SDCC '12: Harris Explores Nation of Trash in GREAT PACIFIC

 

Between the United States and Japan sits a huge ocean called the Pacific, and in that ocean floats a growing mass of plastic bottles, storage containers, driftwood and garbage clumping together and forming a floating land mass on its own. It’s an environmental disaster waiting to happen, and its ground zero for a new Image ongoing series titled Great Pacific.

Scheduled to launch later this year, Great Pacific is a sci-fi / environmental action series following an heir to a wealthy oil magnate as he casts aside his birthright and sets out to make a statement, and a difference, by moving to live on this floating trash island and formally developing his own independent nation. But between his spurned silver spoon-fed family, world governments with competing interests and the down-to-earth living conditions on trash-heap of a continent… well, he’s got problems.

And that’s before we mention the natives who were living on the trash before him, and the menagerie of mutated animals that call it home.

Great Pacific is coming from the mind of writer Joe Harris and newcomer artist Martin Morazzo. Joe Harris might be a familiar name to some – he worked in the late 90s at Marvel doing books like Slingers and Bishop: The Last X-Man before he took a sabbatical to movies with Darkness Falls. Harris recently returned to comics, first with his Oni series Ghost Projekt and then doing work in DC’s “New 52” with Fury Of Firestorm and Batman: The Dark Knight.

Great Pacific is something he’s been working on for some time now, and although a Kickstarter fundraising drive earlier this year failed to reach it goals, Harris and Morazzo are rigidly determined to get this book in stores. Newsarama spoke with Harris about this new series that was formally announced Thursday at Comic-Con International.

Newsarama: Joe, what can you tell us about Great Pacific?

Joe Harris: It's my new Image Comics series, co-created with artist, Martin Morazzo and it's a sci-fi adventure title about this young guy who's set to inherit everything anyone could really want. But, instead, decides to throw it all away, tackle a really, really big problem and, hopefully, make his mark doing so when he decides to explore the real-life environmental catastrophe known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, settle it, plant a flag and declare it his own, independent nation. It's born from this very "real world"-based phenomenon, at least conceptually, but it does depart from being what you might expect to be some preachy, environmentally-conscious cautionary tale. It's a genre-bender. It's an action movie with some cool science fiction-y stuff, political intrigue and an international, global scope to things. It's got spaceships and weapons systems and mutated sea monsters living out in the polluted waters and this one guy with little more than ambition and an industrialist family heritage who seeks to make his mark and solve a big problem with some even bigger ideas. It's a about what we're doing to this planet, how we might save it and what happens when this one guy bucks the system and tries.

Nrama: This guy is named Chas Worthington, but who is he?

Harris: Chas is the heir to the Worthington Energy fortune and all this vast, legendary oil company and empire founded by his grandfather off the booming fields of Texas has to provide. His own father recently died, and Chas is due to vest a controlling interest in the company when he turns twenty-one. Only the Board of Directors hates Chas because they assume the worst -- which he's this spoiled-rotten brat who never worked a day in his life and who's going to come in, over his head, and really mess things up. Chas lives the life Bruce Wayne only tries to project while seeking to deflect any suspicion that he's Batman. He races fast cars. He chases even faster women. He's a thrill-seeker who does extreme stuff like hunt lions with the Maasai Warriors in Kenya, scale Mt. Everest and even jump out of a sub-orbital space flight for the ultimate in skydiving. He's gossip column fodder, and internationally renowned for it, and it's not hard to understand why the old guard at the company is nervous.

But Chas is his father's son, and the keeper of his grandfather's legacy and people who judge him to be a shallow punk will soon regret that assumption. He looks at the problems this country and the world faces and wonders where the great industrialists like Edison, Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and others are to address them. He sees this catastrophe floating out at sea in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and he seeks to solve the problem. And when the company his family's controlled for generations and watched grow into one of the most successful corporations in the history of the world won't act to address said problems, he takes it upon himself... and those company resources, to do so. Only he's going to make enemies doing this. Powerful ones.

Nrama: You mentioned this floating accumulation of garbage that’s become its own defacto continent of trash. What’s it like once you’re on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Harris: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a true-to-life environmental catastrophe playing out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as we speak. It's an expanse of many decades' worth of plastic refuse and garbage that's ended up in the water, has gotten picked up by the currents and eventually found itself trapped in the area where these currents converge and swirl and trap it all together called a "gyre." At present, scientists estimate the "Trash Vortex," as it's sometimes referred, to be about twice the size of the state of Texas.

Now, it's basically a soupy mess that ends up hurting marine life and threatens shorelines and the ocean's ecosystem. But we've sort of "hyper realized" it for this book's purposes. We've envisioned a continent of plastic and gunk that's mostly contiguous, with some parts thicker than others, and with some wild "geography" that really makes our location the signature element in this book. I once read about the archeology of garbage dumps and what, if you're so inclined to go digging down, you can uncover in a trash pile that's been building up for many, many years. Our Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which Chas affectionately refers to as " the Pack," has long, desert-like plains scorched by the open sun, and high plateaus of refuse that have build up into oddly beautiful formations. There will be sections, obviously, dominated by trash that's come from America... but others might have a Japanese flavor, or even other characteristics. We've imagined old shipwrecks that have gotten caught up in the gyre and assimilated into the formation of the Pack, downed satellites that fell to earth during the Cold War and were presumed lost at sea. Turtles and sea lions and the sort of marine life you'd expect to populate exposed land masses in the ocean call the place home, as do more... exotic, and strange creatures that have been mutated by the pollution.

