By Jarrod Jones. I’m going to let my bias show a little bit here: Ray Fawkes is one of my favorite writers. From the dauntingly horrific fever dreams of Intersect to revealing the scaly underbelly of Gotham City in Gotham By Midnight, Fawkes has proven time and again that he is an essential voice to the industry.
When you meet Ray, it can be a bit intimidating — if his body of work is any indication, the man takes his craft very seriously. But if you look closely underneath the shadow of his darkened brow, you’ll find a glint of mischief in his eyes. That there’s a bit of the trickster inside of him. Ray Fawkes is myth-making again, something he’s resoundingly proficient at, but with Jackpot!, his first creator-owned series with artist Marco Failla and AfterShock Comics, Ray’s imbuing his myth with more than a bit of mirth.
Ray Fawkes sat down with me on a Sunday afternoon two weeks ago to discuss Jackpot!, his collaboration with artist Marco Failla, and what it took to fully understand the art of the con.
DoomRocket: So tell us a little bit about ‘Jackpot!’
Ray Fawkes: Jackpot! is about a group of freewheeling con artists who may be the best in the world at what they do, but it’s kinda hard to tell sometimes. [Laughs] This is the story about them coming across something better than money, that there’s power out there that they can steal — it’s essentially the power of the gods. It’s a story of them facing off against those gods and trying to take what those gods have. And as con artists do, they try to take it by being tricky, by being clever. This is not a strong-armed story; this is the story about worming the power out from people.
DR: So these con men — they’re contemporary archetypes of con men.
DR: As such these hustlers think that they can put one over on ancient, possibly eternal beings. So naturally there’s going to be some tremendous conflict there.
RF: Yes. Absolutely.
DR: Will these people have aces up their sleeves? Are they prepared for this battle?
RF: It would be proper to say that they are not prepared for this battle, but as soon as they realize the stakes of what’s coming, all of the aces get implemented. It’s all about trickery, it’s all about confidence, and in fact, there’s a number of tricks that I challenge the readers to spot before they get revealed.
DR: Are we working with contained arcs here?
RF: The first arc is six issues long. With a… very definite resolution. [Laughs]
DR: Well! [Laughs] I don’t want to go digging too deeply there — I DO want to read this thing. [Laughs] When you’re putting these concepts of hustlers together, what kind of research are you doing to master the art of the con?
RF: I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction and watching a lot of nonfiction about hustlers and con artists, but this has been a lifelong fascination for me. I’ve done a lot of research, and I’ve talked to friends who’ve had some… shady relatives. [Laughs] I’ve learned a lot about they way con artists work, how they can pull from the very small to the very large. You’re gonna see both in these books. You’re gonna see dirty bar hustles for 20 bucks, all the way up to trying to take somebody for all they’ve got.
DR: So these fellas, this rag-tag crew. What can you tell us about the dichotomy of this group? Are there gonna be betrayals?
RF: Yeah, man. I mean, how could you trust anybody? Especially when you’re working with people whose job is betraying trust. There are certain characters who obviously have closer ties to each other than others, they trust each other more, but maybe that just makes them more vulnerable. One thing about this book is everything you think you see might not be real. You gotta work it through to the end. Who can you trust? Who can you believe?
DR: See, you’re describing this right now, and I can’t help but think of that Christopher Nolan film, ‘The Prestige’.
RF: [Nods] Oh, yeah!
DR: [Holds up an imaginary rubber ball] “Are you paying attention?“
RF: “Did you see the trick?” Yeah. Yes. And the lot of the parts early in the story that seem weird or mysterious — it’s part of the trick. It’s like, “you saw that thing, and you felt a little strange about it. Have you figured out yet how it plays into the trick?”
DR: One of the things I love about your work is that you have an aesthetic that you employ often — a style, like Jim Corrigan’s skinny ties in ‘Gotham By Midnight’. I love that. Can we expect more of this in ‘Jackpot!’?
RF: This is a gang that’s pretty high style. You’re gonna see — yeah. I’m gonna bring a lot of style to this. There’s a globetrotting aspect to the story as well.
DR: It’s so sharp. I was looking at some of the interiors, the few that are available online, and obviously the tremendous cover by Brian Stelfreeze…
RF: Well, Marco Failla, who’s doing the interiors — and the covers by Stelfreeze, and we have some variants by Andrew Robinson — they’re unbelievable. They’re making these guys look even better than I wanted them to. And they’ve also… you haven’t seen this in the previews, but I’ve put some heavy demands on these artists. And they’re doing a stellar job with it. Especially Marco. I mean, he has to portray not just these street-level cons, these things that happen in bars and hotels, but he also has to portray these reality-bending powers — these gods. As much as there is of these guys sitting in bars and flipping coins, you’re gonna get people manipulating the parameters of time and space. And life and death.
