Writer Si Spurrier has been charged with conjuring new nightmares for Avatar Press' Crossed saga. "Wish You Were Here" is his contribution to the madness.
PREVIEWSworld (PW): What is Crossed: Wish You Were Here and how does it tie into the worldwide Crossed Day events?
Si Spurrier (SS): Wish You Were Here is an ongoing webcomic, serialized online in completely free weekly episodes.
It’s based on – but doesn’t directly relate to – 2007’s original Crossed mini-series, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Jacen Burrows, in which the human race is ravaged by a disease (or a curse-from-god, or a bioweapon, or who-knows-what) which marks infectees with a livid red cross on every face and utterly changes the way they behave. It’s been likened to 28 Days Later, but I don’t think that does it justice -- the Crossed aren’t just brainless zombie hungermonkeys, they’re humans with all morality removed. Every scrap of civilized behavior has been peeled free, leaving them in a state of constant excitement and utter cruelty. They’re driven to have fun in the most sadistic, violent, and evil ways conceivable. It’s quite simply the most brutal apocalyptic survival horror out on the stands… but more importantly it’s not just brainless violence: there’s a whole subtextual level of human, cultural and social themes bubbling under the surface.
Previous Crossed stories – like Garth’s and, later, David Lapham’s – have tended to revolve around small groups of survivors, constantly on the move, staying one step ahead of the rampaging Crossed. In Wish You Were Here we’re turning that formula on its head. It’s the story of a group trying – and mostly failing – to build a community, to set up a life-worth-living, and to restore some sense of hope to everything they’ve lost. They’re basically doomed – and mostly they know it.
PW: Fans loved the free webcomics for Warren Ellis’ Freakangels series and flocked to buy them when they were collected. Will you be collecting the Crossed WYWH web strips in trade?
SS: Absolutely, yes. The Freakangels model is broadly what we’re using for Wish You Were Here. The only real departure – besides the obvious difference in subject-matter – is that we’ve maximized the digital reading experience by dividing each page into two landscape-orientation halves to be viewed separately online, so no annoying scrolling up and down. At the printing stage it all gets stitched together. The upshot is that every weekly episode will equate to six pages in printed form, but feels like a feast-worthy twelve pages each and every week. And that’s not to mention the first two episodes, both double-length. We’re nothing if not generous.
PW: In looking at what Garth Ennis and David Lapham did with previous storylines, was continuity an issue for you, or did you want to go to new dark places?
SS: No, there are no continuity problems. The beauty of the Crossed concept is that that’s all it really is: a concept. A single apocalyptic event, distinct from the characters whose stories fall into it, which can launch pretty much an infinite number of various tales. So different writers can produce a staggering variety of stories all set within this one awful scenario. Different places, different themes, different groups of characters, different dynamics.
Of course nowadays Crossed also has a reputation for presenting readers with the most inventively violent, brutal and sickenings events – “the sickest thing in comics” is a phrase I hear a lot at conventions – so I guess there’s a slight sense of constantly having to bring new and creative takes on bodyshock horror to the table. That said, I really do believe there’s a lot more going-on in the Crossed concept than just that, and Wish You Were Here is as much about exploring those fascinating human themes as it is about… well…, limb-hacking.
Because of its unique format – and its longform nature – I’ve made various narrative decisions for Wish You Were Here which separates it from all the stories we’ve seen before in this world. For instance: it very overtly takes the form of a diary – a very personal glimpse into the life of a single character in the midst of this horrific world, who addresses his words directly to the reader. So each episode (or sometimes each pair of episodes) forms a self-contained journal entry. That way I can make episodes pretty dense with action (I hate decompression!), but readers won’t feel they’re being forced to try and remember huge amounts of plot over long periods, just to grasp what’s going on. It’s all easily digestible, but constantly building towards climactic moments.
There are various other weirdo departures from “the norm” I’ve made too – blocks of off-panel text, repeated motifs, carefully-structured flashbacks to the various characters’ origins, etc… not to mention that the main character is essentially a version of myself, complete with comic book-writing background and peaceful life in London, whose story diverges sharply from my own on the day the Crossed first arrived. It’s not some big wanky metafictional gimmick; just an emotionally-honest response to imagining how it must feel to try and live in this wretched, futureless world. How do you cling to your humanity when there’s precious little of it left around you? How do you survive when nothing in your life has ever prepared you for the simple, everyday practicalities of living – let alone living in constant terror? And above all how do you maintain the drive to live – to go on – when all the things you’ve ever cherished, all the people you’ve ever loved, and all the creative and expressive things you did to feel valued as a person, have been decimated and rendered irrelevant?
PW: Describe the working relationship you had with the artist (Javier Barreno) in making this new project. Did you guys just talk, email, Skype?
SS: Not a lot of direct communication, actually. There’s obviously a language barrier issue – all the scripts are translated for Javier before he draws them – but he’s knocked everything out of the park so far. Obviously there are huge time pressures involved in the production of a weekly comic, so we’ve established a really efficient relationship to keep things flowing. Because of the screen/tablet “landscape” format we’re using, the size and layout of panels is a very important part of the system. Often I’ll incorporate thumbnails into the script to guide Javier towards how I envisage things – which I think saves him some time – but there’s always the caveat that he’s entitled to go “off piste” and do things his own way if he wants. On the few occasions he’s done so, he’s found storytelling solutions which blow my own out of the water.
His particular knack, I think, is for faces and expressions. That’s a vital tool in a setup like Wish You Were Here, with a large cast of characters and a plethora of different personality-types.
PW: Will you be attending any conventions in 2012 so that fans can meet and greet you?
SS: Nothing 100% solid yet, but I’m usually able to make it out for one or two US shows every year (NYCC’s been my con of choice for a few years – and not just because of my creepy obsession with NY pizza) so I’m sure people will get the chance to scream and shout at me in person at some point. Plus – being based in London – I’ll inevitably be doing all the UK conventions. Or, more realistically, I’ll be in whichever pubs are nearest to the UK conventions, which is just how us rotten-toothed liver-bothering limies roll.
You can check out Wish You Were Here by visiting the Crossed web site.
More information about Crossed can be found at the Avatar Press web site.
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