You saw our preview of Great Pacific #2, by Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo, but if you're curious for more, Comic Book Resources posted a sneak peek of the debut issue in August. The comic struck me as being a perfect science-fiction story, with an intriguing high-tech premise and plenty of human hubris to make things go wrong, so I asked Harris to talk a bit about the genesis of his Image Comics series, how he developed the idea, and his original attempt to fund it via Kickstarter. Great Pacific debuts Wednesday.
Robot 6: The idea of someone colonizing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is pretty freaky. What was your inspiration?
Joe Harris: The idea for this series sprang from a few places at once, honestly. First of all, just learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch itself got my imagination spinning. I mean, how could this monstrosity exist? Why isn't the world banding together to clean it up? All pretty obvious questions I'm sure most people come to when they first learn about the reality of this environmental blight.
But my thoughts quickly turned to the speculative fiction potential.
My favorite science fiction is the sort that extrapolates real-world issues and problems into fantastic, often times horrifying, scenarios and this series just felt like the perfect place to work out some of these ambitions I've been feeling. Once I knew I wanted to go the sci-fi route, I began considering some of the other factors which inform the publicly perceived reality of this thing. It's a fairly well-know bullet point by now that the Garbage Patch is, according to scientists, believed to be about twice the size of the state of Texas. And Texas, being the home of the American oil industry, became a major piece of this rapidly assembling puzzle my head began kicking around. Pulling these strings together, I envisioned a protagonist who was born and bred to lead this massive empire of oil and energy wealth and power. He'd be considered soft, privileged, and spoiled by most. But he would also have this desire to seek his fortune, solve this problem, and accomplish the sort of big, huge, transformative life's work other titans of American industry were famous for.
I also read up on the concept of "micro nations," like "Sea Land" off the Scottish coast, and am kind of a geek for geopolitics. And ideas all sort of wound around one another as I mulled it all over.
Chas is pretty philosophical for the scion of an oil family. Where did this character come from, and what do you think makes him unique?
There's at least some Bruce Wayne in him. I've always found Batman's alter-ego fascinating for reasons that went beyond the mask and the vigilantism, particularly the philanthropy and this idea that this corporate empire he inherited was going to, more or less, do a tremendous amount of good in Gotham City and for the world. It's pure fantasy, this idea that one can be so rich and comfortable that they might direct their resources toward the most altruistic ends with satisfaction. I could never imagine Bruce Wayne not doing the noble thing with his wealth, while I don't necessarily see him as a standard bearer for any sort of Ayn Rand-like philosophy.
Chas sees himself as the latest in a long, rarified line of industrialists and innovators who built this country and solved the big challenges we faced. He references Carnegie, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan quite a bit, along with his grandfather, Chas Worthington I, and believes these men to be what's missing right now. We've got big problems in this country and world and nobody's solving them. Chas sees this obvious deficit and thinks he's the guy to step into that void.
Like Bruce Wayne, Chas is believed to be a playboy and unserious person by the public and the board of directors at the company he's due to inherit. But he's actually been training his entire life for the adventure he's about to undertake, and everyone couldn't have him more wrong.
Your concept of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch differs somewhat from reality — yours is more solid, while the real one is just bits of plastic floating in the water. How did you mentally create this new land, and what sort of instructions did you give the artist?
Well, it is a common misconception that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an actual landmass. But it isn't, as you point out, a physical continent floating out in the ocean. So I really had to think about what our Garbage Patch would look like. I mean beyond the obvious. I love survival adventure movies like "The Naked Prey," "Apocalypto" and "Into the Wild" and I wanted to take the classic "Man vs. Nature" archetype and fuck with it and subvert it because nature, in this case, was this manmade and highly unnatural thing. That strange idea informed a lot, for me, going forward.
By the time I engaged Martin on this, I already knew that I wanted this continent to have its own geography and topography. It would be solid and contiguous because it had been left to fester in the ocean, eventually knitting itself into the floating continent Chas seeks to conquer like one giant cautionary tale. I envisioned it being made up of trash and junk from both sides of the Pacific Ocean, with sections consisting of Japanese garbage and refuse while others would offer a sort of time capsule look into America's past once that section of "The Pack," as Chas calls the place, was explored and excavated. We've imagined shipwrecks, and even a downed Soviet-era satellite, swept up in this mess.
I'm always telling Martin to treat this strange setting like it is it's own world, with both natural and unnatural environmental factors shaping it and challenging our characters. The elements are to be contended with, as is mutated marine life that's been affected by the pollution.
Also, Chas brings this technology with him that can shape and potentially terraform this plastic crust into something more livable, so we're always thinking about how we can push the visuals and the concept now that we've got a working, recognizable setting for our little universe.
What sort of research went into writing this story, and how did it change as you went along?
The research has been exhausting, sometimes! My ambitions for this series have been pretty big in terms of scope and I've had to really digest a number of things which inform the mythology we're creating.
First, there's the science and reality. Learning just what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is, and is not, was central to the concept. From there, the bigger problem of waste and consumption needed to be understood and considered. Also, the oil industry's connection, as well as ideas for how this problem might actually be solved if someone tried to do so.
Finally, the geopolitics of the story needed to be delved into. There are ramifications when someone founds their own nation. There are plenty of real-world examples of those so-called "micro nations," which aren't really countries in the internationally recognized sense. But I wanted to go a step further. Chas has big plans for New Texas, and they involve joining the international community as a member of the United Nations.
As you know, I was a big fan of your miniseries Spontaneous, which had a very different art style. How does your choice of artist affect your writing?
Well, thanks! Spontaneous was a story I'd wanted to tell for a while about a phenomenon that's fascinated me since I was a little kid. And Brett Weldele depicted an eerily beautiful yet horrifically, fascinatingly ugly brand of spontaneous human combustion in the series.
I'm not sure the choice of artist affects my writing, honestly. At least, not at the outset. With both SPONTANEOUS and GREAT PACIFIC, I had a really tight outline and at least some semblance of a first issue script before Brett and Martin Morazzo came on board. But once we're paired, the artist's uniqueness and stylistic strengths and quirks absolutely play into things.
Once Martin joined me, I knew I wanted to showcase his artwork in a wide shot of the Garbage Patch early on, so I rewrote the first issue to include the short flash-forward teaser at the beginning and that beautiful double-page spread.
You originally tried to fund this project via Kickstarter, but it didn't work out. What did you learn during that process?
That Kickstarter is hard to pull off, honestly. In the end, we probably wasted a lot of effort trying to make a little money up front so that I could better pay my team before we had a publishing deal and money coming in. But that was a fine reason to try. I mean, creator-owned comics isn't for the faint of heart. I'm used to taking risks up front in hopes of later rewards that might not even materialize. But it's a lot to ask of other people when you're saying, "Follow me!" even though the finish line is sort of shrouded in fog and the promises you'd like to make with regard to getting everybody paid aren't as ironclad as you wish they could be.
That said, Kickstarter also exposed the series idea and the beautiful artwork Martin was producing to a lot of people who were very intrigued by the project and supported us, even if we did fall short of the monetary goal. I still get emails from people who originally pledged support and who remain enthusiastic about the series.
Would you consider doing another Kickstarter, and if so, what would you do differently?
I'm not sure, to be honest with you. At least not on my own. I've got many creator-owned projects going on at once right now and, though I'd love to better capitalize just about all of them up front if I could, I'm not sure I want to jump through those flaming hoops anymore.
But I'm a masochist. So maybe, anyway, possibly... eventually?