The limits of science fiction are only created by the boundaries of imagination, and Image Comics has some pretty imaginative folks making on its roster. That was the general idea behind the Wondrous Wolds, Fractured Futures: Speculative Fiction And Image Comics panel at New York Comic Con. The panel featured David Hine (“Storm Dogs”), Joe Harris (“Great Pacific”), Glen Brunswick (“Non-Humans”) as well as creative duos Brian Wood and Ming Doyle (“Mara”) and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (“Saga”) revealing the inspirations behind their respective titles.
The amassed talent spoke about everything, from their working definitions of science-fiction and world building to collaborating with artists who help them develop these words. The panel kicked off with a question to the audience: what is science-fiction? A fan stood up, defining the concept as taking actual science and extrapolating stories from there, an assessment the rest of the audience and panel agreed with.
“The way that I approach sci-fi is not so much focused on tech or the sciences themselves, but the way they impact the way everybody lives,” Wood said. “We’ve created this future world where this world has a heavy obsession on sports and war [in ‘Mara’]. Everything is really focused on that; those are the two career paths everyone wants to take. It’s not a means to an end — it’s the end.”
“I’m a huge science fiction fan, but am very art-minded and have no conception for the practical applications,” Doyle said referring to real world applications of the tech found in her book. “The world Brian has sketched out has been really fun to work in.”
The mic then passed to writer Glen Brunswick who recently launched “Non-Human” with Image Comics founder Whilce Portacio. He discussed their comic which features toys imbued with human emotions and personalities.
“We look into the future and think of things that actually happen and try to figure out what advances happen and emotionally, how our characters will realistically react to whatever fantastic elements are taking place in the future,” Brunswick said.
“Storm Dogs” writer David Hine then explained his approach to the genre. “I always preferred the term speculative fiction because you don’t have to worry as much about the science. The first thing I did was set up the story to get rid of most of the tech.” “Dogs” features a team of astronaut cops heading to a backwater world that won’t allow them to use their technology to solve the case. “What we’ve got are human beings used to 24/7 connectivity going back to learning how to relate to one another on a human basis.”
Vaughan and Staples’ wildly successful “Saga” was the focus of the next shift in subject matter. Staples explained that for their off-kilter reality, they went with more of a combination of the science fiction and science fantasy genres.
“I always loved sci-fi or fantasy, but I had friends who liked one or the other,” Vaughan said. “It’s fakey make-believe. Can’t we all just get along and realize we’re all just fakey make believe?”
Staples went on to say that she actually hates drawing technology, which is why so many of the technological elements of the book have a more organic nature to them. “I always put character first when I design these things,” Staples said.
When asked about the upcoming seventh issue, the book’s return to a monthly schedule after a bit of a hiatus, Staples said Vaughan’s script included “the worst possible page for her to draw.” She went on to say that she’ll have to tape those pages together when she passes it to her mom who reads everything she does.
Doyle said that she isn’t a fan of drawing tech either, which is why the world of “Mara” is packed with holo-screens and not physical screens. “I like to draw people,” she said. “I got into comics because I liked romance comics, that’s what I like to draw. I’m really bad at drawing straight lines. The second thing I hate and have a lot of problem doing is drawing people in motion — so we’re doing a sports comic.”
When it comes to fleshing out and building the worlds in their comics, Harris explained his “Great Pacific” environs are actually based in reality. “We had to really create this world that’s made up of teeny tiny bits of plastic and junk. Our Great Pacific Garbage Patch has its own geography and topography.” In addition to the literal building of that garbage world, he also wanted to flip man versus nature idea because this is nature that actually comes from man.
When it came to developing the look of Los Angeles for “Non-Human,” Brunswick and Portacio made a point of avoiding direct comparisons to the archetypes of “Blade Runner,” “Our initial thoughts were that we wanted to take Hong Kong and drop it on top of Los Angeles. Whilce thought about that, and as we thought about some of the world-building, he had his own ideas, creating some of these monolith structures where the humans habitate and the non-humans live in the streets.”
Hine said that his world is almost completely devoid of the science aspects of sci-fi, instead hewing closer to a Western due to the planet’s frontier-feel. He went on to say artist Doug Braithwaite has gone so far as to spend hours designing elements like flora and fauna.
With that, the floor opened up to questions, the first one asking Wood and Vaughan about writing characters espousing the virtues of non-violence in their books.
“I’ve got kids now, so my major life question is what order to show them the Star Wars movies in,” said Vaughan, explaining that the films will be their first introduction into the idea of war, even a simple one with clear cut definitions of good and evil. He went on to say that he’s dealing with the idea of loving violence in fiction, but abhorring it as a person in real life.
“A decade ago, there was this general feeling that I could never understand — if you weren’t actively wishing for a war, you were a wimp or a bad person,” Wood said. “It troubled me. Like Brian, I have kids too, and it occurred to me a couple years ago that they’ve been living in a country at war since they’ve been born, and how much longer?”
“The big appeal of optioning things is getting a lot of cash money,” Vaughan said in response to a fan’s queries about a potential “Saga” movie. “That part is cool, and I’m happy to sell out. Beyond that, I don’t really care. My idea director for ‘Saga’ is Fiona, and my ideal cast are the ones that Fiona draws. The comic is a destination; it’s not a blueprint for something else. It’s not like I watch ‘Breaking Bad’ and think, ‘I wish someone would make a painting of this.'”
“I felt pretty much the same way until I was looking through some of the ‘Saga’ tags on Tumblr and there were some really good casting calls,” Staples said. At this point, two people dressed as “Saga” leads Marko and Alana came up, showed off their costumes and posed for pictures. Alana then asked the panel for their influences when combining science-fiction and science-fantasy.
“For me, science is magic, so there’s no distinction,” Hine answered. “I don’t get science, so you might as well be waving a magic wand.” He went on to say he’s influenced by Ray Bradbury who didn’t like labels and drew inspiration from everything.
Staples added that she was a big fan of the Final Fantasy series. The conversation then shifted over to collaborations and how they’ve advanced the comics.
Wood said that he had no ideas for the cover of “Mara” #1, but Doyle nailed it. “There’s something about the way she’s looking at you that I couldn’t put into words, but I felt like I knew that character the first time I looked at it,” Wood said.
The final question was about world-building and how to get across exposition about these new worlds without distracting from the story. Wood said that he often uses snippets of news broadcasts for this purpose. In addition to getting information across, he also enjoys writing in the cadence of newspeople.
Harris said that he’s a fan of the recap page while Brunswick used characters watching a video that explains how the toys came to life in “Non-Humans.”
Vaughan explained that he used to try and do exposition artfully before reading an essay by Kurt Vonnegut which said to just get rid of all the artsy stuff and tell the audience what they need to do on page one. Following that line of thought, he has “Saga” narrated by Marko and Alana’s baby who just tells the reader what’s up right away.