In 2013, Curt Pires exploded onto the comics scene with Pop, a four issue miniseries about corporations that synthesize our popular culture and what happens when one of these synthetic pop stars goes rogue. Now, Curt Pires is back with The Tomorrows. It’s a bigger and more explosive spiritual successor to Pop about the purpose of art as a weapon against a society governed by corporations who quantify and exploit its citizens. As artists, poetic terrorists, heroes, and villains, The Tomorrows are what happens when you mix the murky moral compass of The Invisibles with the violent and eye-catching aesthetic of Andy Warhol.
Recently, I had a chance to talk about The Tomorrows with Curt and his series editor, Dave Marshall.
Alex Lu: So, what’s The Tomorrows about?
Curt Pires: The Tomorrows is about our future. It’s set in a surveillance state where the government and big corporations use our personal data against us and where art is illegal. Greed has triumphed over social good. This society is the disease, and The Tomorrows are the cure.
Lu: In your interview with comicbook.com, you call them ” Artists. Poetic Terrorists. Heroes. Villains.” Are The Tomorrows ethically ambiguous?
Pires: It’s like The Matrix or The Invisibles. The Tomorrows are trying to free everyone, and they’re trying to make the world more beautiful in the process. They do consider how violent their process is, and so I’m not even positing that they’re really the good guys. They’re just another perspective.
In other interviews, I’ve said that you can’t simply say they’re heroes or terrorists. It’s not black and white. They’re the main characters of the book, but, ethically speaking, if you don’t agree with what they’re doing you would not consider them good people.
Dave Marshall: Art is a weapon in this world, both metaphorically and literally. As we see in some of the issues, it’s a force that can enact change in a very concrete way in sort of opposition to this police state that has been created out of our social media identity.
Lu: Prior to this, you both collaborated on Pop. How is the working process between the two of you?
Pires: It’s really smooth. When it comes to comics, I like to write challenging things, and there is always a learning curve when I’m working with a new editor. However, Dave has always been super cool. Pop is the comic that got me into the industry, which means that he was the first one to really take a chance on my voice.
Marshall: The reason I like to work with Curt is because he takes risks. His scripts and his storytelling are ambitious. When I approach his scripts or outlines, I just try to ask thoughtful questions about what I read. I’ll say “Hey, I don’t understand this” or “I need some help connecting the dots here.” However, I never present any sort of mandates to Curt about what he should do next. I try to let it be a dialogue and just go along for the ride.
Lu: What struck you first about Curt’s pitch for The Tomorrows?
Marshall: It felt like a evolution of the work that we did together on Pop. Pop is a very personal story about two characters, and through their individual experiences, Curt illuminates some things about the world we live in. The Tomorrows launches off of similar themes, but from right out of the gate, it’s much more ambitious.
Lu: How has the expansion of your story’s scope affected your writing process, Curt? How is writing a large group of characters different from writing about a few characters at a time?
Pires: When you have two characters, it’s a lot easier to give everyone some time to have a moment. With The Tomorrows, one of the challenges is making sure I give everyone a chance to shine. When I write an issue, I try to make sure that I give each character a moment. Sometimes that’s not possible due to size limitations, but a lot of times, I’ll give a moment to one set of characters and then realize that I haven’t given this other group their moment, so I switch it up.
Most of the time, when I write scripts, I’ll write absolutely nothing and then it will all come to me. I’ll be at the laptop from like 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. or whatever just typing and riding that wave. Afterwards I have to go and make it readable to other humans and fix it. I do a couple passes before I send stuff off.
Lu: Let’s talk about the characters for a second. Who are the Tomorrows?
Pires: We have two leads. Our male lead is a character named Claudius. He’s gruff, but he’s also really intelligent. At the start of the story, he’s the leader of the Tomorrows. The other main character is Zoey. She works as a comic book artist even though it’s illegal, and she joins up with the Tomorrows in issue one. She’s the reader’s eyes into this world and she serves as the point of view character because all the Tomorrows are so used to doing all this crazy shit while she’s a lot more grounded and relatable. However, over time, she ends up being really key to everything.
