Slow Walking A Breakneck Crime Story
Nov 08, 2018
In this interview with novelist Duane Swierczynski, Titan Comics asks the writer to elaborate on the genesis of Breakneck #1 (OCT181916) — a fast-paced crime/action story that would make Keifer Sutherland in 24 look like he was driving a 1945 Oldsmobile in the slow lane of an interstate highway.
Titan Comics: What can you tell us about Breakneck? Where did the story come from?
Duane Swierczynski: Oh, wow, pull up a seat and make yourself comfortable. Can I fix you a drink? Make you a sandwich?
Breakneck started as a novel. Something I was writing between novels, in fact — a crazy idea I wanted to play around with. I wrote 100 pages in a white heat, then turned my attention back to the novel I was SUPPOSED to be writing.
(yes, I cheat on my own projects)
A short while later, I was taking a lot of Hollywood meetings, invariably, producers ask you what you’re working on, so I talked a little about Breakneck. One producer was super-keen on the idea – in fact, he kept asking me about it, so I got the bright idea to adapt it as a screenplay. I took my 100 pages and fleshed it out into a full movie treatment, but at the time, nobody was interested in a treatment from a novelist/comic book nerd.
A while later, I learned that Hard Case Crime was launching a comic book line. Now I was a huge, raving, slobbering Hard Case nerd from the very beginning. (Charles Ardai will confirm this; he has a copy of the restraining order.) I took my treatment, chopped it up into five comic book issues, and sent it to Charles. Happily, he was keen on the idea, too.
Mind you, all of this played out over ten years. TEN YEARS. (“Ten years!” screams Jeremy Piven.)
But I hope you’ll think it was worth the wait.
Titan Comics: The countdown thriller is an increasingly popular genre, so how did you translate that tense time limit into a comic?
Duane Swierczynski: Breakneck is actually my respectful parody of (or as the Brits say, “taking the piss out of”) the popular TV hit 24. Imagine 24… minus the 22 hours of boring exposition! (I kid. I have some friends who have worked on 24, and they’re all brilliant people) But I was intrigued by the idea of boiling down a huge thriller into, like 95 minutes.
The ticking clock element was there, from the start. The aborted novel opened with the line, “95 minutes until everybody dies."
Titan Comics: In some ways, Breakneck feels like a side-character in a "traditional" thriller elbowed his way to the hero spot – did you aim to subvert expectations?
Duane Swierczynski: Oh hell yeah. I love tearing down the obvious hero and elevating the dork lurking on the fringes. If I were writing a Mission: Impossible movie, Simon Pegg would be the lead, and Tom Cruise would be in a coma for 95% of the movie.
(Note: this is why I’ll never, ever be hired to write a Mission: Impossible movie.)
Titan Comics: You started off in novels before making the leap to comics with Marvel – what would you say are the key differences? What skills translate well, and which did you need to relearn?
Duane Swierczynski: Well, when you write novels, you’re God. When you write comics, you’re part of a Holy Trinity – Editor, Artist, and Writer. Am I saying the artist is Jesus? I’ll never tell.
The biggest skill I had to learn was writing visually. In novels, you can gloss over that stuff in favor of interior monologues. (Endless, boring interior monologues… if you’re doing it wrong.) With comics, you need to communicate precise, camera-ready panels for your artist partner. You want to give your artist partner enough space to have some fun, too… but specific images are an important springboard.
Titan Comics: You've written non-fiction crime books, in the past – does Breakneck take any inspiration from reality?
Duane Swierczynski: The geography of Northeast Philly and Old City (a.k.a., part of Philadelphia’s downtown) were vital. A lot of the action is specific the real-life environment; I took a lot of reference photos that I sent to Simone Guglielmini, and he absolutely NAILED it.
Titan Comics: You're known for crime and comics, but this is your first actual crime comic – how has the experience differed from capes and cowls?
Duane Swierczynski: I think EVERY comic I write is about crime — only, sometimes mutant powers or supernatural forces intrude on the narrative. At least, that’s how I approached every comic script. I even approached Godzilla as a crime/heist/men on a mission story. This is how I approach fiction; this is how I approach life.
Titan Comics: You're working with artists Simone Guglielmini, Raffaele Semeraro, and Lovern Kindzierski on this project – have you worked with them before? What do you like about their work?
Duane Swierczynski: I’m new to all of these fine gents, and they’ve blown me away with every single page. Simone, especially, has become like a brother to me.
(He’s been there for me during some truly awful times over this past year.) We’ve never met in person, but someday we will… and there will be much hugging, and laughing, and drinking. That’s the beautiful thing about comics: editors bring together disparate artists from all around the world to ask them to create a beautiful illusion by remote control. When it works, there’s nothing better. And hot damn, has it worked with Breakneck.
Anyway, you’d better order your copy now. It’s only five minutes until EVERYBODY DIES.