The IMAGE INTRODUCES Interview: Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood Talk THE FUSE

January 1, 2015

All January, we're focusing on Image Introduces..., our line of Volume One collections that are only $9.99. With a range of genres and styles, Image Introduces... is the place to find a comic for everyone.

Each Friday in January, we'll talk to the creators of one of the Image Introduces titles. The first one is a police thriller set on an orbiting space station. With race riots, class unrest, and corrupt politics, it could be set on Earth. But it's set 22,000 miles above its surface.

Image Introduces... THE FUSE by Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood

A unique feature of THE FUSE is its setting. Can you describe Midway? What went into creating the setting?

Antony Johnston: Midway is a city in space; jury-rigged together, piece by piece, over the past forty years in the body of a five-mile-long solar energy station (the eponymous Fuse) which is locked in retrograde geostationary orbit around the earth.

Midway was founded by the engineers who built the Fuse, and decided they simply didn’t want to go home. Forty-two years later, Midway is a young city state with a population of half a million, struggling to find its own identity, and with a desperately underfunded civil police force.

Creating Midway, and the Fuse itself, was the result of two clashing ideas I had; first, what kind of solar energy collection platform would be feasible in the near future, without completely breaking the laws of physics? And second, what kind of society would develop in orbit, where law enforcement agencies won’t have the resources they do here on earth?

One critic pointed out that Midway feels like an old frontier town, where people go to escape their old lives and forge new ones; which is interesting because, being British, that isn’t a part of my own cultural heritage at all. But on reflection, it was clear I’d subconsciously been channeling that kind of attitude towards the city.

Despite all the future trappings, though, I really wanted Midway to feel like a real place, where life goes on outside the confines of our mystery story. I call it “lived-in sci-fi”, and that’s where Justin’s visual design sense came to the fore.

Justin Greenwood: I think the scope of it was one of the toughest points to wrap my head around! Every level has its own personality in a lot of ways, and the trick is in making them all feel unique and plausible. I loved the concept right off the bat, a floating powder keg of different cultures and personalities who have settled as far from home as you can get. What kind of people would live there? How would that inform the culture of that place and the different environments that have developed?

One of the qualities I like best is that it doesn't end with our initial layouts and ideas. Every storyline draws us into new corners of the Fuse that have not yet been seen and I don't see that changing anytime soon. We've really only seen the tip of the iceberg in some ways. For as much as the readers have already experienced, there is so much more hiding in the levels we haven't even touched yet, much less the undiscovered nooks and crannies that we think we've gotten glimpses of already.

Klem has been hailed by critics as a particularly refreshing character — a tough older woman who takes no guff. What was the inspiration for her?

AJ: Klem is a nod to some of the great female cops and detectives in modern fiction, like Jane Tennison, V.I. Warshawski, Maggie Forbes… even pop culture icons like Cagney & Lacey, and Catherine Willows. Thanks partly to these influences, the idea of female detectives has never felt odd or unusual to me.

But Klem’s character is also a reflection of my own bloody-mindedness. I’m just so sick and tired of the same old “veteran guy, young woman sidekick” arrangement in so much detective fiction (so much fiction, period!). It’s insidious, and I even almost fell into the same trap myself with THE FUSE — until I thought, but what if it was the other way around? What if the cranky, cynical old veteran is a woman, and the good-looking young ingenue is a man? What happens then? How do those characters work together, when the gender roles and expectations are completely reversed?

I like to say we’re playing with archetypes, but breaking stereotypes. And Klem Ristovych is the perfect example of that.

JG: While Ralph's look changed a lot over the course of our initial development, Klem was one character that Antony and I saw exactly the same right off the bat. Klem is the kind of character that I love to draw, she always knows exactly how she feels and wears it right on her sleeve.

I think our initial jumping off point for her look was a Helen Mirren-type, but the more I drew her, the less idealized she looked. There is something almost androgynous about her appearance at the start that I thought suited the story well. Her gender just seemed like such a non-issue to me that it kinda fell away visually too. I actually thought her age was much more of the noticeable aspect of her character, the part that seemed less common.

Your other protagonist, Ralph Dietrich, volunteered to be a detective on Midway. What will readers be learning about his past and motivation in the new volume of THE FUSE?

JG: I'll have to defer to Antony for this one but I will say that you can see from the response Ralph gets early on that his choosing to volunteer for Midway duty is a definite sign that he has his own agenda for choosing a life aboard the Fuse.

AJ: There’ll be more hints and clues about Ralph’s motivation, and the secrets he’s keeping from his partner, in ‘Gridlock’. But I don’t want to give too much away. Those secrets, and their consequences, are going to be a huge part of future stories in THE FUSE.

What has your reaction to the responses to THE FUSE has been?

JG: I've been pretty blown away, honestly. There was a point when we were developing the idea early on and we wondered aloud if anyone would even want to read a book like this. The fact that it's found such a strong and enthusiastic audience is fantastic and gratifying. We love these characters and this world, and it feels good that so many readers do too.

AJ: Yeah, the reaction has been amazing, and extremely gratifying; there’s clearly a section of readers out there who get what we’re trying to do, and have been waiting for a book like this (not to mention a character like Klem) to come along.

The feedback we’ve had about Klem in particular has been fantastic. Even some of the negative comments — people complaining she looks like a man, or they couldn’t immediately tell she’s a woman by the way she acts (and by the way, all the comments like this are from men) — even those are positive, to me. It shows how rare a character like Klem is in comics, and how we need more like her.

So my reaction to all of that is simply gratitude, that people are reading the book, and doing so on our wavelength. You can’t ask for much more.

You have worked together for a long time on Wasteland. What is your collaborative process like?

AJ: We’re fairly traditional. I write, Justin draws, and we trust one another enough to occasionally go off the reservation and try something different to see if it’ll work…! We did almost 300 pages of WASTELAND together, so before we even started THE FUSE we’d already developed quite a comfortable relationship, and become good friends. Justin’s one of the best straight-up visual storytellers in comics, and working with him is a privilege.

JG: Antony frequently impresses me with how thoroughly he conceptualizes ideas, both visually and developmentally. I remember reading some of his script notes really early on when I started on WASTELAND, and he was describing a scene that was so well conceived that it placed a character in a location which specifically meant he had to be facing West, and in turn where the sun would have to be. I mean, none of that world actually exists! But in his mind, it's all there and slowly building.

After reading the concept for THE FUSE, it was easy to see that Antony was made for this story and it was exciting for me to get to bring it to life with him. He's the whole package, creatively. It's a blessing to have worked with someone for that long and still enjoy it as much as, or even more than when we started.

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