Caught In the Nexus: Jason Rand & Juan Ferreyra

Caught In the Nexus: Jason Rand & Juan Ferreyra
By Daron Kappauff

A few months ago Image comics was all over the news when it was announced that two of their biggest titles Powers and Kabuki were leaving the company and going over to Marvel. There was a lot of ridiculous talk about the company going under without these big selling titles, but obviously that wasn’t the case. Soon after, it seemed like Image fell off everyone’s radar , the Internet community just “moved on.”

BUT, while no one was paying attention, Image put together an amazing lineup; creating smart and fun titles of all genres. Among these great titles, the relatively new Small Gods stands out the most. The Small Gods team of Jason Rand & Juan Ferreyra (relative new comers to the industry) have created a title that breaks the mold of genre classification. Instead, Small Gods masterfully intertwines multiple genres together to tell compelling stories that are obviously fiction, but feel very real to the reader.

I had the opportunity recently to talk to both Jason and Juan about their project. The conversation went something like this:

The Nexus: To get things started, can you describe Small Gods in about a paragraph for those readers who may not know about the series?

Jason: No.

But I can in a page or two. Heh. Kris (our editor) is always complaining about how wordy I am. I confess, she has a point, but there’s just so much to Small Gods, I find it hard to encapsulate everything in a small space.

The way I see Small Gods is as a setting, a universe, rather than just a story. The major difference between our world and that of Small Gods is that psychics are real there – and not only real, but widespread. Approximately 1% of the world’s population – 63 million people, give or take – are psychics. And every single one faces the same problems and dilemmas – often even worse ones – than the rest of us. That’s what Small Gods is all about – these people and their problems. So right now, to the average reader, Small Gods is a cop/crime drama – and it is that, but as you’ll see when we get into future arcs it’s much more than just that.

Juan: I want to add that Small Gods is a book about 6″ x 10″, 32 pages , 22 of main story, 4 of back up story. It looks nice and reads better, I think.

Jason: 6″ by 10″? What’s that? We’re all metric here, bud!

Juan: Ha! I don’t know either.

The Nexus: So are you saying that the book is going to shift its focus to other characters and not just be about Owen in the coming arcs?

Jason: Exactly. Revolving casts, revolving stories, revolving genres. The second arc has elements of cop/crime drama, like the first – but it’s more like a chase or action movie, and the protagonist is actually a petty criminal. The third arc is even more out there – something of a spy movie crossed with a dark, psychological thriller and it centres on an insane empath assassin. And we go on from there. A number of the casts will be recurring, though – we’ll see the mob from the first arc again when the sixth arc rolls around, for instance.

The Nexus: Okay, I’m curious to find out how the two of you got together for this project. If my research is correct, Jason lives in Australia and Juan lives in Argentina, so how did all of this come about?

Jason: The internet. Probably not a surprising answer – it’s the only way it could have happened, really. I don’t know any Australian artists personally, so when I decided to pursue Small Gods, I knew that if I was going to put together an art team advertising online was the only way I could do it. I’d already found Digital Webbing and their Talent Search section (which is a godsend – literally hundreds of artists check it out, going by the number of responses I received) and I’d used it to advertise before, but Small Gods was the first time I’d really gone out on a limb and put up money to pay for a team. I got a lot of responses. Juan was one of them and we eventually hooked up. I’ll leave it to Juan to tell you about the rest of the saga – suffice it to say I didn’t immediately settle on him and I’m still shaking my head over that one.

Juan: there were no Austrians artists available, so the next country on the list was Argentina. I think that was the way…

I was working with 4 other guys from the talent search engine before I saw Jason’s post. I submitted and he replied something like “I like your stuff but you’re in the waiting list!” So I waited and after 2 artists (one of them Phantom Jack’s artist) he chose me!

Jason: Something like that. Austria was next on the list, actually, but I decided to take a chance and work in reverse alphabetic order.

Juan: And that is why I just only draw!

