Every comic book fan dreams of getting a superpower. But what if that superpower was a black hole of cosmic weirdness, that instantly landed you in the middle of an alien conflict? Thanks to the new Collapser series from DC's Young Animal, those questions and more will finally be answered.
The premise cooked up by writers Mikey Way and Shaun Simon will be enough to sell most readers, promising a story that puts a Twilight Zone twist on the typical superhero origin story. But once the art style of Ilias Kyriazis brings the tale to life, from the panicked existence of aspiring DJ Liam James, to the logic-defying spaces within the hero's singularity, it's evident Collapser is headed to... well, just about anywhere. Needless to say, we were more than eager to speak with this trio of artists to try to wrap our head around the series. Or, at least begin to grasp what isn't possible.
In this first issue alone you go from alien landscapes, to graffiti covered cities, underground clubs, and into a black hole itself. Where in the world did this beautifully weird story come from?
MW: Oh man, I think it came from a love of all of that, you know? Me and Shaun, we love horror, we love sci-fi, we love superheroes, we love body horror, we love aliens, we love demons. We want to make it all live in this one world and we want the conduit to be someone who kind of goes through what we go through. We want the lightning rod to be this character that gets to do what we would do, say what we would say... or say what people who don't have a voice aren't able to say. We wanted to give people a character to relate to, someone that goes through similar issues.
For you Ilias, how common is it for a comic artist to get to tackle a story that involves graffiti cityscapes, raging club scenes... and then a cosmic mystery surrounding possibly intelligent black holes and aliens?
IK: Not as common as it should be... [Laughs]. But the familiar urban environment and the alien creatures are such a great combo in my opinion. The more real Liam’s everyday life feels, the weirder the cosmic stuff will look. About the graffitis though... one my favorite moments was the response of Andy Khouri, the editor, when I asked him if I could use artwork by artist friends on the walls... #legalnightmare
When we first meet Liam James he is basically a wannabe DJ struggling with crippling anxiety. It's a credit to everyone involved that Liam really seems like an authentic person almost immediately. He isn't exactly stuck when the story begins, but he is definitely waiting for something.
MW: You get it! Yeah, you get it. We were just talking about this earlier. Sometimes in your early twenties you get to that fork in the road where you're like, 'responsibility and aspirations,' you know what I mean? And some people stay in that so long that they hit the middle of the divider. And I feel like that's kind of where Liam is, where the world decides for him.
Even before we get to know Liam, or this big twist, the way that the story is told in both the writing and the artwork, I actually started to feel anxious just reading it. So I guess my question is: did you want me to? Is that going to be as big a part of the story as it seems?
SS: It is, it is. Mikey and I both suffer from anxiety. Different levels, maybe. And we really want to hit that home and make sure we gave his anxiety a voice. Make sure we were giving people something real, and that they can relate to. Because it's drawing from our own experiences. And opening the book on this dude with a toy sword in his underwear... That's some shit that could really happen, you know?
MW: We wanted to make you anxious reading the panels, and feel his doubt. We want you to live that, and we feel a lot of people, especially people who are going to be drawn to this comic, are going to be able to relate to that.
IK: That’s a great compliment, thank you! Well, I am a very anxious person myself (this is where the people that know me laugh at the understatement) so I understand the feeling pretty well. When it comes to depicting that I feel what helps is a livelier, one could say 'cartoonier' style. Making the characters as expressive as possible makes them feel more real. The realer a character feels the more you care what is happening to them. Also: I draw everyone sweating a lot [Laughs].
Was that a case of having the idea for the story, and developing Liam into that kind of character? Or did it start with the goal of creating a character like that, and building a story around him?
MW: I think we had the idea where we had this black hole talking to him, that was the thing, where this black hole was inside him and talking to him. And maybe he didn't know what it was yet, but we were like, 'No, he's always had voices, and these things talking to him.' Is that right Shaun?
