War, what is it good for? For comic book readers, the answers is high-octane action, commentary on the human condition and reality television taken to the extreme as seen in the upcoming miniseries "Cyclops" by writer Matz and artist Luc Jacamon.
Originally published as a French graphic novel in 2006 by Casterman, "Cyclops" finally makes its way to American audiences by way of Archaia, who previously brought over the duo's first collaboration together "The Killer." The publishing company announced the news Friday at its All Access panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego and plans to release the first issue of the miniseries in Spring 2011. Taking place approximately fifty years in the future, the story follows Douglas Pistoia as he finds himself drafted into a war where soldiers wear cameras that broadcast their actions all across the globe. As Pistoia continues to rise higher and higher in rank, he begins making decisions and following orders that soon bring into question his own humanity. The graphic novel delves into ideas behind the privatization of war and the evolution of the entertainment industry as reality TV continues to progress into stranger and more unusual territory - but the title mainly tells a very human story about how much it costs to lose one's self.
The French-born Matz took some time away from his duties in both comics and in the video game industry as head writer at Ubisoft and spoke with CBR News about his graphic novel making its way overseas, the future of war and how his fellow creator Luc Jacamon helped their book really stand out in a crowd.
CBR News: Matz, we know about the general premise of the book and how it centers on Douglas Pistoia and his being drafted into a war that is broadcast all across the world. How did you and Luc originally come up with the idea for this title?
Matz: As Luc and I had been working on "The Killer" for nearly seven years, in 2002, Luc told me that he'd like to take a break from it, that he'd like to work on something rather different. He told me he'd like to do something in the future, so that he could have more freedom to design vehicles, weapons, houses and such. So I gave it a thought, and I came up with "Cyclops." I'm an avid reader of history, politics, geo-strategy. I have been working in videogames for over fifteen years now, where I am involved with the storytelling of a lot of Tom Clancy titles, like "Splinter Cell," "Rainbow Six" and "Ghost Recon," so I like those subjects. Around that time, 9/11 had already happened and the whole world was changing - ramping up toward a bigger war than Afghanistan. Also, reality TV was getting bigger and bigger. It felt to me that the two mixed together would be an interesting topic, especially if we mix in private interests, mercenaries and private companies. I have to say that thinking back on it, I was quite insightful, right?
Blackwater and Halliburton were not as famous then as they have become afterward, and I have to admit that reality has probably outplayed the fiction. I've read quite a few non-fiction books about those subjects and they are quite fascinating. To me, sci-fi was a little bit of a problem, as I really don't consider myself a specialist. The way I solved that is twofold: first, I chose a rather arbitrary timeframe, far enough in the future so that the stakes could be different than ours, and so that Luc could be able to let his imagination run with the props. Second, I really focus on the characters. After all, times change, the props change, but people stay pretty much the same. Good or bad, or good and bad, more accurately. I focused on building characters that I hope people can relate to. Douglas is a young guy with a young wife, struggling to get a job. He's on the verge of poverty and ready to do anything. He's sucked up into this massive scam, the war/reality TV scam, which goes much deeper than it looks. He thinks he can stay on top, make the most of it, but he might not be as tough as he thought he was.
What can you say about the tone of the book? Is it more action, drama, introspection, philosophical or is it all of the above?
I try to mix in a little bit of everything - action, for sure, drama also - as we have characters that are sucked into too big a story for them, and introspection and philosophical, because what's at the core of it all, is the conscience. Douglas' conscience, as he goes deeper and deeper into the game, not seeing that he is passing the point of no return and that he does things that he shouldn't do. But other characters have conscience issues also. All of them. The journalist, the UN people we barely see. A lot of people are corrupt, or corruptible, some people are willing to keep their honor and conscience, to do what's right. What appealed to me was to mix relevant issues that deal with our world of today, and then extrapolate and see where that could take us and what would the reactions be.
What else can you tell us about Douglas? You gave a pretty good rundown of him, but what really drives him through all this?
