I have to admit that we play favorites here on Comics Bulletin: we like to feature interesting work created by our friends. Geoffrey Wessel is a former writer for our site, which of course makes him a wonderful person in our eyes, but we're talking to him here not to reminisce about old times but to talk about the fantastic new series that he's launching in the digital-only new comics magazine Aces Weekly. Geoffrey has created a fascinating new series called "System S.H.O.C.K"; as you'll read in this interview, the series sounds fascinating and thoroughly entertaining.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: What is the main plot of "System S.H.O.C.K."?
Geoffrey Wessel: "System S.H.O.C.K." is basically the story of what happens when a techno-terrorist group along the lines of SPECTRE, Cobra, HYDRA, etc. has a bit of a change in upper management and decides to go in a different direction. After decades of sloganeering and failed attacks on key targets that seem to never get them anywhere, how does such a group achieve its goal, especially in this post-terrorism world we live in? That’s sort of what I’m trying to explore in this. A take on a well-worn trope that maybe needs a kick up the backside.
CB: What was your inspiration for the series?
Wessel: Several things actually. The two most immediate ones being A) an absolutely bad-ass Baron Strucker cosplayer that came to my table at C2E2 this past April. He did end up buying my comics so that might be why I regard him as well as I do, ha ha… There was also B) around that time, a tweet I saw from fantasy author Saladin Ahmed (Throne of the Crescent Moon) saying something along the lines of "You know, there still has not been a decent policy-based argument against Cobra." Something like that. It was great. The confluence of those two things is what really got me thinking. So thinking about many of the stereotypes inherent in groups like these, and how they were clearly meant to be, y’know, representations of whomever the USA or the UK were fighting against at the time (so, mostly the Eastern Bloc), and how that really just doesn’t fly anymore. I guess Cobra wasn’t necessarily like that but once they brought in Serpentor it all kinda went off the rails anyway…
CB: There's been a lot of comics that have explored the world of super-villains, mainly humorous. Your approach is more serious. What led to your approach?
Wessel: I’m not sure this is even really an exploration of super-villains per se, or if it is, it’s of one distinct subcategory of super-villains, which has more of its roots in '60s spy fiction and '80s military fantasy than superheroes. All that being said, it’s definitely a political sort of comic. I mean, right now I’m writing up the second serial of "System S.H.O.C.K." and, SPOILER!, it features an analogue of Golden Dawn, the Greek fascist party that’s sickeningly come to prominence in the last year or so. So, things like that don’t really, in my mind, lend itself to making with the Ha Ha. Or at least, maybe I don’t feel I have the comedy chops to approach it that way quite yet. I’m hoping that underneath "System S.H.O.C.K." it comes across as a very dark satire, but that’s not up to me to decide. One of my favorite villain pieces was Wanted, and it was satirical but not really comedy either. So maybe that’s what I’m shooting for.
(I will point out that I DO actually have another, humorous, all-ages geared super-villain story I want to do, but that’ll be for another day, I suppose.)
CB: How did you get connected with Neil Ford to work on the strip?
Wessel: Neil is someone I’ve known via the magick of the Internet for a few years now, it was at Whitechapel, or Weaponizer, or Millarworld, one of those, where we met, and I’ve wanted to do something with him a while. When the opportunity came up to do something for Aces Weekly, and I developed "System S.H.O.C.K.," I asked, he said he would, and that was that really. He’s fantastic, really. He deserves to be a breakout star, and I’m hoping this strip leads to great things for him.
CB: How did you approach creating the strip as a weekly and for reading in a tablet?
Wessel: Well, the format of Aces Weekly is a Volume of 7 "issues" over 7 weeks. So Volume 8, which debuts December 16, 2013, will feature "System S.H.O.C.K." as a 21-page serial over the seven weeks. So, I approached it as writing it as a full issue, with cliffhangers every third page to keep the readers coming. And the last page of the entire serial is a giant cliffhanger to bring everyone back for the NEXT serial, so on and so forth. Honestly, it’s a bit easier to space it out over three pages, whereas I was used to doing a cliffhanger on pretty much EVERY page when doing KEEPER as a webcomic.
