With the release of Nowhere Men from Image Comics at the end of November, Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson found himself back in the creator’s seat as the writer of the series. Developed over 10 years, Nowhere Men revealed to be an immersive experience, setting the stage of a world where “science is the new rock-n-roll.”
Ranging from the comprehensive design approach of the book, to the various plotlines that were introduced, Stephenson opened up alot of questions about the new series. We thought it would be interesting to go through the first issue with Stephenson and ask the questions that we, and many of you, had after reading the issue as well as get a glimpse of what’s to come.
iFanboy: With the release of Nowhere Men #1 last week, a bit of the mystery surrounding the series was lifted as people got to see what it was all about. How has the reaction been and what sort of feedback have you gotten from readers?
Eric Stephenson: Overall, the reaction has been positive, which is really nice, and everyone involved with the book has received a lot of great feedback. There are people who didn’t quite get what we were doing, which I suppose is to be expected whenever you’re doing something out of the ordinary, but near as I can tell, it’s gone over pretty well.
iF: Diving into issue #1, the thing I was impressed by was the design approach and aesthetic along with the use of period designed text pieces. I’ve seen some reactions to it as positive as mine, but others dismiss it as a storytelling device. Can you tell us about the thought behind that?
ES: You know, there were a few different thoughts behind that, but I think it mainly comes down to the fact that comics tend to work best when they create a rich and immersive world that readers can get lost in. From the very beginning, Nate and I wanted to build an entire world for this series, something that put our characters in the context of the media culture that has grown around us all over the last half century or so. It’s kind of a scrapbook approach – little glimpses into this alternate reality we’re developing that complement the overall narrative – and over the course of the series, we’ll be incorporating all kinds of different material – posters, in-world advertisements, magazines and newspaper articles, excerpts from books, screen caps from video interviews, various kinds of info-graphics, you name it.
I was emailing with a friend of mine after the book debuted, and he pointed out that what we’re doing is similar to how Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons used text pieces and The Black Freighter strips in Watchmen to show how that world had developed around those characters. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms myself, but it’s a flattering comparison. That aside, Nate and I – along with Jordie and especially Steven, because his design for the ads and text pieces is so essential to the overall look and feel of the book – are very much building our own world here. There are familiar touchstones here and there, but one of the things we really wanted to do was create something that looked like the future as imagined back in the ’50s and ’60s. I mean, Kubrick’s 2001 is a movie set over a decade in the past at this point, but it still looks futuristic. We want to do whatever we can do to flesh out our world as thoroughly as possible, even it winds up challenging ourselves and our readership.
iF: Some readers I’ve spoken to have wrestled with the Black Freighter material in Watchmen. I know I’ve heard from some that they’ve never even read it. How important is this aspect of mixed media to the whole story of Nowhere Men? Are you cognizant that some people may just skip over it?
ES: Sure, that’s occurred to me, but I also know I’m not the only one who read Watchmen and got how important things like The Black Freighter and Under the Hood were to my overall enjoyment and understanding of the story Alan and Dave set out to tell. Same with The Lord of the Rings appendices from The Return of the King. There’s no guarantee anyone’s going to read any of it, but I don’t think that justifies holding back on creating a richer experience for those open to it.
That said, it’s all additive material. If someone skipped over that stuff entirely, I think they’d still find plenty to enjoy.
iF: In reading the first issue, I picked up on several pop culture and music references. Many readers have already observed the scientists similarity to the Beatles, with Emerson Strange’s likeness being reminsicent of John Lennon, and the interview with Thomas Walker had a resemblance to Playboy interviews in terms of the design and flow of the interview. Can you expand on your intention with these references and point out a few that readers may have missed?
ES: We kind of refer to the World Corp. founders as the Fab Four of science, but that’s really where the similarities to The Beatles stops. Young Emerson Strange’s appearance is kind of patterned on John Lennon circa 1968, but the actual inspiration for his character is a great British actor named John Hurt. The Playboy Interview thing, though, yeah — that was meant to be instantly recognizable, and the fact finder spread is patterned after a feature that used to run in the British music weekly New Musical Express. The wraparound cover for the first issue was inspired by the design for a pretty well-known biography from the ’60s, and the Thought Bubble variant and second printing is an homage to a favorite book from my childhood. There are other things, but I think it’s probably more fun for people to identify that stuff for themselves rather than me sit and point it all out. If you’re into British pop from the ’60s on up, though, there are plenty of little nuggets throughout the first issue and the series as a whole.
iF: So with the slight reference to Lennon’s 1968 look and the 1960s era covers, is it safe to say that the flashback scenes are set in the 1960s and if so, the main plot taking place in the present or the near future? What is the timeframe for these plot lines?
