Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing, the writers on DC’s new digital-first gen:LOCK comic book, have affectionately titled their story, “Season 1.5,” picking up right where the popular cartoon’s first season left off.
Based in the world of the Rooster Teeth cartoon of the same name, the gen:LOCK comic book is being released digitally this week, with a seven-issue print version scheduled to start publication in November.
gen:LOCK, which also started airing on Cartoon Network's Toonami block in August, is set in a war-torn future where the “gen:LOCK program” allows select candidates to upload their consciousness into giant mechas.
The comic book will pick up at the end of Season 1, and although Season 2 of the popular series hasn’t been officially announced by Rooster Teeth, Kelly and Lanzing said Rooster Teeth is “firmly on board” with everything in the comic book and that it sets up what will “eventually be coming in Season 2.”
Newsarama talked to Lanzing and Kelly to find out how they became fans of the anime, how they’re telling the story of a digital world within their digital comic book, and what readers can expect from the story they’re telling in gen:LOCK.
Newsarama: Jackson and Collin, just to address the question that is probably concerning to fans - you’re working with Rooster Teeth to make sure this fits with the already established story of the existing gen:LOCK cartoon, as well as what comes next in Season 2?
Jackson Lanzing: Yes, we are approaching this with the utmost respect of the gen:LOCK fans and the Rooster Teeth fans and the established canon of what Season 1 brought to the table.
We’re going to be introducing new concepts that will flesh out the world of gen:LOCK, but Rooster Teeth is firmly on board with everything that we’re doing.
And what we’re going to be doing is really going to be setting up what will eventually be coming in Season 2 — although perhaps not in ways you may think.
What we’re doing is going to be really exciting. It’s an amazing challenge for us to tell this great story. But ultimately, we’re only here because we love these characters. We love what they represent. And we’re here to do honor to them and tell the best story possible.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the story that you’re telling. For people unfamiliar with the series, can you kind of set up what has happened so far, and how your story picks up from there?
Lanzing: Sure, so gen:LOCK is the story of five young people in a future earth that has gone to war with itself. There’s a massive global culture war between an organization known as the Polity and the Union.
The Polity is, effectively, a United Nations-esque diversity state that’s very individualist and looks a lot like American culture does today with a little bit of utopia sheen on it.
And then the Union is the much larger organization - most of the world is conquered by this point. And the Union is a despotic, extremely communistic state who are very invested in technology, and within the first season of gen:LOCK are pretty mysterious, beyond the fact that they are very willing to take the fight directly to the Polity, and they don’t care how many people they kill.
In the first episode of gen:LOCK, they invade New York and set off this years-long war between the Polity and the Union.
“Gen:LOCK” is the secret weapon that can win that war.
Five kids are brought together who are gen:LOCK compatible, which means that their brain can be decanted into giant robots, and they can fight those giant robots against the evil forces of the Union.
What’s extra-exciting about this generally is that gen:LOCK, rather than saying, "OK, we’re going to put people into big robots" — instead what they’re saying is, "No, we’re going to download your consciousness into this robot."
So immediately, questions start to arise about what it really means to be human. Are you still you if you are not in your body? Are you still you if you’re just a mind? What does consciousness mean when you’re data? And what does it mean to be dedicating your entire life, then, to warfare, even when you don’t really understand your enemy?
So there’s a lot of really exciting, interesting questions there.
As gen:LOCK Season 1 ends and the team has kind of come together, our story begins.
Collin Kelly: What we’re picking up with in our series, which we kind of affectionately title “Season 1.5,” is the team reeling from the death of their mentor, the man who brought them together, Dr. Weller.
Now, without, ostensibly, an older father figure to guide them, it’s up to our team to kind of assemble themselves. And what they’re immediately going to be dealing with is a Union blockade of the Japanese Polity, which is much like the Polity that we’ve seen in Season 1, except set in the islands of Japan, and it’s a divergent culture that’s kind of evolved in its own interesting way.
