INTERVIEW: JUSTIN GRAY & JIMMY PALMIOTTI:LIVE FREE OR DIE
Interview conducted by Jonathan Ellis
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Coming in September, Wildstorm premieres with two new series from the writing team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti.
With a past in mining, entomology, meteorology and... fish, Justin's current career path really picked up steam while interning at Marvel. Since that time Justin has worked alongside Jimmy on a number of Hollywood properties as well as their new series from Wildstorm. Jimmy, although primarily known for his inking skills, has spent more and more of his time recently putting his writing skills to work on a number of comics as well as a few television properties currently in the works. Together they bring to you two new series sans the usual capes and tights superheroics and delight in the attitude; live free or die.
Be sure to pre-order now, 'cause coming in September the fight against death begins as Wildstorm unleashes THE RESISTANCE & 21 DOWN.
Following the destruction of nearly three quarters of the world's plant life in the disaster of 2030 the world has been thrown into an ecological imbalance. Entire species of animals declined and the world's oxygen production declined so greatly, artificial respiratory factories were structured to create breathable air. One hundred years of food riots, famine, war and chaos followed. THE RESISTANCE takes place in the year 2280, drugs are legal, religion is outlawed, food is world's most precious commodity and the planet is under the watchful eye of the Global Control Commission. Even breeding rights are now controlled under law, only those capable of financially supporting children and contributing to the global economy were granted these rights. But for the sake of self preservation, the poor and unfortunate continued to breed.
Due to the moral implications of such a law, androids were constructed as a nonbiased police force to hunt down, capture and even kill citizens. Unauthorized free-births began calling themselves Strayz as they had, under, GCC law, deviated from the so-called good of humanity. Born with a death certificate and embracing an extreme lifestyle of decadence and peril, these small cells of Resistance fighters look to overthrow the GCC, by exposing the greatest conspiracy in human history.
POPIMAGE: In the future world of THE RESISTANCE, drugs are legal and religion is outlawed. Is this a bad thing? One piece of art released so far features a woman wearing a cross being shot.
Jimmy: Well, anything that is organized to the point that the individual loses their voice and the group is the only decision made becomes a dangerous thing right away. Jesus Siaz, artist on the 21 DOWN series, paints the image that you are speaking about and it's his commentary on the book. The great thing about hiring all these wonderful artists to do pieces for the cover is that you never know what we are going to get.
Justin: You're not going to get a popular idea out of me regarding either religion or drugs. Both are ancient forms of control and pseudo-enlightenment. I think we all realize that making something illegal doesn't mean it no longer exists or that people will leave it alone. Contrary to what some might think, drugs don't open the portal to a new consciousness. I've done them, all kinds of them in large quantities and maybe I'm unlucky but all I got was high. The difference in Resistance is that some people realize and embrace the similarities between all forms of spirituality. Other people realize that things such as drugs are a far more useful tool and quite profitable as well. Just ask the CIA.
Fighting against the system is an obvious theme in THE RESISTENCE, but how large a role do politics actually play within the series?
Jimmy: A large part of the book is the role that the politics play in controlling the public. Public perception and all about the way the system manipulates its citizens into thinking a certain way and making them believe what they want so there is an order to the chaos that is the world. We deal with this on a basic storytelling level and try to keep the reader on the edge of their seat all the while.
Justin: The system we see in Resistance exists on many levels right now. The only sad thing is that people are too preoccupied with game cubes, celebrity gossip, living vicariously through other people's lives and extreme sports to give a shit about what's happening around them. Music is passive pandering crap, agro rock is homogenized, what was once outlawed urban fun is now televised on cable sport channels, promoted in summer movies and packaged at today's "youth market" with specific product placement. The half hour you spend watching the real world, or survivor is a half hour you could be spending living your own life. Obviously this is a generalization but it is a generalization that makes the System happy.
Speaking of the CIA and politics, will the Government be seen primarily as a physical force or will there also be a shadow government pulling strings from behind the scenes? Manipulating media and controlling totalitarian regulatory factors?
Justin: The nature of Resistance is that a majority of the population has willingly surrendered control in place of being taken care of. There is no need for a shadow government because the threat of returning to the previous 200 years of war, famine and chaos is enough to maintain their society. As we see with each generation being raised by the media, people begin to accept certain things as fact or having always been that way. For instance, the recent debate over the pledge of allegiance exposed how a majority of the public was unaware that the inclusion of "under God" was not part of the original document but added in 1954.
Will some of the factors of 'the system' that exist today continue to exist in the world of The Resistance? Looking at some of those you've mentioned, one might think they'd not only exist but increase in popularity.
