Exclusive: Image Announces Chaotic Heist Comic, The Hard Place, from Doug Wagner & Nic Rummel
Image Comics has made it a mandate to explore the full range of genre in comics, with brutal crime yarns populating the publisher’s solicitations of late. Noir-tinged gold Kill or Be Killed, The Fix, Southern Bastards and Stray Bullets have shown sequential art that lies perpetually on the wrong side of the law. Writer Doug Wagner (the upcoming Plastic) and artist Nic Rummel will join that legacy this summer with The Hard Place, the tale of a former wheelman tossed into a vicious web of Russian mobsters and bank robbers. And though the introduction hints at familiar vice tropes, the team promises a purer dive into batshit action and chiseled, blood-splattered art as the series progresses. Paste emailed with Wagner and editor Keven Gardner, who also head the crime-loving publisher 12 Gauge, to get the scoop on their new violent, twisty venture.
Paste: Let’s start with the basics: what, exactly, is The Hard Place?
Keven Gardner: The Hard Place is a high-octane thriller, in the tradition of the first series Doug and I worked on together—The Ride (which means lots of action, crazy characters, and a troubled hero up against great odds). More specifically, it’s the story of Detroit’s legendary wheelman, AJ Gurney, who has just been released from prison and has decided he never wants to go back. Unfortunately, while he’s trying to take care of some legitimate business at the bank, a robbery takes place and the bad guys recognize him. At gunpoint and with a hostage, they demand he drive their getaway car. Before AJ can burn through a few gallons of gas, he finds himself pursued by the police department and, because the hostage happens to be the daughter of a very bad dude, hunted by every asset of the Russian mob.
Paste: The idea of a heist gone bad has cropped up in many memorable crime stories told in many media over the years. How did you find a way to make that concept your own?
Doug Wagner: You are so right, Tobias. This particular plot device has been used dozens of times. What I hope I’m bringing to the table is a new perspective from the main character. Although AJ used to be a criminal, that’s not who is he anymore. As a matter of fact, he desperately wants to stay away from that part of his life. Well, sometimes the universe kicks you in the balls when you least expect it. AJ’s just at the bank trying to get his life back on track when two psychopathic idiots recognize him and drag him back into his worst nightmare. I’m hoping that resonates with folks. We’ve all been in a place in our lives where we were trying to make change and the universe fought us every freaking step of the way.
Paste: How long did it take from the initial idea for the book until the first issue was assembled?
Wagner: This series took a long time to come together, and I mean a loooong time. Since we were both doing it for the love of comics (another way to say for free), the process took a lot more time than usual. From the day I had the idea until the first issue was complete was about five years. Of course, that’s not all on Nic. I like to let a new idea simmer in the neurons for a bit, work out kinks as the muse lets me. That process on this story was about a year.
Paste: Doug, you’ve written work in a host of genres; what appeals to you the most about working in crime fiction?
Wagner: I do love crime fiction, but I will say I’m not sure The Hard Place is truly crime fiction. Yes, crime is a part of it, but I feel this story is more of a straight, chaotic action thriller. Car chases, bullets, explosions, assassins, Russian mobsters… Yeah, I think it’s more in the action vein than your typical crime story.
Paste: How did Nic Rummel become involved on the artistic side of things?
Wagner: Two words: Brian Stelfreeze. Back when I was in Gaijin Studios with Brian, he walked in my office and slid a handful of page across my desk. He smirked nefariously and walked back out without saying a word. It was a group of Nic’s sample pages with a handwritten note from Brian telling me I should give this guy a call. I gave Nic a call, we clicked immediately and decided on that first call we were going to work together.
Paste: The preview pages have a clean, almost geometric quality to them, while the nature of almost any crime story is inherently messy. What’s the appeal of working with the contrast between those two things?
Gardner: Nic’s pages are truly unique, which is what I responded to when Doug first showed them to me. It’s rare to see a fresh voice in comics bring such a strong sense of style to a project, and Nic has really done that here. It’s not what people might expect for a story like this, but at the same time, that’s what makes the book something special.
Paste: In terms of the look of the book, you have at least one character with some pretty serious tattoos, as well as some sinister-looking animal masks in the mix. How did this layering of bodies and identities come about?
Wagner: Nic and I really wanted the book to feel diverse and visually interesting. I mean it is comics, so in my opinion, if your book doesn’t have an interesting look (even when it takes place in the real world), nobody’s going to want to read it. Nic embraced this from the start. He not only didn’t shy away from tattoos and crazy masks and pages of car chases, he dove head-first into all of it and took it to a level I didn’t think was possible. So as much as I’d like to take credit for this, Nic was truly the mastermind behind all the incredible designs in the book.
Paste: Both of you work together running 12 Gauge Comics. Did your working relationship need to shift at all in order to work on this?
Gardner: This was a bit of a shift, because Doug and I had usually bounced things around on the front end before starting on a project. With The Hard Place, Doug brought this to me with the story pretty much locked and the first batch of pages in hand. I’ve helped along the way when asked, but this one has really been Doug’s baby. It was also in the first batch of projects the two of us pitched Eric Stephenson last summer (along with the upcoming series, Plastic, which is also from Doug’s crazy mind, and Loose Ends), so that’s been a shift, but all in a very good way. We are thrilled to be working again with Image, and simply couldn’t be happier to show this book off to so many new fans.