The Fourth Man: Three bodies. Two Detectives. One Killer. Zero Clues.
It sounds like the tagline for the newest murder mystery Netflix show but, in fact, it is the latest four-issue series from AWA Studios, The Fourth Man. Writer Jeff McComsey and artist Mike Deodato Jr have expertly created a thrilling whodunnit tale and Troy from The Nerdy Basement has had the perfect opportunity to interview the creators.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: First question for you both. What would you want your last meal to be? You can include drinks.
Jeff McComsey: I’d go with wings (blue cheese dressing AND celery) and a six-pack. Miller Lite probably. Don’t want the extra calories before go time.
Mike Deodato Jr: Since we are talking true crime stories, I imagine I would be on death row, so it makes sense not to make my executor’s life easy, therefore I would want the rarest, hard-to-find ones. “I want a Bird’s Nest Soup for entree, Almas Caviar, with Saffron and Raw Puffin Heart for the main course and to drink, the Speyer wine bottle. For dessert, please bring me just a Diamond Fruitcake, I am trying to keep my shape.”
THE NERDY BASEMENT: I’ll have to be honest, I’ve never desired a raw puffin heart but I can’t argue with your logic! When I was in New York (visiting from Australia), blue cheese sauce and buffalo wings were on my bucket list and I got them on my last day—did not disappoint! The world is obsessed with murder mysteries. Every other week there’s a new docuseries about The Golden State Killer or a show like The Sinner or Stay Close, but you have both brought that formula to the written page. I was absolutely gripped by the opening scenes as we see Jimmy with the coroner. What is your planning strategy? Do you start with a single idea or begin with the ending?
Jeff McComsey: I always look for an idea that inspires me, usually something true. Once that’s more or less decided on I sit down and “plot” these murders in a linear sense and then figure out the most entertaining and intriguing way to present them to the reader.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: And similarly, Mike, do you have the script written first, or do you have ideas that might sway the story in some way?
Mike Deodato Jr: In this case, I got the complete script from Jeff first, so my job was just to find the best ways to make it work visually. I decided not to use fancy, over creative layouts, keeping it simple and straightforward.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: I really appreciated the simple and straightforward nature. I’ll get to that a bit later but it made the world seem more real, and Jeff this leads me to my next question for you. You’re hot from the release of Grendel, Kentucky, which, for those readers who may not know, is a modern rendition and heavily inspired by the tale of Beowulf. Now, you’ve written The Fourth Man, what made you want to take on a more realistic and grounded story?
Jeff McComsey: Well, I love the idea of great crime stories buried inside these names you see on highway exits or on maps. Setting these things in fictitious or obscure towns grants tremendous artistic license to tell any story we want.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: This could be a question for either of you. As I was reading, I felt as if I was actually watching a TV show or film; the way my eye carries through the page, not only following the panels but also as if there is a specific movement. I’m thinking about the mid shots, close-ups, and in particular the cross panel shots (Issue #1 pages 6-7 double spread). How do these come about and what is the thought process behind how each panel/how they carry through the page?
Jeff McComsey: A lot of them are in the script that way, I’m also a comic artist so the movement of the camera, meaning the variety of shots are foremost in my brain as I’m scripting. The eventual visuals inform most of what I write. Not putting too much info in a panel or page is also very important to consider. Mike is a total pro in that department too, so I think that’s one of the reasons the visuals in FOURTH MAN work so well. There is an art to it, keeping pages interesting that is a lot like composing music (I imagine).
Mike Deodato Jr: Jeff is an artist himself, so I believe when he writes the script he can actually visualize in his head how it is gonna work on the page. That is a gift to have a collaborator who is also an artist. Some good writers still struggle to understand that comics are not an animated cartoon. I try to visualize every scene as my eyes were cameras floating around the scene. I chose the angles and compositions and sequences based on how to tell the story better. How to pass the emotion, the suspense, or whatever the story needs.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: I really appreciate the way you two have worked together in establishing that. It must be quite nice to have two artists come together because the output then has an extra layer of professionalism. Thinking about each panel and page as the movement of the camera is nice too, and it definitely shows in The Fourth Man.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Jeff, I found the characterization of each focus “man” to be quite simple yet effective. The first issue following Jimmy and the second on Shane, each shot and conversation provided us with an insight into them. Do you find this easy or difficult in such a short range of pages? Have you taken inspiration from any other characters/actors?
Jeff McComsey: Once we decided that each man would be the focus of their own issue, it made for easy goings. Probably the thing I wrestle with most, in the beginning, is how to present a story to the reader. Once that’s decided, the rest is pretty straightforward for me. I also like how these men end up playing supporting roles in other chapters after theirs. Fronting their own issues gave us the chance to run with these characters and give the reader a nice snapshot of their personalities and motivations.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: I was pleasantly surprised when Jimmy shows up in Chapter 2 as a supporting character so that was a nice touch. After establishing the character’s motivations and personalities, I suppose you’re following it up with what they look like. How did you come up with their design?
