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INTERVIEW: Image’s Angelic is a ‘Dark, Difficult’ All-Ages Series

by  in Comic News Comment
INTERVIEW: Image’s Angelic is a ‘Dark, Difficult’ All-Ages Series

In a world where humanity has vanished and eroded away, their legacy is the setting of Angelic, an all-ages series at Image Comics from the creative team of Si Spurrier (Godshaper, X-Men Legacy), Caspar Wijngaard, Jim Campbell and designer Emma Price. While fog pervades around the abandoned and overgrown high-rises, the surviving animals have evolved and developed their own societies, with culture, language — but also with religous-based barriers and an enforced class system. Angelic is an all-ages series, but one told with the distinctive creative voices of Spurrier and Wijngaard.

The series will focus on Qora, a teenage winged monkey whose place in her society has already been dictated by her elders. When she starts to question their faith, however, it leads her on a wonderful and — you’ll be expecting this part — weird adventure through their world. In the first of two interviews with the creative team, CBR spoke to writer Simon “Si” Spurrier in-depth — as he puts it, “a classic Spurrier waxathon” — about the themes and ideas of the series. Keep an eye on the site, as we’ll also have an interview with the design team of Wijngaard and Price early next week.

CBR: When did the idea for Angelic first come together with Caspar? Had you been looking to collaborate for a while?

Si Spurrier: C’mon, there’s no mystery about where the idea came from. Teenage flying monkeys versus hedonistic cyber-dolphins in the ruins of a post-Apocalpytic Earth — it’s the oldest story in the book.

OK, I’m deflecting. Problem is I don’t think it’s possible to easily analyze how, why, where or when ideas actually strike. For me they don’t really “strike” at all, so much as accrete bit-by-bit. A whole bunch of interests, preoccupations and ambitions, all mulching together in often unexpected but always organic ways. What I can say for sure is that I’d been itching to work with Caspar since reading Limbo, and when I pelted him with some seed-notions it was the kernel of what eventually became Angelic which seemed best poised to scratch our combined itches. Which, uh, sounds gross now that I type it, but you get what I mean.

Angelic is basically a story about Earth after humanity’s disappeared. That was immediately compelling to both of us. We challenged ourselves to create a tale which appeals to youngsters as much as adults — that naturally guided our choices somewhat — and the list of themes we wanted to explore acted as a sort of creative monorail to ferry us from awesome element to awesome element.

We ended up with a post-human world, toxic and ruined, where the only signs of civilization belong to our shameful leftovers: animals whose ancestors were genetically modified for a war they don’t remember, ruling over childlike societies in a world they don’t understand.

Weaponized gibbons, cybernetic dolphins, quantum alley cats and a whole tribe of flying monkeys living on skyscraper rooftops, high above the toxic fumes. And that’s just for starters.

Most of our story’s seen through the eyes of one winged monkey. She’s this brave, amazing, quizzical little thing called Qora, struggling against the repressive doctrines of the tribe’s religion. She’s expected to take part in all these meaningless ceremonies — ceremonies which will ultimately cost her her freedom when she becomes an adult — but all she wants to do is go have adventures.

So she runs — well, flies — away. And that’s when things get crazy…

This is an all-ages comic series — but what does an all-ages comic from Si Spurrier and Caspar Wijngaard look and sound like? It’s hard to imagine you’re going to ignore more mature issues just because younger readers are picking the comic up?

Well, we’re angling for a very layered vibe. I have a massive cinecrush on movies like Wall-E or The Iron Giant, because whereas to kids they’re exceptional sci-fi romps about robots and friendship, adults easily perceive jokes and themes that are far, far bigger.

For instance, there’s a pointed metaphor at the heart of Angelic. Two opposing tribes, both representing wildly different versions of a faith-based society. One of them repressive, dogmatic, controlling, the other bloated, imperialistic and arrogant. Qora and her companion (about whom I’m saying nothing here!) are caught in the middle, trying to find a third way. A lot of important, timely stuff being said, basically. But if you’re an 8 year old reading this book you’re probably not going to detect much of the allegorical stuff, focusing instead on the main event: a story about two young dreamers running away from sucky homes to lean cool stuff about themselves and their world.

