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Southern Cross Interview: Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger Talk World Building, Science Fiction and Procrastination

How often does #1 mean anything on the cover of a comic book nowadays? So often it’s there to signify a new story arc or simply a way to grab readers’ attention. Thankfully Image Comics has continued to honor the sanctity that is the #1: Image has been featuring stunning new original works from creative teams at such a breakneck pace for so long now I can’t remember a month there wasn’t a brand new series with original characters and story beats. It’s a great time to be alive if you love science fiction, brand new stories or at the very least writer/artist combinations that make comic books fun again.

Image Comics will be releasing a new #1 on March 11th, this time for a science fiction horror mystery we recently reviewed called Southern Cross. It’s a complex tale that has a lot going on in between the panels, which is a perfect title to delve deeper on if given the chance. A chance we had, as we recently spoke to creators Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger on the new series:

AiPT: Southern Cross takes place in an unknown but presumably future timeline, but really it’s a new universe that’s somewhat similar to our own. How much world building went on before you could start creating the first issue?

Andy: Where do I even begin? It’s all about World Building for me. It’s kind of what gets me most excited to work in our industry. So often you work on jobs where it’s already established and it kinda sucks the joy out of the gig for me. I’ve been working on the look and feel of Southern Cross for over a year now. Sketches upon sketches. Blueprints of ships, products and the designers who make them. The funny part is the first six issues just scratch the surface of the world we’ve created.

If you had to categorize it, Southern Cross is Lo-fi. I spend a lot of time looking up vintage computers, submarines, oil refineries, tankers… The character design is a mix of modern couture and Lo-fi gear you might see in an old 80’s cartoon. I want the comic to visually feel like it lives in the future of 1982.

Becky: Andy had the world built before I even came on board. It was actually around this time last year he asked me to write something sci-fi for him; I had this story ready to go only it wasn’t set in space. Molding it took some work, but it ended up fitting so well that Southern Cross went from being a 6 issue series to ongoing! A lot of my ideas come from the foundation he had already set, and every line I write is another thread in the tapestry.

AiPT: In issue #1 there’s a double page spread of the Southern Cross ship hovering over what looks like a city and I’m getting some Blade Runner vibes from the screens plastered on the side of buildings. What would you say inspired this series the most?

Andy: I mean of course, Blade Runner is my all time favourite sci-fi film. Films in the 80’s just had a slower more emotional pace that allowed you to really focus on the beauty of the shot. the composition, the lighting, the costumes… the worlds were beautiful. However, the look and feel of Southern Cross comes from a million different places. I want to bring you to places you’ve never seen. Psychedelia plays a big role in what I’m trying to create. My art comes out of bands like TOOL and Pink Floyd as much as it does film. We are going to take you on a journey!

Becky: Southern Cross was born out of a simple ghostly mystery story I was thinking about. Inspired by writers like Agatha Christie and F. Marion Crawford… But when I started writing it for Andy it became impossible to escape the shadow of H.P. Lovecraft. Movies like The Hunt for Red October and Alien really form the way I visualize the book (even though I’m writing it). I am also very much writing for Andy. I’ll think of the way he draws, or something he would think is funny or exciting, and that inspires a lot of the story as well. I try to play to his strengths, but also challenge him as an artist and storyteller. Music is important too, I make a lot of playlists! (I encourage everyone to do this.) When I write I can’t listen to music with decipherable lyrics, so there is a lot of ambient post-metal, soundtracks and classical music in my rotation at the moment.

Original art by Andy Belanger. Trippy!

AiPT: What are some of your favorite science fiction movies or novels?

Andy: Ah this is the fun part! In order:
Blade Runner, Alien, Road Warrior, Children of Men, 2001, Both TRONs,(can’t help it, you throw in an emotional father/son story and it gets me every time), Sunshine, Event Horizon, Gentleman Broncos (kind of sci-fi?). Gravity was pretty fun. My favourite sci-fi novel is Vurt! Loved the hell out of that book!

Becky: This is where Andy and I differ. I hate lists! Not in order:
Metropolis, The American Astronaut, Moon, of course Blade Runner and AlienThe Thing, Akira, Brazil, Dune, Total Recall… Oh maybe I do love lists. I also feel like everyone should read The Bridge by Iain Banks, what a great book. And who can talk about sci-fi without mentioning Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Classic! And finally, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is not fiction, but I would say it is required science reading nonetheless.