The other Tomorrows are Jiro, their best hacker. Jason Copland, the artist for issue one, gave him an Akira-style cape and a mohawk. There’s Sasha, who looks like Janelle Monae wearing a superhero mask and carrying a giant gun. There’s other Tomorrows all over the world, too. One of the characters who we sort of see around, but I won’t talk about too much, is the guy who actually founded the Tomorrows. We expand upon his story a bit in issue four. His story takes place in the past, the future, and a location outside of time.
Lu: How long is the first arc going to be?
Pires: It’s six issues, and then if it does well enough, I would like to do another six issue season to wrap things up. So far, all the issues have been oversized; they’re closer to thirty pages than to twenty. Thus, I think twelve issues will cover the story I want to tell. It’s always a challenge, but I think we can do pretty well in terms of sales, and I think the book will be critically well received. Dark Horse has always been pretty cool about supporting my stuff, so I think that if we do a good job with this first arc, we’ll get to finish our story.
Lu: One of the interesting parts of The Tomorows is its rotating group of artists. Every issue features a new illustrator. What’s it like to have to change your writing style to suit so many different illustrative forms?
Pires: It’s been fun. I just write what I really want to see the artists draw. I picked each one for the issue I thought they would be the strongest fit for and let the book serve as a showcase for their skills. I don’t try to make anyone draw anything they wouldn’t find fun to draw.
So, Issue #1 is Copland, and he’s drawn most of my comics so far because we click in an amazing way. I know he can draw basically anything I write into a script, so I went wild in that issue. In my initial outline, #1 was actually three separate issues. It’s pretty dense, and it was the hardest to crunch. Luckily, I had Jason so I could just go for broke.
When I write for Jason, I’ll do scene transitions in the middle of pages, and I don’t do that for anyone else. When Jason and I work together, we trend towards a chaotic style of storytelling.
Pires: Issue two is Alexis Ziritt, and he’s one of the most metal illustrators in comics. I was thinking, “I’d love to see Alexis draw a particularly vicious fight scene where huge dudes are beating the loving shit out of each other and we’re not sugar coating it,” So I wrote that for him. Alexis grew up in a favela in Venezuela, and so when I had him illustrate scenes that take place in a favela, he brought his own personal experiences into it. Obviously, I’m never going to write a totally authentic favela comic because I never lived in one, but Alexis and I talked about it and he basically told me to fucking go for it, so I did.
Issue three’s artist is Ian McEwan, who is really good at drawing cityscapes. We gave him an issue in Tokyo that is particularly crazy. Then, Issue four is Andrew Maclean who is like James Harren and Mike Mignola had a baby. I could really write anything for him. Five is going to be Liam Cobb, who is drawing a story mostly set in space. He is really good at drawing spaceships, so his issue has a bunch of that stuff in it. Finally, six features a newcomer named Kevin Zeigler, who is really kinetic and throws ink around.
Lu: Cool. That sounds awesome. I can’t remember a book where the artist is rotated so rapidly before.
Pires: Global Frequency was probably the big one for me where I noticed the approach. But, yeah, it doesn’t happen a lot in comics so it’s fun to do.
Lu: Is Global what inspired you to do that?
Pires: I think it was the first thing I read that did that. Another book that did it but did it a little differently was Northlanders. They did that. And then Grant just did it on his book, The Multiversity, which was cool. The Multiversity is the closest it’s been done in the way that we’re doing it because our stories are not grounded at all. My friend Alex Kot also did it on his book ZERO, but again, that was close to the Global Frequency because they’re both spy stories.
Lu: Dave, has it been a challenge coordinating work with so many different artists?
