Avatar Press Publisher William Christensen was joined at New York Comic Con by “Uber” writer Kieron Gillen and artist Canaan White to discuss their WWII-based series about super-powered Nazi soldiers. “‘Uber’ has been a monster hit,” Christensen said, stating that Avatar has huge, ambitious plans for the series, which is scheduled to run sixty issues.
“It’s a new spin on the World War II genre,” White told the audience. “It covers history, but messes it all up… Underneath it all, it’s a story about human nature, and if you give people power, what they’ll do with it out of desperation.
“‘Uber’ is a story that’s been classified as a war comic because it’s gruesome, because war is. We’re not giving kudos to Nazi Germany. It should make you upset and think it’s bad because it was,” White continued. “It’s supposed to be dark — and it’s going to get darker — but there’s some hope.”
“We try to snuff that out pretty quickly,” Christensen joked before praising Gillen’s skill of making every character in the book human. “Everyone has their reasons for being there and fighting for what they thought was right. We’re not glorifying Nazi Germany, but a lot of Germans were there because it was their country. Even some of the ubers aren’t thrilled to be there.”
“They’re still pawns,” White added. “They’re just like everybody else.”
“When we first started, people kept saying it was a pro-Nazi book,” Christensen said. “It’s not. We’re telling a story where they get the superheroes first.”
Christensen praised White at length for his skill at bringing the comic to life, which White credited to research and reference, going so far as to study what the spoons they used look like. “I wanted people to feel like it’s an untold history,” White said.
Gillen rushed into the room, apologizing for being late, explaining that he was doing three panels and joking that he needed “Benny Hill” music as he rushed around.
“We do have a grand plan for it,” Gillen said, taking a breath and sitting down. “I know how it ends, but now we’re really hammering out year two. I think about it as a history. I know the history of this war.
“The next six issues are building the world a little more,” Gillen continued. “We look at how the tech affects the Pacific War. Then we go to the Soviets trying to get ubers, and they are really grim. Then back to western front. We spend some personal time with the German battleships. It’s the second battle of Kursk. Everything is building up to the last issue of year one. I think you won’t believe what I did.”
Christensen jumped in, saying that when he finished reading that particular script, he told Gillen he had to write the next one quickly because Christensen wanted to know what happened.
An audience member asked Gillen why the essays in the back of the issues are so defensive about his treatment of the Germans.
Gillen admitted that he may have been overly defensive in some of the essays, but he is concerned about how the series is perceived. “It’s about humans doing horrible things. I want to write about my opinion of the truth of the war.” He also corrected one statement that the audience member made: “I’m not saying everyone’s equally bad. I’m not. I’m saying everyone’s pretty awful.”
As far as merchandise, the lack of it is simply due to so many of the continuing characters being Nazis. “I’m looking forward to an allied hero who stays alive more than an issue,” Gillen joked.
When one fan asked about the ubers power source, which characters in the book described as “extranormal,” the entire panel avoided giving an answer. “We don’t feel an urge to give it away to the readers or the characters,” Christensen said.
“I wanted to use superheroes to say something about World War II,” Gillen said, explaining that the phrase “just following orders” has become associated with the war, which is why the phrase is at the heart of “Uber” as is his interest at avoiding most of the tropes of the superhero genre.
“I think people now look at World War II like the war for Middle Earth. It’s a video game. Nazis may as well be zombies in the pop culture canon and that’s what I’m kicking against.”
“How [World War II] overhangs British culture is different from how it overhangs American culture,” Gillen said in response to a query about whether or not his nationality plays into how he approaches “Uber.” “The war has to mean something in the UK or national dignity would take a blow,” Gillen said, explaining that the war led to the end of the British empire.
Asked about how much work he does and working on a lack of sleep, Gillen said that he feels lazy, because there are people in comics who write more than him. “It’s worth noting that a lot of books are hitting now, but the work is spread out over a long period of time.
“I write five pages in morning,” Gillen continued, explaining that means twenty-five pages a week or about four books a month. “I’m able to keep the weekend free so my wife doesn’t divorce me.”
Finally, asked if more countries would be developing ubers, Gillen gave a lengthy answer touching on colonialism, racism, and the larger geopolitics of the war. Christiansen closed with a summary – “Short answer: Yes.”