Imagine a sci-fi future that’s not a dystopia. One in which science and critical thinking have brought mankind to colonize the outer regions of our solar system.
Now imagine what happens when one of those colonists returns to Earth and finds that things have regressed. How will she react? How will the Earthlings react to her?
That’s the central premise of After the Gold Rush, a new comic currently on Kickstarter. Or, to put it more lyrically, “Science returns to a world that has forsaken it.” Writer and reality advocate Miles Greb is teaming up with artist Isaac La Russa to tell a tale of mystery, but also of answers. AiPT! spoke to Greb to find out how he plans to flip the script on how more reasonable people are portrayed in fiction.
AiPT!: You say you’re a big fan of science. Are you a scientist by trade? What is your background like?
Greb: No, I’m not a scientist. I’m a science enthusiast. I’ve taken classes on biology and stuff, but I don’t have a degree in it. My main background in science is, you know, I grew up watching [Carl] Sagan’s Cosmos. And comics like Fantastic Four really inspired me to kind of get into science more. Obviously there isn’t a lot of hard science in Fantastic Four, but they talk about kind of pseudoscientific concepts, and that led me to research them more at the local library, as a kid. And then, you know, shows like Star Trek or even some of Disney’s, you know, [Our] Friend the Atom—kind of futurism-positive, scientific message stuff. [Those things] kind of led me in that direction as a kid.
I do as much of my own research as I can. Not being a scientist, I listen to all kinds of lectures and podcasts from different science universities and stuff when I stay up late and play Final Fantasy and such.
AiPT!: You mentioned the word “pseudoscience,” which is interesting because on the Kickstarter page for After the Gold Rush, you say it’s a comic not about just science, but about skepticism. What does that word mean to you and how does that relate to what you’re doing?
Greb: Skepticism is a process of analyzing things using kind of, like an ad hoc scientific method. When you come across information, you think about the prior probability of it being true, you try to use good epistemology, etc. It’s about trying to understand things with a scientific worldview. What skepticism is mostly, currently, as a movement, is trying to educate about the lack of efficacy of alternative medicines or other practices like that.
It’s a pretty broad extent, the movement of skepticism in general, but as it focuses on my book, I really want to try to get rid of a lot of the token skepticism we have in media. Like, for example, you have a character be like, “Oh, there’s definitely ghosts over there,” and one character be like, “There’s no ghosts, you fool!” The second character will always die from the ghosts. They will always be punished for their doubt, and that’s not how the world works, because 100% of the time, so far, when people have said, “There’s no ghosts over there,” they’ve been right.
AiPT!: That’s interesting, though, because you don’t see a lot of portrayals like that in media. Skepticism, to most people, is not a very sexy topic. It’s almost like you’re being a downer; you’re crushing everybody’s fun. So how did you get into that in the first place?
Greb: Demon-Haunted World by [Carl] Sagan was probably my first introduction to it. Actually, as a kid, I really wanted the Loch Ness Monster to be true. Like, really bad. And I read several books about the damn Loch Ness Monster, and the more I researched it, the more I found it wasn’t true at all. And that kind of annoyed me—that I spent all that time on it. And so that kind of led me to being more interested in the topic [of skepticism].
But I agree with you that “skepticism” is often taken as a negative word, and skeptics [are seen] as negative people. They’re denialists or pessimists, and I want to get rid of that. In the comic we will have a scene eventually where Scout encounters for the first time, that she’s ever seen, alternative medicines, and she kind of scoffs at them and replaces them with something else. And that’s not a negative thing—replacing something with low efficacy with something that actually heals people isn’t negative; that’s the definition of a positive thing.
AiPT!: Are you afraid that no one else will see it that way? What kind of an audience do you think this is going to have?
Greb: One thing I did with my comic—I was very open about it. I’m sure there are other comics that have good skeptical characters, or good atheist characters, like my book has, but I’m letting everyone know that right off the bat. It’s in our tagline. I want that to be very open. Just like there were comics, traditionally, that had gay characters in them—but it wasn’t branded that way—but now when a book has more gay characters, or trans characters or whatever, they’re much more open about advertising that. And so that’s what I wanted to do for the pro-science movement.
So I think people … who read the book will be aware of that, so I hope they appreciate that. If they don’t, maybe they can at least learn what the perspective from this group is, and either hate it more or hate it less.
