Peering into the Heavy: an interview with Murder Falcon's Daniel Warren Johnson
Image Comics’s Murder Falcon is one of our favorite books on the stands today. As crazy and kooky as the title suggests, it also manages to tug on the heart strings. Created by writer and artist Daniel Warren Johnson, MF wears its love of metal on its sleeve, and the power of music to heal permeates each issue. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Dan and talk about where this special story comes from. We trust you’ll find his answers illuminating.
Comics Now: The name “Murder Falcon” is, by all accounts, perfect: it’s catchy, and accurately sums up the metal aspects of the book and character. Did you land on the name pretty quickly, or did you go through a few drafts before it came together?
Daniel Warren Johnson: Everything you read in this comic comes from the name! My brother does roller derby out in MA, and he was looking for a quality roller derby name. I remember "Andrew Lloyd Shredder," but another was "Murder Falcon.” I immediately told him that he couldn't take that one because I was using it for a comic! That's where the initial inspiration came from, before any stories, concepts, or visuals came in to place.
CN: Everyone expected this book to be funny, and it delivered. But the level of depth and emotional authenticity took us by surprise. What made you decide to take such bizarre tools and tell such a personal, relevant story?
DWJ: I think that may be just one of the things I do as a creator, without necessarily thinking about it. I've tried to write stories where I take the characterization less seriously, but I always end up in a rut a quarter through it, because if it doesn't have some sort of deeper meaning, why am I drawing it? I need the heart of the story to help fuel the insane amount of work that goes into making a comic, start to finish. So a lot of that personal delivery is more a necessity than a conscious decision.
CN: One of the melodic lines in the series is the power of metal to heal. You mention some of your story in the back matter on #1, but I’m curious: how much of you is in Jake?
DWJ: I think there's a little bit of me in each character. I have a bit of brashness and devil-may-care in me, which definitely fuels Murder Falcon. I also deal with a lot of fear, which is a big part of Jake's story, and the rest of the cast also has something from my personhood. It's the only way I know how to write!
CN: Murf is over-the-top, but he’s also a legitimate father or older brother figure to Jake. Did you have that in your own life? Or is this “older and wiser Dan” speaking to “young and confused Dan?”
DWJ: I have a great dad, but he's so different in personality to Murder Falcon that I have a hard time connecting the two! I would say that Murder Falcon is more my own self trying to build me up, almost like the best version of myself, if that makes sense.
CN: I think the scene in the van in #1 perfectly captures the way music anchors us to points in time. My brother and I both have “those songs” that still bring fresh pain all these years later. What are some of your real-life songs like that?
DWJ: A song that was always "college" for me is The Bouncing Souls’ "True Believers." I was listening to that album the whole summer before I went off to school and began the journey of figuring out who I was as my own person. "Hopelessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes reminds me of meeting my wife, and then getting married. Music is pretty special that way.
CN: One of the things I really appreciate is MF’s use of words to communicate music, sound, and effects. It seems like the panels are saturated with SFX. Why the choice to put them—so many of them—in words and not just visually picture them?
DWJ: Honestly, most of the time it's for clarity! I want to make sure that little things are translated to the readers in a quick and easy way, so the story can do its work. I find that those effects are the best way to do it.
CN: In the record store, one clerk chastises the other because Metallica’s “St. Anger” doesn’t count as real metal. Which clerk are you?
DWJ: I actually just recently watched "Some Kind of Monster," which is the documentary of them making the album. I really appreciate that record, especially now after seeing that doc, because it chronicles a band struggling creatively, which is something I can relate to very strongly. When you have a library of music like Metallica does, there are albums that won't be as good as others, but I'm encouraged by their willingness to press on and make something they could be excited about, regardless of how people felt about it. That being said, it's nowhere near something I'd choose to play every day, but I think there are some really cool sonic ideas going on in “St. Anger.”
CN: You mention in the back matter that you also play the guitar—what’s your rig of choice these days?
DWJ: Oh Boy! I have two amps, an Orange OR15 head and an EVH5150 LBX running through an Orange 4x12 cab with V30's. I have a LOT of guitars (too many [there’s no such thing - BW]), but my favorites right now are a 1988 Jackson soloist, an American-made Tele, and a new MIJ Ibanez AZ. Shred!
CN: Have you thought about a potential partnership with an instrument manufacturer to produce Jake’s guitar and Johann’s bass? Those Falcon headstocks need to be real!
DWJ: YES! But I have no idea who would ever do it. Also, SO MUCH MONEY. That being said, the bass is based on a Sanberg design, which you can see here. And the guitar is loosely based on a Jackson Soloist, like this one, from the 80s.
Jay: Feel free to disregard if the answer would be too spoilery, but is Murder Falcon intended as a finite story, or do you have ideas for further adventures with Murf and Jake?
Dan: MF will be 8 issues total, and then it's over! I hope you all enjoy it while it runs! I'm having a great time.
So are we, Dan. So are we.
Murder Falcon #5 hits stores this coming Wednesday.