Do we have a treat for you all today. We got to chat with Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara to discuss their upcoming book Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire debuting this Wednesday from Man of Action and Image Comics. The two previously teamed up on Amazing Spider-Man and published the first arc of Four Eyes in 2008. Since then Joe has been doing amazing work with Man of Action working on a number of animated projects for Marvel as well as the wildly successful Ben 10 on Cartoon Network. Max has been working with Mike Mignola on B.P.R.D. as well as his brother Sebastian on the current on going series Abe Sapien. Let’s get to the interview!
BiC: Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I wanted to start off and ask about the idea of Four Eyes. While the setting is drastically different there seem to be some parallels between Four Eyes and How to Train Your Dragon. How are they similar and what sets Four Eyes apart from How to Train Your Dragon?
Max Fiumara: Well, that’s pure coincidence; we started Four Eyes back at the end of 2007, way before the movie came out.
Joe Kelly: Ha! Yeah, and the initial idea for the book was way before that! I have a habit of sitting on ideas until I find the right artist. I cooked up Four Eyes years before I’d ever met Max… and then the circle was complete.
BiC: The setting of Four Eyes is especially intriguing to me. The 1930s is a very turbulent and interesting time. Why did you decide to choose that era and even pick New York over maybe Chicago?
Joe: Four Eyes is one of the projects that began as a single image and grew from there. Some stories I know immediately from beginning to end. Some build over time. I had an image pop into my head of a barefoot kid on a cobblestone street with a dragon on a chain in one hand and a Tommy Gun in the other. I didn’t know the story, what the image meant, etc. until I started digging – but that initial image set the stage: Poor kid, cobblestone streets, tommy gun = 1930s New York for me. That lead to the Great Depression and then the world began unfolding.
BiC: Joe, while this is an alternate 1930s, how much research do you put into looking at the socioeconomic turmoil happening during that time especially within New York?
Joe: I am not a heavy research guy but I do poke around to look for interesting tidbits and characters from the era. Even though we’re telling a story about dragons, if we’re going to set it in NYC in the Great Depression I want to ground it in facts – or use the history to my advantage.
What worked best for me were the thematic elements of the time period – people were so broken by their failed institutions that I felt they would want to extort some sort of revenge if they could. Their financial giants had crumbled, so they took pleasure watching actual giants – dragons – battle for their enjoyment.
Enrico isn’t the only one out for revenge, it’s everyone.
BiC: I’ve got a similar question for you, Max. What do you use for inspiration when drawing a period such as this that also has some pretty fantastic elements? Are there any other artists’ dragons you particularly draw inspiration from?
Max: Actually no, I wanted to keep myself as away from any dragon artist as possible. The Dragons in Four Eyes’ world are kind of different from the mythological type of dragon we are used to seeing. These are more like real animals, closer to dinosaurs, if I may say, rather than to dragons. I looked at a lot of pictures of reptiles and more sophisticated animals, mixing different elements of them and actually looking for different textures. The idea was to make them as weird as we could think of, but always making them look “real”.
BiC: I’m really interested in how you guys handle the dragons especially given how it seems they are not only hunted, but also fought. What place do the dragons hold in this world? Are they merely animals to be used?
Max: Yes, they are basically used for the illegal fighting world.
Joe: The mythology we created is laid out by Fawkes in the first book: Dragons are 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 won – Mankind reduced the dragons to an endangered species.
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 and wonderful which, if left alone would fill the sky with wonder – but instead we turn it against itself for money… can’t imagine where we got that idea…
BiC: Max, I’m guessing there are a number of different types of dragons? What is it like drawing all of these different dragons? Do you have a favorite?
Max: I don’t think I have a favorite. The good thing about these dragons is that I created them from the start based on some guidelines from Joe. I managed to design them very differently from one another. You’ll see them as the story moves forward. The designs of the dragons are thought as Joe described them, so each species has different skills and use different parts of their body as a weapon.
I think I like Four Eyes best, but just because I put a lot in creating him, since he’s the main dragon.
BiC: While it seems the dragon fighting will mainly be happening in the criminal underground, does it potentially have greater appeal with an organized league much like the World Robot Boxing (WRB) in Real Steel?
Joe: Perhaps… if it ever became legalized… which may or may not be Boccioni’s endgame. Hmmm…
BiC: What exactly will the dragon fighting be like? I’m imagining something akin to cock fighting or dog fighting, but dragons have wings. Can we expect big arenas or are the dragons restricted to ground combat?
Max: In the first trade Forged in Flames we get a look at a dragon fighting match, and you’ll see more of how it works in the next couple of issues.
Joe: Yeah, it has all sorts of rules and bits that make it a proper sport. We put a lot of thought into how it would work. Part of the fun of the series is learning the ropes along with Enrico.
BiC: Previously, one of the key story points is the death of Enrico’s father that forced him to become the man of the house. This hints at the story having a very familial focus. Can you tell us a little more about how Enrico’s family drives his choices?
Joe: Enrico is trying very hard to find his way as a head of the household. However he and his mother see the world very differently. Enrico has an idealized vision of his father. His mother is more of a realist, which means giving up on dreams.
They are both survivors in their own way – and that will create a lot of conflict in the family.
Max: Well, there is no particular trick I’ll be using for this book. I tend to concentrate on showing what’s happening inside Enrico’s head as well as I can manage; he’s the driving force of the story. I plan the layouts based on what Enrico is telling me to do with him!
BiC: How do you guys handle layouts? Does Joe script out the layouts or does he leave that up to you to make that decision? What goes into determining a specific layout for a page?
Max: Unless Joe has a specific idea for a scene, he leaves every other decision to me.
Joe: Ha! Pretty much! Max is a genius and his pages are always more stunning and better composed than what I have in my head. One of the bets compliments we ever received was when someone said they thought the book was written and drawn by the same person. I love that – our brains are very much in synch. Max is the heart of the book without question.
BiC: Max, what does Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire allow you to do artistically that maybe you don’t get to do in other books?
Max: Since the beginning of the book, I’m allowed to go free and use as many techniques and layouts compositions as I would like to. Since I created the look of this story I allow myself to have a very open range to play with.
BiC: Let’s switch gears here. I’ve always been fascinated by stories where characters are transported into a different world like The Never Ending Story or Digimon. If you had a device that allowed you to live in any story that was ever created what would it be and why?
Max: Do I have to choose only one? Tough question, maybe The Thousand and One Nights?
Joe: It’s funny, I was just asked this question a month ago by a kid at a con. I know it’s a cliché, but I would want to live in Star Wars. I want the Force and I want to be a Jedi. Always have. Sorry, giant nerd here.
BiC: Outside of comics or maybe they are in comics, who would you say are your biggest influencers?
Max: Oh, a couple of hundred millions!!
Joe: Same, but off the top of my head: Terry Gilliam, Naoki Urasawa, Usama Tezuka, Satoshi Kon, Chuck Jones… but seriously, the list is really long.
Max: It’s a unique story only as Joe Kelly can tell. Full of heart.
Joe: In 1930s Brooklyn where dragons are real, a boy set on a quest for revenge regains his humanity by working with a monster. Boom.
BiC: Finally, how can we find out more about Four Eyes: Hearts of Fire or about you guys?
BiC: Thank you guys for taking the time to chat with me. I really appreciate it. Look forward to picking it up!
Joe: Thank you!
Well there have you it! I would also recommend if you are like me and just found out about Four Eyes, you pick up the first trade Four Eyes: Forged in Flames in preparation for Hearts of Fire!