God Complex: The Real Rulers in the Digital Age [Interview]
October 31, 2017
BRITTANY MATTER: Tell us about GOD COMPLEX’s Seneca and Hermes, the Ruler.
BRYAN LIE: I've always wanted the grand story of the divinities to be told from the perspective of a human as our beacon to one day exceed them. That's how Seneca was born. He's a man of a mixed race (which I hope to be able to explore later) that kind of reflects the fruition of this whole project. He is a man trapped in between worlds. I think Paul is doing a great job in polishing him even further.
PAUL JENKINS: Seneca is the focal character of the series. He’s a young detective living in a very advanced society ruled by semi-sinister creatures known simply as Rulers. His primary talent is the ability to “see” into digital realms, so he’s working in the crazy field of digital forensics. Seneca’s life gets turned upside down when he begins to investigate a murder scene, only to find a sinister network trying to suppress the truth. He’s dealing with the Church of the Trinity, the Rulers, and a group of rebels who don’t trust anyone. All of this inside a technologically advanced society that is being destroyed by data manipulation and analytics (sound familiar?).
Hermes is one of the Rulers—probably the one most adept at communicating with the rest of us. He has a trickster personality, so it’s difficult to intuit his motives. Usually, Rulers don’t communicate directly with the populace.
MATTER: So far, Seneca seems caught between worlds: his reality, his inner monologue, and the virtual landscape known as Stream. How does he manage?
JENKINS: I’m not sure he’s managing. Seneca has a somewhat unique issue: he can actually hear his inner monologue, so that’s a bit difficult to deal with. Added to that, he is trying to navigate his job, his relationship with the Rulers, an intriguing mystery, and his girlfriend. As he embarks on solving the murders of three church acolytes, he is given a glimpse of the Stream, which is a digital version of what may be the sum of all human data. It’s a real place, yet also artificial, like a kind of cyberspace on steroids. Poor guy...I know how it feels. My life is complicated like this.
LIE: I agree [laughs]. I think we put a bit of ourselves into Seneca. How do we manage? I'm not sure. We try and hope to succeed.
MATTER: When it comes to Hermes, how does he differ from the mythological Greek god?
JENKINS: So, a lot of this comes from the amazing design work that Sunny Gho and company have done over at Glitch. These characters are really cool—it was really easy to come up with a mythology for them because they have these really cool and unique designs. Basically, Hermes, in terms of the actual Greek god, is a trickster, primarily. But he had many other interesting functions for the ancient Greeks. Our Hermes seems, perhaps...difficult to trust? He’s the interface between Seneca (as well as most of the population) and the rest of the Rulers. So as a functional character, he gives us a better insight into these very cool and mysterious beings.
LIE: He's the cool, relatable, and mysterious figure that we can learn something from. Hermes to Seneca is like Morpheus to Neo. The mentor-type, to give us some sort of entryway to the world of the Rulers.
MATTER: Where does Hermes get his headwear fashion sense from? I’m also curious why this accessory was chosen to represent the Rulers.
LIE: The Rulers better have a great sense of self and style. They constantly dazzle, just like our tabloid celebrities. I imagined Hermes as the hustler, while Apollo and Ares are more of an upper-management type with their dapper look. Hermes, despite his status, is happy to connect to the people and do the grind. That why he constantly has his sleeve rolled up.
The accessories will most likely represent their essence while retaining their classical symbol. Like Apollo, the idea is for him to be the conductor. He likes to think of himself as the maestro and the all-seeing eye of the whole orchestra. Athena's shtick is wisdom, so her weapon would probably be a pen. Well, a super pen, of course. Because, you know, bringing a pen to a gunfight is just ridiculous.
MATTER: It’s difficult to discern who the Big Bad is in the first issue. It could be The Church of the Trinity, the Rulers, both, or neither. Which one scares you the most?
JENKINS: Well, that’s a part of the point, and why we are doing a mystery. I’m hoping that as readers move along the path of the story, they will begin to start guessing, to try and understand various characters’ true intent. But we are going to keep ‘em guessing. I have had a chance to do a few mystery/thrillers in comics, so I know that the trick to doing them effectively is to keep the readers on their toes. Who is the bad guy? Is it The Trinity, or the Rulers? Could it be the rebel faction? You’ll find out, and hopefully it will be worth it.
LIE: Yes. As intended, we never set the world to be black and white. Today's world demands us to constantly challenge our paradigm. Today's friend can be tomorrow's foe. So, we never want this story to have a clear antagonist—at least not just yet. I realize it's a risky move in storytelling but that's a risk we are willing to take.
