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The Few: Witness America, Torn Apart At The Seams [Interview]

Sean Lewis, fresh off the beatific SAINTS, joins Hayden Sherman for THE FEW. Where SAINTS explored the lives of reincarnated Catholic saints as they fought for survival and justice, THE FEW brings things back down to Earth. America has cracked and split under the weight of itself, leaving vast areas abandoned by the government for the benefit of a few. One day, two brothers find a woman on the run with a baby in a gas mask, and things get...worse. Check out an unabridged interview with the creators below, as originally published in Image+!

IMAGE COMICS: THE FEW deals in survivalism, militias, and an America that has torn apart at the seams. How did things get to this point? How has the populace adjusted to the change?

SEAN LEWIS: I think I have always been interested in militias and survivalists. There's something innately American about them. Militias are mentioned in our Constitution, described as necessary to a free state. The idea that average citizens organized into their own militarized group are a necessity is something I wrestle with. I don't really agree with it on first look, but I can't really disavow it either.

I don't think this world is necessarily that far from ours. It's dystopian and definitely set in a more advanced world, technologically, than ours, but when you turn on the TV in 2016 and see riots in Charlotte and shootings in Orlando and war and refugees and ISIS in the Middle East and how divided our country is on all of these things, it seems like a logical progression. 

THE FEW is set in a world that became so fueled by extremism that the government began to cut and run. The government, in deciding to create unity and harmony, has decreed some areas badlands—territories with little value to the overall good of the country and little resources or manpower to offer in return for protection and services. So, these areas become lawless places. What is left in most of these Areas (these areas being those you'd imagine in the American South and Midwest) is water, which the government is siphoning for their own use. So food isn't growing and there is nothing to drink. The people living here—deemed undesirable by the government—become their own tribes, traveling in packs across the territories where they build their own little kingdoms and attempt to survive land blockaded and abandoned by the larger government.

Then, there are also people who do not believe in the government who live in the badlands on purpose. Survivalists who know how to do for themselves and would rather do that than live under a tyrannical state.

IC: What kind of person is Hale?

LEWIS: A good soldier with a good heart, and most of the time those two things do not live happily together. She is a government soldier who has been placed undercover with one of the biggest tribes. After witnessing a massacre, she does something she has been ordered not to—she intervenes, saving a child and running off into the woods. 

She has grown up with the benefits of the Palace (what the government calls itself). Her family are all soldiers, and she believes in their legacy and in what she is doing. But what happens when she meets the people that the Palace left behind whom the Palace steals water from? What does she do when faced with actual human beings, trying to be better, when she has been told they are not worth the effort?

IC: Is this a future of constant turmoil, or does something spark the conflict at hand in the series?

LEWIS: The badlands are in turmoil, constantly. Because when there is little to fight for (a small amount of food or water or weapons), you tend to fight harder. You kill for rations, not buffets. 

The Palace is untouched by this conflict. They patrol the badlands, they infiltrate, and they spy, but if you live within the government's desired locations, you would never think about these places. They would be something brought up in a history class. That is the conflict...in the badlands you have people suffering who know that in a world right next to them people are eating and living well. It's not their fault for being well off, so what are they supposed to do? How much can they care?

IC: Can you loosely sketch out the factions that come into conflict for us?

LEWIS: The largest tribe is led by Herrod. He is delusional and power hungry and sees himself as a warlord and religious leader. Imagine a city of RVs armed for war that travel from town to town pillaging and murdering in the name of their prophecy-speaking leader...this is Herrod's army.

When we meet Hale, she is undercover with this group. Eventually she will come into contact with two brothers: Peter and Davey. They're 17- and 13-years-old each, respectively, and trained survivalists. They understand how to survive and fight, and they help Hale. As we go on, we meet Free Staters (men committed to re-creating a United States where people are free and the government aids that instead of opposing it) and other more traditional militia groups like Aryans, Death Cults, and more.

IC: You describe THE FEW as being in a similar vein as Mad Max and Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. All three are dystopian works, but what elements of that type of story appeal to you and loom large in THE FEW?

LEWIS: I like the allegory. I like that I can write about things I feel are happening now but in a more mythic and broad way. Politically, I get overwhelmed with the rhetoric on TV and online. I actually don't care about politics—it feels quite corrupt and like it rarely has the considerations of society in mind. However, I am obsessed with society. I am so fascinated by how we all live together and work and operate and progress. Dystopia sets up a particular construct, right? The world is ending, so in the face of that much adversity, who are you at your core? And who are you willing to work with? To listen to? To build a world with? 

Basically, when everything is shit, how do you try to be good?

IC: What brought you two together on this project?

HAYDEN SHERMAN: The best kind of good luck did. Sean had (thankfully) come across some work that I had posted up some time back and then emailed me about a story he wanted to tell as a "dystopian/noir piece about militias and survivalists," which was more than enough to get me going, but then as soon as I saw SAINTS I just dove in! His work was full of characters who felt like people I could know, people who I could have a conversation with, sympathize with, or even have fun with. They really feel human. That ability plus noir militia survivalists? Yes please.

LEWIS: Oh, I stalked Hayden, basically. Like a real creeper. I saw samples of his work on the mighty Facebook and I was blown away. I hadn't seen much line work like his and then I started to write this story completely with his art in mind. I then sent him a random email saying, "Hey, I'm stalking your art, do you want to do a book?" And graciously, he said yes.

IC: Sean, SAINTS was a very particular series with a strong hook. What made the setting of THE FEW seem like similarly fertile storytelling ground for you?

LEWIS: I love SAINTS. I still love SAINTS. SAINTS was the most fun I ever had making something. I was hooked and wanted to do another project, and really it was an image: I kept seeing this woman in the woods. She looked tough, she had on some futuristic body armor, a pistol in her hand, she was tired and out of breath, and most importantly, in her arms was a baby wearing a gas mask.

I had that in my head and didn't know why and kept asking myself—where the fuck do these people live? I mean, you get an image like that and it starts to tell you a whole world.

IC: Hayden, you're working with a limited palette. Can you tell us a little about designing the look of this story? Were there any design principles you set down as absolute rules?

SHERMAN: I think the main rule that I could say I gave myself has been that the book ought to feel like the world these characters live in more so than merely looking like it. When I first read the script for issue one and imagined this girl running out of breath, lost in the middle of a snowy forest in the heart of a broken America, I realized this book couldn't really be clean. The lives that these characters lead are focused on staying in the moment, making certain that they survive from one day to the next while trying to lead good lives. So, to me, the art had to reflect that. 

To try and get close to that feeling of staying in the moment, I set myself a little time limit of about four hours per page to keep myself focused on telling the story of these people and then (thanks to the time crunch) allowing the cold feeling of their world to come with it. The limited color palette then serves to play as music would to a film, giving us a sort of window into Hale's head. Every place she goes to, she has a response to her environment, whether she feels a quiet unease in the forest or a sense of chaos while remembering her time in the city. The limited palette should really serve to draw us just that much closer to her.

IC: The art style of the series is striking. What's your background? What artists or storytellers do you look up to?

SHERMAN: Right now I'm in my senior year at the Rhode Island School of Design (yet another reason why keeping every page on a time limit helps so much), but the bulk of my background really comes from reading, loving, and making comics. It's such a fascinating medium to play with, honestly, just endless possibilities. As for artists and storytellers, high up there for me are: Ashley Wood, Sean Murphy, George Miller, and the powerhouse team of Frank Miller & Klaus Janson. All of those guys know how to just tell a story and let it flow. I doubt I could say enough about any of them.

THE FEW #1 is available for pre-order now, and debuts on 1/18.