An interview with “Port of Earth” creators Zack Kaplan and Andrea Mutti.
Imagine if aliens came to Earth, not in war or peace, but with a business deal: open a spaceport here on Earth in exchange for advanced technology. But when our alien visitors break Port restrictions and wreak havoc in our cities, it falls to the newly formed Earth Security Agents to hunt down and safely deport the dangerous rogue aliens back to the Port of Earth.
Port of Earth sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well, it is pretty damn good! Writer Zack Kaplan and artist Andrea Mutti took the time to sit down with me and answer some questions about such topics as Port of Earth, which goes on sale November 8, and procrastination. I also learned that Zack has just now discovered Rick and Morty [insert shocked face here].
AiPT!: Hey Zack! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us again. For newer readers that aren’t familiar with your work, how did you get started in comic books?
Zack Kaplan: I’m still very new to writing comic books, I’m just beginning my second year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there are many long-time comic book readers who aren’t familiar with me! Someone told me recently that I came out of nowhere. I guess it looks or seems that way. I’ve been trying to break in for years. I pitched idea after idea to various publishers for a long time, and finally broke through with Eclipse, a sci-fi idea about a world where sunlight is deadly. Matt Hawkins at Top Cow believed in me, gave me a shot, and Eclipse became my first comic! It was initially a four-issue miniseries, and it sort of took off on me! First issue sold out. Response was incredible. It got picked up for TV development. We’re onto the third arc for Eclipse next year. And now, I’m back with my second series, Port of Earth.
AiPT!: Port of Earth is about Earth making a deal with aliens. They get to use our oceans to fuel their ships in exchange for the technology to turn water into power. It is an interesting concept. Where did the inspiration for Port of Earth originate?
Kaplan: It’s always an interesting question about where inspiration comes from. I can attribute the Port of Earth idea to several origins, from researching the history of Europeans coming to America, to seeing one too many Hollywood alien invasion movies. But I think too often we assign this idea that advanced civilizations will just dominate any native societies in their way with military might, and human history proves otherwise. We always begin with business and trade. Port of Earth looks at a scenario where aliens come to make this deal with Earth, to set up a port here in exchange for technology.
AiPT!: Andrea, Zack has written an interesting story. What were your first opinions of it and did you at any time have any problem creating the designs?
Andrea Mutti: I had a great feeling from the first reading.., and when I talked with Zack by Skype, sharing the ideas, we understood each other in a sec… I think that this is the real point for every good partnership and to tell the story in a good way… the goal is always the same: do the best for the readers… and also, there is a great friendship and confidence in each other… same level, same start… it’s simply great!
AiPT!: As much as I want to stay out of politics in this interview, I can’t resist. Obviously, the President we currently have isn’t the one in Port of Earth. He would want to build a huge shield like in Spaceballs to keep the aliens out. There are people in Port of Earth that clearly want the aliens to stay off our planet. What will be the bigger threat for the agents? Humans or the aliens?
Kaplan: Earth Security Agents have the terrible responsibility of protecting humans and aliens alike. Despite the fact an alien may be deadly and may break the rules and trespass in a human-populated area, the deal demands that alien be protected. The deal is the most important thing, over the cost of human lives. Obviously, Port of Earth is ripe with complexity, but it’s not meant to make any commentary on our current politics. Rather, it’s supposed to capture a very modern look at the world, where human leaders and institutions may protect their interests or the deal’s interest at the expense of ordinary people. At the same time, some of these leaders see the deal as the only thing protecting us from the threat of domination, so it’s a world full of politics, nuance and gray.
AiPT!: I notice a hint of bad cop/good cop going on with Mac and George. Mac comes across as more of the trigger-happy type, where George is by the book. I like stories that have an equal divide. Was this your idea for these two from the start?
Kaplan: These two characters, our good cop and bad cop, are meant to be a window into the different points of views. Some people are reasonable and understanding about the Port’s presence, a la George Rice, and some are emotional and unhappy about it, a la Eric McIntyre. But if readers think these characters are going to be two-dimensional portraits, they are quite wrong. The story starts with this very familiar construct, but its going to get flipped here, and again, it’s a lot more complex. There’s an amazing arc for these two men over the first eight issues, and I’m so excited to take readers through it. Readers of Eclipse will know I like to test my heroes and put them through the ringer.
