SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains spoilers about “a god somewhere,” on sale tomorrow
It’s been five years since Wildstorm Publications released its last original graphic novel, Alan Moore and Gene Ha’s “Top Ten: The Forty-Niners.”
While that was set in an existing superhero universe, this week’s “a god somewhere” is something completely new and completely unique in the ever-growing landscape of capes and tights. In fact, the superhero in “a god somewhere” doesn’t even wear a costume. But maybe that’s part of his problem.
Written by John Arcudi (“B.P.R.D.,” “Wednesday Comics”) and featuring art by Peter Snejbjerg (“Starman”), “a god somewhere” follows the remarkable life of an unremarkable young man named Eric who, after a mysterious disaster, finds he has developed extraordinary abilities. And while he starts out using his powers for good, his greatness overwhelms him and isolates him in ways no ordinary human could understand – not even his brother or his best friend, Sam.
CBR News spoke with Arcudi and Snejbjerg about the book that “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola called, “The most human take on the superhero story I have ever seen.”
CBR News: Gentlemen, first off, I just read though “a god somewhere” a second time and it is powerful, powerful stuff. Can you take us back to the story’s conception and how the two of you came to work on it together?
John Arcudi: Thanks for the kind words. We’re really happy you like it.
Where it all started was a few years ago when I was reading two books, one of which I won’t name for fear of giving away too much, but the other was “The Starship and the Canoe” by Kenneth Brower. It’s sort of a comparative bio of world-renowned physicist Freeman Dyson and his son George. Without going too much into detail, it describes the two dreams of these men. Freeman had hoped to use hydrogen bombs to power starships, which he thought would save mankind by leading us to other worlds. George, however, had a different vision. He was trying to build a large seagoing canoe that he could use even in dramatic sea conditions. More difficult than it sounds, but not a starship. Just comparing those dreams – and therefore philosophies – was inspiring. The idea that such an incredibly destructive force could be used peacefully seemed so strange to me, but then I realized that this was exactly what you would routinely see in superhero comics – powerful characters that can tear down mountains, all on missions of peace. So then I took that thinking to the next logical step as it applies to George Dyson’s ambition. In the world of superheroes, his more attainable symbol of freedom, the canoe, would seem almost trite. A total disconnect from the real world, and so my mind started working…
Peter and colorist Bjarne Hansen were actually the artists I wanted to work with on this book from the beginning. I had seen their exceptional collaboration on “The Light Brigade” [an original graphic novel written by Peter Tomasi] and wanted them on “a god somewhere,” but they were otherwise committed. Other artists were then approached, but a variety of problems ensued. Production ended up being delayed to the point that Peter and Bjarne were both available again and so we got together. Call it fate, but all I knew was I had gotten my wish.
For those not so lucky to have read through an advance copy, can you share a little bit about the story? Without giving too much away, of course.
Arcudi: Way to put us on the spot. At its most basic, it’s the story of the creation of a potential superhero as seen through the eyes of his still very human best friend. It’s a more intimate take on the rise and fall of a great man – in this case, a superhuman man.
Peter Snejbjerg: Well, it’s about a lot more than that, but that’s the very short, bare bones version…
Friendship and brotherhood are heavily explored within “a god somewhere.” Did you feel exploring real-life relationships were important to the storyline to keep the overall concept grounded?
Arcudi: Absolutely, and it was a challenge to make the characters feel real enough so that the story would work, because those relationships are the real story. Who these people are, and how they change is what drives it forward. And as they change, their points of view change, and as a result the narrative changes. It’s all very connected.
Snejbjerg: Yeah, I totally agree – the characters are the story. John has crafted a group of totally believable human beings, set in a very grounded setting. And then something miraculous happens that changes their lives completely, and they have to deal with it – like real people do – for better or worse.
Eric is no shrinking violet when he is first introduced, but when he transforms, his look and feel transcends to another level. John, can you speak about his personality transition and Peter can you speak about the change in his design and how you decided on his final, Thor-like look?
Arcudi: Eric starts out your everyday good guy, because that’s where I think we all feel we start out from. But when he becomes superhuman, he very quickly sheds a lot of the conventions we all observe, both in his appearance and his behavior. I sort of thought that the more comfortable he became with his superhuman-ness, the less concerned he would become with fitting in.
Eventually he becomes so alienated from his humanity that he ceases to act in a way that we can even understand.
Snejbjerg: John was actually very specific about his physical appearance, the braids and so on. What I tried to do was to get that feel of someone who’s moved beyond daily, mundane concerns. With that look in his eyes, as if he’s seeing something far off that neither we, nor his friends, can see – a clairvoyant, a profit or a madman…assuming there’s a difference.
Legendary writer Dennis O’Neil calls this book “the first real superhero tragedy.” Why tell a story of such suffering and sadness? You’re both pretty cheery people, aren’t you?
Arcudi: Sure. Ask anybody. Cheery as can be.
