By Chris Kindred
Police wear body cams when they murder people. Immigration officers tear families asunder. Government officials swarm a trans-country border. Internet hordes decide the fate of the unjust. A nation is torn. The New World is a snapshot of our reality past its boiling point, then cranked to 11.
Aleš Kot and Tradd Moore (Zero) team up again alongside colorist Heather Moore, letterer Clayton Cowles, and designer Tom Muller to craft this intriguing new miniseries, a romantic adventure set in an America after a near-apocalyptic event dramatically reshapes not only the land, but American culture. In the new nations that emerge, cops become celebrity bounty hunters, and the public votes on whether their targets live or die. Kot and Moore present the lives of people on both sides of a disparity with no middle ground—and how the two mesh, for better and worse. The story starts through the lens of LAPD officer and national celebrity, Stella Maris, on her televised patrol through the slums. Simultaneously, Kirby Shukaku Miyazaki, an obsessive young revolutionary (or terrorist, depending on perspective) embarks on a mission to commandeer the video streams, rallying the viewers with a simple message: “SMASH THE POLICE STATE.”
Kot’s knack for characterization and incisive cultural commentary are a snug fit for Moore’s dynamic, meticulous drawing and design sense. Both of these creators pull from huge banks of inspiration, from real-world social conflicts to martial arts films and video games, to shape this story. The team sat down to discuss their creative process and how they channeled the chaos of 2018 into this startling new project.
Aleš, your recent interviews have this undercurrent of self-care. You mention moving to the woods to process these past few years and to “be away from the daily sociopathic rhythms of the media” and to heal. How has emphasizing your health affected your process? What’s a workday look like now vs. a few years ago when you were caught up in all the social static?
Aleš Kot: It wasn't really a move—more like a work holiday with a focus on grieving, rest, healing, and getting strong again. It's funny you're asking this question today because I just got back last night—and I'm really relieved I'm back home. Even though I was born in the Czech Republic, where the cottage is, it's just not home anymore, and perhaps it never fully was. I feel the first 31 years of my life became largely about processing what home is and isn't, and how we find/build it and shape it, both inwards and outwards. As an abuse survivor, I know it's possible to do good work in survival mode, but being in survival mode all the time draws your strength every moment, and it undercuts you, even if the work sometimes helps at the same time. Over the past few years, I had to deal with a lot of very painful experiences, and my schedule tended to be all over the place, but I tend to look for emergent patterns in my life. So they pointed out there was something bigger behind my tendency to self-destruct, including repressed memory, bad family history further down my line, and more. I'm still in the healing process, but I feel stronger than last year. Putting structure back in place has to do with that—five pages a day, five days a week, working out, running, boxing—also five days a week—eating healthy, not drinking or eating almost any sugar except for Saturday, which is a cheat day if I want to indulge. Having, for the first time in my life, a growing, healthy community of friends I am proud of, support I know I can rely on—something that grew gradually over the past 10 years or so. That's another big one. I'm a big believer in choosing your own family and not getting stuck with the one you got just because you share some genes.
And, in how emphasizing my health affected my process, well, that's a loaded question I'm still… processing. The intentionality is to do less with more power. As I'm becoming clearer on my own humanity, I'm becoming clearer on my own creativity, and that hopefully means better work. I'm much more focused on creating compact pieces with high storytelling density. I'm taking more time. I'm focusing on focus. Mindfulness, I guess? Reestablishing mindfulness as a daily practice in everything I do. I love going deep into the work, and that's hard to do when you're in a survival mode, so life's about taking myself from that mode and rooting myself in something better. Partially, that's done through non-work stuff. Partially, that's done through starting the day by writing, which is by now a form of meditation for me.
Tradd, along similar lines, do you still deal with burnout these days? The New World is gorgeously complex and sleek at the same time, and I can’t imagine making that happen being an easy task. How do you manage to leave everything on every panel of the page without taxing out?
Tradd Moore: I do struggle with burnout, daily and deeply. Art is a masochistic practice for me—I can’t escape my nature there—so I just try my best to balance the pleasure and pain of it. I set boundaries; I try to analyze and respond to what works for me on a case-by-case basis. It’s tricky. This is a labor-intensive job, and I’m dutiful to a fault, so I often end my days feeling flagellated. I get stuck in loops. How do you work on workaholism? When your hobby is your career, how do you take time off? I’m chasing my tail!
But yes, the aim is balance. That’s my North Star. In those transient moments where I feel I’ve happened upon balanced perspective, everything feels right for a second. Those are the moments that get me juiced up and encourage me to stay the course.
