A great story concept is like a great hand in poker: When you have it, you know nothing can beat it, so you confidently go all in and take the house. That is what it must have felt like for Ray Fawkes when he developed his series, “Jackpot!” a new series being published by AfterShock Comics. Jackpot! continues the current trend from independent publishers in that it is a concept that is truly inimitable from anything being released by the Big 2. Its concept is almost deceptively simple, but Jackpot! ’ genius subsists on its brilliant twist on the heist genre.
For those readers who have yet to discover Jackpot!, the series is described by AfterShock Comics as “the world’s greatest con artists…[planning]…the greatest scam in human history.” This crew is an assemblage of people, who each possess one very particular gift. For instance, there is a math wizard, an assassin, a magician, etc. Think of the story The Great Train Robbery, or the movie The Usual Suspects, but in this story the thieves are not looking to steal money or gold. This crew is looking to steal the greatest prize conceivable- the power of the gods. That’s right, if this crew is successful, they will become the most powerful beings in the universe. Helluva a twist, right?
So, what makes Ray Fawkes the perfect writer for this type of story? Mr. Fawkes was once a professional gambler, and as such he understands the psychology of its high stakes participants. So why did Fawkes retire from gambling?
As he explains it, “I stopped because it’s a hell of a way to try and make a living. Very stressful, and not exactly conducive to stability. I guess one thing every gambler should know is that nothing lasts — good luck or bad. Everything changes. Which isn’t bad advice for people in general to keep in mind.”
Fawkes’s insights into professional gambling have proven integral to his development of his characters and story. For instance, he understands the mentality of people who confidently pursue a goal where the odds are stacked hopelessly against them. The task set before this crew is enormous. Will this crew also learn the valuable lesson that the house always wins?
“Oh, they know it already,” Fawkes said. “That’s why they cheat all the time. Dominique, Tam, and the rest of the crew have never been interested in playing by the rules, especially when the rules are stacked against them. They’re always working to twist the fix, make it their own, and come out on top. Of course, now they’re looking at a set of rules that govern reality itself – something that’s not exactly easy to cheat.”
For a less experienced writer, it may prove a difficult task to ground a story involving gods, and the infiniteness of time and space, but Fawkes has unlocked the key to that trick as well.
“Ultimately, even though Jackpot! is about gods and infinity, it’s also about these individual human beings in their relation to it,” he said. “We catch glimpses of Dominique and Tam’s past throughout the story, and we know that they’re just people looking to get ahead in a world that seems to be working against them – something that I think almost anyone can identify with.”
This is a lesson for all aspiring writers- no matter how vast the canvas, staying true to the humanity of your characters will always act to render a story identifiable to your readers.
Another fascinating question posed within the story is that of the nature of god(s). In a universe where the power of gods can be stolen, are the “gods” that the crew of Jackpot! discover the true gods or only individuals who have broken the same calculus as the crew? Are there gods who exist even beyond them?
I asked Fawkes this questions and he responded that the gods “would tell you that since they’ve never found evidence of a greater god, it’s not likely that one exists. Dominique would say that not seeing something isn’t the same thing as proving it isn’t there.”
Having a story populated by an array of unique and clearly drawn characters allows for the story to explore large questions from multiple perspectives.
The story also explores the question of whether mortals should have that level of power. Has the crew truly considered what they will do with infinite power, once they achieve it?
“Dominique has a plan. Tam has a plan. I don’t want to give anything away, as far as that’s concerned, because finding out what they’re actually up to is part of the fun for readers! I can say without worrying about spoiling anything that there are certainly members of the crew who haven’t thought this through, and can sum up their plan as “something something get rich”.
Being that humanity, especially thieves, are a flawed creation, are the gods of Jackpot! protecting the rest of the universe from the crew or are the gods simply protecting themselves?
“A good question. The first arc of Jackpot will answer this one head on. Something really, really awful is about to happen in this story.”
How is that for a hook? What else can readers look forward to happening in Jackpot!
“This arc is wrapping up very soon – complete with the horrible event I hint at above – and then we’ll see what the future holds! I’m also working on a horror book I’m writing and painting for Image comics that will begin shipping early next year, as well as projects for Dynamite and DC Comics. You’ll be seeing a lot from me in 2017!”