CCI: Stephenson Gets Lost With "Nowhere Men"

Like plenty of people working behind the scenes in the comic book industry, Eric Stephenson has a creative side that doesn't always see the light of day due in part to his daily responsibilities as the publisher of Image Comics. In the company's early days Stephenson worked closely with Rob Liefeld as editor and co-writer on books like "Brigade," "Supreme" and "Youngblood." After moving full time into the realm of editing, Stephenson was named Publisher in 2008. Now, when not reviewing potential new series for Image, which is having a renaissance these days thanks to books like "The Walking Dead," "Morning Glories," "Prophet," "Saga" and dozens of others, he's coming up with stories he wants to tell. One such tale is the November-debuting "Nowhere Men," which he's working on with "Hector Plasm" artist Nate Bellegarde.

Announced at the Image Comics Experience panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the series takes a look at a reality where a quartet of scientists have changed the world and risen to rock star status, publicly worshipped for their individual work as well as their collaborative efforts. Dade Ellis, Simon Grimshaw, Emerson Strange and Thomas Walker came together to work for World Corp., making a huge impact both good and bad when they did. CBR News spoke with Stephenson about crafting the characters, switching gears from editor to writer and working with Bellegarde to develop the world of "Nowhere Men."

CBR News: Let's kick things off with a few basics. First, is "Nowhere Men" an ongoing or a mini?

Eric Stephenson: Ideally, it will go on for a while, but as with anything, that depends on how well it's received. I'm certainly not delusional enough to think my own name on a comic book is enough to move the dial sales-wise, but Nate Bellegarde, Steve Finch and Jordie Bellaire are all insanely awesome. I think we have a good thing going here, so we'll see how it goes.

What can you tell us about the book's stars, Dade, Simon, Emerson and Thomas, as individuals and as scientists?

Who says they're the book's stars?

Fair enough -- if they're not the leads of the story, who is and what can you tell us about them/him/her?

Well, Dade Ellis, Simon Grimshaw, Emerson Strange and Thomas Walker are the founders of a company that is responsible for some very big changes on a worldwide scale, so in that sense, yeah, they're definitely catalysts for everything that happens from there on out.

But look -- there are a lot of characters. If this were a movie, I guess we'd be saying it has a large ensemble cast. I don't want to say too much more than that, though, because I think there's a benefit to going into something like this without a lot of advance knowledge. That's what drew me to comics as a kid -- that giddy feeling that comes along with discovering something new. I'm dating myself here, but that's what got me into the theatre for "Star Wars" when it first came out. I think I saw a couple television commercials for it and had a sense of how cool it was, but by no means did I go into that film knowing who everybody was. For me, it's more fun to discover a new world a little bit at time. 

In the world you've created for the series, the scientists you're writing about are essentially rock star-level celebrities. Is there one big discovery in particular that makes them so beloved?

Without going into the kind of detail that gives away key story points, I guess the best way of looking at it is they've all done great things individually and have become incredibly famous as a result. On their own, they're just about the most revered men in the world, but when they join together, things kind of move to a different level.

Can you tell us anything about the event that makes it all go wrong?

That's kind of the whole story, so sorry if it seems like I'm being evasive, but... yeah.

What I will tell you is, something I've always found kind of interesting about comics is that there's a lot of happenstance at the root of various origin stories and whatnot. Many superhero comics are science fiction stories at heart, and there's a long tradition of things happening by accident or by coincidence. I tend to think everything happens for a reason, though. And every action has a consequence. When bad things happen, there's usually someone responsible.

Was there a particular scientific news story or something along those lines that inspired the creation of "Nowhere Men?"

In terms of scientific news stories, yeah, there were a couple, but I'm not going to say what. Again -- sorry.

Aside from that end of things, though, there are some obvious cultural touchstones. I've always been fascinated by The Beatles -- not just the music or their image or whatever, but the story of The Beatles. It's a wonderful story, probably my favorite story, and I've always wondered about what it was like for them to be kind of in the eye of the hurricane for all those years. Similarly, there was a point when Steve Jobs and Apple were first setting their controls for the heart of the sun, and I got to thinking about the rivalry with Microsoft, about Jobs' relationship with Bill Gates and things like that, and how it would have been interesting if guys like that had actually worked together.

For the most part, it was really just idle daydreaming after reading different things. I think, as a species, we have a lot of potential, but we're also kind of hardwired to fuck things up over and over again, somehow. There's so much we do that really isn't in our best interests -- in terms of science, in terms of politics, you name it -- and I spend a lot of time kind of thinking about that. For all the good that does, y'know? But in terms of science, specifically, there's a tendency to do things simply because we can, as opposed to servicing a genuine need. So, instead of fixing problems, we're creating more. We like to make the same mistakes.