Marshall: Honestly, not really. All of these guys are pros. Curt built a relationship with each of them before we started the project, and I think it’s great that Curt has built a team of artists that are as ambitious as he is as a writer. That’s one of the things that is going to make The Tomorrows stand out on the shelf.
We’re in such a writer-driven moment for the comics industry, I get it. Comics are about story and the writers create the stories. However, the artists matter too, and The Tomorrows is going to showcase and put a spotlight on what a great visionary, cutting edge artist can bring to the table. Collaboration and partnership is key to a truly innovative and groundbreaking book.
Lu: So Curt’s written a meta-treatise about art that highlights its illustrations.
Marshall: Yeah. I see that a lot in the work, in the scripts, and in the art. Sort of what I was trying to say earlier about art’s role in the story. We have a lot of things that are sort of both literal and metaphorical. I think that’s a great challenge for the reader and is exciting and enticing.
Lu: What is the role that art and stories have played in your lives? Curt, you’ve written several stories about the nature of art. You did Pop. You’re doing The Tomorrows. You have a series called Fiction coming out with BOOM!, too.
Pires: Yeah, Fiction is actually out the month before The Tomorrows, so it’s going to be a big one-two punch. That is a really sprawling question. Where I grew up, Calgary, is like Texas of Canada, and that didn’t really jive with me. Reading comics and art and consuming stuff like that made me realize that there’s this whole other world out here without crazy capitalists in cowboy hats. I find that I’ve learned more from art and books and the Internet than I ever learned in school, and I think you can pick up on some of my disdain for conventional education in my work. I learned how to live through art and comic books. It shaped my whole ethos…just experimenting. I don’t think there’s any set rule to making art or it’s even living at all. Art opened my mind to things.
Lu: What was the art that you grew up with that inspired you?
Pires: In high school, it was Vertigo. The Morrison/Milligan stuff and then, outside comics, Andy Warhol stuff. You read it and realize you can use your art to make yourself whoever you want to be. You can totally transform your existence through art. You learn that the rules everyone told you that you had to follow are all just constructed by people that want to make you small or want to wield power over you. Making comics has been the way that I push through that.
Lu: What were the Vertigo books that you were reading at the time? Was this when Sandman was coming out?
Pires: No, no. I was reading the stuff after it was already out. I wasn’t really reading comics when the Vertigo stuff was just dropping. It was definitely the Morrison and Milligan books. A lot of the Milligan stuff wasn’t even from Vertigo. His X-Force run with Mike Allred was particularly influential on me because it critiqued celebrity and reality TV culture.
Preacher is a weird one for me because it’s a book about America and Garth Ennis seems pretty conservative. There’s a lot of weird macho bullshit in Preacher, but there’s also a lot of incredible sweetness and love to the way it’s constructed.
The Morrison stuff was really huge for me. Stuff like The Invisibles. I like The Filth, but I think it’s ultimately too nihilistic for me. I consciously drift towards nihilism, so I don’t like reading things that make me feel even more nihilistic and shitty about the world. Doom Patrol was a huge influence, too. The Tomorrows has all this meta-stuff about art in it and Doom Patrol is maybe the only other comic I’ve read that’s like that, where art is like a character in the comic.
Lu: So The Tomorrows is really about the art coming to life in a lot of ways.
Pires: It’s about three million things. It’s not just one thing, but it’s about literally everything under the sun. It’s like me jumping into a giant pool of ideas and just being about, “Okay, how do I make a story of this?” Literally as I read it, I keep thinking all of these new things and how the story is growing. The true story is just like immersing myself in this chaos and just finding the narrative in it. It’s the craziest comic book I have ever worked on. It’s the most fun, too.
Marshall: When we talk about comics that have a lot of big ideas, it’s very natural to talk about how these are books that make you think. I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about The Tomorrows is that it’s a series that makes you feel. It’s an emotional enterprise. You connect with these characters on an emotional level. That gives you, I think, access to those ideas and access to that world in a more fundamental way.
