ALL GLORY TO THE... Hypno... Sloth?
We’ve all read stories about the end of the world, but in a new three-issue series coming this October we’ll see the fall of mankind in the craziest way yet: an internet meme.
This October, BOOM! Studios will debut Memetic, a new original series by Batman Eternal writer James Tynion IV and artist Eryk Donovan. In this three-issue series, an internet meme goes viral and begins affecting its viewers and affecting the world. Each issue is over-sized at 48 pages, with each installment covering a single day as the meme turns the world upside down.
Last week, BOOM! Studios released a teaser image out into social media, dubbed “Good Times Sloth,” and that in fact is the image at the center of Memetic when it debuts this October. You may have seen it as it took over the twitter profiles of virtually everyone who has worked for BOOM!, from editors to executives, to writers and artists. For more, we talked with Tynion.
Newsarama: James, what is Memetic about?
James Tynion IV: Well, this is about the end of the world in three days. I think everyone by now has seen the strange image we circulated last week with the sloth and the hypnotic background.
Nrama: So that was promoting Memetic?
Tynion: Yes. The idea for Memetic stems from me trying to think of contemporary fears; what are the major fears we really latch onto? The biggest thing I realized is how fast information can spread right now; the meta quality of stuff online and the number of eyes that can be put on it is massive. Now, what if you threw something up destructive, especially if it seems innocuous and pleasant initially? You could end the world in just a few days.
Memeticis three over-sized issues, with each covering one day. In the beginning of Memetic #1, it’s a regular ordinary morning but by the end of the last issue it’s the end of the world… all because of this little image.
Nrama: And that image is the one circulated last week, which has been dubbed “Good Times Sloth;” tell us about that image more in detail.
Tynion: It happens right from the start; everyone who looks at that image, in the world of the comic, instantly feels a wave of euphoria. If it happens in the real world, I’d freak out a lot – but in the comics if you sat down and looked at it, the image is almost moving. It’s a regular, ordinary image however; no strange quality to it at all. Scientists have analyzed it, and there’s no explanation in the comic for why it does what it does.
Nrama: It just does it.
Tynion: Right. Then, that starts a process that changes after a few hours, and that’s really the heart of the horror in Memetic. Something that gives people so much pleasure, and something that’s such an easily wonderful thing let out in the open, that is really horrific.
Nrama: This sounds like it could be a very macro, world-spanning story; will it feature any regular characters over the course of the story, or is it more big picture?
Tynion: We’ll see a lot of how the world reacts, but we will be following – for the most part – two main characters; people who can’t perceive the meme online the same way the rest of the world can. One of them is Aaron, a young man in college who has monochromacy; that’s a rare form of color blindness where a person can only see one gradient of color. Then we have Marcus, a former head of military intelligence, who is suffering from macular degeneration that causes him to slowly lose his sight. So both individual can’t perceive the meme in a way others can.
Through both, we’ll see how this meme affects the world. Through Aaron we’ll see the ground-level reaction to what it’s like to live in a world where all these people are obsessing. Through Marcus we’ll get the larger story of how the government and world as a whole responds.
Nrama: So this centers on the real-world virality of memes and how one could be, in effect, weaponized. Everyone reading this has seen a meme, but how it works technologically and psychologically isn’t that well-known. What led you to explore the idea of memes, and in this horrific context?
Tynion: The world ‘meme’ was coined by Richard Dawkins from the idea of memetics: the study of how an idea travels and transforms through different groups of humans. It’s the same as genetics, and how a gene can travel between groups of people.
You can see ideas travel; even thinking of the printing press. The first person who ever used the printing press started an idea, which propagated around the world. Even the printing press itself became a device by which to create copies of information more easily, such as the Gutenberg Bible. Once the idea is introduced, it spreads throughout humanity.
The idea now is that we are at this point where so much of the world is online that you can put an idea out there and a huge portion of the world’s population could be presented with it in the span of a single day. That’s crazy, and has never been the case before. Also, if you imagine an idea that’s been weaponized, that’s where you really start getting into trouble. The idea that an idea can spread before people know what it truly is, that’s something.
With Memetic, I wanted to use the more conventional understanding of what a meme is, in pop culture; imagine if the Grumpy Cat image all of the sudden caused the end of the world. So many people in the worl dare aware of Grumpy Cat, but what if it was more than just an image. I realize that might sound ridiculous, but that is sort of the core concept of Memetic.
Nrama: So three days of an unfolding apocalypse, with each issue covering a single day. What does that measure add for you as a storyteller to get Memetic out there?
Tynion:The story for Memetic has been in my head for a while before I first brought it to BOOM! Studios. The three-day timespan is the best way to make the story work, and each issue is oversized because of the massive story I wanted to tell; this is not a small story. It’s not the end of the world in one small town; it’s the end of the world. For that level of apocalyptic horror I was determined to show, I really needed the days and the page count to do it. I was extraordinarily happy when I explained it to BOOM!’s Matt Gagnon and he says “Yeah, we’re in.”
Nrama: Working with you on this is your artistic partner from the digital comic series House in the Wall from Thrillbent: Eryk Donovan. What was it in that project that convinced you to re-team here on Memetic?
Tynion: House of the Wall is still ongoing at Thrillbent.com; we have two chapters out of the 10 to 12 first run of chapters we’re planning to do.
I actually first worked with Eryk on the horror anthology In the Dark at IDW, so we’re approaching a full year working together on horror stories. His ability to capture human emotion, and the intensity of it, as well as the quiet human moments, are incredibly necessary in the horror I write. So that’s what drove me to him. I trust Eryk’s storytelling, and Memetic is a story in which I needed someone whom I could absolutely trust backwards and forwards to do all of the big, huge moments, as well as the small ones.
Nrama: Last question – what’s your favorite meme of all time? And what meme do you think is the closest to being weaponized a la Memetic?
Tynion: Well, that’s a tough one: what are my favorite memes ever? I really enjoyed the early days of memes; for me, that was in middle school and early high school where images of stuff would pop up online and we would see them over and over again like running jokes. I’d also send my friends strange videos, like animutation videos, to judge if my friends were strange enough to hang out with me. Animutation videos are these strange animation set to Japanese television show theme songs.
But there’s a lot of good, funny stuff out there. These days I spend a lot of time on Imgur, so I see the rise and fall of so many memes. It all happens within two days, and then people will get sick of it and don’t do it anymore. Animal memes won’t ever die, such as Unpopular Opinion Puffin...
Nrama: ...or things like Keyboard Cat.
Tynion: Yes. More and more it seems like it’s subconsciously trying to encourage people to put something out there about themselves personally, while slowly stealing your soul.