by Jarrod Jones. Take from the über-rich, the capitalists-run-amok, the over-the-line authoritarians, and give, give, give to those held down by them all. Do it without leaving a trace. No killing. Be righteous. Be true.
This is the credo of Quarter Killer, a cyberpunk blast of comix from writers Vita Ayala and Danny Lore, artist Jamie Jones (no relation) and letterer Ryan Ferrier. This latest ComiXology Originals series could (and should) be considered a not-so-distant-future Robin Hood, where the convolution that is the internet serves as a Tron-infused, labyrinthine Sherwood Forest and Quentin Kidd (“QK” to you) is our neo-contempo Robin of Loxley.
The first two issues of Quarter Killer are available exclusively on ComiXology now. To commemorate the release of this inventive and refreshing new sci-fi action series, Vita Ayala, Danny Lore and Jamie Jones spoke with DoomRocket about the concepts that make up the mainframe of Quarter Killer, its cyberpunk trappings, and what (as unabashed gamers) they’re currently playing when they’re not conceiving this brave new world.
DoomRocket: Vita and Danny, you’ve said that you began laying down the bricks to ‘Quarter Killer’ back when you were both working at Forbidden Planet. Jamie, once you came on board, the project began to take shape. If you would, please tell our readers about the beginning stages of ‘Quarter Killer’—“Level One”, if you’ll allow it—and how your mutual love of cyberpunk went into the conceptual stage.
Danny Lore: So the story of Quarter Killer is very much the story of our friendships as creators. Vita and I met almost exactly a decade ago, and we spent a lot of our time together just passing ideas back and forth. “Someone who takes jobs for quarters so they can play old video games and call their mama,” was probably the second idea we ever conceived of, and since then it just grew and evolved—in no small part due to Vita introducing me to Jamie and the three of us gelling naturally.
As for cyberpunk, we all, I think, brought a love of that with us into the friendship. I’m a big fan of cyberpunk as a ‘current retrofuture,’ but also in the ways that it is the world we live in currently, and I think that we are all in agreement there.
Vita Ayala: Like Danny said, Quarter Killer came from us riffing. Since the day we met, we have had a super creatively-charged relationship—I think part of our friend love language is presenting each other with new and wild ideas. We came up with that basic concept first, and then we ran through who the characters would be literally name first (which I never do, but it felt right). QK first, then Lo Tek (who is the hardware guy and QK’s husband), Hi Top (who had to be related to Lo Tek), etc. Working with Danny, especially on this project, is one of the smoothest experiences in my life because we vibe.
Cyberpunk was something fundamentally important to us both, and I think we hadn’t even discussed that yet. It just felt right to be cyberpunk/Afro-future, and as we built out we discovered more and more how both of us spoke the same language referentially.
Jamie Jones: So I met Vita at a convention three years ago and we hit it off. When I got home they hit me with the idea for QK. It was real loose at that time. Just some character names and a high concept. And I fell in love with the characters. But, years went by and the book became one of the many, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could…” Then when the deal with comiXology came around we jumped into the deep end. Tightening up concepts and taking all the stuff I had learned in the past years and applying it to the book. But the groundwork was there. I don’t think I changed too much of what I really loved of those first sketches.
2. There’s something so pure about making quarters more precious than gold, as is the case in ‘Quarter Killer’. It does allow folks to play video games and call their mothers, which reminds me of when I was ten, eleven, and how I’d scrounge change so I could hit up the gumball and pinball machines. (And call my mom if I needed to.) The level of youthful exuberance is palpable in this book—did either of you set out to recreate that feeling of being a kid in this series, having a pocketful of quarters, and feeling like you were in charge of the world?
VA: I think it would be very difficult to convince people to go along with us on this journey; to have them stay as we tackle some rough themes and harder sci-fi stuff would be h a r d without giving folks fun! Part of what was important to us is to show that these people’s lives, while full of danger and drama, are also full of joy.
It isn’t a mistake that the entry character is a child (Aya). We were priming people to feel the wonder and magic that comes with that perspective.
DL: I think that was always part of the fun of this. We deal with really weighty topics throughout this series, but the heart of it was always the feel and sound of an arcade, and of family. When you’re doing a story about family, I think feeling like a kid, protected by the rest of your family but also still looking at the world as this wondrous colorful place, is a really exciting perspective to write from. It gives you this kind of cocky confidence—I mean let’s be real “you can’t mess with me, my big sibling QK will get you” is a big ego booster—that makes for exciting story.
I also think a lot of that exuberance comes out of how excited we are about every part of this process. We are excited to plot, to see each other’s scripts, to see the stages of Jamie’s art and Ryan’s letters. Every stage of the process feels like that moment of walking into an arcade with a pocketful of quarters, and I’m really glad to hear that comes across.
3. Let’s talk about Ryan Ferrier’s lettering. The SFX onomatopoeia take the form of street art, and captions have a calligraphic veneer. How does the arcade aesthetic, as well as the book’s cyberpunk style, factor into ‘Quarter Killer’?
