Si Spurrier Blends Wall-E, Watership Down and Flying Monkeys in ANGELIC [Interview]

Issue #1 cover

In case you missed it, Image Comics recently released – to no small amount of critical acclaim – the first issue of ANGELIC, a brand new series from writer Si Spurrier and artist Caspar Wijngaard.

We absolutely fell in love with the series and its blend of fantasy, real-world issues, gorgeous artwork and, well, flying monkeys from the moment we laid eyes on it.  And with issue two right around the corner, we were thrilled when co-creator Si Spurrier was able to take a moment out of his hectic schedule to sit down and have a chat with us.

But first, for those of you who may not have heard about ANGELIC until now, and who may not know what it’s all about, how about we let Si explain for you?

SI SPURRIER: We’ve been describing it as Wall-E meets Watership Down with a sprinkling of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Which is to say: a big, bold adventure about sci-fi animals in a post-apocalyptic future, which – just beneath the skin – is also a delicately-handled fable about growing up in a repressive culture, religious expectations and adulthood.

The main character is a monkey with wings, sharing an earth with – amongst others – cybernetic dolphins, quantum alleycats and sonic-artillery gibbons. And that’s just issue 1.

Urgh, I hate that sort of pitching. So reductive. It’s like death to a waffler like yrs truly. So – indulge me – the slightly longer version goes like this:

Mankind’s gone. In the poisonous remains of our abandoned planet the only things that even look like civilisation are the leftovers of our bad science. That is: the animals, genetically engineered for a war none of them remember.

Our heroine is Qora – one of those flying monkeys. She’s young, quizzical, brave, curious, rebellious, so it’s her misfortune to’ve been born in a tribe that punishes all of those things.

All she truly wants is to explore her world and have adventures, but instead there are some horrible things looming on Qora’s horizon. Rites of adulthood which will literally cost her her wings.

So she flies away. And that’s how our story starts.

BCP: What was it about Caspar’s artwork that you thought would be a perfect fit for this story?

SI: I’d been blown away by Caspar’s work on Limbo, and basically hustled the poor guy to set up a new project. “Hustle”, in this case, meaning an orbital barrage of ideas, in the hopes that one of them would hit him hard enough that he couldn’t refuse. So it was with Angelic.

I keep a lot of ideas on standby for exactly this sort of situation. Some are pretty well developed, just waiting for the right Go state. Others are far more inchoate – often just scraps of thought and fascination bundled together. For that sort of idea the best you can ask for is an artist with an active interest in co-developing the world and the story. That’s what happened here. Of the ideas I pitched Angelic was the least solidified, so we’ve fine-tuned it together.

BCP: What has the collaborative process been like between the pair of you when it came to fleshing out the style and aesthetic of this truly unique world?

SI: There’s a lovely scenario that’s arisen now where I couldn’t honestly tell you how much of what’s on the page comes from my keyboard, and how much from Caspar’s pen. There are significant plot-points which derive solely from things Caspar’s unexpectedly drawn. That’s a really exciting state of creative collaboration.

BCP: Tell us a little bit about Qora, our leading lady.  How’s her life going when we meet her?

SI: She’s so great. She’s brave and optimistic and above all curious. Her biggest problem is that she’s grown up in this society which punishes the asking of questions. Worse still, pretty soon she’s going to be expected to become a mother. And when that happens – in amongst all the weird rituals and usage of ancient bits of technology – a female monkey must traditionally have her wings removed.

Which. Wow. Awful.

So: no wonder Qora flies away.

BCP: Aesthetically the book has a real all-ages feel to it, but there are also clearly some pretty dark themes at play here too.  What kind of tone should readers be expecting from the series, and did you have a particular target audience in mind for the series when you were putting it together?

SI: Well, we’re angling for a very layered vibe. I have a massive cinecrush on movies like Wall-E or The Iron Giant, because whereas to kids they’re exceptional sci-fi romps about robots and friendship, adults easily perceive jokes and themes that are far, far bigger. And the opposite sometimes happens, we’ve noticed. Some things the kids just accept with a shrug which adults really struggle with. It’s a fascinating dynamic, but we were keen to set ourselves that challenge from the beginning: to make a story which can be enjoyed by the widest age-range possible.

