Call it water tight - with Liquid Comics teaming up with Dynamite, it's only fitting that one of their titles is H2O.
The plot of the book, written by Grant Calof and drawn by Jeevan J. Kang, follows a volcanologist as he races toward the last new source of H2O on the planet: a mysterious glacier. What happens when the world is literally dying of thirst? Before the book comes out in October, Newsarama caught up with Calof to talk about the life of a volcanologist, the environmental message inherent in his story, and what might be beneath the surface of H2O.
Newsarama: Grant, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got involved with Liquid Comics & Dynamite on this project?
Grant Calof: I’ve been in love with comic books since I learned to read… As an only child trapped in the trenches of early 80’s suburbia, I was always searching for an escape from the day to day. One morning, I stumbled into the corner store to refill my lemonhead supply when something on the magazine rack stopped me cold… a comic book (Fantastic Four #216). It was a revelation. John Byrne and Bill Mantlo exposed me to a stunning new world that existed between the pages – and I was instantly hooked. Obsessed, I started devouring any comic I could get my hands on. Titles like the Uncanny X-Men, Spiderman, Firestorm, Batman and the New Teen Titans began filling my bookshelves and names like Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, John Romita, George Perez, Bill Sinkiewicz, Grant Morrison, Todd McFarlane, Gerry Conway and Al Milrgom were suddenly part of my extended family. The artwork and intricate stories were so rich in detail and emotion that they felt real. The characters were not only multidimensional but also filled with internal flaws that made them all the more human and believable… I was captivated. Comic books effectively became my ‘red rider bb gun’ – the one thing I just had to have.
But my dream of writing for comic books wasn’t fully realized until I got smacked upside the head by Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. As The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen redrew the comic book landscape and shattered the popular belief that the medium couldn’t be taken seriously, I was suddenly struck to the core of my soul… This is what I want to do. I want to create and write stories for the comic page-- compelling characters that made people think; multifaceted storylines that made people ask, “What if?” And so I started my journey…
Years later, I finally got the chance to write ‘Hulk Unchained’ for Marvel Comics. It’s hard to describe, but to walk into my favorite comic book shop and pick up a copy of a Hulk book that I wrote… it was a lifelong dream coming full circle. I was so blown away that I actually had to take a minute to get my head straight. And because I had such a blast writing for Marvel, I started toiling away on a handful of my own original comic book ideas, for whenever the next opportunity arose.
I had the great fortune of connecting with Liquid Comics in 2009, when I was approached by a colleague (whose brother coincidentally helped me land the ‘Hulk’ job) working at Eric Eisner’s L & E Productions. Eric and Liquid Comics’ Sharad Devarajan were about to launch their ‘Epic Cycle’ graphic novel imprint with Dynamite Entertainment and they were looking for big comic book ideas. I went in for a meeting with a stack of pitches, but H2O was the first and only idea we discussed - they loved it from start to finish. A few days later, the deal was done and I was off writing the outline while Jeevan and his badass team of artists started working on the character sketches.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about the world of H2O?
Calof: Laying the groundwork to create the world of H2O was simultaneously the most fun and challenging aspect of the project. I was up late doing research for a different project and started flipping through a sobering National Geographic article about the current state of fresh water across the earth-- and an idea began to form. What would the planet look like without water? I’d traveled throughout Africa and witnessed the devastating effects of a widespread drought up close, but what if the drought wasn’t localized to one country or continent and instead stretched across the earth? And what other dominos would have to fall to insure a total collapse of civilization, as we currently know it? I make it a rule to always root my ideas in legitimate science so there’s (hopefully) a smaller leap of faith when the story transitions into straight up science fiction-- and H2O was no exception. I immersed myself in books on climatology and oceanography as well as weather and drought patterns throughout history in search of a believable way for the Earth run dry... Who knew all the answers were waiting on Mars?
As most people know, at one point in the not too distant future (cosmically speaking), Mars had water on its surface as well as active volcanoes - and now it doesn’t. I was able to extrapolate certain facts and aspects of what happened there to create a similar scenario here on Earth (ultimately reverse engineering one desert planet to create another). I worked extensively with everyone at L & E and Liquid to make sure every detail of this new desert-ified world was as ‘watertight’ (pun intended) as possible – from theoretical ways to break the evaporation cycle and erase natural resources to the look of redistributed populations and burnt-out cities two hundred years in the future.
Nrama: And how humanity has gotten to such a desperate point?
Calof: It probably sounds pessimistic, but taking humankind from its current state and evolving it to such an extreme, desperate point was arguably the most straightforward aspect of the story. Scientists from Richard Lovelock to Stephen Hawking to my astrophysicist neighbor (who works for NASA) all agree that the Earth has already passed the tipping point of sustainability. It’s more of a simple numbers game than science fiction - There are too many people and not enough natural resources to maintain current levels of consumption. Going ‘green’ and driving a Prius isn’t enough to pull us back from the brink, but neither are the even the most radical, seemingly ridiculous solutions. Glaciers are melting and sea levels and temperatures are rising faster than anyone predicted and it’s still too soon to understand the real impact. One thing even the skeptics agree on is that it’s too late to stop the changes that have already been set in motion (regardless of cause). Climate change is a reality and our only choice now is to try and mitigate the consequences for our children and grandchildren. The United Nations already predicts that climate change will displace 135 million people from their homes. And that’s one of the main reasons I chose to set H2O in 2250 - to show how civilization and humankind-at-large could de-volve according to a timeline fueled by ebbing natural resources and increasing isolationism. I found and utilized real problems from today’s headlines as well as seemingly far-fetched concepts like recycling waste water, corporatized water supplies, giant de-salination plants, overpopulation and ‘water wars’ (all of which are 100% real, btw) and blew them up exponentially. And while the state of the world in H2O sounds admittedly bleak and humankind is teetering on the brink of extinction, the story is not without hope. I could say more but I don’t want to give anything away…
Nrama: How about your hero here? Can you tell us a little bit about Aaron Turner, volcanologist extraordinaire?
