Generation Gone: The Ballad of Angry Millennials with Superpowers [Interview]

HENRY: GENERATION GONE was one of the new comics announced during the Image Comics panel at Emerald City Comicon. For those of us who couldn’t make it, can you elaborate on your new series?

ALEŠ KOT: I was contemplating superhero stories and what they mean to me. I was rarely ever deeply affected by them, but one of the comics that influenced me profoundly is the Roger Stern & John Romita Jr. run on Amazing Spider-Man, which I read between the ages of maybe 5-12 in probably not very good Czech translations, with entire issues missing in-between due to some strange licensing policies.

One of the key reasons that run affected me so much was its relevance to the world I lived in—the characters had real issues. They were struggling, failing, succeeding, surviving, learning to live, all the while experiencing this heightened world around them affected by people and beings with astonishing powers, and everyone's reactions and lives were emotionally believable. It was a very empowering and affecting comic book to read, and that affected what GENERATION GONE became.

I wondered—what's the story I'm uniquely capable of telling right now that's connected to me, but also connects to what a lot of people might be feeling? And I realized that three disenfranchised, angsty, and very capable millennials dealing with the broken healthcare system, anger issues, codependency, and their country in decline, getting ready to hack a bank and steal money so they can make things happen for themselves and others was a story I had a real connection to, you know? So I started from there, having the basic skeleton and thinking I was seeing it, but then I realized I had way more to process than I thought, and the story evolved from there. I sometimes describe GENERATION GONE as my riff on Unbreakable, Skins, and Kids, and that comparison still make sense to me now, so here you have it.

ANDRÉ LIMA ARAÚJO: I was actually wanting to do something away from superheroes, not because I don't like them, but simply because that's what I've done at Marvel many times and in a very satisfying and fulfilling way, and the fun in this work comes from trying different things. So, when we were discussing ideas, I told Aleš about the more abstract intentions I had as an artist, which can be used to describe the series in a certain sense: I wanted an expansive scale to explore, I wanted raw power flying around, I wanted emotional moments and carefully planned sequences, I wanted the quietness of space and the blast of an atomic bomb. And this is, in part, GENERATION GONE. In some cases, this is literally our book.

Aleš then presented me the idea for GENERATION GONE, in a similar way to how he framed it above, but interestingly enough, I didn't perceive it as a superhero story—not for a long time, until he used the term. That was when it hit me: "I'm drawing superheroes again!" But the reason why I never thought about it like that is because we were always focused on making this about relatable people with relatable problems caught in an extraordinary situation. And that's the most interesting bit about the story. It is real. In some moments, I even felt like a voyeur, due to how well crafted some of the moments were. I never had that feeling with something I was drawing before.

HENRY: This feels like a messed up love story, but it’s more complicated than that. What’s the philosophy behind GENERATION GONE?

ALEŠ: Hmmm...I'm not sure I had a philosophy in place. I had questions and themes I wanted to explore, such as when does pain become too much, and what do we do to help others, and what do we do when we forget to help ourselves and then realize we're in a situation that's not what we thought it was? But I also didn't know how close making GENERATION GONE would hit—I understood I was exploring stuff I had a real and very meaningful past connection to, but I did not see how deep it would go and where it would manifest past that.

ANDRÉ: Like Aleš said, there is no grand statement present in its roots because it's a very organic tale about people pushed against a wall and doing what they feel they need to do in order to survive. Things happen naturally as the personalities evolve and react to the situations and one another, and we go with it. And it is in its whole that we find its philosophy, which is somewhere between the personal problems of these flawed characters and social issues they all find.

HENRY: This is a story about survival and being upset with what’s going on in the world. What other big ideas are you wrestling with? What do you hope people take away from the story?

ALEŠ: What's it like to fly all the way to the Sun? What's the weird black goo that gave me superpowers? What does a breakup fight inside a nuclear factory look like? But also...what's the line between survival and living, and what does holding on to our wounds do to us unless we face them? How do we process loss? How far does a person have to be pushed before they realize something is deeply wrong with their situation?

ANDRÉ: Being pushed to extremes is always something I like exploring. Or what happens when you can't pay your bills, you're having a breakup, and then you get superpowers. Throwing people with real problems into crazy situations makes for interesting stories that go from the most intimate questions to trips to the sun, and that's what we're putting out there.

HENRY: You two are working together for the first time. How did everyone unite to make GG come to life? What is your process like, and what are you learning from each other?

ALEŠ: I think André and I started following each other on Twitter and already admired each other's work, so we talked a bit and things moved very simply from there. I think GENERATION GONE was one of the first ideas I mentioned, and we both felt it was the right fit. The process feels easy. We communicate all the time, adhere to our deadlines, and stay honest. Basic stuff that's crucial for any kind of a relationship. The creative synergy is wonderful, because we clearly inspire each other and want to push each other's work further while maintaining its essence. We share designs, layouts, pencils, everything. And as to what I'm learning from André, I'm still processing that, but I can tell it's a lot, from his professionalism to the ways he lets the scenes play out in the layouts, the subtle adjustments he makes on every stage...I'm having a great time, and I feel lucky we're collaborating.

ANDRÉ: Actually, Aleš hit me up on Tumblr. I knew his name from his previous work, but we hadn't talked before that. He introduced himself and asked if I wanted to do something together. I immediately said yes and we started emailing and then kicking about what we wanted to do. I said what kind of stuff I wanted to explore and Aleš pitched me GENERATION GONE. We talked about what the idea was, we both gave our input, making sure we'd be hitting each other’s goals and feeling comfortable with it all. From that point onward we just went for it and we never stopped, making sure we talk regularly about the story and keep exchanging ideas all the time.

