Rick Remender has been busy over the past few years digging into the Marvel sandbox with books like “Venom”, “Captain America”, and “Uncanny Avengers”. This week he returns creator owned work alongside artist Matteo Scalera on their new Image Comics series, “Black Science”.
Remender is known for building pulp-filled science fiction worlds with empathic characters and “Black Science” fits that bill. The series follows anarchist Grant McKay, a genius scientist who has unlocked the gateway to parallel dimensions and alternate realities. However, McKay never really considered the repercussions of his work until he finds himself trapped on a hostile world filled with all sorts of horrible creatures.
The seasoned writer sat down with Bloody-disgusting to chat about his new series, his love for science fiction and horror, and his plans for the future.
Bloody-disgusting: The first thing about “Black Science” that really jumped out at me was the title. It obviously has connotations of black magic so I just wanted to hear your thoughts and what it means to you.
Rick Remender: Yeah, you really just kind of nailed it. It was an idea that came to me while I was writing a description for something like seven years ago. I wrote, “somebody uses black science to conjure such and such”, and then I started writing notes down about a scientific equivalent of a dark sorcerer, breaking all the rules and delving into things he shouldn’t. The book kind of built from there and it made sense to tie Grant McKay into it all as a strident individual and anarchist. So that’s how I formed the book and just moved on from there.
BD: The book has this classic sci-fi vibe like H.G. Wells style, and this is something that comes out of all your work. Do you actively try to channel that or is just a part of your style now?
RR: I think it’s naturally embedded in there. I’ve been reading a lot of 1950s short stories recently. Bradbury used to edit this collection and I read a lot of that type of stuff and it’s interesting because it’s such speculative science from an era so long ago. You can see where they got it right and where they got it completely wrong. But that is what gives me big ideas sometimes. It’s such a wonderful device to examine, not only the world around us, but potential other worlds.
I tried other styles recently, like with Uncanny Avengers I went to third person narration and tried a more “stutter-step” style, where I jump between characters doing a lot of different things, and they get that pot boiling over until it explodes. But with Black Science and Deadly Class I wanted move into things I was more familiar with, which is telling stories that are completely outlined, making sure I work closely with my editor Sebastian Girner, and that stuff. I think we have like 30 issues of Black Science nailed down at this point.
BD: Woah, that’s so far into the series.
RR: It is, and it’s nice to have that because what was originally issues 1 and 2, I cut, and just started on issue 3 and only kept the cream, the most mandatory moments from those first two issues. I think this leads to a stronger opening comic when you have that kind of confidence that comes from a large outline. You get to pick where you want to start the story. And we did the same for Deadly Class, which opens on issue 4 of the outline. It also helps to add a lot of mystery, which is the best part of these kinds of comics. These question marks where readers ask, “What does this mean?”. I think the biggest mistake you can make in creator owned work is having info-dumps like, “hHere’s how this world works!” it’s just like someone playing dungeon master and boring me with the backstory of their fucking world. Just bring me into you story and get it cooking. So this new way that I’ve discovered, getting a huge outline and picking a stage moment to start the story, it excites me as I’m writing because I don’t have to do any of what feels like work. I can just pepper that stuff in throughout the rest of the story.
BD: So in your creative process is that something you look for now. Do you find it hard to let go of certain details of the plot you wanted to put in?
RR: That’s the agonizing part. You can throw a lot of interesting stuff at somebody and hope that it’s entertaining and they want to stick around. But it’s a lot more interesting for me to write these outlines and start at an odd moment. We did it with Fear Agent also. That series originally began with the storming of Earth, but I shifted that to the third arc and I think it worked better because this way you’re dropped right into the action. And as readers we are all cynical, we have short attention spans. The Internet has fucked our brains up. We don’t want to like things, because it’s safer to say, “That’s shit”, and be above things. But I don’t have time to put that hook in your mouth so I think this is a great way of being like, “hey! Here are some interesting bits of this character” while showing something chaotic and hopefully your care enough about the character when you get into his head for a while, and like the premise enough that when the issue ends, you’re excited to see where it goes next. At least more so than you would if I just started you at the laboratory four hours earlier to show how they got into this predicament.
