BCP Interview – Jason Shawn Alexander and Darragh Savage talk EMPTY ZONE!

Cover to issue #6 - click to enlarge

Cover to issue #6 – click to enlarge

EMPTY ZONE from Image Comics is the brainchild of writer and artist Jason Shawn Alexander, and introduces us to Corinne White as she attempts to reconcile with the ghosts of her violent past. Literally.

The first arc, “Conversations With The Dead”, garnered some impressive critical acclaim, including right here at the Big Comic Page where Kieran gave the first volume a glowing five-star rating, saying “Alexander has created a dark, limitless world where anything is possible, worthy of hosting many stories for years to come. It’s a world you’ll want to revisit time and time again.”

Thankfully, we don’t have too long to wait until we can do just that, with the second arc set to kick off on March 16th with issue #6.  For this arc, Alexander will be joined by story editor Darragh Savage in a co-writing capacity, and we were absolutely thrilled to be able to sit down and have a chat with both Jason and Darragh about what to expect from the second as it moves forwards.

BIG COMIC PAGE: Thanks again to both of you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to answer our questions. Now, information on the second arc of Empty Zone is pretty scarce – care to tease us with some details of what to expect for Corrine in Berlin?

DARRAGH SAVAGE: For the second arc, we’ll continue the story we started in the first volume, as Corrine continues her vendetta against Oni, while taking the series to a new setting, Berlin, introducing some new characters and expanding the world of Empty Zone. Expect to see a doomed romance, an expert bounty hunter, and some terrifying creatures.

JASON SHAWN ALEXANDER: This second arc definitely takes Empty Zone a bit more into the horror arena. Also, we see that Corinne’s newly acquired “abilities” are growing. She’s no longer just seeing souls who are imprisoned in those reanimated bodies. She’s beginning to see that there is an entirely different world that she never knew existed. And the arc after this really takes everything we’re doing and explodes.

Interior artwork from issue #1 - click to enlarge

Interior artwork from issue #1 – click to enlarge

BCP: We never actually see Corrine kill Marcus at the end of the first arc, only that she promises to do so.  So… did she? ;)

JSA: Yes. Even though she would love to have her ex still around, seeing her friends trapped and suffering in their undead bodies is too much to allow to continue.

BCP: Jason, the first arc saw you being brave (or crazy) enough to take on this project in its entirety and the results have been fantastic.  Was it always your intention to provide both the writing and art?  Your style is incredibly detailed; I can imagine it is a real labour of love.

JSA: Comics has always been a labour of love for me. I had always intended to write and draw my own comics. Through the years, though, my focus shifted primarily to art with my gallery work and work-for-hire comics jobs. So when it came to my writing Empty Zone I wanted to have some talented eyes help me make sure I was producing a moving story without simply relying on my art. Darragh and I got on so well in the writer/editor capacity and we have so many similar aesthetics it was easy to ask him to write with me.

BCP: Darragh, can you explain a little about what your role was on the first arc, and what prompted the jump to co-writer on the series as it moves forwards?

DS: I came on board when Jason already had much of the first laid out: I mainly helped with tightening and streamlining what was there in the first issues. As working on a comic is more or less my dream job, I needed very little prompting! I would say that during the process of going over the first arc Jason and I hit it off creatively speaking, and working as co-writer on future issues proceeded pretty naturally out of that. Can’t underline enough how lucky I am to be working with an artist as good as Jason is.

BCP: Any plans on taking this step even further and penning your own series in the future?

DS: Yes, many plans (though only plans as of yet). In addition to some further projects that Jason and I have in mind, I have a few ideas that I hope I get the opportunity to make into a series at some point.

Interior artwork from issue #1 - click to enlarge

Interior artwork from issue #1 – click to enlarge

BCP: I can see so many influences in the world of Empty Zone, it’s almost as much fun picking them out as reading the story.  You’ve both managed to blend these in a way that doesn’t seem forced. In fact, it makes Corrine’s world distinctly unique.  What would you say your biggest influences are for Empty Zone, how much of this is deliberate, and how much is intuited on the fly?

DS: Jason can expand on the influences behind the original arc of Empty Zone, though it’s safe to say that PKD and William Gibson are big influences on both of us and the comic.

JSA: My influences for Empty Zone are literally everything I love from film, comics, music, books…. These things, and Empty Zone, have been in my head for the last 20 years. It would be impossible to list everything that helps flavor this world.

BCP: Comic book history is filled with incredible cyberpunk universes, and Empty Zone has created one of the best ones in recent memory.  What are some of your personal favourites outside of your own work?

DS: As for comics favorites, not sure if it falls under cyberpunk per se, but Transmetropolitan is one of my all-time favorite books, I’m also very partial to the cyberpunk manga of Tsutomu Nihei, specifically Blame!

JSA: Transmetropolitan was a story I was definitely envious to draw. Ghost in the Shell was effective as well. I don’t know if I know of too many cyberpunk books. Sci-fi, sure, but not a lot of real cyberpunk. Definitely not any cyberpunk/horror themed books.

BCP: Jason, given that most of your career has been spent as a “work-for-hire’’, it must feel pretty great to have your own ongoing series now.  Is this the route you prefer, or do you enjoy the shorter collaborations with other creators?

JSA: I would like to be done with work-for-hire for a while. Unless it’s an amazing project, of course. I’ve enjoyed the freedom and the involvement that creator owned has given me. It’s the most fun I’ve had working in comics.

Interior artwork from issue #1 - click to enlarge

Interior artwork from issue #1 – click to enlarge

BCP: Empty Zone was originally funded through Kickstarter, which seems to be a popular route for many creators nowadays.  On one hand it’s great because anybody with a solid idea has an opportunity to get their work out there.  However, self-publishing and promotion is still an arduous task for those titles that don’t get picked up by a publisher.  What advice would you give to up and comers looking to get their work out there to an audience on their own?

JSA: My kickstarter was successful because the idea was good and I’ve worked in comics for the last 20 years. If an up and comer is having a rough time, I would say try to grab work-for-hire gigs to get yourself established and start making connections. Those connections are the biggest reasons Empty Zone is where it is now.

BCP: On the same topic, using Kickstarter allowed you to have pretty much limitless creative freedom.  Have Image been supportive in allowing you to retain full control of the series?

JSA: Image has been incredible when it comes to creative freedom. I simply can’t thank them enough.

BCP: Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about that you have in the pipeline?

JSA: Like I mentioned, I’m working on a graphic novel and there is a possible project with one of the big two in the near future as well.

BCP: And finally, what would you say to someone who wasn’t sure about whether to pick up Empty Zone to help make their mind up?

JSA: I’m a horrible professional. I don’t follow structure in writing and art very well. I let my excitement and emotions rule me when I work. At the end of my day, whether it’s story or art, I ask myself if I feel anything. I want an emotive response from my work. I really want you to laugh or cry. If you’re on the fence, know that Empty Zone is a world unlike any that is currently available in comics, and every panel is personal. Every page is meant to get you. And I really don’t think you’re going to expect whats coming next.

BCP: Thanks again for your time, gentlemen.

EMPTY ZONE #6 goes on sale March 16th 2016 from Image Comics, priced just $2.99.

Interview by : Andrew McGlinn and Kieran Fisher
Andrew Tweets from @Jockdoom and Kieran Tweets from @HairEverywhere_.

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