Summer is here, but in the world of Image's Eclipse you'd need something in the range of a SPF one million to survive the sun's rays.
Zack Kaplan and Giovanni Timpano's Eclipse imagines an Earth where sunlight has become deadly, forcing humanity to live in the literal shadows - only walking out in daylight with protective suits a la space-faring astronauts.
But when a serial killer emerges who uses sunlight to kill his victims, the survivors look to surprising places to find someone to stop him. Newsarama spoke with Kaplan and Timpano about this sci-fi series ahead of its September 7 debut.
Newsarama: Zack, how would you describe the story of Eclipse?
Zack Kaplan: Suns out and guns out! It’s a sci-fi thriller about a world with a sun that will burn you alive. If you’ve ever felt the sun was so hot or intense that you thought it had turned against you, well, this is that sun times a million. It’s a monster.
The story takes place after a mysterious solar cataclysm turns the sunlight deadly, and now a few remaining cities survive in nocturnal societies. We follow David “Bax” Baxter, a withdrawn tough guy who works with a group called the Icemen. They use these specialized suits that you see on the cover to Eclipse #1, and these suits allow them limited exposure in the sun so they can maintain the city’s infrastructure. So, Bax knows how to move around during the day, which is why he’s approached to deal with a killer who is going around murdering people with sunlight.
Giovanni Timpano: For me, it’s a thriller first, and a sci-fi world second, which is basically everything I ever wanted to draw as an artist, and also everything I’d like to read as a reader. There is this reluctant hero inside a sci-fi suit, and he is pursuing a killer who is different from any other people out there. But there was also this cataclysm that has changed forever the life on earth. So, this thriller is played in a world where there are new life and death rules, and Zack has wrote this story using these new rules for its characters. The sun is deadly, and it can be also “used” as a weapon…how this is possible? You can only find out reading the book.
Nrama: This serial killer - does he have a name in the story?
Kaplan: He doesn’t have a name in the comic, but in the story development, we actually called him Matthew, because at one murder scene, he leaves a biblical quote from the Book of Matthew. But they never use that name in the books. But he’s a man with a lot of secrets, especially about how he’s able to withstand the sunlight and why he’s targeting his victims. There’s a lot of exciting mystery behind our killer.
Nrama: Giovanni, what's your take on the serial killer, in drawing him and how he murders people?
Timpano: I’d prefer to not say too much, about his look, since it will be revealed later. But instead, what is cool to talk about is the killer’s homicides, which are unique. Because the sun is deadly, Zack and I had to explore situations where the sun was being seen as a weapon, which gave us the chance to create dangerous scenes that you may not have seen in any other comic books before. It’s not just a matter of “If you stay in the shadows then you are safe,” because the sun is all above us, there is no real place that protect us, and Zack knows it, and this serial killer knows it too.
Nrama: And who is he targeting?
Kaplan: The killer has struck before, but when our story starts, his latest target is Cielo Brandt. Her father is the CEO of Bax’s employer, Solarity, a company that provides solar power to the remnants of New York City. And Cielo is a rebellious teenager who doesn’t feel valued by her busy, important father, so she runs away to underground clubs where the parties actually take place during the day. It’s dangerous. She’s a very pivotal character in the series, and Bax quickly finds himself responsible for protecting her from this killer. But Bax and Cielo affect each other.
I would definitely say that their relationship is the heart of the book.
Nrama: So tell us more about Bax and how he is key to preventing the serial killer from striking again?
Kaplan: Well, Bax is actually not the key to preventing the murders. Bax is merely an ordinary man who has the chance to try to protect this girl. Yes, as an Iceman, he has knowledge of how to move around during the day. That makes him ripe to assist the cops and maybe deal with someone else who moves in the daylight. But Bax is no different than any other man. You see, Bax was a firefighter when this solar cataclysm happened, and he saved the city, but something else happened in his past, and so now, he prefers to stay disconnected. He doesn’t really want to be a moral crusader or a hero. He doesn’t want to be the key to anything. But it’s hard for him to see this innocent girl being threatened by this killer. And as Bax struggles with that, his story raises questions about how we all deal with tragedy and what makes us heroes.
Nrama: Giovanni, how did you go about figuring out what Bax would look like?
Timpano: Zack had a clear idea of what Bax looked like from the beginning, so it was easy to create him. We found his facial look after just two versions. With his clothes, we needed a few more tries before we found a good one. Ultimately, I realized exactly what Bax should be wearing because he was a firefighter, so he wears an old firefighter’s jacket with his station house insignia. We even researched various styles to find the best one. The Icemen suits were certainly hard to lock down. These are suits that help people go into the deadly sun without dying. Basically, they are astronaut suits with pockets full of tools, so in some ways it reminds me more of an electrician or plumber than an astronaut. The suits needed to look sci-fi, but not too sci-fi, because we also have a post-apocalyptic world. So things are more converted rather than invented. We needed to keep this in mind for every single tool and object we see and every location we visited or created.
Nrama: And so what is James Everly's story in this?
Kaplan: James Everly is a cop in this world, but when you get to know him, that doesn’t say much. Cops are for hire in Eclipse, and Everly’s willing to moonlight for wealthy industrialists like Cielo’s father, who pretty much runs the city. As far as Everly is concerned, sometimes you make compromises to get ahead in life, and that includes helping the rich to get their support. Everly brings some classic police knowledge, but the city is too fragile to train every cop to go out in these suits. So Cops focus on the crimes underground. Everly is not trained to use Icemen suits or to go out in the day, which is why he needs Bax. But these two guys don’t like each other when they meet. Everly is an ambitious and optimistic guy. Bax hates that. Bax hates people. Of course, they have to work together to catch this killer, so it’s a pretty classic detective duo in that regard.