You must see the work of a ton of artists and potential collaborators thanks to your position at Image. What made Nate Bellegarde and Steven Finch stand out as the best guys to work on "Nowhere Men" with you?

I've been a fan of Nate's for a long time. He's one of the best young artists in comics and everything he's done to date has been fantastic, from his own "Hector Plasm" one-shots with Benito Cereno, to his work on "Brit" and the two "Atom Eve" miniseries with Robert Kirkman. He pays a lot of attention to tiny details. As a collaborator, he's an absolute joy to work with. He's not afraid to make suggestions and everything he does is in service of making things better. He brought everything he's completed on the series so far to San Diego, and his originals are absolutely amazing -- the kind of stuff that makes you wish all comics were printed at the same size as those awesome IDW Artist's Editions.

Nate recommended Steven for lettering and design, but I was already familiar with his design work for Joe Keatinge's "Popgun" anthologies. He also re-imagined a number of classic comics as 60s-style paperbacks a couple years back, and I really like the look of those. We both have similar loves when it comes design, so he was a natural fit on "Nowhere Men." What we're doing wouldn't be at all the same without his input, and he's so great to work with, I've hooked him up with other Image creators -- Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore on "Luther Strode" and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples on "Saga" -- along the way. 

From the few pieces of art we've seen so far, the book has a cool, almost modern mod vibe to it. Was that something you were going for?

Pretty much, yeah. I think if you look at the design stuff I post on my blog from time to time, it's pretty apparent what I'm into design-wise, and if you look at Steven's DeviantArt page, it's in much the same vein.

If you go back and look at films from the late '60s and even into the '70s -- and there's some of this going back as far as the '50s, too, I suppose -- there's this vision of what the future would like that obviously never came to pass. Especially if you look at things that were, then, set in the near future -- "2001: A Space Odyssey" is probably the best example of this. It's a case of being able to look at where we are now and seeing the world isn't terribly different from when that film was made. So that kind of pristine vision of the future as presented in the past is still kind of accessible on a "What if?" level, and that's what we're playing with here.

Names and titles are very important in stories, and the four you've revealed from "Nowhere Men" so far sound like they could be either rock stars or scientists. Were they difficult to come up with?

All the names have a certain amount of relevance for me personally, so no, they weren't terribly difficult to come up with. For instance, I've had a strange fascination with the name "Dade" for years, and I don't think it takes too many guesses to get figure out who inspired his last name...

What can you tell us about the meaning of the title "Nowhere Men"?

That's to do with a few different story points, but on an overall level, it's kind of referencing the fact that there are always these things that seem to come out of nowhere. Going back to what I said about the story of The Beatles earlier, they were like that. People who were there at the time have characterized the emergence of The Beatles on the cultural scene as like going from black and white to technicolor, and for many people, that was a very sudden shift. There are those moments in our culture when things just change, and even if it's happened over the course of many years, there's the appearance that these changes come out of nowhere. You mentioned the Mod influence earlier, and that's another one of those instances. I've read accounts in a few different books of people speculating about "the first Mod" and things like that. There had been a scene building since the latter part of the 50s, but when the actual Mod thing took off, it seemed to happen almost overnight, to come out of nowhere.

Hopefully that sets the scene for you a bit -- again, without giving too much away. There's a bit of back story we'll be touching on here and there, but when the first issue opens, we're there as these things are unfolding. There's been a lot of deconstruction in comics over the years, and it seems to me there's something to say about building something new from the ground up to see what we get instead of the other way around. Hopefully, we're not the only ones interested in seeing what happens.

Finally, what's it been like to take off your editor's hat and don the writer one once again?

The unfortunate truth of the matter is I never actually took the writer hat off -- I'm just incredibly slow. I mean, I write fairly regularly; I just take a long time getting things into what I consider presentable shape. I doubt Nate would argue, either, that he's setting any land speed records with the artwork. I'd rather we be slow and deliberate and have something we're all proud of than otherwise, though. I spent the early part of my comics career getting things done in a hurry, and I don't think it served me or the comics I was working on particularly well. Plus, we decided early on we weren't going to start soliciting this until we were pretty far along with it, so we've been at it quite a while without really talking about it too much.

To see how the worlds of science and rock and roll work so well together, check out "Nowhere Men" in November from Eric Stephenson, Nate Bellegarde and Image Comics.

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