IMAGE COMICS: Give me the loose breakdown of what HORIZON is. Who are we rooting for?
BRANDON THOMAS: After decades of abuse, the Earth is dying out. For several years, a covert initiative has been searching the galaxy for another planet capable of supporting most of humanity, and we've finally found it. Problem is, one of the people on this perfect planet is Zhia Malen, an old warrior who discovers our interest in her world and has no intention of letting us set another foot on it. So Zhia leads a strike team to Earth to cripple our attempts to escape our doomed rock and conquer her world.
HORIZON is an alien invasion story that finally casts human beings as the bad guys, and looks at humanity with the critical, unmerciful eye of people that have only encountered the worst of us. Naturally, we want you to come into the book rooting for Zhia and her friends, but my job going forward is to make it really difficult to know who exactly to root for. Everyone wants the same things in many respects, and are taking similarly violent actions to achieve it. Despite some physical differences, our characters share several similarities with their "Earther" adversaries. Lines blur, shit gets complicated, and stuff is constantly blowing up.
IC: What's the conflict that powers the series?
THOMAS: The main conflict boils down to the "hypocrisy of survival." The people on our planet have proven again and again that collectively we just don't get it, but are still completely convinced that we're well within our rights to go out into the larger galaxy and take someone else's planet from them.
When this secret cabal of governments and corporations are confronted with the reality of alien beings on the planet violently taking apart their best-laid plans, we're incredulous. We're pissed off and filled with self-righteousness over the absolute gall of these aliens, who are essentially on the exact same mission as the people of Earth, and we fall back on our natural instinct to attack with overwhelming force. Which only further cements the perspective of Malen and her team.
The most interesting thing is what happens when our aliens come to realize that the people they're conducting open war against don't really represent all of humanity. Lot of surprises and twists in store for all involved, and there's so many layers for us to explore.
IC: Brandon, can you explain the title HORIZON for us?
THOMAS: Definitely some multiple meanings in play there, both for Earth and the alien planet they covet. There's a very specific concept that you'll see teased out in the first couple issues that makes it a more literal thing, but ultimately, it's thematic, and about the long-term consequences of humanity limiting themselves and their aspirations. The state of Earth in the book is the inevitable result of that kind of narrowed worldview, and the question is, do we deserve one more chance to finally get our shit together? And if so, is that even possible at this point?
IC: Tell me what working with Juan is like. What do you dig about what he does?
THOMAS: It starts with the designs for the characters and tech, and his natural ability to make everything just look and feel cool. That last thing is always so critical. It's never enough for a gun or a bike or a spaceship to look a certain way. If it doesn't give you that feeling in your chest, that ache to see more and more, it's not going to work long-term. Juan's design aesthetic is the first invitation into the world of HORIZON, and our goal is not to give you the standard broken-down environments you're used to already in these types of stories. Think more pre-apocalyptic, and that's definitely intentional and a major story point. Things are not as they appear, and all that.
I'm also pretty sure our mutual obsession with statues and action figures have crept into some of the looks for everything. Every design element takes on added importance when you're assuming or hoping there's going to be some three dimensional representation of it one day, where every seam, fold, and piece of hair is immortalized forever. That's another small detail I'm really happy about. Our hair game is so on point.
But all the dope designs in the world won't save you if it doesn't look great and exciting and kinetic once it's put into motion, and anyone that doesn't already know that Juan was born to draw action is in for the surprise of their lives. I've quickly learned that the more room I give him within a sequence to really make it an amalgamation between the two of us, the better it's going to feel. I'm so anxious for you all to dive into this book and experience everything we've put into it, and Juan Gedeon's artistry is always kept front and center.
So what do I dig? (laughs) Everything! Juan makes the story better on every single level, and I joke that if he gets people into the building, I'll keep them there with exciting stories and character work.
IC: Juan, how are you approaching the visuals for the book? What do you want it to feel like?
JUAN GEDEON: In general terms, I'm going for a simple, clean style. Not focusing on fancy rendering, but trying to maintain crystal-clear storytelling. A simpler style helps the eye move faster across the page, so I think that works well for HORIZON. In dialogue scenes, I try to keep the body language and facial expressions natural and believable, with no crazy camera angles. With action scenes I tilt the camera, add speed lines, etc.
