In the not-so-distant future, explorers come across a mysterious land that’s been sealed off for decades, but now they’re ready to journey into this strange country, in hopes to save themselves from a horrible epidemic. This secretive and fairly unknown world?
The United States of America.
Writers Scott Snyder and Charles Soule team up once again with Darth Vader artists Giuseppe Camuncoli and Danile Orlandini ,alongside recent Eisner-winning colorist Matt Wilson for this new Image Comicsongoing series, Undiscovered Country.
Newsarama recently spoke with Snyder, Soule, and Camuncoli about the ins and outs of the series from collaboration process to designs, and their idea of what a “real” America consists of.
Newsarama: Scott, Charles, so we know the premise of Undiscovered Country, but we haven't really see a lot of the details surrounding the characters that the story is told through. Is there a central narrative or is it spread through a multitude of characters?
Scott Snyder: Yeah, so the idea of the series is that part of the United States has been sealed off from the rest of the world for 30 years. Meanwhile the world has sort of rallied around two new empires and you can belong to one or the other, and suddenly there’s this new pandemic ravaging both camps called the Sky Virus. Just as they’re looking for a cure, this black box comes from the United States saying that we’ve become this advanced city, we’ll allow you one expedition to retrieve a sample of the cure for this virus to prove that we’re serious.
So the characters are the first seven to enter the United States in 30 years so we we worked really hard to kind of make them big, robust, and flesh and blood people for us. The main characters are brother and sister Charlotte and Daniel Graves. Charlotte is an epidemiologist studying the Sky Virus, while Daniel is a mercenary. He’s been exiled by both nations because, as children, Charlotte and Daniel were set out of the United States before they were sealed and their parents were part of this think tank that were responsible for the sealing. What happens is, he’s one of the few that was part to break in and because of that, he’s been banned.
The other characters include Ace Kenyatta, the American Cultural expert, but he has a secret as well. Valentina Sandoval, a journalist, and there are a couple of politicians from both areas. It’s a really fun group of characters and how we’ve structured it is that each issue takes a look at one character and their history. You learn about Charlotte in the first one, Daniel in the second, and then a new character in each one.
Charles Soule: There’s a central narrative. The story is told through these characters as they travel through the United States trying to find this cure, and also trying to survive. Charlotte and Daniel were about 6 and 8 when they left the United States, but they’re wondering what they left behind, what happened to their parents and things like that.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the so-called Destiny Man? If anything?
Snyder: Right after the characters cross the border, they’re shot down and they crash in the southwest. The zone that they find themselves in is a pretty lawless territory that has prehistoric-looking fish that stomp around. The ruler of this land is the Destiny Man and nobody knows much about him except that he’s part man, part animal. He’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever been a part of making. What you learn in that this is one zone of many and the series is planned for thirty-plus issues, and ultimately what we want to do is take these characters through all the zones. Some are sci-fi, some are primitive and savage.
Nrama: When designing these characters with Giuseppe, what did you have in mind? What makes each character unique and stand out?
Soule: You know, they’re all different in their own ways and this isn’t a superhero book so they’re ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations. So the trick with that is to figure out ways to make them look cool, or I guess “cosplayable”, but the way we begin is fairly straightforward, I guess.
You have a couple of military people, different empires, there’s outlanders with really cool hairdos. Then you have one of my favorite characters: Ace, the cultural expert and she’s from the future, but there’s no real recognizable look to her. She’s a lot of fun. They’re people though and there’s a diverse cast, and we try to have a lot of fun. I think the closest thing to this design-wise would be The Walking Dead.
Nrama: So even before the first issue has hit the shelves, it's already been acquired for a live-action adaptation with all three of you serving as executive producers. Was this something you had planned from the start? Or were you just as surprised as any one?
Soule: You can’t plan something like this happening. Scott and I share the same representative in Hollywood, our manager who got a look at what we had and was very excited and thought we had something extremely promising. So we didn’t plan for it to go this way.
Snyder: Oh we were totally shocked! We were already writing it for ourselves for fun, but you know when we saw that the print preorder was crossing the 80,000 border and then it was acquired by New Regency and they asked us to write the screenplay for it. I would never have thought that in 100 years. We were ambitious with it in terms of mythology, but I never thought it would perceived this way.
Giuseppe Camuncoli: Well I was definitely surprised that word about Undiscovered Country spread so fast, and that we got so many cool offers! It's a first time for me, and although I knew that this was totally possible, I still couldn't believe when I learned about the first who touched base. And it kept on happening with all of the others. It was so hard to choose, actually, because all of the potential partners were cool.
Nrama: This has been called "the most anticipated comic book launch of the year". Do you feel that's a bit hyperbolic, or from where you're standing in your careers something you think "feels right" to call it such?
Soule: Well, I can’t control what people anticipate, but that’s a really cool place to be. Scott and I and the whole team have done strong work together in our careers, but I think our premise is kinda hooky and if people are excited about it, I’ll take it. I’m thrilled and we’re excited about it as everybody else.
Snyder: Oh, no, I would definitely think that’s at least a bit hyperbolic. The hype for us is fun to watch and to promote it together because we get to hang out and talk stories. I’m very appreciative that people seem excited about it, but I’m more excited about people actually getting to read the book because we’re so proud of it. It’s something really different and together, it’s something that neither of us could do alone.
