In “Low,” writer Rick Remender and artist Greg Tocchini‘s ongoing far future set, creator-owned, sci-fi series from Image Comics, humanity is literally experiencing it’s darkest hour. An expanding sun has irradiated the Earth’s surface and forced people to take shelter in domed cities built in the dark ocean depths, cities that are now starting to crumble, while corruption and decadence is everywhere. It’s a bleak time, but hope is still an incredibly powerful force. It can awaken and motivate people who have given up, and it can give a person the fortitude to continue a seemingly impossible journey.
In the opening issues of “Low,” Remender and Tocchini’s protagonist Stel Caine used her optimism and hope to embark upon just such a journey; an attempt to reach the surface world and retrieve an interstellar probe that may have the location for a possible new home for humanity. So far, it’s been a journey fraught with peril that cost her the life of her son, but also lead to the discovery and rescue of her missing daughters, and in the seres new arc which kicks off in Issue #11 it comes to an end as Stel and her traveling companions reach the surface.
CBR News spoke with Remender about the strange things they’ll find there, the role Stel’s reunited daughters who are currently off on their own journey will play in the arc, and how this arc is a pivotal one in the long form story Remender and Tocchini are telling.
CBR News: This week’s “Low” #11, kicks off a new arc — “Shore of the Dying Light.” I read that you had a difficult time with the dialogue for the previous issue, #10, because it involved finding a way to keep your optimism and hope in the face of impossible odds. Is that a regular thing for you? Of your current crop of creator-owned books, is “Low” your most difficult to write?
Rick Remender: They all have their issues. I’ll have an outline and I’ll have a very clear mission statement on what kinds of emotions I want to hit, and what it is I want to say at a particular point in the story. If it’s just plot stuff, machinations and action, those issues are usually pretty easy. It’s when I have the big character turns that I’m trying to earn something with when things get difficult, especially with Stel and especially with “Low.” It’s just agonizing.
I believe Issue #10 set me back eight days on my schedule because I just couldn’t figure out how to make myself believe her point of view any more, given what she had gone through. When you’re a writer, you have the challenge of making yourself believe the characters’ motivations, or you’re not going to make the readers believe.
I find with optimism and positivity that every time I get a key that helps me open a door, eventually the key rusts and I have to find a new key. One version of a solution helps me for a while. It’s like, “Oh, I can do that! I’ll think about it like this!” Over time though, those solutions lose their potency, and it’s almost as if I need to find new ways to coax myself toward positive thinking, which is where I want to be. You want to have the positive mental attitude and be a happy person.
Writing Stel at that point in Issue #10 was very difficult for a number of reasons. Primarily, it was like I said, the making myself believe how this character, having gone through what she had, could recommit to her belief in the power of positive thinking.
At the end of Issue #10, Stel seemed to realize a few different things, including that a large chunk of life is choosing to participate so you can experience more of the good memories you can hold on to and use to drive you forward. Another part was deciding to choose what you hold on to and giving yourself permission to let go of any pain and start over.
Those are definitely aspects of it. It’s also trying to enjoy the small things in the moment that you’re in. So often we think long term and about things like where we’re going to be in three weeks, “It will be better in three weeks. Because that’s when I’ll be happy!” That classic adage, though, of being here, now, is so important; trying to ground yourself in the moment and find pleasure in the small things around you.
That was a big part of it as well as figuring it out that it can’t always be for other people. Being selfless and honorable and working in the service of other people’s needs is a wonderful trait, but I recognized in Stel that trait of altruism had maybe been taken a bit too far, and all of her motivations were for her daughters and for her son. Everything she’s done has been about trying to save the planet for other people. She’s trying to find the solution to humanity’s problems for everyone else.
That’s when I kind of keyed into what interested me about Stel’s perspective; the fact that it’s okay to be a little selfish and also need something for you. I think that’s where I kind of cracked the issue when it came to my ability to buy her motives.
Stel shares those revelations with her traveling companions Zem and Mertali, who were part of her deceased son Marik’s band of gladiators. How much impact did Stel’s words have on them?
