Millions of music fans know the signature sound of Tom Morello’s guitar from his time with “Rage Against the Machine” and “Audioslave,” but its his words that take center stage in the Dark Horse Comics published “Orchid,” which wraps its twelve issue run this week.
An epic look at a sunken, ransacked Earth where most of the population lives in fear, “Orchid” allowed the politically expressive Morello to blend monsters and messages with a tale of heroism and sacrifice. And while the focus was certainly on Morello’s writing, the book also tied to his music career thanks to free, downloadable original compositions that served to score each issue.
In speaking with CBR News, Morello describes his experience creating the world of “Orchid” with artist Scott Hepburn, the chances of him returning to comics and if he ever worried about being perceived as preachy.
CBR News: You made it through 12 issues with “Orchid,” your first comics writing gig — what have you discovered along the way that you wish you knew going in?
Tom Morello: [Laughs] Well, it’s been an exciting ride. You know, one of the things that I’ve discovered is the tremendous talent and importance of Scott Hepburn, the illustrator, and how his visual storytelling abilities were really a key component in bringing this story to life.
“Orchid” focuses heavily on terrorism, rebellion and the way that personal perspective defines the two. How do you define the difference personally, and why did you feel that it was important to make it a part of the story?
That is one of the issues that I’ve wrestled with throughout my entire political and personal career — one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.
Those are the issues the story of “Orchid” deals with. And, you know, from a motivation of being, sort of, personal revenge to, sort of, societal revenge to, you know, what do you do in the name of trying to create a better society and how much carnage must you wreak to do that? I would say that that is an ongoing knot that I continue to try to untie in my art, and it’s certainly one of the major themes of “Orchid.”
Importantly, there are a number of different focuses one can have in a story of struggle. In this, the two that I focus on are class and patriarchy and sexual violence against women.
In looking back on it, “Orchid” is a society that is basically free of racists. It’s a society free of homophobia. Those are not issues that even exist. There are good guys and bad guys of every ethnicity, there’s romantic persuasions of different kinds at play. No sort of pivotal plot role in it. I really wanted to focus on the sort of class and patriarchy in the story of “Orchid” and the way that they’re linked.
As you said, and as is obviously known about you, you’re very socially active — with your music, with “Orchid,” with your life. Were you ever worried that you might have to pull back a little in order to tell a story that would be compelling? Did you worry that you might come off as preachy? Or was that not something that you were concerned about?
No. I mean, the main concern of the book was always, first and foremost, tell an exciting tale with a lot of cool monsters — period.
The difference was that the point of view — the underlying one — which was, every story contains politics, contains presumptive politics in it. If the idea is to get the King back on the throne, then, you know, “politics supporting a monarchy” are the ones that underlie — whether that’s explicitly stated or not. The subtext of this is one that’s very political. The key was to have it be an exciting, epic narrative along the lines of “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.”
Finally, what is it you most want people to take away from the book?
As a long time comics, “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Star Trek” nerd, I want this story to be a part of the canon of “epic tale.” I want to throw my hat into the ring and write a story that’s… — people whose imagination is important in their lives, this is something that they can find attractive. But, also, one that is reflective of my worldview and is one more hammer swing in the ongoing battle of mankind to better itself and fight for a more equitable, just and free planet for everybody.
That’s a lot to expect from a comic book, but like I said, it’s also gonna have a lot of cool monsters.
Tom Morello and Scott Hepburn’s “Orchid” #12, the series’ final issue, is on sale now.