That quote was just beautiful, wasn’t it? I have to tell you that after I read that I walked around the house for a couple of days occasionally muttering “first real superhero tragedy.” And that’s from Denny O’Neil. But then if you consider what he’s saying, I think you might see why we were attracted to this sort of story. Tragedies are not common in this genre. Stories of triumph are what comics are all about, and so we wanted to look at the other side of the equation to see what we could say about that.
Snejbjerg: Yeah, we’re a regular pair of comedians… I guess every truly great story is a tragedy. It’s the loss that gives meaning to everything that went before. Think of “The Iliad.” Not much of a story if Troy won, right?
Peter, can you speak about illustrating something that, while bright in its grandeur and majesty, is a very dark tale. How do you balance this light and dark and did you change anything specifically in either your style or technique for this project?
Snejbjerg: I did try to go in another direction than “The Light Brigade.” In “The Light Brigade,” I really tried to make everything look as real and physical as I could, since the time and the milieu was very removed from my own and the readers’ experience. I was also heavily influenced by some of the great war comic artists whose work I admired. But I didn’t think that would be suitable approach for a story set in a modern Californian setting, so I tried to adopt what I felt was be a more modern style and focus on the psychological realism instead. I hope it worked.
Did you feel there was a void in the superhero landscape where a story about the possible downside of superheroism was needed? What’s that they say about absolute power?
Arcudi: The void to me wasn’t so much about how power corrupts, because I think that’s a given. The void is the way comics and even most action movies treat violence. They’re filled with violence, right? Frequently a very sanitized brand of it, but violence nonetheless. And almost always the characters remain unchanged by any of it. Eventually they go back to being whoever they were before the brutality. They even toss around wisecracks. It’s the nature of the genre, of course, and who doesn’t enjoy a good action movie, or comic? Still, violence is a transformative thing. We’re not just talking about the victims of violence, but the victimizers, as well. It changes people. Any violent offender can tell you how hurting others becomes easier and easier each time you do it. That’s something to think about when you’re looking at heroes in comics or action films.
Snejbjerg: Basically, the superhero story is a childhood fantasy of power, to compensate for your own powerlessness. The reality of violence is a very different thing. Eric isn’t really a superhero – he’s just a guy who initially interprets what happens to him in very simple, comic book like terms. Except as we all know, there’s nothing simple about comics…
Is this as much an exploration of people’s fascination with celebrity and the media as it about religion and corruption?
Arcudi: Yeah, it is – probably more as it relates to Sam than anybody else. And of course it’s about a lot of things beyond that. Brotherhood and friendship, as you point out, and race, and coping with the loss of dreams and more. We had a lot to say.
Snejbjerg: It’s incredibly complex. There’s so much going on, on so many different levels. In many ways, it’s probably the most challenging book I’ve ever worked on.
While it’s teased as a superhero story, “a god somewhere” is actually about a presence far greater than an everyday superhero like Batman or even Superman. This is the creation of a new god. Do either of you consider yourself religious or spiritual? What type of reaction are you expecting from those who are and may see this as sacrilegious?
Arcudi: It would be a shame if people saw this as sacrilegious. We weren’t setting out to say anything like that. Eric’s a Christian at the beginning of the book, and a good one. He ends up turning down a dark road, but a careful reader will see that happens only after he’s turned his back on his idea of what God is. It was really important for this story to examine the nature of faith but we don’t tell people how they are supposed to feel about it – though we know they’ll feel something. We just wanted to ask some questions and readers will come up with their own answers, I’m sure.
Snejbjerg: Well, obviously something as outrageous as this story is meant to elicit a reaction from people. But the central event is really a mystery, in every sense of the word. Eric’s religion is an expression of his personality, not the other way around. This is not about any specific creed, it’s the story of the experience of something larger than life, something life and world transforming.
Not sure if this is giving too much away, but as far as I understand, the genesis of Eric’s superpowers is never defined. Do you know how he gained them and you didn’t want to share,e or does the “how” just not matter in this story?
Arcudi: Actually, I think it’s vital that the reader not know the source of those powers, or what caused the event. Faith, after all, is about not knowing. It’s about believing, and that’s the importance of faith – whatever that faith might be. It’s also the beauty of faith. If you don’t have that ability to trust in a higher power, or if you can’t imagine a better world, then life loses some of its meaning. So from the very outset, we wanted to present the mysterious event that sets this story in motion as not only unknown but completely unknowable – much in the way that theologians describe the mind of God.
Snejbjerg: Exactly. It’s the unknowable, the mystery. There’s one at the heart of every religion.
When I arrived at the title page for Book Two, I couldn’t believe the story was already halfway complete. Did you consider a miniseries or even an ongoing series for this concept. Is there a possibility that we’ll ever see a second volume or even a prequel to “a god somewhere”?
Arcudi: You know, it actually started as a miniseries, but over time – and for various reasons – it morphed into a graphic novel. You’re right, it’s a big story with a lot going on, and I think writers and artists always think about what they could have done with more room to explore ideas, but it’s very hard for me to imagine revisiting these characters.
Snejbjerg: That’s the thing that makes tragedies click – when the fat lady sings, it’s all over. Curtain. Anyone left standing walks off the stage, and out of the story.
“a god somewhere” goes on sale June 3.