When someone tells you that you’re all thumbs it used to mean that they were calling you clumsy, awkward and uncoordinated. Following last weeks release of Image Comics’ “Thumbs #1” by award-winning playwright and comics writer Sean Lewis and award-winning artist Hayden Sherman you can now say “Oh you must mean I am a hit new series that sold out its first issue and getting a second printing on July 3rd. Is that what you mean?” You can then run away because that would be really awkward.
What is not awkward was the success of the first issue of the new series “Thumbs.” It just so happened to be our “Pick of the Week.” To learn more about the series and this first issue we were able to chat with creators Sean and Hayden. This is the same creative team behind the 2017 Image series “The Few.” The team discuss the series, social media, what makes a dystopian world an interesting story telling setting and more. A huge thanks to the team for taking the time to talk about the series and be sure to check out “Thumbs” in comic shops and online digitally now.
Sometimes the title of a book says it all and sometimes it is called “Thumbs.” So what is this book and how many puns do you expect to see from reviewers?
Sean Lewis: HAHAHAHAHAHA. That’s funny. Man titles are hard. I tend to look for something evocative and easy to remember. And for whatever reason, before characters were even thought of I had this title in my head. I have one deformed thumb, so maybe that made it creep into my brain. It’s basically unnoticeable now but was something I was really self conscious about when I was younger.
SO. The book… I wanted to make something about our reliance on technology as a culture and the extremity of our country. In this world, a tech billionaire recruits poor kids to be his army by giving them free video games, educations and training. His adversaries, THE POWER, outlaw all technology.
We follow Charley “Thumbs” Fellows. He is one of the recruited poor kids who is looking for his sister in the Puritan vestige of the Power. And with him is MOMtm. A virtual babysitter (basically an AI app) that helped raise his sister and he.
I am super excited to see you guys teaming up again after your work on “The Few.” What is it like working together again on this new series? What have you noticed the most about how each other has improved as creators?
SL: I mean, Hayden is next up. I felt like that when I first saw his art on a facebook submissions page 4 years ago. He has such a distinct style. But what people miss is how incredibly good he is at layouts and design. So much of his storytelling comes through there. He’s just gonna be one of those defining comic book artists over the next decade.
He’s also got so many reps between the great work on Vault’s “WASTED SPACE” and his other independent projects. He’s very self assured. And we have just a deeper trust. What we did on “THE FEW” was a new way of working for both of us i think. And it worked. So now, we can trust it even more. Which means, we can take more chances, we can dream bigger.
Hayden Sherman: Sean and I have been working together for roughly four years now, so at this point it really feels like getting on a bike that pedals like a dream. Sean’s a creator in so many different formats (film, comics, theater, and no doubt more to come) and with that experience he always brings a different perspective on what a book can be. He’s willing to push things and work in such a way that the two of us can play off of one another throughout the whole time we’re making a series. There’s no one like him, being willing to be so open and to push format/method takes a lot of confidence. And a lot of trust between the two of us, like Sean said. With time, that trust has only increased. I can see what Sean is doing elsewhere in books like “Coyotes” or “Betrothed” and know that he’s just getting sharper and sharper all the time. So yeah, it only gets more fun.Continued below
Right from the start this first issues sets up a very unique and interesting world. What was the goal for building this world and its aesthetic?
SL: Um, I wanted high tech mixed with sparse reality. So, an AI babysitter taking care of kids in a trailer park. I grew up in a mixed income area. I spent a lot of time in trailer parks. A lot of theater work I did years after had to do with people on work release, in housing projects, etc… I think it’s interesting, despite financial differences we all have tech. It’s a common ground.
Outside of that, the world building is just taking things that exist in our world and stretching them further. ADRIAN CAMUS, the tech billionaire in the book, is just a mash up of Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. He has his own TV channel where he makes himself a star and announces advancements his company has made.
