A modern master of science fiction plans to bring his immense talents to the world of comics this May. “Neuromancer” and “The Difference Engine” author William Gibson will write the four-issue “Archangel” limited series for comic readers thanks to IDW Publishing and noted artist Butch Guice.
Originally planned as a screenplay with actor Michael St. John Smith, best known for his work on “The Dead Zone” TV series, “Archangel” focuses on a version of 2016 that looks radically different than the one we’re accustomed to thanks to the use of a machine called The Splitter that can tamper with various alternate realities and histories.
Though Gibson boasts everything from novels and television episodes — including “The X-Files” — to poetry on his resume, this will be the author’s first foray into the world of comic books. Gibson spoke with CBR News about working in the new format, spoiler-free details on the storyline and shared his theory on why alternate realities continue to capture our imaginations.
CBR News: How did you decide to take “Archangel,” a script written with Michael St. John Smith, and turn it into a comic book series at IDW?
William Gibson: IDW approached me about a adapting a novel. I immediately thought of “Archangel,” which was in screenplay form at the time. I really liked the story as we had it, but that didn’t seem to want to move like a screenplay. When I tried thinking of it as a comic, though, I felt there was an immediate fit.
Was this a medium you’d been interested in exploring for a while?
I think I’ve just been waiting for the right coincidence, which has tended to be how I get involved with forms I haven’t worked in before. I’m actually surprised that it took this long, because I’ve been watching comics evolve all my life.
Did the new format take some getting used to when working on the script?
Actually, not so much. If I can’t vividly visualize something, I can’t really depict it in prose. I think of myself as a visual writer. And I’ve written enough screenplays to be comfortable with visualizing to a frame, which isn’t a factor in prose. In prose it’s more about visualizing from the protagonist’s POV.
“Archangel” deals with a 2016 that’s very different from the one we’re familiar with. What are some of the major differences readers will see?
It’s an alternate-history/cross-worlds story, and I wouldn’t want to spoil too much of the frame, because that’s an inherent part of our narrative. But I will say that one of the first verbal tags we had for the material was “‘Band Of Brothers’ vs. Blackwater.”
Butch Guice has a strong, bold art style. Was there a particular work of his you saw that made you realize he’d be great for “Archangel?”
I saw “Winterworld” #1, and then some WWII material he’s drawn. Instant first choice.
What can you tell us about the Splitter and the hope it offers humanity?
The Splitter splits timelines, creates forks in history, so it’s really a pretty standard sci-fi plot device. I think we’ve made interesting use of it, though, in part because our timeline here, today, turns out to be a product of the Splitter, and, for all our problems in our real 2016, we got really lucky compared to everyone in the original timeline, where they finally build the Splitter in an attempt to escape. That’s spoilerish, but I think it goes by so fast in the comic that a lot of people could miss it, so I don’t mind underlining it.
Working on this story was where the whole idea of the “stubs” came from, in my most recent novel, “The Peripheral.” That and having to write an introduction to a new edition of Kingsley Amis’ novel “The Alteration,” one of my favorite alternate histories.
Who are the human stars of “Archangel?” Who does the story focus on?
There are three protagonists: Naomi Givens, an RAF Intelligence officer in 1945 Berlin; Vince, her ex, an American OSS officer, also in 1945 Berlin; the Pilot, so-called, a nameless U.S. Marine from a seriously harsh-ass 2016 America, but he’s got his own undercover role as well. Naomi likes science fiction, Vince and the Pilot both like Naomi, so there’s a certain discomfort to the triangle. The bad guys are all from the 2016 fork, and are the only characters in the book with overtrained Marvel mesomorphy. The good guys look like actual 1940s humans! 1945 Berlin is an easy place to find interesting side-characters; really hopping with them.
In fiction, humanity has a tendency to screw up one world before moving on to another one. Why do you think that’s an element that continues to be explored in such varied ways?
There’s a theory that moving on to the next world is an American thing, because America was the next world, and in America, if you screwed up, you could move west and start over. In Europe, for instance, everything happens, literally, in the ruins of the past. Which arguably made UK and European SF more mature from the start. But I think that divide has been narrowing, more or less over my lifetime, as America grows up. But the alternate history, the “what if X had been Y instead” narrative, has long been at home on both sides.
William Gibson plays with reality — using comics — in “Archangel” #1, on sale this May from IDW.