After years writing everything form caped crusaders, brooding detectives, martians, cowboys, ninjas and Vikings, writer A.J. Lieberman is taking on a new lease on life – literally.
In the upcoming graphic novel Term Life, the career criminal Nick Barrow is on everyone’s sh!tlist – and hitlist – after a score goes down wrong, and he knows he’s days away from his end. With little to leave his estranged daughter, he signs up for a million dollar insurance policy and has to make it 21 days before it takes effect. If you think going through the mountains of paperwork is hard enough, imagine trying to make it 21 days when you know some of the biggest criminals around are gunning for you dead today.
Term Life comes by way of Lieberman and artist Nick Thornborrow. Although Lieberman is best known for his star-turn writing the Image series Cowboy Ninja Viking, this turn to the criminal underworld shows shades of his earlier work on Batman but minus the capes in this “Mature Readers Only” title. For more, Newsarama talked to the writer for this exclusive first look at Term Life.Newsarama: A.J., we've talked multiple times about your other books - but Term Life seems quite different from anything you've even done, even the frenetic Cowboy Ninja Viking. How would you explain Term Life?
A.J. Lieberman: Yeah, Term Life is quite different than Cowboy Ninja Viking. For one there’s a lot less mayhem. And almost no ninjas. No, Cowboy Ninja Viking is a lot less serious than Term Life. And although both have a lot of violence, Term Life in weird way, is more violent. If Cowboy Ninja Viking is a hard PG-13, Term Life is an R. Maybe because the violence is more realistic since it’s set in the world of the crime thriller.
Basically I sum it up this way: If Nick Barrow can stay alive for 21 days he’ll die happy. After a heist Nick planned goes way, way South everyone involved wants him dead; mob bosses, dirty cops, contract killers. So, performing the last act of a desperate man, Nick takes out a life insurance policy on himself payable to his estranged daughter. The problem? The policy doesn’t take effect for 21 days. That’s 21 days he’s got to stay alive. And as bad as that is, it doesn’t come close to the wrath of a 15-year-old girl meeting her dad for the first time as he’s forced to keep them both alive. Twenty-one days? Nick knows if they do everything right and God himself did him a favor, they’ll be lucky to be alive for twenty-one hours.Nrama: Term Life revolves around Nick Barrow - can you tell us more about him, and how he got to be on everyone's shit list?
Lieberman: Nick is a guy who plans heists (or tricks) and then sells off those plans to the highest bidder. When the job he sells a Russian mob boss goes really bad (like bullets-to-the-head bad) everyone quickly figures that Nick double sold the “trick”. This is not a good thing for Nick’s long term life expectancy.
Nrama: The idea of trying to stay alive for 21 days despite virtually the whole world gunning for you is unique - as a writer, how'd you think through possible ways to stay alive like this?
Lieberman: Well, actually that was the easiest thing to do because the answer is obvious: Nick should simply go away, find a shitty motel and sit in a room as he waits out the 21 days. The hard part was finding a compelling reason that would prevent him from ever getting to that room in the first place. And it’s that reason that drives the story.
Nrama: If Nick can make it 21 days, his life insurance kicks in and it takes care of his daughter should he die. What does she have to think about all of this?Lieberman: Great question. And the answer is this: Cate doesn’t think much about it because she doesn’t know. Does she find out? Of course. There wouldn’t be a story if she didn’t. But it’s the “how” and “when” she finds out that matters and breaks your heart. I knew before I started writing that Term Life’s success (from a story point) totally depended on Nick & Cate’s relationship, or lack there of. If that didn’t work, the book wouldn’t work.
Nrama: Where does an idea for something like Term Life come about, A.J.? You haven't pissed off some bad people have you?
Lieberman: I owe $2,700 to a guy named Small Tony for some long shots that didn’t cover. Other than that I’m good. Though we did thumbnail the entire book and I’m pretty sure my wife would really love it if I took down the last 24 pages which I taped up on our wall (to check for continuity). The idea really came from wanting to do an OGN and wanting to do something in this genre and once I hit upon the life insurance concept it was just about crafting a story that best fit that concept.
Nrama: Working with you on this is a new artist, Nick Thornborrow. How'd you hook up with him, and what made him right for this book?Lieberman: I hooked up with Nick through a mutual friend and fellow artist Darren Rawlings. As far as what made him right for the book it was either that he’s insanely talented and his art is awesome and is a perfect match for the tone of the book or… it was the fact he’s Canadian.
Nrama: I think it’s his art, A.J.
We've seen you do a variety of on goings, miniseries and whatnot - but I believe this is your first OGN. What else do you have planned in the future?
Lieberman: Yes, this is my first OGN. Though I think my Martian Manhunter run was very briefly being considered as a one, and then we did it as a mini instead. Anyway, I really enjoy the OGN format. You get enough space to tell the story you want to tell, and it’s self contained which is great for a reader. A series is fun in a different way in that you get to write towards that page 22 cliffhanger. As far as what’s next, it’s a children’s book for Scholastic with the above mentioned Darren Rawlings. I love doing All Age books and just wished more publishers did them. Term Life & Cowboy Ninja Viking are not age appropriate for my kids and I’m pretty sure my older daughter is no longer buying my story that the Cowboy and his two friends are traveling the world over looking for vegetables.How does Lieberman's new project sound?