Top Cow Month continues with an in-depth look at Last Mortal, the upcoming four-issue series from Top Cow’s Minotaur imprint. Alec King is a screw-up whose life couldn’t get any worse. His best friend is dead, he lives in a shipping container, and he’s ready to end it all. The only problem: after shooting himself in the head, he wakes up–unscathed. Turns out the guy with the worthless life . . . cannot die. So what happens next?
We chatted with writers John Mahoney and Filip Sablik and artist Thomas Nachlik to get the answers–read on now. Plus, make sure to enter our Last Mortal Contest to enter to win an original panel of artwork by Nachlik!
TFAW.com: Can you introduce us to Last Mortal?
John Mahoney: Last Mortal is the story of Alec King, the suicidal immortal. Essentially, the story of a guy who gets involved in a murder plot and, when he botches the job, tries to kill himself before his employers can come after him, only to discover he cannot die.
Filip Sablik: That sums it up pretty nicely. On a thematic level, Last Mortal is a story of potential redemption. About the kind of guy who is used to always taking the easy way out and now has had his final escape closed off from him. Will Alec pick himself up from the rock bottom of his life and begin to redeem himself? That’s the story we’re telling. All wrapped up in a grounded, noir-revenge story.
TFAW.com: Where did this idea come from, and how did it evolve?
JM: The basic premise came straight from the demented minds of two fourteen-year old suburban kids. That is to say, Filip and I created Alec when we were in junior high school.
FS: Yeah, the idea is one we’ve been kicking around for over fifteen years. The original nugget of the idea, “a suicidal immortal,” is the same as what we came up with back then, but the property and story have evolved tremendously since then. One of the biggest evolutions in the project came when we brought artist Thomas Nachlik on. He has contributed immensely to the look and feel of the book.
TFAW.com: You two have been friends since the sixth grade–what’s your working relationship like?
FS: It’s really an extension of our friendship; when we sit down to write an issue it starts as a phone conversation, just throwing around ideas. John typically will do a first pass, usually in a hybrid comic/prose format, and then I’ll come in and break the story down into pages and panels. Since I come from more of an artistic background, John usually leaves the visual pacing of the issue to me. He’s definitely the more poetic of the two of us, so a lot of the more eloquent lines in the book are all him.
JM: We have an excellent dynamic tension. I over-write everything and drown the pages in dialogue and captions, and then Filip comes along, cuts out all the crap, and makes us look like professionals.
TFAW.com: So is your friendship at all like Alec and Brian’s? Who’s Alec, and who’s Brian?
JM: Over the course of writing and editing this story over the years, many of our personal characteristics have begun to show up in both characters. Since we wrote this book together, there is a little of both of us in each character. I would hope our good characteristics ended up in Alec, and our bad in Brian, but who knows. You should probably ask our wives.
FS: Don’t ask them, they’d probably say we’re both Brian!
TFAW.com: At the beginning of the series (Spoiler Alert!) Brian is dead. Will we see flashbacks of their friendship?
JM: Oh, yes. Throughout the four-issue series we get to see how the boys met, a few key moments from their adolescent years that made them into the men they became, and progressing, of course, to how they ended up living in a shipping container down by the docks.
FS: That was a key component of the structure of the story. Brian is the one character who knew Alec before we (the reader) are introduced to him in the first issue, so we used him throughout the series to inform the reader about Alec. I’ve always loved the storytelling technique of a dead character continuing to inform and influence the story.
TFAW.com: Why is Alec such a loser? What’s Brian’s role?
FS: Brian’s role is basically to be a bad influence on Alec. He’s the devil on Alec’s shoulder and unfortunately, Alec never met an angel to guide him the other way.
JM: Brian had a lot to do with Alec ending up in the low place where we find him at the opening of the book. That said, one of Alec’s character flaws is the fact that he makes very bad decisions. These bad decisions are based on him being a bit of a coward. At heart this is a tale of redemption and, over the course of the narrative, a key question will be how Alec goes about learning to be less terrified by life.
FS: One of the biggest challenges we set for ourselves was introducing readers to a character at his lowest point, but still making him interesting and likeable enough to keep the reader interested in reading about his trials and tribulations. One of the things we did to try and achieve this was show Alec in the past when he was a bit of a less of a loser and also small little scenes where you see a glimmer of the man he could be. Hopefully, we succeeded!