AiPT: Andy, I simply love the side scrolling panels and pages you’re coming up with. They give the book a sense of depth but also allow you to fit a lot on the page. Why would you say you used this technique?

Andy: I want the ship to have as much personality and life as any other character in the comic. The Southern Cross is my Overlook Hotel. I really want to create depth and scale, but at the same time remind you that we are confined, restricted to the ship. I guess it is also an ode to the video games I played as a kid. Impossible Mission, Metroid… Side scrolling is a visual language we can all relate to, and plays into the visual themes I want to bring to the book.

Original art by Andy Belanger. What is Vulture 1?!

AiPT: I’m curious how the process works exactly from script to page. Becky, as an artist is it hard to relinquish artistic duties?

Becky: It’s not difficult when you trust your artist! I find myself writing for Andy’s sensibilities, so that helps I think. It’s taken a while to get used to writing full scripts, but I’ve grown to love it. It’s not something I thought I would ever be doing, but hey, that never stopped me from doing anything before, I guess? I give Andy some direction, and we often discuss how things will play out. There is a lot of back-and-forth. I’m trying to craft the best story, and I couldn’t be more proud of how it’s come out.

AiPT: Becky, would you say it’s easier writing a comic after drawing one?

Becky: I feel like this question is more loaded than it probably is, haha! There are challenges that come with both, for sure. Writing takes up a lot less time, but uses a lot more headspace. Drawing is more of a grind, and physically more of a challenge. I also find drawing more aggravating, depressing and frustrating, but at the same time more rewarding at the end of the day. Also, I never drink and draw (unless it’s coffee) but I drink and write all the time!

Original character art from Southern Cross by Andy Belanger

AiPT: Something I really love about Southern Cross #1 is how brooding it is; how there seems to be something lurking between the panels so to speak. The setting is so well rendered and claustrophobic. How important was it to design and build the ship and would you say, as so many have said about New York in their films, that it’s one of the characters?

Becky: That was always the point, from the first time we talked about this story. The ship, the Southern Cross, is such a big part of the story that we named the book after it! (And our favorite Black Sabbath song, but that’s another story.)

Andy: It really is a character. Is it alive? Only Becky knows for sure. But it sure does brood. This wouldn’t be a Cloonan joint without a ton of brooding, and corners to peek around.

AiPT: Now to get a little more serious… what is your favorite beer?

Andy: As they say I like my whiskey high end and my beer terrible! Hahaha I prefer blonds and pilsners, lagers. I drink a lot of Kronenbourg, but I do like to get down and dirty with Labatt 50!

Becky: I’m with Andy, I enjoy s----y beer. I travel a lot though, so I like to see what microbrews are local. I had a few pints of Meantime Lager in London last time I was there, that was great. BrewDog is good for a pint of almost anything they’ve got on tap (Punk IPA ftw). Austin, TX has some great beer too — so good that I’m thinking of moving. If you’re up in Quebec, you gotta hunt down a bottle of Shawinigan Handshake; kind of a Weizenbock brewed by Le Trou Du Diable. When summer hits though, I’m all about the shandy.

AiPT: If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?

Andy: HAHA well I’d be pissed if they got a little guy! ALWAYS the ROCK! Or Chris Hemsworth — he’d be a way prettier Hollywood version of me. Shave his head, grow a serious Viking beard, give him a vat of beer. That would do it!

Becky: Can the Rock even grow a beard? I would call Jason Momoa to play Andy, haha. I’d love to go back in time and cast Peter Lorre to play me. I’d probably somehow end up being the bad guy as well. “I, a poor peasant, have conquered comics. Why can’t I conquer love?” Then it all goes horribly wrong. Something like that.

Original art by Andy Belanger. Button lover computer.

AiPT: What’s your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

Becky: I have a case of wanderlust and the bad habit of taking on more work than I can comfortably manage. This is the reason I work mostly digitally now! Also, tequila is bad for you.

Andy: Besides beering? I do go to a lot of live wrestling events. I do hit the gym a lot. I would love to play more video games but they always eat up too much of my time. Last of Us, Alien and Dark Souls were awesome. The South Park game might be the funniest game ever made!

AiPT: Becky, I simply loved The Mire. Do either of you have any self published work we can look forward to in 2015?

Becky: Thank you! I have more ideas for self-published stories, two of them being follow-ups to my short comic Wolves. I’m not sure when I’ll get to them though! I’m also working on a graphic novel for First Second.

Comics, man. It’s a long game. The longest game, but we still love them.


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