Matz & Jacamon Envision Future War in "Cyclops"

Writer Matz and artist Luc Jacamon are best known for their comic series "The Killer," published by Casterman in France and Archaia in the U.S. Their collaboration continues in the new series "Cyclops" which Archaia is releasing stateside as an eight issue miniseries.

While "The Killer" is a crime thriller in the great tradition of Jean-Pierre Melville and others, "Cyclops" is a very different yet familiar tale. A science fiction war story, it's a very contemporary tale that draws on many of the issues and concerns that have dominated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the past decade, though it is set in a near future that Jacamon makes his own.

Matz is a busy man. Besides being the head writer for Ubisoft, where he's worked on many of the Tom Clancy games, "Prince of Persia," "Assassin's Creed" and more, his series "Bullet to the Head," illustrated by Colin Wilson, was recently wrapped at Dynamite with a collection scheduled for February.

Matz and Jacamon spoke with CBR News about "Cyclops" while sharing an exclusive look at the series' second issue.

CBR News: Matz, you're a writer who's worked in many forms of media, from video games to television, to short films and novels. What was it that made this idea work best as a comic?

Matz: Writing for comic books is great in many ways, and one of them is that it allows you a great freedom, both in what you can show and what you can tell, and how. We have no limitations when it comes to props and locations.

Jacamon's cover for "Cyclops" #2

"Cyclops" is a futuristic story that takes place all over the world -- Italy, USA, Turkey, South America. No budget constraints like we would have in a movie! Jacamon was able to design vehicles, weapons and outfits like he wanted to, and I got to develop a story about privatized war, corruption and conscience. It could have been a movie, but it would have taken forever to set it up as such, and a novel would have been less interesting as it would have lacked the visual quality of it.

When an idea shows up and it seems to have some legs, the next thoughts I have are, "What's the best medium for it?" and "How do I make the most of the chosen medium?" That's usually how I approach it.

"Cyclops" feels as though it's a story about the current American conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in that they focus on two of the major issues of the conflicts. One is the idea of war as entertainment. The other is about the increasing privatization of war. What was the main challenge in working on a book like this with these ideas while finding a way to examine them in a new way?

Matz: You are absolutely right about the two topics that are at the core of the story -- and these two topics are linked to the conscience of our hero, Douglas Pistoia.

The problem I was faced with while writing "Cyclops" is that reality caught up with me real quick. I came up with the idea around 2002, when Jacamon and I were wrapping up the first cycle of "The Killer" and were playing with the idea of doing something different. So I wrote the basic synopsis for it and we did the first book.

But then the war in Iraq happened and all the subsequent stories about the Private Military Companies appeared, with all the problems that came with them, even though mercenaries and private military companies are not exactly new in history.

That issue does raise all sorts of questions about ourselves, our society and how we get things done and hope to achieve things nowadays. About how money and so-called economic efficiency tend to invade domains like war and military operations where they probably should not be the most important thing. I'm not talking ethics, I'm talking about the fact that we place very sensitive powers and means into the hands of forces that we cannot control very well.

That's also why I focused on the reality TV side of the plot -- which is the way the private military company our hero works for pays for its investments by broadcasting the war live, filmed by the soldiers themselves, through a nano camera that they have in the middle of their foreheads, on their helmets -- hence the nickname Cyclops.

That idea originated in the first Gulf War, with the concept of the "embedded journalists," which I found really inspiring -- and disturbing. The name itself tends to let you think that you are in the middle of the action, which means spectacular and appealingly realistic images, but it also implies that the journalists have pretty much lost their neutrality and objectivity. In other words, you sacrifice objectivity to voyeurism. But people don't seem to complain about that at all, as long as they are fed explosions and dead bodies on a regular basis. Isn't losing objectivity usually what happens when you are in the same bed with someone else? You take a side.

And we all know that the Military don't always do the right thing, no matter what the so-called patriots say. We have a saying in French that goes, "War is too serious a business to be left up to the Military." I think that this popular witty wisdom is right on, based on centuries of experience, victories and defeats.

Anyway, the funny idea is that even like that, journalists can show and say things that the military might not like them to. So the next logical step would be to have the soldiers filming. No more risks for the journalists of getting shot, and no risks that they say things that the Military wouldn't want people to see. They could monitor the broadcasting and choose whatever they would want to show. It's not a conspiracy theory, it's just a rather logical possibility. That's what "Cyclops" is about.

