Issue Analysis: Nowhere Men #4 with Eric Stephenson

NWM_01With the announcement yesterday that Nowhere Men #1 has garnered an impressive fifth printing, it’s clear that the series, far from reaching its half life, is only continuing to radiate. One of the latest strains in Image Comics’ infectious lineup of inventive science fiction, Nowhere Men makes an undeniable case for science as the new rock ‘n’ roll.

The story features a robust ensemble of intrepid field scientists and older, world-class innovators perched atop the highest towers. World Corp might be as influential an organization as ever, but the men who founded it so long ago have suffered harrowing fates, friendships corrupted by greed and distrust. Meanwhile, a number of young men and women operating in outer space have escaped their base station, but not before undergoing aggressive mutations. Scattered across the Earth, the survivors continue to transform amidst other extreme obstacles. It registers as the modern response to the original Fantastic Four origin, now free of pastiche and rife with modern style. Image

Comics publisher Eric Stephenson and collaborators Nate Bellgarde and Jordie Bellaire emphasize the body horror often glossed over in tales of gamma rays and metamorphosis. They also continue to reveal the secret history and culture of their twisted world through text pieces, faux advertisements and other snatches of ephemera that function like welcome puzzle pieces.

We spoke to Stephenson about the current state of Nowhere Men to get new readers up to speed on this fantastic series.

iFanboy: Let’s talk mutation and body horror. While the Fantastic Four underwent fairly immediate transformations in their origin story, the characters in Nowhere Men continue to change. Some of them horrifically. Would you consider metamorphosis a lasting theme for the series?
Eric Stephenson: Well, change, yes. Life isn’t static – we all undergo changes from the day we’re born to the day we die. And our bodies continue to change once we’re no longer in them. In Nowhere Men, we have characters undergoing these horrific physical transformations, but we also have a company that has changed significantly, both in terms of its actual structure and how it is perceived by others. Likewise, the relationships between the World Corp founders have changed pretty drastically, too, and as we move forward and get to know everyone better, we’ll also learn how their individual priorities and objectives have changed.


iFanboy: Speaking of the change in dynamic between the World Corps founders, it seems like a heightened version of the rivalries we see all too often in that elite circle of world-class innovators. Parallels to the implosion of the Beatles seem natural, but are you drawing on any other dustups from the tech world or elsewhere?

ES: Well, I never actually looked at World Corp. as The Beatles. Calling them the “Fab Four of science” is just short hand for a certain kind of fame. The Beatles weren’t just pop stars, they had a deeply profound effect on our entire culture. But no, my initial inspiration for a group of scientists working together came from the rift between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and wondering what the world might have been like if they’d worked together. They didn’t work together, though, and Jobs’ relationship with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wasn’t always a happy one, so once I knew I was going to have a scientific supergroup, it seemed fairly obvious they weren’t going to stay together. I mean, the truth of the matter is strong personalities pretty frequently don’t play well with others. Syd Barrett got kicked out of Pink Floyd. Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Mike Love have feuded for decades. Hell, in comics, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did comics together for about as long as The Beatles were together, the Lee/Ditko partnership broke down even quicker. It just seems almost inevitable for certain partnerships to come apart at the seams after a while.

iFanboy: Some World Corps founders seem more culpable in this mess than others, but have we seen enough to judge?

ES: Not at all, but it should be pretty clear who’s responsible for what and why by the end of issue six.

iFanboy: The survivors from that disaster in outer space have split off in a number of different directions. Do these groups continue to spread out or might something draw them all together again?

ES: So far, we’ve seen two groups of survivors, in two different locations, and they’re separated by a pretty vast distance. They don’t even know there are other survivors outside of their respective groups. Whether or not they’re reunited depends on whether there’s a practical reason for that to happen.

iFanboy: How involved do you like to get with your artists in terms of these mutations? Not just with Nate Bellegarde, but with Jordie Bellaire on color? What’s the likelihood of any government agencies flagging your email attachments as…worrying?

