It’s a good time to be G. Willow Wilson. She’s wrapping up a stellar run on Wonder Woman for DC Comics, her Marvel creation Kamala Khan (a.k.a. Ms. Marvel) is slated for her own TV series as well as a lead role in the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers video game, and she was just announced as the new writer for Neil Gaiman’s The Dreaming. Wilson also recently wrapped up the first arc on her critically acclaimed creator-owned series Invisible Kingdom for Dark Horse Comics, which sits at an 8.9 average on Comic Book Roundup.
Invisible Kingdom is not your usual space opera science fiction adventure. There are no backwater planets looking to be freed from some brutal ruler, no farm boys going on intergalactic adventures, and certainly no terrifying derelict space ships needing exploring. Instead, Invisible Kingdom is an intimate and somewhat familiar affair in the best way.
It’s a series that focuses on four planets who find themselves dependent on the galactic e-commerce corporation Lux, and the gig workers who find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy involving this mega-corporation and a devout religious organization. The small scale of the galaxy, combined with the empathetic struggle of low-level workers stuck in the corporate machine, make Invisible Kingdom sound recognizable, but anyone who has read the series knows it is a completely unique. This is a take on the space-opera formula driven by an incredible aesthetic, intriguing lore, and a world begging for exploration.
Recently, we sat down with Wilson herself at New York Comic Con to explore the world of Invisible Kingdom a bit more:
AiPT!: You see a lot of like sci-fi today: there’s obviously a ton out there. But you don’t see sci-fi stories focused on a logistics company. So where did this idea come from? I know you mentioned in the back of the first issue that it was kind of driven by living in the hub of e-commerce in Seattle, but was there anything else that made you want to dive into a story about, essentially, an Intergalactic Amazon?
G. Willow Wilson: I try not to use that word [Amazon]. I was just really interested in what a Space Opera would look like from the point of view of your average working stiff gig worker in what should be a very familiar economic situation to a lot of us living here on Earth in the 21st century. I think it’s tempting in sci-fi to focus on chosen ones and space pirates and people with big roles in these universes, and I thought it might be fun to do something a little bit different and focus on somebody with what appears to be a very small role in that universe. One which is much closer to our own experiences — working in the gig economy, navigating a life where you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck wondering how you’re going to keep your car/spaceship in one piece on what you’re getting paid. So, you know, it does change the story because it’s a much more ground-level view of well-trod genre tropes of the space opera.
AiPT!: It’s like the Han Solo approach — this is not about the giant hero, this is about the everyday guy.
GWW: The everyday guy, yeah! I think even Han Solo, he’s kind of living on the edge of the law and you know kind of eating what he could hunt down, but our characters in the crew of the Sundog are sort of even more pedestrian in that they’re kind of trying to stay within the law and they only kind of break it by accident.
AiPT!: So something that fascinated me about the book is it has a lot of religious implications. Specifically, I really love the idea of veiling and this idea that in order to avoid distraction from your faith you have to physically cover what you see. So where did that idea come from? Is that based on a real-world religion or is that something that just you came up with by yourself?
GWW: You could look at various monastic traditions over time here on Earth and see similar but not identical trends. You know, obviously nuns wear a veil to kind of symbolize they’re withdrawing from the world. If you look in certain Buddhist sects there are various kinds of headgear that are meant to kind of make it so you’re focused on what’s in front of you and not getting distracted by the world around you — but veiling doesn’t generally reflect one specific religion.
That’s something we wanted to avoid because it is a religion that we made from whole cloth. There is no God or Gods involved. It’s very kind of unique and different and so I think it is, in a lot of ways, very distinct and dissimilar from any religion that you could find on Earth. But, in bits and pieces, there are similarities to various religions, many of which don’t exist anymore but existed at one point in human history.
AiPT!: Moving away from the religious aspects of the book, I want to talk about the, for lack of a better term, the gender diversity of the Roolians — they have the up, down, left, and right genders. So, where did this idea of very specific types of gender that serve specific roles to a dying race like the Roolians come from?
GWW: So the Roolians in the back story of this world began as two separate, symbiotic species that over time evolved together into one. But as a result of being originally two separate species, they have four genders instead of two and the way that they reproduce is somewhat complicated. I thought if we are going to set this in a completely different galaxy with silica-based life forms as we have with another planet, why don’t we completely break down what you think of as the norm even in Space Opera and have beings and different groups of people in species that bare very little similarity to us here on Earth.
So they’re not just sort of fancy blue space mammals, they actually do reproduce differently and think of gender in a completely different way and have very different customs and social norms around all of these things. So we have on four different planets four very distinct sets of people and on the farthest one from the sun, Rool, they have four genders. On one of the middle planets they have one gender and they reproduce asexually kind of like fungi. So, you know, it really, really is starting from zero, building a world from scratch, not being too caught up in what the traditional rules are around Space Opera and it’s been a lot of fun.
AiPT: Looking at the Roolian character Vess — there’s a little bit of back story with Vess that’s kind of sprinkled in during the second issue. Is that something that is going to be explored more in volume two?
GWW: Yeah. Absolutely. Vess is in a unique position because she is very much expected to be kind of patriotic, stay on her home planet and save her dying species and by leaving for the Renunciation she turns her back on all of that, which does not sit well with her family or with her people. So she takes a lot of risks and yeah, absolutely that will be explored further and there are more wrinkles that are coming in the second arc that I think will make the story even more interesting.
AiPT: In terms of the whole aesthetic of the series — part of what is so fantastic about this book is it is so unique looking. The story is unique but when you actually see the pages, you see the art is vibrant, it pops, and it has a feel that is recognizable yet somehow foreign. So in terms of the design and the illustrations, was that something that was super collaborative between you and artist Christian Ward? Or did you say “Hey, here’s what I have in mind, can you do it”? Or did you give kind of an open slate and he came back to you with what he had?
GWW: This has been probably the most collaborative project that I’ve ever done with an artist. Christian’s world –building is really incredible. He has very strong ideas about design layout, geography. And so I did a very detailed kind of breakdown of what the different planets were like, how the people behaved, and what they look like in sort of general terms on those planets, but then he would come back and say “What if we did this with the architecture? What if this monastery is not set in one place? What if it floats and can move from place to place? What if there are semi holographic people on this planet?” I was like, this is fantastic, and so I Incorporated all of those ideas into the scripts.
So it was very much a give-and-take and kind of remains that way, where he’ll have ideas that I will turn around and incorporate into a script. Or I’ll suggest things that he will build off of to create these worlds. So it is very much a partnership and I think the story is incredibly well served by the fact that Christian has such a strong design sense and such a unique way of working.
AiPT!: Okay, so I’ll finish with a question for volume two — volume one is focused on these four planets. Is there going to be an expansion into more galaxies or will it still focus on this tight, localized story in volume two?
GWW: It’s going to be tightly focused on those four planets. That’s something else that I wanted to do differently — instead of making space feel vast and empty and like somewhere you could go in infinite directions, it feels very claustrophobic, very confined and these planets feel less like separate planets light-years away and much more like continents in one overarching geography that are uncomfortably close together.
Invisible Kingdom #1-5 is available now, with the second arc expected to kick off with #6 sometime in 2020. Invisible Kingdom Volume 1 will be available November 5.