SS: Yeah I think it started with an idea for a character who gets a black hole inside of him, and we wanted to really hit upon our experiences in that age group growing up, where we both suffer from anxiety. So what would that look like in a comic book? Someone who is into music, and has aspirations to be something bigger than he is but he's being held back. And suffering from these mental issues. And what would that look like on the page? That drove us to where we ended up.
It does communicate a really modern idea, that someone who suffers from anxiety would see the most terrifying thing as sudden success, suddenly becoming someone important, or special in a way that they can't hide. Being shoved down that fork in the road. This really isn't your typical origin story that people might assume it would be.
MW: Yeah he falls into greatness, you know what I mean? But again, he falls into greatness but has to learn how to be great. Sure he's powerful and quote unquote great, but he needs to become that. That's a huge, important part of our story arc.
The black hole is going to be a premise that catches interest immediately. But if readers have a hard time wrapping their head around how that's actually possible, within the logic and science of the story itself, can you elaborate on that a bit?
MW: Yeah we talked about that. You know the Hadron Collider where they're like, 'Oh if you open a black hole in the Earth it'll swallow it whole. Well... not these people. Part of their power set is that maybe... We talked about it, you don't necessarily need to explain it all, but there is something in his family, their genetic code, where the black hole does not shred them to pieces. It's a deep secret in the DC Universe.
SS: [Laughs] Yeah the Phantom Stranger is holding onto that secret.
So were you drawn to that premise based on hard science fiction thinking like that, or was it the body horror, and the unknown?
MW: Basically, I remember when the initial synopsis said 'something meets the Twilight Zone,' I forgot what hero it was. You know, give me a short, two-sentence... we wanted it to be like 'Twilight Zone the superhero.' There's that famous theory about the Bermuda Triangle, why does weird shit happen there? Because, 'Oh there's apparently a black hole there!' That got me to thinking, 'What if there was a hero who had a black hole inside of him?' Anything's possible at that point. Aliens, monsters, ghosts, demons, dimensions... if becomes almost 'anything goes' at that point. I think that's why that because intriguing. It was a vessel for us to get all of our favorite story elements in.
So whose idea was it to transport the black hole in a cardboard box?
MW: It's a... it's a very powerful cardboard box.
Ilias, your colorist on this book, Cris Peter, is bringing a really specific feeling and mood, too. Can you speak a bit to what Cris is adding to the visuals?
Cris is amazing! I love that effect we worked out where the color black is reserved only for the black hole and the rest of the line art is dark blue. We wanted to make the black hole feel unnatural, something that does not belong in the reality we're watching. Besides that, she made the book look so weird! We wanted unique, emotional, unconventional coloring and she delivered beyond all expectation.
I don't envy artists who have to visualize music, but it's a fundamental part of this story, or at least this first issue. You call out specific songs that some people maybe will or won't get, but there's no missing the fact that for Liam, music drowns everything out. I guess that's kind of the gift of music.
SS: Yeah, exactly.
IK: When it takes me a day to do each page I want you to imagine how many times I had to listen to each song... [Laughs]. But yes, thankfully I have similar tastes with Mikey and Shaun so it felt natural channeling their ideas into a look for the character and the book. I did have to learn what pea coats are though.
So with both of your musical backgrounds, you obviously have a different perspective on the role of music in this story and in Liam's life.
SS: I think the music for Liam is the thing that quiets the voices in his head. We see in Issue #1 when he does finally get to DJ, at that point the anxiety dies. And it quiets him. It's his safe place, the place where he can finally just relax. So that's an important aspect to the story as well.
MW: It's the one time that his anxiety is not destroying him. I feel like for a lot of people, music gets them through their day. Having that be an important part of character, I haven't seen that very often in comic books.
Yeah, what has it been like working with Ilias on that? I couldn't even imagine how you being to show music like this.
