Sean Shields, known commonly as ‘No,’ is a man of few words. But really, when you’re living in a world where humanity has been pushed to to the brink of extinction by an ancient, deadly disease, what is there to say? No is one of the few survivors who is immune to the Spread and lives a solitary life scavenging for what he can within the boundaries of a quarantine zone while fighting off predators of all sorts. Although the Spread is mostly contained, no one is truly safe — especially not the baby girl No finds himself caring for. Little Hope isn’t just any orphan, though, and her name is also her destiny: within Hope may be the secrets to eradicating the Spread forever, and it’s up to No to keep her safe.
CBR TV: Justin Jordan on Breaking into Comics & “Dead Body Road”
â€¨Written by prolific writer Justin Jordan with art that packs a punch as powerful as the disease that ravaged mankind from co-creator Kyle Strahm, “Spread” launches this week from Image Comics and, if the debut issue is any indication, is not to be missed. Likened to John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” the series combines elements of biological terror and the resulting darkness within mankind. CBR News spoke with Jordan about the series to find out more about the taciturn main character, his tiny ward and the evils the unlikely duo will face.
CBR News: Justin, the first issue of “Spread” totally blew me away. The thing that resonated most strongly was how you managed to blend a very unfamiliar world with a very relatable emotional circumstance. Can you talk about your approach to setting the tone for the series?
Justin Jordan: Thanks!
I think the trick for most stories is finding that thing that people can relate to on an emotional level. No is an extraordinary situation, one that no one has ever experienced, but when he finds Hope, well… she’s a baby, and she needs help. That’s probably one of the most primal and common experiences a person can have.
And when he finds Hope he also finds, well, hope. And I think that’s something everyone can relate to, finding that one thing that gives you hope when you think the situation is hopeless.
Tonally, you need those emotions to make the rest of it work. If you don’t relate to No, then whatever badass stuff he does is going to fall flat. This is especially true, I think, when you’ve got a fantastic sci-fi type situation. So I’m trying to balance the horror and action with heart and humor to make sure they hit you.
The main character, No, is a man of few words but I instantly bonded with him after just a few pages. What can you tell me about his development and your influences for him?
No is probably the most taciturn character I’ve written, so man of few words is probably an understatement. He’s inspired, to a large extent, by the sort of strong and silent heroes I grew up watching — Clint Eastwood in… anything, Snake Plissken, Mad Max. He’s a classic ’70s/’80s badass.
Now having said that, there are good reasons in No’s backstory for him being the way he is, and that goes back even before the Spread. We’re also coming into his life when he’s literally just, in the first five pages, suffered a pretty big emotional hit, which has caused him to be even less talkative than usual.
This does put a lot of pressure on making sure we get his personality across in art and action, which hopefully we do a good job of.
The other main characters we meet, for lack of a better word, are those that are part of the Spread. While they’re certainly creepy, I didn’t get the sense that they’re monsters so much as they are a new way of life. What are all of the different types of Spread creatures we’ll see and which are your favorite?
Kyle [Strahm] and I have tried to work out an entire ecosystem, and where the various Spread creatures fit within it. Like our own global ecosystem, there are a lot of niches to be filled.
You’ve met roamers, flyers, and runners in the first issue. In the second issue we meet the Spreadworms, which are fairly awful, and in the third we meet the Sirens, which are maybe my favorite one as yet. But we’ve got loads of these to introduce over the course of the book.
This isn’t a question. I hate all of the mouths. Well done.
[Laughs] That one gets everybody.
Actually, there is a question there: why the hell are mouths so upsetting and creepy?
Man, I don’t even know. But they are, aren’t they? That particular image came about when I saw someone had painted a photo realistic eye over someone’s mouth, and when they opened their mouth it was uber disturbing. Mouths and teeth. Something about them.
So there’s No and Hope, the baby he comes to save who will probably end up saving him pretty often — are there other people we will meet along the way?
The two supporting characters will meet soon are Crazy Molly and Fat Jack. Jack is another badass, although he’s the opposite of quiet. He’s dangerous, well connected, and you’d have to be insane to trust him. And you’d do well to ask yourself how exactly someone remains fat in the apocalypse.