DR: There’s a Promethean bent to all of this.
RF: Oh, yeah.
DR: There’s man’s innate desire to claim the fire for themselves —
RF: — to steal fire from the gods. Yes. Absolutely.
DR: Are you going to be digging into any metatextual concepts here, perhaps man’s desire to further the technology that’s running our lives?
RF: Oh, definitely. I mean — it’s me, so I can’t avoid heavy philosophy. [Laughs] We’re going to get into the discussion of “what is a god?” and “what deserves to be a god?” I don’t want to get too deep into this; I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but what qualifies somebody to have that level of power? Who should and should not have that power, right? And when you’re dealing with criminals, who specialize in deception — are these the types of people who should have the level of power that they’re after?
DR: They’re facing off against what I can only assume is this pantheon of gods, not singular.
DR: Are we going to recognize any names?
RF: No. This is a pantheon of… true gods. And the deal is, these were once people, people who gained this power that can be stolen. You would know them as the famous gods in the way that they’ve shown themselves to ordinary humans, right? But in actuality, they are not actually those gods. In a way, they are liars too.
DR: So you’ve got this heist set up in your mind. This nigh-Biblical thing going on between man and god.
DR: We know we’re gonna learn about the hustlers, but are we getting a window into the purview of these gods?
RF: Yes. You’ll have windows into the gods themselves. You’ll get a window into the operation of the world, how it existed under these gods and how it exists today. And how it is possible that this entire pantheon can operate in the shadows with people worshipping them, but have no idea what they’re actually up to.
DR: You’ve mentioned that they’re a bit mischievous, sort of hustlers themselves.
DR: Are they operating reality like a business? And if they are, is there an animosity that exists because of this?
RF: It’s more like they operate the world like a bank. [Laughs] They’re the ones sitting on the bank of power. They dole it out in very limited amounts to the people at large. What better temptation for these hustlers than to realize that there’s this bank that doesn’t hold money, but pure power?
DR: You’re putting this book out through AfterShock. Their first wave of books have been spectacular. What I love is the first impressions I’m getting from ‘Jackpot!’. It looks and feels like it belongs on the shelf with the rest of these books, but what’s more, it feels like you’re ushering in this next wave.
RF: The second wave of books is starting in April. Jackpot! is one of three books coming out [‘Rough Riders’ and ‘Black-Eyed Kids’ also ship in April], and I’m super proud that it’s coming out with that wave. And I’m also proud to be a part of the AfterShock stable, because they’re putting out these books that no one else is doing! No one else is doing books like this. It’s great.
DR: Were you shopping this project around before you came to AfterShock?
RF: It was a project that I definitely wanted to do. I had talked to one or two people before, but not as seriously [as with AfterShock]. And when I approached AfterShock, they showed serious interest in it. We knew from there that this was the right place for the book.
DR: And the energy coming from the book, the energy shared between you and your creative team, is obviously working out very well.
RF: Oh, yeah. It was through AfterShock that I met Marco, and, y’know, that was amazing. When we talked about the covers, we all put our heads together and came up with names — sort of “blue sky” artists we would’ve loved to have — and we got ’em.
DR: One of the recurring things I keep noticing about this company is that everybody seems to be gravitating towards them.
RF: You know what? They have a great line of books, a great stable of creators. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to work with them.
DR: Hopping back on ‘Jackpot!’. Now, obviously, I don’t want to pry —
DR: What can we anticipate with this first arc? What kind of emotions can we prime ourselves for? Are we going to learn to love some of these characters — or are we going to learn to hate them?
RF: That’s really going to depend on the reader. I think there’s definitely a lot to invest in these guys on an emotional level. The main characters of this book are people that I go to some effort for you to be able to understand why they do what they do. Why they are the way they are. And I would hope that the people are cheering for them. On the other hand, you are going to learn to hate some of them too.
DR: I suppose anytime one person tries to rip something out of the hands of somebody else…
RF: There’s a certain kind of person who would take whatever they want without earning it.
DR: Thank you so much, Ray.
RF: You got it! Thank you!
‘Jackpot!’ #1 hits stores and comiXology on April 13!