Pires: Yeah, I agree with you. One thing I noticed as a reader before I wrote comics was most books have a lot of big ideas but they kind of leave you feeling cold because they didn’t spend enough time making you care about the characters. So when I write comics, I’m always trying to not do it that way. I’m glad it’s worked so far.
Lu: I think one of the most difficult aspects of writing comics is getting your audience invested in the characters as much as they’re invested in the plot. Writers and artists only have a certain number of pages per month and in the case of mini-series, a certain number of issues to work with. It’s not like novels, where you can write a three thousand page treatise that allows even the most inconsequential character to get an internal monologue. How do you economize that space? How do you make sure that you get those emotional beats in while simultaneously accounting for the amount of action that has to go into each issue?
Pires: Well, I can make you care for these characters in a single page if I’m doing my job correctly. That’s the magic of comics. It’s not really about the space; it’s about the quality of the writing.
Marshall: I think the economy is actually a benefit because those page limits force you to get to the heart of the matter. When you have a limitless canvas, you are really at risk of ending up with an endless, empty sprawl. The economy of space is one of the things I really love about comics. I think it works on the audience in similar ways to cinema, but it’s poetic. It provides those frozen moments in time so that you build the movie in your mind. When executed correctly, it can create a more personal experience than perhaps any other medium.
Lu: When you are writing, Curt, or when you are editing, Dave, do you ever feel like you have to kill your darlings? Like you have to sacrifice these little moments just because they don’t happen to fit into what you are doing, even though they may be great in the abstract?
Pires: Not really. But there was one scene in Pop that took a place at a Roland Emmerich pool party that I wish would have made into the story.
Marshall: I think that’s a good example. Sometimes things just don’t fit into the whole that you are building. You have to recognize that. I think that in the end, the whole ends up stronger when you cut off those dangling limbs that maybe could have grown into something if the story was going in that direction. You have stay focused.
Pires: Yeah, I’m mostly joking about that scene. It was the right move to cut it. It was an interesting scene.
Lu: What I thought was interesting about the pitch for The Tomorrows and what I’ve read about it was how it sort of took the opposite approach to art that Pop takes. Pop shows art as a tool of the corporation. It’s sort of like Brave New World where you kill people with kindness. And The Tomorrows instead just has corporation ban entirely, sort of a 1984 totalitarian thing. Do you see the future of art in real life progressing in either direction? Do you fear for the future of art?
Pires: That’s the one part of the story that’s the most exaggerated. I don’t think you can ever make art illegal because there isn’t even really a consensus for most people on what art is. It can literally be anything. That’s kind of where I took the biggest leap with writing the story. I think where the world headed is more in terms of the surveillance stuff and the complete convergence of government and corporate interests. How all of our social media stuff will reach a point where everything we’ve ever shared on the cloud or the Internet will be used against us by these people who are controlling this information.
Lu: I know you’ve said this a few times, but this book really is just as much about the technological element as it’s about the art itself.
Pires: Yeah, it’s about both things. A lot of it feels like me trying to write my way out of the bad future I think we’re heading towards. We’ll see if it works. I get this sense of existential horror when I just read or see some of this stuff. So it’s me trying to write a better future into this comic. And the characters are also trying to achieve the same goal. So that’s another meta-fiction layer where it’s like I’m working with them to make the future better. And all the readers I also feel like are members of the Tomorrows because they’re supporting this counterculture art object. Thus, the line between the story and the world we live in just keeps getting thinner and thinner.
Lu: Do you think we can escape our future? Right now, we’re being quantified and qualified through our social media data. We know this, and we may not like it, but we also can’t separate ourselves from social media because it’s how we plan our day. It’s how we interact with our relatives. It’s how we do everything nowadays. What’s the solution?
Pires: This comic book. This comic book is going to fix everything.