ES: There really aren’t that many disturbing jpegs going back and forth, actually. I describe something and then Nate kind of grosses it up from there. Like, with Susan in issue four… I described her face bubbling and contorting as though something terrible was going to happen from the inside out, which we’d kind of shown already, but Nate took it to the next level. With Raymond Douglas on the plane… it was just a description of what he’d coughed up, and then I think Jordie sent in a first version of that and I asked for a slight change, but without showing her an actual example.

I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but honestly,  I’m more likely to send photo reference for clothing, architecture, furniture, design and things like that.

iFanboy: Can you speak to your method of world-building through these cool little flashes of culture and ephemera? The book excerpts. The paintings. The advertising. It’s an elegant solution for conveying some history and exposition, but is it also an outlet for you and the artists?

ES: Oh, sure. I definitely think Steven enjoys being able to strut his stuff with the ads, the magazines and the book excerpts. In some instances, it’s a case of carefully replicating the look and feel of a particular ad or book from a specific point in time, but in others, I’ll just ask Steven to come up with something that evokes a certain era. The “Into Tomorrow” ad from the first issue is like that – it’s a general corporate ad for World Corp. that I wanted to look a certain way, but I didn’t want it to look like anything specific. Meanwhile, there are things like the “Nigel” ad in issue three that was clearly based on an old Volkswagen ad, and we all did our best to make it fit that format. Same with the TSC Readers’ Poll results in issue four – that’s based on a readers poll from a music magazine that was a big part of my youth. So yeah, it’s fun for all of us to do these “in-world” pieces, and in terms of fleshing out the overall world, it’s a good opportunity to introduce characters and concepts in different way than simply cramming them into the background or whatever.

Unwell is one word for it.

Unwell is one word for it.

iFanboy: At the time of this writing, interest in the series has demanded a fifth printing of Nowhere Men #1. What kind of response did you expect for this project at the start? It’s more cerebral than the typical monthly comic, with a sizable cast that might scare some readers away. Did you expect it to enjoy more of a niche audience than the wider numbers it seems to have reached?

ES: Our goal from the start was to do something that would pick up readers along time. As I told Ron last time I talked to iFanboy about the book, we wanted the book to debut with a little bit of mystery around it. So many things just get dropped in our laps fully formed these days, and Nate and I both really liked the idea of people picking up the first issue because it looked cool or whatever and then thinking, “What IS this?” That’s how I got hooked on a lot of the comics I love, through that sense of not really knowing what I’m in for and then piecing it together as each issue comes out, and while I understand that approach might not work for everyone, the reactions we got with issues two through four indicate that are at least a few people out there who still like to be intrigued as opposed to catered to.

iFanboy: Have any reactions to the story or the final product surprised you?

ES: Oh, little things here and there, but the main thing is whenever I read someone complaining about Nate’s artwork, that just drives me nuts. There was one guy, just commenting on a forum somewhere, who repeatedly made the point about the art being a drawback, saying that Nate’s art is very rudimentary and a poor choice for the story, etc., and you know, everyone has their own tastes and all that, but no, Nate is quite good. And beyond that, Nate and I created this book together. I may have had the concept and the characters before Nate got involved, but Nowhere Men absolutely would not be the book it is without Nate’s input. One of the very first conversations I had with Nate, I told him that I didn’t want to just send off scripts and get back artwork, I wanted to work together on this, I wanted his feedback, I wanted to have a dialogue about what we were doing. No artist wants to feel like a pencil robot, and I don’t think writers benefit from working with pencil robots. Far beyond the material I deliver to Nate for the story, we email, text and talk about what’s happening in the book, and it’s a lot of fun. Just the other day, we were talking about a character we’re not going to see for a few issues yet, and I’d given Nate some rough notes on her appearance, so he shot back an email with a variety of photos of three different actresses. Something about the three of them made me think, “Wow, if there was a way to blend all their features together, they’d wind up looking like Daisy Lowe.” Nate then came back with, “Or Francoise Hardy!” and the process has continued from there – just bouncing different thoughts around as we determine how this character will ultimately look. My point being, this is very much a collaboration, and Nate is an extremely important part of that.