Thanks about The New World! It’s the most thorough, layered, and consuming project I’ve worked on, without a doubt. It’s important to me too that this comic is legible and appealing to new readers and hardcore enthusiasts alike. I want the visuals to be clear and inviting, but I also want them to have a high level of density, complexity, and experimentalism. I don’t think clarity and complexity are fundamentally at odds. I want to entertain, challenge, warp, and reward both myself and readers.
The secret to my not taxing out… is that I do tax out! Every day! I’m always taxed out. But I’m a marionette to my puppeteer ambition, so I have no choice but to give it my all. I wake up each day and work until I’m spent—that’s that. Drawing is my job, and I treat it as such. Pages ain’t gonna draw themselves, you know? It’s a rare privilege to have a career as an artist, and I feel that I would be dishonoring myself and my position if I don’t give my full effort to my art while on the clock.
That clarity in your humanity definitely means better work. It shows. The New World is sharp in both its narrative and commentary. After a few reads, I’m growing more impressed with how you’re able to weave these conversations about the sensationalization of police violence, immigration, and income inequality into what you described as a take on Romeo and Juliet. Could you tell me more about why you wanted to tackle these particular conversations in this story?
Kot: Thank you. I'm glad you're feeling it! I'll start with the Romeo and Juliet thing. I wanted to make a really simple love story within this big adventure, and I wanted to see what that means to me—having some key scenes and character moments down, but also letting myself meander and explore. So yeah, it starts in this big-bang moment of looking at someone and going—wow—not really having any words or thoughts or much at all in your head, just this moment of complete awe and something bigger than your singular ego. But then it goes into the complications that occur once the neurochemical con job starts wavering and you've already made some decisions. Like, where's the line between fascination and love? Adoration and addiction? One person and another? Would Romeo and Juliet hate the fuck out of each other if they spent a year together? That's the kind of stuff The New World starts flirting with, but at its core, it's a really simple adventure story set in a post-war, dystopian California populated with people I hope everyone will care a lot about.
Police violence, immigration, income inequality, well, police and state violence are extremely present in my world and have been present in my family and around me for much longer than I've been around, and so I'm probably never not processing them. Wild Children, Material, Zero, Days of Hate, even Change, they're present, sometimes very directly. Immigration… well, same. I grew up on the Czech-Polish border, a place where villagers sometimes hid and sometimes killed Jews during WW2, a place the Germans and the Russians burned through, and a country that underwent two military occupations in the past 80 years, with my parents unable to travel freely until they were well over 20, memories of running away to Germany at night and more, so I know what's happening around me now, in plenty of ways, pretty intimately, and it finds ways back into the work. Zero, chapter nine specifically, deals heavily with that—Days of Hate and Material as well, of course.
And as far as income inequality goes, my dad was a coal miner because it was one of the only jobs he could get after getting locked up, and my mom was a social worker when I was a little kid. And they hustled and they had two jobs in a place with high unemployment and rampant alcoholism, a place where untreated [post-traumatic stress disorder] and bad access to decent education and so many other factors merge and really make it hard for anyone to get up. And then the Russians left, Czechoslovakia split, democracy came in, and the system became a whole other beast in so many ways that a lot of people worked it, but also a lot of people got worked by it. Experiencing these changes in terms of people, systems, borders, states, wealth, history—long before I was consciously contemplating them—left an appreciation of complexity, understanding of fluidity, and a distrust of dogma that probably have a significant say in who I am.
The New World feels especially cinematic compared to some of your previous work, Tradd. What media have you been watching or taking in to prepare for this?
Moore: In comics, we have a dense, unique, nuanced visual language developed through decades of cartooning. We’ve built this amazing language, we understand it—we know what speed lines do, we know how to follow panel breaks, we know that “Z’s” over a character’s head means they’re asleep, etc—and I think we can make better attempts at expanding and teaching our language. We’re often so niche, and it’s like, “What, you don’t understand how to follow this narrative? That’s your problem. Haven’t you read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics? Get with the program.” I think that comics, both as an art form and a community, feels impenetrable and uninviting to a lot of people. I don’t want that. I want to be inviting and understanding.
So with The New World, I’ve been thinking a lot about video games. (The games themselves, not the community.) Video games are interesting to me in that they are built from the ground up to be understood. Teaching you to comprehend the gameplay is implicit in a game’s design and structure. A game fails if it can't teach you to play it; they want you to get it. Every color, every sound, every level, it’s all there to show you how to navigate their system. You move forward by the designer's lead until it becomes second nature to move and learn on your own. It becomes part of your thinking. Figuring out a game is part of the game. It challenges your capabilities and teaches you new ones along the way; that’s the fun.
With The New World, I’m trying to do something akin to what games do—start simple, start with essentially nothing, then move forward into more complex techniques together.
In particular, I’d say The Witness, Metal Gear Solid V, P.T., and fighting games in general inspired me the most here. These games have impacted my way of thinking and my understanding of language and communication.