VA: Seriously, as stated, Ryan is brilliant. We give him a concept, and he goes absolutely buckwild with it. I think I mentioned that the hip hop influence was something that we wanted to explore in design, and he was like “bet” and came back with some of the most fun and dynamic lettering choices and design elements I have ever seen. He is a blessing to work with!
Every part of the book is working towards the same holistic vibe, and we could not do that without Ryan.
DL: Ryan is a genius, point blank. There’s so much about shape and silhouette that he brings to this story that elevates our writing. It’s so much fun to make SFXs knowing that Ryan is going to get his digital hands on it!
So a thing about cyberpunk is that a lot of the cyberpunk that gets big can be very white and straight, even if the surrounding world in the story is marginalized people. So it was really important to us that every detail of this book feels like the cyberpunk future of the world that Vita and I grew up in (LES and Harlem/Bronx, respectively). And Ryan masterfully did that with every letter on the page.
JJ: Ryan is a fantastic writer and letters his own comics. I think his knowledge from working both the first and final steps in the comics process allows him to make the best decisions for the story’s overall readability. Balloons are in the most pleasing places and the SFXs always have the most impact. Ryan is at the top of the field in lettering and always comes back with better SFXs and visual design than I could have ever thought of. Listen, I stopped doing sound effects on the art when I saw what he was bringing to the table.
4. The story of ‘Quarter Killer’ centers around Aya. Small, curious, adventuresome, awesome. Aya’s uncle is the hacker savant QK, who’s reticent about Aya seeing too much of how they operate in the field. What can you tell me about Aya, what she represents, and how she’ll affect QK’s hero-for-hire operations?
DL: So Aya serves a few purposes for us. For one, we really wanted a Lone Wolf and Cub feel (although I guess it’s more of a Pack of Wolves and Cub story!), and it felt like having the kid character was very necessary. On the flipside, kids are observant and ask questions and are often incredibly passionate—and that allows us to engage the audience with world-building in a way that feels natural, that doesn’t end up as boxes of exposition.
I think a lot of times a badass protagonist like QK isn’t allowed to have a family, isn’t allowed to come from a place of warmth. And we wanted that for them, to show that all that coolness doesn’t have to be wholly removed from a sense of home. And so Aya is part of that, giving QK an extended family that they have helped, that they can be connected to, and still do what they do.
VA: It hits me weekly that there is no gender-neutral term for the relationship between a person and their sibling’s kids. We gotta get on that!
Danny covered the important bits about Aya, so let me just add that, even before we understand the relationship between QK and Aya, we knew we needed her to exist. We needed her to be the audiences first “in” into the world, because they would be coming in with no prior knowledge/fresh eyes. We needed a way to, story-wise, build up the Legend of the Quarter Killer, and quickly, and there is nothing like the awe and complete sureness in someone’s abilities that a child has for that. This is less thinking about exposition and more vibe. We needed to show that QK was the kinda folk that the most helpless went to for help, and that at the heart they are a White Hat (even if Aya had not a single quarter, and wasn’t related to them, you know well and good QK would have taken the job).
5. The world of ‘Quarter Killer’ is pinball pings and the hum of fluorescents, ‘Batman Beyond’ tech and ‘Tron’ lightspeed. Jamie, what did you know you wanted to articulate visually in this series? Did collaboration with Danny and Vita change the way you initially saw the world?
JJ: There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t collaborating with Danny and Vita on QK. There was no world without them. All I want to do in comics is make something fun and enjoyable to read. Readability over all else though. It doesn’t matter how cool something looks if you can’t figure out what panel you are supposed to read next you have a problem. From a world view it’s future tech but not terribly far in the future. I thought a lot about the cyclical nature of fashion bringing back prints from the 80s. And did a lot of thinking about what tech we would actually have in a few years. Drones are everywhere.
6. Staying with Jamie—the colors in ‘Quarter Killer’ is candy wrappers and Lisa Frank trapper-keepers with a chunky texture throughout. When you’re applying colors, are you thinking about mood and energy? How does that affect the way you approach a given sequence?
JJ: Mood and energy are all I think about. Well, that and readability. [Laughs] I think of sequences in colors. For example, if there is a fight scene I’ll use a lot of Oranges maybe. Lay the whole thing out in a tone so that way when you turn the page and the fight is over and the backgrounds go back to blue it signals to the reader, “Hey, this is a different beat.” It is also extremely useful for showing different locations at a single time. We do a lot of cutaways in this book. We’ll be following QK as he fights some bad guys and it will be electric blue. And then we’ll cut to Lo-Tec in the van and everything is in a pink hue. Gives the reader clarity of place and action.
7. Lo, a fixer in the Quarter Killers, has a pretty sturdy philosophy, that “nothing’s ever broken beyond repair—just, sometimes it has to become something else.” This applies to people, I think—that no matter how low we feel, or useless, we adapt, grow, become more. Is this something that propels the narrative of ‘Quarter Killer’? How does adaptability factor in?
