Writer William Harms (Wolverine, InFamous) will be bringing some of his sci-fi flair over to BOOM! in December with Eternal. Harms asks a big "what if" with this upcoming title being "what if we never had to die". Teaming up with artist Giovanni Valleta (Dark Horse Presents), they bring us to two-hundred years in the future where the rich can prolong their lives through a cloning process.
Harms spoke exclusively to Newsarama about Eternal and its cast, the inspiration of the story coming about, and what the creator has in store for readers later down the line.
Newsarama: William, using clones in a story has become a bit of a trope. How does Eternal break from the usual tradition?
William Harms: There’s no question that cloning appears as a concept in a wide array of stories – from Altered Carbon to The Island – but what I think makes Eternal different is that ultimately it strives to be an examination of the price of eternal life. On the one hand it seems like it’d be great if people lived forever, but in the world of Eternal immortality comes at the cost of a group of people called “pures”, folks who are descended from untainted genetic stock. Within the science of the book, cloning damages the chromosomes, which can only be “repaired” with undamaged chromosomes from the pures. Unfortunately, that is a brutal and fatal process.
Ultimately, it presents an interesting moral question – if 99% of the world was able to live forever because 1% of the population was sacrificed, is that wrong? Our first impulse is to say yes, of course it’s wrong. But now imagine you’ve lived 200 years and you want to keep on living. Are you willing to die so that some person you’ve never met can keep on living? Maybe I’m overly cynical, but I think most people would do what it takes to stay alive.
Nrama: How did the concept for Eternal come about?
Harms: I was raised by my step-dad and he died when I was 19, which had a profound impact on my life. In some ways, it completely altered its trajectory, so sometimes I think about what I would be doing if he had lived, if he hadn’t passed away when he did. So I think it was ultimately born out of that, about wondering what the world would be like if no one died and then drilling it down to a character level.
Rathmann, for example, suffered a profound loss in his life before cloning became wide-spread, and it’s why he does what he does, so no one else has to suffer the loss of a loved one. But in the end, as painful as death is, maybe we need that finality. That end point. Maybe the fact that we know we’re all going to die is what truly makes us human.
Nrama: You've chosen San Francisco as the setting for this story. Is there a specific reason for that?
Harms: There are a few reasons, but it’s mainly because I live in the area (which makes it easy to get any needed reference photos) and because of the area’s history with technology, I could see it as being where cloning and consciousness transfer is perfected.
Nrama: Tell us about some of the Eternal characters here. Are they unlike anything you've explored before?
Harms: There are three primary characters. Peter Rathmann is an officer with the Biological Enforcement Unit, which is a division within a company called New Life. New Life perfected human cloning and consciousness transfer and owns every step of the process, including the pures. Rathmann’s job is to shut down illegal cloning operations, re-capture pures who have escaped, and generally enforce any mandates from New Life.
Gail Jensen is an escaped pure and leader of a terrorist group called the Human Liberation Army, which is fighting to free all the pures from New Life’s enclaves. The third character is a teenage girl named Violet, and she’s being held at an enclave in Marin county, north of the San Francisco.
I’ve examined characters like Rathmann before – especially with the character of Victor Dailey in Impaler – but Gail and Violet are pretty new territory. It’s interesting to write a character who’s both a terrorist and morally justified in her actions, and Violet has been a lot of fun to write. She’s a little spitfire.
Nrama: Why did BOOM! feel like a right fit for Eternal to you?
Harms: I’ve been wanting to do a book with them for a long time now, and things finally came together. Boom is kicking ass and taking names right now, and it’s great to be a part of that. I’m super excited to be working with them.
Nrama: The artist for Eternal is Giovanni Valletta. Can you tell us about himand why you chose to work with him?
Harms: My editor at Boom, Ian Brill, brought Gio to my attention. We looked at a few other artists, but it was pretty obvious that Gio was the right pick. His clean, expressive style is perfect for this book.
Nrama: You have a lot more sci-fi works on your resume than anything else. Is there a particular reason that you're drawn to that genre?
Harms: The appeal of writing, to me, anyway, is answering “what ifs?” In the case of Eternal, it’s answering “what if people lived forever”? In something like Supreme Commander, it’s answering “what if humanity colonized the stars”? Science fiction is a great vehicle for those types of stories, which is why I think sci-fi stories are able to examine issues and ideas that probably wouldn’t be exposed in other genres of fiction.
Nrama: I'm sure you get this a lot, but do you feel there is a different creative process when writing comics than a video game, or is it all pretty much the same?
Harms: Writing comic books and video games are completely different. The example I always use is that with comics, I sit down and write a scene and then it goes to the artist and they draw it. That’s the beginning and ending of it. But in video games, there a hundred moving parts. I write a mission and then it goes to a level designer who lays out the space and ensures that it’ll be fun to play, then it goes to a level architect and artist who make it look awesome, and then a system designer usually looks at it to ensure that the core gameplay mechanics are supported.
And if any point during that process something doesn’t work – the mission isn’t fun or the core systems don’t work – you have to go back and change the mission. You have to be willing to throw away a lot of work.
Nrama: Eternal isn't coming out til December, so do you have anything else in the pipeline or out right now you'd like to talk about?
Harms: I have a few things in the works, but the thing I’m really excited about in the short-term is releasing a free epilogue to Impaler, a vampire series I wrote for Top Cow. It was cancelled without a proper ending, and people still ask me about it, so Edward Pun (the artist on Shotgun Wedding) and I are creating a five-page ending for the book and I’m going to release it for free online. We’re shooting to have it out in time for Halloween.