"Wasteland," the scorched-earth Oni Press series written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Christopher Mitten, hits the 25-issue milestone in July, an impressive feat for a black and white indie comic book in a marketplace every bit as unforgiving as the barren landscape protagonists Michael and Abi must transverse within its pages.
Beginning with its double-sized first issue, "Wasteland" introduced readers to a desperate cast of characters living one hundred years after the Big Wet, a worldwide disaster that wiped away modern society. Recently, the scavenger Michael and his often-reluctant traveling companion Abi have set off on a quest for the mythical city of A-Ree-Yass-I, which Michael claims to have already visited -- to his own eternal regret.
CBR News spoke with Johnston and Mitten about the series, the double-sized full-color anniversary issue, and what's coming up for "Wasteland."
Issue #25 marks the halfway mark of 'Wasteland's' epic story, which is intended to conclude with #50. And while the story will reveal more about the post-apocalyptic world of the series, Johnston said it will not be part of a major arc. "Issue #25 is one of our stand-alone 'interlude' issues, so no major turning points as such (unless you count finally discovering why Michael and Sultan Ameer hate each other so much)," the writer told CBR. "It's called 'Planet Caravan,' and it takes place ten years before the main ongoing story, as the Sultan rolls into the city of Waters Meet with Michael in tow. Michael leaves the caravan, but one of the Sultan's wives has developed a bit of a thing for the ruin runner, and needs his help... and so it all kicks off.
"Did I mention this issue is also double-sized and in full-color? Because it is.
"As for the monthly story after this point, there is somewhat of a turning point around this issue. Things in the city are going to get pretty crazy, and we're adopting a slightly different format for the next story arc."
Recent story arcs have seen Michael and Abi captured on their quest for A-Ree-Yass-I and new drama unfolding with the dog tribes, but it has been some time since readers have seen what has transpired in Newbegin with the charismatic and scheming leader Marcus. That will change following the landmark twenty-fifth issue. "The very next arc takes us back to Newbegin, and shows the results of all the recent turmoil," Johnston confirmed. "You won't see Marcus himself all that much--we're going to scale back his visibility a little, and give other characters more room to breathe--but there's plenty of city action."
"I've always been particularly fond of Marcus and the Newbegin aspects of the story so I always enjoy when the story swerves back in that direction," added Christopher Mitten.
One notable feature of "Wasteland" has been its stylized version of English, with many familiar exclamatory phrases recast to focus upon goats, along with other changes. Asked if their story clues in the language that fans have not picked up on or whether some passages fans tend to misread, Johnston said, "One thing I was surprised nobody ever mentioned (which was finally made explicit in issue #14, so I'm not giving anything away here) was the lack of Christian references in language. Nobody ever says 'Oh God,' or 'Jeez,' or 'Goddamn,' or 'Hell.' I thought that was pretty blatant, but there you go."
It also did not take the writer long to think of the series' most controversial use of altered speech. "If you want examples of people misreading odd dialogue, look no further than #15, the 'all Sand-Eater' issue. But that's not really a fair example," Johnston said. The Sand-eaters of "Wasteland" speak a dialect that is even further removed from English, and tends to be hissed through gritted teeth.
Mitten agreed that #15 was an interesting issue. "It's the love it or hate it issue, really, and it's always interesting when talking with people to hear which side they come down on, and why."
Though by no means unprecedented, it is remarkable for indie series to reach the 25-issue milestone, particularly in the current marketplace where even titles starring more established, recognizable characters often fail to survive into their second year. Johnston attributes "Wasteland's" longevity in large part to his and Mitten's ability to tell the story exactly as they want to tell it. "What I've enjoyed the most is the freedom I've had to tell a story that spent fifteen years germinating in my brain, without compromise or commercial pandering--and frankly, with no idea whether other people would want to read it," the writer said. "But they obviously do, and something has struck a chord with our readers. What that is, however--beyond perhaps some appreciation that Chris and I are doing what we want, how we want, without any interference--I haven't a clue. And I kind of like it that way, to be honest."
"Essentially, I'm just going to echo Antony on this one, as far as the chord-striking is concerned," Mitten said. "And getting the chance to work with Antony to tell his story, this incredible rich and detailed and human story, has been incredibly gratifying. The man knows how to tell a story, simple as that."
"I've also very much enjoyed working with Chris," Johnston said, "who is one of the most talented and hardest-working artists in comics right now, but that sort of goes without saying. I don't think the series would have lasted this long if we didn't enjoy working together."
As previously mentioned, "Wasteland" #25 will be a double-sized full-color episode to celebrate the milestone. "We just wanted to do something grand" for issue #25, Johnston said. "Twenty-five issues is a huge landmark for any indie comic, and doubly so for an obscure mature-readers sci-fi epic, you know? We figured that was worth celebrating, but we'd already done a double-length issue for #1, so we had to go one better. Double-length and color was the obvious choice. I'd seen Chris's painted work before, so I knew he'd make an awesome job of it."
Mitten welcomed the opportunity to produce a full-color issue of "Wasteland." "I love working in color, but outside of the stuff I'm able to cobble together on my own when I have the chance and the story I did for the Tori Amos anthology, 'Comic Book Tattoo,' I haven't had the opportunity to do it that often professionally. Hopefully, I'll get the chance to do it again before too long."
"Wasteland" #25 goes on sale in July from Oni Press.