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New Fantasy Epic Zojaqan Explores a World Even Stranger Than its Name

by  in Comic News Comment
New Fantasy Epic Zojaqan Explores a World Even Stranger Than its Name

Writing duo Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly caught industry attention by collaborating with Alyssa Milano on Hacktivist at BOOM! Studios’ Archaia imprint, which led to a spot on the Batman & Robin Eternal creative team and a three issue stint on Grayson, both at DC Comics.

Following last month’s conclusion of 12-issue sci-fi story Joyride, Lanzing and Kelly’s latest project was recently revealed as the especially ambitious Zojaqan — pronounced ZOH-jah-KHAN — a new fantasy series from burgeoning publisher Vault Comics, illustrated by Nathan Gooden and Vittorio Astone. In Zojaqan, main character Shannon Kind wakes up as the first life on a “primordial world,” one year after the death of her child — a world thoroughly unfamiliar from our own, where hundreds of years can pass in an instant.

RELATED: New Publisher Vault Comics Talks Debut: ‘We Live and Die by Sci-Fi and Fantasy’

CBR spoke with both Lanzing and Kelly about the mysteries of Zojaqan, the “punk-rock Frazetta” work of Gooden, working with Vault Comics and world-building “the most unfamiliar” world. Additionally, CBR has the first look at interior art from July’s issue #1 by Gooden and Astone.

CBR: Collin and Jackson, beyond the (unconventional!) title and the initial solicitation, there’s not a ton of information out there on Zojaqan — but thanks to the magic of web searching, I know you’ve been working on it since at least 2015. How did this story take shape? What should people know about it?

Jackson Lanzing: Zojaqan is a fantasy story unlike any other, chronicling Shannon Kind, a mother grieving the senseless death of her son who on page one finds herself falling out of the sky of a distant, primordial world. With no memory of how she got there, Shan struggles to survive on a world that works nothing like our own — but quickly realizes a strange truth: she is, in the Vonnegut tradition, “unstuck in time.” She is always moving forward, but sometimes a hundred years can pass in the blink of an eye. The Butterfly Effect is in full force throughout our story — as every decision Shan makes has wide-reaching consequences to the world around her. In a very real way, Shan is given the chance to be a mother once again — this time to an entire world. A world called Zojaqan.

As for its origins, Zojaqan took shape out of a desire to do something completely different. Every story we write is unique — as a writing team, our authorial voice is I guess a lot more variable. Every script is a whole new adventure. If Collin or I feel ourselves repeating tones, ideas, formal concepts, or characters, we tend to run as hard in the opposite direction as possible. So after the pop music optimism of Joyride and the stark crunchy realism of Hacktivist, we found ourselves driven to tell a more lyrical story driven less by the trials of youth than the experience of age. Of course, because it’s a Lanzing/Kelly creation, that story became a vast fantasy meditation on action and consequence — and how the best of lessons and the most loving of people can be corrupted, given enough time. We kinda hate making it easy on ourselves.

What can you share about the main character, Shannon Kind? What’s her life like before the impossible situation she finds herself in?

Collin Kelly: To understand Shannon, it’s important to know her not just in the moments before our story, but in the years before that. Shannon is the daughter of immigrants, a child who moved often from school to school. She ran. She studied. And when she became pregnant, she raised the child herself. She is a fierce mother, protective and loving, working as a postal worker to support the family. And then, one day… that is taken from her. With the death of her son, Shannon is hollowed out. She’s gutted, left empty. That event, for her, stopped time, and for a solid year she is frozen. Broken. A woman who has fought for everything in her life, suddenly left with a loss that she can never resolve; that is the Shannon Kind we meet on page one.

What she does next… that is the story of Zojaqan.

And on that note — how do you describe the world that she wakes up to? How unfamiliar is it to her?

Lanzing: Is there a word for “the most unfamiliar?” Because that’s what Zojaqan is. It is a world just beginning to take shape — and Shan is the first life on this world by several billion years. Not to mention, every time she finds a way to adapt — to find food, shelter, peace of mind — she uncontrollably skips into the future. She can only take what she’s holding/wearing — so loss becomes Shan’s norm. New threats. New opportunities. New landscapes. New everything. And much of it determined by choices Shan herself made, with no idea how the consequences would shake out — or that there would even be consequences. In this way, even after she’s spent years in Zojaqan, it is still in many ways an unfamiliar world.

Nathan Gooden will be a new name to many comics readers — what’s it been like seeing him bring these ideas to life?

Kelly: Remember what it was like to wheel your bike to the comic shop, slap down your hard earned allowance and buy a book you’d never heard of, just because the art was so damn gripping that you had to have it? Working with Nathan is like that, every day. When we first saw his work in Dead Eye, we both felt like he was a channeling a punk-rock Frazetta; now, the fact that he’s joining us to tell Zojaqan‘s story, and that he’s only at the start of his career… it’s utterly thrilling.

That’s not just because he brings a sweeping spectacle to the page — it’s the pathos he beings to Shannon. Yes, we love his monsters, but it was the first sketches of Shannon Kind — sketches based on his own sister — that gut-punched us. We knew in that moment that Nathan would anchor the fundamental humanity of Shannon, even in the fantastic world of Zojaqan, which is the axis on which the entire story revolves.

The two of you have been collaborating for a while — how does this series compare to past works from you? Just from the way you’ve talked about it on Twitter, it feels “bigger” in a different way.

Lanzing: I think it’s safe to say that Zojaqan is the most ambitious project we’ve ever taken on. I mean, it’s a story about grief, loss, personal responsibility, and purpose told over the canvas of literally billions of years. There aren’t a lot of analogues to go back to. With Hacktivist, there’s a wealth of similar fiction from which to be inspired. With Joyride, even moreso. Zojaqan is a fantasy, sure, but Tolkien, Le Guin, or Martin aren’t actually relevant references. We found ourselves revisiting myths, religious texts, conversations with our own mothers, and the injustices on display every day in our current fractured world. Alan Moore and Frank Herbert, especially in their approach to nonlinear storytelling, became touchstones for the way to tell the story — but the story itself was a constant source of new challenges.

We’re very proud of the story that came out of that struggle. I don’t know that it’s “bigger” than our other work — we love all our babies — but it’s certainly aiming for a very different target.

Sci-fi is certainly a genre you’re familiar with, and Vault Comics Editor-in-Chief Adrian F. Wassel has said they “live and die” by the genre. What’s it been like working with this relatively new publisher?

Kelly: There’s an amazing energy you can get from collaborating with someone who shares your vision. When we first sat down with Adrian and his brother Damian (Vault’s publisher), we yelled at each other about Dune and literature and mountain climbing — we felt that that energy. We trusted them with this story, which is one of the most challenging we’ve ever tried to tell, and we did it because we knew they would give us all the support the book would need to thrive. From greenlighting Nathan to join us, to bringing super-star Deron Bennett on to do our lettering, they’ve been truly outstanding partners – we’re beyond psyched to be part of the Vault family.

And oh yeah, how do you pronounce Zojaqan?

Lanzing: ZOH-jah-KHAN. Emphasis on the first and last syllable both. By the way, it’s not just a nonsense word. Yes, it’s the name of our world, it also has contextual meaning, which will become clear as the story unfolds.

Zojaqan #1 is scheduled for release on July 12 from Vault Comics.

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