War is hell, but what if even death didn’t help you escape the conflict? That’s the concept behind “Dead Letters” writer Christopher Sebela and “Critical Hit” artist Jonathan Brandon Sawyer’s new comic “Welcome Back.”
The four-issue series, which launches on Aug. 5 from BOOM! Studios and is the subject of the publisher’s teaser campaign this week, focuses on a pair of soldiers called Sequels who fight a never-ending war thanks to repeated reincarnation. In this case, the Sequels are Mali and Tessa, two women who continually find themselves drawn towards one another for the sole purpose of bloody combat. This time around, though, Mali wakes up from her latest return and questions what she’s fighting for. The people in charge of the war don’t want to answer Mali’s inquiries, but that doesn’t mean she will just accept her fate.
CBR News talked exclusively to Sebela about his latest creator-owned book, building the world with Sawyer and the way reincarnation works in the world of “Welcome Back.”
CBR News: “Welcome Back” deals with warriors who continually die and are reborn. When they come back, do they instantly know they’re part of something larger, or is it revealed to them as they age?
Christopher Sebela: It varies from person to person. Everyone gets reincarnated — you, me, the barista who served you your coffee this morning, everyone you’ve ever met. They’re all reborn from a string of previous lives, only most of us don’t know it. We remain blissfully unaware of all our lives for all of our lives and all the ones that come after it, but then there are the Sequels.
Sequels are part of a small sliver of humanity that remembers everything, because they have to in order to win this eternal war they’ve been signed up for. But everyone has their own process, their own way of dealing with things, and this is just as true for our Sequels when they wake up to who they actually are. Some remember everything right away and are cool with it, others freak out, while others deny any of this is true or have it denied for them by concerned parents or loved ones. Sequels’ learning curve is pretty sharp, though. They learn early on because they have to. Once they wake up, they’re on the radar and someone is going to come gunning for them.
While main characters Mali and Tessa have forgotten what they’re fighting for, can you tell readers what this infinite conflict is all about?
Not without spoiling a bunch of fun stuff we have coming down the line, but I can tell you that our characters don’t really know either. I approached it the way we approach wars in history. Most of them get boiled down to one line summations that don’t even begin to address all the reasons that nations went to war and thousands of people died. Ask most people today why WWI started and you get “The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand,” but if you asked the people back then you’d get the whole array of reasons that it kicked off. For most of us history is a game of telephone; you get told this thing in school, you repeat it to others, they repeat it down the line — and that was only 100 years ago.
The war among the Sequels has been happening since the dawn of human consciousness, so the really real reasons are lost to time, even to people who can remember back that far. Plus, it doesn’t really matter whether the soldier on the front lines understands all the machinations that led us to this point, just that they obey orders and take down the enemy.
What is the dynamic like between Mali and Tessa as the story picks up and where are you looking to take it?
They’re two sides of a coin, and separated by thousands of miles when we start. They’ve never met one another but the basic dynamic is they want to kill each other. That’s what Sequels do. Every soldier in this war has a target, an arch-nemesis that’s been theirs for as far back as anyone can remember. They hunt each other down, across cities and countries and continents, just to put an end to them. That’s how we start with them. Eternally intertwined enemies. Where they go from there is one of the fun parts of building this story and will slowly be revealed.
What other Sequels can readers look forward to meeting in “Welcome Back?”
We’re really focusing on Mali and Tessa and their relationship in the main, but in a war there’s always support staff and our war has all kinds. There’s Canvassers, people who actively look for Sequels and help maintain a running database of who is back and who is still missing. Above them are the Grunts, who deal with nuts and bolts stuff — acquiring weapons and safe houses and providing backup to the Soldiers. Mali and Tessa and those like them are Soldiers, the active fighters on the front lines. Above them all are Atlases, who sort of run the war from their secret headquarters and pull the strings.
All this is to say that in this world there’s a lot of roles and anyone can be a Sequel, from a 10-year-old girl to the guy spinning a sign for a mattress store on the side of the road to the leader of a powerful and well-armed nation. That’s the fun stuff. If anyone can be a several thousand-year-old reincarnated badass, then we don’t have to stick to traditional ideas of what a hero looks like.
How did you first come across Jonathan Brandon Sawyer’s artwork and what made him the right choice for this book?
I first saw his stuff in a “FUBAR” anthology forever ago and then really got into his work in the recent Black Mask book from him and Matt Miner called “Critical Hit,” which is a great book on all fronts. My editors at BOOM!, Eric Harburn and Chris Rosa, actually suggested him for “Welcome Back” and they did such an amazing job putting me and Chris Visions together for “Dead Letters” that I was fully on-board with whoever they suggested — and luckily it was Jonathan.
As for what makes Jonathan the right choice for this book? It wouldn’t be this book without him, basically. Talking it all over with him in the early stages really helped get my thinking straight about what kind of story we were gonna tell. I’ve had this idea for awhile and it’s gone through a lot of different phases, but meeting Jonathan was the one piece it was always missing. Art-wise his stuff is super kinetic and all his characters are alive on the page, but it’s all backed up with this rigorous grounding in reality. All his settings and props and fashions, they take even the most out-there concepts and make them seem totally feasible, which I think is necessary with a book as weird as this one. Throw down a solid enough foundation and you can build the most effed up building on top of it and rest easy that it won’t fall over.
It sounds like there was a lot of positive back and forth during the design process.
Lots and lots of back and forth. Not just on our main characters but all their previous iterations. The cast on this book is kind of endless from that perspective, so we had fun making lists of past lives and doing time math and figuring out what made sense, but also what would be the most fun. When you get down to the bones of this book, it’s built on a bit of a bummer; death is everywhere and we didn’t just want to make a grim, dark slog through these women’s’ lives, so we hashed all that stuff out. Jonathan and I discussed their looks, but we’ve also talked about what bands they’d like, whether or not Mali’s dog would wear a cape, the art that hangs on apartment walls — it’s been a really deep collaboration that’s still going on every page, so I’m excited to work with Jonathan as long as humanly possible.
“Welcome Back” #1 from Christopher Sebela, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer and BOOM! Studios hits stores on August 5th.
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