a handful of titles out there doing something similar, but we wanted to push the envelope.
With each issue of Fairlady being a whole story, every subsequent issue is fundamentally a new #1, which should make it incredibly easy for retailers to hand-sell. Plus, it was important to us to give readers the most bang for their buck, and so we're pricing a 40-page comic at $3.99. When so many books show up - particularly new series - with a $4.99 price tag, we just felt it was time to do something for readers and retailers.