Noir Meets "24" in IDW's 5 DAYS TO DIE

What would you do if you had 5 Days to Die?

With a premise that seems like Tumor meets 24, IDW editor Andy Schmidt and artist Chee have spun a tale about Detective Ray Crisara, who suffers a tragic car accident that shatters his family and puts enough shrapnel in his head to give him a five-day life expectancy.

But can Ray put down the case of his life -- and soon enough, his death -- to get back to the family that needs him? Or will this workaholic husband and father have finally worked himself to death? We sat down with Schmidt to talk about Ray's potentially doomed crusade, his work as both a writer and editor, as well as his personal ties to the series.

Newsarama: Andy, just reading the author's note in the first issue, I know this book has a really personal stake for you. What made this the right time and the right medium to tell 5 Days to Die?

Andy Schmidt: It is the right time because I'm ready to talk about some of these feelings and experiences. It's the right medium because it's my favorite one! Chee and I wanted to tell a comic book story, not a movie or a write a novel. So that's what we did. And I had been working through these attachment issues with my son for the first year he was around. It took another year to really process the whole experience and 5 DAYS TO DIE is kind of my goodbye to that stage of my relationship with my son.

Nrama: Outside of your personal connections with the protagonist, what can you tell us about Ray? Who is this guy, and what's driving him to near certain death?

Schmidt: Ray's a tough cop (aren't they all). He's a guy who cares deeply about the world around him and the people in his life. Unfortunately, he just doesn't know how to relate to those people anymore. And he doesn't know how to start, even if he wants to (which he does). And that's the crux of his dilemma. He's only got five days left. And he wants to reconnect with his family. The big question is, can he.

Nrama: Reading this book, I'd likely describe it as Tumor meets 24. Looking at the author's perspective as far as influences go, what's gone into 5 Days to Die? If you were pitching this book to a new reader, what would you say to sell this?

Schmidt: The concept is simple and hopefully interesting. A cop thinks a crime boss named Hoverman has put a hit on his family. His daughter is in the hospital after an attempt on their lives, and Ray (the cop) is left with five days before he dies. And he's got to choose between being with his family or finding and stopping their potential killer!

Nrama: As far as content goes, you've got the action, but you also have this potential psychological tinge to it, with Ray's injury literally messing with his head. What's the appeal here for this twist, and are there any teases about where Ray's head might go in his twilight hours?

Schmidt: It's all about possibility. The injury to his brain COULD be affecting his perceptions and his memory and things like that, or it COULD not be doing that at all. And some of that ambiguity is part of the fun of the series. So it allows for Chee and myself to have a lot of fun with the reader and get them guessing about certain elements in the story.

Nrama: You're also an editor at IDW -- and a far as this book goes, you're working with Bob Schreck, right? How has your editor's hat helped inform your writing, and how has working with another editor influenced 5 Days to Die?

Schmidt: Bob's been great. He's very supportive, and was really helpful especially with my dialogue. To be honest, I hate my own dialogue. Hate it. And Bob helped me clean it up and get some of the tin out of it. So that was a huge help.

As far as my own editing experience, I think it just makes me harder on my own work. I'm proud of 5 DAYS TO DIE, very much so, but I still see all the flaws. But I'm happy with how it turned out. I think it's the best thing I've written, and that's what I strive for, to make every project, my best project to date. Or, at the very least, to take risks or challenge myself in some way.

I ask that of my students, too. When I'm teaching my comics writing course or my art courses, I'm constantly trying to challenge my students, but more importantly, get them to challenge themselves and each other. I think that's the heart of artistic growth.

Nrama: Now, this is a weekly book -- something I haven't heard of IDW doing before. What do you think the accelerated pace brings to this book?

Schmidt: It's set up simply, each issue is a day in Ray's life, and he's got to go (we believe) on the last day. So, given that the story is accelerated, we decided to ship it that way, too. It's another way to play into and have fun with the overall concept. And I do think it'll feel more immediate to the audience and it will affect how the reader relates to the story, I think. Hopefully, in a really good way.

Nrama: You're working with Chee on this book. How did Chee get to be your main man, and what strengths does he bring to the table?

