A writer who is just as hungry to read as he is to craft a story, Ales Kot’s name will soon be known to many more for his upcoming spy thriller ZERO from Image Comics, in stores this September. The idea is to tell a good story that can appreciated in one sitting. Then, from there, you have the option to go sideways. Or backwards. It depends. Kot is allowing the story to evolve as he sees fit. And with so many literary influences in his life, it’s hard to say when we’ll hit flashpoint. The journey’s more important than the destination.
PREVIEWSworld: Ok. So ZERO mixes up ground level espionage and super-spy fiction, with each issue of the series featuring a different artist on a stand-alone story. Now that's something you don't see every day in comics. So what gives with this formula? Is it that you couldn't say no to working with just one artist on this project? Were there just too many good ideas that couldn't possibly fit into one linear storyline?
The story of Edward Zero, our main character, a spy thug who works for the Agency, begins in 2018 and ends in 2038. Each issue is a mission of its own; each issue is drawn by a different artist. As ZERO changes, his point of view is altered; therefore the multiple artists fit the character and the story.
ZERO is one linear storyline with multiple entry points for new readers. If a reader reads issue three, for example, it will be easy for him or her to enjoy the comic on its own, and she or he will also understand that there is a larger story they can know more about. A recap page in every issue is created to help with that.
PREVIEWSworld: From what we've gathered, the series focuses on agent Edward Zero, and a decision he makes that will lead to his death two decades later. It makes me think of “Carlito's Way” with Al Pacino. Carlito lets some punk get away, and that same punk ends up killing him at the end of the story. A neat plot. So without giving too much away, can you tell us in a roundabout way a little about what happens in Edward's life that later on spells his doom?
Ales Kot: When we meet Edward Zero for the first time, he is very much a product of his environment; a bleak male force unleashed in the name of the Agency, solving missions with brutal creativity and total determination.
Nature and nurture, his genetics and upbringing, and our potential and ability to work with them – these things play a very significant role in how he reaches what might be his death in 2038.
The key conflict Zero finds himself in the middle of is that he based his life on the idea of the Agency working for common good. When he realizes things are not as simple, everything changes for him.
PREVIEWSworld: If you had to cite influences on your writing, film or comic/novel fiction, what would they be, and how did these influences affect your own writing style? How did you look at these works as a scholar rather than as a fan?
Ales Kot: James Ellroy’s economy of writing. Complexity of characters in the fiction of Garth Ennis. The physicality of Terence Stamp and Daniel Craig. The ruthlessness of Jim Thompson novels. The will, ambition and imagination of people behind “Breaking Bad.” The “container comics” approach to storytelling of “Global Frequency” where each issue works on its own and is drawn by a different artist. The wisdom of Philip K. Dick, William S. Burroughs, Terence McKenna, Vaclav Havel, Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg. The bleak male stereotype perpetuated by so many different works of fiction that celebrate revenge and war as something to be adored or impressed by. The idea of such fiction as a healthy release, also.
PREVIEWSworld: In a previous interview, concerning the plotting of ZERO, you’ve said that you didn’t “want to deliver something you could have already read.” That’s a tall order to fill, as one of the things you learn early on in writing is that there are so many types of plots. After that, you’re in uncharted territory, and there’s no guarantee it’ll work. So give us some insight as to how you approached creating something that was completely different?
Ales Kot: ZERO begins as a traditional story delivered in a different way. I am using the existing storytelling tropes of spy stories, action thrillers, and speculative fiction to explore new possibilities within them. The task is to create a new thing organically; in a way that becomes more expansive while staying the speculative fiction spy action thriller story ZERO has been from the beginning.
I am continually working on a large outline with issues and events mapped out. I am leaving space for improvisation, too. The process itself leads me through history books and documentaries, leaked documents, special ops training, my own memories, memories of my family, works of art and much more.
I have seen first hand what kind of damage various kinds of war – internal and external – inflict on people, and how often the wounds become obscured as the decades progress, sometimes carried through many generations. The wounds stay alive unless they are understood and healed. ZERO is my observation and investigation of that – while also being a spy action thriller that begins in near future.
PREVIEWSworld: Who would be the audience for ZERO? What other comic titles would those readers buy at the comic shops today? And how would you convince these readers to give ZERO a chance?
Ales Kot: Readers who like what I am doing on Suicide Squad, for example, might find ZERO exciting. Readers who loved Wild Children and Change will find a new angle to my work. Readers who like Batman will likely feel shared thematic ground with ZERO. Readers who like Punisher will likely feel the same.
I choose to not define my readers as one group; they are very diverse and my readership base is growing. My potential audience includes every comics reader out there and also readers who are not into comics as of yet.
I am here to tell the best stories I am able to tell, create the best comics I can create. My aim with ZERO is to give the readers and retailers a great story they will be happy to hold in their hands and minds not just when it comes out, but also thirty years from now.