Interview with Jay D'Ici, Writer of "Conceptual Heist"
CBY: Hey, Jay! Thanks so much for being on board for doing this. To get things started, do you want to talk a little about your comic, “Conceptual Heist”?
Jay D’Ici: "Conceptual Heist" is a science fiction art heist, it combines cyberpunk technologies with Jazz age style. It’s like Ghost in the Shell meets Carmen Sandiego, wearing a flapper dress.
CBY: Where did you get the idea for “Conceptual Heist”?
Jay D’Ici: I had an idea for something else entirely, that played off the idea that the world is full of different styles and tribes. In movies and comics people habitually wear similar styles because creators get focused in that world. You have a punk style, a corporate business suit style, casual etc. I started thinking about what fashion and styles we’d see in the future, and started looking at '60s & '70s fashion, and then '20s Jazz Age for science fiction stories because I was getting tired of the same looks for people. I came up with the idea of a flapper girl with a ray gun out of Flash Gordon, and it stuck with me. When I finally convinced Matt [G. Gagnon] to draw a comic with me I knew I wanted to start with that image, of a flapper girl surrounded by tech well beyond the 1920s. I also had been thinking about how there were so few times you see a heist in a science fiction setting, so I wanted to play with that.
Of course, once we were on that course I remembered the Jeff Smith had been doing "RASL," which has a scientist using his technology to steal art…specifically the Old Guitarist. So we have a nod to that on page 1 of the comic.
CBY: Maybe I’ve just got a Pierce Brosnan thing going, but “Conceptual Heist” feels a little James Bond and a little like The Thomas Crown Affair, between the tech-and-gadgets spy stuff and the art theft. Did you take any inspiration from these movies? Where do you get your inspiration?
Jay D’Ici: I love heist movies. And the Thomas Crowne Affair was one of my “study films” while I was putting together the series. A lot of what I wrote for the series came out of a rough outline I wrote around page 3 of the series when I realized that you can’t write a heist story without a plan. Heist stories are magic tricks. You keep everyone looking one way while you drop the twist at the end. The issue I ran into was my note for the end of Chapter 4 and into Chapter 5 was “magic trick it.” Once I figured out what Jemma’s first plan was, and her second plan, and why those both failed I had to work out what she needed to do, and from there I worked backwards in the story, knowing where I wanted to land. The whole “breaking the story down backwards” was something I stole from Kelly Sue DeConnick; she had mentioned it somewhere and I realized it would solve my problems. A lot of what happens comes from me taking what Matt does in the comic and adding to it. A chunk of Book 2 developed simply because Matt gave Knox cybernetic arms at the end of chapter 1.
CBY: So, it looks like there’s a Kickstarter going for Volume 1 now that it’s finished the arc. Where can people find it, and what do they get that’s different from the comic if they just read it on, say, the LINE WEBTOON app?
Jay D’Ici: Book 1 includes the first story arc of Chapters 1-5, if you go to www.conceptualheist.com/kickstarter you can check out the Kickstarter, and there is even a link to the first chapter in full colour. That’s the main add-on, the book will be in colour, which based on the work started by atelierMUSE, there’s actually a code to the colour schemes that we have in the book. In the regular comic Blue is a highlight for when technology or one of Jemma’s tools are being used. But blue (and a few appearances of spot red) are the only colours in the online comic. The book used the rainbow and the colours that appear in the book actually have meaning and we’re keeping that going. During fight scenes there is the clear Green means safe, yellow means Jemma is taking an action, and red lets you know she’s in danger.
We also have an introduction from James Powell whose book "House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen and Other Stories" is coming out from Dark Horse May 1st. You can also get original art, prints and some other very cool rewards as well that we’ll be announcing throughout the campaign.
CBY: Things definitely end on a cliffhanger for Jemma at the end of Volume 1. What can we look forward to in future installments of “Conceptual Heist”?
Jay D’Ici: Book 2 is titled “Jemma’s World”, we’re focusing more on the people who are a part of Jemma’s day-to-day life, bringing back a few favorites from Book 1. Knox will be there, but we’ll also see Detective Noble, Abigail and Nikki. But the reveal at the end of Book 1 will also be underlying everything in Book 2 and the rest of the series, how that is starting to effect Jemma’s life and her focus. A series just about rotating art heists could be fun, but it didn’t really say much to me. But a character that finds themselves being the only person to help actually affect change and keep things from going bad, even if their core intentions are inherently greedy and selfish intrigues me a great deal. One of my favourite comics is Lone Wolf & Cub and that series isn’t just about a man and his son working as assassins, it’s about how their quest for revenge brought down the most powerful family in Japan. I’m looking to play a similar game, just not as epic, because I think Matt would kill me if I told him it was going to be 8,400 pages long.
CBY: We talked earlier about James Bond. Can we expect new, cool gadgets or vehicles in Jemma’s future?
Jay D’Ici: A lot of what Jemma needs comes out of necessity in the story. Knox is an old stylish maker, with a solid love of “old” pop culture, so whatever tech she needs will pop up. Of course he’s not the only maker in the world, we have Nikki at Heiss Security and what gets developed there, and there are other people out in the world as well. And Jemma needs a new blur suit after Book 1, so expect to see something new there.
CBY: Unlike James Bond, we don’t see Jemma mixing business with pleasure in this first volume. She seems very professional and put together. Was that a conscious decision, to keep Jemma at arm’s length from most people?
Jay D’Ici: That’s actually on purpose, as beautiful and sexy as Jemma is, we don’t want that to be a driving force to the character. The other end is that she’s a liar, she is so good at lying it comes second nature to her and that would cause a definite problem in a relationship. We know there are lots of ships in this series, especially between Jemma and Noble, but that is more complicated than what Jemma would be comfortable with.
CBY: The world you guys have built here feels like really fertile for stories, like it could go on forever, with these characters or even as a spin-off or two. Any plans to explore outside of Jemma’s point of view?
Jay D’Ici: We definitely want to slip outside of Jemma’s perspective. I’ve actually written a couple of flash fiction pieces that are from Knox’s perspective covering his personal history and his history with Jemma. Noble also has a good perspective on things, and his relationship with Jemma is pretty unique. There are events coming up in the series that will definitely need to be seen from other peoples perspective. Abigail Belleforge is already kind of the Lucius Fox to Jemma’s Bruce Wayne. Most of the named characters have a pretty solid backstory to them.
CBY: Guys, thank you so much for making time to talk about “Conceptual Heist” with me. Is there anything you want to add before we go?
Jay D’Ici: Come check us out on Kickstarter, you can download the first chapter in full colour there, and read the rest of the series on Webtoons. When we hit 50% funded we’ll be posting the second full colour chapter for backers. And if you follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/conceptualheist) you can see me talking about what we have coming up in the kickstarter as it moves along. We have a fairly big stretch goal as well, and we’ll be announcing that when we hit 70% funded.
And through the month of May, we have several appearances, including Cosmix Comic shop in Montreal for Free Comic Book Day, TCAF on May 11th & 12th, East Coast Comic Expo is the 17th & 18th of may, and the last weekend of the campaign. Then we’re at Festival BD du Montreal/Montreal Comics Art Festival May 24th-26th.
And for June we’re going to be doing our third annual #JuneMadness Patreon event (www.patreon.com/conceptualheist), but we’ll be tuning it down a bit this year, and updating only 3-4 times a week instead of our traditional every day for the month of June. (We’ll have had a very long few months and need some time to ourselves.)