MOMtm came out of paying astronomical child care costs in my own life. And realizing, how crushing it is to people who need to work and can’t afford these costs. If a babysitting app came along at 9.99 a month versus paying 250-400 a week in daycare, would people take the risk so they could survive?
It’s a lot of looking at the world right now and just thinking what the next progression could look like.
HS: Aesthetic wise, I want the world to look just a few decades removed from our own time, while still firmly anchored to the world we live in. The themes we’re tackling focus on technology’s impact, the way tech effects values and human relationships. The way it can upset priorities or offer easy/accessible solutions that can breed chaotic results, whether good or bad. So the world is aimed to reflect that. We see a good amount of cities and neighborhoods as we know them, right alongside weird faceless drone-troopers that represent factions like THE POWER. The hope is to create a feeling that the issues being discussed aren’t so far away as we’d like to imagine, that (unchecked) things could get very uncomfortable right now.
For fans of your work on “The Few” like me, what can we expect in the way of this series?
SL: I think people who liked “The Few”… I think outside of Hayden’s amazing art, the depth of character and the complexity of the story line is what drew them in. That book dealt with belief, specifically in country and politics. How are Patriots made? How are terrorists? How is a country great if many of its people suffer? Those are things I actively wrestle with. This book argues what is technology? Is it a tool that makes our life better OR is it a chain we put on ourselves? Do we need to document our life on Instagram or has the tech made it that our life doesn’t actually “exist” unless it is scroll-able?
Both books have a lot of heart. In “The Few,” Eden has to learn how to nurture a baby she is abandoned with. She is not a mothering character. But she feels a duty to that child that makes her better. In “Thumbs,” Charley has to make sure his sister is ok.
It will be a very human book. With very big questions. It will be also extra large like the Few (50-60 pages per issue). Hayden and i are both drawn to the experience that reading a comic book can be.
HS: Sean’s writing it. Which means you can expect very very good things.
We’re both doing our best to put out the best book we can, and we really believe in it. Same as we did with “THE FEW.” Outside of that, it’s difficult to talk about expectations. I hope people will like it! I sure as hell do.
Oh! And we’ve got little 3-6 page short stories in the back of each issue. Short stories that will only be printed in the single issues. So if you happen to like what Sean and I do (which, thank you so much if you do!) we’re putting in a little bit extra and using it to play and experiment.Continued below
What makes Charlie, the main character, interesting for you as storytellers and why do you think readers will be invested in his journey?
SL: He’s got to be more than he is. I think that’s a journey I feel personally. He is not the smartest. He is not the strongest. He is not the bravest. But, he has people he loves. And… he needs to be more than he’s ever been for them.
I think that is the human journey. In truth, most of us are not Superman. We are not Thor. We are not the traditional hero in the story. BUT, that does not mean we do not have heroism inside of us.
This is the journey Charley is on.
I am in love with the color palette you are utilizing for this series. What was the thought behind this very distinct coloring?
SL: This is all Hayden.
HS: Thank you! The color palette was sort of a discovery early on while making the first issue. Originally, I’d planned to make the book in full color. After the very monochrome coloring of “THE FEW” it felt like the right thing to do. But no matter how I colored the book it all felt wrong. Traditional color didn’t add anything to this story. To me, it was pointless. As much as I can, I want the color of a book to contribute to the overall mood and play a direct role in storytelling. So yeah, I arrived at this “ziptone-pixel” monochrome texture that felt right to me. It reminded me of an old screen, when you can see the little pixels more clearly. The thought from there has been to use color to highlight the tech of this world. Anytime there’s tech, it’s colored pink. The more pink there is on a page, the more power tech holds in that scene. The color then, in my eyes, serves the story by always keeping the tech in focus. No matter the scene, the power that tech does or doesn’t hold can always be gauged.
A lot of comics have started to examine the role social media and technology has or may affect our world. For you as creators what role has social media played in your comic career? Has social media helped push comics to a different place in our society?