VA: At the heart of every found family story, I think that this sentiment exists. When I wrote the line, I was thinking about literal bodies, but the more I thought about it, the more right it felt as one of the central themes. One of the most important things that scene does is set up that foundational premise, which we base literally the rest of the series on. Danny was the one to zero in on that when they read it, and they then ran with it going forward.
DL: I think this is one of the main tenets of the QK world. That even if things are scary, even if things are broken, if you care enough, it’s worth fixing—even if it involves changing things a little bit.
And I don’t think that Lo is the only person in the story that believes that. QK doesn’t work if they don’t believe that the world is worth fixing, that it’s not too broken—if it was, then their heroics don’t work.
8. Issue #2 introduces a heavy to the series, Blue Bossman. He’s a Jim Gordon-lookin’ tough type who lures in kids with Consoletrip, an addictive gaming experience, and holds them personally responsible for bringing in a certain amount of subscription payments each week. Bossman is keeping quota on subscriptions. Is this a commentary on how real-life gamers are susceptible to corporate-level developers’ various (and exploitative) in-game microtransactions? As gamers, what’s your take on microtransactions?
VA: For me, this was much more about how authority figures—cops, but also wider than that, politicians and other people with power over folks—are in the position to take advantage of the communities they are supposed to be protecting, and how vulnerable marginalized people are in those cases—especially children.
I don’t think there is anything inherently bad about video games (that would be a wildly weird take for me to have), but using them as a way to represent these power dynamics, and to also represent the very different ways that the kids viewed the world (versus the adults) was something that makes sense in context here.
DL: I’m exactly the kind of gamer that’s weak to microtransactions, even knowing that they can be exploitative. I video game, I play trading card games, I love getting gatcha blind boxes… but I also am constantly aware the structures that I’m playing into when I engage in it. And that is a large part of why we wanted to engage in this particular plotline—because there are so many structures in place that are targeting gamers, kids especially, and wouldn’t it be great to be able to swoop in and fix it?
But also I think there’s this weird issue that comes up when doing the ‘addictive video games’ storyline that we wanted to wrestle with—that story almost always ends with the concept that gaming is bad, or styles of gaming in general are bad. So when you have a character like QK who literally lives in an arcade, who clearly loves and engages with gaming on some level, you’re telling a different story. You’re not saying that gaming is bad, or that the players are all bad/weak/etc. You’re saying that there’s an issue that needs to be reckoned with, but that doesn’t mean you throw out the baby with the bathwater.
9. Jamie, let’s talk action. How do you lay out panels during an action sequence? Each page needs to further the story, so how do you maintain the narrative without losing an action sequence’s momentum?
JJ: The script for these sequences are pretty loose. Vita and Danny pretty much let me go to town, giving small beats that I need to hit to go along with the greater narrative of the issue. I have theater combat training and tend to lay out everything as if I were blocking for the stage. Every single attack is conflict and every response is resolution. And that resolution leads to more conflict until it doesn’t and the fight is over. This, if done right, tells a story in the fight. We see the power struggle between characters. Conflict and resolution. That call and response keeps the narrative moving. So, every fight should be its own mini-comic in the greater issue. Satisfying to read on its own and propelling you to see what comes next.
10. When you game—when you have time to game, I mean—what are you playing? What is it about that game that keeps you hooked?
VA: Oh man, I just got a few games that I steal a few hours a week to play! Borderlands 3 is just in the PS4 right now and not moving. I copped Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 and Collection Of for the Switch. And I have Pokémon and Death Stranding on pre-order.
I am a huge RPG fan, and both Pokémon and any Mana game (my fave is Legend of Mana) scratches that itch in the best way. I love building the right teams, and the beautiful, colorful worlds. I love how massive but immersive these games can be!
I love FPS games, but I am a huge chicken, so usually I end up dying quickly. [Laughs] But Borderlands—which is one of my favorite franchises in video games, full stop—is so ridiculous and funny and just plain bonkers that I am never scared when I play. The post-apocalyptic feel of the series and the skill trees also really appeal to me. They are some of the only games I play to 100% completion.
MUA 3 has been an amazing way to just relax for a few minutes at the end of stressful days. You can literally just hop on for 15 minutes and be good, or play for hours. And I like that I can play with folks I know without having to venture too much online. People are mean. [Laughs]
JJ: Megaman, Always Megaman. I tend to get bogged down with newer stuff. I like a clear end goal and tight controls.
DL: If I’m not writing, I’m gaming. My house is full of retro systems (N64, Sega, SNES) and PS4 and Nintendo Switch and… the list goes on! At the moment I’m replaying a couple of the Yakuza games and then playing Story of Seasons. For me, I’m incredibly anxious and have ADHD, and having a controller in my hand while focusing on a game quiets all of that nonsense in my head. Gaming is a safe place for me where I can fully engage my love of storytelling and my love of watching ridiculously extravagant fight scenes… when I’m not reading Jamie’s work!
‘Quarter Killer’ #1 & #2 are available on ComiXology now. Issue #3 is slated for a June 2020 release.
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Quarter Killer’ #2, courtesy of ComiXology!
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…