BCP Interview with Jai Nitz (Writer of Dream Thief at Dark Horse)

COVDream Thief was a 5 part supernatural noir-ish min-series released by Dark Horse throughout the summer of 2013 — in which John Lincoln as slacker like character finds he becomes possessed by the spirits of the dead after he wears an aboriginal mask, it then becomes his mission to solve the crimes and dispense justice on behalf of those who possess him.

It proved enough of a success to warrant Dark Horse publishing a volume 2 [this June's Dream Thief: Escape], which again sees the original creative team of writer Jai Nitz (A+X, Green Hornet) and artist Greg Smallwood (A+X, Robocop: Beta) return.

We recently shared a preview of Issue one of Escape and following that were lucky enough to catch Jai and discuss the book with him.


Big Comic Page: Hi Jai again thanks for agreeing to this…. So as Dream Thief kicks off its second volume what can you tell us about John Lincoln’s character going into it this next stage of the story?

Jai Nitz: John is still the unlovable rake he was in the first series, but with a little more experience and world wisdom under his belt. He still says and does things that might make the average fan cringe, but that’s the fun of writing him. I never wanted to write a knight in shining armor. I wanted to write a guy who would make mistakes, sometimes unapologetically.

BCP: Lincoln of course killed a number of people whilst possessed by the dead, at the end of the first volume it seems as though came out relatively unscathed – none of the crimes tied to him and he didn’t pay for them even when the crimes encroached into his normal life. Obviously he can justify it as not being him at the time in addition to those he killed not being what you would call nice people – but having those memories of committing the murders must take its toll at some point… no?

JN: That’s the thing… the vengeance killings are the only thing that feels truly, cosmically, right to John. Yes, they are perceived as murders by our society, and if he gets caught he’s going to have to pay a steep price to our justice system, but the vengeance killings are Justice (with a capital J) in our story. So John feels righteous for carrying them out. The memories that take their toll are the ones of when the possessing ghosts got murdered. You can never forget how scared you’d be if you were facing certain death over and over and over again. And several of the ghosts died in horrible ways, so the memories haunt John more than the actual ghosts ever did.

BCP: In the first part of the story one of the threads to the story touched on slightly was his Dad, when I read it – it wasn’t immediately clear his connection to John being taken as a Dream Thief or even fully who he was [John was initially unsure of his Identity.]. I assumed it was left ambiguous on purpose for the next part of the story – how much do you go into that particular plot thread?

JN: The entire second arc, ESCAPE is all about fathers and sons. Specifically, about John and his dad, Fischer Ayers. At the end of DT #5 we found out Fischer is dead and has possessed another Dream Thief named Ray Ray Benson. But Ray Ray is in Georgia State Prison, so that complicates matters (laughs). So the subtitle, “Escape,” is fitting. But the subtext of this arc is about what we pass on to our kids.

Character Designs for ESCAPE by Greg Smallwood.
Click to enlarge.

BCP: One of the things I wanted to ask you about was the alias of Vernon Wells that the character uses frequently in the series, is that an allusion in any way to the actor Vernon Wells – the 80’s action star and if so why the inclusion?

JN: Yes! Vernon Wells is the greatest actor since Laurence Olivier, no, scratch that, he’s better. I love Vernon Wells. I love him in Road Warrior. I love him in Commando. I love him in Weird Science. My sons love him in Power Rangers Time Force. I’m not being facetious. I love Vernon Wells and I think he’s a helluva actor. We mention him in the first issue of DT then we decided to have a little wink-and-a-nod when John needed an alias. Then we kept it going so that it’s a little inside joke for keen-eyed readers. Wells has a “contact me” thing on his web site. I’d like to tell him about his inclusion in Dream Thief and I hope he’d be flattered. But I’ve been too much of a fraidy-cat to email him.

Vernon Wells referenced.

Vernon Wells (Bennett in Commando) referenced.

BCP: The way that the character is an unreliable narrator is interesting as is the way each issue deals with someone new possessing John – it almost has the feel of a TV show to it in that it is very episodic, would you ever let someone adapt it if approached?

