Joe Harris' "Great Pacific" is long in the making. The book was conceived three years ago and, after a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, which drummed up interest and excitement but failed to find adequate backing, the series, written by Harris with art by Martin Morazzo, will debut this November as an ongoing monthly from Image Comics.
The book is both science fiction epic and coming-of-age story, following the adventures of protagonist Chas Worthington as he sets out to claim the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a region in the Pacific Ocean where plastic particulates and debris collect and accumulate, as a new sovereign nation, while also confronting his family legacy and the death of his oil-magnate father. Comic Book Resources spoke with Harris about "Great Pacific," the inspiration behind the book and the process of development from pitch, through Kickstarter, to published series.
Harris has grand ambitions for "Great Pacific." It is clearly a project he poured a large amount of work and effort into, and he describes the book in epic terms. "It's a science fiction adventure series set against this real-world environmental catastrophe playing out the ocean as we speak," Harris told CBR News. "It's a survival epic set upon the strangest landscape you've ever seen -- the exploration, taming and conquest of Earth's new, last great frontier. It's got sea monsters and war parties and fantastical landscapes in one of the most fascinatingly, upsettingly and surprisingly beautiful backdrops you've ever seen."
The prime inspiration for the book stems from research into the very real Great Pacific Garbage Patch. "[It's] this massive environmental disaster out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean," Harris said. "It's a soupy mess of plastic and trash that's ended up in the ocean, swept out to sea where it became trapped by the converging currents. In reality, this zone of junk is estimated by scientists to be twice the size of [protagonist Chas Worthington's] home state of Texas and a horrific problem nobody's given enough attention to, and even fewer are working to clean up."
Beyond its real-world roots, a range of classic stories and genres can be seen influencing "Great Pacific," with Harris citing adventure films such as Cornel Wilde's "The Naked Prey," and the stories of Jules Verne as having a large influence while simultaneously looking to survival stories like "Robinson Crusoe," "Swiss Family Robinson," and Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild." "From the very beginning, 'Great Pacific' was going to strive to be an exploration of the basic 'Man vs. Nature' archetype, but with this twist, since nature has been subverted by man in our series.
"Genre fiction, particularly sci-fi, is at its best when it's critiquing the modern day culture ," Harris continued. "I am a child of Heinlein, Vonnegut and Walter Miller's 'Canticle For Leibowitz.' There are lots of points we at least attempt to make about modern society and American exceptionalism as it relates to being a good earthling."
The protagonist of Harris' story is a young man born into fortune and status, a millionaire playboy with all the time and toys in the world. "Chas Worthington is the heir to one of the biggest Texas oil fortunes and energy companies in history," Harris said. "His grandfather was this storied, almost mist-shrouded industrialist from America's past -- a figure in the mold of Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison or Nelson Rockefeller. Nobody really expects much out of Chas who, at the age of twenty, seems more interested in thrill-seeking, extreme adventures and ending up in the gossip columns for doing all sorts of rich, spoiled brat kind of stuff. He hunts lions with the Maasai warriors in Africa. He jumps out of upper-atmosphere aircraft. He's scaled Everest and raced in the Monaco Grand Prix. He's also been linked to every starlet and socialite the gossip media can cover. Nobody takes him very seriously at all."
"Great Pacific" opens after the death of Chas' father, putting Chas in line to head the family company. In an act of youthful rebellion and personal ambition, Chas makes other plans, setting out to claim the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as his own sovereign nation.
Harris extrapolates this real-world environmental disaster into a bold new world in the pages of "Great Pacific," imagining a continent of garbage, debris, shipwrecks and downed satellites. "Our Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been kind of 'hyper-realized,'" Harris said. "Rather than being this soupy mess, we've envisioned this sprawling and varied continent of plastic and trash that's grown out of neglect and extrapolation from the reality. It has its own topography and geography, with high plateaus and swampy marshlands. Trash and refuse from different nations going back decades make up the surface, and there's plenty to discover as Chas founds a settlement and sets to exploring his new home."
Setting forth on establishing a new nation will not, of course, be without peril. Chas will be forced to put his survival skills to the test, facing hostile neighboring populations, pirates, mutant sea-life and the United States Navy. Chas has made his share of enemies in leaving his old life behind, but also a handful of sympathizers, making his voyage accompanied by childhood friend Alex, who aspires to claim the title of Secretary of State in their new nation. Others will be added to the cast along the way, including Zoe, a French woman who's motives are unclear.