SL: Well, I can’t have a career without the internet. I hardly ever meet the artists I am working with on comics. It’s all skype and email. My careers in theater and film have been the same. I’ve never lived in a major city but I’ve had work go up everywhere because technology allows me to make a great video and distribute it to people anywhere. As a tool, it is amazing.
But it is more than a tool now, don’t you think? My mom complains to me about people she follows on Facebook posting about how happy they are when they are not, I have friends who get anxiety about the tweets they send out- they do drafts and ask, “is this funny enough?”- I work with kids who think texting is dating. People think twitter is activism. They think they are a customer of Facebook- ranting about changes to platform- when, in reality, they are the product.
We are all becoming the product.
I’m not sure how it has changed comics. Brick and mortar stores are having a hard time, piracy is up… those are the negatives. But I still love the experience that holding a comic in your hands can be. Turning the page, like a stage curtain getting revealed. And I love that pencils and paper can create a world, a business, a career.
I like that I can talk to fans on twitter about the books. I am hoping to make that into more of a shared experience: maybe using twitter and video to do behind the scenes breakdowns of how pages were made, writing tips, etc…
Again, as a tool, it is great.
HS: Man, it’s hard to say what impact social media has had on comics as a whole. There’s a lot to get into there.
For me though, social media has played a role in my career at all times. It’s a helpful little tool. Whether I’m using it for advertising, connecting with readers or other creators, or learning about events/opportunities, it’s always there. That’d probably go for all freelancers and business owners these days. Honestly though, I find myself using it less and less for personal stuff. It becomes overwhelming, so I try to regulate my usage of it as much as I can.Continued below
A little like “The Few”, this seems to take place in a postmodern society setting, almost dystopian and we have seen a lot of comics use this type of setting to explore modern problems in terms of their outcomes. What makes this setting such a good canvas to explore these types of ideas?
SL: Well, it gives distance. So, in theory, you can be political without immediately turning people off. We’re so showered with the surface of politics- meaning are you Republican, are you Democrat; are you pro this or are you pro that- that we shut down at the mere idea of disagreement. Our phones and tech help this, cause we can curate disagreement out of our daily discourse.
Now, for me art is not didactic. I’m not here to teach you something. Art is, however, DIALECTICAL. It is here to have a conversation. I write about things I am struggling with. Things i don’t have an answer to. Things that i need many voices to be talking, fighting and arguing so that i might find a better way for myself. Is technology good or is it evil? I’m not sure. So, now I have to write. And I need to get deep and honest about it for it to be worth anything.
The dystopia allows me to do that without scaring anyone’s sensibility. It sets the table and invites people. You’re scared I might attack your view of the world? Well, sit down, in this book the world doesn’t exist and we gotta start over, so you’re safe.
I am always interested in first issues of creator owned series where the creative team is trying to introduce readers to a very new world with its own set of rules and lore. How do you guys approach creating these first issues that will inform readers while hooking them for a second issue?
SL: I just write what I want to see. I tend to like to be thrown into action at the top. I tend to like a surprise reveal at the end. I want characters who have heart, often despite themselves. Characters who want to be better than they are. I don’t want the books to feel like other books.
Those are my basic first issue rules. For myself, I should say, everyone does it different.
HS: On my end, I aim to treat things as if everyone knows as much about the world as I do. Intro characters clearly enough, but trust that the reader will fill in the blanks. I enjoy feeling thrown into a world, as if it had existed the whole time and I only just found it.
In the end what do you hope readers take away from the first issue and in the end the series as a whole?
SL: I’m proud of the book. I hope you have a great EXPERIENCE with it. Meaning, I hope you think about it after. I hope you make your own books in conversation, confrontation or alignment with it. I hope it feels like a great book- you know, when you have like a sunny day and you read something for pure joy and when you set it down it was so good that your head feels absolutely clear and you just want to go for a walk? Yeah, that’s what I hope.
HS: Man, I don’t want to end by saying “ditto”, but everything Sean said rings true for me as well. I hope that people will have a great experience with it, think about it, and want to revisit it over time.