BD: It seems like there’s some Lovecraftian influence at work here, that sense of cosmic horror. You bring horror into your work a lot. Why do those two genres work so well together for you?
RR: I’ve actually only read the Cthulhu stuff, but other than that I’m only sort of peripherally aware of Lovecraft’s work. I think the concepts of his work are fantastic. But I think the merging you’re talking about, for me, is more akin to EC science fiction and 70s Creepy and Eerie style horror with that B aesthetic. Kind of a Frank Frazetta painting turned into a series. And I look at those kind of covers and I read weird fantasy collections and I dig back into that stuff. Just trying to find new ways to create worlds that are unique, that we haven’t seen before.
Speaking to your question. How the horror aspect plays into it is that I’m a fan of horror. Not necessarily writing it anymore because it tells you, “Hey expect horror! This will have some blood! You will watch someone get eviscerated!” and you’re like “Yeah, I’m ready for that”. You know what to expect. But there’s something interesting about taking a science fiction tale and hitting moments of absolute horror and shock where the readers almost feel they’ve been deceived by you. I like that. Some response when you go to these terrible, horrific moments and you douse it in the horror genre, there’s a shock factor that people aren’t expecting. It’s like “This is a sci fi book, you didn’t tell me that it would be scary”.
I think genre can tell you too much. In all of my work, when I’m successful, regardless of the genre, I like to delve into horror within those stories at shocking moments that people don’t expect. That’s where horror hits, that absolute gut wrenching shock that you might not have wanted to see.
BD: For sure, and I think the comics medium specifically, we’re starting to see a lot of genre blending to the point where it’s hard to classify books within a genre.
RR: I think it’s because there’s such a big quantity of people trying to make a mark and do unique books that you see that in comics. If you’re putting forty million bucks into a film, you better be able to tell your studio head what genre your film is. But in comics, we get to dick around, to play with the toys more. So I can do something that’s gritty hard-boiled crime that is peppered with Lovecraftian horror, or I can do something that feels like it should be horror and turn it into a love story. You can take these calculated risks in comics. It’s what people expect now. That’s the beauty of sequential art.
With Black Science and Deadly Class, it’s just me and my buddy Sebastian, and my artists. We talk, we cook stuff up, we get excited, we do our due diligence on character development and outline to craft something that is worth the money people are going to spend, and hopefully it makes a mark. I don’t think any of us want to put the energy into something creator owned and regurgitate things we’ve seen.
BD: Getting into the science of the book, you obviously have a certain affinity for theoretical physics. With the superhero stuff, parallel universes are not uncommon. So what’s the difference when dealing with science in creator owned and work versus your Marvel stuff like Captain America?
RR: Well I knew with captain America that it would be a segue into some new interesting stuff, while reestablishing his character. Whereas with Black Science, it’s the crux of the story. So while I do a lot of reading about scientific studies about parallel universes, the fun there is to extrapolate my own fictional version of that. In Black Science, the top level, which we brush past in the first six issues, is that you’ve got all these parallel dimensions just a fraction of an atom separated from one another and every single decision every creature makes, splinters off into an infinite amount of parallel dimensions. So I take all the real theoretical science and all the things that actual smart people are conceiving, and I take them as ground rules and string them together with some of my own fictional extrapolations in terms of what actually could be going, or why it’s going on, or what happens if you start punching through these barriers and leaving a trail behind you. I need to stop or I’ll start giving stuff away here. But I have a whole theory all the science that is built on a foundation of what actual geniuses think, so maybe it’ll make me seem smart by borrowing it [laughs].
BD: How much of your research actually makes it into the book?
RR: You gotta be careful with that stuff because it’s pretty dry and expositional. If you can pepper it in sporadically, concisely, during action, then you’re doing something right. Beyond that, for me what’s at the heart of it is that I know how it all works and where it leads. At first, I need to get you invested in the human beings that are in the story, and once I do that, once you are rooting for the characters, I can start to do a bit of info dumping and explain how things work. To do it prior is putting the cart before the horse. You need the character’s heartbeat going before you get into it, but that said, you need to know it all before you start writing. Readers can tell if you are giving them a bunch of bullshit, like the comic book version of LOST with a bunch of ideas randomly strung together. That’s not the kind of writing I want to do.
