It’s been a long road to publication for Marc Guggenheim’s “Nowhere Man.” Originally conceived as a series for Virgin Comics in conjunction with actor Hugh Jackman and artist Paul Gulacy, “Nowhere Man” was announced in 2008 and hasn’t been heard from since — until now. This December, Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Comics along with artist Jeevan J. Kang bring “Nowhere Man” back to life to discover Guggenheim’s vision of a future with no real privacy.
“Nowhere Man” takes place in a future where the government has access to everyone’s most private thoughts. Enter Mason, the one man whose thoughts are completely private, making him nearly invisible to the government. The story follows Mason’s journey while also examining both sides of the ongoing debate on privacy.
Guggenheim took some time out to speak with CBR News on “Nowhere Man,” its long journey to publication, changes from the original pitch, the differences between his book and other dystopian future fiction and how he’s grown as a writer in the intervening years since the project’s inception.
CBR News: Marc, “Nowhere Man” hasn’t been heard from in nearly two years. Now it’s finally seeing the light of day in December via Dynamite. Can you tell us about the road to Dynamite since the project’s beginning at Virgin Comics?
Marc Guggenheim: Well, as you might imagine, Virgin Comics was an offshoot of Virgin, the company that, among other things, owns several airlines. They decided to get out of the comic book business, but Virgin Comics founders Sharad Devarajan and Gotham Chopra retained ownership of what was developed. Gotham and Sharad then relaunched the endeavor recently as Liquid Comics and brought on Dynamite as a distributor. (That’s my understanding, at least.)
How has the book changed, if at all, from the original Virgin Comics pitch?
I’d actually written the first two issues a number of years ago, so not all that much has changed in the interval. Interestingly, the biggest change has occurred outside of the project, in society. When we originally conceived “Nowhere Man,” it was in reaction to the enhanced surveillance provisions of the PATRIOT Act, which had, at the time, recently been enacted. In the intervening years, however, PATRIOT has become just part of our way of life and we don’t think much about it. In fact, with the rise of Facebook and other forms of social media, we’ve not only gotten used to a diminishment of personal privacy, we’ve essentially volunteered for it. If anything, I think that this makes the book’s theme of individual privacy even more relevant and resonant.
Originally, there were a few others attached to the project including Hugh Jackman and Paul Gulacy. Are they still involved in the book?
Unfortunately, no. Although it’s my hope that Hugh Jackman would be involved in any feature film iteration of the story. Moreover, I’d love to work with Paul again. (We collaborated on “Hyperion vs. Nighthawk” for Marvel several years ago and it remains one of the projects I’m most proud of.)
“Nowhere Man” takes place in a pretty oppressive future. What exactly is going on in the world? When does it take place and how did you come up with the concept?
Well, what’s interesting about the book — to me, at least — is the question of whether that future is oppressive. It’s actually a kind of utopia, with virtually no crime or violence. The only trade-off is the fact that all your most private thoughts are “broadcast” to the government. Is that oppressive? Reasonable minds can disagree. It’s my hope to convincingly present both sides of that argument through the book. Without, of course, descending into a dry debate.
Who is the protagonist what’s his motivation in this world you’ve built?
The protagonist is a guy named “Mason.” He’s been raised in isolation in the one area in the world that is invisible to the government, where thoughts are — and remain — private. The people who raised him definitely subscribe to the belief that the current system is oppressive. In fact, they haven’t just raised Mason, they genetically-engineered him. They created him to have thoughts that are undetectable to the government — for the purpose of destroying the system from within. (It makes sense, when you think about it, because unless your thoughts were shielded somehow, you couldn’t rebel because the government would always “see” you coming.) Consequently, Mason is the one person in the world with any private thoughts — hence the name, “Nowhere Man.”
The book grapples with some pretty relevant issues such as privacy in a world that’s very reliant on accessibility. How does “Nowhere Man” tackle these issues and what sets it apart from other dystopian “Big Brother” fiction?
Typically dystopic, “Big Brother” fiction, as you put it, focuses on a totalitarian, authoritarian regime. The world of “Nowhere Man” is different. The regime in our world is totalitarian only insofar as your thoughts aren’t private. Some would say that’s enough, but either way, it’s very different from a “Big Brother”-esque world where people’s conversations are monitored, media is censored, etc. Moreover, the world isn’t dystopic at all. In fact, from all appearances, it’s a utopia.
I don’t think there’s any question that we have less privacy today than we did 10 years ago or, certainly, 20 years ago. But I’m not suggesting it’s a bad thing. And even if I were, most people wouldn’t agree with me. At the very least, there’s no huge outcry in society that we have less privacy today. For the most part, it’s just not what concerns people nowadays. Now take that and project out several hundred years. I imagine a society where the vast majority of the population is quite comfortable trading privacy for safety, security and even happiness.
To put all this another way, think of privacy as a kind of currency. I think its value has diminished in the past decade or so. And I’m projecting that it will diminish even further in the next century or so. Diminishment of privacy is a genie that’s very difficult to get back into the bottle because it’s a condition we so quickly grow used to — as the past 10 years demonstrates.
Whenever I do a creator-owned project, the comic comes first. That’s the goal and a successful, well-produced comic is the endgame. In the case of “Nowhere Man,” however, we’ve gotten a lot of incoming calls from movie producers expressing interest. To be honest, it’s pretty strange given that we haven’t even published the first issue yet, but it’s nice to see that the idea is resonating so strongly. All of which is a long way to say that there aren’t any current plans, but people have been reaching out.
Since the original announcement, you’ve done numerous projects including the aforementioned television shows and a several great comics. How do you feel these projects have helped you grow as a writer since “Nowhere Man’s” 2008 announcement?
Gosh, I don’t know if I’ve got the time to give this question the answer it’s due. I know that I’ve grown and developed a lot as a writer in the past three years. My hope is that I’m always growing and evolving as an artist. That having been said — and here I’ll borrow a quote from David E. Kelley — I don’t spend a lot of time “looking under the hood.” In other words, I don’t really engage in any self-examination about my writing or my writing process. Consequently, it’s hard for me to articulate — in any concrete way, at least — exactly how I’ve changed as a writer over the past three years. I think I’d prefer to let my work speak for itself.
(All that having been said, the one thing I can point to is that, in my comic book work, I’ve been outlining much more than I did when I first started working in comics. Consequently, I hope my story arcs are balanced out a little bit better.)
What has been the biggest challenge for you in writing this book?
Because Mason’s thoughts are “invisible,” I made the choice not to use internal narration — or, even, omniscient narration — in this book. This is actually extremely challenging. Narration captions are a powerful tool in a comic writer’s toolbox and it’s hard to write without them. However, I felt it was very important to maintain the privacy of Mason’s thoughts from the reader as well as from the other characters in the book.
“Nowhere Man” is on sale in December.