Interview with ‘The Fix’ Artist Steve Lieber

lieber1Steve Lieber has been involved with multiple projects alongside a wide array of high quality creators. From Whiteout with Greg Rucka to his other collaboration with The Fix co-creator and writer Nick Spencer in Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Lieber’s expressive, sharp art style stands out and is intrinsic to the variety of comics he has been a part of. His newest title The Fix, with writer Nick Spencer, colourist Ryan Hill, and letterer/designer Nic J. Shaw, is a hilarious and depraved story of two desperate corrupt police officers. Lieber was able to answer some questions via email regarding the multiple ideas around the comic.

Graphic Policy: Though it is still relatively fresh to the comic stands, The Fix has a similar tone to Superior Foes: fun, fast paced, with anti-hero characters but with a darker sense of humour. Was this a direction that you both envisioned early on in the stages to developing The Fix?

Steve Lieber: Absolutely. I think Nick and I knew something really good was happening in our collaboration on Superior Foes. I came into it looking forward to doing all the exciting, inventive things we did at Marvel, while taking advantage of the remarkable creative freedom that we have at Image. We can go a lot darker than we ever could on a corporate-owned franchise. This is a crime story as well as a comedy, and there’s a lot of stuff in our story that isn’t appropriate for kids.

We also have a level of control that Marvel and DC will never give a storyteller. No one is telling us we have to ship twice in the same month, or tie into a cross over, or work around a house-ad stuck in the middle of a story with no regard for narrative flow. We get to make choices that serve the story and the characters, not the marketing department.

fix1As for why anti-heroes, for me it comes down to learning that Nick and I have a knack for them. Some of the funniest people I’ve ever met are irredeemable narcissists. You wouldn’t want to depend on them in a crisis, but they tell great stories, and their lack of any sort of moral compass tends to lead them in interesting directions.

GP: There is definitely something about a well put together anti-hero story that I really love, especially with the kind of buddy-cop vibe that is going on in The Fix as well. There is something political being said here by having main characters Roy and Mac as police officers. Without digging into your intentions, how important is it to you to mirror the current hot societal topics through the comics medium?

SL: Police issues are certainly in the news right now, but I don’t really approach this as topical. The systems that make it easier for a cop to break the law have been with us for as long as we’ve had law enforcement. If we wanted to so archers and men on horseback, we could do a knucklehead criminal-cop comedy about the sheriff of Nottingham.

GP: The keen sense of comedic timing with the panel layouts is really well done. The whole sequence with Donovan in Issue #1 as well as the death by banjo string in Issue #2 come to mind. Steve, are there are any key aspects to your approach to visual storytelling to maintain the energy through the heavy dialogue?

SL: It’s figuring out what’s funny about a scene. Where are the laughs? Where’s the pain? With Donovan’s burger story, the dialogue Nick wrote was so great, so over-the-top, that I could underplay Roy’s reactions. It was fun taking a guy who has been just monstrously cocky throughout the comic and turning him into a Bob Newhart character, barely coping with an awful social situation he can’t escape.

If I have a key approach to making the humor work visually, it’s that I try to never, ever let a flashy or impressive drawing upstage the joke. This was hard. In superhero comics, the prevailing aesthetic is creating big, exciting images. Flipping through the comic is like watching the trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster. Artists are rewarded for creating eye-catching, show-stopper pages. If I did that on The Fix, the pacing would be ruined, the jokes would fall flat, and our readers would be thinking “Wow, Steve can really draw.” rather than “Wow, Roy is complete moral garbage.”

lieber2GP: Can you talk a bit on working alongside colourist Ryan Hill? His colours provide a very warm, atmospheric touch.

SL: I love working with Ryan. His color choices are gorgeous, and he’s 100% focused on telling the story. Every choice he makes is about evoking the appropriate mood, getting the minutiae right, and creating a hierarchy of focus that guides the reader’s eye correctly. It’s a tough to strike the balance between aesthetic and practical considerations, but Ryan nails it every time.

Color has changed significantly in comics in the 25 years since I got out of comic-book art school. My teachers taught me that drawing for color meant drawing so that poorly-chosen color couldn’t screw things up too badly. Things have gotten a lot better since then. Working with someone as good as Ryan, my job is to leave him plenty of room to make his own choices, and let his color take its place as an integral part of our storytelling.

GP: I am a bit leery with all of the comic books being adapted to film nowadays. Some are rather well done and stay true to the characters. The Fix to me has a very Shane Black vibe. How do you feel about the influx of these adaptations and would you be open to having some of your respective work make this transition?

SL: The Fix could be a great movie or tv series, but I honestly try not to think about that stuff at all. My entire focus is on making the best comic book I can, and I’m already doing that right now, with a supportive publisher and three wildly talented collaborators.

GP: What are your thoughts on Battlebots?

SL: Jizzmotron’s unstoppable this year.

The first two issues of The Fix are available now from Image Comics, with the first issue going into a third printing and the second going into a second printing. The third issue is out June 8th.