In a future where the sun is so powerful humanity must live underground, writer Zack Kaplan has created a dystopian science fiction story that’s hard to resist. AiPT! interviewed Kaplan in anticipation of the release of Eclipse Vol. 1 in comic stores this week (and book stores the 21st). We discuss Eclipse in depth, as well as storytelling and Kaplan’s background in screenwriting.
AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time Zack! We’ve enjoyed your book over here with mostly positive reviews. How has the reaction to your book been?
Zack Kaplan: The reaction has been surreal and unbelievable. I’m a first-time writer and the artist, Giovanni, has never done a creator-owned comic. Before Eclipse #1 came out in September, it got “Must Buy” from IGN, “Must Get” from i09, Top 5 Creator Owned Book to Pre-Order from Bleeding Cool, 10/10 from a number of review sites. The reaction was relentless. Then it hit stores and sold out within a few days. Image ordered a second printing of #1 and we got promoted from a mini-series to an ongoing series. The book has been a steady hit and the fans have been so awesome, so needless to say, it’s been a very flattering and inspiring response. No pressure to keep it up, right?
AiPT!: Let’s say an Eclipse movie is in the works. Who is your dream director for the project?
Kaplan: That’s a fun hypothetical. 😉 But who’s to say a TV show wouldn’t be in the works? And for that, I’d have to focus on who my dream showrunner might be? Maybe Scott Gimple from The Walking Dead or Naren Shankar from The Expanse. How about the Duffer Brothers from Stranger Things or Bryan Fuller from Hannibal. Director, maybe Denis Villeneuve of Arrival for a pilot episode. Anyone who can bring solid character to grounded sci-fi world-building.
AiPT!: There are a lot of post-apocalyptic settings in film and comics, like Mad Max and The Walking Dead, which all seem to copy and replicate each other, but the world of Eclipse has a very different feel. Even after billions of people died during the “Flare” event, there’s still this city with a government, police force, people with jobs and some semblance of a life, even if it’s not ideal. Did you specifically set out to distance Eclipse from these other well-known tropes, or was it more organic and a product of the story?
Kaplan: It was definitely organic, but that is definitely one of the aspects that makes Eclipse unique. It’s like this marriage of post-apocalyptic and dystopian sci-fi. I knew the solar “Flare” event was going to transform our environment, but I wanted to tell a more noir-thriller story that focused on a functioning society. It’s fun to play around with the mystery of how this city survived, how the people get by with food and water and shelter. There’s a lot of world-building there. But also, it’s difficult to create an authentic world that straddles the fence between recovered and not yet recovered. At the end of the day, though, this surviving city where people hide in the darkness is a real thrilling place to explore.
AiPT!: Your Image Comics bio mentions you’re a screenwriter. I went to school for screenwriting myself, and one element of comics I keep wondering about is how comics are in between an actual film and a novel. At least, in my opinion. How do you see screenwriting different than writing comics? Maybe it’s the same!
Kaplan: I would say my film/TV writing education/experiences have made me a good storyteller, and at the core, that’s what we’re doing in comics too. A story that does more than just create a fascinating world and barrage us with action and thrillers. It has to have characters who feel emotion, face dilemmas and confront challenges that test who they are and make us think about the world. At the same time, Film and TV have a cinematic language that comics also share, from cinematography to editing devices, wide shot, fast cuts, etc., so that’s helpful to have experience too. But for me, the biggest difference is the audience participation. On the screen, the media sets the pace. In a comic, the reader does. Make sense? A reader determines how fast and slow they read the comic. And a writer must consider that when laying out story, panels, dialogue, etc. In that regard, I think pacing is the biggest challenge in comics.
AiPT!: The art in the book by Giovanni Timpano and the coloring by Chris Northrop, really helps set the tone for the story. The washed out, white and yellow of the daylight scenes really gave the panels a true sense of this deadly, baking heat. There are a lot of panels with with no dialogue at all, but the art and colors still kept the tension high because it made the world seem really dangerous without bashing the reader over the head with a ton of exposition. Was there any discussion to that effect, a conscious decision between the writer and art team, about how the look of the comic would reinforce the story or feeling of a particular scene in which there is little dialogue?
Kaplan: Thank you for all the praise, by the way! I’m so glad you appreciated this stuff! First off, I hate exposition. I would much rather trust the reader to understand what’s going on. When I do need to reveal information, I always try to fuel my scene with conflict and character too. In terms of the colors, Giovanni really helmed the artistic vision and Chris was able to expand and elevate it. I think I set forth my vision and they got it, so when we got outside into a baking exterior, it was natural to bleed out color and let the sun dominate. But I got a bit lucky that I was collaborating with two artists that just knew how to use their craft to capture an effect that really was necessary for the success of the book.
AiPT!: The the main character, David Baxter, who seems isolated even when he’s around other people, is our guide into the world of Eclipse. Since all the issues so far have shown the world from Baxter’s point of view, we’ve had a few peeks at the events that shaped his state of mind. Going forward, will we see issues where other characters are the focus or at least share the spotlight?
Kaplan: Yes. Issue #5 launches the second arc on March 15th, and I can tell you we’re going to spend some more time with Cielo. In addition to seeing how the events of the first arc have affected her, we’re going to get to see some of her past to understand her character. And we’re meeting new characters too, but I’m definitely interested in exploring more character’s points of view. The more I write these characters, the more complicated I find their lives and the more excited I am to share that complexity with readers. I’d love to explore Nick Brandt or James Everly’s POVs in future arcs, but maybe a new character will grab the spotlight.
AiPT!: Is Eclipse David Baxter’s story or is it the story of the survivors of the “Flare” event?
Kaplan: Eclipse is primarily David Baxter and Cielo Brandt’s story, but I think it’s a story of society too, and so in that way, all other characters are a reflection of that. Society faced a pretty harsh cataclysm and they’ve recovered by making some terrible sacrifices. We get only a glimmer of that, but we can see that people are living cramped in tunnels in a city run by companies. Inequality, crime and poverty seem widespread. And yet, this is the status quo. And by seeing all of these people accept this status quo, it contrasts what we are going to see from our heroes, Bax and Cielo, who are growing more and more driven to challenge this status quo and solve the city’s mysteries for the well-being of others.
AiPT!: What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
I’m a workaholic. I think you have to be in comics. I procrastinate by switching gears, doing the easy task. Maybe watching TV or movies for research, brainstorming a new idea, or doing an awesome interview for AiPT! And with that, enough procrastination, back to writing Eclipse #8!