Justin: Yes, look at what's happening in the aftermath of September 11th. In October of last year the government rushed through a number of laws that infringe on the basic principals of our society including personal privacy. People are being held on suspicion without direct proof of guilt and a majority of Americans feel that's not a problem. The attitude is that if you have done nothing wrong then there is nothing to fear. People like to know that justice, even if it is an illusion, is being upheld. With people still emotionally raw from the tragedy of 911, they embraced nearly any action designed to make them feel safer and more secure. The same sorts of rules apply to The Resistance where people feel that these criminal elements, Strayz, are directly affecting their survival.
If the Kevin Nowlan artwork is any indication, this new world will spawn new species, or variant species at least. What sort of new species or post humans can readers expect to see?
Jimmy: When you have so much going on with the environment so quickly, there are bound to be casualties and at the same time, some very interesting reprocussions. The mermaids are a result of an experiment that got out of hand and took on a life of it self. I don't want to give away too much, but I will tell you, the Hudson River is as polluted as ever!
Justin: We already create variant species, super corn, glow in the dark hamsters, cloned animals. Mermaids and serpent girls are the porn of tomorrow.
What sort of inspirations were you drawing on for this series? Noam Chomsky? Marshall McLuhan?
Justin: There is no denying Mr. Chomsky's influence on my attitude toward some global politics or certain aspects of The Resistance. Mr. McLuhan's analysis of media doesn't play as large a role in the genesis of this book other than the obvious fact that the media sways Western civilization far more than it should. I'm saving the complete media bashing for another venue.
Are the protagonists in THE RESISTANCE meant to reflect attitudes OF and TOWARDS today's generation of youth? "...a parasite on Earth's precious, dwindling resources." Is used to describe the core characters. Sounds awfully familiar.
Jimmy: Youth always has something fresh to say and the energy to change what is around them, to make it better. I like to think this is still a popular attitude, but less and less this isn't the case. Lets look at our society in a nutshell...the 60's were famous for change... the 70's, and 80's were about new ideas, a short lived hedonism, a change is attitude and the breakdown of the political power structure... now the 90's and 2000's are exactly what music is pushing down everyone's throats, its the "me" generation all over again. All the politics left today are about more money, bigger houses and more "bitches". Watch MTV and that is a great sign where kids are at today... a really dangerous attitude of not being involved. The people in their 30's and 40's are doing all the babysitting for a generation that doesn't care about anything but themselves. It's no wonder Enron and Worldcom and all these companies feel they can get away with all this. The new generation is setting themselves up for media manipulation and a shallow future with less control than ever. These are themes for our series.
Justin: Yeah, it is familiar. Every generation makes some asinine comment like "kids today are... more dangerous, more violent, more sexually promiscuous." Kids don't change only their environment changes and they react accordingly to survive. Who creates this environment is responsible for how the next generation reacts to it. Corporations look at us as a demographic, a niche market where they can push their wares to make their lives better. The protagonists in Resistance don't have time to sit home and collect useless crap, drive convertibles or argue over the best pop diva, they have to survive. These characters aren't a commentary on White American Suburbia, quite the opposite really.
Speaking of environment. Much of how our environment changes is a result of energy and technology. For each new induction, the steam engine, electricity, atomic power, even the internet, our world changes with it. Was there any specific catalyst that lead to this new environment of the future? What sort of new technologies can we expect to see?
Justin: The shift in the environment was a result of the release of an anti-botanical agent similar to Agent Orange. What was originally intended to be an act of terrorism, an attempt to cripple the US by damaging its food crops, turned into a global disaster.
The technologies we will see are varied. With the decline in plant life comes a decline in oxygen so we have vast complexes designed to pump air into the skies. Unfortunately they are pulling some of that oxygen from the oceans, which have grown in size due to the further melting of icecaps. We'll see some genetic advances and the beginning stages of nanite technology infused into functioning society.
Who makes up 'The Strayz'?
Justin: There are a few core characters that we focus on in the beginning of the series, but unlike traditional team books these characters are expendable and when they die that's it.
Sergio Ortiz whom we like to think of, as a cross between Shaft and Martin Luther King Jr., is a well-respected leader.
Brian Sturm is a computer genius, the babe in the woods type character.
FTP Jones is our transport specialist with a love of machines and high speed driving.
Tommy Lyne is insane. Everybody knows that one person that will do anything regardless of how crazy or dangerous, so Tommy fits that role perfectly.
