The themes of power and responsibility are prevalent in the world of comics -- most characters at one time or another have struggled with balancing what they could do with what they should do. From all of these choices come acts of creation or destruction, some more catastrophic than others. Each act closes and opens new worlds, existences and sometimes multiverses where all paths toward the future are a possibility. In a new graphic novella from writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Alison Sampson, the essence of power and creation are boiled down into one man's journey to discover what it means to change the world -- and if the world really needs to be changed in the first place.
Although a title like "Genesis" might imply a certain level of religious influence, the story itself follows one man's convictions of faith rather than those of any specific doctrine. "Genesis" is highly experimental, both in art and in tone, sprawling over 64 pages in an intensely beautiful jumble. It begins with meeting Adam, a minister experiencing a crisis of faith: has he done anything to change the world? Has his life made anything better? The story that follows is best left unspoiled, since the discovery of Adam's power and its repercussions is best revealed through Sampson's bold artwork and Edmondson's poetic storytelling. The highs and lows he experiences are relatable, sometimes painfully, and while the world is fantastic and limitless, it's easy to connect with the man at the center.
CBR News spoke with both Edmondson and Sampson about their new graphic novella, the big questions at its center and the book's powerful journey.
CBR News: Nathan, had you always planned for "Genesis" to be a one-shot?
Nathan Edmondson: At one point I approached it as a miniseries, but ultimately the story dictated the shorter format. The novella approach also allowed for a much tighter "weave" of the narrative fibers.
The artwork from Alison is gorgeous -- how did you two come to work together?
Edmondson: Robot 6, I think it was, had posted a sketch she did of her studio, and mentioned her background in architecture. I hadn't found anyone with whom the project had quite "gelled" and I thought the idea of an architect taking apart the world and putting it back together would be really something.
Her artwork is incredibly architectural and detailed. Did her style influence the story, or was there anything in her art that helped shaped the story?
Edmondson: She took the script and ran with it, but looking back at the art I think I was inspired to lay in a little more introspection with the main character; the art brought a haunting, contemplative aspect to the storytelling that I didn't feel in just the first draft writing.
Which panel or page is your favorite?
Edmondson: I'd have to pore over it to pick one; this isn't a "splash page/action moment" story, it's one where each moment bleeds into the next and the blood keeps flowing...
A major artery running through "Genesis" is the idea of creation, and how a death (of sorts) allows someone to create their reality. Was there anything you had to give up, or let die, in order to tell this story?
Edmondson: I suppose I let go of some of my inhibitions, and let the constraints of reality fall away at the edge of the story in order to get to the real story I wanted to tell.
Did you learn anything about yourself as a creator during the development of "Genesis?"
Edmondson: I'm not sure I'm self-aware enough to actually learn something from myself. I tend to learn from the things I do poorly when I write, or the mistakes I make -- which I usually don't see until the book is in print. I learn more about myself as a creator reading the works of better writers.
Parallel to the theme of creation is a theme of loss -- Adam's relationship, his sense of self, connections to the outside world. Which shapes him more, his ability to create or the things he loses?
Edmondson: I think that's an excellent question, and one for the readers to consider.
The book is really beautiful and sad and haunting and thought provoking all at once -- how did you make room for the waves of emotions in the story? Were any pieces of it difficult to write?
Edmondson: Mostly by happy accident; the "sex" scene I think was the scene that most affected me during the writing, but it was a lonely process to spend this story in the head of such an isolated and tormented character.
Alison, what were your initial thoughts when you read the script? What were some of your first ideas about Adam's world?
Alison Sampson: The first chunk of script Nathan sent was the first eighteen pages, and there was no outline, so I just focused on what text I had (it would be revised by Nathan when all the art was done, so it is no longer visible). This is my first comic of any length, and the first with panels, so I had some other things to think about -- what would the design of our book be like, overall? I fixed on "The Incal" by Moebius as a model for the look of the work, with a lot of white, so we could really have tons of amazing detail in the panels and non-realistic color. The book would be beautiful and I'd design all the environments and backgrounds from scratch, as with "The Incal." The script really catered to that. I didn't really know who Nathan was as a person then, so I didn't quite know where the religious aspects were going to lead, and where we were going to stand with that. I was a bit nervous at the sex sequence, as it is a sequence, and it could end up being a bit exposing. This is a teen book, but clearly something happens there. I'd try and stick with keeping the book about emotions. The comic travels a fair bit, so there was some research to do, and there were clearly lots and lots of people, and not quite everything, but nearly everything, to draw. There were puzzles. How do you draw a school in Haiti rising up out of the ground in one panel? How will people know it is a school? I'd wanted to draw a "draw everything book," but it would be even more fun to do these design puzzles. I drew on all my personal resources to populate the story.
Adam's world is really my own. The architecture and landscape is designed on the page, around the people in the story, and also helps tell the narrative. Latterly, it forms a character of its own -- it is a look inside Adam's head. There are familiar things there: Kampala (the only sub-Saharan African city I've been to), the house a friend designed at Dungeness, Jock's studio, a childhood toy I still have, and so on. Adam is supposed to be quite cool. Everything he made would be a reflection of his taste. Who was he? What would it be? And how on earth was I going to show everything growing and moving? What toys would be in an American child's playroom in the 1970's? There were lots of questions, and the only way to answer them was to get drawing.
It sounds like you had a lot of freedom in terms of the art -- what was the most challenging part of the story for you to translate?
Sampson: The script was very much more "what" than "how" and it was concise (both these things are good). The pages where there are no straight lines were challenging, because we are immersed in nature. Architecture, vehicles, weapons, clothes, furniture, are all props useful in the structuring of a page and if you don't have them, you have to do use something else. There was very little to ground the art. In my case I just had the overall composition and I had to find a structure within that, by placing things very carefully. To have the entire double page spread organized, when landscapes (that are invented but look natural) can be so fluid is not that easy. It may not be easy to tell what I do, but if I didn't do it, you would notice.
"Genesis" is a very emotional story. How did you strike a balance between the hopefulness and the destruction?
Sampson: I don't. I try and draw everything as hopeful, and as a positive and, to be honest, there is not a lot of destruction. There is just more or less hope, and I always try and make the page beautiful, even when things are going wrong. There is emotion in the excess and the lack of control. I lose my page margins and the scenes are less tight, but I'm always rooting for my hero. As long as he is trying, then the page will be beautiful, because we are effectively inside his head. Having some kind of a composition shows there is a mind there.
Are there any other comic projects on your horizon?
Sampson: Yes. I'm drawing a creator-owned horror story, and hopefully will be able to announce more about that soon. There are other creator-owned projects in the pipeline, but that is the main one at the moment. I have a story in IDW's "In The Dark" anthology, out the week after "Genesis" (written by Matthew Dow Smith) and also run "Think of a City," an ongoing world-building project, with a lot of artists and some writers (including Nathan). People can keep up with what I'm doing by visiting my tumblr.
"Genesis" is on sale now from Image Comics.