The Fuse: Grime & Crime, 22,000 Miles Up [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: The sun on the covers to the "Perihelion" arc have been slowly getting larger as the arc goes on, and the rest of the book has a very clear and consistent visual design. How important is design to your storytelling? Do you approach the design as something that's relevant to the story in an "in-universe" sense, or is it more of a good wrapper for the story you're telling?

ANTONY JOHNSTON: It's a little of both.

I try to keep the design consistent with the feel and narrative of the series, naturally. But my years working in magazines drummed into me that the primary function of a cover is always to attract buyers. So it has to be eye-catching, and we try hard to do that with every cover.

That said, we do like to make something our regular readers will appreciate, too. That's why we do things like the connecting cover grid for "Gridlock", or the expanding sun (is it getting larger, or are we getting closer?) on the "Perihelion" covers.

JUSTIN GREENWOOD: With the covers for THE FUSE, Antony usually comes up with a design aesthetic for each arc that we both mess around with a bit. Using the sun image (both on the covers and those interior splash montages) was something Antony came up with right at the start, but originally we intended for the sun to remain the same size throughout the arc.

Once I had drawn the illustration portion of Klem standing over some thugs for issue #13, we were playing around with color treatments and I sent the image out to a few artist friends to compare. It was actually Riley Rossmo who suggested having the sun get bigger with every issue as the tension ramps up and we both thought it was really smart, a perfect fit for the arc.

IC: Ralph and Klem are keeping secrets from each other. While the tension hasn't had an overt effect on their relationship yet, as a reader, I'm definitely wondering how much to trust either of them. As storytellers, what do you get out of a cast that's not quite as trustworthy as they appear on the surface?

AJ: To me, it's everything. A character with no secrets is boring, whereas a character with secrets has, by definition, something to hide. And if it's something they're keeping from other main characters, even better. That's hardcore fuel for character drama, no matter how mundane those secrets might be.

Of course, in the case of Klem and Ralph, those secrets are anything but mundane. And the end of "Perihelion"—literally the final page of the story—signals that things are about to come to a head, and big time. The next arc is called "Constant Orbital Revolutions" and it will bring Ralph's story crashing to the fore. I'm in the middle of writing that arc right now, and it's electric—precisely because all those secrets start to come out...

JG: Isn't that the best part about mysteries, not knowing the motivations and trying to sort it out? It's a big part of what attracts me to working on crime stories, and half the fun is creating scenes and characters that carry things close to the pocket so that we are always guessing. It creates interactions and expressions that are really enjoyable to draw.

In a lot of cases, I try and stay in the dark as well without knowing exactly who did what until we come to the end of an arc. Even with as much time as I've spent with Klem and Ralph, it's impossible to know if or when either one is being 100% honest or to what degree (unless you are Antony), and that definitely seeps into how I draw them.

IC: Antony, what can you tell me about the culture of the Fuse? In Perihelion alone, phrases like "American-Fusion" and "what in orbit" leapt out at me. Can you share any tidbits of info about how the people of The Fuse approach ethnicity, or even how their culture has shifted from ours?

AJ: Ethnicity on the Fuse all revolves (orbits?) around whether you, or your parents, were born on the station.

This is partly because the Fuse is itself so relatively young—only a little over 40 years old, and so the culture is still developing. People born on the Fuse are still a small population among the full spread of Residents, and so feel a kinship.

The nomenclature, though, is all colloquial. Legally, the Fuse isn't a sovereign entity—which is precisely what the FLF and MFC are trying to change!—but in everyday life, people do act as if they have a separate nationality.

So a "hyphenate-Fusion" is someone who was born on the Fuse, but at least one of their parents were born on Earth. So if your parents were born in America, moved to the Fuse, and then gave birth to you, you'd be "American-Fusion". If you then married someone originally born in France, and had a child, that child would be "Franco-American-Fusion".

But "Full Fusion" is the rare name given to someone who was born on the Fuse, to parents who were both also born there. So if your Franco-American-Fusion child grew up to marry a German-Fusion person, those kids would all be "Full Fusion".