"We'll also be introduced to a lot of characters back stateside who are either sympathetic to Chas' struggle, or openly hostile toward him and his actions," Harris said. "Chas makes a huge mess on his way out the door, and leaves a lot of enemies in his wake. He'll have allies too, though -- including his Uncle Ted, who's sort of the black sheep of the family that was squeezed out of the family business when Chas' father died. Chas has always remained loyal to Ted, and that loyalty will be paid back tenfold."
In Chas Worthington, Harris crafts a character with complicated and nuanced motivations. Chas is a young man attempting to make his mark and do good in the world, though pride and ambition may sometimes cloud his motives. "He's noble," Harris said. "He wants to do the right thing. He's just convinced that he's the one to do it, and that can lead to hubris and the operatic downfalls literature has proven. But it was always important to me to present a protagonist that wasn't so 'on the nose,' you know? He's not some Greenpeace hippie out to make everyone start recycling.
"There's a line in issue #1 that I'm really fond of," Harris continued. "It says a lot about this character and a truth that's all too inconveniently familiar when he exclaims, 'It doesn't take a bleeding heart to save the world. It takes a profit motive!' I, personally, have a problem with this ethos. But it does seem that, all too often, big stuff doesn't get done and problems don't get solved without one, and that's the line we'll toe in this series. Chas really does mean well. But he's a pragmatist underneath his wild and crazy idealism and he's out to get big stuff done, by hook or by crook."
"Great Pacific" is a project that has been long in development. Harris conceived of the book three years ago, and began shopping the idea around to various publishers with little more than a pitch and story "bible." He found that the project excited people, but that it was, at that point, a tough sell. "I realized I was going to have to just do this on my own and publishing would follow if I did it right."
Harris set to find collaborators and supporters for the project, and came across the work of artist Martin Morazzo online at the Zuda Comics site, the now defunct web-imprint of DC Comics.
"Martin had done a strip there that just blew me away," Harris said. "I always felt that, ideally -- and I mean, were I to shoot for the moon and be able to work with anyone I wanted -- 'Great Pacific' needed someone with the detail of a Moebius or Geoff Darrow, with an aesthetic that felt international and a style I wasn't seeing much of. Martin just hit all those notes. He's his own guy, with a very unique style that's got a lot of notes to it, and to say he's been perfect doesn't do him justice. We bonded over 'Great Pacific' pretty quickly. I offered him the gig and we really set to realizing this thing, together."
Harris brought editor Shawna Gore on board, and the trio put together a campaign to earn funding for the project through Kickstarter. "We still didn't have a publishing deal, but I think we all knew we had something very original and cool and we just kept pushing ahead," Harris said.
While the Kickstarter campaign ultimately failed to meet its $9,500 monetary goal, it did result in a lot of praise for the concept. "I did appreciate the kind words and curiosity the drive garnered from people who thought the book was a great idea that looked gorgeous and which they hoped would still come out. It also publicized the project, so I see value in the effort beyond the obvious sort."
Along with those kind words, the book caught the attention of Image Comics. "Eric Stephenson was really taken with the thing and loved the artwork, and now we're all in business," Harris said. "They've been very supportive and we've got some cool plans.
"['Great Pacific'] is really about pride, ambition and even vanity: believing you've got the answers and being willing to smash your head through walls before you realize you don't have all of them," said Harris. "It's about living up to expectations, and the cost that burden can take. It's about striving to do big things in a world that can't seem to solve its problems anymore, and what happens when you bite off more than you can chew.
"I would have loved to have published this three years ago when I first conceived it," he continued. "I'm just very antsy like that. I have so many projects that take whatever time they take to gestate and find their place and be executed and then proliferated, and they all drive me nuts, waiting for them to move along and get out there. But 'Great Pacific' has benefitted from my own personal growth as a writer, and a considerate person, over these past few years. And, honestly, had I struck pay-dirt with this right off the bat, I might not have hooked up with Martin Morazzo. For this reason alone, I can't help but think now is the time and the time is the best time it could be."
"Great Pacific" arrives in November from Image Comics.