If you’re lucky, you’ll find a career that you love—one that you’re good at. It’s the dream of many people stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy. For Cody Pomeray, that dream had come true: he had found a career in which he excelled, and he made a great living at it.
Problem is, the career was the con. And in 1985, Cody was one of the best con artists in the business... until he picked the wrong mark. That’s when everything went wrong, and before too long Cody found himself in the most brutal prison in California.
Cody’s situation is the focus of Ex-Con, a new series by writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Keith Burns. Swierczynski offered some background on Cody Pomeray and his story. “Cody is a grifter and con man with a strange gift: he can read his mark's ‘lights,’ which tell him if they're lying, or in love, or greedy, and so on. One day, though, he runs a short con on the wrong guy—a powerful real estate mogul who has Cody sent to prison and arranges for him to be killed.
“But Cody’s life is spared by Barnaby Creed, an equally powerful crime lord current serving at the state's pleasure. In exchange, Cody has to do a special little ‘favor’ for Creed once he's paroled. Which is when things really get interesting... He has no idea he's just stepped into a long con, and this time, he's the mark!”
"Ex-Con is probably my first balls-out crime story for comics, as opposed to other comics that have had a superhero or science-fiction element to them. Granted, Cody has an ability that could be considered a superpower, but he's no hero, believe me. Fans who've liked my darker novels—The Wheelman or The Blonde, for instance—will feel at home in Cody's twisted little noir world.”
Why did Swierczynski choose to tell the story of Ex-Con as a comic rather than a novel? “I love the story of how legendary crime writer Jim Thompson wrote his best-known novel. Basically, he showed up at the offices of Lion Books, and editors Arnold Hano and Jim Bryans handed Thompson five story synopses on index cards and asked him to pick one. Thompson went with one about a cop who gets involved with a prostitute and ends up murdering her—and from that tiny story germ sprang The Killer Inside Me.
“Now I'm no Jim Thompson, but Ex-Con started the same way. I showed up one bitter night at Dynamite's South Jersey office, and Nick Barrucci and Joe Rybandt gave me a story germ they had about an ex-con who's sprung from prison owing a favor to a crime boss. I went off and developed a pitch around that central idea. And then it went into some truly weird directions, which is the fun of it.”
“Duane is a local Philly guy, which allowed us to get together face-to-face to make our plans,” Dynamite senior editor Joseph Rybandt said. “That’s is always a nice bonus when you can do it. Having him focus on this ‘crime plus’ idea in terms of Ex-Con was a natural fit, for sure.”
Why set the story in the mid-80s rather than in contemporary times? “I'm a huge fan of place and time in fiction; where a story is set, along with the year (even down to the month and season) is hugely important. I thought it would be fun to tell a story in late 1980s L.A., and where you don't have cell phones or the internet. I'll admit it: I'm also a fan of 80s crime flicks like To Live and Die in LA and Manhunter and Cop and The Grifters (Jim Thompson again!), so I wanted to play in similar kind of sandbox. Thank God artist Keith Burns is also into L.A. and the 80s—I think he enjoys the same kinds of movies!”
Does it seem odd that we’re now thinking of the 1980s as period-piece territory? “Fer sure (as they used to say)! Most of the story takes place in 1989, when I was seventeen years old. But to a twenty-year-old kid picking up this comic, it's probably going to feel like ancient history.”
What is it about con men that makes them so perpetually fascinating, whether it’s one of Flannery O’Connor’s grotesques or William Faulkner’s reivers or The Music Man’s Harold Hill or one of The Sting’s schemers? “Con men are one of the few ‘bad guys’ you can root for,” Swierczynski said. “They live by their wits, almost never turn to violence, and it can be great fun watching them work. Unless you're the mark. I actually wrote a Complete Idiot's Guide to Frauds, Cons and Scams, which I drew upon when writing about Cody and his mindset.”
A particularly intriguing aspect of Ex-Con is the concept of a con man who becomes the reluctant mark in a long con. How does Cody’s knowledge of the con and how it works play into the story? “You've just nailed the appeal of it—no matter how smart you might be, there's always going to be someone smarter, and you might find yourself playing the role of the mark. Cody's one advantage—reading people's ‘lights’—always gave him the edge. But a prison beating took away that ability, and now he's struggling to regain that edge in the outside world.”
Does he still know enough to turn things around, or is the situation out of his control? “Not to spoil things, but never underestimate the power of a truly desperate man. Then again, this is a very noir story, and you know how those kinds of tales turn out...”
Ex-Con is the latest project in Dynamite’s recently-launched Creators Unleashed line. Was this series originally envisioned as part of Dynamite’s Crime Line imprint? “We’ve been working with Duane since the start of the Crime Line,” Rybandt said, “but in putting together for the marketing for Creators Unleashed—strong writers matched with incredible artists telling stories that have no boundaries, restrictions, or limits—we moved the project here under this umbrella... though it certainly fits both! Holding Ex-Con until Creators Unleashed came together completely also allows get most of the series in the can on the art-front, with Keith Burns delivering some amazing work.”
Dynamite is proud of the series that comprise the Creators Unleashed rollout, so they’re taking a risk by offering the new series by major comics talents at a relatively low price point. “We’re keeping the price on all of these titles at $2.99, offering a diverse range of genres and subject matter and working with some of the best writers and artists in the business. All of these things combine to make the Creators Unleashed books an open, accessible line of titles. And we’re helping retailers by making the first issue of every Creators Unleashed series completely returnable!”
Ex-Con #1 by Duane Swierczynski & Keith Burns, with cover art by Tim Bradstreet, is scheduled for September 3rd release.
Source: Comic Shop News