We’ll see moving forward. I think when we catch back up with that crew in Issue #12, we see them faced with the wonderful dilemma of getting what they want, which is to arrive at the surface. That’s going to prove more difficult and challenging than maybe they had anticipated. [Laughs]
Considering Mertali was recently at Zem’s throat and ready to let him die, what’s the dynamic between Stel, Zem and Mertali going into Issue #12?
Yeah, they’re not great fans of each other, and Zem is an interesting character. I have what I believe is an interesting arc planned out for him.
Zem poses the big question of, can people change? Can there be redemption for somebody who has done atrocities and evil things in the past? Can there be a true reconciliation of what they’ve done? And can they earn salvation? Do they deserve it?
Zem is a very interesting character, and the dynamic between those three characters when we get to Issue #12 involves some fun stuff. Then, of course, we have some fun planned with the sisters as well.
Funny you should mention that, considering Stel’s daughters Tajo and Della take center stage in “Low” #11. Last time we saw them, it looked like Tajo had embraced the hope her mother believes in and her sister believed in when they were kids. I wonder about Della, though, who grew up and lived in a city where hope is literally a crime.
You set these sort of character trajectories up, and it’s crazy how many issues it takes to get to get to the meaty stuff. In Tajo, you have a girl who is basically recovering from Stockholm Syndrome. She was raised by the man who killed her father, and once given some power, after so many years of not having any, she reacted pretty violently and destroyed an entire dome full of pirates. Then, in Della, you have somebody who was also separated from her family. She was raised in Volden, the land of the hopeless, where art, literature and hope are illegal. She has quite committed to that idea, too.
She has no reason not to. Her hope is completely diminished. Nobody came to save her. Her parents never showed back up. She’s grown quite rotten, and you have that slow build that we had in the second arc, where you got to see just how far down that hole Della had fallen. Of course, that’s when Tajo arrives and saves her. We hadn’t seen Tajo since Issue #6, where she went off looking for Della. She found her at a pretty opportune moment.
Tajo doesn’t really know what Della has been through, though. They are two sisters who were once very close and now find themselves at cross purposes. It definitely leads to some pretty wonderful drama in this arc. The third arc is all the wonderful pay out from these different relationships and these things that we set up over the first 10 issues. These are always the stories I have the most fun with. I’ve done my heavy lifting, I’ve set the characters up — now, I get to smash the toys into each other. [Laughs]
That brings up the elephant in the room. Can these two sisters trust each other?
It comes down to character. Della doesn’t trust anybody, and Tajo’s brain is kind of like a scrambled egg given all she’s been through. She hopes and desperately wants to trust in Della, and I think she does, even when there are some signs that that’s not the right decision.
Will the sisters be the focus of Issue #11, or will this new arc be like the previous where the spotlight is split between two sets of characters?
It will be like the previous arc. I’ve really been enjoying writing the book that way. I’ve never really done this before, especially for a prolonged period. I’ve never told an A- and a B-story concurrently, where I’ve given them equal weight and we jump back from one to the other. With the way the story plays out and the things that I have planned going into the third and fourth arc, I’m finding it to be very satisfying.
It’s difficult, because it’s almost like writing an extra comic. The hardest part of writing four different series is when you have to jump from one to the other. I’ll spend eight to nine days living in “Tokyo Ghost”-land, and then it’s time to go over and write “Low” and it’s like, “Who are these people? Bah!” Then it always takes me like two days of rereading the books, my notes, and my outlines before I go, “Oh! Right! Yes, that’s what this character wants! And that’s what’s going on here.”
It’s an even more difficult process in that, with “Low,” I’m telling these two different stories that have to happen concurrently in the timelines of the series. But when the payouts that we have planned come, I think that it will be pretty wonderful if it all congeals the way that I’m hoping it will.
Let’s talk a little more about the adventure that kicks off in Issue #12. The surface world has been glimpsed, barely, in previous issues, but is this the first arc where we’ll really get to spend some time on the surface?
