A dead Russian once said something about the sameness of happy families and the endless ways unhappy families manage to be uniquely unhappy. That is not likely to change, not even in the far-flung future, not even in a Utopia. Happiness, you’ll likely agree, is hard to hack.
Though it’s not set for publication until distant October, I assure you that it is not too early to fortify your spirit for Archaia’s The Joyners in 3D. R.J. Ryan and David Marquez follow up the sinister Syndrome with the last breed of story you might expect to view through red and blue lenses.
This might be the first you hear of this fascinating project–the most heartbreaking and inventive treatise on invention and heartbreak as has been crafted since Asterios Polyp–but it certainly won’t be the last. And if you haven’t read the Mazzucchelli, just think of it as Six Feet Under meets The Jetsons. Then pour a stiff drink and get ready to erode whatever you might’ve built in therapy over the years.
But, ya know, in the best of ways.
We spoke to Ryan and Marquez about rendering Arthur Miller level pathos in the bright, crisp world of…tomorrow. Peppered throughout, some preview pages. If you have some red/blue 3D glasses handy, have a look at the effect. We’ll talk more about the technology tomorrow. But first:
iFanboy: Who are the Joyners?
R.J. Ryan: The short answer is that they’re us. It was critically important after Dave and I did SYNDROME together that we not only leave the somewhat pigeon-holed serial killer genre behind, but that our next book, which we knew was going to be a fully creator-owned project and probably with Archaia, would be something highly, intensely personal, and that we be given total freedom to execute to our standards. Everything in THE JOYNERS IN 3D, the characters, their relationships, the emotional rollercoaster ride we’ve been promising from the beginning, can be traced back to either of our real lives. Without giving a lot away, this is the story of an unhappy family set in Northern California fifty years in the future, where we’re quite up-front about the fact, right from the first pages of the book and in interviews like this one, that this family doesn’t make it through the story intact.
David Marquez: And it gets pretty brutal and, frankly, even emotionally cruel along the way. We might be the “anti-Saga” in that sense. There’s ZERO chance of a happy ending here, I’m sorry. It’s post-modern high tragedy, an Icarus story with some satirical and visual threads woven in that nobody’s really tried before. And this definitely isn’t a “love-conquers-all” scenario for the Joyner family. We’re clear about that from the first page. They will fall apart, in absolute terms, and we want the reader to closely examine the story, with all its twists, to figure out why that is. There’s is no right answer as far as we’re concerned. “Reader engagement” is what we are reaching for and to do that we have to be pretty suggestive and not spoon-feed or sugarcoat a single situation, subtext or scene. Just because of the $25 price-tag, we’re trying to make a book that you have to read a few times to get the complete picture, and even then there’s not going to be a definitive interpretation. The second this story is published, it belongs to the readers and the reader’s reaction to this family becomes the only one that matters.
iFanboy: What kinds of things has your lead character George Joyner invented over the years?
RJR: He’s not an inventor.
DM: Repeat, he’s not an inventor.
RJR: He’s a very senior executive at a big Northern California consumer electronics company, and he’s done really well for himself. The men we researched closely to see how this would work were Chris Bangle, the former lead designer for BMW, and Jonathan Ive, who runs Apple’s design shop. These are men who have changed the way America and the world looks, significantly, and they did it without being the owners or CEOs of the companies they worked for.
DM: Basically, the ultimate “work-made-for-hire” scenario…being explored in a no-holds-barred creator owned book.
RJR: Yes! Exactly. The reality is whenever an Ive or a Bangle designs something, an iMac or a family sedan or whatever, that happens as a result of the tireless work of dozens of creative people they supervise — usually quite driven young geniuses, if I’m being frank. In our story, George Joyner is definitely the beneficiary of the creative team he gets paid handsomly to supervise. He’s the guy who gets to take the credit for innovation, even if it technically isn’t his. We wanted to present some grounded business dynamics in the story that might appeal to savvy comic book readers. If you have made it this far into this interview, the book is most certainly for you.
DM: As to what George or the company have invented, the book goes into it in-depth; it’s a key plot point, specifically as it pertains to the look of the world and how George’s group’s work has affected things and will continue to change things going forward. But the book is still about families and disappointment more than the “future” premise such as it is.
iFanboy: What does the future look like?
RJR: We certainly want you to think it’s just our pastiche version of “The Jetsons” with the cities in the clouds and the flying cars and the automated toilets. There’s a lot more to it, though, and we have to hold some of that back. We are maintaining that, with the right breakthrough, the world could possibly look like this in 50 years. It won’t, but the math in the story does add up so that it could. It’s quite nakedly a utopian version of a realistic California future, given a few key leaps forward.
