There's an old saying about those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and in a new science fiction series from Image a young reporter finds out the untold story of a freedom fighter turned dictator and how it comes to affect her future .
Launching this March from Image Comics, Invisible Republic is a new ongoing series from married co-creators Corrina Sara Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, whose work you’ve seen together on such books as Star Wars: Legacy, Planet of the Apes and Savage Hulk.
We talked with Hardman and Bechko about this new series, Hardman’s work storyboarding Christopher Nolan’s film Insterstellar, and even have a preview of their upcoming graphic novel, The Crooked Man.
Newsarama: Corrina, Gabe – how did the initial idea for Invisible Republic come about?
Gabriel Hardman: We’ve been dying to do a creator-owned, long-form sci-fi story for years. The kernel for Invisible Republic is from a traditional Irish ballad, a rebellion song that we used as a jumping off point and developed into a big but grounded sci-fi world.
We first started working on this as a follow up to our 2009 graphic novel Heathentown but got derailed by freelance work for a while. But the freelance work we did, particularly the Planet of the Apes books were very much in line with the kind of storytelling that we’re doing in Invisible Republic so it really gave us the chance to hone our skills leading up to this.
It’s a better book now than it would have been five years ago thanks to those freelance experiences.
Nrama: What were some of the unique challenges in building this world, creating the details of the environment and the society?
Corinna Sara Bechko: In Invisible Republic we deal with two time periods, one taking place before faster-than-light travel is discovered and one taking place afterwards, even though the two eras are only separated by a single generation.
So we always have to be cognizant of what would change dramatically between the two periods and what would still be recognizable to those who have lived through the transition. We've found that thinking through the ramifications has really sharpened our ideas about how Avalon, the world where most of the action takes place, evolved.
Nrama: How do you see the scope of the story going? This deals with issues of politics, dystopia, economic collapse...how do you see this as an extended story?
Hardman: It’s a big story, ideally in the neighborhood of 50 issues. We know exactly where it’s going and where it’ll end but there’s some flexibility in the exact road we take to get there.
And while Invisible Republic does deal with all the things you listed it’s fundamentally a story about a conflict between two people, Maia and her cousin, the rebel leader-turned-dictator Arthur McBride. The story is personal and ground level.
Nrama: So I noticed the design credit by Dylan Todd, and then I got into the book and noticed it does have a very designed feel with the negative space on the pages, the slightly larger gutters. Is that part of his contribution? I'm curious about the general look of the pages, it's very distinct from the typical comic book layout, almost like looking at a Tetris screen.
Hardman: Dylan is responsible for designing the logo, text pages and back matter and he’s doing a fantastic job. We just worked together on the print edition of my book Kinski and I’m very happy to have him back.
But I’m responsible for all the interior pages -- the story pages. Since this story plays out in two separate timeframes, Maia and Arthur’s rise to power in the past and Croger Babb, a reporter following their story in the present, I wanted to create distinct looks for each time. That may be part of what you’re picking up on.
Our colorist Jordan Boyd is doing some amazing work on this book. He’s been coloring my art on the last few projects, Star Wars: Legacy, Savage Hulk and Sensation Comics so we’re really working as a team at this point. And seriously, these are some of the best colors I’ve ever had for my art.
Bechko: Definitely, Jordan's work is incredible! Gabriel's style is unique enough that not all colorists are a good fit, but when he's paired with Jordan it's just beautiful.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about your collaborative process.
Bechko: We really work on every bit of the story together. We write the script together, passing it back and forth, but when it's just us we don't script it so tightly that it can't be changed if Gabriel sees an opportunity to make a better choice with the art.
Then, when it's time to letter it, we go back and forth even more so that the dialogue flows organically. It's perhaps not the quickest way to work, but it's very productive for us.
Nrama: I'm curious about some of the biggest influences on this -- I can think of a lot of political SF books, Dune being the one everyone goes to, but Corinna, your essay on Genghis Khan in the back of the first issue.suggests more of an influence from real-world history.
Hardman: I think our influences are more historical than other science fiction. I doubt Frank Herbert was influenced by other sci-fi as much as he was using the genre the way it should be used, as a lens to talk about things in our world.
We definitely don’t want to make a book that’s driven by insular references to other books, films or comics.
Beckko: Absolutely. And we'll be running more essays in the future that will bear on what those influences are. We both read a lot of nonfiction, but we read a lot of fiction too. I think in general a lot of our reference points are kind of left-field.
We're both big Patricia Highsmith fans, for example. There may also be a bit of I, Claudius in there too. And, for my own part, maybe some Spartacus (the TV show, not the film).
Nrama: Gabe, your storyboards for Interstellar got a lot of exposure, having been published in book form and online -- what was your experience of working on the film like, and how does the experience of working on comics carry over to storyboards and vice versa.
Hardman: I had a good experience working on Interstellar. It was the third film I boarded for Christopher Nolan and due to the complexity of the subject matter, there were a lot of visual challenges. My comics and film work inform each other in that they both involve telling stories visually but they’re different in every other way.
When I’m boarding a film I’m working for a director on material I didn’t choose. I’m doing my best to get their ideas across. In comics I’m telling the story. I’m writing or co-writing the script, drawing the pages and designing the world. The levels of creativity involved are very different. That’s why I’m so passionate about my comics work
Nrama: What's the experience of working with Image Comics here for Invisible Republic been like?
Hardman: It’s been good. We’re very self motivated and I like being in control of every aspect of the production rather than handing things like the lettering and design off to others that I don’t directly work with.
Beckko: It's very rewarding to have a book that is completely yours at the end of the process. But by the same token, it's also a lot harder to stay on top of every single aspect, especially the parts that aren't directly creative. But I think at this point we've assembled quite a good team and that makes everything much easier.
Nrama: Hard sell us this book.
Hardman: Invisible Republic is a gritty ground-level sci-fi book that deals in the kind of complex and rewarding long form storytelling that you get on cable television now. But it’s the kind of story that comics can do even better.
Bechko: Loyalty. Violence. Redemption. Can the past truly remain hidden? Can good ever come from an act of evil? Does knowledge of the past automatically influence the future, or can history be changed? Read Invisible Republic and find out!
Nrama: Besides Invisible Republic, what all do you have coming up, in comics and beyond?
Hardman: Since Invisible Republic is an ongoing we’ll be committing most of our time to it. But we’ll also have a treasury sized original graphic novel called The Crooked Man coming out this summer from Image/Shadowline. It’s a crime/revenge story set during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that Corinna and I co-wrote and I drew.
Bechko: In addition, I scripted another Once Upon a Time graphic novel for Marvel based on stories by Kalinda Vazquez. This one is called Out of the Past, and it hits in April. The art inside is amazing, as you can imagine since I was lucky enough to work with Janet Lee, Vanessa Del Rey, Pascal Campion, and Betsy Peterschimdt.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Bechko: I just want to remind folks that it really does make a huge difference when you vote with your dollars and try new books. It doesn't have to be our book, but buying any book, be it prose or comics, directly allows the creators to make more books.
It's a good feeling to be a patron of the arts, and that really is what you are when you try new things.