…all whilst being chased by all manner of disgruntled beasties, representatives of their own clans, and the shadows of some really big secrets from the distant past.

If we’ve done our jobs right — and I have to say the number of adorable testimonials we’re getting from our comics heroes saying stuff like “I loved it! So did my kid!” suggests we’re on the right track — then when we say “all ages” we really do mean it.

Religion and lore seem to be a huge part of world culture in this series — and has been appearing with regularity in your stories for a while, including the current series Godshaper. What is it that interests you in exploring religious culture, both real and imagined?

Oof. That’s a big question for me. It’s one of the core topics that sort of makes me me, if “ability to rant about it in the pub for hours” is any useful metric. The others, fwiw, being Story, Mental Unwellness and Cheese.

I have a whole crapload of homespun theories about faith and religion (which are two utterly distinct things, btw). I guess I’m a reluctant skeptic about most things — as in: I really really really really want there to be ghosts and gods and fairies and aliens but sorry sorry sorry everything I’ve seen so far is just too damn silly and pointless. One of the reasons I’m so comfortable being a writer is that I can play with these things through the lens of fiction and not be quite so heartbroken about their sincere lack of reality. The other reason, btw, is that I can legit say that if the universe is only experienced through sensation and perception (it is) then all we can truly know for sure about reality or magic or fantasy or pretty much anything is that there’s no functional difference between changing someone’s mind and changing the Universe. Stories are wizardry, plain and simple.

Anyway, I digress. We’re talking about religion. My current conception is that all organized religious doctrines are expressions of a singular mental technology innovated by early humans, who needed give/get-style structures to guide their daily lives and stop them murdering each other. As a technology it was fabulously successful in its primary purpose, which was to allow us to transition from familial groups to tribal groups, then onwards to national and economically structured societies. But like all good technologies it had its own superfluousness built into it. We no longer need it. Now we have game theory, the Social Contract and common-bloody-sense to tell us Thou Shalt Not Kill and all the rest. We understand that “moral good” is a sensible survival strategy, and we don’t need to be blackmailed into it by by a big beard in the sky out of fear of damnation.

In my more fanciful moments I like to imagine we’re just waiting now for the next spiritual technology to come along, to help us transition to whatever comes next.

Anyway, I’ve gone tooootally off topic here.

The cogent part of all this is that Angelic deals with religion in the “social rulebook” sense. To an extent our characters — all animals — are like children playing at grownups. They’re on the cusp of what I mentioned earlier: this critical moment that you no longer need to be told to “be good or God will be angry”, because you’re mature enough to know it for yourself.

Qora’s grown up in this weird, repressive faith. She’s been taught from an early age that her gods — “the Makers” — ascended into the heavens long ago, leaving the monkeys — “the Monks” — as stewards of the Earth. They’re the last defenders of goodness against evil, which is personified by a gang of rampaging cybernetic rocket-powered dolphins – “the dolts” – who come tearing through town at odd intervals. The monkeys believe that if they do everything the Makers expect of them – endless rituals, cleaning and maintaining strange relics – then eventually they’ll return and cleanse the planet.

Naturally, part of Qora buys into this dogma. She’s never known anything else. But she’s also driven to rebel against how unfair it all is. The females in this society are treated appallingly, curiosity and difference are actively punished, and then there’s the awful “Alter-Peace” ceremony. I’ll come back to that, but it’s pretty chilling.

Again: this stuff is all pretty high-falutin’ if you choose to seat it. But it’s not being rammed down our readers’ throats, and we’re definitely not preaching. Angelic is first and foremost an adventure about a brave young monkey who flies away from a cruel life, because she just wants to have adventures.

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