Michael Bettendorf for Comics Bulletin: Hey guys, how’s it going? Thanks for sharing Indoctrination #1 with me. The hype is well deserved.
I ‘spose I’ll just jump right in. The atmosphere of Indoctrination hit me in the chest from the get-go, so much so that the setting is almost a character in and of itself. Part of that comes from the political undertones that seep onto the page through the setting and dialogue. Could you talk about that some, how that materialized from the script and the visual decisions that went into it?
Matt Battaglia: Thanks for reading it, man. Atmosphere and tone were the first two things we talked about when starting in on this book. It’s pretty crucial to the story we’re telling. We want the reader to get into the right kind of fearful headspace. Visually, we wanted the opening to be this miserable crack of dawn experience for the characters, like you’re rolling up on this scene just as the sun is coming up – it’s just miserable and you’re staring down at a corpse. This continues in issue #2 and for the rest of the book, I try to change the tone of the palette in each scene. So, the opening is really warm and then we cut to this super cold jail cell.
Michael Moreci: I think what’s also going on is the way Matt and I, especially Matt, are breaking down every page. Everything at first is indirect and fragmented, reflecting the mindset of our characters. These are not stable people we’re dealing with, and we wanted to reflect that are strongly as possible on the page itself. We’re trying to take as many risks as possible, in the story itself and the ideas we’re presenting, but also in how the story is being told.
CB: Absolutely. You two are doing a lot in respect of ideas as well as construction of each page. Matt, your panel structures often stray from typical six or nine panel grids. There’s unique panel density and use of white space in the gutters of the page. Could you tell us a little bit about these decisions?
Battaglia: Mike and I originally discussed just wanting to have pages that are generally super dense and tight. Claustrophobic. Which allows us to then do pages like in the first issue with Denton where we flip it and you can really feel the void. I do have a pretty strict grid that I start from – in that I have a set guide grid in my page template, and then I riff from there. In issue 2 we play with the structure even more. Since this is really my first foray into doing full comics – it’s been a learning process for me and Mike’s been helping push me from my comfort zone.
Mike, you’ve never been one to shy away from political and social themes. You typically grab ‘em low and force them to reveal themselves. Burning Fields was critical of privatized military operations and meddling in things we ought not to meddle in. Could you talk about the fuel for Indoctrination?
Moreci: Absolutely. See, for me it’s all about political and cultural ideologies. In my mind, we’re all indoctrinated in one way or another. Meaning, we all, at least to some degree, adhere to the norms of our family, our church, our community at large, etc. And those norms differ from place to place, family to family. And adhering to them, it’s totally fine—we all do it. The problem is when those norms get radical. The even BIGGER problem is when radicalized norms become mainstream.
It’s funny, because as the book is getting more and more exposure, I’m seeing lots of references to ISIS, and while I think that’s apt, no one has mentioned how radical the U.S.’s mainstream politics have become and the violent effects that radicalization is engendering. The book is just as much about that as it is ISIS or any other death cult. I mean, just because Trump doesn’t identify himself as a cult leader, doesn’t make him any less so—or any less dangerous. And that, right there, is the heart of Indoctrination. Radicalism in all forms, and its deadly consequences.
Battaglia: The thing that makes this book so much fun to work on, is that Mike and I are both (I think) plugged in. Indoctrination is very much a synthesis of a wide variety of topics and arguments and discussions that we’ve gotten into. I think it lends the book a pretty wide variety of thoughts. To add to Mike’s points about the fears of radicalization – I’d say that the way people build and maintain their ideological bubbles creates a rich ground for you to view your political ‘rivals’ as enemies, we’ve stop trying to bother to understand one another and it’s become a search for whichever strongman will enforce the wills of your chosen group.
CB: Oh certainly. Wilkins lays it all out when he says, “…that way, it’s not the person who’s poisoned – it’s the faith.” That idea brings out an interested duality that can be seen or attached to any set of ideals. Like you said Mike, it’s ever-present in radicalized mainstream media. Muslims, or anyone that simply looks like they are from the Middle East, are lumped and judged together when a small, radical percentage performs atrocities. Christians are viewed as Bible-thumping, right-wing, homophobes, xenophobes, etc. Liberals are gun hating hippies that want to live in a free, drug-filled society where people can do whatever makes them happy. Conservatives are gun toting, uneducated people who only care about themselves. I could go on and on. But these sorts of views are what are presented in the media. One drop poisons the well, right?
It turns the responsibility and focus away from the individual and points the blame at the faith/ideals. That, in turn, breeds fear and hate. Fear mongering is a huge tool and we’re seeing that in our current political climate. It’s terrifying.
The other side of this coin, is that all ideals, faiths – and of course, cults – have the propensity to be breeding grounds for this type of thinking. One could argue that while sure, it isn’t the faith that is bad, it’s the person, one has to consider if the faith/ideals are still part of the problem due to the very nature of them. Which I suppose, brings me to my next question.
You play with the idea of blurring the line between right and wrong in Indoctrination. There’s a thick fogginess of gray between the black and white. How does that tie into your thinking for indoctrination as a construct, but also for Indoctrination as a story?