The Nexus: Getting back to Small Gods’ origins…how did you guys end up at Image? Were they your first choice of publishers?

Jason: Always. I’d been paying close attention to Image for some time before I came up with Small Gods and I knew that the deal they offered was the one I wanted. Plus, I really respect Jim Valentino and I really love what Image has been doing with their creator-owned line-up for some years now, so I knew we’d be in good company. And having that big I on the cover…yeah, it all sounded good to me. So we submitted – and we were lucky or good enough (bit of both, I’d say) to get in.

Juan: er…humm…I just only draw!

The Nexus: What about the origin of the series itself? Did you have any specific inspirations when you created the series? And Juan, are there any secrets you can share on how you came up with the “feel” for the series?

Jason: Hummm…not that I can really point to. I don’t know, I’ve never been very good at picking out specific influences, but I think it’s a safe assumption that a lot of different things came together to help form Small Gods. What I find interesting was that prior to ’01, when I first started writing comics, I’d never have written anything like this. Back when I was all about the prose, I never wrote anything in a contemporary setting and I never wrote anything about psychics. Just didn’t interest me that much. And now – I love writing Small Gods. I just finished work on a few other commitments a couple of days ago and started on the script for SG#10 and it was like a treat coming back to it, really. I feel like I’m spoiling myself.

Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. You know, there is one influence I can point to. That opening scene in the first issue? You can blame that on Law & Order: SVU. Heh.

Juan: What “feel”? he! The problem is that the feel is still building. First, I drew the first pages thinking it was gonna be a color book, then they told us it was gonna be a B&W book, so I gave it a different approach by adding a lot of details to everything, finally we decided to use greys on it, so the first issue is really a mess!

Also it was the first time that I used the computer to add greys to anything so it was a learning process that I think finally at issue #5 I’m getting the results I want. I think that is will show as issues start coming out that I start to feel more confident.

The Nexus: So, it wasn’t your choice to do the book in Black & White? How did the decision come about?

Juan: I think it was because we were unknown artists with a not very mainstream concept, like a caped guy. So Image thought it was better to go B&W. But I don’t know why everyone is making so much noise about B&W comics, it must be that I grew up reading color and B&W comics at the same time, for me is natural. The only decision we made is to do it in grey scales, the idea came when I was doing the dream sequence on issue#1, that was made in washed inks so I thought I could do the whole book like that. But to make a distinction between the powers they use and normal situations, I painted the whole comic with computer and the special effects with washed inks.

The Nexus: When you submitted to Image, did you send them the complete first issue with your proposal, and if so how many changes did you have to make after they accepted it?

Jason: No – being as how I was paying Juan to draw the pages, I wanted to be economical. I have no problems with bankrolling the comic – hey, it’s my baby, so I better be prepared to take a chance on it – but until we had a publication deal, I figured I’d better watch how much I was spending. After all, if Small Gods wasn’t picked up, I had other ideas I wanted to pursue (and one which I currently am). On the other hand, it was my firm intention to keep hitting up companies until I found one that wanted Small Gods. Guess we just got lucky on the first try.

We were asked to change a few things, but considering the proposal was just the minimum five pages plus cover, there wasn’t that much. We ended up going through a few different covers before settling on one that everyone liked, though.

The Nexus: Moving back to Small Gods’ stories, you’ve talked a bit about future arcs, how far ahead have you plotted (or even scripted), and is there a “bigger” story evolving, or is each story an independent look at these different psychics?

Jason: Well, like I said, I’ve just started work on #10, which is the start of the third arc. Plots of varying degrees of detail take us through the sixth arc. Beyond that I’ve got some basic ideas, but I haven’t ironed out who or what comes next. I originally planned for things to be completely standalone, but as I went along certain links started suggesting themselves. It’ll be a while before that builds into a “bigger picture”, though. But regular readers may have fun spotting the links between different arcs. They’re not essential to understanding what’s going on in each arc – but they’re fun to include.

