I have to admit that there are very few interviews that I jump on the moment their offered, but the chance to talk to Jai Nitz about Dream Thief was one of those opportunities I couldn't pass up. The reason being that I had too many questions that I wanted answered. Dark Horse was kind enough to put me in touch with Jai so I couldn't chat with him about Dream Thief: Escape, the second volume of the series releasing on June 26th. For the interview series artist Greg Smallwood was also kind enough to supply some artwork that has been released to the public yet! That said enjoy the interview, enjoy the art and get your pre-order for the issue in today!
DUSTIN: In reading the preview for the first issue of Dream Thief: Escape, the tone of the story was different from the first volume? Is that accurate or will it be more apparent after reading the full issue that the tone is the same?
JAI NITZ: I think the tone is the same, but we start each issue with a flashback to John’s dad, Fischer Ayers. Fischer was a different Dream Thief than his son. Times were different. No internet, no connected police databases, it was a lot easier to get away with murder in the 1980s! (laughs) Greg Smallwood and I are both big fans of Michael Mann and Miami Vice. So the flashbacks are little homages to Mann, but they’re still integral to the story.
DUSTIN: With the main character John, knowing what’s happening to him this time around, what can we expect to be different about his journey?
JN: John embraces the outlaw life a little. In the first arc he was a slacker who coasted through life and did some pretty smarmy stuff. But now he’s been possessed by a boxer, a Special Forces gay porn star, a lawyer, and a gambler. He’s also had a taste of cosmic justice. He realizes there’s a difference between legal/illegal and right/wrong. So his experiences from the first arc have shaped him, but he’s still the same guy at heart.
Cover for issue #3 of Dream Thief: Escape
DUSTIN: How soon does the second volume take place after the first volume’s ending? And does that play into how the story is told?
JN: Only a few weeks of story time have passed since the first arc. I think we wrapped up the first arc in a very satisfying way, but we wanted to tell more stories if possible. By the time DT#5 was being written we knew the book was a hit and that we’d get more issues. So we left the first arc a little more open ended. We knew there were unanswered questions from as far back as panel one of page one. The timing of the second arc plays directly into answer the question “what about his father?”
DUSTIN: One of the things that I found to be interesting about the first volume, that’s also continued into the second, is the intricate back stories for the ghosts because it makes the situation more realistic. Do you pull these stories from anywhere like news headlines or just personal encounters in life? If not then how much time and research do you put into each backstory?
JN: The ghosts and their stories are some of my favorite things to write. I pull inspiration from anywhere I can and they all become a hodgepodge of friends/family + news articles + story necessity. One of the key things about the ghosts is that while they’re all victims, they aren’t all innocent or good. They all had strengths and flaws that made them fun to write. And then juxtaposing their strengths against John’s flaws and vice versa has made for some fun writing that looks as if I actually know what I’m doing.
DUSTIN: With the way that John’s dad ends up, is there any possibility of a happy ending for John?
JN: Uh… not really? I mean, this book is about Justice (with a capital J). It’s about Cosmic Justice. My overwhelming feeling is that humanity says it wants Cosmic Justice, but it really doesn’t. We want the bad guy to get punished, unless we’re perceived as the bad guy. You see? Everyone says they want a perfect justice system, but I think society would balk if such a system existed. We crave gray areas. We love technicalities and loopholes. So, you present a guy who is compelled to do the right thing, the fair thing, the just thing and see what society does to him. It never ends well.
DUSTIN: How long do you see the series running for?
JN: I had always said I wanted to do 60 issues. But Greg and I sat down and broke down the entire story, the whole thing up to the end, and it was about 36 issues. I also talked to Matt Kindt (MIND MGMT) and John Layman (CHEW) and they both suggested doing less than 60 issues if at all possible. They gave me their reasons and I took them to heart. Also, when Greg gave me his opinions it really brought the smaller run into sharper focus. So by the end of Escape we’ll be about a quarter of the way through the macro arc that we want to tell. I hope we get to tell it all.
DUSTIN: What’s it been like working with Greg Smallwood on the series?
JN: Pretty much anything I say about Greg will sound like hyperbole and bombast. You know why? Because my review of his work is glowing. He’s the best artist I’ve ever worked with. He’s the best artist I’ve ever “discovered” early in their career. He’s the youngest jack of all trades I’ve ever seen (he’s penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering the book). He’s the best cartoonist I’ve ever worked with (his expressions and “acting” are priceless). He’s the best storyteller I’ve worked with (his layouts are genius). He’s the most daring storyteller I’ve ever seen at this stage in his career. He has limitless upside potential. He just got nominated for the 2014 Russ Manning Award for the best newcomer in comic art and I think he deserves every accolade he gets.
Kevin Nowlan (who might be the best jack of all trades in all of comics) called Greg “the most conspicuous debut in recent memory.” That wasn’t a dubious knock, that was to say that no one has stood out from the crowd of new talent as incredibly as Greg for many years. Every artist I know fawns over Greg’s work. That includes MASTERS like Nowlan, Dave Johnson, Chris Samnee, JH Williams, Frank Quitely… the list goes on and on. Finally, he’s one of my best friends. He and I live about a mile apart and we get together all the time. We are on the same page as people personally as well as creatively. So it’s deeply satisfying to work with Greg. He’s made my life better, not just my writing.
Inks to Color from Greg Smallwood
DUSTIN: I’ve always been curious about the title, don’t get me wrong it’s an awesome title, but since the main character doesn’t actually steal dreams how does “Dream Thief” apply to the story? Or is that something that will be addressed as more of the mystery is revealed?
JN: Waaaaaaaay back when I first imagined the book, it was called “Sleepwalker.” It had nothing to do with the old Marvel alien superhero created by Bob Budiansky. As a title, “Sleepwalker” is better and more evocative of what’s actually going on with John’s powers. But “Dream Thief” rolls off the tongue and doesn’t have a connotation to the Stephen King movie with cat people and the Borg Queen.
DUSTIN: Last question, if John could seek vengeance for any other comic book character’s death who would it be and how would seek justice?
JN: I spent entirely too much time thinking about this question. The most famous comic book murder is the Comedian, obviously. Or is it Uncle Ben? Or Batman’s parents? I’d rather pick a movie and have John avenge Clifford Worley (Clarence’s dad from TRUE ROMANCE). First of all, Clarence looks through a copy of SLEEPWALKER in the movie, making this so meta that Grant Morrison should show up like in Animal Man. Second, that way we’d get to see another appearance of Christopher Walken’s Vincenzo Coccotti. I’d pay to write that.
Well I'd like to extend a big thank you to Jai Nitz for taking the time to talk to me about Dream Thief: Escape, don't forget to get your pre-orders in today which is the last day. Otherwise you'll be fighting for a copy on June 25th.