It’s Earth Day and Dark Horse Comics is marking the day by giving away free digital copies of “The Massive,” the new near-future sci-fi tale about life after global calamity from writer Brian Wood (“Northlanders,” “DMZ”) and artist Kristian Donaldson (“Supermarket”). We caught up with Wood, who said this new saga was motivated by something far more insistent than political beliefs — he says it was driven by the searing fear he feels as he sizes up the future awaiting his children.
HC: Constructing the calamity scenario and finding the textures of this changed world must have been a key challenge for you — can you talk about approaching that challenge?
BW: Coming up with the high concept was easy, essentially just asking myself, “What if everything went to hell all of a sudden?” It was easy to think those thoughts back in 2009 and it spawned my short story “Americana” that Vertigo published, as well as what I hope will end up being a sequel to “The Massive.”
Getting into the details, though, is trickier and I am not one of those writers that can write hard sci-fi and get all the technological details down and correct. I tend to want to talk more about how people react to that, rather than the thing itself. But I did a bunch of research – and still am – reading about climate change and water scarcity and books about the ocean and lots and lots of maps. I re-watched all of Whale Wars (an early inspiration) and read up on a lot of the more radical environmental groups out there, like Earth First and ELF. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m being a little loosey-goosey with the science of it all, and instead focusing on the cast first and foremost. So a hardcore futurist will no doubt be annoyed at “The Massive,” but that’ll be something I’ll just have to accept with grace.
HC: What were other challenges presented by this story?
BW: It’s on a much bigger scale than anything [I've done] before. Literally, our setting is the entire world and over the course of the series, we’ll span it. Compared to DMZ, which is another vast world I built but still contained in a single city, I have my work cut out for me. I’m also doing my little bit to improve not only my craft but the quality and “feel” of the single-issue comic format “The Massive” will first appear in. By that I mean a denser, more content-rich story, extra pages, just more overall. I’m concentrating the content, taking what might have been a six-issue story in DMZ and making it three issues in “The Massive, but really thinking about a better, more efficient way to tell the story so it just doesn’t feel crammed in there.
HC: It’s difficult to talk about climate change or other environmental consequences without considering the political polarization of the day. Would you say this story has political point to make or is it more complicated than that?
BW: I don’t see this as a political story as in partisan politics. It’s actually post-partisan, in that the climate crash has already happened. We just skip past all the “will it happen, and when,” and “who causes it,” etc and right into “OK, this thing happened, so how do we deal with it?” It’s very socially conscious but not divisive. I did a similar thing with DMZ, or I tried to. I made a huge effort to walk the line and not let the reader hear my voice as far as where I stand on the issues in the book. Although I guess it’s clear to anyone that, in the most general way, I am anti-war. But shouldn’t everyone be anti-war?
HC: You made your first mark in comics 15 years ago with “Channel Zero,” another story about a desperate future although that one was more about posed by leaders and law. If you think of yourself then and now, what do you see as the biggest change?
BW: That book, “Channel Zero,” was an art school project made by a passionate and angry kid with no tact or subtleness. I don’t say that to demean the work – the book is meant to have that sort of message. But now, 15 years later, I’ve learned to be tactful, evenhanded, and really subtle. But its subtlety that still has a razor edge when it needs one.
HC: Of the characters we’ll meet in “The Massive,” which one is closest to you in voice, view or temperament?
BW: I often find myself, usually unconsciously, putting myself into the female leads, but in this case its Callum Israel, the main character, captain of the ship, and the guy that provides the moral story line, such as it is. It’s hard to explain how and why without giving too much away ahead of time, but I think I can relate to his age and his ongoing struggle to hold onto his identity in a changing world. I have a reputation for writing young, cool characters and “The Massive” is the first, of many I’m sure, characters I’m creating that are my age or older.
HC: There’s been so much post-apocalyptic fiction in recent years and wonder whether it’s because we are so anxious in an age when technology has advanced so far while ethics have not — intelligence run rampant, wisdom withering. Then part of me thinks that maybe it’s just a way for storytellers to find a wild frontier now that the western is gone…
BW: It’s certainly a rich genre for writers to tap into, and there is a real coolness factor to it. But for me what drives me to it is fear. Meaning, actual tangible, real-life fear, mostly as a dad of two little kids. I believe hard times are coming, and maybe I’ll grow old and die before it hits, but I bet my kids won’t, and it’s tough to think about the reality that they’ll probably not have enough free water to drink, or will suffer in some other way like that. Will they be able to spend time in the sun? For their entire lives they’ve lived in an America at war — ones of its own choosing. Will they never know a different America? Maybe I’m exorcising demons in writing about this. But maybe I just can’t stop thinking about it.
– Geoff Boucher
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