AiPT!: [laughs] You mentioned the tagline for the book, “Science returning to a world that’s forsaken it.” Can you unpack that a little bit, and the meaning, too, of the name, After the Gold Rush?
Greb: I won’t too much, because I’m kind of mystery-mongering the plot a bit.
AiPT!: That’s a bad skeptic.
Greb: Yeah, [laughs], so basically, a lot of stories in current sci-fi media are post-apocalyptic, and this one isn’t. We solved a lot of our problems, things are getting better, but we forgot about one thing, and so we have this paradigm shift, kind of far into the future. And Scout finds herself as kind of the last relic of this Star Trek-like, very science-based society, and she’ll be returning to Earth for the first time. And she isn’t, like, the most scientifically brilliant person in the world or anything (well, I guess she is, technically; she’s the only one left), but she wouldn’t have been. It’s the values of the culture she was raised in [being] returned to the world, is what a major part of our story’s about. And the term “after the gold rush” is of course just after our advancement, our exploration, our high point of knowledge. It’s not, obviously, the Gold Rush itself; it’s one of those metaphor things.
Page two of After the Gold Rush #1
AiPT!: Before you even started the Kickstarter, you were kind of promoting things on Twitter a little bit, and it seemed like you got a lot of followers really quickly. And once you started the Kickstarter—that was funded within, what, a week was it?
Greb: Yeah, in seven days we got funded. We had a really good start. We got a lot of exposure from Kickstarter—they actually picked us for Project of the Day—that was really nice. So someone there liked us, and that was really awesome … Hopefully we can get to [$7,000] on Kickstarter, which is our stretch goal, which will fund issue two, which would also give everyone who’s backed us issue two as well.
And Twitter, yeah, we’ve had a great response. I actually never used Twitter, really, until I started trying to promote my book, and we’ve had a good response there. I think people really appreciate Isaac’s art. I think that’s really helped show off my idea and I think there’s not a lot of media targeted to the skeptic and atheist and pro-science community, so I think that’s helped us find a niche.
AiPT!: Tell me a little bit about the art. How did you hook up with Isaac? What does he bring to the project?
Greb: I actually met Isaac on DeviantArt. I just was staying up with my editor and roommate Drew [Pierce], and we’d just stay up all night, kind of scouring the internet, trying to find the right artist. We found a couple people we liked, but nobody really, we thought, could pull off the book as good as Isaac. He had a really good style for being in the mid-point between, kind of, more comic/cartoony stuff, but also kind of, more like this kind of retro sci-fi look—I thought he could pull off kind of a mix between that. He really helped [flesh] out my characters and get them the way I wanted them, so he’s been a massive help.
AiPT!: So what kind of characters can we expect in the book?
Greb: Scout is our protagonist. We also have some other characters we’ve showed off, although I haven’t really explained their role[s] too much. The Axman will be a major character in the story. Like I said, I have to be kind of vague about these things, because of my mystery-mongering. Gutenberg is our antagonist of sorts, and you can also see the three hunters … There’s a shot of Scout’s parents—their role to play, if any, is yet to be explained.
That’s our main cast of characters. We have some more major characters that are pretty darn important to the story that I don’t want to give away yet. We also have Scout’s eventual dog friend, that you can see on the Kickstarter art. He won’t be introduced in the story unless we get to issue three. So if you really want to see the dog in this story, help us get to [$]7,500. That’s our stretch goal for issue three.
AiPT!: If everything went perfectly, what is your ultimate goal for this project?
Greb: Well, I plan it to be 25 issues. I want to make 25 issues. I don’t care if I don’t make any money off it; I just want to make the bloody book. I think that if we can get to issue five and make a trade paperback, they’re a bit more profitable, because you’re printing the art you already have made, and people really like trades. I think the funds from that would be able to keep the book going and we could get if finished.
My hopeful goal is that we can reach issue five and make that trade paperback and then get the 25 issues. And I think the thematic goal, the non-logistical goal, would be to really just create some more positive skeptic and atheist characters in media, so people who feel that way, maybe don’t know they feel that way, have better representation, someone else to look at. People who don’t understand that view can get a better glimpse into it.
And also, there’s not a lot of females in the skeptic and atheist community, and there’s definitely not enough in the science community. And you know, I’m just a guy, I can’t help that a whole lot myself, but I can create a female character and hopefully that does a little bit, if possible.
After the Gold Rush #1 is already funded on Kickstarter, but until September 5, you can still get on board and help make sure the entire story is completed.