MW: Same here, that's the brilliance of Ilias. I was also afraid of that being conveyed in a drawing but he would constantly floor us. He was able to take anything we said and make it great. He understood our vision and the descriptions and our points of reference. We were in a symmetry with him, it was really fantastic to see.
You really do feel that sense of euphoria in the way Liam's music is sort of 'unleashed' on the page. Later there are similar full-page spreads that feel like letting loose, too. What is the process like for creating pages like these, because the effect really is startling (in the best way possible)!
IK: Space in comics, especially American comics, is very precious, so I’m very happy when I have the luxury of devoting a page or two to getting across the feeling of a scene instead just advancing the plot. On top of that, people partying is probably one of my favorite things to draw. In these scenes in Collapser I focused on putting a lot of detail on the background characters. Usually that’s a no no but I wanted to actually distract the reader from the story, to have them forget Liam and get lost in the moment just as Liam forgets his everyday problems.
It takes a special kind of person who is tackling all the genres and moods in just the first half of this first issue, and really gets to kind of unleash the full-page mind-blowers in the second half. What was it like working with Ilias to arrive at this finished look and feel? Did you know what to expect?
SS: I think we saw that before he started. I think that's one of the reasons we chose him was because he can do the horror, he can do the ground level personal relationships, he can do the humor in it, and the sci-fi in it. We saw that in his previous work, and we were like, 'This is the guy that needs to draw this comic.'
For you Ilias, the first issue is a lot to absorb, and that's just as a reader. I can’t grasp being the one putting those ideas into artwork. Were you instantly on board with telling the story Mikey and Shaun have crafted here, and did it turn out to be a challenge?
IK: As daunted as I might have been at first because this is a big project... it’s right up my alley artistic-wise. This is a not-typical-superhero that allows me to take chances and try new things. If a story gives me weird new things to draw, concepts that I have to figure out how to depict, then I’m in heaven. Challenging is the best thing a project can be. Also, the fact that this is a brand new character and I get to do what I want without being limited by past portrayals is a huge plus!
I know that the first issue is going to surprise people, no matter how much they know about the story. But this might be one of the most cruel cliffhangers to a first issue that I've ever encountered.
MW: Oh man
Of all the tantalizing ways to end this first part of the story. It had to have been your goal to make it sting that much more.
MW: No I think it's just... Shaun were we ever like, 'Oh man this is gonna...'? It just kind of ended up there, I think.
SS: Yeah we were like, 'Where do we end this thing?' Let's have him at fucking Stonehenge. Then we were like, 'Oh shit that makes perfect sense for this book!'
MW: Yeah it's one of those places. It's mysterious and some people don't even know why. It made me think of that Bermuda Triangle theory, maybe all the haunted and ancient places are because a black hole might be there. That's the pseudo-science in the story, we've heard the theories here and there, and it's probably impossible. But maybe it's not, what do we know?
Yeah, the best compliment I can give is that it hits so perfectly because the reader is going to know just as little about what's happening as Liam. Without spoiling too much of the story, can you give even a slight tease of where this goes next? Because it does feel like it could go absolutely anywhere.
MW: It goes... Man that is broad question. Can you go first Shaun? I don't want to give away too much.
SS: Yeah no no no, it can go anywhere, and it does go anywhere. And one of the reasons is because when you have stuff like anxiety and depression, these mental illnesses, you don't know what's going to happen next. You don't know where your mind's going to go next. So he gets this black hole and that's what happens to him. He doesn't know where he's going to end up, he doesn't know what's going to happen. And he's forced to deal with these issues as they come up. That was one of the main points in the black hole, along with other things, but that was one of the reasons why we went that route.
IK: Issue one is the tame one, trust me. People will need a cigarette break by mid issue two. There are spandex wearing cuddly aliens coming, evil hot air balloon captains, monstrous cereal mascots and a fish vs demon war.
Wow. Collapser #1 will be available at your local comic book shop on July 17th, 2019.