Although they told the gen:LOCK team and all of the defenses of the Western Polity to stay away, our team knows that they need help. And because it’s Kazu’s home, they feel extra-driven to do something about this, even though Kozu himself would like nothing more than for them to leave it alone.
And that’s going to be where our story starts off, as our team strikes out to try to save the island nations of Japan from the Union blockade surrounding them.
Nrama: You’ve said several times how much you respect these characters. It sounds like you’ve become fans, but had you guys ever heard of Rooster Teeth’s gen:LOCK cartoon before you were asked to do this series?
Lanzing: We were aware of gen:LOCK before it was brought to us. I knew it as the Michael B. Jordan anime. That was effectively what I knew. But I had known Rooster Teeth for ages. I used to watch their content back in college. I hadn’t been catching up on what they’d done since. I knew about RWBY, but hadn’t been really super-versed in gen:LOCK.
This came across our desks via Andrew Marino at DC, who’s an old friend who we’d wanted to do some work with for a while. And he was like, hey, take a look and see if you respond. And we very much responded.
In fact, they gave us the first episode, which was available for free, and I immediately went and signed up for a Rooster Teeth subscription to watch the whole series. It was clear to me that they were doing something really unique and interesting after that first episode, because they barely even get into the cast and the full narrative of gen:LOCK, even there - it’s huge prelude episode that takes some really big and interesting swings.
That made me very excited. I went through the series, and Collin did the same. And then we got on the phone and started geeking out about all the things we loved - how much it represented a lot of the kind of things that we try to do with our stories, and how we might be able to take those elements and weave together something that was exciting for us.
It’s the quickest I’ve ever gone from zero to fan on a project, with gen:LOCK, because literally, I think, two days before I was a giant nerd for it, I didn’t know what it was.
And I think that’s probably true of a lot of people, considering that it’s so quick to digest, and so quick to deliver such a great story.
Kelly: I think Jackson said it pretty dang well. I think we’d all been following the casting news. But with today’s media landscape, it’s so hard to circle back around and watch everything you might want to.
But as soon as we got the call and we started to dive in - absolutely. I mean, it’s hard to take a look at just the first episode of gen:LOCK and not realize that it’s completely unique in the landscape, not just because it’s a mecha anime created by a Western studio with an incredibly inclusive and diverse cast, but also, its approach is adult.
Yes, they are young people, but there are few studios willing to risk telling a story with such mature and adult themes, and such heady concepts as what gen:LOCK is really diving into.
So once you strap in, you essentially realize that gen:LOCK is the promise of the anime that we were raised on, something that the Western animation world is only now starting to understand as a flavor that the audience craves.
So getting on that roller coaster early was really easy, and it’s been an absolute joy ever since.
Nrama: You mentioned that there’s a bigger question about consciousness. What other themes have emerged - or maybe challenges that surprised you as writers - as you’ve been creating the gen:LOCK comic book?
Lanzing: Truthfully, if we didn’t think we’d be able to explore something a little deeper, we wouldn’t have done the project in the first place. We try to pick our projects by places where we feel we can go deep and we can get into something unique - whether it’s really getting into the dissolution of a relationship in our last few issues of Green Arrow, or whether it’s looking at the whole Enterprise crew falling apart over the course of Star Trek: Year Five.
We’re always looking to see where we can tell a story that’s really going to push the boundaries for the story and for us as writer.
So we set off in general hoping to be challenged. And I think it’s safe to say that the challenge met us head-on.
There were two core challenges. The biggest one, when it comes to gen:LOCK, is simply balancing the cast. Unlike Star Trek, where you have that core triumvirate and they’re really going to really drive your stories - you know, you don’t need to worry too much about our hero when you have Kirk, Spock, and Bones going - gen:LOCK is five extremely vibrant personalities who are all kind of fighting for space.
Every time you’re not spending time with Cammie is time you’re not spending with Cammie. So too with Chase, so too Kazu or Yas or Val - they’re all very core character, and to leave any of them on the sidelines for very long … shoot, even Migas - you leave those characters on the sidelines for very long and both the fanbase and your story starts to ask, "OK, what are they doing and why aren’t they here?"