Juan: I know the ending!

Jason doesn’t know it yet, I constantly draw some stuff that cannot be grasped on the surface, these little subliminal drawings start to wash Jason’s brain so he will end up writing the story I want to tell! I’m evil!

Jason: Dammit! I wondered what all those sex dreams were about!

The Nexus: Let’s talk about new readers. You recently told me that Diamond had sold out of issue #1, which will make it hard for new readers to get started with the series. Are there any plans to put out a trade in the near future? And what about a good jump on point for those readers who want to try the book right away, but don’t want to feel lost in doing so?

Jason: Yeah, that and #3 just about – even before it was on shelves! But there are very much plans for a trade. In fact, it’s going to be solicited for January publication, so you won’t have to wait too long if you want to pick it up. The start of every arc is a perfect jumping-on point, though – new cast, new story – so #5 is the place to start if you’ve missed out on the first arc so far.

Juan: One of the good things about Small Gods is that at the beginning of each arc you can jump in and will enjoy it as much as anyone reading from issue 1. Another good thing about our book is that the back up stories are all SG related so they will be included in the trade as well, so you’ll get two or more complete stories per trade even if it is about a single arc.

The Nexus: What about past work, do either of you have any credits in the industry, pre Small Gods?

Jason: Ummm…nothing I’m aware of. I wrote a few short stories for a small company called Committed Comics, but I’m not sure if those ever have or will see publication. After that, I just concentrated on creator-owned work – like Small Gods. I’ve got a few other things coming up, though – a superhero title called Helios that I scripted from someone else’s idea and a few shorts – one for a small press anthology called Synaptic Graffiti, one for Western Tales of Terror (that’ll be with Juan if he ever has the time to draw it, heh) and one for an anthology for Penny Farthing’s Decoy title. And the other big thing I’m excited about at the moment is my next creator-owned project that I’m in the process of putting together with penciller/inker Jean-Paul Mavinga.

Juan: I worked with self publication in my country Argentina (so I didn’t work just as a hobby and learning experience) I made 5 issues of a comic book called Elvisman (with Diego Cortes writing) and 2 issues of another called “el LUD” (with Esteban Redolfi writing). I made also 3 issues for Denmark, a comic called “Dukse Drengen”

And For Jason’s book Helios I just made issue #3 cover!

The Nexus: Okay, let’s talk a minute about comics in general. What titles are the two of currently reading?

Jason: Aw, hell…too damn many to enumerate. But some of my favourites are Sleeper, Rex Mundi, Invincible, The Walking Dead, Planetary (when it comes out), Hawaiian Dick, Kabuki, Powers, Daredevil, The Punisher…and there are others. Forsaken and Ultra are two other new series from Image that I think show a lot of promise. I generally give almost every new Image book at least a try – and considering that 99 times out of a hundred I stick with them, that says something about Image’s hit rate in my opinion.

Juan: Damn, this sucks, I cannot get comics in my city anymore and now if I order some online each comic costs me exactly 3 times more than it will cost any of you so I haven’t bought comics since 2001. I read SG #1 like a month and a half after it came out! But there are guys that still buy some and I give sometimes a read. The few stuff I could get my hands on and I liked are, 100 bullets, Ex Machina, The walking dead, invincible, ultra and forsaken too, we 3 , planetary and that`s all I remember right now.

The Nexus: What about influences. What creators most influence your work (if not the Small Gods series itself)?

Jason: What did I just say about influences??

Well, I have to come back to my first answer. I really have a hard time picking influences out of my work. I’m sure I’ve taken a bit from everything and everyone I’ve ever read, though. Well, the good ones, at least. The creators I enjoy most at the moment are guys like Ellis, Bendis and Kirkman. Add Ennis and The Punisher for when I’m in a nasty mood. I’m in awe of Alan Moore, but oddly enough I wouldn’t say I really like all his work. I read for entertainment and escapism, not to explore the depths of the human condition or whatever. So while I think things like V for Vendetta, The Watchmen, Promethea and others are fantastic work, I’d rather curl up with Invincible or Ultimate Spiderman. Yes, I’m an unashamedly light reader.

