Comic books are full of characters finding out about a secret past they never knew they had. In the upcoming Image series Change, we find a whole city with a secret past: Los Angeles. Scheduled to launch on December 12 (12/12/12 for those who are counting), Change posits the idea that Los Angeles is a modern day reincarnation of the fabled and doomed city of Atlantis, part of an epic circle of birth, flourishing, and collapse. And although Los Angeles has seen its share of tough times in the past 50 years, what’s coming up in Change is something of a different magnitude entirely. As this tragedy of epic proportions begins to bubble forth, a unique sampling of L.A.’s diverse population comes forward as it’s unlikely saviors: a screenwriter/car thief, a wealthy rapper who’s disconnected from his roots, a lonely cosmonaut just back from one of Jupiter’s moons, and a homeless man. Face facts comics fans; they’re no Fantastic Four, they’re something else entirely.The four-issue series Change is coming hot on the heels of writer Ales Kot’s debut this summer with Wild Children. That book, illustrated by Riley Rossmo, rose up to be one of the top ten graphic novels in July and earned serious prize from the likes of Douglas Rushkoff and USA Today. That’s a lot for a writer just starting out, but then again his sophomore comics effort is called Change. And while for his first book he partnered with Rossmo, an Image vet, for this new series he found a diamond-in-the-rough with artist Morgan Jeske. Together, Change is shaping up to be a unique and uncompromising science-fiction story about imagination and taking account for your life and your place in the world.
Newsarama: What can you tell us about Change, Ales?
Ales Kot: Change is a 4-issue comic book mini-series designed to change your life that will start coming out in December 2012. It's a story created to remind you that you feel things, and think things, and make you feel more alive than you felt before you cracked the pages open.
The concept is simple: Los Angeles is Atlantis, the mythical drowned city of our past. Time is a circle, and Los Angeles drowns every time it reaches the end of its road. Some people say there's no escaping fate, and this definitely proved true for L.A., repeatedly.But nothing has to stay the same way forever, right? There are multiple characters that might be able to prevent this from happening again - an up-and-coming screenwriter and a very successful car thief Sonia, a very wealthy, kind of disconnected rapper W-2, a nameless astronaut coming back from Europa, one of Jupiter's 67 moons...and a homeless man wandering through Los Angeles. The antagonists are quite horrifying, though: rogue National Security Agency operatives, insane cultists, strange monsters, and something very old that's slowly but surely approaching Los Angeles from the Pacific Ocean.
Change carries DNA from buddy action films, atmospheric horror, classic psychedelia, and much more. Of course, all of this would be just words if it weren't for Morgan Jeske, whose pages are blowing my mind on a daily basis. Morgan is evolving extremely fast because he's constantly challenging himself, his line is beautifully fluid, he's unafraid of dense pages, and he's an honest, open-minded collaborator and a human being. I cherish every moment we spend working together. The comic is getting a very interesting creative charge, because our process is very collaborative - Morgan can change angles and numbers of panels on any page, and sometimes I switch to Marvel style when writing the script to give him more creative freedom. I also do a lot of rewriting after the final pages come back, because that's another level of the science/magic - ensuring the words and pictures create new meanings.
And then there's the colors, and the lettering, but we'll keep those close for now. What does need to be said is this: every single creative step matters, because we want to give you a 100% undiluted transmission.Nrama: The key characters in this appear to be the journalist Sonia and the rapper W-2. What’s their story?
Kot: Sonia is an up-and-coming screenwriter and a car thief. She's in her early twenties, very street smart, her taste in clothing is excellent - but she's also quite arrogant. She's writing a movie script for W-2, who's basically RZA-meets-Kanye West. He's immensely talented, but also a bit disconnected from the world around him, living in an opulent mansion in Malibu with his wife Rhubarb. Sonia and W-2 clash in a pretty epic fashion in the opening pages of the comic, and their unexpected journey takes some very strange, adrenaline-fueled turns. Running people over, double-crossings, guns, tasers, high society, the gutters of Los Angeles...
There's also the astronaut, who is very much a question mark. Something went very wrong a long time ago, and he's finally coming back to Earth, knowing he will have to face his past. The astronaut's connection to the homeless man wandering the streets of Los Angeles, and to Sonia and W-2 as well, reaches deep into his past. There's also the slight problem of his shuttle having technical difficulties.Nrama: You say this change is the impending fate of Los Angeles falling like the fabled Atlantis. In broader terms, what is this threat?
Kot: Death of imagination.
It's that thing that's inside almost all of us, or maybe all of us, who knows. That thing that tells you things won't be different. That dead thing inside that smells like rotten apple juice and puts its tentacles around your spine and tells you that everything those people say about you is true and you're never going to be any better than that. It's that thing that wakes you up at night, cold-sweat and chills. The pain of a rotting tooth you're afraid to lose.
It's a pretty horrible thing, and we all encounter it. It's the shadow. What's scarier than that?
Nrama: Morgan, you’ve been relatively quiet so far in this, but can you tell us your perspective on the story you’re drawing?
Morgan Jeske: The end of the story is coming for Los Angeles. This book is 4 issues long, but it's a loop hopefully, or the attempted fracturing of a loop in time. There's also a very literal threat facing the city, which is the level I'm operating on. All that other stuff will hopefully read in the gutters.
Nrama: At first blush this might seem like a disaster movie in comic form, but I sense some deeper sci-fi leanings in what you and Morgan are doing. What are your goals for this 4-issue series?Kot: Make art that will change lives and make money that will help us make more art that will change lives. Regarding the sci-fi angle, there are some light speculative fiction leanings in Change, but we're keeping the story fairly street. For example, Sonia wears a constantly morphing skin mod that renders her face hard to read to surveillance cameras and real-life big brother programs such as Trapwire. There are drones in the sky above Los Angeles. The astronaut is coming back from the first manned mission to Europa. There are types of music that simply don't exist right now, or don't have the names we gave them. There are bits and pieces that will hopefully be interesting because they exist on a very real border between now and five years from now, but the core of Change is inherently concerned with what it means to be a human being in today's world. It's about seeing the elaborate, strange, thrilling games we sometimes play to cope with the pressure of now. Life as escapism. Jeske: It's a monster/disaster comic, with some body horror, and hopefully human drama all in one I think. But it's also one big lie. Each character is lying to themselves, some more than others. There's this Godard quote that I heard recently, and really love "As soon as you turn on the camera, it's a lie". Ours is an unreliable narrator.
My goals are pretty simple, and much smaller in scope. First and foremost I want to make something that I would read, and that other people might like after the fact. That's really all I can work toward. I'm a process person, I don't actually care what happens after it's done. Working on it is the joyful, frustrating, rewarding part. Finishing projects is liking walking away from explosions in slow motion. You don't look back because there's still some cartel dudes hiding in warehouse at 12 o'clock. Metaphor.
Nrama: Ales, both Change and your previous book Wild Children seem to revolve around existing structures, be it physical or thematic, being torn down – in Change it’s Los Angeles, and in Wild Children it was school students and school in general. What do you have to say about that apparent theme?Kot: This universe, the Earth and our society are going through substantial changes. We are moving somewhere -- we don't really know where, it seems -- and it's both scary and exciting. People once built their environment around the notion of creating the future by directly influencing the present, by manifesting their dreams. You imagine something? Do it. You want to get a man on the moon? Well come on, how hard can it be? The answer was, it's pretty hard, but not undoable. That was more than forty-four years ago. Just imagine what else we can do with that power.
I mean, I get it, I'm relatively young - and one of the narratives I hear is that you're idealistic when you're young and then you get more realistic, or bitter, as you get older. I think that's bullshit. People were saying that to me since I hit fourteen or fifteen and they're still repeating it ten years later, but that narrative doesn't change a thing unless you want it to. What matters is what I want to create. And what I want to create with Change is a testament to the power of imagination and self-examination.
Imagination is birth. Birth is destruction: a sperm dies inside an egg to form new life. What does it all mean? I have no idea.
Jeske: I'm old, bitter, and I like structures. They keep me dry when it rains. Roofing.
Nrama: Ales, you briefly mentioned what Morgan here is bringing to the table for this book, but since we won’t have the first issue in our hands until December 12th, can you tell us how you two met up, and what made him the ideal person to draw this story?Kot: He's very pretty, so I decided we needed to work on something together.
But let's be serious about this, because this is a serious comics interview. We met on the internet. We realized we liked each other's work. We talked. We read each other's comics. We talked some more. And then, one night, in a ball pit at the edge of the town, with my shirt stuffed with colorful balls, seeing triple -- I'm not making this up -- an idea appears. This happens a lot, all of it, but this idea was coming back and back and it was too good to let go, plus I write down 95% of my ideas anyway. So I started prodding the idea with my riding crop, and within a few days, I had about 30-40 pages of notes. Big, full pages full of important notes that looked like The Last Boy Scout and Alejandro Jodorowsky had an intercourse while Charlie Kaufman and H.P. Lovecraft watched from the closet.
We met on Skype, I told Morgan the story - it felt, at least to me, like I was retelling a fever dream more than a coherent journey - and to my unending surprise, Morgan agreed to draw it. I reread the entire outline about twenty times to make sure it actually made sense, then shot Morgan some character design ideas, we talked about the characters and how we see them, and Morgan delivered fantastically rendered character designs that just breathed life.
Jeske: YAPHET KOTTO.
Kot: YAPHET COCTEAU. But no, seriously: http://yaphetkotto.org/, all answers lie within.
Nrama: Ales, Change will be your second major work in comics after this past summer’s Wild Children. You’re still a new name to most – how did you end up writing comics?
Kot: I sat down about four years ago and decided that it was the right thing to do with my life. I grew up in Czech Republic, reading since I was three years old, so by the time I was ten I tore through Czech translations of the Roger Stern/ John Romita Amazing Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian stories Marvel put out in late 70's, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Terry Pratchett...I'd read whatever I could get my hands on, and I would doodle my own comics from time to time when I was even younger, but I never thought of it as a profession I'd like to take up. But once poetry proved to not be the right thing and I stopped romanticizing porn, comics were my only choice.
The alternate version of my origin as a comics writer is that I was contemplating suicide and I gave myself a question: "Is there anything I can do that has the potential to make me feel creatively fulfilled in an uncompromising, beautiful manner?", and the answer was "Yeah, maybe comics. I always loved comics. I should make a comic. Comics are pure poetry anyway, when done right."
Both of these answers are absolutely true. I know, because I was there.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!