Jeff McComsey: We definitely “cast” our story early on. Less from the actors, but more from certain performances of theirs. To a small extent, those performances do collect in my brain and come through a bit in the characterizations.
Mike Deodato Jr: Usually I “cast” the characters myself, based on descriptions by the script, but this time it was totally Jeff’s casting, which I loved.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Something I loved was the suspense and intrigue of the whole story. You’re telling the same story from several different perspectives, and there are story threads that continue to reappear: D’agostino, big monetary amounts, and, my personal favorite, the tattoo of the killer. How does this play into the mystery surrounding the story? And, I’m interested to know, how this folds into the story as we inevitably leave the police station?
Jeff McComsey: Some of these things are clues, some are foreshadowing and some are misdirection. Some of it is misdirection AND foreshadowing, which I love. One of the most satisfying things for me when writing something told non-linearly like this is when all our stories come crashing together. I hesitate to say much more right now!
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Mike, speaking about intrigue, in Issue #2 on page 16, Shane’s telling a story and within it, he gets smacked across the head. The panel then goes completely black. I absolutely loved it. For a moment, I thought he was being smacked within the present day, which is also part of the main tale. What’s your opinion on the effect of this panel and was my reaction your intention?
Mike Deodato Jr: I love panels with nothing on it because they are easy to draw, of course. More of these, Jeff, please, haha. Jokes apart, it was exactly like that in the script and I also found a great idea.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Hahaha! Ok, the fact that you love blank pages is an interesting segue into my next question but I appreciate the sentiment. Mike, the small details in the comic are really well done. For example, etching on shirts, bottles in the bar, facial shadows, and even dimmer font while the characters whisper. You’ve also made a dent across many IPs, including Marvel, Star Wars, and DC. What is the difference between drawing something fantastical like those storylines compared to something more real like The Fourth Man?
Mike Deodato Jr: Although I loved my time with the big two, drawing bigger-than-life mega-events, these street-level, real-life stories are my favorites to do. They are actually harder to draw because you gotta make them real, search for lots of references, but I just love them.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: That’s really interesting. As a kid, and young adult, I liked to sketch, etc and went straight towards the shows and comics I enjoyed, e.g. Dragonball Z or superhero stuff, and I always found it easier to draw those types of images than any real-life stuff I worked on because of what you said. Those small details are so difficult to get across on the page effectively but reference images really help and are a great tip for those artists out there.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: So, what’s on the cards for you both coming up? Obviously, The Fourth Man is your current work but are either of you involved in the upcoming AWA shared universe or some other projects to look out for?
Jeff McComsey: I have some upcoming releases with Comics Experience Publishing that I’m excited about called HONCHO. I co-wrote this with my friend and fellow writer, Jeff McClelland. I illustrated this one a few years ago and am very happy it will have its day on the shelf finally.
Mike Deodato Jr: Looking forward to working again with Jeff. In the meantime, I have finished a complete issue of a new five issues anthology book I believe AWA will be releasing info soon, and right now I am working on a project with a writer that the last time we collaborated was about 25 years ago, but I can’t say more for now or Lisa is gonna kill me.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Without the risk of Lisa from AWA coming at us, I would love to know more. I absolutely love anthology series whether in written or visual/tv formats. They seem to have this life of their own so I’m excited about that. Before we finish up, can you give any advice to those comic book fans who might want to follow in your footsteps as a writer or artist in this world?
Jeff McComsey: Starting small, with self-publishing is always a good plan. I also encourage people to try their hand at other comic-making jobs. Try lettering/drawing/writing even if it’s not your thing, you get a real insight into what your collaborators do/go through/need to do their thing.
Mike Deodato Jr: Keep your eyes on all of the AWA Studios books, every single one of them is a masterclass on drawing, writing, and editing.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: Final question for you both: Which serial killer story, real or fictional, intrigues you the most?
Jeff McComsey: For me, it’s HH HOLMES and his murder castle. Nothing scarier than a serial killer with time AND money.
Mike Deodato Jr: The crime story that intrigues me the most nowadays is how the Brazil’s President keeps getting away from justice, having committed so many crimes. I guess I will have to wait for the next election to see if the good guys win in the end.
THE NERDY BASEMENT: I can see a pattern here: money. I need to do my research a little in HH Holmes and further into the injustice of the Brazilian parliament. I’m sure it will be some uplifting reading lol. But seriously, thank you both so much for your time in answering these questions. It’s been a blast getting further insight into your work as artists. I eagerly await the final two issues of The Fourth Man and being able to know who the fourth man is, in that regard. Is he the tattooed assailant or someone else? Only time will tell. Have a good one, guys!
AWA Studios’ The Fourth Man is available now at your local comic book shop and digital platforms.
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