TFAW.com: Alec being immortal puts a spin on the typical a revenge-noir thriller. Will there be any other supernatural elements?
JM: We have tried to keep this story as grounded in reality as possible. The only supernatural element you will see is Alec’s immortality.
FS: That and Thomas Nachlik’s inexplicably awesome design sensibilities.
TFAW.com: Will we get any clues about Alec’s condition in the four-issue miniseries?
JM: Yes. But only hints, and hopefully they will be subtle.
FS: We do have future plans for the series, and part of that is offering up some explanation as to why Alec is immortal. But I’d like to think that why Alec is immortal is less important than what he does with his immortality.
TFAW.com: Is Brian really dead?
TFAW.com: What’s the significance of the dragon emblem on the cover of issue #1 (and #2)?
JM: The dragon emblem is one of Alec’s tattoos. It is actually an ouroboros, one of humanity’s oldest symbols, representing eternal life. As the story progresses, further meanings will become apparent. That and it is a wicked-cool symbol that Thomas created from a basic description of a tattoo I have on my back.
FS: If readers look hard enough, we did try to sprinkle in a healthy amount of meta-commentary and dual meanings in the series. The ouroboros is one of those touches.
TFAW.com: Right now, Last Mortal is slated to be a four-issue miniseries. Do you have plans for Alec after this? Where would he conceivably go, after avenging his friend?
JM: This four-issue series is meant to be self-contained and be a complete story unto itself.
FS: But yes, we definitely would love to continue Alec’s story and are working on some plans to do just that.
TFAW.com: What were your influences and inspirations for this book?
FS: I think I internalize a lot of my influences. I went to school for art and one of the downsides of that education is I tend to hyper-analyze my drawings after graduating. It’s the curse of education: you know enough to know that you aren’t doing it right. On the writing side, I intentionally try to internalize pieces of information I’ve picked up along the way to keep it more organic and less analytical.
JM: My personal hero is Joseph Campbell, whose work influenced much of my take on the Last Mortal. Campbell is credited with writing one of the most influential textbooks of the past century, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, which described the basic pattern in which all heroic epics throughout history have followed. Alec’s story arc is based off the framework that Campbell laid down. Whenever I get stuck with writer’s block, I go back to this book or listen to one of Campbell’s lectures to get me back on track.
FS: Absolutely, Campbell was definitely a major influence on the series.
TFAW.com: How did you choose Thomas Nachlik as your artist?
JM: Filip has a great story about that . . .
FS: I met Thomas at Wizard World Chicago in 2007. I was doing portfolio reviews at the Top Cow booth and he came up to show his work. He was instantly memorable, not only because of his art, but because he was a Polish artist living in Germany showing his portfolio in Chicago.
I told him I thought he was fantastic, but his style would probably not be right for a Top Cow project, which is the worst thing you can tell an aspiring professional. It’s the “it’s not you, it’s me” line of portfolio reviews. But I took his samples and they really stuck with me. A couple of weeks later I showed them to John, and we both instantly agreed he’d be perfect for Last Mortal. I dropped him a line and told him I had a personal project I’d love to have him involved in and the rest, as they say, is history.
TFAW.com: What can you tell us about the Minotaur imprint? What makes something a Minotaur book?
FS: We’ve been equating it to the independent film arm of a major studio. Top Cow produces the comic equivalents of big summer blockbuster films with big concepts and high production values. Minotaur will be producing more intimate, nuanced and grounded stories. Echoes is still at its core a Top Cow-style story, but the presentation and the scale is a much better fit for Minotaur. The same is true for Last Mortal.
TFAW.com: Where does Minotaur fit within Top Cow?
FS: It’s a separate imprint, so there’s no direct connection other than these are stories we want to tell and share and Minotaur provides the right avenue for it. We’ll be releasing one Minotaur series at a time for the time being to keep the line intentionally boutique. We want to build it slowly so that fans and retailers can learn to trust the line as a place for quality storytelling.
TFAW.com: What comics are you enjoying right now?
JM: Fortunately I finished writing this book before I began reading them, or Alec’s story would have turned out very differently, but I am currently reading a lot of Crossed, and anxiously awaiting the next issues of Neonomicon and Echoes.
FS: I tend to read a healthy amount of books to keep abreast of what is working and not working in the industry. The Walking Dead, Invincible, Ultimate Spider-Man and Fables are perennial favorites. Most recently, I’ve really enjoyed Tumor, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations, Nonplayer by Nate Simpson, and Butcher Baker by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston.
