The Beauty: How Much Do You Want It? [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Let's start out with something super basic—what the heck is this disease called "The Beauty" and how does it feature in this comic book called THE BEAUTY?

JEREMY HAUN: The Beauty is an STD that makes you beautiful. That can't be a bad thing at all, right?

JASON HURLEY: The first story arc takes place about two years after The Beauty has hit the mainstream, and it's essentially become a fad. Over half of the American population has contracted the disease, without giving much concern to the possible downsides, and those downsides are just starting to come to light. Our story follows Detectives Vaughn and Foster as they become embroiled in the government and big business conspiracies that surround the disease.

IC: Tell me about the two detectives that serve as our main characters. What kind of people are they?

HURLEY: Kara Vaughn is an exceptionally good detective who puts all of herself into her work, and also happens to be afflicted with The Beauty. She doesn't have much of a social life beyond the office, but she's close enough to her partner that she considers him family. Drew Foster, on the other hand, is more dedicated to his wife than to the job. That doesn't mean he doesn't love his work, and it definitely doesn't mean he isn't good at it; he just realizes that his marriage is the most important thing in his world. He and Kara have worked together for quite a while, and they really click. They're not just partners, they're also best friends.

HAUN: And they're really pretty much just analogs for us, if you get right down to it.

IC: Jeremy and Jason, you're co-writing, while Jeremy is also drawing, with John Rauch handling colors. How did this team come to be? Did you have prior experience together?

HAUN: Hurley and I've known each other forever. We're good friends. We came up in comics together...just on different sides of things. For years, I've worked drawing comics and he's worked comics retail. During that time we've done what creative friends do—sit around and talk about stories.

THE BEAUTY started out on a car ride, coming back from a little show in St. Louis. I ran the general idea by Hurley. "What if there was an STD that could make you beautiful? Would you get it? What if there was a hidden bad side?" Four hours later we had the first arc and overall theme of the series worked out. It was a thing we had to do together.

HURLEY: Like Jeremy said, we've been friends for years. I was around when he started getting his first work published, and he was one of the first customers when I opened my own comic shop. We've always thrown ideas back and forth, and we worked together once on a short story for an old Troma Films anthology.

During that trip home from St. Louis, we discussed a few different concepts that we each had, but we kept coming back around to the idea of The Beauty. We talked about all of the different story possibilities that could happen within that world, and eventually landed on one that we felt was a really solid introduction to the concept.

HAUN: Once we had the book up and running, we brought on John Rauch to do color art and Stephen Finch from Fonografiks to do lettering and design on the book.
I'd worked with Rauch for a few years. He's easily one of the best colorists in the business. Not every penciller/inker works perfectly with every colorist. John gets my work and makes it look damned good.

Steven is a design mastermind. We had a conversation early on and discussed that we'd like the book to feel like a fashion magazine. He ran with that and came up with something truly stunning. He does that every single issue.

IC: A comic like this cleanly divides those with The Beauty from those without it. As creators, how do you see the two groups, in terms of their emotional states? Is there common ground amongst those infected with The Beauty, past their attractiveness?

HURLEY: I'm sure it's easy for people without The Beauty to think that everyone with it is some sort of egotistical, dangerously vain, sycophant. It's probably just as easy for everyone that has The Beauty to look at everyone without it as a prude who doesn't care enough about their appearance to take the easiest step possible toward self-improvement.

One of the biggest flaws with the human condition is our ability to divide ourselves, and each other, into groups based on nothing beyond appearance. However, not everyone with The Beauty caught it on purpose, and not everyone without it is intentionally avoiding it. We wanted to tackle issues relating to vanity and societal pressure to be "attractive" within the story, of course, the divide between Beauties and Non-Beauties works just as well as an allegory for any socially constructed group definitions we have in the world today though.

IC: When drawing those with The Beauty, what do you focus on, or make sure they have to signify their attractiveness?

HAUN: It's tricky. I tend to like drawing weird-looking people. I can draw ugly all day long. Drawing "beautiful" people is kind of a pain in the ass. When we started developing the book we had a lot of conversations about what the Beauties were going to look like. We, as a society, have this weird view of what is beautiful. Since a big part of this book is social commentary, it really came down to Beauties being "Hollywood Hot."

Over the course of the first arc, I think I spent more time fretting over how characters looked than any other project I've drawn. I worried over Beauties being symmetrical enough. I worried over people without the Beauty looking too attractive. I worried over having other people being TOO weird-looking.

Luckily I got to at least draw Calaveras. He was kind of my ugly release.

HURLEY: This is where John Rauch shines. His colors, the muted palette for the world at large, and the saturation and "glow" of the Beauties, really helped to define the visual language of the book.

IC: THE BEAUTY works in greedy pharmaceutical companies, government conspiracies, and a look at our social mores—in short, a whole bunch of very modern anxieties. Can you tell us a little about where the idea for THE BEAUTY first came from, and how it evolved as it went from idea to pitch to finished product?

HAUN: We're obsessed with outward beauty. It's...a bit of a problem. We're bombarded day-in and day-out with commercials, magazines, and general entertainment telling us that we should look a certain way. We see all of that are willing to do anything to be beautiful—perfect. People are going on crash diets, doing extreme fad exercise plans, and getting elective surgeries right and left.

I looked at all of that and wanted to examine exactly how far we'd go to look beautiful. Would we be willing to catch a disease? In a lot of cases, I think the answer would be yes.

HURLEY: We originally conceived the story as a much slower burn than we ended up with. Some of the reveals and twists were compressed down to grab people's attention as fast as possible, and give us the killer cliffhanger we have at the end of issue one.

IC: The fashion covers were striking, and seemed to be a hit with...everyone, basically. Break down those covers for me—how do they tie into the themes of the series? why did you choose those specific images? Is there one you're especially proud of?

HAUN: We wanted to do something different for the covers. Something that would jump off the shelves. I did dozens of designs, messing around with themes and various looks. Nothing seemed to click.

Somewhere along the way, I drew this quick sketch on a scrap piece of paper—a Beauty standing there, like she'd died right in the middle of a high fashion photo shoot. Suddenly we had it. From there we made this list of things we wanted to do—this one needed to have a Vanity Fair cover feel, this one should feel like an ad for a Hugo Boss suit, this one should be a bridal gown cover...come to think of it, we still haven't done the bridal gown cover. Guess that'll be the third arc.

One of my favorite covers was the cover to issue two. Lingerie ad made it onto the list. I pitched that if we were doing an underwear ad, it should be a dude in his underwear. Hurley responded with "HELL. YES." There are always covers featuring ladies in their underwear. Turnabout is fair play. As you'd expect, we got a bit of a mixed response to the cover. I'm fine with that, though.

HURLEY: My personal favorite from the first arc is the cover to issue five. It's one I had absolutely no input on. Jeremy literally came home from a vacation and said, "Hey, I drew this cover while I was gone. What do you think?", and it was friggin' awesome.

HAUN: Yeah. I love that one too. I'm not even sure where it came from. I had an idea for a jewelry ad piece, but then while I was on vacation on the Oregon coast I had the idea for a necklace made of skulls. I think it might be the fastest turn-around on any of the covers. It went from concept to finished inks in just a few hours.

THE BEAUTY, VOL. 1 is available now.