This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 15, 2016.
This week sees the release of one highlight first announced at Emerald City Comic Con: HORIZON. Writer Brandon Thomas, artist Juan Gedeon, and colorist Frank Martin announced their collaboration on the new Image sci-fi series at the most recent Image Expo in Seattle. It is the story of Zhia Malen, an alien soldier who comes to Earth when she learns her home planet is targeted for colonization by humanity. It promises to be a tense, political thriller filled with moral questions and implications.
ComicBook.Com contributor Chase Magnett had the opprotunity to sit down with Thomas and discuss the first issue of the series (without any spoilers). Thomas is a passionate writer with lots of ideas ready to fill this promising new series. Check out the full conversation below.
ComicBook: I believe that every new comics project offers its creators a unique challenge or perspective. Looking at the creation of Horizon, what is the thing that you’ve found to be the most engaging or new?
Brandon Thomas: This book has definitely inspired more patience and calm in my sense of storytelling. A lot of my previous books like Miranda Mercury or Voltron: Year One were pretty packed with everything—characters, text, panels, etc. What I’d call “kitchen sink comics,” and while that’s definitely something I still love to do, and will do when the right scene calls for it, Horizon (and really Skybound in general) have shown me that it’s possible to slow things down a bit, and still tell a story in a satisfying way. That it’s not always necessary to shove two comics’ worth of material into one.
Perfect example of this is the lengthy “introduction” sequence at the beginning of #1, which has very little dialogue (past the grunting), where Zhia doesn’t even “speak” until page 11. Writing this was THE most challenging thing I’d ever done because I had to stamp down on those nervous instincts that I wasn’t doing “enough” to hold everyone’s attention. The way I’ve done that in the past is by frantically throwing words and panels and stuff at everyone, so it was difficult to just shut up and lean into that anxiety, but my editors and I loved how it turned out.
It’s a very different way to launch a series, but it really drills down how important the ability (or inability) to communicate effects people’s relationships with the world.
ComicBook: Along those same lines, every collaboration helps to flex new creative muscles, what have you found by working with Juan?
Thomas: So when Juan came onboard, I extended that kind of patience and brevity into the actual scripts, cutting down on overloaded panel descriptions, and giving him more room to breathe and contribute. You never want your artist to feel too “boxed in” by the script, and I’ve learned, especially when it comes to the action, less direction is always more.
Juan already excels at delivering epic action sequences, and I started to get out of his way and let him do that. An aspect of the book you’ll definitely feel going forward, and there’s a notable shift once you hit those scripts where we knew he was going to draw Horizon. Always want to maximize that greatness, and the action quickly becomes INSANE in the book, surpassing the incredible sense of design brought to the characters.
ComicBook: There’s an observational quality to Horizon as it presents a perspective of the United States that is truly alien. How much has your presentation and observations of culture been influenced by the current political atmosphere?
Thomas: Some of that can be chalked up to not-so happy accidents, because this particular issue was written near the end of 2014. This was way before this current election season really popped off, but the themes and issues we’ll be playing with feel right on time, unfortunately.
There was a discussion back in the beginning about where to set this book in time. For a while it was quite a ways into the future, but Sean Mackiewicz (Skybound Editorial Director) said that it should take place in the very near future, a world we can clearly recognize outside our windows. That was a real light bulb moment for me, and what you’ll find is that this version of Earth has accelerated levels of all the awful qualities/traits that are threatening to engulf us now. They were more wasteful and careless with their environment, a lot more intolerant as the complexion of the world changed, and they were often paralyzed by fear and easily led into the waiting arms of demagogues and misery pimps.
If anything, some of the stuff in the book doesn’t really seem that far-fetched anymore, and I have to say that every day it gets a little easier to write a book about someone looking down their nose at humanity, and wanting to stomp us into the ground once and for all. I mean, it’s really easy to get into the mind frame of Zhia and her crew when I’m hearing about George Zimmerman auctioning off the gun he used to murder Trayvon Martin, which happened the exact same week I was writing #12. Truth is always stranger.
ComicBook: There’s an emphasis on locations in the Midwest. As someone occupying one of those locations (Omaha), I’m interested in knowing what led you to target this section of the United States?
Thomas: I grew up in the suburbs outside of Chicago, and then spent some years living in the city before heading out to the west coast. So I have some familiarity with it, and strategically, there’s a reason why Chicago is the biggest city still standing. This is a mild spoiler for the end of #1, but the U.S. in Horizon is a little different and more contracted than ours right now. Climate change and other manmade disasters have made many of the coastal areas uninhabitable, and the transition page where Malen comes down from Canada through pieces of the country that are almost abandoned wastelands is an important one. Strength in numbers is a life or death consideration now, and only the lunatics are still hanging around less populated areas in the middle of the country. Definitely put a bookmark in that cause it’s something we’ll come back to very soon.
ComicBook: The Midwest presents a sense of normality, but Horizon is really focused on the extraordinary and the alien. How did you go about creating aspects of language and interpretation for the series?
Thomas: Language and communication are so important to what we want to express in this series. There’s an actual Language Key on the inside front cover, and even in the mostly silent opening, I wrote Zhia’s injured grunting a little differently, like her alien larynx is spitting out harsh, unpleasant otherworldly sounds.
Getting Rus Wooton onboard was the last important piece in really figuring all this out. His phenomenal SFX work on other books convinced me that Horizon needed sound effects to really shine, and we talked about how to indicate different languages in an easy, visual way that’ll allow us to quickly switch back and forth. The different shaped hand-drawn balloons are just beautiful, and I smile every time I see them.
I also want to give a shout-out to ace designer Andres Juarez, whose logo and design work has been top notch all the way. I’ve been fantasizing about that inside front cover for months, and he just rocked it. Know that’s a part of the book some people quickly blow past, but got some ideas on how to make it a living, breathing piece of the book that changes over time.
ComicBook: Moving ahead with Horizon, what do you perceive the goals for the series to be?
Thomas: Inevitability is something I’m striving for, that perfect feeling of delivering enough consistent twists and turns to be surprising, but done in such a way that when the reader steps back and looks at everything they’re like, “Oh, well of course that’s how that happened.” Something I’m paying special attention to is trying to ensure that the character growth makes sense and follows a pretty well defined line, so that I’m seldom put in situations where character has to be sacrificed for plot. That’s like my writer’s pet peeve, and I try to be very careful to always honor and respect my characters and their perspectives, even when they’re unpleasant and ugly.
The bigger idea involves questioning what happens when you encounter the worst possible example of something, and then you project that experience over an entire swath of people. Zhia Malen has had the absolute worst first encounter with human beings imaginable, and she comes here filled with hate and fear and self-righteousness, thinking the Earth is filled to the brim with stupid, violent, ignorant barbarians. People that deserve every terrible thing she’s going to do to them. What happens when that notion is really challenged, and the justifications start to lose their grip?
Everyone is this book (on both sides) feels incredibly justified in the horrible things they’re doing to survive, and I think that’s a great dichotomy to explore in a conspiracy thriller like this one. There’s plenty to get and keep people excited about in Horizon, hopefully for years to come, but past the fights, explosions, and subterfuge, there’s a real examination of how impossible it sometimes is to cooperate and to forgive, even if that’s the only way to win.
Thanks for giving it a read, and hope to see you back next month when we introduce the remainder of Malen’s squad and the conspiracy continues to unfold…