TFAW.com: What would you two like to do next?
JM: Filip and I have been talking about a horror book we would like to write together. Hopefully readers will respond to Last Mortal, which would suggest to us that there is an audience for our stuff.
FS: And of course, more Last Mortal!
TFAW.com: Thomas, how did you get involved with Last Mortal?
Thomas Nachlik: I met Filip at Wizard World Chicago 2007 at a Top Cow portfolio review. He liked my work, but couldn’t offer me anything at Top Cow. He did send me his Forever Man script, though–as the project was called at the beginning. I liked the Vertigo nature of it and got on-board as fast as possible.
TFAW.com: What can you tell us about the story?
TN: Personally, I think Last Mortal mainly approaches the question of, is immortality a superpower, built around the story of the naive but intelligent and sensitive Alec King. Mixed with shooting, punching, blood splatter here and there, hot chicks here and there, dirty cops, bad politicians, drugs, and a werewolf mask.
TFAW.com: Your art is very stark and gritty, which is great for a revenge-noir thriller, but it looks like there will be some supernatural elements as well. How are you approaching them?
TN: Without spoiling anything, the main supernatural element of the story is that Alec can’t die, even after shooting himself in the head. A “wake up from the dead” scene like this needs an approach that is as realistic as possible, and I usually play it in front of a mirror and try to imagine myself as Alec in this situation. But I don’t think it has anything to do with my artistic style, how I portrait supernatural elements, it’s more a question of the artist’s imagination.
TFAW.com: What did you keep in mind when you were designing the characters?
TN: Designing the characters was a combination on satisfying Filip and John and putting my own ideas into the figures. I also use actors for reference, because it helps me to display facial expressions more realistically, which means that basically I was casting a Last Mortal movie while designing the characters. I still remember I used Christian Bale for “Callahan,” the politician–not really his face, but the personality he portrayed in Equilibrium and some other movies.
TFAW.com: How does Last Mortal compare to your Pilot Season title, Forever?
TN: I’m much more emotionally connected to Last Mortal than I was to Forever. I remember doing my first Last Mortal sketches in the late 2007. I went through a rough patch in my life while doing this project, so there’s a lot of myself in Alec King. I even had his haircut for a period of time. 🙂 It was very exciting to work on Forever with Mat Hawkins and Brad Ingelsby, but very down to earth and professional.
TFAW.com: How did you get involved with comics?
TN: I drew since I was I little kid, Disney characters mostly. Because I grew up in Poland, where crime and war comics were extremely popular, sooner or later I discovered that it’s not just the drawing itself, but actually telling a story through my art that fascinates me the most. My father, who lived in Germany at this time, sent me Batman and Superman books from time to time, and I got totally hooked on American mainstream books.
TFAW.com: What were your influences, growing up?
TN: Polish artists mostly, in my early childhood. But after reading my first Batman and the Outsiders book drawn by Jim Aparo, it was definitely him. Also, I always was and still am very influenced by music.
TFAW.com: What’s it like working for Top Cow and the Minotaur imprint?
TN: As far as I know, us and Echoes are the first Minotaur projects, and it feels like . . . being a part of an experiment. I’m excited and scared at the same time. I remember reading Marc Silvestri’s Cyberforce in the ‘90s and being totally blown away by his groundbreaking style, and now I actually am doing another project for Top Cow, that’s just huge.
TFAW.com: What’s your dream project?
TN: That’s easy to answer: Batman vs. Punisher.
TFAW.com: Do you want to continue doing noir?
TN: I don’t consider my style as being just noir. As the Last Mortal story progressed, my style changed and became more and more grittier and line oriented, which probably is a natural development every artist experiences. As much as black spaces have fascinated me in the past, now it’s line weights that I concentrate on.
TFAW.com: What comics are you enjoying right now?
TN: I always read comics because of the art, so I have to say that I enjoy those with the most interesting and complex styles the most, artists like Tomm Coker, Alex Maleev, Ashley Wood, Jock, etc.
Our thanks to John, Filip, and Thomas for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure to pre-order Last Mortal now to make sure you get your copies!
Have you been curious about Last Mortal? What would you do if you discovered you were immortal? Post your brainstorms below to enter our Last Mortal Contest and enter to win a panel of original art from Thomas Nachlik!