When death is a thing of the past, how does this change a world? When people can be cloned, how does the government start to maintain the world from acting without any concern to life? “Eternal” asks and answers these exact kind of mind-bending, thrilling questions of a world without mortality. This is exactly the type of thrilling, sci-fi adventure ride that we expect BOOM will make out of the sophisticated talents of William Harms (“Impaler,” “inFamous”) and the up-and-coming-talent Giovanni (“Dark Horse Presents”) Valletta. “Eternal” is Giovanni Valletta’s first full-comic-series, and his illustrations hit the pitch-perfect attention to thrill and vulnerability needed for this story to succeed. The two creators give us a sneak-preview of the artwork of “Eternal #1,” and discuss the process of creating a world where the rules of life don’t exist anymore.
How did you two determine who will be the the “pures” within the “Eternal” world? In the first issue we meet some of the 5% of the world whose DNA is “worth more than gold” but I’m curious to how you decided who will be these types of people. Was it more of an economy-based decision, like: People with more money over time have been able to afford being cloned which then led a small group of the population of the world to use their unaffected genetic codes to be resources for the mass populous.
William Harms: There’s no question that the wealthy would be the first to access this technology, and that eventually the poor would be left behind. So there is an element of that in terms of who the “pures” are, but another, and larger element, is that people rejected cloning for ethical and religious reasons, primarily the latter.
If we can live forever, it would threaten to invalidate a lot of the appeal of religion, namely eternal life. Why worship and obey God in the hope of obtaining eternal life if you can write New Life a check and obtain it that way?
So initially the “pures” were a combination of people too poor to clone and people who refused to clone. A lot of this is only hinted at during the comic, primarily because “Eternal” is about the system buckling under its own weight, as opposed to how the system came to be, but originally the pures were treated with dignity and respect. But over time, that was chipped away by New Life in the face of increased profits and general public apathy about the pures.
At one point Gail Jensen, the leader of the Human Liberation Army (HLA), which is fighting to free the pures even says that the public knows how the pures are being treated and no one cares. It’s a deeply cynical statement, but I do believe it’d be true — if 95% of us could live forever off the backs of a 5% we never see, very few of us would give up our lives so that the 5% could be free.
It’s kinda a common thing in sci-fi tales to be talking about a world and really talking about the types of conflicts currently being explored in our real world in a fictional sense. In the first issue of “Eternal” #1 we are introduced to a government who actively uses people for their genetic code and it is universally seen as a social act of good that goes unquestioned by the majority. To what extend do either of you see this issue and work as a work also discussing issues of class oppression or access to technology in the real-world?
WH: “Eternal” is set in our world, specifically the San Francisco Bay Area, albeit a few hundred years in the future. I’m a big fan of keeping stories grounded because it helps lend a sense of realism. It’s why I love Philip K. Dick. And you’re right, there is a fair amount of class oppression present in the story. But I worked really hard to make the story about more than that. The HLA is a terrorist organization, and they’re fighting for a cause that is morally just, but if they succeed, it means the deaths of billions of people when their clones start to fail. The main character, Peter Rathmann, works for New Life, and comes to question his role in what New Life is doing while at the same time still despising the HLA. So I hope people see the gray in all of this, because that’s how the real world is.Continued below
We live in a world where everyone is broken up into clearly delineated groups, but there’s always something more to it.
“Eternal” is not a hard sci-fi tale. There are gadgets and scanners and cloning machines but their depictions seem pretty natural, and the attention to their details are slim. How did you Giovanni decide how to show the machinery of the world? Were there any bits when you struggled with designing them in a way that seems natural to the reader? For example, I loved the scanner gun as it automatically helped me conceive the world. It made me think “Oh, so people are regularly searched through society because pures are that rare and it’s like a stop and frisk level of machinery.” If the answer is no, then did you use any prior works to adapt the “Eternal” gadgets?
WH:I love science fiction, but I’m not really a fan of hard science fiction. The appeal of sci-fi to me is the collision between technology and people/society, not necessarily how the technology works. So the gadgets and tech in “Eternal” were primarily driven by two things: the needs of the story, and how they could help create short-hand that the reader could relate to, like the scanner you mentioned. We all know it’s only a matter of time until we’re “scanned,” even if it’s just via our smartphones. And although I think we have an aversion to having stuff placed in us, like tracking chips, the fact that most of the people in “Eternal” are clones eliminates that aversion. If you want to keep living, you have to agree to some things being in your body, like the RF chip in the neck that constantly transmits your thoughts and memories to New Life’s cloud, and the tracking chip in everyone’s forearm.
Giovanni Valletta: As far as thinking about the tech goes, the year in the story is not a year too far ahead from us. I wanted the tech to feel more natural to what it would be like in that year. I’m a big fan of Bladerunner. I like how the tech in there is not overly complicated. I did some designs for the guns and the suits before going in to the pages to have a better idea of how that stuff was going to end up looking like on the pages and because our cover artists needed to have the reference to develop the covers, but all in all it was great doing them prior to the actual artwork itself. I really liked the fact that the guns and their equipment are able to tell who’s who as they are mainly looking for the “pures.” I’m a big detail and tech guy and I know in this issue there might not be too much detail to look at the next issue is packing some good sci-fi tech stuff for sure.
“Eternal” #1 starts off with a mass-killing report on a news show. Inside the panel is a smiling teen holding a gun to this head with the subtitle “Coping Mechanism?” When I read that I instantly laughed and cringed at the thought. It made sense in a strange way that this would be how a teen would think is acceptable to cope in a world where life is not precious, and it made the readers see that too. Is this balance of ridiculousness and macabre tone something that continues through the series? How far are you willing to push these harsh depictions to connect the reader with a world that no longer faces mortality?
WH: This entire series grew out of a scene I had kicking around in my head of teenagers jumping out of an airplane, without parachutes, and laughing as they plummeted to their deaths. Then the mental image “cut” to them sitting around, drinking beer and eating pizza, and watching a video of themselves dying in a hundred horrible ways.
So from the very beginning, “Eternal” had that tone to it. It’s something that manifests in other ways during the story, from the teenagers shooting each other to the cold and clinical way that pures are “harvested.” I also hope some of that comes across when characters in the story “die” (some of them die multiple times) and no one even mentions it. You see your partner get his brains blown out and don’t even care because you know he’ll be back in a couple of hours. There’s something interesting and awful about that.Continued below
“Eternal” asks a really hard question for writers especially: In a world where mortality (for the most case) is no longer a threat, what other kinds of consequences can the world bring? Without spoiling anything for the readers, what is your initial response to that? Giovanni? Will? If the baddies, so to speak, can’t die, how does this tip the scales of creating a comic focusing on the underdog beating the oppressive bad?
WH:The biggest consequence is that everything hinges on the pures — if they’re taken away, everyone’s clone fails and dies. So even if the bad guys in the story can’t die, if HLA succeeds, everyone dies. And this also ties into another theme of the story, which is what happens when your enemy takes your greatest strength — immortality — and uses it against you?
“Eternal” will be launching in early-December, just in time for the holidays and the price of life to be questioned.