Image Comics' Empty Zone by writer/artist Jason Shaen Alexander has given readers a unique look at sci-fi that bridges elements of dystopian fiction and cyberpunk aesthetics with supernatural components. Alexander has been writing, drawing and painting this on his own for the first arc, but with this month's second arc he has brought in relative newcomer Darragh Savage as a co-writer.
Newsarama caught up with both creators as we talk about Empty Zone, where heroine Corinne White and the ultra-violent Oni are now, as well as where Alexander and Savage plan on taking them.
Newsarama: So Jason, Darragh, details of Empty Zone's second arc are few and far between. Can you tell us where we'll see Corinne and Oni at the start of this?
Jason Shawn Alexander: The second arc of Empty Zone will both continue the conflict between Corinne and Oni, while also delving into new territory. Corinne and Hank are on their way to Berlin, and their target is another one of Oni's necrobiotic production facilities: but there is a dark surprise waiting for them. We also want to broaden the scope of the storytelling, so in addition to continuing Corinne's story this arc has a tragic romance and some good old-fashioned horror
Nrama: Darragh, let's talk about your role real quick. You've been added as the co-writer of the series, so are you more on the plotting side of things or helping tighten the details and fleshing things out if need be?
Darragh Savage: Our process is very back-and-forth. For this arc, Jason had the plot more or less laid out, and I turned that into rough scripts which we then worked on together to get to the final.
Nrama: That being said, what's the collaborative process been like so far for the two of you?
Savage: Very enjoyable, we have a lot of productive back and forth and are lucky to both get along personally and have a similar idea of what qualifies as cool. From my perspective, it's been invaluable as a novice in comics to have the benefit of working with somebody who has a great deal of experience.
Jason Shawn Alexander: I feel the same. It’s been really smooth. We both offer up ideas that the other almost always gets a kick out of. And there’s the nice push and pull dynamic as well. I tend love more literal narration and crass jokes. Darragh is a beautifully subtle storyteller. He reins me in and I push him out a bit.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the book's new setting in Berlin? What is the city like in your world?
Alexander: Berlin will provide a bit of an aesthetic contrast to Pittsburgh (the setting for the first five issues), a bit less post-apocalyptic, perhaps. Berlin is the kind of city that people in the world of Empty Zone travel to for vacation -- but it's also a city with some very wicked happenings both literally and figuratively just beneath its surface.
Nrama: When creating the cyberpunk imagery of this world, was there any one source for it? It’s reminiscent of Ghost in the Shell meets old school Shadowrun visuals.
Savage: Jason can speak more to the visual aspect than I can, but I wouldn't say there's any singular sources -- probably something more like "all the near-future sf we've consumed", which for both of us is quite a bit. Do love Ghost in the Shell, though.
Alexander: Absolutely. It’s all over the place. Other than a love for writers like William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Phillip K. Dick, movies, music, and comics also play a key. A lot of it also comes from the “not-too-distant future” being a small obsession of mine for twenty years. A lot of what goes into the Empty Zone is a lot of me, and now Darragh, thinking “what might actually happen” and “what would be very cool and horrifying at the same time”.
Nrama: On the same topic, when designing characters, what practicalities do you consider as you create them? A perfect example would be Corinne's new look in #3 and the hybrids of #5.
Alexander: Other than just visual aesthetics I try and consider what makes sense in the world I created. Corinne isn’t a cartoon. She doesn’t have a costume. She changes her clothes like normal people. It allows the character to stay fresh and more realistic I think. There’s a play on that with Hank wearing the same thing all the time. Hence his T-shirt with a “This is the shirt I wear” logo on it. The gang members in #5 were something I wanted to do for years. Gang colors and tattoos aren’t intimidating in a world with walking reanimated dead people and robots. But a 7-foot tall gorilla with a mohawk might make you think twice before heading down that alley. And, in some ways, it made sense to me. With the technology level, in the story, alterations and implants like the “ferals” have become accessible to regular people. Look at plastic surgery now. If people can f-ck with their appearance to project something else, they will.
Nrama: Can you give us any information about possible new characters that are showing up this time around?
Alexander: Indeed! We'll be introducing several major and a few minor characters whose paths will cross Corinne's in Berlin. Principally a couple who travel from England to Berlin for vacation, who get tangled up in the worst the city has to offer, and an antisocial bounty hunter who tries to help them. Beyond that expect some singularly unpleasant new “monsters” that make the reanimated corpses from the first arc seem like a warm-up.
Nrama: Empty Zone was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign and then later picked up by Image. Would you consider using KS again for another project you might have in the works, or would you go directly to the publisher?
Alexander: Kickstarter was fine. It’s way too much for one person to handle on their own. At least for me. It's effective, but unless I truly just want to print and distribute the project myself, I’ll probably go to a publisher first. For all the good it provides, Kickstarter still has some problems to work out.
Nrama: Lastly, what's your favorite thing you're looking forward to the most in this coming arc?
Alexander: Empty Zone #9 and #10. I love drama. I love storytelling. #9 and #10 are full of horrifying sequences and heart breaking imagery. #10 also hints more at the third arc which will be the end of the “Oni Trilogy.” We’re building a world, here. We’re going all over the planet and showing just how much the “blackout” changed the global dynamic.
These first two arcs are so fun in establishing these characters and introducing you to the world of Empty Zone. The third arc continues with that but in a much more extreme fashion and the major characters change/evolve substantially from the events that occur. We’re not satisfied with creating cool characters that simply kick a new problem’s ass each issue. We allow the characters to constantly change and redefine themselves. And they do it an a visually exciting world.