ES: Can I cheat and say we’re going for the feeling of the ’60s without actually sticking a pin in a specific date? As we say in the comic itself, World Corp. is formed “some time ago,” the partnership hits the rocks “years later,” and the story picks up “now.” Just looking at someone like Emerson and how drastically his appearance changes, it’s clear a good bit of time has passed, but the underlying conceit is that “now” is whenever you’re reading it.
Like I said, 2001: A Space Odyssey is technically a film set in the past, but it has a timeless quality to it that is really only undone by its title. If were just called Space Odyssey, it would be just as futuristic now as it was in 1968. So I guess that’s our general aim. We’re dealing with the present and the past in less concrete terms, so that we’re not immediately dating ourselves.
iF: When the issue begins and we’re introduced to the four scientists and the story jumps to years later where they’re clearly older. Why the jump ahead so far and do you plan to revisit their early days?
ES: There will be some flashbacks to the early days of World Corp. as we move along, but we’re not doing a story set in the past.
iF: If the inspiration for Emerson was John Hurt, is there inspiration for the other characters as well? Did you share specific names of people and looks to Nate Bellegarde for visual reference?
ES: Oh, totally. I gave Nate photos for almost every character in the first issue, but only as a point of reference so he could get an idea of what I was thinking. I didn’t want him to slavishly recreate anyone’s appearance. I think a few of them are fairly apparent – Syd Barrett was the starting point for Thomas Walker, Langley was inspired by Steve McQueen – but some of the others are either more esoteric or their look diverged pretty wildly from the suggested reference. Kurt MacManus started out as a George Clooney type, for instance, but I’m not sure anyone would make that connection without being told that. I was thinking Charles S. Dutton for Dade Ellis, though, and Firefly’s Sean Maher seemed a good fit for Grimshaw. Mainly, it was just a case of suggesting people who had distinctive looks, and in the case of the younger versions of the characters, I wanted them to be kind of evocative of a certain period.
iF: After the meeting scene, the story moves to a remote location where a plague has broken out. Is this happening at the same time as the previous scene with the scientists? How are these two scenes/plot lines related?
ES: Well, it’s a pretty straightforward timeline. We kick things off with the formation of World Corp., then years later, we see things kind of unraveling for the partnership behind the company, and then we move forward again to the present, where a group of World Corp. scientists have been quarantined to one of World Corp.’s remote sites due to a mysterious infection that is affecting them all in different ways. Obviously, the big connection here is that everything has to do with World Corp, but how these seemingly disparate scenes are related is actually something we’ll be revealing over time.
Like I said, we’re building something from scratch here, and it would have been impossible to get everything into the first issue. Hopefully, readers will want to stick around and see where we’re going with things, because I think the cumulative effect of the all world building we’re doing is going to be pretty cool.
iF: In your previous interviews you’ve discussed not wanting to reveal too much, to leave surprises to the reader. Nowhere Men #1 definitely laid story out without providing answers, how important is that balance between intrigue and revelations for you as a writer?
ES: I think it depends on what answer you’re looking for, honestly. I’m not real sure when this trend of expecting the first issue of a comic to explain every single thing about where a series is going started, but it’s not something I’m particularly into as a reader or a publisher. As it stands, we dumped a lot of information on people in issue one: We introduced the founders of World Corp., we showed the fraying relationship between those founders, and we introduced a situation centered on a group of scientists tasked with carrying on World Corp’s work. Readers were supposed to have questions at the end of the first issue, and from I’m getting from you, and from what I’ve seen online, they’re the right questions.
iF: As we look towards issue #2 and future, what can you tell us about what’s coming next for World Corp.?
ES: The situation at the remote site will be resolved fairly quickly. Being placed in quarantine has created a dilemma for the researchers affected and how they deal with that pretty much sets the stage for the entire rest of the series. As we illustrated in the first issue, everyone’s sick with something, but they’re not quite sure what, and it’s affecting all of them differently. Some of them look like they’ve got a bad flu, others are physically disfigured. They’re going to find out it gets worse before it gets better, and even then, “better” is a relative term.
Bottom line, we have a lot of balls in the air, both in terms of standard sci-fi tropes and broader concepts of ethics and responsibility. Obviously, we want to salt a fair amount of intrigue into the mix as well, but we’re not setting up a simple world. There’s going to be all kinds of cool stuff as we move forward, but the aim here is to do something smart and well-conceived, too. As I said, I think it’s something that will pay off pretty richly for the readers willing to stick with it.
Nowhere Men #2 comes out on December 19, 2012 from Image Comics.