Adventures in Poor Taste: You’re currently writing two very different books for Image, both Umbral and The Fuse. These books are in totally separate genres but share one trait in common: in both Umbral and The Fuse you have created whole new worlds. What is it like to be starting from scratch on both series and having to build a fresh mythology while you tell a compelling story?
Antony Johnston: Well, worldbuilding is kind of my speciality. It’s something I’ve always done in my fiction, going right back to my debut novel Frightening Curves, and continuing through series like Wasteland and The Coldest City.
It’s also one of the things video game developers commonly hire me for. I guess all those years of playing tabletop RPGs paid off!
So “starting from scratch” is completely normal to me, and combining it with a narrative comes pretty naturally.
I think the way I tell stories has something to do with that, too — I always prefer to introduce the world to readers a piece at a time, through the characters’ habits and natural conversations, rather than dumping huge chunks of exposition on people.
When I encounter that approach as a reader, it makes me think the author doesn’t credit me with any intelligence. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned as an author, it’s to never underestimate how smart your audience is.
AiPT: You are incredibly fortunate to have such a talented artist on The Fuse. How did it come to be that you started working with Justin Greenwood? How much of The Fuse‘s design did you come up with and how much of it was purely from Justin’s imagination?
Johnston: Justin and I have been working together for a few years now on Wasteland, my post-apocalyptic epic at Oni Press. We’ve made something like 300pp of comics together on that book, and I knew that when his time there was done, I’d want to work with him again on something else. The Fuse turned out to be that something.
His style is completely unique — you could never mistake Justin’s art for anyone else — and that’s something I really like in an artist. Plus, he’s a joy to work with. Always focused on the story, always reliable, always enthusiastic.
Now, as for design, the Fuse itself is mostly me. I had a very clear picture of what I wanted, not least because it had to fit the nickname. But Justin brought his own style to it, and on most other aspects of the book we’ve designed them together. Hell, we spent the best part of two hours just working on the MCPD badge, and I’m not even sure you ever see it clearly in this first arc. But these things are important.
AiPT: You have a delightfully strong supporting character who has, just from the first issue, thrilled and won over the hearts of many. What role will Klem play in the rest of the series and how much development of her character can we expect?
Johnston: Well, first of all, Klem isn’t a “supporting” character! She’s one of two main characters, and that’s very important. This is not a book about Dietrich or Klem, individually. It’s about both of them, as partners. If anything, Klem is the senior officer.
So with that in mind, she’ll play an incredibly important role in the series, and her character will develop along with the story. Given her age and experience, it’s of course unlikely that she’s going to radically change. But we’ll learn a lot more about her as we go through the book. And the same goes for Ralph — there’s plenty we don’t know about him yet, but we’ll find out in time.
AiPT: Initially, what about The Fuse do you think is going to attract customers and what about it do you think is going to bring them back again and again?
Johnston: Well, I hope people are attracted by an interesting premise, or by liking my previous work, or by good design, or by word-of-mouth… any and all of these things can make someone pick a book up, and they’re all valid. The important thing is to get it in people’s hands.
I hope they come back because they like the story, the art, the characters, the location, the mystery, the colours, the lettering, the whole package.
We’re not trying to be anything we’re not, or pull the wool over people’s eyes. The Fuse is a series about two cops solving murders in space, made by people who totally love that shit. And if that’s your kind of thing too, then welcome aboard.
AiPT: So far, you haven’t put a cap on how many issues The Fuse is going to last. Do you have any plans past six issues? How far do you expect to keep this train rolling?
Johnston: The Fuse is an ongoing series, so we’ll keep making it for as long as people want to keep reading it. I’m already working on the second story arc, called “Gridlock”, and hope for many more. Plus, the mystery of why Dietrich volunteered is a background story thread that will run through the series, and that will take time to resolve. So we’ve got some ways to go yet.
AiPT: Okay Antony, I have some bad news for you. Right after this interview you and Justin both stepped on land mines. Who is going to continue writing Fuse in your wake? Who will fill in the panels?
Johnston: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Except Ed’s drawing and Sean’s writing.
AiPT: It turns out history took a radically different turn and The Fuse #1 was published instead of Action Comics #1 in 1938. How does this startling twist disturb the space-time continuum and how is the comic industry different nowadays?
Johnston: Pretty sure the invention of time travel allowing me to go back in time and write The Fuse in 1938 would have somewhat of a bigger impact on the world than any lack of superheroes.
AiPT: You are walking through a subway station and see a guy hanging a copy of Fuse #1 on the wall, surrounded by a golden frame. You also see an individual asking people to gather ’round and spit on another copy before letting it rest at the bottom of a trashcan. Not that the second one would ever happen, but how do you react/deal with each of them respectively in this hypothetical?
Johnston: I probably wouldn’t even notice them. I lived in London for some years, so when I travel on a subway I automatically go into “commuter mode”; headphones on, thousand-yard-stare, keep walking. The last time I went to Oakland I literally walked straight past Justin in the BART station, because I was just so focused on getting to the street without being hassled by anyone…!