The world has changed. What was once a beautiful landscape is now a war-torn battlefield. When young Alex goes missing, captured by the enemy forces of the harsh dictator, Roxbury, his brother Matthew sets out with a band of soldiers to rescue him from behind enemy lines.
This is "Wars in Toyland," an oversized hardcover graphic novel by writer Joe Harris and Adam Polina, due out in June 2013 from Oni Press who announced the title during their Friday panel at New York Comic Con. Comic Book Resources spoke with Harris about crafting a landscape of broken toys and the tyranny of Roxbury, a ragged, rotting teddy bear, as Alex and Matthew become unwitting figures in a civil war ravaging a world they only ever imagined.
"['Wars in Toyland'] is a sprawling, dark fantasy about a young boy named Matthew who is brought to this strange world populated by the toys he'd shared with his older brother," Harris told CBR News. "Only this isn't a happy place, rather, these toys are all locked in a brutal, crushing civil war. The toys believe Matthew to be the 'Captain' they've been waiting for who's going to lead them in their fight against the cruel and oppressive Roxbury. He's pretty certain they've got the wrong kid."
Matthew is carried into Toyland by his collection of toy soldiers, but once he finds himself lost in a strange world, he reluctantly steps into the role his soldiers have given him.
"When Matthew learns that Alex might be trapped in this world as well," said Harris, "he ends up leading a ragtag army of wooden soldiers and lost toys to try and rescue his brother, defeat Roxbury and, somehow, get home."
The world of Toyland has seen the rise of a fascist regime led by Roxbury, described by Harris as "an old, overstuffed bear that looks like it hasn't been played with in a long, long time. Rotten stuffing oozing from brittle stitches, one button eye dangling from his head, the old bear leads a regime known as the 'Tediarchy' who are responsible for the pain and war that's descended on these toys."
As he takes on the mantle of Captain of the wooden soldier army, Matthew finds a few steadfast allies at his side.
"Soldier John, a stout-hearted wooden soldier whose salute is as crisp and whose back is as straight and sharp as the bayonet he fixes and readies in defense of his Captain," said Harris. "Together with Brittany, another of the soldiers struggling to maintain order and readiness in the chaotic fog of war, they lead Matthew along, do their best to keep him safe, and do all they can to protect the others from the dark forces that are hunting them right back. They might be small, but they're the most badass weapons the toys have in the fight against Roxbury -- In order to free [Alex], Matthew, Soldier John and the rest are going to have to find a way around, over or through the old bear and his stuffed minions who'd like nothing more than to pull them all apart."
As in his upcoming project with Image Comics, "Great Pacific," Harris has described a vast and fantastic landscape as the setting of "Wars in Toyland." Comprised of the things people throw away or forget, Harris takes it further by fashioning the world as a smoldering, trench-laced wasteland made up of discarded and broken playthings.
"Burned and shattered pieces of toys litter the ground and the thick, choking smoke of burning pieces hangs in the air," said Harris. "This is a dark, war-torn place set on shredded game boards, and played with shattered pawns -- in the aftermath of Roxbury's crushing war-making.
"Ours is a 'throwaway' culture, and that phenomenon does filter down into my sensibilities," Harris added.
The story of "Wars in Toyland" is told through a series of giant-sized spreads, allowing artist Adam Polina a spacious canvas on which to work. The book is larger than a standard comic-book format, and will be bound on the short end, allowing for panoramic views and panel layouts.
"Adam Polina and I have been turning this one around and around, in various forms, for a lot of years now," Harris said of the project's journey. "[He's bringing] his A-game. Adam's been out of mainstream circulation for a bit, following his highly-regarded run on 'X-Force' and other Marvel titles. I get asked about Adam a lot -- what's he doing, where's he been. Well, he's been here, doing this, and if you miss his artwork we've got a massive, hardcover treat for you!"
Before ultimately finding its proper home at Oni Press, Harris and Polina bounced around several other ideas for publishing "Wars in Toyland," considering putting the story together as a young adult novel. Oni has proved to be a proper home for the project, allowing Harris to twist the comic book format to suit the needs of a what is, in the end, a children's story about war.
"It is a children's story," remarked Harris. "A dark one, perhaps, but it's not so graphic as it is thematically dark. The book, which lays out a very decompressed story with minimal panels and an almost 'storybook' feel, is really about the struggles growing up presents. It's about responsibility and the fear of such, and, I believe, will speak to anyone who's grown up, is growing up, or aspires to one day.
"I'm definitely in the latter category."
"Wars in Toyland" by Joe Harris and Adam Polina arrives in June 2013.