I'm learning a lot from Aleš, mostly how much of yourself you can put into a story. We have a great relationship, and we built it on mutual respect for each other's work and for the book itself.

HENRY: I feel like you’re pulling from a lot of inspirations. Rob G.’s Teenagers From Mars and Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira comes to mind when I see the art. What’s guiding you through visually?

ANDRÉ: It's always interesting to hear what people think I'm influenced by because curiously enough it's the first time I've heard about Rob G.'s Teenagers From Mars. But with Akira, you'd be right about it, of course. Katsuhiro Otomo is one of my heroes, as is Mœbius, and these artists and their work are always on my mind, with others like Masamune Shirow, Hermann Huppen, and Hiroaki Samura. But other than that, I've kept my inspirations more generic on this one, since it's a contemporary story.

My work on superhero books and my influences that I carry with me all the time, together with my tastes and my movie/TV/videogame preferences pop up all over the place, all the time, and are mixed in many occasions. It's a big miscellany of ideas filtered through the core concepts of GENERATION GONE, used as they fit better.

HENRY: I’m always interested to hear how creators come up with their superhero stories. You’ve worked on some high profile characters like THE DARKNESS and Secret Avengers. Was this an idea you had while writing for Marvel you know they wouldn’t bite?

ALEŠ: Nah, but I think it was influenced by my time at Marvel, you know? I guess I may have had a kernel of that idea while at Marvel, but I never really thought about making it fit into their structure, because I didn't want to risk diluting the creative expression. I'm a big believer in making everything personal, including any and all work-for-hire because if I wouldn't do that, I'd feel like a fraud, and for a good reason. At the same time, if an idea comes and tells me what the right art form, collaborator, or publisher is, I have to listen.

With Secret Avengers, I knew I had it all inside me and it was exactly right for that story, so it became about bullying and anger issues and...oh, you know what? Yeah, you can definitely trace a line from that run to GENERATION GONE, at least in terms of themes. I worked with a lot of my experiences of being bullied as a kid through the Secret Avengers story, and I worked through something else through GENERATION GONE. I'm being a little obtuse because I'm a bit raw from making it, and I want the story to mostly speak for itself. I feel like this is the right scale for the project—it's BIG and powerful and has beautiful imagery and thrilling action, but as important as all of that is, it would be nothing without a beating heart, so I had to give it my own.

HENRY: During the Image Comics panel at ECCC, you said you took some time from going to conventions and left the public eye to become a better writer. What areas did you feel lacking with your craft, and when did you know you were ready? Can you elaborate on that experience?

ALEŠ: I left Marvel in 2014 because I wanted to do more in the TV and film space, and because I wanted to focus on being a writer without corporate interference when it came to comics. I'm deeply grateful for my time at Marvel and DC, but at a certain point I recognized I could easily move in a direction I would find a lot of fun and about 75 percent satisfying, which is a lot, but what was the point if I could see my 100 percent somewhere else even if it took a big risk? I knew I was taking up space for someone whose 100 percent was working with Marvel. So I left, worked on THE SURFACE, MATERIAL, WOLF, and finished ZERO...and reached a personal and professional culmination that became very tumultuous due to many factors, such as being very badly sick with Lyme disease, being open about the problems in the comics industry to the point of risking my career with some key publishers, and spreading myself way too thin writing-wise and being-wise. I had to reconfigure myself, and I felt there was a lot to learn and unlearn.

I took things one by one. Moved from NY to LA and spent a lot of time alone. Stopped eating sugar and carbs for a year, stopped drinking alcohol, cooked for myself, kept a very rigorous health regimen, took my meds. Reread my work, dissected what I was doing right, what I could do more of, what I could do less of, what I was doing wrong. I contemplated honesty, connection, how to speak from the heart and with, know the term simplexity? Being specific to my experience but in a language inclusive to all. I made a concerted effort to play more—not drown in depression from struggling with a disease that is barely understood and can take people apart bit by bit, but instead find, as clichéd as it may sound, every moment its own reward.

So I bought a PlayStation 4 and played Bloodborne and Witcher 3 and so many of these games I did not have a chance to see since I sold my last gaming console about 10 years before, experimented with my writing, learned how to judge myself less harshly for doing whatever I wanted to do in each moment, stopped thinking I needed to rush, and instead learned how to settle into myself like I was sitting on an ocean floor with a full tank of oxygen. And when I did that, I started seeing all these internalized judgments and fears and pains, and that's where the unlearning really came in—it was either that or continue taking part in the loops I was already so tired of.

So I dove into my family history and found a lot of things that connected with some troubling and mysterious flashes I had for more than a decade—genetic memory and neuroplasticity became two big building blocks for me. I didn't need them to be scientifically legitimized (they are now, though genetic memory so far only in mice), but it certainly makes things easier when I tell people about my experiences now. I had to go generations back and explore secrets most of my family has no clue about, and to see those secrets emerge as I followed up my investigations with actual questions was mind-blowing, heart-expanding, and life-changing. Combine that with learning more about codependency and interdependency, contemplating and adjusting boundaries, rereading favorite writers as well as finding new ones, moving back to Brooklyn, and through experiences and friendships and connections, new and old, realizing that I was never really alone and that somehow I healed...

...I don't know how I knew I was ready, or if I even knew. I just knew it was time.

GENERATION GONE #1 arrives 7/19 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.