Version Mary is our Cathlo-Zen bad ass, take no flack, spiritual, Amazon, sex object. Since religion has been outlawed certain people have taken the surviving bits of various dogmas and constructed their own belief systems. Mary is the last of her faith.
We also follow the life of Agent Joe Hicks as he struggles with the morality of the Job he's been born into.
The other series debuting from this creative team is 21 DOWN
21 DOWN begins with the 20th birthday of our protagonist Preston and starts the countdown to his death. Preston's powers came with a death sentence of 21 years, and now he has to accept that his life is counting down day by day. To further complicate matters though is the sexy and mysterious Mickey Rinaldi who is trying o determine exactly why the Gen Actives are dying off, and who may just be the only person who can find a way to save them.
"What if you had the opportunity to gain powers that made you far superior to ordinary humans? Would the price of such powers matter? What if the price meant you died when you turned 21 - would you still accept them? Worse yet, what if you accepted them as a teenager, and you've just celebrated your 20th birthday?"
Did Preston, the main character, CHOOSE to gain these powers or were they the result of something else?
Jimmy: Very few things in life are really done by choice and Preston is no exception. This is something that has been thrust upon him and he does have the choice to ignore it or put it to good use.
Justin: No, he didn't chose them, he's not a hero in the traditional barrel-chested, square jawed sense. He has no obligation to stand up and stop the injustices of the world. Preston is a somewhat ordinary guy that never wanted to be anything special. Unfortunately that option no longer applies.
We know the main character is counting down to his death, but he's not exactly living each day to its fullest is he? Guy's got to make a living right?
Jimmy: Well...up until the day he meets Mickey, he isn't really living very much at all, just going from day to day. If it wasn't for his friends and brother, his motivation wouldn't be there at all. Preston, up until his 20th birthday, life was a day to day business as usual thing. This book starts a couple of days after his b-day and everything starts to get wild.
Justin: He has to make a living, but he's not trying to become the head of a global corporation. He chooses a simple life that makes him happy; you don't have to work 80 hours a week to do that.
Jimmy, you really brought this project together, gathering the creative team and such. Will you be taking an editorial seat on this project or are you leaving that up to Bob Harras and his boys?
Jimmy: It's all bobs job... when I am hired for anything, I tend to get involved in more ways than one, and doing some press with Justin is just one of the ways. The editorial thing is second nature with Knights and Event behind me... but to tell you the truth, I like that someone else is out there as well. I am really happy with the way D.C. and Wildstorm are handling these projects. Ask me again when we are on issue 5, and we will see if the answer is the same, lol.
It's been revealed that Preston is not the only one in his unique situation, will these others be introduced early off or will you be keeping the attention on the sole character for the most part?
Justin: 21DOWN is a condition so that allows us to introduce and play with other characters suffering from the same terminal condition. It's also an opportunity to look at the concept of "super" powers and apply them to some unexpected people. Preston and Mickey will encounter others afflicted with superheroitis, a degenerative and stagnating disease, but it may not be what people expect.
What sort of situations will an empowered Preston get into, while at the same time, staying away from the typical wham bam super heroics?
Justin: Jimmy and I feel there are enough wham-bam superhero comics being produced by some very talented people so we decided to take 21DOWN in a different direction. We're going more for subtlety and mood, taking a look at ordinary people having been burdened with superpowers. Being able to fly or run fast is cool, but what if your ability was to turn time back five minutes? It doesn't seem like much in the shadow of characters that can tear mountains out of the ground, but it would make for interesting sex. The situations Preston is going to find himself in are ones where we explore humanity with touches of the surreal. That's where Jesus Saiz really adds something special to the series. His ability to convey emotion through character movements and expressions is so important to what Jimmy and I attempting.
How exactly will these powers manifest and in what form?
Justin: Preston's powers are related to death. At first they seem clichéd, but as the series progresses he grows more powerful and expands the range of his relationship with death. Realistically the focus is not so much on the superpower element, mainly because it becomes a crutch and an easy plot device to resolve conflict. You end up structuring stories around that power instead of the character and eventually it becomes repetitive. Say you can throw a 98-mile an hour fastball. During a baseball game you are a force to be reckoned with, but a fastball doesn't really mean much if you're trying to save someone who is drowning.
And for all those wondering about the rumors regarding 21 DOWN on its way to Hollywood... comments?
Justin: I'd like to but I've been told I can't. Sorry.
I’ll just have to wait for the day you boys are featured in Variety then
In the meanwhile though, go to your local comics shop and reserve your copies of THE RESISTANCE & 21 DOWN now
Jonathan Ellis is Interviews Editor for PopImage
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