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Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. This week we have an interview/preview of SHRAPNEL and a pair of previews for you to enjoy. We also have a few links to some UMBRELLA ACADEMY goodness at the end of the column.
So let’s get to it!
Nick Sagan (son of Carl Sagan, and an accomplished writer in his own right) and Mark Long (President of Zombie Studios) are writing Radical Comics’ new miniseries SHRAPNEL, Radical’s first long term commitment as a publisher. We’re to look forward to the three miniseries (18 issues in total) featuring the marines, the robots, and the mayhem that is SHRAPNEL. Don’t believe how cool SHRAPNEL is? Check out the covers to issue 1 & 2 scattered throughout this interview. And the first 24 pages of SHRAPNEL: ARISTEIA RISING #1 (the first issue is 48 pages for $1.99!) directly following this interview. And away we go…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Can you tell us about the basic premise of SHRAPNEL?MARK LONG (ML):Nick and I both love sword and sandal epics. Armies arrayed on the battlefield. Dramatic speeches exhorting men to prove their mettle. We asked ourselves, what if body armor – mechsuits – become so impervious to attack that armies revert to the tactics of antiquity? What if Joan of Arc led an army on Venus, two hundred and fifty years from now?
NS: SHRAPNEL evolved out of a project called LIBERTY, which was the story of a revolution on a colonized planet. The story has grown into a civil war that spans our solar system, with oppressed colonists rising up against Earth’s might in the hopes of reclaiming their sovereignty. Thrust into the war is an ex-Marine, Sam, who becomes the reluctant figurehead of the revolution as she defies the orders of those who once commanded her. She can make a difference in countless lives, but what will it cost her along the way?
AB: The book appears to be set in the future. How does this future differ from other looks into the future we’ve seen in comics and movies?ML: It might look like the future, but Shrapnel is the Peloponnesian War in space. Two great democracies urged on by the hot rhetoric of their politicians into a ruinous war for both. Nick and I had the idea that the colonies that evolve in our solar system as we venture out might develop like the Greek city-states. Independent, each with their own flavor of democracy and inhabited by the same kind of pioneers that colonized America. Seeking religious freedom and a way out of the oppressive Eugenic restrictions on Earth.
NS: While I don’t think we’re totally reinventing the wheel here—in fact, we’re embracing certain elements of the genre—the future of SHRAPNEL is looking fun and different thanks to what Mark, Zack and I are each bringing to this collaboration. So far, it’s proving to be a terrific place to tell the story, with elements from our society’s past casting a long shadow over human ambition of the future.
BUG: The “giant robot” aspect of this book is really cool. The scenes of the marines fighting alongside these metal monstrosities are definitely something the readers aren’t going to forget. What were the inspirations for these battle machines?ML: Its awesome that you get that right away. The giant walker tanks are meant to be reminiscent of war elephants. We want the reader to see a mechsuited army on Titan, but feel like he is looking at the elephants charging Alexander at Gaugamela.
NS: I love how giant robots have carved out a place in our culture over the years. If the engineers and defense contractors of tomorrow get a chance to design giant robots, I’m sure they’ll jump at it, thanks to the reciprocal relationship between science and science fiction. I’m also very interested in the exoskeleton technology that’s going on today. Looking at the work Berkeley scientists have already done with BLEEX, it’s great fun to extrapolate on where that tech might take us a little ways in our future.
BUG: The military aspects of this book read as very authentic despite the futuristic setting. What type of research was done in order to make the soldiers in this book look and feel like this may actually be what they look like in a hundred years?ML:That’s all Zack Sherman. We knew we needed someone that could get the military dialog and details right. I scoured Comicon in 2006 looking for the right writer for the series and had nearly given up when I met Zack. Zack’s an ex-Marine, so he’s got the slang down. But he’s also a great political action writer. His book, SEAL TEAM 7, convinced me. It’s an awesome action movie. Really. Walden Media acquired it for feature.
NS: I’m in complete agreement with Mark: Zack’s a very talented writer, a great fit for this story, and his ability to draw upon his personal experience to craft compelling military scenes has benefited SHRAPNEL enormously.
