Millions of music fans know the signature sound of Tom Morello's guitar from his time with "Rage Against the Machine" and "Audioslave," but its his words that take center stage in the Dark Horse Comics published "Orchid," which wraps its twelve issue run this week.
An epic look at a sunken, ransacked Earth where most of the population lives in fear, "Orchid" allowed the politically expressive Morello to blend monsters and messages with a tale of heroism and sacrifice. And while the focus was certainly on Morello's writing, the book also tied to his music career thanks to free, downloadable original compositions that served to score each issue.
In speaking with CBR News, Morello describes his experience creating the world of "Orchid" with artist Scott Hepburn, the chances of him returning to comics and if he ever worried about being perceived as preachy.
CBR News: You made it through 12 issues with "Orchid," your first comics writing gig -- what have you discovered along the way that you wish you knew going in?
Tom Morello: [Laughs] Well, it's been an exciting ride. You know, one of the things that I've discovered is the tremendous talent and importance of Scott Hepburn, the illustrator, and how his visual storytelling abilities were really a key component in bringing this story to life.
The narrative was very clear in my mind four or five years ago, but seeing it realized on the page has a lot to do with working with Scott. He was an invaluable asset throughout the entire process.
[Colorist] Dan Jackson did a spectacular job as well, making the world vibrant and scary and heroic all at the same time.
There's such a patchwork feel to the clothes and the creatures that inhabit the world of the book. How involved were you in the creation of the title's visual look?
Scott and I had exhaustive discussions initially. I had a pretty fleshed out feel of both the world and the look, but the things that Scott added to it… For example, sort of bringing a lot of the sea life motif into the slum regions and the specific design of the Tomo Wolfe outfit and throwing in the Roman emperor vibe. Having it feel like it's basically just a waste heap of history that these people are picking through to forge their lives -- that added to the depth and desperation that the world is in.
Not to give too much away, but "Orchid" does end with a loose thread. Do you have an interest in going back to this world, do you have any other comic projects that you want to tackle or are you in desperate need of a break right now?
[Laughs] Well, there's no break for me. If it's not comics, it's, you know, fighting social justice struggles, or playing some shredded guitar, or raising babies.
This was a complete story, in the 12 issues. If I do return to the world of comics, it will definitely be within the world of "Orchid." We've left ourselves that option.
Orchid's transformation is pretty brisk once she puts the mask on. Why was it important to rapidly move her from a point where she was suicidal and full of regret to a point where she became this speechifying bundle of inspiration and leadership?
What the mask encapsulates is both the violent and peaceful struggle of humanity for freedom and justice. Sometimes its done with a peaceful march through Selma, and sometimes its done in the way of Spartacus.
She was a person who was at the end of her rope. Sometimes you have to touch the bottom in order to really begin knowing what your role is, and the mask exemplifies it.
"Orchid" focuses heavily on terrorism, rebellion and the way that personal perspective defines the two. How do you define the difference personally, and why did you feel that it was important to make it a part of the story?
That is one of the issues that I've wrestled with throughout my entire political and personal career -- one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.
Those are the issues the story of "Orchid" deals with. And, you know, from a motivation of being, sort of, personal revenge to, sort of, societal revenge to, you know, what do you do in the name of trying to create a better society and how much carnage must you wreak to do that? I would say that that is an ongoing knot that I continue to try to untie in my art, and it's certainly one of the major themes of "Orchid."
Importantly, there are a number of different focuses one can have in a story of struggle. In this, the two that I focus on are class and patriarchy and sexual violence against women.
In looking back on it, "Orchid" is a society that is basically free of racists. It's a society free of homophobia. Those are not issues that even exist. There are good guys and bad guys of every ethnicity, there's romantic persuasions of different kinds at play. No sort of pivotal plot role in it. I really wanted to focus on the sort of class and patriarchy in the story of "Orchid" and the way that they're linked.
As you said, and as is obviously known about you, you're very socially active -- with your music, with "Orchid," with your life. Were you ever worried that you might have to pull back a little in order to tell a story that would be compelling? Did you worry that you might come off as preachy? Or was that not something that you were concerned about?
No. I mean, the main concern of the book was always, first and foremost, tell an exciting tale with a lot of cool monsters -- period.
The difference was that the point of view -- the underlying one -- which was, every story contains politics, contains presumptive politics in it. If the idea is to get the King back on the throne, then, you know, "politics supporting a monarchy" are the ones that underlie -- whether that's explicitly stated or not. The subtext of this is one that's very political. The key was to have it be an exciting, epic narrative along the lines of "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars."
Finally, what is it you most want people to take away from the book?
As a long time comics, "Dungeons and Dragons" and "Star Trek" nerd, I want this story to be a part of the canon of "epic tale." I want to throw my hat into the ring and write a story that's… -- people whose imagination is important in their lives, this is something that they can find attractive. But, also, one that is reflective of my worldview and is one more hammer swing in the ongoing battle of mankind to better itself and fight for a more equitable, just and free planet for everybody.
That's a lot to expect from a comic book, but like I said, it's also gonna have a lot of cool monsters.
Tom Morello and Scott Hepburn's "Orchid" #12, the series' final issue, is on sale now.