Technology is a double-edged sword. New devices can offer innovative ways of navigating our world, but those same devices can distract us from what’s important and the truth of what’s really going on in the world around us. When the latter occurs, insidious figures can gain control of our society and transform the future into a glittering, neon lit, toxic dystopia where our water supply is poisoned and massive conglomerates are the law.
In the summer of 2015, writer Rick Remender, artist Sean Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth visit exact such a future filled with dangerous tech in their new creator-owned series from Image Comics, “Tokyo Ghost.” CBR News spoke with Remender about the series, which was announced yesterday at the Image Expo in San Diego and how he plans to transport readers to the dystopian isles of New Los Angeles.
CBR News: Rick, “Tokyo Ghost” partners you with artist Sean Murphy for your newest creator-owned series at Image. How long have you and Sean been wanting to work together? How did this project come about? What inspired the idea?
Rick Remender: I contacted Sean in 2007 to see if he would do a creator-owned book with me. He was just starting “Hellblazer” at the time, so he couldn’t. We talked a little bit after that and it seemed that our schedules were constantly at odds. We hung out in San Diego a couple Comic-Cons in a row and at some conventions in Chicago. Then eventually after hanging out for awhile we started to talk about finally getting this thing under way. It then petered out again as these things are wont to do.
Finally, the way it came together was that I had just asked Sean to do a “Black Science” cover. He e-mailed me back and said he didn’t have time to do a “Black Science” cover, but what if we started to work on our creator-owned book? I said, yes and that’s– whew! A year ago now. So we started cooking it up.
â€¨As for the idea, Sean asked for one particular type of story. It’s a genre that is hidden within “Tokyo Ghost” that we have yet to reveal. I told him, “yes, I have that story” and we started to build. We spent about nine months on the phone building. That’s something I like to do with most of these creator-owned books when I can because you really get a collaborative and invested team.
Sean brought in our colorist Matt Hollingsworth and we cut him in on the media and made him a partner so that we had his attention and his love. Not that he doesn’t give it to any of his projects, but we wanted Matt completely in and part of the team. I do that for almost all of my creator-owned books now because it leads to a team effort where everybody is giving their best, as you’ve seen from the work that I’ve shown.
One of the things I love most about Sean’s art is that it really pulls you into the world he’s creating. Let’s talk about the world of “Tokyo Ghost.” What inspired it? The art that I’ve seen suggests everything from “Akira” and “Blade Runner,” to the Mad Max movies, “Judge Dredd” and even “Grimjack.”
Holy shit! [Laughs] Wow. You said the things I was going to be saying. It’s all of that on the exterior. It has a profound and, I think, poignant statement on modern society and where we are going as a civilization addicted to technology and entertainment. We’re taking that to the nth degree where the entertainment conglomerates have their own Pinkertons, which are called constables. That’s where we meet Led Dent and Debbie Decay, two constables for the Flack corporation. They are the law, whatever the law is that day.
This is a society built on distraction and people being lost and stranded in their own little bubbles of artificial, electronic reality. It was something that Sean and I built the story up from and will ultimately serve as a very heavy weight for the character arc that’s coming which will heavily shift things around. The polarities of the arc are as different as they could be, but we’re saving the reveal of where we’re going to head with it.
What else can you tell us about your protagonists, Led Dent and Debbie Decay? How would you describe their dynamic? The art I’ve seen suggests that when it comes to their work as Constables he’s the wheelman and she’s the gunner.
That’s definitely part of how they operate. Debbie is the only person left in the isles of New Los Angeles who is tech-free. So she serves as a perfect counter measure to Led who is a walking distraction. He is watching 17 shows and porno movies at all times and monitoring 15 different Twitter feeds. He is the natural, exponential end that we are all facing with our phones, the internet, and the 15 different blogs we all run. It’s the obsession with ourselves and this nonsense that we spew on to this nothing canvas. He is dialed into that shit to the point of being of unaware of what he’s doing, which makes him the perfect Constable for Mister Flack and his decrepit little corporation.
Debbie is sort of the Jiminy Cricket. She’s on his shoulder trying to steer him, please their masters back upstairs, and trying to actually serve the city as much as they can even when their orders, as they do in the first issue, come at a price to the population. She’s the little angel.
So the New Los Angeles of “Tokyo Ghost” is a clearly a dystopian city, but whether or not it’s part of a post apocalyptic world is something we’ll discover as the series goes on?
We’ve got a huge back story and I think there’s some fun reveals that happen in that story. So you will learn more. As you can see from the art, the isles of New Los Angeles are L.A., but the ocean levels have risen a half a mile. They’re all the way up to the Hollywood sign, and the water is so toxic that it will melt your skin.
â€¨So it’s of those wonderful influences and tropes that you mentioned, but that’s where it starts. Ultimately, where the story goes and how we’re able to progress it because we’re not stuck in a licensed property where we have to keep the characters sort of whole means we get to tell a story with those sort of Mad Max, Judge Dredd, and Lobo archetypes and featuring a character like that with very unique twist. We then get to take him some place that ultimately has never been done before with a character like that.