BUG: There’s a very cool political aspect at play in this book that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Instead of warring nations, we have warring planets in our own solar system. So the population of this planet’s disregard for the Earth is magnified to a galactic level here. Can you elaborate on this concept?ML:Thank Thucydides, not us, for that. We drew heavily on the Athenian war for political inspiration. There’s a timeless line in the series from Thucydides, of hard political realism: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
NS: As Mark says, there’s a timeless quality to much of our history, and that includes a pattern of one society finding advantages against another, pressing them, and sometimes getting into war. Leaving Earth might not put an end to that. As humans, we share genetic code that can influence us in these directions, falling into impulsive, short-term thinking at the expense of long-term interests. SHRAPNEL has a tragic quality to it, in that a number of the missteps we’ve taken in the past seem to haunt our future, where the destructive potential of our technology is even greater than it is today, and it’s against this backdrop that our hero, Sam, tries to lead her people to victory against a government on Earth that’s bent on exploiting them.
BUG: SHRAPNEL is Radical’s first long term commitment when it comes to their titles. The other titles were four to six issues, while this one looks to be a longer effort. What about this property made Radical consider such an extended commitment?ML: Barry Levine, the CEO of Radical, made that commitment shortly after we first met and discussed SHRAPNEL. Barry is an accomplished visual artist himself. He just got it in a way no other suit running a comic company will ever get it. Radical is the next Marvel. You heard it here first.
NS: We couldn’t have asked for a better partner in Radical—they took to the material immediately, and have been outstanding at helping us tell the story we want to tell. Thoroughly impressed with the company.
BUG: The terms Radical Comics and amazing art are often used in the same sentence. SHRAPNEL is yet another amazing looking book. Can you tell us a little bit about the artist and how involved he was in the creation of the miniseries?ML: What I love most about the art of SHRAPNEL is how against the grain it is to your sci-fi expectations. It is loose and emotive when you normally want to geek out on the cool future details of the world you’re invited into. Like a lot of things about Shrapnel, it is counter-expectation.
NS: We’ve been fortunate to have fantastic artists working on the series, and Mark’s right when he talks about the emotional pull of the images, how they go against expectation. There’s an almost painterly quality here—more than just pleasing to the eye—it adds subtlety to the overall work, lending a quiet, intangible power to the events taking place.
BUG: For Mr. Sagan: It appears you’re following in your father’s footsteps with this sci fi opus. What influences have you taken from your father’s works?NS: The suggestion that I’m following in my father’s footsteps is a kind one, and I hope on some level it’s true. He was a gifted astronomer, a tremendous force for humanism, and peerless at inspiring people to a deep appreciation of science and a sense of wonder about the cosmos. As a writer, my primary goal is simply to tell a good story, but one of the great things about science fiction is the opportunity it gives us to explore the questions that are of most importance to humanity, the kind my dad would often raise. I remember so many conversations with him about the future of the species, whether we’re on the path to a technological paradise beyond our most optimistic imaginings, or more likely to put that technology to our worst, most self-destructive instincts. Will we someday live on other worlds? SHRAPNEL envisions a future where some of us have successfully made a home beyond the shores of Earth, and yet the struggle against the selfish, darker, more short-sighted aspects of our nature remains a part of who we are.
ML: FYI, I worked with Nick Sagan for 3 months before someone else told he his dad was Carl Sagan. Nick is a tour-de-force in his own right. He has a volcanic imagination that is thrilling to work with. The stuff just spews from him!
BUG: The release of other Radical properties is often accompanied by an announcement of a planned motion picture with a director attached. Any similar plans for SHRAPNEL? C’mon, this is Ain’t It Cool News, we’re all about this stuff…ML: Fingers crossed, but honestly we didn’t create this trilogy to be a storyboard for a movie. This is my first comic. Where I’m normally all about reigning in everyone’s expectations – “that’s too hard” “that will be too expensive to make” – as a game designer, comics are wonderfully liberating. If you can imagine it, all you have to do is draw it. It’s been a creative reboot for me as a designer. Me likey.
NS: Naturally, we’d love to make that kind of announcement somewhere down the road, but it’s not the main focus now. We’re dedicated to SHRAPNEL as a comic/graphic novel. It’s an ideal format for our story, and it’s freeing not to have to worry how a scene we like might have to be cut because we don’t have the money in the production budget for it. Instead, if it can be drawn, it can be done.
BUG: What’s in store for the soldiers in SHRAPNEL and for the readers in the coming months?ML: Trust me when I say this – the first series is only a hint of where the characters are going. Underneath, this is a Greek tragedy in every sense. There will be blood and tears that burn.
NS: And giant robots. Don’t forget them.
BUG: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.ML: You are more than welcome! Honestly, this is thrill for me. As a game geek, I bow down to the god that is Ain’tItCool!
NS: It’s been a pleasure, thanks.