The Fix: Steve Lieber, Criminal Mastermind [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Break THE FIX down for us—what kind of story is this? What's up with these two cops who star in the series?

STEVE LIEBER: It's a crime story and a comedy, sometime farcical, sometimes really dark.

Mac and Roy are Los Angeles police officers who would never let the law, ethics, or basic human decency get in the way of their pusuit of a soft life or a quick buck. They've got ties to show biz and organized crime, and live in a world where sociopathic narcissism is something you put on your resume.

IC: You two had a celebrated run on Superior Foes of Spider-Man over at Marvel. What came first—the idea for this story, or a desire to work together again?

LIEBER: We knew we wanted to work together again. The chemistry was just too good. Nick had a few ideas in mind and told me about them. They were all terrific, but this was the one that really called me.

IC: How are you two working together on this one? I understand your last project was a mix of full script and Marvel-style plotting. Is it similar here?

LIEBER: Yep! While working on Superior Foes, Nick and I stumbled into an organic collaboration that's like nothing else I've encountered in comics. I don't think traditional scripting would work for what we do, because in a medium like comics, it's really hard to dictate what will be funny when someone else draws it. I know what I can make funny with my pictures and what I can't. Nick's scripts allow us to take advantage of my strengths and blow past any limitations, and they vary according to the needs of a scene. Sometimes it's full script. Sometimes he'll write something like a radio play, giving me all the dialogue in the scene but leaving most of the images and the panel & pages break-ups to me. And sometimes he write plot-first or "Marvel style" where he tells me the big plot points a page needs to communicate, or suggests some funny ideas, and then comes in afterwards with dialogue or captions. It's a level of trust that I appreciate immensely and never take for granted.

IC: Steve, you and Ryan Hill are working with a very considered palette and a generally realistic-except-when-not approach to storytelling. What can you tell me about coming up with the visuals for THE FIX? What made this the right approach for the series?

LIEBER: There are a lot of different types of humor in THE FIX, and I use different approaches to help make it all work. Nick writes the best damn dialogue. Using body langage to give context to that dialogue is a big part of my job. Those conversation tend to play out in midshots. I need to put the reader close enough to show that, say, Roy is cheerfully lying to someone who doesn't buy it at all. But the reader also has to be far enough away so we can see how Roy doesn't give a shit, and for that I need to show some activity or body language. I'll pull the reader far back for slapstick, or move them really close if I want to force empathy.

A lot of the fun comes from juxtaposing mundane visuals with appalling behavior, so I tend to use subdued layouts and staging to make those scenes work. Ryan Hill's color reinforces that beautifully. He works with a gorgeous naturalistic palate that nails LA's clutter and glamour and punishing sun, while preserving recognizable slices of local signage and iconography.

When I switch modes to cartoony or expressionist drawing, usually for story-within-a-story scenes, or when there are sudden explosions of action or violence, Ryan switches what he does, too, often working with a more stylized or limited palate.

Much of credit for the feel of the book should go to our letterer and designer, Nic J Shaw. Nic's typography on the covers sets the tone perfectly, and on a book that's full of back and forth dialogue, he's responsible for keeping things clear and uncluttered. We are unbelievably lucky to be working with him.

IC: This is a comic that feels long, even taking into account its forty pages. I think it's the eight or nine panel pages that do it. What marks did you two want to hit for sure with this first issue? What did you want to make sure the readers felt?

LIEBER: One word: Entertained. We wanted to do a lot more than just put pieces on the chessboard. I've been quoting Douglas Wolk that one of the great pleasures of genre fiction is watching characters being themselves, doing exactly the thing that only that character would do. It's one thing to do that in the third season of a tv show, or with long-running franchise characters. But to deliver that in a first issue, these people needed to be memorable from the start. We worked our asses off to make that happen.

IC: What's your approach to crime fiction as a creator? Is this a "CRIME DOES NOT PAY!!" kind of story, or just a straight-up fun tale about some criminals doing harm?

LIEBER: I approach crime stories like they're Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. People are just another animal, pursuing goals and responding to stimuli. I think what makes a crime story compelling—in any medium, not just comics—is wit, pacing, and attention to detail.

IC: Do you have any favorite movies, tv shows, or books in the genre? Anything you're pulling inspiration from, or even just get a kick out of?

LIEBER: Books by George Pelecanos, Elmore Leonard, Richard Price, Walter Mosley, Barry Hannah. Plus '70s crime movies and all the big premium cable greats of the past two decades.

IC: Pretzels the Dog is looking to be a major part of the story. I know you can't spoil too much, but please: tease us. What's his deal?

LIEBER: He's a drug-sniffing beagle. Kind of aggro. Maybe the only character in the entire story capable of doing the right thing.

THE FIX #1 is available now.