Nrama: So what is it like to live in the world of Eclipse for the common person?
Timpano: It’s hard! Look, I’ve worked in factories with the night shift, and I can say that our bodies are not made for that. A night shift can be for days or a week, but imagine an entire life just during the night, and in the day you sleep. Maybe it’s just because I’m 37, but man, that might be really hard. In terms of the art, it was crucial to capture the common person and their life, and from Issue #1, I think it’s pretty clear how much effort I put into drawing the crowd scenes, with common people doing common things. I felt the need to not hide anything behind blacks or rough lines. That’s why I was so detailed in those crowd scenes. Even if Zack had never asked for this particular level of detail, I felt from his script that it was vital for the series. And I had to take on a total change of style in terms of backgrounds and scene details. It was hard, because, I had to fight artistic choices I’ve made for several years now, methods I had always used before this. But today, I’m 100% satisfied about this change.
Kaplan: It’s rough. Society is barely making ends meet. After ten years, there’s a steady supply of power, food, running water, all the basics one could want. But crime is rampant, poverty is a way of life, and there’s a general malaise of depression without sunlight. The world outside New York City is post-apocalyptic, but inside the city, it’s almost dystopian. That’s a dichotomy. And in the city, everyone is out for themselves. The rich CEOs run the city. The police support the companies. The municipal government is not very powerful. Now, you may hear all that and say that’s just like our current world, Zack. And maybe it is. But life in ECLIPSE, well, all we can say is that it’s not too sunny.
Nrama: Giovanni, with this unique set-up of nocturnal cities and deadly sunlight, what does that offer you as an artist in terms of drawing gripping panels and pages?
Timpano: I’ve already mentioned the unique situations that Zack and I created, but there is more. Besides the action, Zack has spent a lot of times exploring how common life might have changed after this cataclysm, and I had the honor and duty to put it on paper, and the result was amazing for me. Our New York City is drawn as a lonely place during the day, which is pretty strange if you think about it. This once busy city is empty, except for just those Icemen doing their work under the sun, mostly on rooftops fixing cables, tubes, solar panels, etc. And yes, there are the classic ruined and abandoned buildings in the classic post-apocalyptic style, but there are also converted buildings, intrinsic to the Eclipse way, buildings used to hide life from the sun. All of this needed a lot of world environment creation. We spent days on paper sketches and SketchUp software files, creating our New York City so we would have a foundation for my pages. This city is not just a background of the people inside the panels. It’s a main character of the book, and you will easily notice it after just the first five or six pages of issue #1.
Nrama: How did you two connect to do Eclipse together?
Timpano: In the classic way. I had shown my portfolio to Top Cow.
Kaplan: Top Cow hooked Gio and I up. I brought the idea to Top Cow, and Matt Hawkins, who’s a big science fiction writer, gravitated to the idea. A huge thank you to him for taking on this book. Once Matt wanted to do it, it was time to get an artist. Top Cow had been keeping an eye on Giovanni, and when I saw his portfolio, I could see why.
Timpano: Then, several months later, after Zack brought Eclipse to Top Cow, they started the artist search, and in their record they found my portfolio, and Zack agreed with them that I was a good choice for this project. But they needed to wait some months before to start, because I was already in the middle of a Shadow series for Dynamite. I don’t like to drop projects in the middle of them. The fact that they preferred to wait for a couple of months, instead of taking the story to another artist, well, I felt more responsibility, and that’s why I can easily say that this is one of my best works I have ever done. I really put everything of myself in it.
Kaplan: And I’m so glad we did. He was perfect for Eclipse. He brought a tireless perfectionism to the project. He was always committed to a great story, and we just truly loved working together. We also had great editors, Betsy Gonia, Ryan Cady and Bryan Hill, and great colorists, Betsy Gonia also colored, along with Chris Northrop. Having a committed and talented team makes the project. But Gio and I loved working together so much, we’re already talking about other projects, so keep an eye out.
Nrama: Final question – what are your big goals with Eclipse?
Kaplan: I want to entertain people, scare them, thrill them, and maybe make them feel a little bit. But Eclipse is a fun ride. It’s got a ton of action. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. Perhaps though, reading a story about a sun that will burn us alive, well, maybe that will make people think just a little more about our own sun. Our entire world is fragile, and it’s easy to take for granted. Maybe after someone reads Eclipse, they go outside, look up at the intense sun, and think “Don’t you turn on me, sun!”
Timpano: In terms of art, Eclipse is already a goal achieved for me. Before it, I was used to drawing with just one style, because 90% of my work was from the pulp series from Dynamite, such as The Shadow, Justice Inc. etc., but once I approached Eclipse, I knew that my style needed some changes, because this project was something totally different from what I was used to doing. That’s why I decided that for this work my main reference would be Moebius, and in part, Geof Darrow, two artists that never had any kind of influence on my previous works, even though I was already a big fan. So I decided to lose my big brush strokes and full blacks, and point on thin fine pen lines and more detailed pages. This was what Eclipse needed to be Eclipse, not simply one of my works, similar to others, but something totally new with this unique style.
Today, now that I’ve finished drawing the first four books in the Eclipse series, the goal is achieved for me, because for the first time in my life, I have changed my style, and tried something new. And I needed courage to do that, because you don’t know if you’ll succeed, if it will work, if it will endure in time. Today, when I approach new works, there is something of Eclipse in them, because of the style studies and research I did for it. So basically, I can say that there is my art before Eclipse and after Eclipse. Of course, there are goals like success for the series, the sales, the eulogy from the readers, etc., which are obvious, but I’m an artist and that’s why it’s the art and my process that’s really important to me.