BD: Grant is an interesting character. You overtly say he’s an anarchist and believes in the idea of being a genius is what gets him to success. But in the first issue, he’s starting to realize this may not be the case. Why is this something you wanted to explore?
RR: You always want to personally explore something in your work and I think that for Grant, a lot of it sort of relates to me and in the past fifteen years of being a workaholic. I do a lot better job of finding time for my family than Grant, I push him to the limits of a workaholic, but it’s something I can identify with. As someone who dropped out of college and taught myself how to be an animator, how to storyboard, and how to write, there is this strange sort of animosity that I feel toward accreditation and schooling. It’s like, “Fuck that shit, just shutup and do it”. I wanted to examine that piece of myself and really magnify it with Grant, where he was someone who was a Stanford and semester one in he was known to be a genius when he said, “Fuck this shit, I’m not going to sit here and dance through your hoops and be given your rules so I can get some man-made accreditation”. Hierarchical organizations are the devil in his mind. Boundaries and rules make up the road to no discovery. It’s the pioneers who break boundaries, the self-taught people who find their own truth as opposed to having it taught to them. So, on some level, as someone who is self-taught and a workaholic, and a strident individualist, up his own ass on occasion, I wanted to dig into that. The 23 year old me who was still dabbling in being straight edge and being far too hardcore for my own good.
BD: So talking about that, I’m curious what your work schedule is like now given how much work you’re putting out.
RR: I get up around ten, I drink a green juice. I find my skipping breakfast, even if I snack at night, I don’t become a total fat squib [laughs]. I grind up carrots, and kale, and celery and shit and drink it, then a cup of coffee. I head to work and I have to do two to three hours of emails, shifting files, and giving notes. That’s on a slow day. Email can eat up as much as four or five hours a day. But I do three hours of writing in the morning on average, and on a good day I will go out for a run or a walk, to get some fresh air. On days that I don’t, I’m just locked in, writing all night. I work seven days a week from morning until night. I take off from six to eight every night to eat dinner with my kids and read to them before bed. And then I try to take Sundays off to be with my family, but work Sunday nights. But it’s hardcore. It’s a hard road, but I’ve worked myself to death for fifteen years making comic books and the opportunities I have right now are just too amazing to let slide by because I wont buckle down and find the time to make the work happen. It’s a first world problem, an embarrassment of riches, really. I get to play with all the toys in the marvel sandbox and do all my creator owned stuff. I have a schedule for the next year that I will stick to, I am skipping some cons, and providing I get some health in my diet and get outside, hopefully my brain will keep functioning [laughs]. I just care about making great comics right now. So provided I can accomplish that much, then my health and everything else, I can rain check.
BD: Do you have plans to branch out of comics anytime soon?
RR: I’ve enjoyed writing video games in the past like Dead Space and Bullet Storm and there are some other game opportunities that are coming up that I may not have time for, but I enjoy writing the dialogue and then getting to play the game. It’s a real fun treat. Especially on those two games, it’s pretty rare opportunity to see your words come to life in that way. I’ve written a few screenplays. Last Days of American Crime is still in production so maybe we’ll see that come to life. There’s already film interest in Black Science and Deadly Class, so maybe I’ll get a crack a screenplay there. But I’ve spent the past 20 years of my life dedicated to the craft of sequential art, and I know every aspect of making a comic and I know I can make a good one, so I know I’m a comic book guy. I know I can write screenplays and enjoy it, or prose, but at the same time, I’ve got so many wonderful opportunities doing what I love, which is writing stories for amazing artists. There’s nothing that can beat that. At some point my expiration date will hit and everyone will be tired of my comic books, and nobody will want them anymore. We’ve all got expiration dates and people lose interest in a certain points, but I’ll do my best to keep making interesting comics until people stop buying them. At that point, when I’m forced to, maybe I’ll start doing other things again.
Look for “Black Science” #1 in shops and online November 27th, 2013.