And nowadays there's so much you can leave to the colorist. I was very lucky to work with Tamra Bonvillain in the past, and now with Frank Martin. So stuff like atmosphere, effects, volumes, etc., you can leave it in the hands of the colorist if you trust them or if you're familiar with their work. Frank is doing a great job, so I'm very happy.
With the character designs, I want it to feel like you've seen these characters before, but at the same time, I want them to feel different and iconic. When you see Ryu, Solid Snake, Terry Bogard, Kaneda, Rathraq, or Savage Dragon, those guys look super familiar, but at the same time, they're so unique. They're archetypes. I think the trick is to keep the design simple, but cool, using elements that we've seen many times, but arranging them in a way that hasn't been done before. Also, small variations go a long way. Snake and Ryu wear a bandana on their head, but one has a white gi and the other has a dark bulletproof vest and boots. Savage Dragon and Hulk are both green and muscular, but Dragon has a mohawk-fin on his head and Hulk has dark short hair, and so on.
So in HORIZON, I went with black, techy suits for the main characters with some luminous elements in the form of veins/cables that give them an organic vibe. And they all have different skin colors and haircuts, so that helps. Simple, but hopefully cool. I'm not saying I'm reinventing the wheel, though! All my influences are very easy to track down, but hopefully this stuff will look different from what's on the shelves nowadays ;)
IC: You've got Rus Wooton on letters and Frank Martin on colors for this one. What do you like about working with those two?
THOMAS: First off, it's an honor to be working with both of those guys. I love Frank's work in general, but most specifically, on EAST OF WEST, which I consider one of those "new classics" that will garner even more adoration as the years go on. It is everything there is to love about comics—smart and sharp writing wrapped around beautiful artwork from Nick Dragotta and Frank, who adds so much to the incredible imagery they're able to achieve on a regular basis.
When Sean suggested him, I thought he was joking, but he wasn't at all and now we get to work with THE Frank Martin. He's already brought so many new layers and textures to Juan's artwork, and after I wrote him an e-mail gushing over his work, he wrote us all back a poem. Love even being associated with him.
Feel the same way about Rus, who I specifically asked for one morning after reading a couple recent issues of OUTCAST BY KIRKMAN & AZACETA and DEADLY CLASS. I always loved his work, but those two titles are amazing examples of how letterers can breathe new life into a book. The letters really do become another whole character in the right hands, and the highest compliment I can pay Rus is to say that before he came onto HORIZON, there were no sound effects in the book at all, and now there are. And they've become absolutely essential to how we're telling the story going forward. There's also another major element his presence and expertise has introduced, but I'll leave it as a small surprise for everyone. Hint: pay very close attention to the inside front cover of the book.
IC: How far ahead are you guys on this series?
THOMAS: Well, I'm working on #12 right now, and Juan is starting #5, so we're pretty well ahead. Don't want to harp on it too much, cause I think that invites disaster, but it's really important to everyone involved that the book ships on time out the gate. Foundations are very important, and we intend to build a strong one for HORIZON.
IC: You mentioned at Image Expo that you're influenced by a lot of works while creating HORIZON, including the manga artist Tsutomu Nihei and Hideo Kojima's video game series Metal Gear Solid. What are you taking from those works?
GEDEON: I think both Nihei's stuff and Metal Gear or videogames in general are two sides of the same coin. What I like from Nihei is that his characters are relatively simple but super cool, and they're all dressed in black and you can only see their faces. Black makes the characters look solid and, hopefully, it'll make the viewer wonder about the little details on the suits. When I see Killy in BLAME! I always wonder how his suit would look in real life, because sometimes it changes from panel to panel and has cool details like cables, bolts, and layers, and sometimes it's just a black silhouette. But I think that's a great artistic resource: when you're doing a close-up or a full-body shot, you can show the little details and stuff. And when the characters are walking, fighting, or running, a black silhouette with a few highlights works fine.
That's also what I like about video games like Metal Gear Solid or Metal Gear Revengeance. If you pause the game, you can see every single detail in the suits, robots, etc. And the crazy part is that all the parts are functional and make sense. Of course the "fantasy" element is there and they take some liberties, but every piece of Raiden's armor is functional, and that blows my mind. And I love Raiden's design, but if I'd have to draw all the little details he has in a comic, I'd probably go crazy (laughs). So in HORIZON I'm trying to keep a balance between keeping it simple when I can, and going crazy and adding little details and intricate drawings when it's needed.
HORIZON #1 is available now.