Molly is… crazy. She’s got good reason to be. Unlike Jack and No, who had lives before the Spread came, Molly was a kid when the Spread hit, and more than half her life has been in this nightmare. And, like No, something really, really bad happened to her right before the series starts.
There are also villains. Human ones. There’s Ravello, who we meet next issue, who is the leader of the raiders we meet in the first issue. And there’s the Preacher, who is the lovely gentleman on the last page of issue #1.
You did an amazing job blending the scary stuff along with humor, as well as a glimpse to the horrors of mankind in this world. Are there any aspects of this series that are reflections of your personal fears?
Oddly, no. I mean, I have a sense of stuff that’s creepy, like the mouth thing. But my specific fears kind of all center around failure and spiders, hopefully not together, and this isn’t really about those, thank god. That’s not a very exciting answer, I realize.
Kyle’s style is so well-suited to this story. What is your collaboration like? What kind of directives do you give to him in your script? And is there anything he’s drawn so far that you find it hard to look at?
Kyle and Felipe [Sobreiro, the book’s colorist] and I have been gelling really well, so the collaboration has been pretty smooth. Which is always good — it’s been my experience books come out better that way. We discussed generally what the Spread creatures should look like, but beyond that, it’s mostly me just doing my usual, fairly sparse, panel descriptions. I think the most notes I’ve given were “More hair” and “Less spikes”â€¨â€¨Nothing Kyle has drawn has unsettled me too much. I emphasize drawn because Kyle keeps collecting really horrible things from nature and sending me links to them and now I haven’t slept since October.
How did you guys connect?
I met Kyle at NYCC a couple of years ago through Tim Seeley, who’d worked with Kyle on “Hack/Slash.” That was 2011, I think. I saw Kyle the next year, right after I’d had the initial idea about “Spread” and he mentioned if I ever wanted to work together, he’d be interested. The awesome thing about that was when I was visualizing “Spread,” Kyle was totally who I had in my head. So, you know, that worked out, and it’s been ever better than I hoped.
Felipe I first met, in the online sense, years ago. We were in ZUDA around the same time, and I think we’d be orbiting the same Warren Ellis forum spinoff — maybe The Engine. I may be making that last bit up. But I liked Felipe’s art and his coloring, so when “Luther Strode” came about I asked him to come on board, and it worked out really well. So when Spread was being put together I thought he’d work well with Kyle’s stuff. They’d already worked together on a project and it seemed to work.
How many issues are you plotting for?
We’re aiming to go for 60 issues or thereabout. I have an ending to the series plotted out for that length, but we could do a satisfying story and ending in 24, I think. I hope we get that long. Arcs will be four-to-six issues, but we’re doing these things I’m calling interstitial issues that are side stories by guest artists, which will flesh out the world, which is pretty cool. The series will eventually… er… spread to show you what is going on with the entire world, so the scope eventually gets pretty big.
Is there anything you do to get into the mood to write a story like “Spread?”
Look at my terrifying deadlines?
Mostly, it’s just doing the research on things what need researching, which tends to spawn a lot of ideas. But mostly, and again, kind of boringly, I’ve never been one who needs to be inspired. I’m a grinder.
Any other projects you’re working on?
Everything. Write all the books!
I’ve got “Green Lantern: New Guardians” from DC, which is going really well. We’re leading up into something really cool with that.â€¨â€¨I’m still writing “Spread,” obviously, and I’m working on the next (and final) “Luther Strode” miniseries for Image.
I’m working on three unannounced creator-owned things with BOOM!, which is awesome and frightening, because I have a really schedule. And I’ve got another cool thing I need to try and wedge in there somewhere.
Any updates to the fan contest?
Still going! For those that haven’t heard, until the first issue comes out on July 9, you can tweet or Facebook #itsspreading with the first issue cover and tag me and Kyle, and you’re entered to get a chance to get a bunch of “Spread” swag including, and this is one everyone likes, the chance to be in “Spread.” And probably die horribly.â€¨â€¨
Catch “Spread” #1 on sale tomorrow 9 from Image Comics.