War as entertainment and the privatization of war are truly worrisome evolutions of modern warfare. Like in Iraq: superficially, it seems that it could be a convenient solution to a number of problems, but in the end, the benefits for the American taxpayers are not that obvious.

Luc Jacamon: To answer that question, let me quote Matz who considers that since the war in Vietnam, mediazation has become a component of war in its own right. Take the recent war in Iraq, for example. The technical term used to indicate  the accredited journalists among the American forces was "embedded," which means, literally, "in the same bed." This immediately makes one imagine the abuse such a system can lead to. It is this ever-increasing collusion between the army and the media that we have tried to highlight in "Cyclops." The privatization of the UN's intervention in international conflicts, described in "Cyclops," points at a possible diversion from public to  private interest which is nothing but the logical extrapolation of the current world we live in, such as the conflicts in Iraq.

You're both in very different places than when you started working on "The Killer." What made you both interested in working together again on a different project and how has your working relationship changed over time?

Matz: Our relationship hasn't changed all that much over time. I still write the same way; a description of each panel, strip by strip, page by page, I e-mail it all out to him and he plays with it and sends me the pages back. Every once in a while, we talk on the phone. When we were reaching the end of the first cycle of "The Killer," we decided to work together on something different. Luc told me he was interested in a graphically different world. I was playing with the idea of TV broadcasting paying for wars lead by private security companies. It went pretty smoothly. Luc has done all his books with me so far, as "The Killer" was his first book.

Jacamon: Matz and I have worked in the same way since the beginning. Our geographical distance doesn't impact us in any way. We have a trusting collaboration for almost 12 years, now, that allows us to work in almost total freedom in our respective fields of expertise. We know each other well enough and don't need long meetings in order to advance. I have total confidence in Matz for his written expertise, as he has total faith in me for my drawings.

Having read "The Killer" and "Cyclops," I'm curious as to just how related the two books are thematically. In a book like "The Killer," the protagonist is an amoral figure and a very chilling one, as are many of the people around him, and "Cyclops" feels in many ways like an extension of that. Just about every character in "Cyclops" is an amoral figure with situational ethics, and I fear that's going to get more pronounced as it goes along.

Matz: I think the two books are related thematically, but they are different. And I am afraid you might be surprised by the ending of "Cyclops," given what you expect. They are connected, because the world in "Cyclops" has not improved compared to the one in "The Killer." We also have somewhat of a connection in the leading characters, as they both have shaky ethics, but Douglas, in "Cyclops," is a much more decent guy. He doesn't want to hurt anyone; he's just trying to make a life for himself and his young wife. He's struggling, and he thinks he can keep a grip on things. The Killer is a nihilist who has no hope about human nature and the world we live in, that it's a hostile place plagued by mankind. Douglas will discover and understand things that will shake him to the point where he will undertake a fight against all odds. "The Killer" is not a feel-good story, whereas "Cyclops" is probably as close to it as I can write one.

Jacamon: "Cyclops" and "The Killer" are two series that have all and nothing in common. It all depends on which angle you look at it. They are similar when it comes to their foundations, in the way they both express a cynical and disillusioned vision of humankind. Our two respective "heroes" both have to fight against a system that is stronger than them, but in different ways. The Killer is invariably indifferent to what is happening around him, as long as he is not directly impacted. He has a great capacity to adapt. When it comes to Douglas, he is more opportunistic and has an active role in the system and he ends up rebelling against it.

Luc, how much freedom do you have as far as the artwork goes? There was one page in the first issue where Doug is talking to his wife, and instead of breaking it down into panels, you crafted a splash page with lots of images detailing both sides of the conversation. Was that Matz, was that you and what made that the right layout choice?

Jacamon: The trusting relationship between Matz and myself allows me to have  total freedom in the way I organize a page. Matz gives me guidelines, which are needed for his writing, and it's up to me to use them as I see fit. This makes my role more than simple execution and allows me to fully express myself. The layout options of the page you mentioned stem from this freedom and allows me to experiment graphically. Saying that, I don't allow myself to modify Matz's dialogue.

"Cyclops" has very different artistic challenges from "The Killer." What was the biggest artistic challenge and what aspect of the series did you enjoy most as far as drawing or the artwork goes?

