From a talking tree to a woman that talks to planets.
AfterShock's new ongoing series World Reader follows a psychic empath named Sarah that's tasked with investigating dead worlds to find out what has been killing off entire civilizations. I Am Groot writer Jeff Lovenessis pairing with the iconic illustrator Juan Doe on this series, which debuts April 19.
Loveness, who came to comics from a career writing TV shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live, spoke with Newsarama about unveiling his deep love for science fiction with World Reader.
Newsarama: So Jeff, how would you describe the overall plot for World Reader?
Jeff Loveness: Basically, it's about a psychic astronaut, Sarah, who travels to extinct planets and talks to the ghosts of those dead worlds to figure out what happened and what's killing life across the universe... and if Earth is next.
In the process of doing that, she uncovers a huge threat that might be behind everything, and she has to convince her team that she's not crazy.
So from issue to issue, we're visiting new worlds and getting new glimpses of personal, planetary apocalypse... and then that’s thrust against a deeper mystery that threatens everyone on the mission and Earth itself.
There's a lot to chew on. It's the Hometown Buffet of stories.
Nrama: What can you tell us about our planetary empath Sarah?
Loveness: She's a character I've been wanting to write for a while. She's not very heroic, but she tries hard. I wanted to write someone whose powers could very well just be insanity. I wanted to write someone who couldn't control these amazing visions... and someone who makes erratic decisions based on fear and love and self-doubt, just like I do.
I've also always been such a fan of the canon of female-driven sci-fi. Ripley. Amy Adams in Arrival/Story of Your Life, Jodie Foster in Contact...they've all got remarkable strength set against tremendous doubt and push back... and I wanted to throw my own character into that ring.
I don't know how much else to say without giving things away, but I tried to write the most relatable person I could... as well as a person with alien ghost-talking powers. Hopefully it's a fun mix.
Nrama: Who is Sarah working for? What is their main goal with these planets?
Loveness: Sarah's just a small component of the larger mission. She's the weird novelty they brought along... like how NASA will bring, like, a catepillar up to space to test gravity. We'll find out more about why Sarah got on this mission as the story develops, but she's not seen as a necessarily beloved or important member of the team.
The main mission is to scout these old, dead worlds... to possibly find a new home for Earth. Earth is on it's last legs. We never really got our act together... and seeing how things are going in 2017, I wouldn't say that's a bold prophecy to make.
So the main mission is to scout these worlds and find humanity a new home because Earth is dying... meanwhile Sarah's off floating around, claiming that she can talk to ghosts and that there's a spooky secret behind it all. If I was her captain, I wouldn't listen to her much either.
Nrama: Coming from the Jimmy Kimmel show and obviously a huge fan of sci-fi, will this have any sort of injection of humor or is it the ghost story that it's made out to be?
Loveness: I tried plopping in a lot of comedy to Marvel work like Groot, Spider-Man and Nova- and this one's got some conversational banter and lightness... but ... basically... no. Haha. It's basically a straight up sci-fi epic. I've always wanted to write one. It was such a scary feeling to step out of my comedy comfort zone and just swing big like this... if it doesn't work, feel free to laugh in my face. I will totally deserve it and I'll never try something new again.
Nrama: You've mentioned your creative influences like Carl Sagan and the films like Interstellar, but visually, what did you want to Juan to convey?
Loveness: I sent Juan a lot of old poster art from Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris. I think that has some of the most beautiful art design. Soviet space exploration in general had an interesting aesthetic that we don't call upon often enough. Films like 2001 and Moon evoke a sense of beauty and loneliness in the stars as well. Juan has gone wild with the colors too. He's really making the spirituality of this thing pop. I love how everything's combining and smashing together.
Nrama: Speaking of Juan, how did he get involved with World Reader?
Loveness: I've been a fan of Juan since he drew an awesome Cyclops cover for Civil War back when I was in high school. He's such a creative, singular talent. His work stands out immediately.
When this project was coming together with AfterShock, Mike Marts spoke very highly of Juan and recommended him above everyone else. Mike's such a smart guy. He's edited some of the best comics this century... and it turns out he knows what he's talking about. He knew this would be a good fit, and he was totally right. Juan's brought such a scope and spectacle to this book. You definitely don't need to read it for the words. In fact, ignore my words. Juan knocks it out of the park.
Nrama: Who do you think will enjoy World Reader? Who did you make this for?
Loveness: Haha, I think with creator owned comics especially, you make it for your angst-ridden teenage self. I sorta just asked myself: "What would I love to read back in Montgomery Creek, lonely and wondering what life is about?"
I tried to combine every genre and character device that I love. It's got a lot of lonely introspection. World-building (and destroying) Creation myths. Commentary on colonization. Space Ships. Crying Ghosts. Really, what more do you need?
But honestly, I wrote this for people who just like... stories. The actual, spiritual essence of stories. I tried to get at something deeper here. A connection we all share. Candide. Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. Gilgamesh. They're all the same story... why is that? Maybe we're more cut from the same cloth than we realize... and maybe there's a reason for that.
Also if you like space and explosions. Those things happen in this story too. Lots of them.
Nrama: What do you think the scariest thing is about space and space exploration?
Loveness: I think the scariest thing might be the realization that we were too late. Maybe there were other civilizations out there... with the same hopes and dreams and fears as us. But we couldn't get ourselves together in time to meet them. All of our existential aching and longing... other people out there felt the same thing, and we were too late. We missed each other. That's a true tragedy to me.
And of course there's all that stuff like 'No Oxygen' or 'Too Much Oxygen' or 'being burned on the surface of the sun' - but I think I'm more scared by the existential dread of it all. We can explore... but maybe there's nothing worth exploring out there. Maybe we're just trying to gnaw at an itch that will never be scratched. We're always trying to explore new places and create new, perfect things... but we never will. Nothing's perfect.
I'm very fun. Tell everyone. I love to party.
Nrama: You're still pretty new to the comics game, so after World Reader, do you have anything else in the works?
Loveness: Gotta keep tight-lipped for now... but there are a few things in the works. I am a lifelong comic book fan. My love for X-Men (specifically Cyclops) is downright pitiful. It's been a true dream come true to write for Marvel icons like Spider-Man... God... I got to write Spider-Man. I still can't believe that. I've been thrilled to jump into original ideas too. Hopefully World Reader is just the beginning of my original work.
In a perfect world, I'd love to jump between the Big Two and also focus on my original ideas. I have a Superman story that I must tell... but I don't know anyone at DC. Hopefully that can happen someday. I'd love to dive back into Spider-Man and put my stamp on a small X-Men team-book too, Astonishing style. There's so much to do. I'm lucky I've been able to get this far. And I'm thrilled to see that even though I'm newish to this, that fans are responding to my stuff like Nova and Groot. Hopefully that continues. Or they'll throw rocks at me on the street. I'm fine with either.