JN: Greg and I have talked about it with Dark Horse’s media people. We’re all on the same page. We wouldn’t turn down a Dream Thief film if the opportunity arose, but we think the property is much better suited to television. Dream Thief is episodic. The concept lends itself to one-and-done stories as well as macro arcs. In a perfect world I’d like DT to end up on a network like FX or AMC or HBO that could push the adult nature of the premise and not shirk on the sex or violence… or sexy violence.

BCP: Most of Greg’s penciling gigs since Dream Thief first started have been with yourself, how did you first come together as a team? And what do you think it is that has made you both in demand since?

JN: I think Greg is the best artist I’ve ever worked with and he’s one of my best friends, so working with him is a joy every time. After Dream Thief we got hired as a package team by Nick Lowe at Marvel. We did a Dr. Strange & Beast story for A+X. Then I got hired to do a Grimm miniseries at Dynamite and brought Greg with me to do the covers. I’m waiting on another project at Dynamite and I’d love to have Greg do the covers for that one too. I mean, I’ll be happy to bring him onboard any of my projects. And, yes, since DT has been a hit we’ve both been in demand. But I don’t think either of us is ready to announce anything yet.

BCP: I also noticed you are an avid collector of Hellboy sketches (having recently been shared on Multiversity Comics), with that in mind has it ever been an ambition of yours to get your hands on a Hellboy title?

JN: I have always said my dream project (besides something creator owned) would be to do a Hellboy/Wolverine crossover. That’s been my dream project since about 1994, so you could say it’s been an ambition (laughs). The people Dark Horse has in the Mignolaverse are best writers and artists working in the biz. I’d love to do a Hellboy book, but I don’t mind reading those comics along with the rest of the fans.

A Sketch from Magnola himself from Jai's collection.Click to enlarge.

A Sketch from Mignola himself from Jai’s collection.
Click to enlarge.

BCP: Any recent additions to the collection you would like to mention?

JN: I’ve had no additions since I got my big pro gigs. I decided it was best to act like a professional and quit asking my buddies for sketches because they’d cut me a deal or do them for free and I’d feel bad. I’ve gotten a few sketches for my personal collection, but no new Hellboys.

BCP: One of your major supporters was Jonathan Hickman – in the early stages, but since the release of the first 5 issues what other feedback have you had from supporters that you and Greg felt positive about?

JN: Hickman was very cool about giving us a glowing quote to promote the book. I reached out to a lot of my pro friends and they were very gracious. Guys and gals like Matt Fraction, Gail Simone, Mark Waid, Dennis Hopeless, Cullen Bunn, Greg Pak… they all gave us great testimonials to help get the word out. The biggest one for me was Grant Morrison. Grant is my hero, and he gave us a great quote too. But he also sent me a personal note that told me how much he enjoyed the book. That meant the world to me. Since the book debuted we’ve heard from a bunch of other awesome pros like JH Williams and Frank Quitely. Another personal triumph for me was hearing from Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz. Getting praise from Morrison and Diaz validates my existence.

BCP: And lastly you’ve widely said you would like to see Dream Thief go to 60 issues, that is quite far off but I wouldn’t be very thorough if I didn’t ask… any hints about where else you will be taking the series? Or even any indication of where you see it ending?

JN: Let me revise that statement. Greg and I sat down one day and plotted out the rest of the series. It would probably last 36 issues in all. I talked to my most trusted buddies with long-running series and they advised us against going 60 issues. If you ever get the chance to ask John Layman and Matt Kindt for advice, you do it, and you take their wisdom to heart. So if we get to run the series to the end, we’d probably do about 36 issues total.


“DREAM THIEF: ESCAPE #1″ hits shelves on June 25th.

You can keep up to date on Jai’s work by following him on both Twitter and Tumblr.


The writer of this piece was:
GK AVGary Kane (GK)
You can find Gary on Twitter @Kanoclassic

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