Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten have each become major creators in comics on their own. Johnston has written many books ranging from “The Fuse” and “The Coldest City” to “Daredevil: Year One,” as well as a series of Alan Moore adaptations for Avatar Press. Mitten has drawn numerous comics including “30 Days of Night,” “Criminal Macabre,” “Past Lies” and “Bad Medicine.”
Together, the pair have worked on a number of projects including their new ongoing Image Comics series “Umbral,” but their best known collaboration is “Wasteland.” The Oni Press series wraps up later this year with “Wasteland” #60 and Mitten has returned to illustrate the final arc. CBR News caught up with Johnston and Mitten to discuss their longtime collaboration and what’s to come as the series draws to a close.
CBR News: Chris, you co-created “Wasteland,” but after a few years of working on it you left to pursue other projects including Oni’s “Bad Medicine” and several books with Steve Niles. What brought you back to “Wasteland?”
Christopher Mitten: It was time. The itch was there again. Also, returning for the final arc was something that had been kicked around pretty much since I left. Though, if memory serves, it was about two years ago, maybe a little more at this point, around the time of the “Wasteland” back-up I drew for the first issue of “Bad Medicine,” when The End was in sight, that we all started talking seriously about it and set about making it happen. Besides, the chance to work with Antony again and finish off this story we started all those years ago was too good to let pass. It felt right, like this is how it should be. We were together to launch the book and we should be together to bring it to a close.
Antony, if you could set the stage, where are we kicking off the last stage of the book?
Antony Johnston: Well, #52 came out a couple of months ago — that was one of our “interlude” issues, standalone one-shots. But it was actually the last one, and the idea was to just check in on all the people Michael and Abi had met over the course of the series, and see where they are now. Or in some cases, where they will be after we’re done. You’d have to read it to understand.
And leading into #53, which we published last month, setting the stage depends on how up-to-date you are with the book. “Wasteland” is divided into arcs, but it’s essentially one epic story, going through from start to finish.
So I don’t want to spoil too much for people who might only just be starting on the series, but suffice to say that Michael and Abi are finally at the end of their journey. They believe they’ve found A-Ree-Yass-I. What they find there, and the secrets it reveals, will both change them forever, and solve the mysteries that have kept them on this journey through the wasteland.
Chris, you’ve been drawing the covers for the book. Are you still going to be drawing them for the rest of the series?
Mitten: I’m on until the end, yes. I’ve only four covers left to draw and it’s starting to get to that point where the sense of it being over, being done and gone, is starting to sink in and it’s very sentimental. “Wasteland,” in one form or another, has been part of my life since 2006 — or, I guess ’05, really, when work began — so knowing that in a few months it’s not going to be there anymore is kind of odd.
Were you following the book while you were busy elsewhere? Was there anything you saw and thought, I would have liked to draw that?
Mitten: Oh, sure. Followed it all. And it was fun getting to read it as a fan — of Antony’s and of these characters. I’m not actually sure I had any real I-wish-I’d-been-able-to-draw-that moments. Doing the covers I still got to play with the toys. Besides, we had wonderful artists working on the book — Justin Greenwood, in particular — who were just knocking it out of the park, so that was fun, and inspiring, to see this world through different eyes and sensibilities.
Antony, how much has the plan for the book changed since you started the book? Is the ending and the journey pretty much the same?
Johnston: More meandered, than changed. Like, we’ve hit all the main points I planned, but the route between them has surprised even me at times.
I knew how the book would start, and I knew how it would end. Those didn’t change — couldn’t change, really, or it would be a completely different story.
But along the way, I’ve certainly taken detours as and when the fancy has taken me. That itself was always part of the plan. I’ve written enough long stories, including a couple of novels, to know that you can’t plan a 1400-page epic in detail, and actually expect to follow that plan to the letter. It just doesn’t happen.
The best example of this in “Wasteland” is the Sand-eater attack on Newbegin. That was never part of the original plan, but Chris’ work with the Sandies was so great it gave me the idea for that story arc.
And there were several other instances where a character cropped up, or I had a sudden idea, and thanks to the longform nature of the book I was able to explore it.
But like I said, the overall shape of the story remains the same. When we started back in 2006, I said quite plainly that I already had answers to the questions, solutions to the mysteries. That those things were already planned, an established part of the book’s mythology.
Every word of it was true, and I’m pleased to see that people who are up-to-date on the book are starting to see it come together.
So how many more issues are there? When will the series wrap up?
Johnston: We just published #53, so there’s seven more. The final arc ends at #59, and then #60 is an epilogue issue. That, also, has been planned for a while.
“Wasteland” isn’t even over yet, but the two of you have already launched your followup project, “Umbral,” which is out mpw from Image. Now besides making the rest of us feel like slackers, is the plan for both series to continue coming out monthly?
Johnston: Yes. We worked all this out a while ago, and the schedules are in sync. We both like working ahead, and we also both work fast enough that we can just about do it. I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but we made our own bed, as it were.
Mitten: What Mister Johnston said.
Why do you guys like working together?
Johnston: Well, we’re old friends by now. It’s almost ten years since we first worked together, and you can’t beat working with your friends. We’re both kind of workaholics, too, which I think helps.
But all that aside, what I love about Chris’ work is that no matter what I ask him to draw, no matter how strange or outlandish it might be, he always delivers. And not only delivers, but goes way beyond what I hoped for. He comes back with amazing stuff, twice as crazy and epic as I imagined.
Couple that with great storytelling and an energetic, exciting style that is completely unique in comics today — you can’t ask for much more.
Mitten: Yeah, I think it was clear, even back when we first worked together on “Queen & Country,” that we understood each other. We both like the same types of stories and have similar ideas of how to tell those stories. As cliched as it sounds, it’s also true; we just clicked.
Also, Antony makes it all seem so damned easy — which is a colossal testament to his crazy, powerhouse talent — building these worlds and populating them with all these wildly detailed cultures and histories and lore. By the time I read the script and get around to drawing, it really feels like I’m just slipping into these places, tapping into a world, a place, a something, that’s already there. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a great guy and a lot of fun to work with on books, whatever they may be.
So tease us, what can we look forward to in the final run of the series? What are you excited about?
Johnston: I’m just excited that readers will finally get the climax, and answers, they deserve. I’ve just finished scripting #57, and there’s a certain sense of closure bubbling under the whole thing, much like when I wrote the final “Walking the Dust” for #52.
I think the final arc is going to surprise people. I don’t think it’s what people are expecting, at all. But on the other hand, it feels inevitable. It could only ever have been this way. And that’s how all stories should end.
“Wasteland” #54 goes on sale May 14.