But a big thing for me in the writing was, looking at the newspaper or the Huffington Post or whatever, and seeing all this bad news about oil spills and melting ice caps, I would just think, “What if all these problems I’m reading about were solved? Would it really change the way I felt?” At the end of the day, no matter where we are in our progress as a species, we’re still responsible for our own actions. The book is concerned with betrayal and disappointment, true love and infidelity, raw lust and creative risk, mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. That stuff will all still be around even if we solve our energy crisis or the financial crises. That’s the stuff the book cares about.
RJR: And I guess am slightly concerned with the “science fiction” milieu being confused with an “adventure story.” That is not what this is. Saga is an adventure, a spectacular one even, with tons of heart and heroes and villains aplenty. THE JOYNERS IN 3D is strictly about the landscape of emotions — there’s not a bad guy or a ticking clock or anyone at war or on the run from anyone. It’s a story that is borderline-obsessed with fucked-up relationship dynamics, to the exclusion of most genre tropes. But it’s set against a vast, unpredictable world of Dave’s devising that is impeccably realized and as eye-popping as anything out there — since I’m not drawing it, I’m allowed to say shit like that.
DM: Josh is right in the sense that it’s a rigorously designed world drawing on a ton of our very specific influences, including Jon Ive’s work at Apple and the architecture of modernist giants like Frank Gehry and the photography of Ansel Adams and the fashion of James Perse and it really goes on and on — we decided early on to pull design influences from outside of comics on this one, and it was very challenging and fun — a complete change of pace from superhero comics where things have to line up to a house ethos. We were academically rigorous in terms of piecing together this deeply-thought-through place, then we kind of abuse all that world-building work by using it as a backdrop for painful, searing domestic melodrama (that could easily take place in 2013, but which would be less interesting as a work of art if it did). It’s a new approach I think we’re taking here, and it’s meant to sing and sting in equal measure. It’s been a fucking blast to draw and 3D-convert, too, especially switching in and out of this style I developed just for this book to get my Marvel pages in on time.
iFanboy: Dave, did you draw from any particular sources for inspiration? In addition to the 3D elements, did you want to explore any other avenues with the visuals that you might not have tried before?
DM: In a broad sense, David Mazzucchelli was a huge source of inspiration. While were working on SYNDROME, Josh turned me on to CITY OF GLASS: A GRAPHIC NOVEL, which upended my assumptions about what I liked in comics. Until that day, I was very much focused on the nuts and bolts of technical precision, both in terms of draftmanship and storytelling. But seeing Mazzucchelli play so freely and seemingly effortlessly was enlightening. It gave me a new hunger to do my own exploration of the comics as an art form and storytelling medium.
Stylistically, two huge influences were Daniel Clowes’ criminally under-appreciated David Boring – which was a comic book Josh talked about a lot as we discussed THE JOYNERS IN 3D’s story, mostly so we made sure we were doing something different and just as challenging – and a number of the more (for lack of a better term) “cartoony”, graphic artists I admire – Bruce Timm, Darwyn Cooke, the previously mentioned Mazzuchelli, as well as (totally unexpectedly) a heavy does of Manga influence. What would a fusion of those very different influences look like? It turns out it doesn’t look like Clowes, Timm, manga or my Marvel stuff, at all. It’s weird and it’s new and it’s supposed to be. I was striving for a combination of styles that I could maintain over two years of work and which, frankly, would be almost impossible to reproduce. It’s custom fit to Josh’s story, and that’s what we wanted going in.
RJR: I’ve been saying for the last year that Dave has so much in common with Mazzucchelli they should get a DNA test done! Dave [Marquez] also is a gifted and experienced teacher, (a passion of Mazzucchelli’s, too) and which has been put to great use as we’ve tried to figure out the technical aspects of this book. Dave is the guy carrying us to the cutting edge with all of this stuff, with an incredible design assist by our cover artist and letterer Jon Adams, who is somebody we admired from afar for years before we convinced him to work on this book. It’s a very tight knit group and feels more like a garage band than anything else. We have a LOT of fun making these books!
iFanboy: Innovators seem to have unhappy endings in common. Is there a connection there?
RJR: We absolutely studied that phenomenon in depth, super-glad you noticed it–BUT the book was greenlit before Jobs’ death — Chris Bangle’s exit from BMW was a big jumping off point, inspiration in the earliest talks about the book. And we’re not afraid to say publicly this book has an unhappy ending. We just want to leave it at that and not get specific about the circumstances until the thing comes out. But wow, you are hitting on something by noticing that.
Stay tuned. We talk about the 3D tomorrow.