The Briefs: The Family Trade

Welcome back to The Briefs, where we open a door for our readers. Today we are looking through The Family Trade, via five simple lines of questioning.

[this was lightly edited for clarity]

First, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about everything you do, or did, on The Family Trade?

I’m Justin Jordan, and I’m cocreator and cowriter on The Family Trade.


The Family Trade has an interesting history as a comic. There have been ashcan appearances at least back to 2016, when Justin was looking for a home for the title. Some of those copies are now selling online for above 100 dollars. How is this “ongoing” release of The Family Trade similar to or the same as those early books? Tell us some of the history of The Family Trade‘s development? And how does it feel knowing that a book you worked on is already selling at that price point?


Contentwise, the ashcan is the first….nine (I think) pages of the first issue, with a different backmatter. This is pretty much what we did with Spread a couple of years ago, and it worked well there, so we decided to try it again with The Family Trade. As for the price, man, that never stops being weird. On the Spread ashcan there were copies of those that went for like a thousand bucks at one point. That’s bizarre. I’m really happy people are willing to pay that much for stuff, but I’m astonished at the same time.

I’d have actually done an ashcan for NYCC for the next book I’m pitching, but alas, art won’t be ready. Which is a shame, because we’ve had good luck with them so far.

One of the substantial functions of art (Yes, I’m invoking the name of “art” in this interview about comic books.) is the work a piece of art does on a social concept. For example, a piece might work on our understanding of power, love, family. In The Family Trade, there is ample content to read a didactic contrast of “blood-relation” and “family.” Would you say that The Family Trade‘s work on the concept of “family” is intentional or maybe more a function of one or more other intentional elements within the title?


The idea of what makes a family a family is one of the underlying themes that comes up in the book, and it’s in this first arc a great deal as well. Jessa has blood relatives that appear (her uncle is indeed her father’s brother, for instance) but The Family as a whole is probably not what we’d consider a family. The family tree there probably looks like a bramble. So what family means to Jessa and what it means to the rest of The Family comes up, particularly in issue three on. For me, anyway, family is more than people you have a blood relation to. If you’re routinely invited to family holidays, you’re family, regardless of what your blood might say. For Jessa, it’s the question; is family who your ancestors are, or is it the relationships you have. And we explore, a bit, what it means to be part of a family. There are benefits to having a family, but there are also obligations. In Jessa’s story we get to dramatize them both in a very action packed way, which is fun.


Having read the first two issues, I see Jessa Wynn, the central character, struggling with a choice not dissimilar to a classic thought experiment. “The trolley problem” was described concisely by Christie Nicholson in Scientific American in 2011. While Jessa’s dilemma encompasses far more than five people, I will put the classic version to each of you. In the classic trolley problem, would you flip the switch? Or, seemingly apter, do you consider flipping the switch an ethical choice, and do you think you would be able to flip the switch?


I suspect very strongly that I would not flip the switch. It’s not, I think, that I necessarily think that this is right choice. From a strictly rational point of view, sacrificing one person to save five is the correct choice. But….well, we’re not rational creatures, really, and I know that letting five people die by doing nothing is going to feel different than killing one by acting. I mean,
even in that answer, note the phrasing: let die versus killing. It feels different, even if the cold math says something otherwise. Which, you know, is directly the problem that Jessa faces. She’s sure, from a rational perspective, that killing Berghardt is the right thing to do. That’s a whole different animal from actually killing him. And variations of that problem, figuring out what the right thing is and whether or not she has can do whatever that is, are the problems that will plague Jessa throughout the series.


As you are promoting this instantiation of The Family Trade as an ongoing title, it raises the question whether anyone in the team, or the team collectively, has given thought to what happens much further out or whether some storylines in the title have already been written to a close, so to say. Specifically, with this title, and more generally when working with a co-writer, how do the planning and the writing happen?


We have a plan to the end of the book. I always do, actually, although the plans are adjustable depending on what happens. In the specific case of The Family Trade, we’ve tried to make each arc relatively independent; there are subplots that go on, but in an ideal world you could grab any of the trades and read it without having had to have read the others. The intended run, if sales are there, is about 30 issues. But, you know, comics…. The actual writing process starts with Nikki and I getting together and talking about what the arc should specifically be about, what parts of the Float we want to focus on, what type of things we want to focus on with Jessa, etc. Once we’ve got a good idea of what that should be, then I go and write an arc outline, which Nikki then gives me notes on, and we kick it back and forth until we’re happy with the story. The writing of the issue goes pretty much the same way.


Some people might consider the illustration in this title dramatically out of tune with the subject. There is a water-color feel, which might be interpreted as connected to the island state of “The Float.” It might also welcome appreciations more expansive than the scope of typical American comics. I find myself contemplating whether the art might change as our central character develops. While I am not against unchanging humanity in fiction (thank You Chekhov and others), I am inclined to imagine that Jessa is only beginning to become herself and shape her world in these first two issues.


The reason we asked Morgan to come on the book, aside from her general awesomeness as a human person, was because that water color style felt like it would give a more distinct sense
of the The Float being some place OTHER. It gives this sense of another time, another place, which is pretty appropriate for the book. Jessa will continue to change and evolve; she’s not meant to be a static character. I’d guess, too, that Morgan’s style will change and evolve, although we’re probably not going to move away from the watercolor unless we have a very good reason.

EC Wells

Hmm... Let Me go work on this.

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