Alex Braith thought her journey aboard the Southern Cross would be simple. Show up, collect the remains and belongings of her recently deceased sister, catch a ride home on the ship and get back to her life. But things aboard the space-tanker aren’t as straightforward as they appear, and Alex’s six-day journey home might just leave her with more questions than answers. Inspired by the works of Agatha Christie, “Southern Cross” blends science fiction, horror and mystery, creating an intriguing miniseries hitting stores this winter.
CBR News spoke with writer/artist Becky Cloonan and series artist Andy Belanger to find out more about what they’ve planned for their debut collaboration. Fun fact: we were standing with our backs to George RR Martin the entire time the interview took place and had no idea, we were so engrossed in discussing their new Image Comics title!
CBR News: Can we start by talking about these cool spaceships?
Becky Cloonan: Andy has been working on designs for this book for a really long time.
Andy Belanger: Almost a year. â€¨â€¨
Cloonan: Yeah, about a year. We’re kind of going back and forth. The idea is that the ship is an oil tanker — we’re still looking for oil and in an oil based economy — and Titan is one of Saturn’s moons that’s very oil rich. It’s become sort of a refinery moon. The ship that they’re in, the Southern Cross, is a tanker. It’s very reminiscent of large boats. Scientifically it might not be cool, but visually it looks awesome to see this old tanker floating around in space.
Belanger: It’s kind of like an insane oil tanker/ocean liner/Chris Fosse-style spaceship.
Cloonan: When we started talking about the plot and when we started writing it more, it was clear that it was inspired by Agatha Christie novels. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have this crazy old boat flying through space, just cutting right through it?” I guess a spaceship can be any shape, since it exists in a vacuum.
Belanger: I think the actual design of the ship, because it does have the look of a cruise liner, gives it that old-timey feel while at the same time being futuristic.
How far into the future is this set?
Belanger: It’s sort of ambiguous and not necessarily important. The idea is that we still get our oil and minerals from Titan at this point.
Cloonan: There’s a lot of current events looking forward, like the idea of an oil based economy and questions about how we’re treating our Earth. Even though the entire series takes place on the ship, there are still references to what’s happening on Earth. I wouldn’t say it’s incredibly far in the future because things are still recognizable.
With the ship being so massive, how are you keeping track of the architecture and layout?
Belanger: There’s something cool I’m going to be starting — a nice cross-section of the ship. I’m not sure if it’s going in an issue or you’ll be able to get a poster, but it’ll be a cross-section of the ship with every room. I’ll leave some areas ambiguous, but I think the ship itself is going to feel like spelunking. There will be super tight submarine style hallways opening up into big, vast technical looking rooms that will be really fun to draw. The ship is really interesting. We’re designing a rad gravity drive that’s going to be really funky.
What does that do?
Cloonan: It keeps the gravity going on the ship, but it will also become a larger part of the plot.
How did the two of you connect for this?
Cloonan: We’ve been meaning to work with each other for a while over the past three or four years but everything we ever thought about never came to fruition. I think it was last year — you said we should do a comic together and I said I had this idea kicking around. You said you wanted to do a sci-fi/horror story and I was like, “let me see what I can do.” I was reading this F. Marion Crawford story, “The Upper Berth,” and it really inspired me.
Belanger: That sensibility mixed with the swords-and-sandals I’ve been doing for years with “Kill Shakespeare” and “Black Church.” I’m super-obsessed with early Ridley Scott movies, sci-fi/horror, Chris Fosse and Geiger — that kind of stuff. That’s the work I want to be doing. Image seems like an amazing place to do that right now and I think Becky’s storytelling is perfect for what I want to draw in that kind of world.
Cloonan: It’s really easy to work together, actually. We’re so excited.
You’ve mentioned Agatha Christie as a source of inspiration, and those stores have a sense of refinement and old world charm about them. Does that appear in “Southern Cross?”
Cloonan: It’s very personal. We really try and get into characters. Alex Braith isn’t so much refined, really. She’s dealing with the death of her sister, so she’s got a lot on her mind and there’s definitely a mourning process she’s going through while all of these mysteries start appearing. As much as it is a science fiction story, it’s more of a mystery that becomes a thriller at the end.
What’s Alex like?
Cloonan: The Alex that was before her sister’s death — she was still very serious. She had some problems with the law in the past, might’ve been on the wrong side of it a few times, and this comes into play when she tries to leave Earth. She’s there at the customs desk and they know she’s been arrested before, so she has a bit of difficulty.
Belanger: In designing this crazy immigration desk in the first issue — these are some of the situations every time you get on a plane and we were figuring out what they’d look like in the future. Are there still a lot of line ups and x-rays? Some of it is fun to draw and design.
Cloonan: It’s about how her dealing with the loss of her sister makes her a stronger person and more equipped to deal with the problems being thrown her way. It’s about how these things change you, maybe for the better, because you’re able to do things you weren’t able to do otherwise.
And no matter how far into the future this story is, death will probably always be one of the most polarizing experiences we face that changes us.
Cloonan: Definitely. It’s a very human experience. Everyone has died that has ever come before us and the way people deal with that is very different. Alex is a very down-to-business kind of woman. The company that employed her sister, this oil company on Titan, said that they were going to dispose of her sister’s body and belongings after her death but offered to let Alex come on their ship and collect it instead and then just go back home on it. It’s a six day journey, and the first story arc is six issues, each being a day of the journey.
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