As for getting it ready for tablet, that was more down to Neil. I tried to keep panels to a minimum as much as I could as that seems to be the Way of Digital: landscape style pages, but not as many panels as a Sunday newspaper strip. Easy for stacking two digital pages on top of one another to make one page worth of an American print comic. When I started Keeper, the original artist, Jeff Simpson, and I originally planned it this way, as we were submitting Keeper for DC’s now-defunct Zuda digital imprint at the time. When Zuda went under and we decided to do it ourselves, we switched to the full-page format, but got asked why we didn’t keep it the original way for digital? So, digital, bit of a learning curve eh? Going into it, in this case, knowing full well what the formatting is supposed to be, and will be ad infinitum, helped a lot. This is really the first time I’ve had to follow guidelines, edits, that sort of thing since I’m not self-publishing, David Lloyd is the publisher and it’s been a learning exper
ience. But one I’ve been enjoying. Guess I never knew I needed the structure!
CB: How did you get involved with Aces?
Wessel: Thereby hangs a tale. "How I Got In Touch With Half of the Team That Made One of my Favorite Graphic Novels Ever," by Geoffrey D. Wessel!
I first found out about Aces Weekly via an article at Bleeding Cool announcing it. Fair enough, except I happened to notice one of the solicited strips for the publication was called, ta da, "Keeper!" Well, I had, shall we say, some "professional concerns" about that. As it turns out, I have a good relationship with Phil Hester, who was also announced as having a strip in Aces, and he’s read Keeper, he’s even endorsed it, so he could back me up on this, I figured. I reached out to him, and asked if he could get me in touch with David Lloyd regarding this.
Within a few hours, I had an email from David Lloyd! He certainly was agreeable about the whole thing, and said he’d get in contact with the artist, Yishan Li. Half an hour later from THAT, I got Facebook friended and messaged from Yishan, and after discussion, she agreed, yeah, I got there with the title first, and with the fact her story involved a psycho killer of some kind, there would be the potential for confusion, so she agreed to change the title. The strip in question became "The Kept Woman."
The upshot of this is it really proved the whole "Don’t Be A Dick" principle, as I could have been a royal D-Bag about it, but since I wasn’t, not only did I make a couple of friends in Yishan and David, but hey, David was open to listening to ideas from me! I then sent one his way, but the artist had to bow out, so that one sat. Then "System S.H.O.C.K." germinated in my brain, I asked Neil, David agreed, and… well, here we are!
CB: If you could be any member of Cobra, who would you be?
Wessel: You know… I was never really a HUGE G.I. JOE fan. I mean, when I was young I actually bought #2 off the shelf at Jewel or Dominick’s, one of those. Who knows what happened to it. And yeah I kinda half watched the cartoon, it was what was on between Transfomersr and Robotech, so it was kinda there in the end. I remember I did read the Larry Hama comic at my friend’s house, his brother was a HUGE fan, had big dioramas of figures and vehicles, but he bought the comics sometimes, and I’d read them, and some of them were really really good! Oh yeah, the Warren Ellis cartoon was cool too. But overall, I was never a FAN of the whole thing.
That said, gotta be Destro. And Christopher Eccleston playing him has nothing to do with it at ALL.
CB: What do you hope that readers get out of this strip?
Wessel: Entertainment, enjoyment, and provoked thoughts. I hope they like this well enough to recommend to friends and bring new readers to Aces Weekly, and they come back for more. I hope they sing the praises of Neil Ford to the high heavens.
CB: I know this strip is scheduled for a short run in Aces; do you have longer plans in mind?
Wessel: Yes, this is just the first serial, the opening chapter. There’s a lot more to come, for as long as David will have the strip!
CB: How is it, sharing virtual pages with someone like David Lloyd?
Wessel: David’s been an absolute gem to work with and work under. This is someone who designed a pretty iconic image, one you see so far removed from the source comic material and out in the world, on the streets, and appreciates what it’s become a symbol of. I was very lucky to meet him in New York last month, we had some good talks about many things. I was even able to introduce him to Lance Parkin, the author of Magic Words, the new Alan Moore biography. David had actually rescanned the original "Falconridge" demo page that was a big part of the genesis of V for Vendetta for Lance, but I actually got the two face to face.
But it’s not just David, it’s so many others I’ve enjoyed reading over the years, and so many new talents too, and that makes Aces Weekly all worth it. I just consider myself lucky to be here, standing on the shoulders of giants.