Interview: AJ Lieberman On His New Organ Harvesting Horror Series ‘Harvest’

Harvest Teaser

Earlier this month Image Comics’ Shadowline imprint announced AJ Lieberman and Colin Lorimer’s new horror book Harvest with a series if teaser images. Assembled together, the images formed one gatefold cover of a man strapped to an operating table being forced to watch as his own organs are stolen from his body by a demonic nurses with eyes sewn shut. The image is the equivalent of a lethal injection of terror, and left us desperately wanting more.

“Harvest” lands in comics shops in August and follows the story of Dr. Ben Dane, a drug-addicted surgeon that has his medical license revoked. Just when Ben thought things couldn’t get any worse he’s sucked into the world of illegal organ harvesting. As the series progresses Ben walks the tight rope between his addition and staying alive in a world filled with murder, violence and Yakuza enforcers who could strike at any moment. In a nutshell “Harvest” is the bastard offspring born out of a twisted 3-way between Dexter, ER and “100 Bullets”.

Bloody-Disgusting has had the pleasure of reviewing an advance copy of the first issue and it left us foaming at the mouth like rabid dogs for what’s coming next. In just one issue “Harvest” shows how terrifying horror comics can be.

AJ Lieberman jumped at the chance to sit down with Bloody-Disgusting to discuss the demented world of “Harvest”, and just how messy diving into the world of illegal organ harvesting can be.

Tell us about the genesis for “Harvest” and how the series came about?

AJL: All I knew was that I wanted to do something based on a ex-surgeon and I wanted the character to be in the same vein as Al Swearengen from Deadwood, Vic Mackey from the Shield, Walter White on Breaking Bad. Characters who are very, very hard to root for.

The series tackles the trade of illegal organ harvesting, what kind of research was involved into that world?

AJL: A lot, actually. And in doing research I came across the phrase “transplant tourism” which is where a rich client from say, America, who has the money to by-pass the national organ donor list, and a paid “donor” from a say, Brazil, will meet up in Turkey where black market surgeons will perform the operation. And this is MASSIVE business. The main issue with organ donation being illegal stems from the fact that in 1983 the United States government passed Law 98-507, which prohibited the sale of human organs. The sad thing is, is that Law 98-507 is considered by all involved to be utterly ineffective and is probably the biggest contributor to the fact that the black market for human organs has grown every year since being passed. I can honestly say this world of illegal organ harvesting is easily the most fascinating I’ve ever researched. And that includes the porn industry.

Part of the thing that makes this book and story so terrifying is the idea that organ theft really happens. Is this something that you personally found horrific or was it used as a device to play on readers fears?

AJL: Harvest really isn’t about the myth / folklore stories of guys waking up in bathtubs of ice missing a kidney. It’s a, far darker than that. We drag the reader down a pretty sick rabbit hole where some pretty disturbing characters are at war with each other and are using the human body to fight their battles.

The main character of the series is Dr. Ben Dane, a drug-addicted surgeon that has his medical license revoked. Tell us a bit about the character of Ben Dane and how important is his descent into addiction to the overall story?

AJL: How to describe young Benjamin Dane? High functioning drug addict. Sex addict. Alcoholic. All of which explains the ex-surgeon bit. And one of the great things about Ben is that he’s all those things without being apologetic. He’s not looking to quit. He basically knows he’s on a suicide mission against the guy who set him up and as such as secured the services of an ex-Yakuza enforcer to protect him.

The thing that I loved about issue one is that Ben Dane is so morally ubiquitous and readers aren’t sure what side of the fence he’s on. Is he a good guy or a bad guy…

AJL: Exactly! Even when Ben tries to do good, which we’ll see in the later issues, things still get totally fucked up to a degree that readers will be shocked at.

Artist Colin Lorimer has a very dark style that is perfect for this book. How did you find him, what he was worked on previously and what did he bring to the table?

AJL: I found Colin through a friend of his. And yes, his style is perfect for the tone of a book like this. For me, one of the most important steps in creating a book is matching story to tone. And Colin is absolutely knocking the shit out of these pages.

The teaser images of each cover have been fantastic. Who came up with the idea to make each cover connect into one larger image?

AJL: That’s a complicated question. Even before COWBOY NINJA VIKING I had wanted to do a series with connected covers. I brought it up to Colin who liked the idea (not knowing how much work it would entail) and then talked to Jim Valentino about it and he agreed. The tricky part about the whole thing is that it won’t work if they only work when seen together. Each one has to look good as a cover unto itself and work as the next piece in the puzzle. Colin spent a ton of time on them and they look amazing.

“Harvest” is scheduled as a 5-issue mini-series. Was it planned as a finite story or is the door open to make this a ongoing book?

AJL: With Image I think the back door is always open. Most series these days, no matter whom the publisher, are sale dependant.

Working within comics, you’ve concentrated the majority of your output your own creator-owned projects through Image. The big debate in comics right now seems to be working for Marvel/DC and earning a regular paycheck verses doing creator owned work and possibly not get paid. Wondering what your take on the situation is and your arguments for or against?

AJL: Well, I’ve already spent time writing for DC working on “Harley Quinn”, “Gotham Knights”, “Martian Manhunter” and the “War Games” crossover. Obviously writing for Batman and the others was pretty cool, as was the regular pay-check. But in the end of the day I was only renting those characters. And they all had certain limits to what you could and couldn’t do with them. Which is why I wanted to go into creator owned comics. Hands down creator comics is, at least for me, the better experience.

“Cowboy Ninja Viking” was optioned for a movie by Universal and your graphic Novel Term Life was bought by Vince Vaughn’s company Wild West Pictures, what can you tell us about their development of a possible film?

AJL: Well, Universal attached Marc Forster to “Cowboy Ninja Viking” and he’s finishing “World War Z” with Brad Pitt. Obviously attaching a director to a project is a major, major step but it doesn’t guarantee anything. As far as “Term Life” goes I am now adapting the graphic novel into a screen play for Vince Vaughn’s company and am super excited to see what happens with that as well.