Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire [Interview]
January 6, 2016
JOE KELLY: A new reader can come into this cold, though I would of course recommend that they pick up book 1. Basically, it's 1934, Brooklyn, and the Great Depression is in full swing...P.S., there are also dragons in the world, and they are used in an underground fighting circuit. Enrico Savarese, a 10-year-old boy, lost his father to one of these dragons and decided to follow in his footsteps as a dragon hunter working for a mobster named Boccioni. That didn't go so well. However, Enrico did manage to find a dragon of his own—the runt of the litter, a deformed dragon he calls "Four Eyes."
In book two, the training begins.
IC: What led to you two teaming up for this series?
MAX FIUMARA: Well, back in 2007 when we first talked about FOUR EYES, for me it was just the opportunity to work with Joe. I had been a big fan of his work. Joe came out with the offer, first of working together, and then to work on one of two ideas he had for comics. If Joe had offered me only one idea, I'd have said yes without thinking; but out of the two different concepts, FOUR EYES appealed to me more because of the time period of the book and particularly because of this kid that had to become an adult and confront the strange clandestine dragon-fighting world. I thought it was quite an interesting, original idea.
JK: I am just damn lucky that Max said yes. We had met a few years earlier while he was doing some work for DC. His style was very different than what he does now. One year he sent out a Christmas card in this wild style and it blew me away. When he told me that it was his preferred style, I jumped at the chance to write a book for him that would showcase his art.
Again, I am lucky as hell. :)
IC: What's the role of dragons in this world?
JK: Dragons were essentially peaceful creatures who had no interest in humanity until we started messing with their food supply—minerals. Then we went to war with them and essentially reduced the dragons to an endangered species.
Fawkes (Enrico's ally and dragon trainer) explains in the first volume that dragons can't be domesticated in the sense that horses or cattle can. They're no good to eat. They will not work. The only thing that mankind could figure out was that if you got them started young enough, you could bring out their base instincts and make them into fighters.
It's sad, really—something majestic which could fill the sky with wonder—but instead we turn it against itself for money...can't imagine where we got that idea...
IC: Who or what is Four Eyes? What's their relationship to Enrico?
JK: Four Eyes is Enrico's dragon. He's the runt of the litter and deformed—broken horn and four eyes instead of two—essentially he's blind. They found one another after a terrible attempt by Enrico to follow in his father's footsteps as a dragon hunter and kept one another alive through the cold night.
Now they're bonded for life, and Enrico wants to train Four Eyes to fight other dragons for "glory and profit." In this book, however, he starts to learn what that entails and what the cost of such training would be.
IC: You're mixing a fairly true-to-life story of poverty during the Depression with the fantastic element of dragons. What made you pursue this blend? Do you find it difficult to avoid tipping too far in either direction?
JK: I love genre mash-ups. It's been my bread and butter for a long time. The Great Depression felt like a perfect backdrop for a revenge story, and the dragons and their forced combat works for me as a metaphor for the spirit of the nation at that time. Americans saw their institutions fail them, and with no one to lash out at they take their anger out on "monsters" in the ring.
Ultimately the Depression was a crucible for anyone who lived through it, and, fantasy or not, that's the setting you want for an epic like ours.
IC: Why was the ink wash approach the right visual approach for this story?
MF: To tell you the truth, the ink wash wasn't thought to be used exclusively for this story. When I first started to create the images of FOUR EYES, I was trying to change, upgrade my approach to doing comics because I wasn't having fun with the way I had been working so far. The ink wash was a tool to free myself and do something with a little bit more of texture to the final art and also something filthier. Besides, the book happens to be set in the Depression era, and there are a lot of dirty underground sets to work on, and the washes add a cool organic texture to the dragons.
IC: There are two colors that are dominant in this series. What do they represent in the story?
MF: The thing about the colors here came as a variation to something from the previous edition of FOUR EYES, which was full color.
Nestor Pereyra, who was the colorist on the first edition, did a great job with some of the stuff in the FOUR EYES world, but I always liked the black & white feel of the pages best. I do a lot of work with inks, and I wanted to find a way to show less color and more texture.
The greyish blue is the main color, exactly because of that. I wanted something very B&W but with just a touch of color. And the red-sepia is, as you can see in the first trade, a link to Enrico's "Past Life" with his father. The gloves, dream sequences, even the captions for Enrico's thoughts (thanks to letterer Thomas Mauer) are in this color. And Four Eyes, which for me is Enrico's tool to succeed in his twisted goal. Also, the color in Four Eyes serves to separate him from the other dragons, and it makes him more unique.
IC: FOUR EYES is set during a real period of time. Do you find yourself researching and referencing a lot when creating the comic?
MF: Yes, I did, and do a lot of research still. The '30s in New York are a very juicy place to draw almost anything from. I bought books and more books of that particular time, and visited the tenement museum in New York the first time I was in the city. It's an amazing period for me to depict. All the aspects of poverty, the working class, and slaves mixed with the higher class and New York architecture. It's a very rich world, so I wanted to have a good sense of the looks and get the best set of references that I could get.
JK: I make Max do all of the research! Kidding, I hunt and peck for pieces of history that will best facilitate the story thematically. Obviously this is a rich time in our history, so there is a ton of material to work with. Also, since I'm not telling the story of THE Great Depression, I need a general sense of the world, but I cherry pick specific events and people if they suit Four Eyes.
From FOUR EYES: HEARTS OF FIRE #1: