If you had the power to literally change anything in the world, what could possibly go wrong? A lot, and Nathan Edmondson and Alison Sampson want to show you how.
In the upcoming graphic novella Genesis, The Punisher scribe and the architect/artist are taking readers on what Image calls “a trippy journey of creation and destruction…” It’s led by a man named Adam, who since birth has had the ability to change, alter and transform any part of the world around him. Does he use it to help other people? Sometimes. Does he use it to help himself? Sometimes. Does he have full control over these abilities? Arguably not.
Newsarama spoke with the two creators about this surreal horror story, delving into the ideals of order versus chaos and how inner turmoil can cross over into the real world.
Newsarama: Genesis is the story of Adam, a man with the power to create or change anything. What kind of problem can someone like that have, folks?
Nathan Edmondson: The idea of will is a frightening thing. The idea that we have the freedom and the power to do anything within our ability to other people or the world around us is immense and awesome.
This fact lies somewhere in Adam’s character and is suddenly warped into a horrifying series of scenes in the book; he can manifest, create, do anything with his mind alone, but can he control himself? Does he have the ability to do things right? That’s a question (one of the questions, I guess) we ask with the book. We don’t answer many, but we do ask a lot.
It’s as if your imagination crossed that barrier between what is just thought and what is real and suddenly your every single thought became an act, an event, an object in the world. That’s the problem Adam has to deal with.
Nrama: In the advance copy you provided, I really saw you pushing the idea of what these kind of powers could do – both for good, for evil and just for creativity’s sake. What’s it like as a writer to be working to imagine something as creative as possible for these powers?
Edmondson: If I understand this question, then the answer is that I simply let go, in a big way, of the usual boundaries I organize around a story universe. I tried to let my own imagination run wild. And then where my own imagination ended, the art took off from there, like an F-18 off the deck of a carrier. A lot of the wild imagery and moments in the book were expressed when Alison illustrated the book.
Nrama:Alison, this is your first major print comics work, but you have a background in architecture. Can you tell us about bringing your architectural skills to use here in drawing a comic like this?
Alison Sampson: Architecture encompasses lots of skills: design, writing, working with others, planning, having ideas, thinking about materials, lighting, adding detail, thinking about costs, making agreements, drawing, judging, selling, communicating, lettering, graphics, presenting, coordinating and making books, working with a level of precision and care, squeezing lots of functions into small spaces, thinking about what people might want... and so on. So there were all those things I could bring. And all of that was before I started trying to make designs for the specific architectural elements and that populate the book.
One of the main ways I brought my skills, though, has been in composition. Architects make lots of small aesthetic judgments every day as well as some larger ones. Klaus Janson told me that the most important thing in comics is composition, and I've tried to bear that in mind. In Genesis, composition comes first. It follows our story that it should, as what is on our pages is the key to our hero.
Nrama: I really enjoy the concept of this, especially played out as a comic – since artists can essentially draw anything they can imagine. Alison, coming from a world of architecture where your art has to be able to be produced in the real world to this, does making art that is just art and not plans for a structure liberating, frightening or something else?
Sampson: Both comics and architecture have their limitations, but they are different. You often can't smell a comic, or hear it, or sit down and have a cup of coffee in it. You can't stub your toe on something in one or have an argument with someone there. There is a lot you cannot do with a comic. You can't even be as liberal about how you navigate it- apparently- although perhaps that might change as the form of comics evolves. Comics are liberating in that they do not need to be answerable in quite the same way as architecture is, but they have their own constraints. This kind of minimalism is great: having to pare down the content to make a story is as focused, if not more so, than making a building for a client.
This is why I like comics. They bring structure to art.
Nrama: Nathan, where does something like the idea for Genesis come to you from?
Edmondson: I really don’t recall. Something about this metaphysical, theological idea of will was in there; something about the idea of imagination being reality, I had a few thoughts that at some point fused into an LSD head trip of a book. There’s perhaps some homage to Michael Crichton in there, as well.
Nrama: Nathan here’s been doing comics for a number of years, but Alison this is your first long-form comics work. How was this new experience like for you?
Sampson: Very enjoyable. I enjoy making the pages very much. Architecture work can take a very long time, for good reason and you have to be answerable very broadly. comics are a way of getting to the design and production aspects- the fun bits- quickly and without having to be so responsible. It is also the first time I've not only owned my work, but have been personally credited for it, which is quite an emotional thing, after so long. It has been a pleasure to have drawn Nathan's idea, and an amazing bit of synchronicity that he came upon me, at exactly the moment I was ready.
Nrama: I wanted to ask about your structure; your panel composition has some straight-forward moments like you see in most professionally done comics, but then you break it up with some trapezoid panels and even panels and art bridging pages. How did you plan out this comic – on a page-by-page basis , or did you map out the entire thing beforehand?
The pages were planned as double page spreads as soon as I had the script for those pages, so it was done in several chunks, over quite a long period of time. In an ideal world I would have liked the whole script at once and I would have planned out all the pages in one go- to give an overarching structure to the design. As it was, I had to speculate a bit how the story was going to turn out, and set up a structure that worked with that. In the end that is probably a good thing- the whole comic is not over-conceptual.
I thought about the way the whole of the reader's view worked as a piece (architecture drawings are not read with reading conventions like comics are) to give the reader a bit of an option. I tried to think what the reading experience as a whole would be like, and I wanted the look of the pages to be as much part of telling the story as the figurative art.
The layouts are what I feel they need to be to tell the story and to give everything the room that it needs, and make the most of the page space, and look nice. I think here lies the answer to the first question. In architecture you are trying to design a thing that tells a story on a number of levels, comics are the same.
Nrama: This is a story about a man with superhuman powers, but this is far from being in the superhero genre. Can you talk about the slippery slope of the superhero genre in comics and the magnetism of doing stories about people with powers without them necessarily turning into costumed vigilantes?
Edmondson: I can really only speak from my own perspective here. As someone who didn’t grow up nourished by superheroes, I don’t really feel that magnetic pull and I sometimes have a hard time understanding it. To me, costumes (especially skin-tight deals) were an expression of artist-driven books, and are a fantastic, but just one of many, many story types.
In comics I think a great many creators simply love that story type so much, having grown up on it or found a truth in it, but for me, it’s one of a thousand genre-types that I’ve been exposed to; I don’t have more of an affinity for it than for, say, a space opera story. I do enjoy writing the right story for the right costumed hero, but really, there’s not so much of a slippery slope toward costumed heroes for me when talking about powers, which may of course also make me the naive storyteller when it comes to powers—I may not be putting them where they belong!
Sampson: Many, many people read superhero comics and there are plenty of reasons for it, but one of them is the interest in power. It is the same in life: politicians, celebrities, rich people, spies, people with secrets: they populate print media from newspapers to airport novels to supermarket magazines for the same reason. Even our history books fixate on people in power, and the lives of kings and queens are taught in school. These people are a lens for us to look at everything else, whilst enjoying the vicarious thrill of "what if that were me". That is great, because it puts the reader right that the center of the action.
In terms of a slippery slope, I'm not sure if the slope is towards superhero genre or away. Superhero comics were a gateway for me to comics, as they are for many people who see the films, and having looked at a few of those I've gravitated to towards some other comics as well, once I found out they existed. The slippery slope towards? I don't know. I do think power is interesting, but also so is its application. Sometimes the best stories are the ones where the power is not so super. In our comic, our man is like a superhero turned inside out: we see his power all around him, but he doesn't have a costume. Power is not nothing without control, that aspect is just the other side of the coin.