Although Steve Orlando and Artyom Trakhanov’s aquatic pulp miniseries “Undertow” comes to a close on July 23, fans of the title have something to look forward to this September when the trade paperback arrives. Orlando gave CBR the exclusive announcement on his plans for the collection, which includes all-new backup stories created by two teams of guest-starring talent: Leila del Duca takes the lead on writing the first, with art by Tyler Niccum, while Blair Butler and TJ Kirsch tackle the second.
The comic follows the adventures of an Atlantian civilization aboard the watertight city barge known as The Deliverer, where the residents have evolved into a superpower, breathing water instead of air and ruling with an entitled, corrupt government. Content to maintain their day-to-day lives of luxury, most of Atlantis’ citizens have no regard for advancing their society and eschewing comfort to seek opportunity. But one man, the feared Butcher from Above, Redum Anshargal, has broken away in pursuit of the one thing that eludes Atlantis: breathing air. Formerly one of Atlantis’ greatest scientists, Anshargal was betrayed and started a new life was a fearsome explorer. Now he’s closer then ever to unlocking the secrets of the surface and nothing can stand in his way.
CBR News wrangled the “Undertow” captain along with first mates Butler and del Duca to plunge deeper into their connections to the series, their plans for creating new characters and the mutual love of Orlando and Trakhanov’s nautical musings that brought them together.
CBR News: Steve, the first arc has wrapped up and “Undertow” is heading toward the trade — what can fans look forward to with the TPB release?
Steve Orlando: All-new creators and all-new content! “Undertow”Â was a chance for Artyom and I to cut loose and create some incredible science fiction adventure, and the TPB is a chance to not only experience it at once, but to build on it with new stories from Tyler, Blair, TJ, Leila, Tony and Mike. The trade lets us make connections we didn’t in the miniseries, and to beef up the foundation as we explore more of Atlantis than ever before — from the metaphysical and symbolic, to the first steps of exploration, to the socially imperative. These are fresh, new moments we haven’t had a chance to dive into until now, and you can only get them in the TPB.
What was the fan response like for the first arc?Â
Orlando: Enthusiastic! The more I talk to readers, the more exciting it is that they’re on board with what Artyom and I set out to do, what we’re doing. This isn’t like any other Atlantis book: It’s about the people, its about questions we’re asking ourselves in the real world as we fight for our own freedom. It’s about the freedom we give up for safety, and vice versa. But it’s all those things with wild science action, and people have been happy to come along for the ride. The connection, the understanding with the passions behind the characters, are the most exciting thing for me to hear people talk about. Yes of course I’m excited when they love the action, the crazy antics of the Amphibian, but the even more exciting thing is that we’ve been able to give them all that, AND a human drama without the humans, a relatable political drama on a different world. And of course, Artyom’s art has been a huge part of that. Without him, all these beats would have no feeling, and no face. His unique style seems to have made people happy.Â
Can you catch us up on the past couple of issues and talk about where you’re heading next with the story?
Orlando: Mammoth hunting! Atlantean Spec Ops teams! Lost musical potential! The first arc of “Undertow” follows Redum Anshargal and Ukinnu Alal’s team as they hunt for, discover, and see if they can survive the incredible barbarian lord known as Kishar Gelal, the Amphibian. Then maybe, just maybe, they can use its DNA to help future generations live on land. They’ve faced down a horde of savage humans, hunted a primal beast of pure power, and return home to a ship under occupation. Next they’ll have to take their ship back, or die trying. And after that, if they make it, they’ll have to survive each other.Â
Can you tell me a little about how you got Leila, Blair and Tyler involved in creating new content for the trade?Â
Orlando: Everyone talked about world building when they talked about “Undertow.” Artyom and I put in years creating this world between our minds and on the page. Once we had it rounded out, populated it like a weird comics version of antagonistic “SIMS,” we realized how amazing it would be to see other people step into the world with us. That’s how our variant covers got started, with a pure desire to just work with these amazing artists like the guys we found. (Thank you all!) The bonus stories have evolved the same way. Just because you’ve created a world doesn’t mean you have to explore it alone, so we reached out to our friends, each with their own unique, bold styles, to go where we hadn’t yet gone. And it’s been great! Each team, each creator is telling stories unique and important to them, set within the modernized underwater world Artyom and I created. There’s been no greater honor than seeing these ideas come to life.Â
Blair and Leila, what was it like for you?