Calof: Aaron is a reluctant hero who inadvertently finds himself at the center of an ill-fated glacier recon mission that could determine the fate of the free world (or what’s left of it). Truth be told, Aaron never intended to become a volcanologist but once he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, his journey was clear. Raised on the former Big Island of Hawaii long after the oceans had receded, Aaron spent his childhood hiking around the volcanic island when he wasn’t helping with his father’s experiments (cementing his love for science almost as deeply as his passion for exploring). Always near the top of his class, Aaron planned on studying medicine until his perpetually unimpressed father - a world-renowned atmospheric scientist - was tapped to lead the Ministry of Science in the recently formed North American Union (the N.A.U. is the new nation that encompasses what remains of the U.S., Mexico and Canada). But once Aaron’s father took office, patriotism quickly rippled through the family and Aaron immersed himself in geology and volcanology (the same subjects his father started studying). For the first time, Aaron realized his father was proud of him… and it was the last happy memory they’d ever share.
Nrama: Obviously, Aaron has his own rivals to deal with -- but is there more to this glacier here than meets the eye? Or will he have his hands full just trying to outrace the people who want the glacier?
Calof: Your intuition is dead on. Indeed, there is much more to the glacier (and to Aaron and his rivals) than meets the eye at first glance, but again – I don’t want to give anything away. Though, I should mention that the race to the glacier is only one facet of H2O. The story is admittedly loaded with action and unexpected twists, but at its core (strange as this may sound), H2O is really a story about fathers and sons, second chances, redemption and the end of one chapter (of humankind) as the next one begins…
Nrama: Looking at Aaron as a character, is there anything about being a volcanologist that really sounded interesting to you? How do you take these sorts of cerebral characters and make them interesting for such a visual medium?
Calof: There are numerous dimensions to Aaron’s character that I find fascinating and his profession is certainly one of the more intriguing ones. When I was creating Aaron’s journey along with his history / back-story, I cycled through a laundry list of scientific professions but none of them gelled. L & E and Liquid wanted me to find something that stood out and hadn’t been done before (or hadn’t been done recently) so I began sorting through more obscure academia and scientific pursuits that would still be relevant 200 years in the future. And as crazy as it sounds, once I sketched him out as a volcanologist, we all realized it was a perfect fit. And once we had Aaron nailed down, one by one, all the other characters fell into place.
Regarding your question about making visually interesting cerebral characters… I think it’s a perfect example of the interdependent, collaborative relationship between comic book writer and comic book artist; one simply can’t exist without the other. The writers come up with traits to humanize otherwise inaccessible characters by giving them relatable emotions, problems, fears, success and failures – then it’s up to the artists to interpret those descriptions and find interesting ways bring those characters to life. Aaron was just an abstract idea until Jeevan drew the first sketches. Then suddenly he had an identity, scars (physical and psychological) and all-- Aaron Turner was real. And not to geek out, but there are few things more exciting than seeing something or someone you imagined come to life on the comic page.
Nrama: Obviously with stories dealing with the environment, there's opportunity to inject a message in here. Are you looking to say something on a political or environmental bent here, or is this more of a thriller without a cause?
Calof: My favorite comic books, films and science fiction tales are all cautionary to a degree, yet not overly message driven - and I hope H2O shares that same balance. I consciously avoided soapbox rants and overt politicization within the story, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t trying to get people to think about some of the choices we’re making both individually and as a society. As the father of an eighteen month-old, I worry about the state of world we’re handing off to the next generation and I want to take every opportunity I can to raise the awareness of anyone willing to listen. Because even though we admittedly haven’t taken good care of the planet thus far… it’s never too late to start.
Nrama: Let's talk a bit about Jeevan J. Kang, who's taking on the art for this book. What's the back-and-forth been between you and Jeevan, and what do you think he brings to the table here?
Calof: Words can’t describe how lucky and psyched I am to be working with Jeevan and his incredibly talented team of colorists and letterers. Jeevan and everyone at Liquid and L & E have gone to great lengths to keep me in the loop and make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly. Like any collaboration, there’s always considerable amounts of back and forth as we try to fine-tune the micro and the macro, and it’s been a blast every step of the way.
I was impressed with the books Jeevan did for Virgin Comics, so I was really excited to see his take on H2O. I think he brings a unique vision to the comic page that combines the best aspects of several different artistic styles and redefines them as his own. Coming from someone who can’t draw a convincing stick figure, I am entirely in awe of Jeevan’s wizard-like artwork. When the first pencils came in I was speechless-- the sketches looked incredible. But a few weeks later, when I saw the pages come to life in vibrant color, I realized I was in the middle of another dream come true.
Nrama: Lastly, for those who still aren't sure about H20, what would you say to get them to dip their toes into this one-shot?
Calof: If anyone is still on the fence, I hope this interview and Jeevan’s jaw-droppingly awesome cover would entice him or her to dip their toe in the proverbial pool and give H2O a chance. And to anyone still unsure, I would offer them this quote by W.H. Auden - “Thousands have lived without love… not one without water.”What would you do without water?