INTERVIEW: Nowhere Men with Eric Stephenson

Earlier this year, Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson announced that he would be returning to writing comics with Nowhere Men. With art by Nate Bellegarde, colors by Jordie Bellaire and letters and design by Steven Finch, Nowhere Men positions scientists are rock stars in a world that’s shaped and guided by science development.  I caught up with Eric Stephenson to chat about the book and what fans can expect from Nowhere Men.  If you’d like a glimpse, below the interview is a 3 page sequential trailer that sets the stage.

Nowhere Men #1 hits comic shops on November 21, 2012 and will be $2.99.

iFanboy: For those who may not have heard or read about Nowhere Men yet, what is the premise and setup of the book? What can people expect?

Eric Stephenson: The short answer is “science is the new rock and roll.”

We’re essentially delving into the birth of the cool, but substituting sci-fi for music. Four scientists – Dade Ellis, Simon Grimshaw, Emerson Strange and Thomas Walker – are the most renowned thinkers in the world and as such, four of the most famous people in the world. They form a company together with the admittedly lofty goal of making the world a better place and as a result, they’re responsible for some incredible advances. They make some mistakes along the way, though, and those mistakes have a heavy impact on the world and their partnership.

As far as expectations go… Don’t expect anything. It’s safer that way.

iF: You’re well known as the publisher of Image Comics, but you’ve also written comics in the past, why return to writing comics now with Nowhere Men?

ES: Yeah, it’s been something like seven years since I’ve had anything out, but that wasn’t at all intentional. Nowhere Men is something I’ve been working on in one form or another for over 10 years, but it wasn’t until I got together with Nate that everything really fell into place. Nate, along with our collaborator on design and lettering, Steven Finch, plus Jordie Bellaire on colors, really helped to give form to my various ideas about how to make this thing work. I’d had a go at this with a few other artists, some of whom were quite good, but at this point, I really couldn’t imagine how this would have come together with anyone other than Nate, Steven and Jordie. It took time to line everything up and we’ve been pretty methodical about putting all the pieces in place, so we didn’t want to put it out there until we were ready to go.

iF: I’ve read a few interviews with you where the interviewer has asked pretty specific questions about the book, characters and story and you’ve been somewhat evasive, not wanting to reveal too much. Why is that?

ES: What’s that saying? “The devil’s in the details?” I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I think that’s kind of applicable here. Another one is “the story’s in the telling,” and I don’t see how it’s possible to isolate specifics without giving away what we’re trying to do here. The process of discovery can be pretty fun, and I hate this notion that you should be able to pick up the first issue of a comic book and know everything about it right then and there. There’s this idea today that people need to be spoon-fed everything, and I think that’s insulting to readers. I think readers like to be surprised. I think they like to get to the end of a comic and wonder what’s going to happen next. And it’s not like we’r reinventing the wheel or anything like that, but I think the element of surprise still holds a lot of value.

I mean, without going all old man on everyone, I grew up in a time when you could still go to the movies or sit down to watch something on TV without knowing everything there was to know about it beforehand. Trailers didn’t give everything way, you couldn’t download an album a month before it was out, and you weren’t reading solicitation copy for comics that wouldn’t be out for another three months. It’s like – I saw Star Wars in the theatre based off a couple television commercials. I saw a lot of movies just because I liked the way the posters looked, or because they sounded cool. I picked up my first issue of X-Men the same day I bought a used copy of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars with money I’d earned mowing lawns and I didn’t have clue one what either were about prior to the moment I flopped onto my bed to read the one while listening to the other. They both had an immediate impact on me – it was like entering two completely different worlds at once. It’s harder to do that now, because both entertainment and information are transferred so quickly now and maybe withholding information will backfire on us, but I think trying to create something for people to discover is worth a try.

iF: Tell us about putting together the look of this book and creative team. What were your initial thoughts about the look and what was it about Nate Bellegarde and Jordie Bellaire that made you decide to work with them?

ES: You know, years and years back – and this is probably in 2000 or 2001 – I read this interview with Paul Weller in the NME and he was saying that his next album was going to be a “Mod space opera” or something to that effect. That didn’t happen, but I was plugging away at developing the ideas behind Nowhere Men at the time and that kind of stuck in my head, just as an overall description of something. The way that manifested in the look of the book was that I went back to stuff like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Prisoner and various sci-fii films and television shows from the late ’60s and early ’70s that kind of made the most of this Mid-Century Modern vision of the future that never came to pass. That look was supposed to represent what our world would look like today, while simultaneously looking futuristic to us now, looking back, so I felt like it would be interesting to develop this world that is essentially “now,” but developed along a different aesthetic.

