When Vertigo launched an entire new line of titles two years ago, their goal was to bring in innovative ideas from talented creators and provide them with the space and opportunity to do their best work yet. Home to iconic series like Sandman and Hellblazer, the publisher needed a breath of fresh air to recapture that certain something had been missing. Suiciders is the latest in a strong new Vertigo roster, and it does not disappoint. No stranger to Vertigo’s big brother DC Comics with his work on Batman: Noel and Before Watchmen: Rorscharch, Lee Bermejo serves as writer and artist on Suiciders, his first creator-owned series. We spoke with Bermejo about Suiciders, the process from inception to publication, and how it feels to see an idea come to life.
If you read any DC Comics titles, you’ve likely seen the Suiciders preview pages at the back of each issue, which provides only a glimpse at the series’ story. Bermejo describes the book as “A post-disaster, sci-fi noir set in Los Angeles 30 years after a high earthquake decimates the city. L.A. has seceded from the union and formed its own little mini country. It’s comprised of two areas: New Angeles, which is a more affluent but incredibly ‘nationalistic’ walled citadel, and Lost Angeles, the more heavily damaged part of the city which has no law and is essentially a huge, criminally-run ghetto. The main entertainment is a gladiatorial combat sport called The Suicide Games and its combatants are Suiciders.” It’s a harsh world, and that visceral feel comes through in the art and dialogue of the first issue. Armed guards are ever present at the New Angeles border, and do not hesitate to do whatever it takes to keep the struggling citizens of Lost Angeles out of their city.
Despite the circumstances, Bermejo also infuses the story with great character moments, bringing the best and worst of humanity to the table. Although the first story arc focuses on an established Suicider and an up-and-coming trainee, “It’s really the story of this place,” Bermejo explains. “Much like Sin City, you follow various characters who are all the ‘water’ bashing up against the ‘rock’ of the city.” An appropriate metaphor, as there is no lack of heartwrenching moments in issue #1, interspersed between some of the most brutally beautiful combat sequences in comics today.
Like many creator-owned series, Suiciders was years in the making. “I remember telling Scott Dunbier about the idea way back when I was still working at Wildstorm,” Bermejo begins. “It was fairly different then, but a lot of the basic elements were the same. Over the years it’s been something I’ve come back to from time to time, tinkering with it and trying to craft something that would not only satisfy my own personal needs as a storyteller, but the needs of the story itself. Honestly,” he admits, “I feel like I didn’t have the technical ability to pull off the story until now.”
After years as a successful comic artist but no published writing experience under his belt, pitching the story was a careful process that Bermejo took the time to do properly. “Since the process of devising the story took so long, I really wanted to have a crystal clear idea of each story beat before pitching it, so I wrote a fairly detailed summary. I used that and an image I’d created to pitch the concept, knowing that it wasn’t something that was going to necessarily be an easy sell.“
Understandable, as Vertigo is more known for offbeat, conceptual comics, while DC stuck with the more common “good guys punching bad guys” trope, but Bermejo was quick to address that. “While it feels like something big and muscular, the story itself is very noir and character-driven. It isn’t just about these guys fighting in the arena, it’s about the lives of these two men, and so I presented it as being something like The Fighter crossed with Escape from New York and Mad Max.”
While many artists struggle with the added stress of writing and plotting their first solo comic, that didn’t seem to be an issue for Bermejo. “I don’t find it any more difficult to write and draw than to just draw. They both have the same focus: tell the story. Certainly it’s a lot more freeing to write and draw because you can craft every nuance of the story exactly the way you see fit. With this project, the main concern was finding a way to make people curious and emotionally involved in this world and these characters. It’s harder to do with something new as opposed to something like Batman where people love him because they have so much history with the character.”
Batman this book is not, but you still get a strong sense of each character from only one issue, which is a testament to Bermejo’s storytelling skills. Collaborating on a comic comes with its own highs but doing his own series from inception to completion managed to surprise Bermejo along the way. “The most surprising thing for me as really been seeing this thing that I’ve been living with in my head for so many years become a reality. For all the precision and blood, sweat, and tears I’ve putting into crafting it, at a certain point it takes on a life of its own and becomes. It sounds awfully artsy,” he admits, “but it’s true. You set out to do something thinking you have a crystal clear idea of what it is, but the end result is something similar but different. Plus, seeing what the brilliant Matt Hollingsworth has done with the colours has been amazing! He is really an essential part of the feel of this world. Best fucking high I’ve ever experienced… holding the actual book in my hands and seeing it realized.”
SUICIDERS #1 comes out February 25th and is available at your local comic book shop. Check out these exclusive pages from issue #1 below!