Douglas starts off as a rather "normal" guy. A nice guy looking for a job, struggling in life to keep himself and his young lovely wife afloat financially. And when he finds a job, he makes a pact with the devil. Of course he doesn't know it yet, and he thinks he can keep the upper hand, he thinks he is in control. He's got money and fame, he's praised as a hero. He seems to become a rather cynical character, making the most of everything, just for himself. But is that really the way to get by in life? Studies show it's actually not.
What about the war itself? Can you give us any details on what it's all about - who is fighting whom and over what?
In "Cyclops," the wars are not central in the sense that the cause of the war is not crucial. The story is seen from Douglas' point of view. He's on the field, fighting for his life. The big picture is not really his concern. His concern is to carry out the missions he's given and make it through them alive. I think it's more accurate that way and more interesting. I wanted to stay away from the ongoing actual conflicts. The conflicts in "Cyclops" are more like pretexts for the action and the dilemmas our characters have to go through.
How did you evolve the idea of war and how it will be fought in the future when planning out this series? That is, does this war and the title's depiction of war and battle reflect where you think war is headed?
More importantly than the locations and the props, I think the most interesting thing is the large-scale privatization of it. If you mix that with the fact that a lot of the developed countries are on the verge of bankruptcy, there is a big temptation to cut the costs short and the Army is a way to go. Except as Halliburton and Blackwater have shown, there is no real proof that using private companies is actually a better deal, financially, for the American taxpayer. The other interesting thing is that mankind is not done with wars, far from it. It looks like border conflicts, and even more importantly, resources conflicts will arise. Gold, oil, water, we will see more of those, and I am not sure less Army is a good idea. But privatized armies, well, they do raise the issue of who they really fight for. I heard a quote recently that said that people who invoke patriotism are often the first ones to betray it. That's what's concerning. We rely on people we are not sure we can rely on. In America, you have a saying that "war is too serious a business to be left up to politicians." In France, the saying goes "war is too serious a business to be left up to the military."
You wrote this before the war in Iraq. How does the existence of the current war affect the story you're trying to tell? Do you think it makes the book more relevant or is war something that is always relevant with humanity?
Unfortunately, war seems to still be relevant with our species. But there are wars worth fighting for and illegitimate wars. But yes, the war in Iraq made the book more relevant. Some people read the book and told me "Hey, you saw that coming!" But at the same time, like I said earlier, there are moments when reality seems to be going much further and much worse than fiction. There are things that actually take place that if you did them in fiction people would go "Come on, man, that's crazy bullshit, couldn't happen in real life." Only, real life has a way to come up with even worse stuff. There are some characters in real life that would make unbelievable fictitious bad guys, and they are everywhere.
You and Luc have worked together before on "The Killer." What do you like about Luc's style and working with him? Are there any sequences that he drew that were your favorite?
"The Killer" was Luc's first attempt at a graphic novel. When I first met him and gave him a test, it showed instantly that he had what it takes, for sure, but also that he had something I really liked: he has a style of his own. His work cannot be mistaken with someone else's. I think that's a big plus. In France, we have something like three hundred new comic books or graphic novels out every month. You have to stand out, you have to have your own style, otherwise you are drowned in the crowd. But more than this, Luc's style is really readable. It's both artsy and mainstream. That's what I really liked about it at first. He was very focused when we met. At the time, he was doing the colors himself, by hand, with markers that he prepared himself. He's discovered the computer now. We have a good working relationship. I know what he does best, and he knows what I mean when I give him a breakdown for a page. So it's a pleasant collaboration.
To close out, what are your thoughts on this book finally coming over to American audiences? What are you most excited about when it comes to this American release?
I am thrilled. I was thrilled when "The Killer" made it to the American market, and I really enjoyed all the attention, the in-depth reviews, the signings with the readers, the Eisner nomination, the attention from Hollywood - by the way, "Cyclops" has been optioned by Warner Brothers for James Mangold to direct - everything has been great. It means a lot to me, because I've always felt rather close to the American culture, and somehow, this tells me that what I am doing is working to a very demanding audience. I really hope "Cyclops" gets the same kind of welcome. We shall see soon.