Camuncoli: Well, it is a little hyperbolic, of course, especially with so many awesome creators out there and books on the shelves these days, but I think the buzz is genuine, and we really feel a crazy level of interest and commitment so I really hope we'll live up to the expectations. We're definitely doing our best to bring it to life, and if people think we're so hot right now, like Hansel in Zoolander, well so be it! It doesn't hurt.
Nrama: Charles, Giuseppe, having worked together previously on Darth Vader, now that you're sort of playing by your own rules with Undiscovered Country and not having to be bound by certain rules of certain worlds, did anything really change in how you collaborated?
Soule: I would say to a degree, yes in a good way. Darth Vader was set in this sort of box, a very cool box but also a very limited box. There were limitations in a lot of aspects, but here we can do literally anything. There’s also a massive Americana component to this book, using the language of America and making it fun and interesting. Not to say it’s not already, but if there’s a chance to throw a pink Cadillac in it, I’m going to put one there. If I want a six-shooter in there, instead of something else, I can.
The interesting thing is Danele and Giuseppe are Italians, so looking at this book through the lens of somebody who is not American is very different. But we want that perspective! The book is about people from the outside looking in.
Camuncoli: Not exactly. It's just a different playground, but the way I work with Charles, or the way I work with Scott is more or less the same. We have more freedom, for sure. Yes, we get to decide what to do with our characters, but the system is pretty much untouched. The cool thing is that we keep on exchanging ideas and opinions, including mighty editor Will Dennis whose support is just so precious, and one thing leads to the other and ultimately this is so exciting.
Nrama: You brought on Matt Wilson for coloring, given his awesome resume aside, what is it about how he colors Giuseppe's linework that makes the visual package so complete?
Soule: In my mind, Matt is one of the premiere colorist and artists of light in all of comics. He does incredible things with light. Like, he’ll take a shot of the sky that’s nothing and turn it into the most gorgeous sunset, sunrise, midnight, whatever...the amount of things he can do with all of it. American is about those big skies and he’s also a terrific storyteller with color which is something that is important to me. Everybody on the team, from writers to letterers, Matt is the best without any question.
Snyder: I just think he’s an incredible world-builder. He’s such a, sort of, deep thinker. He thinks about what colors will be emotive, so he’ll talk about what moves the scenes from one place to another because we’re building something that changes its emotional trajectory. I listen to him and he just entraps me, he’s so good.
Camuncoli: Well, we definitely wanted someone special for this project so Matt was basically a no brainer. Plus, I enjoy new collaborations, so I'm always up for teaming up with someone as good as Matt - with guys like him, you know for sure that it's gonna work, and that they're gonna bring something unique to the table. He has such a remarkable understanding and mastership of volumes, palettes, lights, values. So, so good.
But I'd dare to say that the whole team is spectacular: Daniele Orlandini, who I worked with previously on Darth Vader, is also a terrific artist and I feel blessed to be working with such an amazingly talented group of people.
Nrama: Would this be a planned ongoing or something more finite?
Soule: Oh it’s absolutely an ongoing, but the question is does it have a beginning, middle, and end? We’re thinking about 30 issues or so and if the readers treat the series as it’s supposed to be, which is sort of a road trip story, but right now we’re excited about the prospect.
Nrama: Scott, Charles, you've been friends for years but for the most part have been at opposite houses so to speak, and you both don't really have a long track record of co-writing. Yeah, a few instances here and there, but for the most part it's been solo work. When you're working on a brand new IP like this, how did the process come about?
Soule: Well we’ve been friends for a really long time and now we’re creating something that spoke to both of us and both of our sensibilities. So there are many ideas that we kicked around, but this one had a lot of the same things we both love, like American history, but if we were going to do it, it had to pay off the expectations of people who were fans of both us. This seemed like the idea that would deliver on that, and here we are.
Snyder: A lot of us that are friends, without naming names, share scripts a lot of the times even if we’re on the opposite side of the aisle; we’re friends and creators first. We trust each other. So Charles and I had traded scripts and even though we have never co-wrote anything, we learned a lot about each other in how we work and our interests.
Our families are friends, our kids are friends, so it was really seamless honestly. I feel like it’s been one of the easiest experiences because I got very familiar with how he writes and what priorities he brings to a script. It was pretty effortless, I think.
Nrama: There is this phrase that has been coined by some political figures: "the real America". It's something that popped in my head when I first saw the premise of the book so I'm curious if you think there is such a thing or ideology and if that comes into play with the story here.
Soule: Part of the premise of the book is that there are a thousand real Americas. Every American, no matter how they got there, here, or whatever, everybody sort of carries that identity and that they’re all valid. America isn’t a place, but what you find in it. There isn’t a real America without the mix of all the Americans and that’s what we’re trying to say here.
Snyder: Yeah exactly. More and more these days we’re encouraged to block ourselves off from anything outside our subjective neighborhood of interests and beliefs. When it comes to everything from entertainment to politics… it all feels like this slide toward isolationism on multiple levels. But at its best, America is supposed to be founded on the opposite principle – it’s about all of us being in it together. The realest thing about America is the fact that we each get to have our own version, but for any to be real, in any way, we have to share them with each other. The book is very much about that, this disparate group of people having to come together to overcome massive challenges, being better for it.