Sci-Fi Averse to Hollywood — And Not By The Numbers

Rolling out new titles in the March PREVIEWS catalog, Titan Comics’ Numbercruncher #1 (MAR131298) debuts from writer Simon Spurrier (SS) and artist P.J. Holden (PJ) as a new sci-fi series that blurs the lines between sci-fi and…reincarnation…possibly. Both creators took a few minutes to talk to us about their new book, and what they really think about the afterlife…as best can be described to a Hollywood producer.


PREVIEWSworld: So do either of you have an interest in near death experiences or paranormal activities, and that's what helped give birth to Numbercruncher?

PJ: Oh I have no interest in the paranormal. Well, that's not accurate, I'm not a believer - I'm a pretty solidly sceptical humanist, so the idea of an after life holds no fascination for me other than as a really fun fictional playground.

SS: Yeah – it’s that hoary old distinction between fascination and credulity. I’m entranced by, obsessed with and (I like to think) pretty knowledgeable about afterlife and paranormal mythologies, though I’m depressingly sceptical about the lot of them.

PJ: There's a slew of movies that romanticize the afterlife, and they seemed to have dominated a major part of my childhood growing up (I blame the fact that, at the time there were only three channels, and they only showed movies from the 40s).

SS: Pretty bloody great movies too, right? Whether you’re a believer or not.  The supernatural, the metaphysical, the ontological: for me they all have unbeatable value as stories, as legends, as indicators of human instinct and emotion… but the second you start to take them at face value you’re exercising wishful-thinking in the place of rationality and your ability to tackle reality is automatically compromised.  You could say Numbercruncher – in which a rationalist bloke manages to cheat the afterlife – represents a kind of thematic revenge, like Proactive Agnosticism. But for one thing that’s way too wanky and deep for a story whose main character is called Bastard Zane, and for another thing there’s more than a little irrational sappiness operating as a story-device in later episodes too, so I’m basically as guilty of wishful thinking as anyone.

PREVIEWSworld: I read the description for this series and I immediately thought of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. Here's a story that looks to blow my mind because it deals with layers of reality that I never knew existed. So would you categorize such a story as sci-fi? New Age? How would you try to explain such a concept to a bunch of people sitting over lattes at the coffee shop?

SS: Oh God, that’s basically the toughest question there is. Like, part of the process of getting a project off the ground at every stage – finding an artist, getting a publisher, attracting attention, etc – relies on being able to succinctly describe it in terms everyone recognizes. The ubiquitous elevator pitch, right? Which is slightly sad, in my opinion, because the world is full of amazing ideas which aren’t like anything else, which get ignored because they can’t be described as X-Meets-Y.  In genre terms I think the closest I’ve ever come to fully describing Numbercruncher is that it’s a time-twisting metaphysical crime-noir romantic comedy thriller sci-fi – ie: it’s everything there is – which is sort of cheating.  PJ’s better at this stuff than me, I think.

PJ: It's a love story told from the point of view of the bad guy. I think it's a surprisingly simple tale told in an entirely non-linear and mind bogglingly fun way. It takes a pretty old fashioned idea of the afterlife as a place where a soul is measured, and your life is found to be wanting or not and updates it for a world which expects a little more sci with their fi. But, if you want to hammer it to a single genre, it's actually a rom-com. Of sorts.


SS: See? I told you he was better at that stuff.  As for the plot – a superquick précis – it goes something like: A mathematician dies tragically young, and is so determined to be reunited with the woman he loves that he strikes a deal with the agents of the afterlife so he can manipulate his own reincarnation. But they realize too late he’s cheating on the deal, and so it falls to one such agent – the surly Bastard Zane – to try and put a stop to the time-twisting romance before it breaks the rules of reality in half.

There’s a lot more to it than that, natch, but the elevator just went “ping” and this slick Hollywood producer guy is already looking confused, so let’s leave it there.

PREVIEWSworld: What served as the inspiration for this subject matter? Is this some sort of new strain of quantum physics, or were there other text books and screenplays you bounced off one another to jumpstart your respective creative engines?

PJ: This is Si's baby, so he can fill you in on the front, for me though, what attracted me to it was the chance to work with Si on something that I knew would be a great deal of fun and, as I've said, I've always had a soft spot for after-life romance movies (I'm talking more "A Matter of Life and Death" than "Twilight" here).

SS: This project will always have a soft-spot for me, in inspiration terms, because it arrived fully-formed in my mind. I was cycling along a stretch of coastline in Spain and bang: MAN DIES YOUNG, CHEATS THE REINCARNATION-SYSTEM TO BE REBORN ALONGSIDE HIS LOVER, THE UNIVERSE TRIES TO STOP HIM, AND--…  Well, I can’t say more without spoiling later episodes, but it was all there: even down to the massive twist. That almost never happens. Afterwards it was just a case of putting flesh on the bones, which I guess is the point at which all the style-influences kicked in. I always wanted to do a story with a character like Marv from Sin City – unstoppable, implacable, not particularly bright, but with a rough sort of romance deep down – so he became Bastard Zane: the operative sent by the Universe to put a stop to the time-twisting romance. It seemed too obvious for a metaphysical tale to revolve around occultism and Faustian pacts, so I subbed-in mathematics as a different set of existential rules. Every time I made an arbitrary stylistic choice it threw up a series of ramifications and possibilities which changed the plot. A very organic, and very effortless, evolution.


PREVIEWSworld: How has telling this story challenged you? What made it a blessing or burden at times?

SS: For all that the bare bones of the idea arrived fully-formed, it was mind-breakingly complicated to plot. The whole thing is this elaborate, multi-faceted gem made of action and consequence, so I spent at least as long annotating and plotting – to a level of extraordinary detail – before I even started scripting.

PJ: One of the hardest aspects has been the fact that the story is so non-linear. I mean, it's entirely linear from Zane's perspective, but there are inconsequential elements that turn out to be significant all the way through. There are no accidents.

SS: Precisely right. In fact one of the things I’m most proud about is that (I think) this is one of those stories where you read it through once and it’s satisfying and resonant and worthy and surprising – all the things a good story should be – and then you read it through a second time and realise it’s all there all along. Even the simplest, most throwaway panel will end-up playing another role later in the story.

It was a constant migraine for us to get everything in the right place, but I think it’s paid off: Numbercruncher isn’t some dumb effortless decompressathon book, but nor is it painfully challenging to read.

PREVIEWSworld: Ok. Spoiler time. As the last question, let us ask you to give us a peek about what lies ahead for issues #2 through #4 of Numbercruncher. If you do, we'll email you html ice cream. Give us a spin!

PJ: Issue 2 to 4. Things happen. Many, many, many things happen. And many of those things happen more than once...

Is that spoilerey/enigmatic enough?

SS: There’s a shark, a meteorite, some spontaneous human combustion, and in episode 3 an undead cat vomits-up the most potent quantum artefact in the Universe. Seriously. Oh, and there are Feels and stuff for the Tumblr crowd too.


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