Turn back the clock back to the evening in June 2007 in a hotel room in Charlotte, North Carolina. That was the first time I ever read Fear Agent. Conor, Josh and I were attending Heroes Con and Conor had picked up the first two trade paperbacks. Josh was reading volume 1, so I grabbed volume 2 to see what it was about. About 15 minutes later, I turned to Josh and said something along the lines of, “Holy shit, this is fantastic!” Josh heartily agreed and thus began the reign of one of the few titles so universally appreciated and loved by iFanboy.
Today, almost six years later, the Fear Agent Omnibus, Vol. 1 has finally been released by Dark Horse. After wrapping up the series a year ago, I was curious what the series creators, writer Rick Remender and artists Tony Moore and Jerome Opeña, felt about the entire experience. I caught up with them a few weeks back. We had a very long conversation, going back to the origins of the title, the ups and downs of the run and ultimately what it’s like to be here today, with the series wrapped and collected in a high end archival edition. What you’re about to read is part one of three in the Oral History of Fear Agent, my little addition to the legacy of one of the finest creator owned comics of this century.
The Origin of Fear Agent
After several years of toiling at independent comics, Rick Remender and Tony Moore have the initial discussions that will ultimately lead to the creation of Fear Agent.
Rick Remender: Tony had just done a piece, a sci-fi cover for a comic book, that had a dude in a rocket that crashed on a moon fighting some kooky aliens, and I was in my office looking at EC Comics and we were talking EC Comics, and I was drawing a lot myself from Wood and Will Elder and those guys at the time. Looking at Tony doing this stuff got me crazy excited, and I was like “Whoa. Nobody is doing science fiction right now!” It had completely dried up, especially this kind of pulp, crazy, science fiction.
Tony Moore: It was for Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International, I think. Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s the cover he’s talking about. He called me up and was excited about it. We started kind of shooting the shit about EC and I was less familiar with the sci-fi stuff. I was a lot more familiar with the horror stuff and the crime fiction stuff, but I hadn’t really delved that deep into the sci-fi stuff from EC. We started culminating this thing together and kicked around the few ideas…it was probably within like a couple of days, we had Heath Huston more or less figured out. It was a fairly quick conception.
Remender: It was a lot of back and forth. We were just talking on the phone a lot and putting together the pieces. I wrote up a story which once we knew what the adventure would be like, I called Tony and we cooked up his back story. Then I went back and worked that into the story and put together the first outline. I think that outline hit the first twenty-something issues that ended being made. We talked that stuff out of it, went back and forth, and once the outline was sort of polished, we got to work.
The idea was to just be untethered in imagination and to be able to do something that was grounded in a character that you cared about. The adventures that he would go through would be any amazing, cool, science fiction ideas that we had. We wanted to work in time travel and dimension hopping, doppelgangers, and every kind of wonderful sci-fi trove we could. We understood the important thing had to be Heath and his story and who he was.
Moore: It’s the kind of guy that you can put through the ringer over and over and over in all these different ways…we were looking at guys like Mignola, like the way he constructed Hellboy was a really great kind of touchstone for how we needed to approach Heath.
Remender: There was mega arc to it. I think that the thing with Charlotte [Heath Huston's wife] became the heart. It became the B-story that was always kind of bubbling there and the thing that moved Heath through it all because that’s the other problem. When you’re putting a character through the kind of things we put Heath through, what keeps him going? And this back story that we didn’t end up telling until the third arc, it was the heart of the thing, it was going to be his love for his once normal life that he had obviously idealized and was haunted by.
What’s In a Name?
Remender: The title itself, Fear Agent, came from a pile of CDs on my desk. I had Agent Orange on top of Fear and I remember looking at those two things together. We had been discussing having fear in the title and I wanted it tying back into his origin story. I had a Mark Twain quote on my desktop that said something about that courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is the ability to ignore it and fight through it. I’m bastardizing the quote at this point, but the basic gist of the quote is courage is not the absence of fear but overcoming it, something like that. That was something that I had put on my desktop to kind of keep myself going when comic books didn’t really seem to want me around.
Jerome Opeña: The word fear was in a lot of those great old pulp titles too so it kind of lends itself to immediately conjuring those images too.
Remender: That was something that I thought was apt to the Heath situation, that he would be somebody who fought fear. That quote kind of fed into the one and to use the word fear and then the albums sort of stacked up on my desktop and the name was sort of born from those two things, kind of perfectly aligning themselves.
Launching Fear Agent
With a name, concept and character, the question of where to publish Fear Agent is addressed.
Remender: We had been talking to Image Comics while we were developing it, so they were definitely going to be the launch company. That was never in question. I had Sea of Red and Strange Girl moving forward at Image. This was going to be the next thing I did there.
We opened fairly strong in the market. Indie books at that point had taken a real crash. In 2002 and 2003, you’d seen a real–I don’t know if it was a resurgence–but you’d see horror books take a nice climb up the ladder. Tony and I had both done a lot of that stuff. I had done my monster mash-up, XXXombie story, and Doll and Creature and then obviously I think Tony did something with zombies. The market was seeing some constraint for that stuff but not for a lot of the other indie stuff.
While we opened, I think, at like 12,000 or 13,000 [issues sold], the book then goes to 7,000 and 8,000 [issues sold] and that’s just barely enough to really keep the ship sailing. While the reaction was positive, the numbers said early on that this was going to be an uphill battle, which is a lot of fun knowing that you’ve got 30 to 40 issues of story you want to try and get through. But I think we all loved what we were doing and so it was just important to get through it and to keep the book alive no matter what and that was sort of the mission statement moving forward.
With Fear Agent launched, Remender and Moore search for a third member of the creative team.
Remender: We knew early on that there was going to be rotating artist and so after going through a few people and getting things moving, we settled on Jerome Opeña.
Opeña: I had done one issue of Strange Girl and then after that, Rick asked me if I wanted to work on Fear Agent and I said “Yes, of course!” because I honestly didn’t have really anything going on at that time. It looked like a really cool project; sci-fi stuff. I love all that kind of stuff, and so I jumped on from there.
Remender: At that point in time, Tony had double books, he was doing The Exterminators and Fear Agent. I think by issue four, Jerome was already in there polishing up the pencils and lending a hand.
The book absolutely would not have continued or existed in the way that it now does where it not for Jerome buckling down and hopping on issue four. We weren’t making a whole lot of money, so it really was a labor of love for everybody involved. I think the fact that we were able to not only get it done, but the fact that it looks as stunning as it does, is sort of a testament to how in love with the subject matter that we all were.
Opeña: On my part, I also was trying to keep some semblance of Tony’s mood and feel that he brought to the book. Readers, some of them, can get mad about the artist changing. That was in the back of my mind but it wasn’t exactly something that I was like, “Okay I’m not going to do it.” It just kind of happened through just working on the book, it just kind of happened organically.
Moore: I think we just got really lucky that we kind of come from similar schools of thought when it comes to cartooning and rendering. I think that we had such sympathetic styles that it was just kind of a natural fit. I guess on that front we just got really lucky.
Tune in tomorrow for part 2, where we hear about Jack Davis and other collaborators, the Fear Agent car, the move to Dark Horse and more from the Oral History of Fear Agent