Really, I don’t know. It’s not an easy question to answer, and I’m writing this comic because it’s not easy to answer this question through conversation, writing, or conventional language in general. It’s always easier for me to communicate through comics. I’m not afraid of conversation, but I always find it easier to talk about my most abstract thoughts through comics.
I feel like a lot of people are like, “Uh…” You can’t have these conversations with everyday people. It’s increasingly rare to find people who are thinking about the world they live in. Maybe that sounds shitty for me to say, but I just feel like more and more people I run into don’t think about the future or what anything means outside of their specific life’s narrative. So, this comic becomes the easiest way for me to open up a dialogue with a large group of people.
Marshall: As a reader, I don’t like didactic writing. I don’t like writing that tries to force a point of view on me. I think one of the things that has always resonated with me about Curt’s work is that his books are about asking the questions. It’s not necessarily about giving us the answers. It’s about asking the questions and making us think about those questions.
Lu: Dave, you’ve been in the industry for about a decade now as an editor. How has the experience been for you?
Marshall: Tremendous. I got into this business because I loved comics. When I started out, I didn’t say, “I want to be a comic editor.” I didn’t even really think there were comic editors. If I did, I didn’t know what their job was. But even though I sort of backed my way into it over a series of steps through my career, I really feel at home in this position at Dark Horse. I feel like I’m really contributing to a medium that I love. It’s tremendously rewarding.
Lu: How has the industry changed over the time that you have been there? Where do you see it heading?
Marshall: Well, I think anyone who opens the previous catalogue lately realizes that we’re living in a tremendous renaissance of original ideas. It’s not that there weren’t original series or creator-owned books ten years ago, but there certainly weren’t as many, and they certainly weren’t at the forefront of the industry. Marvel and DC are still major players and they still have the biggest piece of the pie in the direct market. However, a lot of energetic new people are coming into the industry and writing books that fit into many different genres, and I’m very excited about that. I think that they’re the future of comics.
Lu: Do you see the audience continuing to grow?
Marshall: I think so. We got our first sort of hints of that a few years ago when digital publishing became a reality. Prior to that, there was a lot of fear that digital was going to eliminate print and put all of these comic shops out of business and all this other stuff. And then when it actually arrived, it turned out that the digital platform was additive rather than divisive.
It brought in more readers and the audience that you were generating through digital comics actually brought more people to print as well. I think that was a very concrete reminder that for every person that reads comics, there are a lot of people out there that don’t read comics. We’re not just fighting over this same group of people. There are always more people that we can bring into the fold.
Lu: Final thoughts?
Pires: Well, I’ll just step in and shamelessly plug The Fiction as well because that is out in June. I’m really happy with how that book is turning out, too. My collaborator on that book is David Rubin, who is immensely talented. It’s about these children who discover that when they read certain books, they can travel to whatever world the books is describing. One day, one of the children goes missing inside of a book, and it starts a decades-long mystery.
Lu: Cool. Congratulations on all of the books you have coming out!
Pires: I’m excited! A lot of that is a result of Pop happening at Dark Horse, so it all connects. I’m definitely really appreciative of Dark Horse, and of Dave in particular, for supporting my voice.
Marshall: I’ll return the gratitude and say that I’m really grateful that Curt came to Dark Horse and trusted us with his baby. We’re already talking about what might be next. Like I said to Curt, I hope this is just the beginning of a long term partnership between Dark Horse and Curt.
Pires: Not to kiss Dark Horse’s ass or whatever, one thing that I love about working with Dark Horse is I can bring them an idea and it’s never about whether they can make a movie out of it. They just ask: “will this be an awesome comic?”
They’re really supportive of crazy boundary-pushing ideas. When I say, “I want to make every issue twenty-eight pages and have it all be designed by Dylan,” who is not an employee of Dark Horse, they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Conversely, other companies I’ve worked with say, “No, sorry, we’ve got to use our in-house.” So just really supportive, cool, full of ideas, and lots of love for comics.
The Tomorrows #1 comes July 8th, 2015!