For instance, there’s a pointed metaphor at the heart of Angelic. Two opposing tribes, both representing wildly different verions of a faith-based society. One of them repressive, dogmatic, controlling, the other bloated, imperialistic and arrogant. Qora and her companion (about whom I’m saying nothing here!) are caught in the middle, trying to find a third way. So a bunch of thematically very relevant and timely stuff, basically. BUT if you’re an 8 year old reading this book you’re probably not going to detect much of the allegorical stuff, focusing instead on the main event: a story about two young dreamers running away from sucky homes to lean cool stuff about themselves and their world.

…all whilst being chased by all manner of disgruntled beasties, representatives of their own clans, and the shadows of some really big secrets from the distant past. And Caspar’s incredible colors keeps all of it feeling like a wonderful fable rather than the grimhook post-apocalyptic miseryfest it could all too easily become in the hands of a lesser artist.

If we’ve done our jobs right — and I have to say the number of adorable testimonials we’re getting from our comics heroes saying stuff like “I loved it! So did my kid!” suggests we’re on the right track – then when we say “all ages” we really do mean it.

BCP: The different dialects for the different species works really well, to the point where I found myself going “Yes! That’s exactly what Dolphins would talk like, the bastards!”  How did you go about making each species sound unique, and was it a challenge to come up with all the various slang terms and syntax?

SI: Honestly, neologism comes to me quite naturally. It’s taken me most of my life to realise that’s not normal for everyone. Alan Moore uses speculatively-evolved syntax an awful lot in his works, for instance – Halo Jones, Crossed +100, the “Lucy Lips” stuff in Jerusalem – but up until lately it always slightly mystified me when other readers complained of it being impenetrable. So the challenge isn’t so much coming up with this sort of thing, but reining it in enough that an in-world syntax is present without being impenetrable.

The sort of invented terms you get in Angelic are pretty indicative of childishness too, which fits with the “through the eyes of youngsters” vibe I was hinting at a moment ago. Kids are great at understanding a phrase without having accurately heard the exact words, so they come up with a Best Guess term to fit the gap. Believe it or not there’s a name for this sort of creative language: it’s called “analogical reformation”. The example I always give is the word “crayfish”. When medieval English speakers heard their French speaking overlods talking about these weird crustaceans they loved to eat – called “écrevisse” – they misheard it as “crayfish”, despite the spiny bastards being neither fish nor cray. Same with the monkeys in Angelic. Their childlike language has evolved over the centuries to alter, adapt and misuse adult terms, whilst retaining their broad meaning. So anything out-of-bounds is referred to as “the outer bounds”, while someone naughty is a “nobedient”, and a thoughtless heretic is being “sinfool”. For my money this sort of thing is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s worldbuilding kit. It makes readers feel like they’re stepping into a fully formed, functioning world. Familiar, but different.

As for the “dolts”… I have complicated views regarding dolphins. Readers of some of my other comics might have gleaned as much. The bottom line is that “smart” doesn’t equal “nice”, and dolphins really can be maaaassive bastards. Do a bit of homework. I assure you you’ll see that unnerving little permasmile of theirs in a whole new light. For Angelic I couldn’t think of any better candidate for the sort of hyperfast, rampaging hunters I needed. For me their voices are a distillation of a bunch of repressed toffy-nosed Victorian gentlemen getting frisky in the lead-up to a foxhunt. “Sport! Sport! Sport!”

BCP: What’s the plan for the series moving forwards?  Are we looking at a mini-series? An ongoing? And without giving too much away, what kind of things can we expect to see as the story unfolds?

SI: Ongoing! With the standard Spurrier proviso that stories mean precisely nothing unless they have endings. So Angelic will adopt a very modular rhythm: arcs of 5-6 issues, with a distinct controlling idea, which tie-off one set of threads while drawing out another.

Oh yes, many more to come! At both ends of the “biotech vs cyertech” spectrum. Couple of gigantic critters appearing in #2, and then things get progressively ickier from there…

BCP: And finally, what would you say to someone who was on the fence about picking up ANGELIC to help convince them to give it a try?

SI: I’d say issue 2 kicks off with a levitating humpback whale, and that’s just the first in a series of escalating insanities. It really is a book like no other.

ANGELIC #2 goes on sale in print and digital on October 25th, and if you haven’t already, you really need to seek out issue #1 while you still can.

ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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