Moreci: I’d say we’re all indoctrinated in one way or another. Into family customs and traditions, church morals, community rules and standards, etc. We’re born into a certain way of thinking, all of us, and that’s okay. Strong communities and families are essential for the health and well-being of our own selves and the entire world.
The problem comes when pervasive thinking becomes radicalized and destructive. I mean, think about Trump. What’s this guy’s strength? Besides being a fucking con man, he has a unique ability that all cult leaders have—the ability to tap into the anger and vulnerabilities of people. They prey on people at their worst, and when you do that, well, you get people not only thinking at their worst, but acting at their worst as well. Unfortunately, we live in an angry world right now—times are changing, and people are having a really, really hard time accepting certain aspects of our evolving culture. And many of our leaders, instead of inspiring people to be better and ensuring that the world is changing for the good, are entrenching themselves with the people’s anger because, well, it’s easier. Trump is just the extreme example because the shit he says is so crazy and overtly racist that it’s beyond even the worst of our politicians.
The same goes for other, more dangerous and deadly cults. It’s all about exploitation and promising a better world to come. ISIS wants to tear down the world and build it anew (that’s literally their doctrine); Trump wants to make America great again. But the road to these alleged utopias are littered with hatred, anger, and bloodshed. I don’t know how anyone can create a perfect world under such conditions. It’s like I said in Burning Fields—you can’t kill your way to peace. Same thing in Indoctrination—you can’t hate your way to utopia.
Battaglia: I’d just step in and state that American culture has basically lifted up the government and politics as the ultimate religion, which is frightening. We’ve handed so much power and control over to agencies which the people have no control over, a Congress that general works to perpetuate itself, and Presidents with unchecked power. People are pissed, because their rights are trampled upon regularly, you have a police force that’s mostly unchecked, we’ve given up a litany of civil liberties in order to feel “safe”. However – the most scary thing, to me, is that the wave that’s coming – the solutions that are being espoused by Clinton and Trump are to bring more government. To take more control. Society continues to give up freedoms to feel “safe”, the American notion of individual liberties has been superseded by identity politics that aim to force people into broad groups based on surface level qualities. As you said – we’ve gotten to this place where if you disagree with someone you simplify them down to whichever -ist you’d like to label them and then you can happily walk on never bothering to understand. It’s this attitude of dismissing those you disagree with as some kind of stereotype that leads people to supporting Trump, because he is the greatest kind of F-you to that notion.
CB: Well said. That way of thinking is contradictory, but those types of leaders are able to twist it to make their followers believe that it’s ok, that there’s nothing wrong with it. Or in more dangerous scenarios – that it’s the only way. Trump’s whole, “tell it like it is” mindset is comical because it’s all lies. It’s not how it is. It’s how he wants his followers to believe how it is. Then of course, the blame game comes into play. It’s all a big game of misdirection, elaborate parlor tricks.
I don’t have much of a transition here Mike, but I have to ask about the lion. Trent seems to have some ghosts from his past haunting him. It’s a case he’s still bent up about. What can you tell us about Trent and the Lion’s Den?
Moreci: Wellll…there’s not much I can say here. Let’s just say that the tattoos and what they mean are important to the threat that’s being encountered, and equally important to Trent and Georgia’s history. Especially Trent. Just remember—no one is exactly who they say they are…
Battaglia: YEP. Also – there will definitely be a usage of a lyric from Springsteen’s Lion’s Den on one IFC.
CB: Right on! We certainly get a glimpse of that early on with Wilkins and Huxom. I suspect that Wilkins will grow on me. This idea is crucial to the mystery genre. I think back to TV shows like Twin Peaks and Broadchurch, where so much of the story rests in people hiding who they truly are. The setting is huge in these types of shows as well. In both mentioned TV shows, the story takes place in small, close-knit towns where everybody knows everybody. Tell us about the setting for Indoctrination. Any particular reason you chose Texas/the South?
Battaglia: Huxum’s my favorite. I think he’s generally speaking most in line with my world view. Let’s just say things get crazy! I’ve got family in San Antonio, but the location plays more into the narrative as we go on – however to say too much would be telling.
Moreci: For sure, there are specific reasons for choosing Texas, logistically, but there’s something about Texas that has that really American feel to it. I think that’s a big part of the book, that sense of Americana.
CB: I’m interested in how things are going to unfold. You two have the foundation to a fascinating thriller going for you. Before we wrap up, is there anything else about Indoctrination you fellas want to talk about? What other projects are you excited about or working on?
Battaglia: There’s more I could say – but I think I’ve ranted enough for one interview. At the moment I’m just trying to get Indoctrination wrapped and make it the best book I can produce. I think my art’s getting better with each successive issue.
Moreci: Right now, I’m chipping away at my novel (due out from St. Martin’s in 2017) and writing a few secret DC projects; I’m having the time of my life doing both, I kid you not.
CB: Right on, guys. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for those projects. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules to talk to me about Indoctrination. It’s always a pleasure. One more thing before I let you go – As a longtime fan of Roche Limit, I want to say congratulations as the final chapter came to a close this past week.
Indoctrination #1 dropped in June from Z2 Comics. Make sure to talk to your LCS to add this to your pull list. You won’t regret it.