...I have pages and pages of this stuff, you know. It keeps me off the streets.

IC: You're juggling an impressive number of plots in Perihelion—the Sungazing, the financier, the hospital, and the Haircut Killer, not to mention the single page semi-gag pages that feature updates on crime for the day. Perihelion feels dense. How do you juggle all these balls and still make room for the main thrust of the arc? Can you tell us a little about your process?

AJ: Dense is exactly what we were going for. The previous stories have been more traditional, "murder of the week"-style cases. And those are great, because it lets us pace things out comfortably. Plot points can build up at a slow burn to the big climax, and readers get to chew over a good mystery. But we thought it was time to do something a little different, and I'd been toying with the idea of "Perihelion" for a while.

After we decided this was a good time to do it, I got my head down and just did a whole lot of planning. That's the big revelation, I guess—there's no great secret to how a story like this is plotted, it's simply a lot of work!

I spent days coming up with a number of cases that could take place during "Perihelion", figuring out how best to pace them throughout the course of the monthly issues, and then spacing them out over the course of the day. One of the hardest parts was simply making sure the cases were different enough from each other to stand out, ensuring readers would remember which case was which.

And yes, if anyone's wondering, I made a timeline! I actually have a timeline of the entire Fuse's history already. But I made another specifically for the events of "Perihelion", to keep it all straight as I was writing the scripts.

The "ITEM!" pages were great fun to write, because I could make up the most bizarre crimes without worrying about having to work them into the main plot...!

IC: I see people wearing a kind of shutter shades, a variety of outré haircuts...Justin, tell me about fashion on The Fuse. Are you pulling from things from our era? Do you have any guidelines you're following for clothing?

JG: Look, no one who sees me on the average day is going to confuse me for someone who puts a lot of weight into his own fashion! But I actually really enjoy pop culture and follow fashion to a degree because it's aesthetically interesting.

A lot of the time I'm riffing on styles that have come and gone. The nice thing about working on something in the future is that all style as we understand it is retro anyway. It's fun to look at trends in the last 40 years, and then extend that forward by xx amount of years, and play around with what that might look like. Part of what makes the Fuse such a relatable place is that it's not so far in the future that you don't recognize anything, and that same thing is true of how they dress. So I try and strike a balance between many looks to reinforce this impression.

I find it really interesting how generational fashion sense is. I feel like I have a lot of latitude with how most young people on the Fuse dress, whereas characters with some kind of status fall into similar type of style. That's one trend that doesn't seem to go away no matter what year it is.

IC: There's a page in THE FUSE #14 I like a lot, where a riot breaks out, Klem calls it in, and then punches someone out. Your drawing in the panel with the punch goes so chunky it's almost gestural. How do you decide when and how to vary your style for effect? Is your first instinct usually correct?

JG: That's a great question, and something I do think about a lot. There is an inherent rhythm in procedural stories like THE FUSE that build as they twist, and part of the fun is injecting these moments of action that really stand out. I will definitely change the style of drawing to be more fluid (depending on what's appropriate), but it also is true for how the layouts change too.

Is my first instinct usually correct? Hmmm...I'm not sure, but by the time I've gotten to working on the finished page I don't remember where my first instinct started or ended. I spend a lot of time on the layout stage trying different things out and I usually have a degree of certainty by the time I'm pencilling. But I will say for sure that when the times comes to ink, I put the rest away and go completely on instinct. And that can change how a page/character/scene feels, even the specifics of that panel don't.

It's also true for some of the different levels and how I draw them. Every level of the Fuse has its own personality, like neighborhoods in a city, and I work to make that identifiable more easily by drawing those settings in different ways, adding textures, etc. Colorist Shari Chankhamma is a big part of that too, lighting and giving the different levels their own character.

THE FUSE #13 Preview:

THE FUSE is available in both a series of collected editions and ongoing single issues. THE FUSE #18, the finale of the "Perihelion" arc which began in THE FUSE #13, is available now.