Sometimes, we like to turn the site over to the creators of the books themselves. This time around, we’re letting writer Daryl Gregory (Planet of the Apes) put on the interviewer cap and have a chat with fellow BOOM! writer Chris Roberson. Roberson’s newest project with the publisher is Elric: The Balance Lost, which saw a popular Free Comic Book Day issue launch the new series. With that said, take it away, Daryl!
Daryl Gregory: Chris, tell me about that title, "The Balance Lost."
Chris Roberson: Technically, that’s the subtitle, Daryl. Really, I expect better from you. The FULL title is Elric: The Balance Lost. Now, as to what it means? (a) There is a Balance. And (b) it has been lost.
Joking aside, though, one of the key aspects of Michael Moorcock’s cosmology is the notion of an eternal struggle between Law and Chaos, and the Eternal Champion is one of the agents that serves to maintain the Balance between the two. In the more fantastical settings, this plays out as a literal war between supernatural powers on either side, with gods, demons, and demiurges directing the movement of human agents like chess pieces moving across the board. But in the more mundane settings, stories set in what is effectively the “real” world, this same tension between Law and Chaos plays out, but more often as philosophical tendencies that push characters one way or the other.
But readers should note that “Law and Chaos” are not simply synonyms for “Good and Evil.” There is not a moral component to that struggle, at least not in any objective sense. Law and Chaos are simply two different ways of approaching the universe, and the heroes in Moorcock’s novels can often find themselves fighting on one side or the other, and sometimes both or neither!
Gregory: If someone's never read the Elric books, or other novels in Moorcock's multiverse, how would you explain them? What makes them so great?
Roberson: Well, more than anything, Moorcock’s view of the multiverse is just a fantastic engine for telling stories in any conceivable environment, on the one hand, and for exploring ideas and philosophies, on the other. The characters themselves are endlessly compelling, with complex and conflicted natures.
And who doesn’t love a bunch of dudes with swords running around, hacking up monsters?
Gregory: Elric: The Balance Lost is going to have a large cast, appearing on multiple worlds. How do you introduce new readers to that mythos, while still pleasing long-time fans? (This is a completely self-serving question, because I'm trying to figure this out myself.)
Roberson: But really, the trick is to give just enough information about the characters and the concepts to get new readers up to speed, without boring all of the longtime readers with stuff they already know. Based on my own experiences coming into long-running comic, TV, and novel series when I was younger, I don’t think new readers need to know EVERYTHING. They just need to know the basics, enough to understand who the characters are in general terms and what the basic conflict is. Reading to find out more is one of the things that keeps it interesting!
Gregory: Speaking of long-time fans, you've been a Michael Moorcock fan since, what, birth? When was that first exposure to his work, and exactly how and to what extent was your mind blown?
Roberson: For ages I’ve said that my first exposure was finding a copy of COUNT BRASS in my high school library in 1985, but I’ve since realized that I had actually read a Moorcock story in a comic book adaptation several months before that. So technically, the first issue of First Comics’ Sailer on the Seas of Fate by Roy Thomas and Michael T Gilbert was my introduction to the concept of the Multiverse and the Eternal Champion. Either way, though, by the end of that year I was a Moorcock fanatic. I read everything I could get my hands on, through high school and college, and then throughout my twenties and thirties I would go through phases every few years where I’d read nothing but Moorcock’s novels and stories for months on end.
The thing about Moorcock is that not only are the scale of his ideas so staggering, but there’s a subtlety at work, too, that prevents them from being simply a paint-by-numbers “Ultimate Good versus Ultimate Evil” formulation.
Also, dudes with swords running around hacking up monsters.
Gregory: Having read your novels I can see Moorcock's influence on your work -- but maybe I'm seeing things. Am I seeing things? Tell me I'm not seeing things.
Roberson: You’re not seeing things. The first novel I actually finished was back in college, and was entitled Behold The Man. The most recent novel I wrote was dedicated to Moorcock (along with Alan Moore and Kim Newman). And all of the novels and stories in between probably have varying degrees of Moorcock’s influence throughout.
Gregory: Here's what I'm most excited about: you've said elsewhere that you're going to introduce a new, original eternal champion. What can you tell us about him -- or her? Or it?
Roberson: There are actually two new Eternal Champions that we’ll be meeting, but only one of them is original. That is, one of the two was name-checked by Moorcock in a novel in the early seventies, but never appeared on the page, so this will be their first real introduction.The new original character is the one that readers glimpse in the FCBD prologue, Eric Beck. He lives in a world that’s more or less our own, and so we get to see how those forces of Law and Chaos play out in contemporary society. But rest assured, it isn’t long before he gets a sword and starts swinging it…
Gregory: You know Michael Moorcock, you helped set up this project, and you live near him. Two questions: Are you at all nervous about disappointing the man? And if you do, where will you hide?
Roberson: To answer your first question, Oh god, yes. It's as if he’s handed me the keys to his prized sports car, and told me I can drive it as much as I want so long as I fill up the gas tank when I bring it back. But implicit in the terms of that offer is the threat that if I get one single scratch on the car, it’ll mean my ass.
To answer your second question, there is nowhere to hide. He has my phone number, my address, and a cane. If I don’t do a good job on this book, I’m doomed.
Gregory: I loved Francesco Biagini's art in the Free Comic Book Day preview. I don't have a question there. I just want to see what he does with this series.
Roberson: Oh man, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The pages that Francesco has been turning in for the first issue? Holy crow, they’re something else.
Gregory: You've often called yourself "the luckiest man in comics," and not just when the bartender has forgotten to bill you for the last round. You're a huge Superman fan, and now you're writing Superman. You're a huge Moorcock fan, and now you're writing Elric. Who's still on your bucket list?
Roberson: To be pedantic, I’ve called myself the luckiest KID in comics. But that’s just because I don’t feel like a real grownup.But yeah, it’s pretty mind-blowing. In my short career in comics so far (this coming July will mark the second anniversary of my first published comic) I’ve managed to work on some of my favorite characters and concepts, and to work WITH some of my formative influences. Last year I did one of those “Influence Map” things that had started on deviantArt and become something of an internet meme, in which you assembled a grid of images representing the things that influenced your development creatively. I was looking at it the other day, and I realized that of the sixteen or seventeen things I included, by the end of this year I will have worked ON (if it’s a fictional character), worked WITH or at the very least become friends with (if it’s a person) all but a handful of them. And most of that has come SINCE I put together that influence map last summer.
I’m half convinced that I’m just drooling in a corner somewhere, hallucinating my entire life. But if that’s the case, I’d rather that no one wake me up. I like it here too much!