 

I picked from a lot of the real world characteristics used to describe this mess (i.e. it's being twice the size of Texas, its being pretty much ignored by any of the world's major governmental powers, etc.) as a departure point. Chas is from Texas and his Texas-sized ambition and swagger leads him to have a special connection with this place. Nobody is cleaning up this mess, among the leading nations of the world, so Chas decides to found his own and do it his way. I'd like to think that, for as fictionalized as our depiction of this place, it will only highlight what's verifiably real, and just as horrific about it.

Nrama: What’s it like living on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Harris: For Chas, and his small cast of supporting characters, it's a daily exercise in staying alive. I love survival movies like the old Cornel Wilde film, "The Naked Prey" and I really wanted to get into some serious "Man vs. Nature" stuff... just with this weird twist since the nature our hero is contending with is, mostly, an abomination created by mankind in the first place. They'll have to contend with the need for fresh water, shelter and general survival on what's still the open, hostile sea. There's the mutated marine life I mentioned earlier, tribal peoples from nearby islands who aren't very happy this place exists and who will challenge Chas for resources and supremacy, and even hostile foreign powers, including the United States and her unmatched military. The weather is a constant variable and typhoon season looms. And, of course, the very toxic nature of this place is a challenge. Luckily, Chas brings some tech and gear with him that will help transform this place... slowly... arduously... into something habitable. It won't be easy. But it will be cool. At least, in my humble opinion, anyways...

Nrama: Chas has the money and the motivation. What’s to stop him from going forward with his own sovereign nation?

Harris: Well, he pisses off a lot of the wrong people on the way out the door. Chas isn't exactly an angel, as I might have implied. And, like a lot of great nations, the formative days, weeks, months and years of his own country will involve lots of dubious behavior and self-serving choices. He might think he's the one to save the world, but being a self-proclaimed head of state isn't exactly a humble role. He doesn't always do the right things. Rather, he sometimes has to make difficult choices that only a leader of a country of most any size might have to make.

So, again -- he'll have friction with his neighbors living on the tiny atolls along the outer Pacific Rim. He'll end up on the wrong side of more than one encounter with some pretty wild sea monster-type creatures. Modern-day pirates looking to fleece and steal anything of value that might have washed up on the Pack will make an appearance. And when the United States Navy parks the Pacific Fleet in what passes as his harbor because he's been deemed a threat to national security, you could say you've got some obstacles to overcome on the path to statehood.

Nrama: What does Chas’ family think about his break from the family business??

Harris: When we meet Chas, his father has recently passed away and it's more the other folks involved in the "family business," who don't trust him and won't share his ambition and vision, whom he's got to worry about. He has allies though too.

Themes of family, expectations and the pressure to succeed and fulfill the promise you're assumed to have been born with are a big part of this. And the history of this great clan of Worthingtons we've created ties into the rise of the oil industry and America's great, industrial heritage. Plenty of people aren't going to be happy with Chas, and you'll see just why that is when the first issue drops. But I've always thought, since I first sat down to create this thing, that if you're a true titan of industry and one of these larger-than-life industrialists like, you know, Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison or Nelson Rockefeller or whomever... you might relate to what drives Chas to do what he does. I'm operating under the belief that Chas' grandfather, the founder of the family fortune and one of the most important businessmen in American history, would be impressed with what his grandson is up to in Great Pacific... even as Chas Worthington's actions, choices and values threaten all the family name has built. Big, huge ideas take risk and fearlessness of failure to see to fruition.

The Board of Directors at Worthington Energy, as you'll soon see, aren't too pleased by what Chas is doing though. That's going to be a big problem for Chas going forward.

Nrama: Who are the other big players in Great Pacific, on both Chas’ side and against him?

Harris: Chas heads out to found his nation with only his childhood friend, confidant and would be "Secretary of State," Alex, along for the ride. He'll also be meeting some other allies and enemies as we progress, some of whom he can't quite figure as being one from the other.

Nrama: This takes place in the very near-future, but just how close is it to our time and how far-fetched is the technology you’re showing in the book from what’s available today?

Harris: A lot of the tech Chas has developed and uses is based around this idea of "remediation" -- that is, the process of breaking down oil for the purposes of cleaning up spills and other calamities. We've taken this process and ever evolving quest to "build a better mousetrap," as it were, and extrapolated it to include more complex petroleum-based products and waste like plastic. One of the underpinning acts Chas undertakes in Great Pacific is the development of the next stage in this field of research and advancement. He sees the ability to clean up the mess the world is neglecting but is all too real out in the Pacific Ocean and in other spots as having profit potential... only his undertakings end up threatening the old "family business," and one thing I think it's safe to say about the oil industry is that they do not accept threats to their dominance lying down.

Nrama: Earlier this year you mounted a Kickstarter drive to raise $9500 to give to the artists of Great Pacific to help fund their work, but unfortunately that Kickstarter didn’t reach its goal. Without that, how did you keep this project rolling?

Harris: The Kickstarter campaign was an experiment that didn't fulfill our initial goal of some seed money to pay production costs, but it did help raise awareness of what most who browsed and backed us felt seemed like a really cool, original idea for a comic book series. So I'm very grateful for both the exposure the book got, and the good will it engendered, as well as the education the actual running of the fundraising drive gave me.

How will we keep the project rolling now? The stock and easy answer is, the same way every other book published by Image Comics runs -- on sales in a very competitive and tight marketplace. Though I really wanted to quote Hulk Hogan here, who always seemed to defend that WWF Heavyweight Title on prayers, vitamins and the love of his Hulkamaniacs all over the world.

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