It is, and there are a lot of surprises up there. Whatever life that has been left up on the surface has been mutating and evolving in that extreme heat for tens of thousands of years. It’s always fun to mutate things and go a little nuts.
Some of the things we’ve seen in the book and hinted at, like the wasp people, are only the tip of the iceberg of what’s up there. There are a number of surprises that we’ve got in store, and hopefully it will pay out the intrigue of the time we spent getting up there.
Was that the probe Stel is after hanging off the rat creature’s tail readers saw in the last glimpse of the surface?
It was, but it wasn’t hanging. It was down on a shrine, and the rat creature was birthing some of the wasp larvae. They were dropping down on to the probe.
You’ve built a fascinating and rich world — what was it like designing its surface with Greg? It seems like you really wanted to embrace its strangeness.
I had to make a decision if I was going to try and go Ã¼ber-serious, or have some fun and go a little bit more over the top. I’m always happier when I take the over the top approach. [Laughs] Scientifically, there’s not a whole lot of explantation for what’s up there, and how it operates. It’s an alien world, and that was sort of the point. It’s a lot of crazy insanity that’s thriving up there right now.
Some of the choices Stel and some of the cast are going to have to make once they see what they’re up against will sort of unearth who they are — and whether or not they deserve to be rooted for.
I really like the color choices Dave McCaig made when showing the surface in the previous last arc. There were these white yellows that suggested an almost unbearable brightness. Did any of that direction come from you or Greg?
That was Dave, who’s been coloring the book since Issue #6, emulating the palette Greg kind of set up when we saw the surface back in Issue #2, where we got a very quick glimpse of the probe. Dave and Greg together are just phenomenal. If I could have my way in life, I would never stop working with those two guys.
I imagine for this arc you just let them cut loose with whatever creatures they wanted to populate the surface world with.
I came up with the reasons for the creatures and the basic ideas, and Greg just went nuts. It’s a joy, because whenever Greg goes nuts, things only get better. It’s never, “Oh, Greg! Too far!” Greg will add in something, or he’ll design something that wasn’t in the script and drop it in there, and I’m like, “I don’t even know what this is, but I love it!” [Laughs] I get to experience the comic as if it was new as well. It’s a little exciting. I can go, “Oh, and it’s this! And it deals with that like this!” The creative aspect of that is fulfilling and exciting. There’s an improv to it that keeps me on my toes.
What can you tell us about this next arc? Will we check back in with some characters that we haven’t seen for a while?
We will see the ramifications of a number of things that happened in the first story that we didn’t check in with in the second. We will have a sort of homecoming for a couple of the characters that will unearth the motives of one of the sisters. As for what we find on the surface — I don’t really want to give anything away. There are a lot of surprises, and a lot of “Watership Down”-type moments, where you see various critters up there that don’t get along, and Stel, Zem and Mertali are kind of thrown into it.
It sounds like “Shore of the Dying Light” will be a pivotal, perhaps game-changing arc for “Low” in the same vein of the current arc of “Deadly Class” and the last arc of “Black Science” was. Is that safe assumption?
Yes — again, this is very much [a situation where] I’ve spent the evening setting up my toys, and this is the arc where I get to take them and bash them into each other, put firecrackers inside the tanks, and burn it all to the ground, as I’m wont to do. The fourth arc of “Deadly Class” is kind of where all that stuff congealed. And the third arc of “Low” and “Black Science” kind of share that in common.
If you haven’t tried “Low” yet, and are perhaps looking to get caught up or see what it’s all about, I offer a money back guarantee on the first trade. You can go pick up the first trade for $9.99 at your local comic shop. We packed it full of 155 pages of Greg Tocchini love. There’s basically a year’s worth of work in there for the price of a movie ticket. I hope people will give the book a shot. It’s an experiment in a kind of storytelling I haven’t done before, and I couldn’t be more proud of it. If nothing else, you definitely get your money’s worth with the art work, even if the writer does stink. [Laughs]
“Low” #11 is on sale now from Image Comics. Read a preview of the all-new issue right now on CBR.