Since its debut in 2016, DC Comics and Gerard Way’s Young Animal pop-up imprint has generated tremendous excitement throughout the comic book community with its mature stories and unique approach to themes not often explored in the DC Universe proper.
That excitement kicked into high gear earlier this year with the announcement that N.K. Jemisin, the three-time Hugo award winning fantasy and science fiction author, would be penning a new Green Lantern title, Far Sector. The book is special and unique in that it features the first ever African American female lantern named Sojourner “Jo” Mullein, and takes place far outside of Guardian protected space.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Jemisin at New York Comic Con this past weekend and discuss her latest literary venture.
AiPT!: What sticks out to you the most about Green Lantern as an idea and franchise? Where do you think its greatest strengths and appeals lie? Were there any standout concepts or elements across its history that sort of inspired or drove your current approach to the idea?
N.K. Jemisin: Honestly what I think drew me to it was because I did not choose to approach them. After I won the first Hugo in 2016 I got approached by Gerard Way from Young Animal who had already decided he wanted to do a Green Lantern comic in the YA imprint and already had a name for it: Green Lantern: Far Sector. It was going to take place far outside the normal 3600 sections of Guardian space and would feature the first black female Green Lantern. That was all he had. A basic idea where a society where certain emotions were outlawed and he wanted to know if the idea interested me.
Immediately I was like, well, they can’t outlaw certain emotions because emotions are a continuum, they all blur together. It’s not as discreet as we think of them, so they’re going to have to outlaw all emotions and the society is going to have to be built that way and they’re going to have to have reasons for it, blah blah blah, and at that point I stopped and realized that this was turning into a thing in my head and that I should probably do it [laughs]. And I did.
From there on it was a relatively small thing of me coming up with a world of 20 billion people.
AiPT!: Just a small thing!
NK: As one does [laughs]. With a society that would have a Dyson swarm built around a sun on the other side of the universe. Jo, because of the sheer distance involved, is outside of the normal radius of Guardian space, and can’t rely on things like the ability to communicate with other lanterns, or any human beings for that matter. She’s the only being in the entire society here that legally has emotions. There are a lot of people there that illegally have emotions and she’s going to find that she’s going to need to rely on those people and also find ways to work around the fact that what they’re doing is illegal in that space.
AiPT!: In reading the solicitations I got a strong vibe from Vulcan society and Christian Bale’s Equilibrium. And after listening to what you’ve just said about this society, that’s even more strongly enforced in where my head went for relatable content.
NK: That’s where my head went!
AiPT!: So is it fair to say those two stories helped influence your story?
NK: Not really. There are other possible influences too — Brave New World. The thing is, it’s a common science fiction concept. There’s nothing new about a society that outlaws emotion. What I wanted to explore with it though, was this is a society in the process of change. This is a society in which certain people have discovered how to subvert the lack of emotion and they are not so much lamenting the type of rebellion that happened in Equilibrium, but they’re coping with it. They’re struggling. They don’t have the learning to deal with it.
Human beings spend their lives learning to master their emotions. If you had no emotions until you were 30 and then suddenly experienced anger for the first time, you would probably kill somebody. So it’s almost like the psychological, coping mechanisms, and the cultural change that is associated with this. There’s also going to be some drama and fighting and yes, there is civil unrest as a result of this. But it’s a society that’s trying to manage it in a way that isn’t just shut them down and kick them out.
AiPT!: You touched on a few of the unusual things about Jo’s circumstances that I wanted to ask about, one being her location. Are we going to find out why the Guardians sent her to a place on the other side of the universe, outside their jurisdiction, with a unique ring?
NK: I mean there’s a lot of spoilers there, so I can’t tell you much [laughs]. Hmm, what can I tell you? Yes, we will find out why she was sent to a sector outside of Guardian jurisdiction. First off, the people of the city enduring did actually request her. Because they realize their problem is emotion and a Lantern’s power is built on emotion, will power, and because within the corps the rings seem to keep selecting this one particular species who are really bad at handling emotions, but make really good Lanterns, so maybe we need one of those? Maybe we need a human specifically.
So they asked for someone like Jo specifically to help them with the problem of emotion coping and crime. They do have crime, there’s perfectly rational reasons why people would steal and that type of thing. What they don’t have is someone who can handle crimes of passion. There’s a fear of change, because when this society starts to change, the fear of change is what starts to cause civil unrest. So Jo, at least in theory, can help them with this. She’s working with police on the ground on the City Enduring, she’s not out there by herself, but those police don’t know how to handle this very well, so they defer to her.
AiPT!: Jamal Campbell is an utterly incredible artist. I love his work on Noami. Did you request to work with him, or just win the lottery?
NK: [laughs] I guess I won the lottery because I didn’t know artists at all. I do read comics but I’m wedded to story. Story is my favorite thing. So I hadn’t really created a mental list of ideal artists to work with, but I had seen art that I liked, so I started making a little list of people that I knew and was sort of interested in. But I had not heard of Jamal Campbell and the folks at DC actually suggested him to me. So when I saw his work with Naomi I realized that in a lot of cases his work with landscapes and panoramas with scenery and background were just as powerful as the characters, that was what I was interested in. The City Enduring is another character in the story and we’re going to see its different faces and its different characters over the whole tale.
AiPT!: What’s it been like for you working with an artist 50/50? It’s not like you’re receiving a cover for your latest book, this person is an equal partner.
NK: Well I mean, I’ve never done comics before. I’ve never done scripts before. I’ve never collaborated before. So it’s a transition, but it’s been working really smoothly and I don’t know if I’m just lucky or what. But I did have to teach myself how to draw out a script and write in that format. Once I did that I started sending my scripts to Jamal and we talked a few times about if this is what he needs. Am I giving you too much? Too little? I did give him too much at one point. I did give him too little at one point. We’re working it out.
But for the most part he has been rendering the story in the way that I imagined it and I had to learn to rein in my own narration style. I’m used to having to do everything and it’s nice to be able to rely on the art to do some of it. I don’t have to explain how this fight works because I don’t know how fights look anyway! And Jamal can figure that out. And I give him in a couple of scripts like five pages of “Bad things happen, please draw that. Do what you want to.” [laughs] As long as these speech bubbles occur something over the story, I don’t care what you do. And I think he likes that, [laughs] I guess we’ll see.
AiPT!: How has the transition from prose to comics been for you? Are there plans to do more comics after Far Sector, now that you’ve had the experience?
NK: Well right now I’ve got a trilogy to finish for my publisher, so I don’t know that I can do it any time soon. But yeah, I enjoyed this. I think I’ll probably go back and do comics again sometime in the future. But I don’t know when.