So finding real, core arcs for each of those characters was our first big challenge. And we set a map in place early on, after a lot of planning, to make sure that we knew how we were running all of those arcs in parallel.
And then the second, in terms of consciousness, we can’t talk about too much without spoiling it. But it involves our villain in this series.
Kelly: What we can say, a little bit, is that while we’re also, in the physical space, exploring the Japanese Polity, in the Ether, the sort of super-internet of the gen:Lock universe, we’re going into the video game Siege.
What this has enabled us to show - and it’s something that so much of the Rooster Teeth fanbase can relate to - video games aren’t just video games. Video games are - they can be a lifestyle; they can be an identity; they can be choices. And it’s not just about wasting time. It’s about developing who you are within a digital space.
Once you start to release yourself from the expectations of the body, you can start to really hang a lot of emotional context on that digital existence.
I think it’s a very challenging concept and something that, perhaps, young people nowadays instantly get. For the rest of us, and in order to sell a story that’s as broadly appealing as possible, it’s been a really amazing challenge to get to tell this kind of split narrative with emotional stakes in both - the real space and the digital space of Siege.
It’s been a challenge, but a delightful one. It’s been really, really exciting for us.
Nrama: This is starting as a digital story. I know you guys have done a digital comic book series before, but it’s a little different from print, and with you mentioning how you’re working within a digital space even in the story - does that add to the challenge, that you’re writing it for a digital comic book?
Lanzing: As you point out, we have done digital-first series at DC before - Gotham City Garage, we did 24 digital chapters that got collected into 12 print issues.
So we’re well aware of the core challenges of digital comics.
There’s really two big distinctions. The first is, you’re dealing with half a page, as opposed to a full page of content, per screen, which is mostly a concern for your artist - poor Carlo Barberi has to split every page in half before he gets to it.
But on top of that, you have the core issue of having to let each chapter sit on its own, so that when you have a cliffhanger at the end of page 10, you feel like you got the complete story by the end of page 20.
And then those can be, themselves, interesting structural issues that go beyond the normal 20- or 22-page comic book format.
But Collin and I, we work in podcasting, we work in live-play RPGs, we work in comic books, we work in film, we work in television, we work in digital animation - we’ve sort of worked everywhere. So for us, it’s just another format by which we can tell a story. We try not to get too hung up on whether it’s a digital-first or a print comic. It’s just another great story and another way to tell it.
And then, ultimately, these are all going to get collected into print comics, which will then get collected into a trade, which will be how the book lives forever, right? So we try to just look at the trade and make sure that that’s going to kill, and make sure that each issue is worth picking up, and then each chapter is worth picking up - and as long as you plan for the future, you can make the now sing pretty well.
Kelly: Ooo! Did you just come up with that line? That’s beautiful.
Lanzing: Yeah. Thank you. They should pay me to write things!
Kelly: That’s a great idea.
Nrama: We should probably end on that beautiful line, but is there anything else you want to tell potential readers about the series?
Lanzing: I want to say that if you are a comics fan - and if you’re reading Newsarama, you’re probably a comics reader - if you don’t know what a gen:LOCK is … cool!
Come on in. Check it out. Carlo Barberi, who killed it on Super Sons, is here with us doing great work. You might know us from our work in comics, or you might not. But gen:LOCK is a really exciting, very cool mecha anime take on a lot of the same superhero concepts that you’ll find at DC comics. It fits really nicely with the whole line.
So if you are a comics fan, and you’re looking to find your way into gen:LOCK, this comic is us reaching out and saying, come along and figure it out with us.
You’re going to learn who these characters are as we do. You’re going to discover these characters as we do.
And when you’re excited about that, and when you want to go back, Season 1 is waiting for you — eight episodes of absolutely awesome digital anime.
I hope the book also acts as an invitation outside of the Rooster Teeth fanbase and into the wider comic book space to come in and check out gen:LOCK. Because the moment that came into this, I became an enormous fan. So we hope to do the same for others.