Thanks to writers like Jonathan Hickman and Warren Ellis, fringe science has been getting a lot of attention in comics lately. This summer, Image Comics offers a new take on the subject matter in "Existence 2.0," written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Ron Salas. The first major work from either creator, the book seeks to bridge crime, noir, action and science fiction.
"'Existence 2.0' is about a guy named Sylvester Baladine," Spencer told CBR. "Baladine is a very gifted scientist who's disillusioned with his own life - he's self-obsessed, he's burned bridges, he's one of these guys where everything is someone else's fault. Baladine's also working on technology to transfer consciousness into another person."
Right around the time Baladine has this breakthrough, however, a hitman is sent to kill him. This ends in Baladine transferring his mind into the body of his own killer. Of course, finding out who ordered the hit may not be easy for a jerk like Baladine-not that he finds this to be much of a problem.
"He's really into his new life," Spencer said. "He gets to drive fast cars, be with beautiful women. He's younger, better looking. Unfortunately, the one thing he does care about in his former life, which is his daughter, is kidnapped. So he's forced to go back, dig into his old life and find out who has his daughter and how to get her back."
The set-up is captivating, but the road to getting "Existence 2.0" published was a long one. Spencer had wanted to write comics since his early days in college. "My first pitch was to Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti right when they started running Marvel Knights," he explained. "I even remember the three pitches. Joe didn't like the first two but the third one was a Black Cat pitch that was a Jackie Brown kind of Tarantino-esque thing. He said he liked that one but they weren't going to do anything with anybody new at the time."
Even still, this early success emboldened Nick Spencer and he felt it would be only a matter of time before he broke into writing comics. This road led him to Bob Schreck, then editor of Oni Press. "At the time, I was pitching this slice of life, Kevin Smith kind of thing," Spencer recalled. "Bob told me, 'The good news is, you're writing what you know. The bad news is, you don't know anything.'"
Spencer took this advice to heart. "I decided to get out there and live life and then come back to comics. I worked in politics, I worked in music, I did all kinds of stuff," he said. "When I was 28, I felt I was ready to take another shot at it."
It was after this that Spencer pitched "Existence 2.0" to Jim Valentino with a different artist attached. Then he found Ron Salas. "A mutual friend introduced us to each other online," Salas told CBR. "I read his sample script and was really interested by the premise presented in those five pages. I quickly threw together some art for a sample to show at New York Comic Con."
"Once I got together with Ron, everything just clicked immediately," Spencer added. "He's a really gifted storyteller. The action is so clear and that's a really hard thing to find in comics."
Spencer was sure that his lengthy process of breaking in had made him a better writer and "Existence 2.0" better as well. "If there's one piece of advice I can give to people trying to break in, it's listen to your editors. It's so easy to take rejection personally, but most of the editors I've dealt with have really wanted to help and see you succeed."
Spencer also admitted to doing a lot of research for the series. "Most of it won't get used in the book, but I did a lot of reading on things like quantum theory of consciousness. One of the points I like that the book makes is that if there's some science you read about in the paper-where those involved are struggling with the implications of it-somewhere, that thing is already happening. The people involved are being paid in very clandestine ways, but it's happening."
Both creators agree one of the best things about working on "Existence 2.0" was the character of Sylvester Baladine. "There's something liberating and easy about writing assholes," Spencer mused. "However, the trick is that it's not always as fun to read assholes as it is to write assholes. You have to give the reader a reason to care about the character's journey and that's certainly there in Sylvester's case. He's a guy who's made a lot of mistakes and set fire to the village that is his life. He literally has to die and become someone else in order to fix his mistakes."
"If you like action and intrigue featuring characters who don't fit your normal cardboard cut-out 'hero' mode, you should buy this book," Salas said. "If you like twists and turns, you should buy this book. If you like great art, you should buy this book."
"Existence 2.0" #1 of three goes on sale July 1 from Image Comics.