AiPT!: You team up with Andrea Mutti doing the art and Vladmir Popov doing the colors. The pair do a wonderful job with the imagery. What has it been like working with them?
Kaplan: It’s been great. I came in with a very concrete vision for the look of the book. Andrea and Vlad are both fantastic artists, and we collaborated a lot in the beginning, discussing how to execute the look of this story. Andrea’s style fit from the start; he’s got this gritty, texture to his art, realistic and super cool. He’s very passionate and loves sci-fi, plus he has a lot of experience with it. It was a blast to design the look of the aliens with Andrea, because that says so much about the story too. Vlad has a digital background and lot of talent, and was really able to capture the washed out color palette. So it’s a dream team. The look of the book is so cool; I couldn’t be happier with it.
AiPT!: I like the design of the actual port. The opening pages have a cinematic feel to them. Did you have a design in mind when you first read Zack’s script or did you work on a few designs before settling on the one used in the book?
Mutti: I received the plot of the script about a month before starting the pages, and with Zack, we talked about some ideas. It has been super cool work, real brainstorming together about some details and for some good inspirations… the idea was clear for me: the aliens have to be really advanced, not “ancient green men” in flying saucers, [laughs] in that way, I worked around the main designs… for the mothership, for example, I was really inspired by the great ship from Arrival… people have to be astonished by that… so, that’s the deal!
AiPT!: I am also a fan of your first comic book, Eclipse. How much longer do we have to wait for the next arc to begin?
Kaplan: We’re into it now. So many fans have asked me about this. Where’s Eclipse? Is it done? What’s happening with it? We were given a brief break from the publisher, and then Giovanni got the opportunity to go draw Batman in the Shadow/Batman crossover from DC and Dynamite. And it’s Batman. And also Batman… Batman. So I said go do it. But we’ll be back early next year, and my hope is that once we return, we stick around for a while with more Eclipse. So just be patient, guys, and go check out Port of Earth while you are waiting for more sunkills!
AiPT!: I know you are keeping busy writing stories and traveling around to different conventions. Have you had much free time to enjoy life? What fun things have you been into lately?
Kaplan: I did 12 conventions this year, over a dozen store signings and there are a lot of things in the works that have yet to be announced. Basically, Eclipse came out and I fell head first into the deep end of a comic book career. Don’t get me wrong, I love it! But this first year has been a real learning curve for me. And there are some areas I went too big on. And I have not had as much free time as I would like. I have a family, so when I have free time, that goes to them. Things like movies, video games, TV marathons, that sort of thing has been cut dramatically. But writing is fun for me. Engaging with fans and stores is fun for me. It’s easy to sacrifice some other activities or interests when you love telling stories and creating. Of course, I never cut the poker. Thursday nights are for poker. Sunday nights are for Game of Thrones. (How much longer do we have to wait?!?!) And I recently got into Rick and Morty. It’s amazing, broh.
AiPT!: Yes, I dig Rick and Morty too! Sometimes when I should be writing, I trail off and end up being on Twitter, or reading articles online. What is your favorite form of procrastination?
Kaplan: Social media is a big distraction. It happens. I think breaks can be good, so a 3-5-minute break here or there can help clear the head and give you a space to think. Walking the dog, checking out a segment on the news, watching Rick and Morty, broh, those things are all okay. I think writers too often lump procrastination in with breaks. I think there’s a difference. It’s unrealistic for a writer to write non-stop for eight hours. It happens, sometimes, but little breaks are not going to prevent someone from succeeding. For me, as long as I can set goals, be realistic, map out my priorities, and hit my deadlines, I don’t sweat the breaks. I haven’t had real problems with procrastination, not like three weeks go by and I realize I’m still on page two. I can’t do that anymore, I have production deadlines.
AiPT!: I know Eclipse will return and you just started out with Point of Earth, but do you have other projects that you are working on? What else do we have to look forward from you in the future?
Kaplan: 2018. Next year is going to be nuts. There will be more announced soon, but all I can say is I’m busy in the laboratory, not procrastinating and not taking much free time, and I’ve learned to balance my time, I’m year two, and I’m making some badass comics, like, a lot of badass comics, and I’m coming for you, broh. I’m coming for you all, so I hope you like great comics, because that’s what’s coming. Sorry, I slipped into a little Rick, from Rick and Morty.
Thanks again, Zack and Andrea. Port of Earth from Image comics and Top Cow Productions hits shelves November 8!