Depending on what you read in the real-world news headlines, you might think the world is ending. In the upcoming Image Comics/Top Cow series The Clock however, writer Matt Hawkins and artist Colleen Doran have concocted an even more frightening vision for the apocalypse.
Scheduled to debut January 8, the four-issue series concerns a viral cancer as it spreads across the globe - and follows various people as they try to stop it.
Between Doran's sci-fi background with Orbiter and Hawkins' own science-centric views of the future with Think Tank, The Clock promises a terrifying view of a dark future based in real-life science.
Newsarama: From page one of The Clock, you get the feeling of foreboding, of an apocalypse on the way. Colleen, how do create that sense of impending doom?
Colleen Doran: I spent a lot of time researching trouble spots around the world. Looking at places where famine and war have devastated the landscape and populace. That’s a deep hole of grim, hours of reading about and looking at people in terrible circumstances. That set the tone, believe me.
Refugee camps are places of foreboding and mingled hope, and a poignant attempt to create a sense of normalcy. All these people who are trying to clean clothes and cook a meal, and just live. It’s heartbreaking. The opening double page spread took about a week to draw. You can look there and see little details of the daily lives of the refugees.
Nrama: Matt, the world of The Clock is pretty dark. There's a strain of cancer spreading throughout the world. It's killing millions of people and things are looking pretty grim. Where do you find the hope in this series?
Matt Hawkins: Hope comes from the resilience of the human spirit and our belief that things can get better. Ultimately, The Clock is a story about one family and how they fit into this global catastrophe. Most people assume the title is about the Population Clock since I use that on the last page, but it’s also about a race against the clock to save people. Not to give too much away, but our lead character’s wife dies in the first issue and he finds out that his daughter also has this cancer… so now he’s racing against the clock to save his child.
Nrama: Part of what drew me in is the characters who are at the center of this outbreak. Colleen, how do you design characters to connect to a reader?
Doran: That’s an interesting question. Usually they just pop in my head fully formed. I rarely spend a lot of time thinking about them because while I am reading, I see them. And then I draw them. I rarely use reference for figures, because for me it’s almost like drawing people I’ve seen from memory. I was actually thinking about Matt when I drew Jack. They resemble each other quite a bit. And Jack's dad, he just has that Right Stuff look about him.
When I was at a NASA launch briefing a few weeks ago, there was a man who was on the lecture podium speaking and he looked exactly like the man I had drawn, though I’d never seen him before and had designed him months ago. I kept trying to take pictures of him for reference, hoping he wouldn’t think I was weirdo.
Anyway, after I cast a character, if I see anyone who fits the bill later, I take a lot of snaps and put them in a file. But usually I don’t use photos. I didn’t use models at all for The Clock development. But I take pictures anyway, out of habit, and then end up almost never using them.
Nrama: The main character of The Clock is Jack, a scientist working to find the cure for this deadly new strain of cancer. Matt, why does Jack feel like he has to save the world?
Hawkins: He’s been researching a cure for cancer for his entire adult life and has interacted with thousands of cancer patients in that time. He was already motivated because of his career and natural empathy, but when his wife dies and his daughter’s life hangs in the balance…he does have to save the world in order to save his only child.
Nrama: Following up on that, we learn pretty early on Jack thinks his work "trumps ethics." Where does that sense of greater good come from, and how much is he willing to sacrifice for it?
Hawkins: That’s one of the more controversial parts of my story here that rubbed many of my scientist advisors the wrong way. I talk about this in the back of the book, but most colleges and labs in the United States have very strict regulation on samples, etc. That Jack is violating that so cavalierly is mainly because he’s being so pressured from his superiors to get results and he is told to ignore normal safeguards in certain cases. This gets into the heart of the big reveals of the storyline, so I’d prefer to not give too much detail now.
Nrama: Colleen, a lot of your previous work has been in fantasy, particularly Sandman and Troll Bridge. What drew you to a modern-day political thriller?
Doran: I’ve actually done quite a bit of work that wasn’t fantasy, just not lately. I did a science fiction thriller with Warren Ellis entitled Orbiter some years ago, and for a while, all people thought I could do was science fiction. Then I did fantasy for a while, and all people thought I could do was fantasy.
I really like Matt, and we’ve known each other for years. We’ve always wanted to work together. Because of some scheduling problems, and health issues, and contract issues, The Clock kept getting pushed back. And I got the Snow, Glass, Apples project, so I ended up pushing it back some more. But I’ve always admired Matt’s mind for science. A lot of comic book writers, you know the stuff is junk science, which is fine. But Matt digs around for that truth, and I admire that.
I particularly like The Clock because of its emphasis on character. I think that’s something I’m good at, conveying body language and expression with subtlety. Drawing human interaction. I quite like being able to do that in this book.
I’m also doing a project for Warren Ellis entitled Finality at Line Webtoon, which is also a thriller. It’s in a completely different style again, brush and ink, while The Clock is drawn in pen. I will get back to it when The Clock is wrapped up.
Nrama: Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your covers, which are just incredible. Can you tell us a little about what goes into creating those?
Doran: That’s very kind of you, I appreciate your mentioning them! I’m quite happy with them and count them among my finest conceptual pieces.
I actually did the first cover quite a while ago and was still struggling with my digital chops. I was surprised how well it came off.
Matt has been very generous about giving me a lot of leeway on the design and final art. My initial ideas were completely different than what we went with. I was shooting for a retro look, like you might see on old advertisements in seed catalogues. But the more I got into it, the more I realized I was taking the wrong approach, so I ditched them. Then the idea about the disease and its spread over the world as a visual just sorta popped in my head.
We published the cover quite a while back and people responded very favorably to it. It looks like some folks swiped it. [Laughs] But whatever.
Anyway, most of my art is drawn by hand in pen and ink and colored digitally. It’s pretty standard, but I try to take a painterly approach to my colors, instead of going for the more obvious digital effects.
Nrama: Matt, we understand by the last page that there’s a mystery deeper in this story than just “how do we cure this disease?” Without spoiling anything, have you included many clues in the first issue of the series? If so, where should we look for them?
Hawkins: The big reveals in this are a bit insane, but make sense from a certain point of view. I’ve revealed that there is a weaponization of cancer in this storyline, but where does it come from, who did it and why? Those are at the center of everything and I’m excited for people to read the whole story.
Nrama: How close is our world to that of The Clock?
Hawkins: The world itself is pretty much identical. What we’re doing in the story is plausible, but unlikely.