When we turn 40 it is often the time for many people start examining their life. What they have done and what they want to still do. Should I go back to school or start a new career? You could decide to have a mid life crisis. You could wonder am I just going to do comic interviews all my life? Do people read these interviews? What is the point! Or if you lived in the world of the comic series “You Are Obsolete” you could just be killed off by a group of children who run the town on your 40th birthday.
Following “a disgraced journalist Layla as she is called to cover the mysterious story on an isolated European island. As she investigates, she discovers that children have taken control and are somehow killing off all adults by their 40th birthdays. Now she must discover the truth behind the killings while staying on the good side of the children’s harsh leader…or she’s next.” To learn more about this series and its upcoming trade release we were able to speak to writer Mathew Klickstein. Mathew discusses world building, creepy children, technology in comics and questioning my self worth.
A huge thanks to Mathew for taking the time to talk to us at Multiversity. Be sure to look for “You Are Obsolete” in stores this May.
I love the title, “You Are Obsolete,” for many reasons. One being it made me question my own self worth and if I myself was obsolete. Why is this comic attacking my place in the world? But also the multiple meanings and ways it applies to the themes in the series. How did the title come about and why specifically did you want to tell this story?
Mathew Klickstein: Thank you! We were hoping the title would have a kaleidoscopic and evocative appeal. I am particularly pleased by the second person, declarative tone. “YOU are obsolete.” It stands out on the stands in the store and, to a lesser degree, online. “Hey YOU, check out this comic!”
It wasn’t necessarily my intention to attack “your” (as the reader’s) self-worth, but maybe to at least have “you” question or investigate “your” place in society today. Or, more to the point, “your” place in modern society today, particularly in consideration of the obvious technological connotation of being “obsolete.” In this way, how much have we, as Henry David Thoreau warned more than a century ago, become “the tools of our tools”?
Truth be told, the original title was Generation (again with the double or multiple meanings here). But one of my editors, the assiduous and helpful Christina Harrington, felt that a better title would be “You Are Obsolete.”
So, we decided to go with that. And I’m glad we did. It’s a cleverer title, more baroque and, most importantly, lends itself to discussion. Also, Lena Dunham is coming out with a TV series called Generation, so thankfully we didn’t accidentally release a comic book series that could be confused with same.
The world of “You Are Obsolete” is like our own but pushed to maybe more extremes even before readers are introduced to life on “the island.” What was your goal for building this world?
MK: Much like The Twilight Zone or the best episodes of Black Mirror, or really any speculative fiction that nails contemporary society so well (e.g. the works of Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter’s They Live, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, etc.), our goal was to establish a tale set more or less in the “now” (but perhaps slightly “bleeding edge”/futuristic) in order to showcase a reality very much like our current society … tinctured by some subtly hyperbolic tweaks.
It’s worth noting that the masterful Margaret Atwood chose to ensure that every component of her enduringly resonant “The Handmaid’s Tale” was based on actual incidents. This way, Atwood could later say, “Well, you may think I’m being outlandish by inserting these story elements in here … but hey, these things actually happened!”
Authenticity makes such stories that much more frightening, pertinent.
Lyla is a very nuanced main character. Who is she and what makes her interesting to you as a writer? Why do you think readers will be invested in her story?Continued below
MK: This has come up numerous times in interviews, and I think it’s important to remember that Lyla (Wilton; a lilting flower) is a prime counterpoint to the colder, more phlegmatic and machinic villainous children who have that whole “does Mark Zuckerberg ever blink?!” thing going on.
Lyla is not perfect. She is not a reliable narrator, despite being a (previously) credible witness a la her highly praised journalism work. She has a lot of tacit (and admittedly via her confessional, which is the skeleton of the entire five-part series) personal problems. Simply put, Lyla Wilton is a bit of a mess.
A. We love messes. Conflict/drama sells and propagates much faster in today’s media ecosystem than the alternative. Sad, but true. B. We connect more intimately with messes because they remind us of ourselves (since, let’s be honest, we’re all messes in our own ways, even though a lot of people pretend to be at best paragons and at worst pariahs).
Plus, we can trust messes. We can trust Lyla Wilton as the liar she can be, Ryan Holiday style. She’s pulling back the curtain on herself and, thus, her story writ large. She’s honest about what a mess she is. She outright says early on that she’s no angel.
This nuanced personality choice makes a lot of sense, as it’s a major theme of “You Are Obsolete”: The dearth of authenticity in today’s hyper-publicized and “media-managed” society. Lyla is defying that trend and admitting flat-out, “You shouldn’t trust me. But here’s my story, assholes. Caveat emptor.”
She can’t afford the $20K a week publicist. She doesn’t have the privileged agency needed to alter her Google Search or Wikipedia entry like more esteemed “public figures.” She is only who she is, and she wants to be clear about that.
This unpredictability in her personality, or at least full disclosure(s) of it, I believe adds a great deal of suspense to the story.
As a father of two toddlers I can attest to the creepiness of children in general but “the children” of You Are Obsolete are maybe on a different plane of weirdness. What was like it creating an antagonist that might not even be old enough to read your comic?
MK: Kids today are reading everything. Let’s be honest. They see it all. They know it all. It’s the Maurice Sendak notion come to life, whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not: “TELL THEM EVERYTHING YOU WANT!”
Our most profound recent folklorist Joseph Campbell spoke and wrote prolifically about this issue. As did Aldous Huxley. Huxley felt that George Orwell was wrong in “1984”. The future would not be censorship; the future would be super-saturation of information.
Huxley worried, back in the mid-twentieth century, that the day would come in which the populace would be so inundated with such a (malevolent) barrage of information that we would be over-stimulated to the point of being befogged and distracted and unfocused and confused. That we would become more and more anxious by not knowing what’s true and what’s false. It would all be too much for us.
