Set in a near-future where corporations have fascist level power over society, Freedom Formula is the story of Zee, a genetically engineered racer who by competing in deadly "Infinity Races" grows from angry young racer to revolutionary, and through victory transforms himself into the hero of a dying city.
President and Publisher Barry Levine sat down with Edmund Shern, writer of Freedom Formula, to discuss the story, his experience at Radical Publishing and the sheer amount of hard work that it took to bring Freedom Formula to readers.
Barry Levine: What was the genesis of the Freedom Formula concept?
Edmund Shern: The initial inspiration came from a piece of art my friend Kai did featuring a Formula One styled mech. I fell in love with it and after we created the world in which these extreme racing machines would exist, I started to craft a central story that would carry the concept.
BL: A good deal of the narrative is built around the concept of individuality and destiny. Can you tell us more about how individuality and destiny play a part in Zee's evolution as a hero?
ES: The theme of freedom is expressed as the concept of individuality versus destiny or duty in the story. Zee has struggled with this lack of freedom growing up in the Wastelands. Without many options and with a very oppressive father, he never really felt any kind of freedom to choose his destiny while growing up. Our story starts just as it seems he would have this freedom. With the death of his father, Zee closes the post office and heads to the city for one last delivery in the hopes of finding that new life that he always dreamt of. Zee is going to learn that there is no such thing as absolute freedom and what's important are not the choices we can make but the choices we do make.
BL: How did you settle on the designs for the VX (Vicious Cycles) and Los Petropolis?
ES: We really wanted the movement of the VXs to be dynamic and we really wanted to keep our mechanical concepts grounded in a way that people reading could really accept them as believable technology. We wanted readers to feel the danger so we opted to put wheels on the mech's feet. How those wheeled feet would look was ultimately a lot harder for us to get a consensus on, but we went through tons of designs and we settled on one design and it has really grown on us. Some of the other options will end up as other vehicles in the story, but we also hope to create a nice artbook for the amount of concept work we did for this. It was practically like designing a whole other world.
As a setting, I really wanted to have a city which became a natural race course which would showcase the different rungs of society, but increase in threat the further we got into the race. So my idea was to have a city built on the side of this massive cliff overlooking the ocean. The race itself would start below the ghettoes - and snake its way up towards the highest point of the city where the corporate rulers would live and work. As they progress, you would be able to get a sense that the race was progressing because the environments would also get more beautiful, but yet be more dangerous as more security would be stationed where the richer population lives.
BL: Family is also a strong theme in the narrative. How does the idea of "family" change through the story?
ES: I never really thought about it, but now that you mention it, the relationship between Zee and his father was really screwed up. There was a lot of resentment and unresolved tension. I guess in a way, it also mirrors my own relationship with my estranged father who left my family when I was 17 and I never saw him again. As much as we hate to admit it, we are products of our upbringing by our parents so do we fight it, try to ignore it, or accept it? As the story progresses, Zee will continue to feel the impact of his father and his legacy even from beyond the grave. Even as he tries to settle in with some kind of surrogate relationship with the new people he meets, it is always overshadowed by his true past.
BL: Do you think that we're headed into a future where corporations control every aspect of our lives?
ES: Oh I think we already are in that world! Most people just refuse to accept just how far corporations control our lives, but my contention is really that its the worlds governments and their inefficiencies that allow the corporations to be this powerful. In the world of Freedom Formula, the people of the world get so frustrated by the governments that they ultimately overthrow all the global governments and opt for a pure laissez faire world where commerce rules. It's not exactly anarchy...but it's close.
BL: What would you like the readers of Freedom Formula to take away from the story?
ES: Pure entertainment! I know I have a lot of ideas and themes in there but I include them because they make the world more real to me and richer in meaning, but Freedom Formula is not a metaphor or any kind of statement per se. If someone comes away inspired by one of the many ideas, I'd be very happy, but I'd be even more happy if someone who finished reading the comic would go "Wow! That's awesome" and have absolutely no idea why he/she likes it!
BL: How has your experience been working with Radical Publishing?
ES: I think it's absolutely insane that you and the company have put this much trust in me! We had shopped this project around to many publishers and for many, we never even got the opportunity to pitch. But with Radical, they not only heard our pitch but gave us carte blanche with the creative aspects including the art style, story and even lettering!
BL: Can fans expect more stories after the first five issue arc?
ES: Freedom Formula: Ghost of the Wasteland is designed to be a stand alone story but in the course of doing this – there were so many ideas that we now have prequel and sequel stories planned. We even are toying with the idea of doing spinoff short stories about other racers in the world of Freedom Formula.
BL: You also adapted the English language version of Yoshitako Amano's Mateki: The Magic Flute. Can you tell us about that experience?
ES: Working and meeting Amano will really be one of the highlights in my life. He's a true artist with so much talent and yet so much humility. Visiting his Tokyo home studio was mind blowing, but it really gave me a good insight into who he is as well as how he approaches his art and stories. I really took a chance with the adaptation because it wasn't a straight forward process and story. Instead of going with the original Japanese texts, I really went for an adaptation that would mirror how he would tell a story if he was doing this version himself. It was risky but I'm really glad he not only approved, but was very happy with the significant liberties I took in order to get truer to his spirit.
BL: So exactly how fast do you have to travel to set yourself free, Edmund?
ES: Faster than my Blackberry's signal?
BL: Anything else you would like to say to your readers?
ES: Please go check out our book. It's really been a labor of love for us. The art both inside and outside are extremely gorgeous and we took a lot of chances with the styling and storytelling. We really hope that readers will take a chance with something as different as Freedom Formula.