Tartarus is a new sci-fi comic series published by Image, and created by writer Johnnie Christmas and artist Jack T Cole. Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows caught up with Christmas recently to talk exclusively about it…
TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis of the series?
JOHNNIE CHRISTMAS: I wanted to write something where cutting edge sci-fi, cartels and mythology went hand in hand. Also a story about family and legacy. It all started from the seed of an idea of an orphan (Tilde) learning she’s the kid of an infamous warlord (Surka). Somewhere along the way I thought it would be fun to collaborate with another artist on it and I was lucky enough to find the talented Jack T. Cole.
TW: You are mainly known as an artist rather than a writer. What made you decide to bring in someone else to draw this?
JC: I thought it would be fun to have the story interpreted, illuminated by someone else. Seen through someone else’s visual language. It just felt right for this project, I can’t explain it. Simply put, it’s not a project for Johnnie the artist, you know? It’s a project for Johnnie the writer.
TW: As an artist as well as a writer, do you create thumbnails for the artist or do you just provide a script?
JC: I do full scripts. As I’m writing I can see the panels in my mind’s eye: The character blocking and positioning, where the camera is, everything. Perhaps that comes from being an artist as well. But the trick is to not hammer that “complete” point of view into the script. There needs to be room for the artist to make a meaningful contribution. To make it their own. As a result, sometimes what comes back is spot on with what you saw when writing, other times it’s different, but a lot of the time, it’s better. I love the surprise of it.
TW: What made Image the perfect place to publish this?
JC: We have an ambitious plan for this story. At Image we can execute the plan exactly the way we want, from story to book design and presentation. There’s no interference in our vision, yet there’s support in making sure we have a presence in the direct, book and library markets. It’s very liberating and the proper place to present Tartarus.
TW: How did artist Cole come on board the series?
JC: I met Jack at VanCAF 2015. I saw his work on the show’s website and thought his lyrical yet hyper-detailed sensibility would be perfect for the project I had in mind. So we had lunch and that started a series of long convos, which enhanced the initial idea, made it stronger. We planted a lot of the seeds for the series in those early convos and it’s exciting to now have the opportunity to execute the plan.
TW: Visually, he draws in a very European style with a touch of Paul Pope. Is that part of what made him the perfect choice for the series?
JC: I wasn’t really looking for a certain “style” per se. I was looking for someone who had a unique visual language. The influences you sited are present in his work, yet his work is uniquely his own. You wouldn’t mistake Jack’s work for that of another artist. If Jack’s work manifested as a manga influenced style, a Steve Ditko 60’s style or even a German Expressionistic style it wouldn’t matter. His sensibility, how he tells a story and what he chooses to focus on as a visual storyteller is what speaks to me. Jack in a different “style” would still be perfect for Tartarus. Were as someone aping Jack’s style perfectly wouldn’t be.
TW: How closely did you collaborate with artist Jack T Cole?
JC: We’ll have a conversation once I start expanding the idea of an issue. Its plot and themes. We get on the same page. Then I’ll go off and script, hand it off, and he’ll go off and draw. So there’s an initial coming together then we leave each other alone to create.
TW: It’s a very ambitious series. Did you write a bible for the various worlds seen here?
JC: I keep most of the pertinent info in my head and various notebooks, but I don’t want to have everything figured out yet on the three worlds featured in the series. ‘Cause where’s the fun in that? Don’t get me wrong, it’s well defined. I’m fairly certain I know how many centimetres of rain falls on each of the worlds, but I’ll also pull back if I’m getting too granular at this point in the story. It’s a choice I realised I had to make while working on a serialised story. One can try to dictate everything to the story, or leave room for the story to speak for itself.
“I keep most of the pertinent info in my head and various notebooks, but I don’t want to have everything figured out yet on the three worlds featured in the series.”
TW: Image have called it Breaking Bad meets Star Wars. Can you offer any more details about the story as it progresses?
JC: Our characters will continue to grow, change and evolve in interesting ways. I can’t say too much at this point, it’s still early days. But our characters will go on quite a journey, inside and out. Sci-Fi with a mythic edge (Star Wars) + intense character growth and change (Breaking Bad).
TW: How far ahead have you plotted the series?
JC: I’ve loosely plotted a few arcs down the road, just so I have a map to where we’re headed. We know the destination, the end. But that’s big picture. As of this morning I’m working on Issue #7.
Tartarus is out now from Image Comics with #1 out now and #2 out in March.