The graphic novel, funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign, and published via Amazon Publishing's Jet City Comics imprint, starts off as a young girl named Ellie goes on a space cruise with her bickering parents, only to discover that her mild case of Asperger's syndrome allows her to communicate with an alien race. Thanks to the help and knowledge provided by the friendly Engelys, a 19-year-old Ellie travels through space with her parents and the crew of The Forager on a trip that eventually gives her the ability to change not just Earth, but the human race.
CBR News spoke with Palmiotti, Gray and Cummings about how Ellie's relationship with her parents and planet shape her as a character, the importance of crafting stories that appeal to readers of all ages, and how crowdfunding has changed the comics game.
CBR News: "Forager" is about the relationship between Ellie and her family, along with all of the other craziness going on. How does the family dynamic play into the overall story?
Justin Gray: Family is very much the core of the story. It is represented in Ellie and her parents, but it is also about how the human race is a family. I think, globally, we don't look at it like that. We should. We have this planet for now, and if we're ever going to reach other worlds and possibly colonize them, then we're going to have to change our fundamental view of ourselves as a species.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Watching the world through the eyes of an innocent and then following down the path the story takes is always a refreshing take on a genre people think they may be familiar with -- and then come the surprises.
Steven Cummings: The best part about the family aspect here was getting to see not only a big event like contact with alien life through the eyes of a child, but also getting to see how the parents reacted to their little girl as she becomes central to the events going on around them. Two different points of view on the same event made it a fun book to draw.
Once the book takes off into space, it becomes abundantly clear that Ellie has a special ability to communicate with an alien race. What do they want with her and the Earth?
Gray: That's part of the deeper mystery in the book. She's made contact with a technologically superior race, which results in some startling twists and turns as the story unfolds. We wanted to deliver unconventional answers to these questions. Science Fiction is too often full of our own paranoia and historical record, where an invasion force is the sole focus behind the story's dramatic tension. Until the last century, the world was never as "small" as it is now, the constant fear of being invaded and taken over by a foreign power has produced thousands of science fiction stories. We wanted to see something different happen.
What do these abilities mean for her as she progresses through the book?
Gray: You're saying "abilities," but that might lead people to believe she has some kind of superpower. That isn't the case at all. In fact, she has what might be considered a disability, but it is something that allows her mind to be open to communication the majority of people are unable to hear. She begins as a conduit, a speaker for the aliens and progresses into something much more than that.
How important is it for you all as creators to make all ages books that can help get kids into comics?
Gray: This is a two-part answer. "Forager" isn't a kid's book. We didn't set out to tell a story exclusively for children. Anyone can read "Forager," because it works on several different levels, and none of that is by design. I realize much of the creator-owned work we've done is heavily mature. It might be difficult to imagine we've done this kind of story because we live in a world that loves to categorize everything. Yes, this is a departure from anything else we've done on some levels, but not others.
The other answer is, getting kids to read anything is an accomplishment. I spend a good portion of my days trying to convince my daughter that reading is far more important than she thinks it is. Teaching kids to love reading is a challenge, so you have to run with anything that sparks their interest.
Palmiotti: Anytime we can get anyone interested in comics is a big win.
Cummings: More comics in the hands of more people is a win-win.
On a similar note, does working towards an all-ages target age group offer specific challenges?
Gray: Again, this idea of "all-ages" wasn't part of the creative process, but the answer is no. I know it is a simplification of the answer, but it simply isn't that kind of story. There's no need for the drama to be violent or sexual, the themes are universal. I'll give you the Hollywood example. Once upon a time there were all these G-rated movies for kids. Studio executives realized that kids movies make tons of money, but, because kids can't drive themselves to the theater and buy tickets, they needed to get the adults interested in seeing the movies as well so they would want to drive the kids to the theater. So that led to people making kids movies that appealed to adults. "Forager" is not a kid's comic we tweaked here and there so it would interest adults. To me, it is the difference between "Star Wars" and "Jedi." "Star Wars" was a story that captivated everyone's imagination across age lines. "Jedi" rolled out song and dance teddy bears for children.
Perhaps it's not necessrily a kid's comic, but it does have themes and idea that appeal to that audience. How do you think the graphic novel holds up to the monthly comic as far as getting kids hooked on this format these days?
Gray: I think if you're going to hook them, you should go digital.
Palmiotti: If we are talking about younger kids, they have had a steady diet of books that begin and end since they were really in the cradle, so this should be an easy grab for them. I think the monthly format is for a different kind of reader and a different kind of experience. That said, it would be easy to make another follow-up book with what we set up here.
Cummings: For kids, it helps to have stories that are contained, and begin and end in the same format. From that standpoint, this would be a great thing to put in their hands to try to get them reading. But "Forager" is not really a story aimed for kids, but rather a story that works well for different age groups.
Do you see more "Forager" stories in the future?
Gray: I would love it if we could do more, there's unlimited potential in space exploration. Right now I just hope people pick up "Forager" and enjoy the story and art. Steven Cummings was the perfect fit for this book and he really shines in bringing both the fantastical and the ordinary to life in equal measure. Steve is a big part of the book and it wouldn't be the same without his input and creativity. The same can be said of letterer Bill Tortolini and the coloring team at Challenging Studios.
Palmiotti: When setting up a story like this, people will always want more, so it is up to Jet City to find the audience and for us to keep plugging away making people aware of the material. There is nothing we would love more than to take this story to another place in the future.
Cummings: It would be fun to visit Ellie and her world again, given the right story and a cooperative schedule!
As veterans of the comic biz, how would you say that Kickstarter and other crowdfunding methods have changed the game of getting original stories made?
Gray: To a certain degree, and if you're willing to put in the work, Kickstarter allows you the freedom to tell stories that are important to you and find an audience that is also interested in those stories. The traditional format is to have a book published, and most times it is lost in a sea of material put out by companies focused on the bottom line. Gaining an audience is a time consuming process, and there are countless instances where the money runs out before the audience shows up and a book vanishes. Kickstarter allows for a collaboration on bringing something to life.
Palmiotti: As well, with Kickstarter, we do not have to follow traditional formats. As most publishers will tell you, they prefer not to put a book out as a graphic novel and instead break up a story into issues. We can choose what we want to do, and with enough support, get it done the way we see it fit. We also can test the waters with genre and see if there is an audience out there immediately, instead of soliciting a book and waiting three months.
Cummings: The great thing about Kickstarter is, it allows creators a chance to do any and all kind of stories, regardless of whether it is the kind a publisher would normally look at. It almost feels like a democratization of the comic market on a creator level. That, with the boom in digital distribution, really makes me hopeful for the future of creator-owned stories.
How did Amazon's Jet City Comics come into the mix?
Gray: Paul Morrisey approached us about bringing "Forager" to Jet City because they felt it is a great fit for what they're doing.
Palmiotti: Since we only released the book as a Kickstarter exclusive, we were looking for a publisher to pick up and distribute the book. We got approached by Jet City, a company we loved working with when we did the adaptation of the science fiction best seller "Wool." We met with their team and fell in love with their enthusiasm and understanding of genre material, and then got the offer to make "Forager" part of their publishing plan for 2015. We are very careful where we place anything we do, but spending time to get to know the crew, we know we made the right move with the Jet City group.
Cummings: Years ago, Paul Morrissey was my editor at a different publisher, so it was great to hear from him again. His interest in doing "Forager" as a Jet City story was exciting, and I can't express how happy I am to have the book be available again.
"Forager" from Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Steven Cummings and Amazon Publishing's Jet City Comics is available digitally on May 13, and in print on June 17.