I love Top 10, though.

Juan: Brian Bolland, Kevin Nowlan, Adam Hughes, Travis Charest, Kevin Maguire, Brian Hitch, Alan Davis, Frank Quitely and a lot of others.

The Nexus: All right, before we close up shop here today, let’s talk hypothetically for a moment. If DC, Marvel, or any other company were to offer you your choice of any title/character to write/draw, which title or characters would you choose?

Jason: You like putting us on the spot, don’t you? Well, at the moment (and I’m fickle, so this may change at any day), I’d have to say I’d be most interested in taking on a couple of Marvel characters. Firstly Daredevil – I’ve loved Bendis’ run on DD and I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at it myself. It’d be a challenge following him up, but it’d be worth it. Secondly, the Punisher. I’ve always had a soft spot for Frank Castle, depraved and desensitised person that I am, and with its realistic elements, I think it’s a title that I’d gel with.

Oh, and I should add Conan into the mix, too. I like what Busiek’s doing with him at the moment and I always liked the Conan comics back in the early ’90s, especially the oversized B&W series…what was it, Savage Sword of Conan?

Juan: From DC I would love to draw Superman, I have every comic from ’86 to 2001. So I kind of know a little bit the character. Batman would be great too, dark, dark, very dark, silent, no words, dark… From Marvel Wolverine and also he punisher, dark, dark, very dark, silent, no words, dark…. Actually a bit loud on the machine guns!

So Jason if they ever offer you Punisher, give me a call!

Jason: You’re on, bud!

The Nexus: Similarly, if you could work with any other creator in the field (artist or co-writer for Jason and writer for Juan) who would it be?

Jason: Stop it! Okay, okay…I’m gonna leave out heaps of people, I’m sure, but artists who immediately spring to mind are David Mack, John Cassaday, Adam Hughes and Greg Land. I’m also love to do something with Tim Bradstreet – I’ve been a big fan of his work ever since his days of illustrating roleplaying games, like Shadowrun. There are also a number of young punks (if you will), whose work at Wildstorm I really enjoyed when I was getting into comics back in ’01 – Lee Bermejo, Carlos D’anda and Richard Friend. Don’t ask me to cut it down to just one guy – that’s impossible.

As far as co-writers…well, I’ve never actually written with a co-writer, so I have no idea how well we’d play. But I’d have a hard time going past Warren Ellis.

Juan: Garth Ennis would be cool, Alan Moore too, Warren Ellis and Brian K Vaughan …hmmm that I can recall at the moment.

The Nexus: Well, I think that just about wraps things up. Do you guys have anything else you want to say to our readers before we go?

Jason: I like cheese.

No, seriously, I hope you all give Small Gods a chance. I think you’ll like it. And if you ever have any questions about it, or want to catch some exclusive previews and see what else we’re working on, stop by the Small Gods forum at the Image site (www.imagecomics.com).

Juan: I like ham then!

And yes stop by the forum is fun and crowded and we would love to hear your thoughts about it. We show how we do pages, the covers, we make fun of the posters, is like home!

Ah! And buy our book or else… we will stop publishing it!

The Nexus: Thanks a lot for your time guys it’s been entertaining. Good luck with Small Gods

Jason: Thanks, Daron. As interviews go, this has only been slightly painful.

Heh.

Juan: Thank you, I had fun and got to learn a lot form that guy that gives me the scripts. Ok move along people! There’s nothing to see here! Go buy yourself some ice cream!

For more on Small Gods check out my recent article on the title, and make sure to check out Small Gods#4, which ships this coming Wednesday, 10/20/04.

This week in the Nexus, Daron sits down with Jason Rand & Juan Ferreyra to talk about their critically acclaimed series, Small Gods.