How did Sleeper come about? Did [DC imprint] Wildstorm come to you asking for a pitch, or was this something you'd been trying to do for years?
[Editor] Scott Dunbier and [Wildstorm VP] Jim Lee really liked the pitch I gave them for [earlier Brubaker series] Point Blank, and so Scott asked me to come up with something else. I told him I had no ideas, but then the minute I hung up the phone, it hit me, so I called him right back and pitched Sleeper to him, and he dug it. We immediately decided Sean Phillips should draw it and asked him, and he said yes. Then I ended up revamping my ideas for Point Blank a bit to turn it into a sequel. Originally, [Carver's handler] Lynch was going to get murdered.
Calling something "ahead of its time" always feels a bit like a polite way of saying "other people had more success ripping it off later," but Sleeper really does seem to have foreseen things like Mark Millar's Wanted and Marvel's Dark Reign. Was the series meant as some statement of where you saw the superhero genre going, or were you simply trying to mix the crime and superhero genres to find a new spin on both?
I was really trying to blend espionage and superhero comics. To take my love of John LeCarre and deep cover kind of stories, and throw them into the world of capes and masks. And to sort of have fun with some of the conventions of the genre, like the origin stories, and things like that. But I don't know that it's anything like what Wanted was, or what Dark Reign is doing. Sleeper was always a very tight contained character-driven book. Not big world-spanning action.
Sleeper feels, to me, like the first place where you really found the voice that you'd use on Marvel work like Captain America and Daredevil. Years later, do you feel like it was a turning point for you?
I don't think I can be the judge of that. I know it was incredibly hard to write, and it really solidified me and Sean as a team, so in that way, maybe. I think the work I was doing on Gotham Central and Catwoman at the same time really helped me figure out how I do whatever it is I do. Although, Bendis still thinks [1999 miniseries for DC's Vertigo imprint] Scene of the Crime is my best book, so who can say?
Now that you're a bigshot at Marvel - killing Captain America, bringing him back, writing the origin of the Marvel superheroes in The Marvels Project - what does Sleeper mean to you? Embarrassing earlier work, nostalgic example of a time when less people were paying attention to you, surprisingly public first date with Sean Phillips...?
I've always been really proud of it. It's strange, because I've been in a lot of meetings in Hollywood the past few years, and every single person I meet there has read Sleeper, which was easily my worst-selling title ever. So I figure the entire run just got sold in Hollywood or something. But it's always gratified me that this little book I didn't think anyone but me would like found so many fans who wanted to make it into movies and TV shows. If they ever get around to that, of course, it'll be very nice. I'm getting tired of waiting here.