The great thing about Nate, Steven and Jordie is that they all got that right away. Everyone is on the same wavelength with this stuff, and it’s been fun seeing the things Nate digs up as he researches the overall look. Everyone’s very detail-oriented, and I think that’s probably the best example of what drew me to each of their works. Nate’s an artist who isn’t afraid to really get there in draw – and it’s not just extraneous line work, it’s actual detail. I’ve been a big fan of his work for a long time – he did a couple Invincible miniseries featuring Atom Eve, he did Brit and he did his own Hector Plasm books. It’s funny – it just occurred to me that I have a Hector Plasm sketch by him in my sketchbook that he drew the same day we wound up talking about Nowhere Men for the first time…

Anyway, I think his approach is indicative of what everyone brings to the table. Steven blew me away with his design work not only on other projects, but on the retro-paperback designs he did on his own time, and Jordie has been doing such amazing color work all over the place, and it all seemed perfectly suited to the look and feel of Nowhere Men. Without exaggerating at all, I can safely say this is the best creative team I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

iF: How important is cultural references when putting together a book like this? The title, Nowhere Men seems to be a reference to the Beatles song, and it’s been commented that the logo looks similar to the old Warner Bros. logo and the general look of the book has had a retro feel, with some Saul Bass-esque influences. Can you share with us the thoughts around these decisions?

ES: Well, the title’s not a direct reference to The Beatles. I can’t even say listening to the song made me think of the title! The only way it is kind of related is that I was thinking of how certain people and things, on a cultural level, just kind of come out of nowhere. The Beatles were kind of like that in the early ’60s, but the specific point of reference is the fact that no one can really pinpoint the first Mod. There are all these apocryphal stories about people seeing the first Mod ride by on a scooter or whatever, but the reality of the situation is that things like that kind of happen out of everyone’s line of sight. Whether it’s a new look or a new sound or a new idea – there’s this long gestation period that happens behind the scenes. So that’s where the title comes from.

The kind of retro-design stuff is Steven’s influence, and it’s a deliberate part of our world-building. At different points, we reference things that happened at different times in the past, and Steven has been very good about creating a look for that past – or rather, those pasts – that is keeping with the overall aesthetic. A lot of it is meant to look familiar, to create various cultural touchstones that kind of put things in a general timeframe without branding every thing with a timestamp. It’s not all retro, though, and one of the interesting things about the scenes set in “the present” is how Nate mixes and matches Mid-Mod sci-fii with contemporary clothing and things like that.

iF: Building on that, the books tagline is “Science is the new Rock’N'Roll” – can you expand on how you see the influence of rock-n-roll and fame culture and how it plays with the concept of  science in the pages of Nowhere Men?

ES: “Science is the new rock and roll” is kind of a pithy statement made by one of the founders of World Corp., which is essentially the world’s first scientific “supergroup,” and it’s meant to reflect the way the media regards all of them at the time. I think in our own world, the closest example to this would be Steve Jobs, but in the world of Nowhere Men, we’ve kind of taken that to a different level. The world’s greatest thinkers are also the world’s greatest celebrities. They’ve changed the world, and the world loved them for it. Fame changes people, though, and one of the things we’ll see is the effect it has on the founders of World Corp. and their relationships with one another.

iF: Finally, with as the publisher of The Manhattan Project by Hickman and  Pitarra, and now Nowhere Men, are you working on building out the under appreciated “Science” genre within comics?

ES: It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it?

The truth of the matter is, as publisher, I’m working on doing better comics, period. If it’s superhero comics, awesome. If it’s crime comics, awesome. If it’s sci-fi comics, that’s awesome, too. I like lots of different things, and I love that Image can be home for something like The Manhattan Projects, alongside something like Chew, alongside something like Saga, alongside something like The L’il Depressed Boy. Put those next to The Walking Dead or Savage Dragon or Fatale or Mind the Gap or It Girl & The Atomics and none of them are at all alike. The only thing that connects them all is that they’re all awesome.

Comments

  1. I’m hopeful for this. The artist in particular was great on Brit and Atom Eve but I really hope that Manhattan Projects doesn’t overshadow it and allows it to find it’s own niche.

  2. I know this was advertised quite a while ago but with The Manhattan Projects being so FUCKING GOOD, I have a fever for crazy ass science related comics & this I think will be a good accompaniment.

    So it’s got my vote & I’ve already bought the first two issues on pre-order already!

    • MutantSentry MutantSentry says:

      This, and Manhattan Projects makes me wish for two things A) That Hickman would finish Vol II of S.H.E.I.D. and B) That Morrison would bring back his island of Mad Scientists from 52…, that might actually get me to read a New 52 book…

    • I agree with the SHIELD premise, just hurry up!

      Oolong island was awesome in 52, so that would make a great series for the New 52!

      EGG-FU for the New 52?????

  3. lifesend lifesend says:

    For a quick second, I thought Neal Stephenson was writing a comic and I was about to lose my shit. But this sounds promising and if those trailers are from the series artist, I’ll definitely be picking this up.

    • MutantSentry MutantSentry says:

      How awsome would Neal Stephenson writing a comic be? I’d love to see the Baroque Cycle adapted to comics… anthough something original would be amazing