Schmidt: Chee isn't my main man, he's THE main man. He's an excellent storyteller and he's interested in the same kinds of stories I am. In this case, we wanted to do something of an action thriller with a noir twist. And he's perfect for it. His coloring is especially compelling. Chee really brought his A-game for this and it's paying off huge.

We met on a previous project we did together called CHALLENGER DEEP. It was a four-issue series we did for BOOM! Studios and it's been a lot of fun working with him ever since.

Nrama: Now, you have a host of cover artists for this venture, ranging from David Finch to Michael Oeming. How did they get on board this book, and what do you feel their various styles bring to 5 Days to Die?

Schmidt: They came on board because I'm in the extremely fortunate position to be friends with them because we've all worked together at various points in our careers. I'm extremely lucky in that regard. Typically, a book like this form a relatively fresh writer does not get covers like these. But they're friends and they responded to the story, so I was able to arm-twist them all into doing covers. Ha ha.

They bring a level of legitimacy I think to 5 DAYS TO DIE. Simply by attaching their names to the project, retailers and fans took notice. And their covers were all in the PREVIEWS catalog to help sell the book, and it seems to have worked. Fortunately, so far, with the first issue out, reviews have been very positive across the board, too. So I'm hoping we're not leaving retailers with any left-over copies.

Nrama: Now, I know you teach over at Comics Experience, and I wanted to ask how that's impacted 5 Days to Die. Have you been able to really look at them as a test audience, or have there been any instances editing your students' work that's helped you revise your story for the better?

Schmidt: The more someone gets the opportunity to review other people's work, the better he's going to get. It's why we launched the Comics Creators Workshop recently, so that we're building a community of comics professionals and creators who want to grow and learn together and from each other. And that's in addition to our classes.

But definitely, I'll see something in someone else's writing that may need a twist or a touch up and it'll ring a bell in my own mind that something similar isn't working in my own scripts. I say it to my students, that I keep learning from them as much as they're learning from me, and it's an awesome and amazing experience.

Nrama: Have there been any lessons you've instilled in your students -- either for writing or for art -- that you've sort of relearned while sitting in the writer's seat? Any new lessons you've picked up whole-cloth from this experience?

Schmidt: Oh, yeah, and some of them are even lessons I once knew but have let slide, so kind of rediscovering the lessons myself. But I've definitely added some new bits. I've really solidified the section on how to handle rewrites, both working with an editor and just rewriting for yourself. That section I think has gotten really strong recently, and a lot of it comes from editing myself and being able to be on both editing and writing sides of things. That's just an example.

And I think my art classes have gotten better, too. Now that I've done a book that's more or less just a writer (me, in this case) working alone with the artist (Chee), it's given me some refreshers on how that situation is very different than writers and artists working with an editor. It's a very different dynamic, and teaching artists how to work with writers directly I think has come a long way. And I think I've learned a few new lessons about artists on storytelling that have added even more punch to the art classes.

I'm lucky that with everything I do from editing, to writing, to teaching about comics, that they all feed one another and they're all constantly getting stronger.

Nrama: With the story having a personal touch for you, were there any scenes in the first issue that really spoke to you? Any scenes that have really made you think "a-ha" outside of the printed page?

Schmidt: Yes. There's a painful moment in the first issue where Ray knows what the best thing to do for his family is and he ignores it. And that was kind of hard to write because I know I did that at least once. And that was hard to write, but even harder was the scene later on where he realized it and I heard my own words in my head from when I realized I'd done that. The funny thing is, the situation I'm remembering, really didn't mean anything to anyone else in my family. It was a tiny little thing, but it was the one time I noticed and I knew that wasn't the kind of man I wanted to be. But this book is about a lot of things that I might have become, but, I think, because I was able to recognize them, I didn't become those things. I think in a strange way, I'm a better man because of Ray.

Nrama: Lastly, for those who still aren't sure about 5 Days to Die, what would you say to bring them on board? What are you excited about moving ahead?

Schmidt: It's fast-paced and filled with character. I think it's got a good, catchy high concept, but more importantly, as we've discussed here, I think it's got a lot of heart. It's, I don't know, about something real--at least real to me. I think it's the complete package and a lot of fun to read.

Please do check it out!  

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