  1. Well he explained as to why readers are seemingly struggling to find the book on the stands and I thought it was a very unique viewpoint.

    I’ve managed to get my hands on all the copies thankfully and honestly this is potentially shaping up to me one of my all time favorite series. The book just effortlessly oozes with style, intelligence and mystery. The art by Bellaire and Bellegarde is out of this world and I find myself staring at this book longer than any other in my comic stack.

    Couldn’t recommend it more highly.

    • Hugely agree on how excellent this series is becoming, image’s science fiction titles are probably the best around at the moment & this is one of those wondrous packages (especially that there’s no adverts in it at all) that you can enjoy from start to finish.
      Also I have been lucky to get every issue with no problems of availability!

    • Ye just realised how many sci-fi tiles im actually picking up now, its crazy. Prophet was my favourite series last year. Think 2013 could belong to Nowhere Men though!

    • Absolutely Nowhere Men is fast becoming my favourite series of this year, unfortunately Saga pipped Prophet last year but I do love what Brandon Graham is doing with his phenomenal art team!

  2. Nice interview Paul!

    This has been a great series so far. I’ve enjoyed the world building and watching these characters grow/transform. I think Nate Bellegarde’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s colors are a perfect mix for the story by Stephenson and add to the uniqueness of this series.

    In regards to the issue of multiple printings. I recall Image “threatening” retailers they would no longer offer second-printings to encourage retailers to order accordingly. Now, I understand why Image would encourage ‘proper’ ordering from retailers and I also understand why they adjusted their “new policy” in reaction to the the backlash by saying “yes, we will offer additional printings”. What I don’t understand is why a book, any book, would have five printings. What adjustments by Image or retailers could not be made by say, the second printing or the third printing or the fourth printing. I’m more curious than judging.

    • Hey Will – figure this is a good opportunity for me, as an official Image Comics representative, to provide some clarifications to some of your comments regarding re-printings.

      Your description of “threatening” retailers is a bit off base as is your summary of what our policy is. That communication to retailers was explaining that on proven sellers like The Walking Dead and Saga, we would not be re-printing issues indefinitely. But books that are starting out, like Nowhere Men, Five Ghosts, and Peter Panzerfaust, that benefit from reprints, we absolutely will reprint to meet demand. We have never said that Image Comics would stop reprinting things. We continue to do reprints where there is demand. To see Nowhere Men reach a 5th printing is amazing and a testament to how the book is finding it’s audience and we’re doing our best to help that happen.

      Hope that helped to clarify things and satisfy your curiosity.

    • @Ron Richards – Thanks for personally making the clarification and I accept your rebuke. Using the word “threatening” was a bit harsh and was made in haste.

      Hope all is well at Image!

  3. Great coverage and some much appreciated love for what I think is the best monthly comic book out there right now and quite possibly the finest presentation/production of a monthly book I’ve ever seen. I hope those pulls are up by issue #5!!

  4. This is the book I look forward to the most each month, followed closely by “The Flash”. I’ve been lucky because for every issue I’ve always gotten the very last copy at my LCS. The art is fantastic IMO, it’s ironic because Nate commented about people hating it and the user reviews of the first 2 issues on this site gave the art a 2. It’s not surprising that the story style has piqued so much interest; aren’t the most popular dramas on tv built the same way? Teasing the viewers and leaving clues piece by piece? The only thing that concerns me is that I dont wait the Space Station survivors to get “superpowers”; I buy this book because its not like my Cape books. That said, I can’t wait for issue 5!

  5. Great series.

  6. I think this is the best of the new image books that have come out but im a little lost sometimes. Is there a past and present thing going on without showing dates?? It took me soooo long to find a copy of issue 3 that im confused. This would read better in trade i think. I really loved the first two issues but the months it took me to find issue 3 basically wiped half my memory of what i read. Im enjoying .. but im lost.