Jacamon: These two styles -- detective and science fiction, my playgrounds on these two series -- allowed me above all to express myself graphically in different ways. I had the opportunity with "Cyclops" to be more creative, because one had to imagine the world one described. Creating objects and futuristic backgrounds entertains me a lot. The freedom is bigger because one is not tied to the representations of an existing world. Nevertheless, you have to make sure the elements that shape this world are as credible as possible. Otherwise, these two styles are actually quite similar. One, more contemporary, is pointing at the faults of our society and at the merciless impact they can have on human beings. The other one, at least as I see it, does the same, but by extrapolation.

The noir thriller and the science fiction action story are two genres that are huge, in both the US and France, with great, storied traditions. What's the freedom that can be found working solidly within a genre and what's the challenge of carving out your own corner in genres that are so well known and popular?

Matz: I think the challenge and the freedom boil down to the same thing. The challenge is to find something original and solid, something that brings something to the table. The freedom is limited by what exists (or at least what you know of what exists). In both cases, if you fail, you fail the challenge and you waste the freedom. I feel more comfortable in the noir thriller than in science fiction, as to me, "Cyclops" is more anticipation, fueled by a reflection about our world and how it could evolved. In other words, it's closer to "Starship Troopers"  and "Blade Runner" than "Star Wars."

Jacamon: Whether one chooses one style or another, what matters is the point of view one is expressing. There is actually a long tradition of noir thriller and science fiction in France and in the US, but one should not let oneself be intimidated by that and simply try to stick to one's era. And on this specific point, I must say Matz has been very successful. Graphically, I try to express things as effectively as possible without asking myself too many questions about what has already been done or not. I don't analyze my work; my approach is very intuitive. There are references and influences in each style. Melville is one of them for "The Killer." They can be overwhelming and generate nothing but pale copies, one then should strive to "digest" them and not lose one's identity from sight.

Matz, you have another comic series, "Shandy," which is set during the Napoleonic wars, a time where many aspects of warfare, including uses of technology, changed dramatically. Do you think that right now we may be looking at a similar moment, where the current conflicts are a sign of how war will be fought the next century?

Matz: There are many differences between wars at that time and now. Nowadays, it seems that we still want to go to war, but we don't want to lose anybody. I'm fascinated with that zero-casualty policy, which doesn't make sense to me. At the time of the Napoleonic wars, each army would lose tens of thousands of men in a single day of battle. Each side! The battlefield was covered with dead soldiers and wounded. If you compare it to the wars we (the Western countries) are involved in, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a few thousand men died in over five years (and in France, every time a soldier dies, it makes the headlines) -- less than the casualties in car accidents, you can see how things have changed, how the philosophy has changed. But I believe Napoleon would not even call that a war! He would probably have called us wimps or something, and to some extent, you can wonder if that is a sign of weakness or a sign of evolution and respect for the lives of our men. The bottom line is, the idea that wars can be led without casualties is either a utopia, a politically correct hypocrisy or a plain lie. We see now new tactics, what we call asymmetrical warfare, which also use the technological achievements, that redefine the way wars are now led.

Matz I just wanted to bring up another series of yours, "Du plomb dans la tête," that you did with Colin Wilson ("Point Blank," "Star Wars: Invasion") which is being released as "Bullet to the Head" by Dynamite. Did you want to say a few words about the book and whether we'll be seeing your other comic series, "Shandy," coming out in the States anytime soon?

Matz: I thought the American title would be "Headshot," but hey, I guess the publisher has their reasons. I hope they send me a few copies, though! Colin Wilson and I had a great time doing it. It's a noir thriller with a twist. It's something like a buddy movie. Like I said earlier, the fun is to take things a little bit further. In this case, the pitch is: A cop and a hitman have to team up to avenge the deaths of their best friends and partners, and stay alive. And they hate every minute of it. But they discover they have a lot more in common than they ever thought.

"Shandy" is a whole different deal. It takes place in Europe at the beginning of the 1900s. The hero is a young Englishman whose dream is to have an adventurous life and to join Napoleon's army. It happened. A lot of people from foreign countries wanted to do just that. That's how charismatic the guy was, apparently. Anyhow, I know it's weird for a Frenchman to choose an English hero, but I think it works. The series is rooted in all the Romantic literature of the time, English (Shandy gets his name from Sterne), German (Kleist did want to join the French army) and French. We've done two books, but the artist I did them with, Bertail, has kind of vanished, so I'm not too sure about the timing there. The second book in the series offers great shots of the Austerlitz battlefield.

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Tags: matz, cyclops, archaia, the killer, luc jacamon

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