Surviving the EVOLUTION [Feature]

HENRY BARAJAS: The first issue of EVOLUTION feels like a full-length feature film. What was the collaboration process like for this project? Were you two trading full scripts, or did you each have your own "beat" when it came time to start scripting?

CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: We had a lot of meetings before we ever sat down to work, a lot of phone calls with all of us and our editor, and then, since we’re all living in Portland, it was easy to meet up and sort of talk big ideas with our editor when he was in town and by ourselves after he left. Our first big “let’s get started” meeting was with a whiteboard where we broke the first issue down page by page. Basically, we all talked about the overarching story, each of us presented their storyline, and then we all kicked in on those. We figured out how to pace it all, and then we crept off to our writing holes.

JOSEPH KEATINGE: And while we wrote our storylines, the nature of the project allowed us to go back as we went along, further tying in everything and creating a cohesive whole from each character's perspective.

BARAJAS: Joe, what's it like working with four of the most prolific writers in comics? I'm impressed that one artist has to deal with that many authors in one comic. What do their voices bring to the table for you?

JOE INFURNARI: They’re like corralling kittens!! No, in all seriousness, it’s different for sure, but totally fine. Jon Moisan, our editor, does a great job of keeping all the balls in the air, keeping us all in the loop, and sharing information.

It’s interesting to see the different scripts and their respective writing styles come together into this single narrative. In a more conventional collaboration of one writer and one artist, both parties form a third brain of sorts. The collective thinking and the dance that is comics collaboration comes out of intimacy with each other’s thoughts, talents, and responses to each other’s contributions. Together, this builds up a third brain between the writer and artist central to the creative process. The writer can often occupy a metaphorical left-brain rational position while the artist imagines all the resulting reality, drama, and emotion. Suffice to say, with EVOLUTION, our metaphorical left brain is a surgical graft of three great comics imaginations! With this metaphorical four-brained monster at the helm, things are certainly going to get...gross.

BARAJAS: In your opinion, what is it that ties Dr. Hurley, Sister Hannah, and Claire from Cinetroplis together?

KEATINGE: A series of horrific events set to traumatize both character and reader alike!

INFURNARI: In pure comics mechanics, having one artist for the whole issue helps. Whatever is going on across the globe and in our characters’ lives, we all know it’s in some way affected by this disease because having different artists would make it seem more like an anthology, which would disconnect the narrative.

That’s not the sexy answer, which I think is closer to some kind of explosion of biological expression within the human gene pool. It’s as though the course of human nature has run aground, and in order to take the next evolutionary step, nature is changing us in every imaginable way—from gills to wings to completely alien structures—in a vain attempt to address our increasingly chaotic world.

JAMES ASMUS: All three leads, when we meet them, feel like snakes about to shed their skin. They're outgrowing who they thought they were, even if they don't realize it yet. But it puts them in more loaded and poignant positions to question the implications and possibilities of this sudden evolution sprouting all around them. (And—spoilers—these changes will ultimately pull them into each other's orbit.)

BARAJAS: There are some subliminal messages in this first issue that have me extremely interested. Can you give us a hint as to what 0711675 and PRAEGRESSUS could mean?

SEBELA: There are things that we dive into deeper later that we wanted to establish up front, but suffice to say that they have something strongly to do with the story we’re telling, even if we don’t unpack it all in the first three issues. I’d say we’re shooting big and we want to drop a few of the tiny pieces in our wake right now, so when everything does get unfurled, people can go back and draw the lines themselves. But yes, that stuff definitely means some stuff.

KEATINGE: Co-writing allowed us to plant a lot of seeds along the way. Some things will come into play shortly; some will take a while to reveal themselves.

ASMUS: They're tied to the phenomenon that's changing people. And, personally, I like having an element that feels scientific (akin to the number for pi, or a formula) and another tie that feels like religious mystery (our own "transubstantiation"). That dual empirical/religious approach to the unknown is a big part of the series.

BARAJAS: Darwinism and religion mix like oil and water. I'm curious whether or not this comic is confined to any existing rules involving evolution. What kind, and what depth, of research went into EVOLUTION?

SEBELA: I definitely did a lot of research on evolution as a concept and how it still exists today—which it does, just in much tinier and less noticeable ways. Mostly bugs and animals, but even some humans have made minor evolutions, mostly due to environmental factors. There are certain guidelines we tried to follow with our rules on evolution, an interior logic that made it harder to just go for it but was kinda more satisfying after we were forced to sit down and work out the evolution math to make sure everything made sense by our own rules. But that’s more of our foundation. At a certain point, you either commit to being a hard sci-fi book or you trust that you’ve done enough work to build a solid foundation, and now you can move on and put some crazy stuff on top of it.

INFURNARI: I have a thin background in science, so I summoned some of my education in approaching EVOLUTION. Some of my research has been into the process of natural selection, where, within the population of any organism, there are any number of mutations and traits that can either help or hinder their survival. With EVOLUTION, I’ve imagined exaggerating that situation where all forms of biological expression—from coral, to undersea bioluminescence, to plants and any and all forms of wildlife—are present within the population at any time, thanks to this disease. So, in addressing the problem of survival in the world of EVOLUTION, nature has had to allow for fluid and radical manipulation of the human form to try and develop a new paradigm for survival.

ASMUS: We have our own rules for the phenomenon, but it manifests more like macro-evolution on fast forward. Still, I know plenty of religious people who still believe in principles of evolution. But when you accept that—the idea that whatever god you believe in didn't get us right, or is even changing its mind about what it wants—for me, at least, it opens up some deeply disturbing possibilities and real existential horror. And that's even before the blood starts to spill...

KEATINGE: Given the disturbing nature of the series' body-horror tendencies, we all discovered Google Image search could be pretty gross.

BARAJAS: Every location has a distinct visual and feeling. How did you approach each setting and character?

INFURNARI: It’s true, the story takes place across the globe, documenting a mysterious disease and its effects. We hop from California to Philadelphia, to Rome, and later to Germany, Atlanta, and more. Nowadays, we can all get on Google Maps and virtually explore the locations in which our stories are set. To help keep the flow, and to foster the idea of the far-reaching spread of the disease, we’ve decided to forego too many location captions. To help with recognition of changing locales, descriptions in the art of unique and easily identifiable sites has become key. It also helps create a sense of the reality of the situation for the reader.

BARAJAS: It's tricky to create convincing horror comics given that we have seen a lot of it throughout the years. In your opinion, what makes a good horror comic? What horror creators, in comics or otherwise, were in the back of your mind while drawing EVOLUTION?

INFURNARI: This is a huge challenge with horror comics. We are all so saturated with horrors both real and imagined, from intrusive iPhone videos to big-budget CGI monsters, that what we artists can summon on the page in a static image often pales by comparison. With EVOLUTION, I’ve tried to temper the shocks with a little more atmosphere and chiaroscuro to keep the reader just a little on their heels. Did they just see what they think they saw!?

But if I had to pick a comic, I’d say Junji Ito’s Uzumaki and Tomie were both influential. I could go so far as to say almost all of his horror comics have been helpful. He does such a great job of delivering the most horrific image at just the right time for the most effect.

EVOLUTION would also not be what it is without my adolescent love of John Carpenter’s The Thing and the body-horror movies of David Cronenberg. This story resonates with me, for sure.

EVOLUTION #1 debuts 11/15 and is available for preorder now.

Originally from the Old Pueblo, Henry Barajas works for Top Cow Productions and sells doughnuts in Hollywood. He writes comics, writes about comics, and collects comics. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.