Blair Butler: Ever since I saw artist TJ Kirsch’s great, moody work in the noir comicÂ “She Died in Terrabonne,”Â I’ve been looking for any excuse to work with him. Turns out, T.J. is friends with Steve Orlando, so he sent me an advanced look at “Undertow” — and pitched collaborating on a short story that would build on and expand the intricate mythology Steve and Artyom created — and I was instantly on-board.Â
Leila del Duca: Steve and I have a mutual friend, Tony Gregori, who is the amazing artist on my short comic. Tony’s known Steve for years, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tony before on a couple projects in the past, one of which I wrote. A few months ago Steve asked Tony if he’d draw a story for Undertow, and Tony said he wanted me to write it, and of course I said yes because every time I’ve worked with Tony it’s been an amazing experience.
What drew you to “Undertow?”
Butler: I’m a huge alternate history nerd, and the way “Undertow” re-imagines the Atlantis myth got me creatively fired up. I started wondering about the early land explorers in the world Steve and Artyom dreamed up. People who lived decades — maybe even centuries — before Redum Anshargal. Who was the Robert Falcon Scott, George Mallory, or Percy Fawcett of this inverted world?Â
del Duca: The concept is so phenomenal. I love the twist on the Atlantis story that Steve has created. The visuals that this world allow are so unfathomable (forgive the pun), and I love the social dynamics and culture he’s set up in his story.
Are you guys introducing any new characters for your back-up stories?Â
Butler: Yes indeed!Â
del Duca: Our back-up has three new characters. Two are socialites, the other a soldier.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities you find when writing in someone else’s world? What were your main goals?Â
Butler: The challenge for me was compressing it all down to five pages,Â because it felt like I could write 15 — that’s how inspired I was by the source material. “Undertow” has such a cool concept — so, at the very least, I hope TJ and I are able to add a teeny, tiny, new layer to the world’s rich mythology. I’m just thrilled that Steve, Artyom and TJ gave me the opportunity to play in their sandbox.Â
del Duca: The biggest challenge for me was staying true to the storyline and world, but Steve did a great job answering technical questions and encouraged me every step of the way. Writing a story from a unique perspective about fashion and a polyamorous triad was extremely fulfilling, and I hope I did the world of Undertow justice, even if my choice of subject matter was a bit odd. Many thanks to Steve and Artyom for the opportunity!
Leila, you’re an incredible artist, so I’m curious how it felt to take a writing position for this project. What was your collaboration with Tony like?
del Duca: It’s been a wonderful time, full of immense insecurities on my part as a writer, and absolute glee seeing my words come to life by Tony’s hand. I’ve done some writing in the past, but being published by a popular comic book company means my writing is going to be viewed by more eyes than it ever has been before, which is unnerving since I haven’t proven myself as a writer yet and I don’t entirely know what I’m doing. Or more accurately, I’m not an experienced writer like I am an experienced artist. But even with the self-doubt, it’s been amazing. I love writing, and though drawing comics is my number one passion, I know I want to keep writing for the rest of my life and Undertow has been a great world to write about.Â
Working with Tony is always a dream. He’s super professional, prompt, and extremely fast as an artist. I’ve been a huge fan of his work since I met him over a year ago, immediately being drawn to his lush blacks, sharp lines, and his versatility in subject matter. Tony is like me: he likes drawing anything and everything, which makes writing for him extra fun. I also want to include a shout out to Mike Spicer, the colorist, who compliments Tony’s line work perfectly, and to Thomas Mauer, “Undertow’s” letterer who I’m happy to have on our team as well. High five!