Masking Savagery With Wealth And Power: Dennis Calero On The Suit OGN

by Hannah Means Shannon

The Suit is a creator-owned story originally serialized in the pages of Dark Horse Presents, and now presented in a trade collection by the publisher. Writer and artist on the series, Dennis Calero, crafts a story that’s both stylish and more than a little haunting, and for those who are looking forward to Calero’s work with Van Jensen on the James Bond: Casino Royale OGN, you’ll see some of the same attention to detail to action scenes and the presentation of cool and collected organizations, no doubt.
In The Suit, set in the 1980’s, a corporate merger is the background for a “cutthroat businessman” known as the Suit to take down his competition and keep his company afloat. The new collection features all nine chapters that previously appeared in Dark Horse Presents, as well as expanded story and behind-the-scenes material.
Dennis Calero joins us on today to talk about the new collection, the allure of noir and other genre elements, and whether or not this title character even has a “soul”.

Hannah Means-Shannon: What do you think are some of the things that, aesthetically, suggest a crime story to readers or viewers, and which ones did you pick up on in The Suit?
Dennis Calero: Well, obviously deep shadows is where criminals love to dwell. When I look at Michael Mann’s films, which are a major influence on my sensibilities as a story teller, I often see the contrast between the daylight personas of his characters, and their nighttime “real” selves. I also enjoyed playing with the classic “he wears the trappings of high society”. The masking of savagery with the trappings of wealth and high society. I hope to play with that concept more in future Suit installments.
HMS: Were there any choices you made that were intentionally contrary to typical expectations for a crime story in terms of style, tone, or color? What led you to make those choices?
DC: I don’t know. I really don’t. So much of this bizarre story was about playing with pre-established tropes, but through the lens of history and context. It’s an action story but it isn’t an action story. It’s character driven but the character is a cipher, he’s flat and indeed, a lot of the…I hate to say it…but the existential conflict is the character realizing he has no character. He has no soul.
This was important to me, because a) it’s really cool and a call back to the french neo-noirs of the lates 60’s French cinema, but it’s also kind of a fuck you to modern storytelling where every character has to have a deepy detailed backstory that explains all of his or her actions. Call me a troglodyte, but sometimes I like a character to just BE. Whole. With no past.

HMS: How important do you think it should be that comics be “stylish” or “fashionable” in terms of art styles, clothing, color and the like? Is that something that influences you at all?
DC: Yes, and thanks for picking up on that. I mean, it depends on the book. It depends on the story. Does Thor have to be avant-garde? Of course not. I would even go so far to say that what I’m attempting to do is pretentious. An action story that pretends to be deep by subverting the tropes of the genre. And action in comics? Hasn’t anyone told me that comics are still pictures?
But The Suit was an attempt to take all the disparate things that I love and mix them together in a crazy stew. To swing for the fences and try to make something entertaining that also weirds you out and makes the reader question the form of what he or she is reading. In that way, through its “impersonalness”, it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever done.
And if that’s not pretentious, what is?
HMS: Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of the idea for The Suit, and how, as a writer-artist, you usually compose a creator-owned story?
DC: This, for me, was a chance to dance hard in the middle of the floor. Am I insane? Am I a genius? Or worse, just average? As I said, I sat and thought of all the things I love…Miami Vice, James Bond, the 80s, French Cinema. And I wanted to bring these things together in comics in a way that felt fresh. And from the response so far, there’s been a good number of fans who seem to get it.
As far as the approach, I just come to it like a writer, ignoring that I’m going to draw it.  That way I’m not tempted to take short cuts. It’s got to work as a script first. Of course, keeping in mind that it has to be visual. A mistake I see far too often in modern comics is scripts that are essentially dialogue driven. What’s the point? It’s a comic, a visual medium. If you can fold the communication between characters into a punch in the face, in my opinion, it’s better!

HMS: How different is your process when you’re working on a creator-owned story versus a licensed or company-owned story?
DC: Well when you’re working on X-factor of the Legion of Superheroes, your job, in my opinion, is to carry forward the legacy, but within the construct of the character, to try to offer some variance as well. When it’s mine, it’s mine. My job is to create something new and unlike, in some way, anything that came before. By the way, trying but also being fully aware how impossible that is.
HMS: What do you think the difficulties are of crafting a good action scene? What are some of the goals you have when you’re laying one out and bringing it to fruition?
DC: The first obstacle, of course, is that comics are made of still pictures with no sound, Not the ideal for action. Sure, everyday comics do punch/reaction while everyone is talking. That’s not real kinetic action. Some guys like the recently deceased Russ Heath were great at giving the impression of movement and real kinetic action and I was looking at a lot of that.
So, my challenge for myself was to find a way to do action that wasn’t simply a replacement for a dialogue scene but for its own sake.

HMS: Looking at The Suit as a whole story, now in trade, does anything about it surprise you or work differently than you expected?
DC: I’m surprised that as many fans have tried to meet the story where it’s situated, so to speak. It’s one thing to deliberately try to make something that in no way is trying to pander. I made this primarily for an audience of one, that is me. But one hopes, of course, that it will attract a like-minded readership that also enjoys and appreciates it.
Thanks to Dennis Calero for answering our questions and hanging out with!
The Suit is currently available as a trade paperback from Dark Horse Comics.

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