Just when you think that all of comicbooks these days are gritty superheroes in spandex, and shuffling, brain-eating zombies, someone comes out with a comicbook that is not only so outside of what you normally read, that it grabs you from the moment you begin to read it and doesn’t let you go, even as you wait (sometimes months) for that next issue. Well, writer Jeff Marsick and artist Scott Barnett have done just that, with their thriller, noir comic Dead Man’s Party. Somehow these two indie creators have managed to do something that this writer/reviewer has never quite seen in a comic. They have instilled action and adventure. Yep, you read that right. Over the years we have read thousands (hundreds of thousands) of comics, and sure many of them have been thrilling, but what these two gents have managed to somehow do is instill a level of frenetic action within the boundaries of flat, two-dimensional space that we have rarely — if ever — seen in comicbook form.
As for the comicbook itself, it is an action/adventure that doesn’t involve superheroes but assassins. According to Barnett, “Dead Man’s Party (currently in its third issue), is about a world-class assassin and what happens when he’s forced to put a contract out on himself.” The reason for the arranging a hit on himself (A Dead Man’s Party — if you will) is because the assassin (who goes by the name “Ghost” is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and chooses to go out at the top of his game, killed by one of his peers, rather than die a slow, lingering death felled by cancer. So he calls a Dead Man’s Party, which is code for five assassins get to bid on his contract, and the one that manages to kill him, gets all of his money, as well as his “standing” in the assassin community (and also gets to now charge Ghost’s rates for hits).
A Dead Man’s party can’t be called off, can’t be stopped, and only ends with the death of the assassin in question, only as soon as Ghost calls the hit, he discovers that he has been scammed and he really doesn’t have cancer, so now he is in a fight for his life, defending himself from his fellow assassins and attempting to learn who wants him dead.
The comic is self-published under the auspices of Double Cross Presents by Marsick and Barnett, who (with the exception of some lettering help on one of the issues) do it all, from soup to nuts. Marsick, a former military officer spends his days as a Wall Street financial analyst (really), but at night turns into a writer, penning novels, screenplays and comicbooks (including Z-Girl and the Four Tigers). He is also a regular contributor to the Newsarama website. Barnett, who works as graphic artist/designer specializing in CGI for consumer products and displays, got his start in the comicbook industry by painting covers and pin-ups during the mid-‘90s, but when the speculator boom trashed the industry, he moved on to other areas in the graphic arts, working in commercial illustration, web design, graphic design, storyboarding and 3D modeling. “You never forget your first love,” he told us. “So I came back and decided to self-publish, which is where my collaboration with Jeff began.”
As for what prompted them to do this particular story, Barnett stated “I honestly don’t think there’s anything in comics quite like it, right now. Sure, there are crime books out there, but we seem to have struck a chord with readers, as the two most common responses are, ‘When’s the next issue coming out, dammit?’ or ‘This would make an awesome action film!’ And it would. And we’re workin’ on it.” The way they came up with this thoroughly unique story is that Marsick and Barnett had been friends for years and they’d been wanting to collaborate on a project for a long time. “We passed some ideas around, but nothing really gained any traction. Then, one night a few years back, an idea popped into my head about a hitman putting a hit out on himself. Jeff happened to e-mail me the very next day about the subject of working together again. I told him my idea and his jaw hit the ground. It turned out that he had a hitman concept that had been in the back of his head for years but didn’t yet have a home.”
From there, the ideas came fast and furious, “We exchanged notes about our ideas, and it just clicked. Jeff’s idea was the competition of the Party itself. A ‘Dead Man’s Party’ is a way for an assassin to go out on his own terms; it’s a competition amongst a set number of your peers, where they have 30 days to fulfill the contract. Whoever gets there first gets your head on their resume, as well as your Swiss bank account. Then, of course, we had to establish a twist that would throw an already wild idea completely on its ear.” Which turned out to be that Ghost was tricked into calling the party on himself.
When asked what got him into comics, Barnett said, “Ha, That would be my oldest cousin’s fault! He’s about a half-dozen years older than me and started showing me his Spider-Man comics when I was about seven or eight. I was instantly hooked on Marvel Comics and started collecting most of their line of books as a teenager. As an adult, I ventured out and started finding comics that broke out of the superhero mold.” All of which helped contribute to the framing of this particular project. “I haven’t read any stories about hitmen setting themselves up, especially not in the medium of comic books.” Barnett went on to tell us that he has a special way of thanking vocal supporters of the book. “Sooner or later, you tend to find yourself in a crowd scene. Or maybe under a tarp. Or being carjacked by our protagonist. Or dancing at the strip club in the book.”
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of this comic is that the main protagonist, Ghost, looks suspiciously like Barnett, when we asked him about that, this is what he told us. “Basically, most decisions on the artwork have been based on saving time. I chose to ‘paint’ using markers because it was quicker and cleaner; we chose black and white for the interior art because it’s quicker to create and less expensive to print. And since I work from photo reference (many times posing for it myself), I decided to just add my likeness because it was already there in the photos. Initially, I had Jeff in there, as well, as another important character, but he wound up writing that character out, at least for now. I’ve been bugging him to allow me to use his likeness for a character, and in this latest issue, he indulged me. Sorta. You’ll see.”
Right now, the dynamic duo is working on the finale to Dead Man’s Party (issue 4). Marsick is also wrapping up the first story arc in Z-Girl with his collaborator there, while Barnett recently painted a cover for the assassin comic series, M3 (issue #10, a few issues away from publication). Meanwhile they are discussing their plans for DMP’s sequel, and will hopefully have some exciting news about that, bringing it to other media and a possible cross-over with another book in the coming year.
Characters, Story and Content of Dead Man’s Party are Trademark & © 2014 Jeff Marsick and Scott Barnett. The text to Funnybook City is © 2014 Robert J. Sodaro, D.B.A. Freelance Ink. All rights reserved by their respective owners.
Robert J. Sodaro is a noted comicbook historian and journalist who began reading comics during the early ‘60s while sitting on the newsstand in his Uncle’s “Mom & Pop” grocery store. He began writing about comics in the early ‘80s, and wrote for virtually every print comicbook publication published during the ‘80s & ‘90s. These days, much of his writing can be found online at Examiner.com.