Throwaways: Kittredge & Sanders Cook Up Super-Powered Drama

IMAGE COMICS: THROWAWAYS is a sci-fi thriller with its roots in the Cold War, but with a modern revenge journey twist. How do you two describe this story to people?

CAITLIN KITTREDGE: I've been describing it as the bastard child of Scanners and The Bourne Identity. Really, it's our attempt to take a classic spy thriller and bring it forward to the Millennial generation, say something about the state of the world and geopolitics today, and blow a lot of stuff up.

STEVEN SANDERS: Ha, I've been meaning to ask Caitlin what a good short pitch for this project would be, since my poor storytelling/verbal skills is the reason I stick to drawing comics instead of writing them too. But what I've been limping by on is "Conspiracy thriller meets AKIRA meets Bourne Identity."

IC: Caitlin, what was it about this story that made you want to tell it?

KITTREDGE: I love history. I read and watch a lot of nerdy stuff about the Cold War, and I'd wanted to tell a story about the MKUltra program forever. Things gelled when I married that not to the Cold War era but to the world as it is today, with the War on Terror, the Snowden scandal, the Occupy movement, and an entire generation who's basically been ground up and spit out by their country and their leaders. The part about the psychics and super-soldiers I added because you've got to have some fun with a story like this. Otherwise, you're just a grim, preachy bummer.

IC: Steven, what attracted you to the project?

SANDERS: Jamie McKelvie had asked me if I was available/interested in the project, because Caitlin was looking for an artist, and saying "sci-fi" is guaranteed to get my attention. After she described more of it to me, I was sold. Conspiracy theories have always fascinated me as a sort of modern myth-making (unless they're true), and the CIA got into some weird shit with MKUltra. God only knows what they are doing now that we'll find out about later.

The writing struck me as solid, and the chance to do action scenes involving telekinesis sealed the deal. If my memory is correct, David, you did an analysis of AKIRA a while back that I found helpful and still remember bits of to use in storytelling and layout. So, thanks!

IC: What can you tell us about the leads, Dean and Abby? I'm especially curious about how they look, with the punk rock mohawk and close-cropped hairdo. What's the goal of their design?

SANDERS: Most of this is Caitlin's territory, and I only made tweaks. One thing I can say is that I'm slowly starting to use both of their hair, though mainly Abby's, for expression. It gets more and more "up" as the story progresses, and will shift in shape and cut with different types of scenes.

KITTREDGE: Their look is entirely down to Steven's talent—I gave him some basic directions but he really made all the designs his own. I was really interested in making the main cast multi-ethnic and diverse in gender as well as faith, socioeconomic background, sexuality, etc. Abby is really interesting because she's half Pashtun—her mother was an Afghan refugee in the 1980s, while her father is white and career Army. So few Muslim characters make it into the mainstream, and I can count on one hand the ones that get to be heroes.

As for Dean (we call him our token white guy), his background in the comic is that he comes from a family dominated by a survivalist, anti-government, Randy Weaver-esque father, and has gone completely the other way, becoming a far left activist and hacker and really struggling with the hateful messages he was indoctrinated with until he was a young teen. Abby and Dean essentially represent a lot of the facets that make up Americans of all stripes, and represent a lot of what I and my contemporaries struggle with.

IC: Caitlin, can you tell us a little about MKUltra? How closely did you stick to your research, and how much did you have to bend the truth to fit the story?

KITTREDGE: I didn't have to bend much—the truth surrounding MKUltra is pretty incredible. I stuck close to the historical facts, going all the way back to the Nazi doctors and Chinese intelligence agents who pioneered a lot of the techniques the CIA later adopted. I kept all the stuff about the secret drug trials, the attempts at only conceit for THROWAWAYS is that the stuff they tried actually started to work. That and some of the characters have real psychic and psychokinetic abilities. Aside from the CIA manufacturing and deploying real super-assassins and guys who can flip cars with their minds, I didn't really deviate too much from historical fact.

IC: How do both of you see research as a storytelling tool in general? Are you primarily looking for something to include in the work, or seeking to educate yourself before digging into the work?

KITTREDGE: For me, it's both. I always have a ton of background that never makes it into the text, but serves to make what is there stronger. And it's always good to have a strong factual base to spin your story out from—i.e., in the second or third issue, we see a flashback to when Dean's father was involved in a shootout with federal agents. I was eight or nine when Ruby Ridge happened, and I drew on that to build Dean's backstory.

I did the most research on the history and culture of Afghanistan, an area I didn't know much about. I had to brush up from the start of the Soviet invasion to the modern day to fill in Abby's background. I was lucky enough to meet a really fantastic Pashtun woman over Twitter who let me pick her brain and make sure I didn't mess any of the cultural stuff up.

SANDERS: I rarely have time to do in-depth research beyond photo references. Although, I'll try and do enough research to make things as accurate as possible without taking the fun away. I had to look into the various guns used by different armed forces branches, and uniform types, stuff like that. Photo ref seems to be very important, especially on "realistic" or "non-fantastic" books that don't take place in a made-up world. At least for me, it's nearly impossible to remember all of the little details that bring life into everyday objects and places, and photo ref is a great way to get easy access to that.

IC: Steven, you have a deft touch for world-building. What are you cooking up for THROWAWAYS? Are you looking at anything for influence?

SANDERS: Thanks, that's kind of you to say! THROWAWAYS takes place in a very "realistic" world, so it's more about honing my realistic background skills with this project. The main thing that I'm doing, when I have the time, is using a modified version of Inio Asano's background technique. He'll run photo-referenced backgrounds through Photoshop to make them look like linework (it's called 2DLT: 2D Line & Tones) and will then print it out, and hand draw over all of it. He tends to give it something of a Blueberry-era Moebius feel to it, in my opinion. So you get a very precise background, but it doesn't feel dead like most digitally processed backgrounds do. I work all digital, so I'm skipping the 2DLT, and am instead doing a quick trace, and then going back in and working/polishing the background from there. I'm no Asano, but it's fun and I like it.

THROWAWAYS #1 is available now.