With his Image Comics career to date, writer Ales Kot has been bending genres with projects like “Wild Children” and “Change.” And for his first ongoing series at Image — the collaborative spy comic “Zero” — Kot is looking to hew closer to a classic adventure genre in order to put a personal spin on it while keeping his experimental edge sharp with a wide range of artistic collaborators.
The series kicks off this September with a first issue drawn by “The X-Files: Season 10” artist Michael Walsh that introduces Edward Zero — an espionage grunt who takes on the worst jobs in a spy game set in our near future. Though “Zero” is a monthly ongoing, each new issue will stand completely on its own with a brand new artist joining the writer for each mission. Upcoming artists include Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske, Tradd Moore, Will Tempest and Tonci Zonjic while series colorist Jordie Bellaire and letterer Clayton Cowles will appear throughout.
CBR News spoke with Kot about his plans for the series including an advance look at the first issue, Chris Burnham’s #1 variant cover and even a look into his own past. Kot describes “Zero” as a flexible, collaborative project where he’s not trying to pin himself down to any one mission or method even as his collaborators help him get into the muck and mire of the spy game.
CBR News: Ales, let’s start big and broad and try to drill down a bit as we talk about “Zero.” Folks who have followed your work up to this point have probably come to expect some wildly divergent ideas and themes running not just through the whole of your stuff but through any given project or issue as well. Conversely, “Zero” is at least on the surface guided by a more classical single genre: the spy story. Why hang your first ongoing series on one of the classic genres, and in what ways is espionage a flexible enough topic to play with in a new fashion each month?
Ales Kot: Why: because I have hate and pain inside me and I want them out. I want to process these blocks and transmute them into something kind, and I am already on my way. “Zero” is an opportunity to look at the narratives of war and lies and conditioning and how they projected and project themselves into my daily life. I grew up observing war narratives — and I include spy stories in these — and now I am creating my own. Hanging “Zero” on one of the classic genres doesn’t mean I intend to play by any rules except for the ones this specific narrative asks for.
Flexibility: every idea is as flexible as I believe it to be.
Zero specifically is an evocative name for a series and character. It’s an absence of something but also an absolute. In what way does Edward Zero’s name betray how you view him as a character, an outlet, a vessel for ideas?
It doesn’t betray. I am showing what I want to show.
What if James Bond realized he was conditioned to believe he worked for people who had nothing but good intentions?
What happens when you get rid of the conditioning you no longer want?
Tell me a bit about how this book grew into what it will be when it hits the stands. I can’t think of many comics that have hung their hats on the continual “one-and-done” format, which can be difficult. How would you describe the overall series goal when so much about what readers see and experience will change each month?
“Global Frequency” pulled it off about a decade ago. I don’t feel that pulling this off is very difficult — it’s fun for me. I love making comics, I love being guided by my emotions and by my thoughts. I love collaborating with the artists, with Jordie Bellaire, our colorist, with Clayton Cowles, the letterer — and with Tom Muller, who is the perfect designer for the comic.
I don’t want to describe the overall goal of the series because I choose not to have one except for “make a comic you want to read, explore yourself, be honest and make good money doing it.” Everything else is gravy.
On the base level, what does issue #1 do to set the tone for what the series will accomplish on the whole?
It establishes Zero as someone who will go to extremes to succeed at his mission. It establishes Zero as someone who is clearly a grunt, someone used for dirt work. It establishes some of his co-workers. It establishes some of the world they all live in. It establishes the series as a pulpy action thriller speculative fiction. And more.
So. Michael Walsh, Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske, Tradd Moore, Will Tempest and Tonci Zonjic. That is a pretty wild group of creators and styles to be working with for your first six issues. How has the “Zero collective” idea impacted the series month-to-month? How close is the collaboration each issue with your given artist? Do you have to write the scripts linear to keep the story consistent from #1 to #2 and so on? Has the process changed your plans for the long term of the series?
This is four questions, so I’ll take it one by one, with the second paragraph answering the first and the last question at once.
The idea of artists changing every issue is constantly impacting the series, as I hoped it would. The artists inspire me to weave the stories in ways that complement their work. This can mean there are ripples being created — and these ripples then influence the larger whole. I embrace the possibility of modification.
The collaboration is usually very close. I keep my scripts open to interpretation and encourage artists to subtract and add things unless I firmly require that they include them in the script. I love revising the pages after the artist turns them in, rewriting, seeing and adjusting the flow — it’s poetry.
I don’t have to write the scripts in a linear way. I wrote #1, then a part of #2, then the entirety of #3, then #4, then the rest of #2. Now I’m starting to write #5 and #6 at the same time, sort of.
On the flipside of that, I get the sense that Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles will remain regular members of the creative team throughout the run. How does that consistency help make this series feel of a whole?
Yes. The decision to keep Jordie and Clayton on the team for the entire series has been made precisely because consistency is important to the overall effect. There is an equilibrium between the more moving parts — the artists — and the more fixed ones — the colorist, the letterer.
Within the world of “Zero,” you have many elements moving around Edward. For one, this takes place in the near future and spins even further from there into the mid-21st Century. How accurate do you think your predictions for where the world is going will be?
I didn’t try to predict; I just imagined stuff. I looked around myself and extrapolated from there, not with a hope that I am predicting something, but by going in a direction that simply felt like I wanted to explore it more.
As for the accuracy; not at all, I hope.
On the personal side of the equation, Edward has a number of other agents, handlers and untrustworthy types around him as he works his way across the globe. On the whole, what about society do you hope to engage most through the cast? Do you view “Zero” as an overtly political book?
Most — I am not sure. I want to dive into myself and that inevitably reflects the society as well. The idea of war and people being conditioned for it by various narratives is near the core of where we begin, but what is that core really made of? I don’t see how it can be put into words.
I don’t see “Zero” as an overtly political story. At the same time, the original meaning of politics (“politikos” in Greek) is “of, for, or relating to citizens” — and everything relates to us, because everything is connected.
I saw the influence maps you loaded up on your Tumblr in advance of the series, and like a lot of your stuff, the range was wide. Cronenberg, Spielberg and non-narrative films like “Enter The Void” on the creative end. Then the CIA, Jackson Pollock and Gandhi on the real world front. What’s had the biggest pull on you as you’ve worked on the series? What’s the most unexpected thing that’s had an impact on the final format of the book?
The biggest pull — the history of my family and my own conditioning. Seeing a psychologist. WikiLeaks. Chelsea Manning. Edward Snowden. My grandfather’s life. Growing up in a country marked by the Second World War and 21-year long Soviet occupation. Realizing how deeply culture molds belief and vice versa. James Bond. Nick Fury. Fiction of Garth Ennis and Jim Thompson. Governments and lies. Narratives we tell ourselves. Vaclav Havel. P. K. Dick. The fact that some of my first easily remembered memories are escaping a totalitarian state with my parents and then coming back after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Seeing different political systems and exploring them. Getting stoned and skipping high school to go listen to sociology and anthropology classes instead. Expected, unexpected — there’s a lot more and there’s no classification that fits.
I suppose David Cronenberg, his work and the way he talks about it and examines it, that is one of the clearest influences at the moment. The roughness and simplicity of his later films such as “Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence,” exploration of wounds and body horror — external and internal, a sense of being removed, being an observer within the story — the gaping wounds of the psyche, fascination with internal and external wounds and also healing process and the resorting scar tissue, sex, transcendence, the fact that man is simultaneously an animal and also something completely different — oppression/openness, reflecting the world as is — and love. Tenderness.
“Zero” #1 arrives on September 18 from Image Comics.