We haven’t talked about the title of the book. What can you tell us about it and its significance to the story you’re telling?
You can tell from the cover that we are going to Tokyo and we refer to Tokyo as the mysterious isle. What’s left of Tokyo is blanketed by an EMP zone. It is the last place on the planet that is green, healthy, and vibrant. Humanity is flourishing there because they’re not dialed into all of the nano tech, cybernetics and technological drugs.
â€¨So you get a juxtaposition between New Los Angeles and Tokyo. Ultimately, there’s a story to be told in both of those cities. By the time we get to issue #10 we’ll have split our time fairly evenly between them.
You’ve talked about the corporation that Debbie and Led work for, but what can you tell us about some of the people they will run afoul of in their roles as Constables?
The book is a year out — it’s coming out in 2015 — so I don’t want to give away too much, but we’ve created our own rogues gallery. So if Led Dent and Debbie Decay are our Batman and Robin we’ve created a Joker, a Riddler and a whole legion of really cool villains to inhabit New Los Angeles.
â€¨The first issue opens up with them in the middle of them dealing with one of those villains. That ultimately leads to the progression of the world changing story.
Let’s talk a little more about Sean and Matt’s art. What can people expect from their work on “Tokyo Ghost?”
As you can see from the samples, some of the greatest stuff in the world. Sean is absolutely out of his fucking mind, and with Hollingsworth coloring him you have the cream of the crop art team; one of the best teams on the planet bringing something that is an interesting mix of what Sean normally does in books like “The Wake” and “Punk Rock Jesus” with a twist of Simon Bisley and a spattering of Klaus Janson and Frank Miller, and a healthy dollop on top of that of the noirish, heavy blacks of Alex Toth. So it’s this incredibly unique blend that only Sean can nail. Every page that comes in for “Tokyo Ghost” causes me to do back flips and run around my office screaming kaloo kalay over how beautiful this stuff is.
Finally, how does the tone and feel of “Tokyo Ghost” compare to some of your other creator-owned books?
The only other book I’ve done that I think has a similar kind of dynamic is “Doll and Creature.” That’s the book where religion is illegal and Goth culture and monsterism have become mainstream. It’s full of Frankenstein style monsters, mummies, and other creatures. So just in the dynamic of a giant, hulking man and a beautiful woman I think that’s the closest I can come in terms of set up.
This is a love letter to things like “The Road Warrior” and “Judge Dredd.” That’s only half of it though. The other half being a lot of what we’ll be exploring and where the book will take us. It’s a real chocolate and peanut butter mix that I’ve never seen before. So I think it’s fairly unique in my body of work.
There’s definitely a punk rock vibe to things.
Yeah, if I had to pick it would be closest to a lot of my work when I was doing “Black Heart Billy” and “Doll and Creature.” I think tonally it’s closest to those, which is a really wonderful thing. I love that sensibility and I love being able to write humor and gore, and still have something smart to say.
It’s the scene I grew up in. The Skate Punk scene was magazines like “Juxtapoz” and guys like Robert Williams who were celebrating low brow by showing that it can be intelligent and have something to say. It doesn’t have to dress itself up as something that it’s not and try and sell cult of personality, which is a lot of fun.
“Tokyo Ghost” is still a ways out. Our launch date is summer of 2015, but we’re picking away at it right now and we’ll continue to pick away at it so by the time we launch we have half of it done and the book can ship every 30 days and everybody can enjoy the insanity.
So this is an ongoing series?
Yes, it’s an ongoing in the way all my other creator-owned books are ongoing in that we take off months in between arcs to catch up. That way we don’t have to switch teams and everybody can enjoy their life a little. It also enables me to continue my Marvel work and to keep giving that what I have been giving it.
So what it ends up being is the two to three month breaks from “Low” are when I’m working on this. Then when this has a break I’ll really be focusing on “Black Science” and so on.
One aspect of comic books is that we’ve come to a point where the top level guys aren’t hiring inkers any more. They all want to ink themselves. It’s not all of them, but most of them. So that takes them longer. The artist having control of inking themselves and not having that collaborative aspect of comic book making leads to people not being able to produce the same volume of work, but it leads to the artist having more purity of intention in the work.
â€¨If I was still pencilling I wouldn’t do that because I was very fortunate to have Hilary Barta and John Beatty inking me. Those guys are the best and only make things better, but for guys like Sean, or Jerome Opeña, or any number of other people it slows the process down. It’s the same with Matteo Scalera, Wes Craig, and Greg Tocchini. So it’s the same with every single guy I’m working with on creator-owned books, and Greg colors himself.
I feel that taking three months off between arcs enables the teams to catch their breaths and come back and do everything again. It allows us to keep our creative teams and keep the purity of the books. Plus, it gives us a rest so we’re not just hacking out filler issues. I think the consistency over time when we get multiple trade paperbacks out of these books will make them something that have longevity and feel special.
“Tokyo Ghost” debuts Summer 2015 from Image Comics.