MATTER: In what ways do these characters and GOD COMPLEX's world reflect current or past societies?
JENKINS: I feel we are all writing a lot about what’s going on right now in American society. While I am not an overtly political person, I cannot ignore the conflict we are seeing from politicians when interacting with social media, etc. One of the most intriguing phenomena of the recent US elections, which affects everyone in the world, really, was the use of social engineering and analytics. I mean, this is amazing stuff—entire regions were won by the manipulation of data. False news became normal. Decency and honesty were abandoned. And let’s be clear, while I see the arguments for and against the various politicians, this behavior is everywhere, not confined to one party.
So I became intrigued with writing about how a society could be completely defined by numbers, analytics, and social engineering. That’s a huge part of the backdrop of this futuristic city of Delphi that we are creating.
LIE: The issues in GOD COMPLEX are more reflective today than they were five years ago when I first started playing around with the idea. Fame and fortune became the new worship. The rich and famous live life as the new gods. Faith became currency and commodity for politics. And yes, we in my part of Asia are the victim of the social engineering that Paul mentioned, too—probably the best example, in fact, but you need to read the latest news about Indonesia to understand what we are going through as a country divided by faith-based extremism expressed through the use of social media.
MATTER: The characters and world of GOD COMPLEX feel like a Daft Punk music video collided with American Gods. Where do y'all draw inspiration from?
LIE: While I love Gaiman's work, American Gods is one I haven't had the chance to read. I'm really anticipating the show to blow me away.
When I design the Rulers, I always try to keep a balance between the familiar and the extraordinary. After all, the gods are only as powerful as our imagination allowed them to be. All the classical gods that we know today, they are as flawed as the humans that created them. If we are not already there, we sure are close to being like the Olympians ourselves.
The clothing and fashion are heavily inspired by the near-future look to give us that sense of familiarity and relatability. The helmets are there to represent a design philosophy, in addition to making them look awesome. The purpose of the helmets is to change familiarity to something more mysterious and complex.
But Daft Punk [laughs]. Well, I do love their music and their aesthetic, so I might have subconsciously drawn inspirations from them when I first design the Rulers.
MATTER: The digital landscape known as Stream in GOD COMPLEX is reminiscent of The Matrix and Tron. What role does the Stream play in this society? Hendry, what were your inspirations when tackling the Stream’s design?
HENDRY PRASETYA: This is undoubtedly the hardest part on this book, creating a virtual world that we've never seen before—or at least I think I never seen before. It's been repeatedly done, as you said, in Matrix, Tron, and few other movies or anime, so it's been really challenging. But the name Stream kind of gave me a huge hint as to how it should feel. The way Paul described it, and what Stream really does, especially helped shape the visuals. What I'm trying to pull off is creating an underlying fabric of our physical world with light streams as its thread. This Stream thing is going to be pretty wild, and I will definitely play more with it as we go.
MATTER: Do y’all listen to music when creating this story? If so, which artists and albums help you get into the world’s framework?
LIE: Oh, definitely. For me, when I first came up with the world, I listened to a lot of Hans Zimmer, specifically "Time" from the Inception soundtrack. As I'm writing this, my play-count for the song is at 3,586. His music really has that momentum build-up that I need to gradually get into the zone, and since they are soundtracks, there are no lyrics that distract. Woodkid are also among the top on my list. When I'm designing the Rulers of Asian origin, I usually go for my Asian trip hop playlist. I really like how musicians like Shanghai Restoration Projects, PDP, and Nujabes combined the traditional sound with modern beats.
MATTER: What album do you recommend readers listen to while reading GOD COMPLEX?
LIE: Do we still listen to albums [laughs]? Well, other than the stuff I mentioned about Zimmer, I listened to other soundtrack composers like Bear McCreary and Max Richter. As for specific sounds: "Intro" by the XX or "Levo" by Recondite are suitable, too. Hell...just follow my Spotify for my playlist if you are curious.
PRASETYA: Radiohead's OK Computer.
MATTER: Often throughout the first issue, the perspective shifts from a bird’s-eye view to a worm’s. What are your intentions in these moments?
PRASETYA: Sometimes it's purely design decisions or just camerawork, but most of the time the script calls for symbolism on how the characters relates to his or her surroundings at a certain moment in the story.
LIE: I am glad you noticed this. You might also notice that we play with this notion in our logo too. It is a triangle pointing upward and downward like an elevator button. As the story is about a relationship between humanity and divinity, we want the reader to traverse in between those two sides by switching sides and points of view as the story progresses.