And that’s what’s happened, hasn’t it? And it’s still happening, if anything, at a ramped-up pace. I have techie friends that are honestly worried about what the longitudinal effects of 5G will have on our culture. How much faster can information be disseminated to us?!
What was it like to create the children of “You Are Obsolete?” I just looked around. I spoke with my friends’ kids. I spoke with kids I teach in my various theater and film workshops. I asked them how they engage with social media and technology. I made sure they’re still reading books and going outside to play. Luckily, most of them are. (Or at least were before the current virus concerns, but that’s for another interview, for another story, another day …)
Comics, maybe more so in the past decade but almost throughout the history of the medium has been a great platform for social commentary. For a series like this, which is putting a magnifying glass on many issues in our everyday lives, why do you think comics work to tell these stories so effectively?Continued below
MK: Honestly, I originally wrote the pitch for “You Are Obsolete” as a film.
I’ve also thought it could make for (and I still know would make) a viable Black Mirror storyline. But, the film and TV world has become exceedingly insular these days, so I began looking into the more open platform of comics. After a year of trying to get “You Are Obsolete” going as a film/TV property, I found a home almost instantly with AfterShock.
So, more than anything, it was just pragmatic practicality that resulted in “You Are Obsolete” being told via a five-part comic series.
The comics scene – as with animation, porn or samizdat literature/art – has always been much more in tune with the lumpen segment of society and give the pöbel what they want, with the mainstream film/television realms catching up about five to ten years later.
By the very nature of how it operates, comics – especially indie comics and underground comix – can overcome the agonizing perseveration that has so drastically stunted the traditional media industries and just get the material out now, rather than being slowed to near standstill by the wasteful legal, logistical, financial and marketing nonsense that generates so much income for the lawyers/agents/managers while holding back so many movies, TV series, books, journalistic/academic articles etc.
The characters, story and message of “You Are Obsolete” were far too prescient to wait the ten years it would take for a film, five years it would take for a TV series or the three years it would take for a traditional book. “You Are Obsolete” needed to come out now. Comics was the ready and willing answer.
The increased ease of technology has helped the medium of comics in digital art, lettering, and even the ease of creating with people all over the world through email. Have do you view technology and its place in the creation of comics?
MK: I disagree. I firmly believe creatives (and all of us) were much better off twenty years ago. The digital realm has only helped out the small handful of plutocratic oligarchs who run the infrastructure of modern tech/new-media today. The rest of us are indeed, as Pulitzer Prize finalist Nicholas Carr has put it, “digital sharecroppers.”
There’s a very good reason (actually, very good reasons) why the developers of all of this new-tech don’t allow their children to utilize the hardware and software they’ve developed. It’s not good for us. In 50 years (hopefully sooner) we’ll understand this much better in the same way we’ve over the past few decades learned as a general public to better understand the tobacco industry and fast-food industries. Both still exist and people certainly have their freedom to indulge, but there’s no debate about how incredibly deleterious cigarettes and fast-food are to our well-being.
I see the same possibility in the near future regarding the new-tech/new-media industries. They’ll still exist, of course, but a larger majority of those not in the industries will be much more aware of the dangerous effects they can have on our mental, emotional, neurological and even physical health.
The story is elevated by the team of Evgeniy and Lauren who do an amazing job bringing to life the range of emotions and tension in all the characters. What did they bring to the series that only they could do?
MK: As I’ve repeated over and over again (hint, hint, hint), I originally developed “You Are Obsolete” as a film. And a film needs a crew. Evgeniy and Lauren were my principle crew members, no doubt. I can’t draw worth a damn. I can write, produce and direct, but little else (ask my wife: I get lost easily and can’t cook, either).
So I needed genius artists such as Evgeniy and Lauren to be there to act as my crew on the “film” that became the five-part “You Are Obsolete” project, which I wrote, directed and produced, if you will. I meanwhile saw Evgeniy as my director of photographer and Lauren as my assistant director/gaffer.
There is absolutely no way – and I mean this without any hagiographic exaggeration –”You Are Obsolete” could have been conjured into print without these two. Again, I can’t draw. They, very obviously, can. And fast. And exactly to my specific, meticulous, neurotic specifications. I owe them much along with my attentive and dedicated editors Christina Harrington and Mike Marts (whom I would also include on the list as “producers” when it comes to “crew members” for this “film”).Continued below
“You Are Obsolete” was my debut series. Looking at the issues, you wouldn’t be able to tell. That’s thanks to Evgeniy, Lauren, Christina and Mike. Without question.
I told my “crew members” exactly what to do, and they did it exactly. It was actually a bit of a shock at first when I saw the first sketches and coloring. Somehow, Evgeniy and Lauren read my mind and brought to life the images in my head. It was uncanny. They pulled the movie projected in loop from out of my head and emblazoned its imagery onto the pages of the comics.
This was the most satisfying creative experience I’ve ever had in two decades-plus of film, television, traditional publishing, journalism, theater (etc.) production.
With the social and horror themes throughout the series it feels like a perfect fit for AfterShock Comics. Why was AfterShock the place for You Are Obsolete? What has that experience been like?
MK: AfterShock was the first company I went to and they immediately jumped at the concept. It was no more complicated than that.
They sent me some sample scripts from previous comics they put out, I quickly taught myself how to write my own (bolstered by my long-time experience writing for film and television, which are similar mediums at least in the writing structure) and – boom – we were off like a rocket we were all straddling to the moon.
Similarly the lettering by Simon plays a huge role in telling this specific story. Was that something you wanted to do as a team for the series in terms of the way the series is lettered?
MK: I was so wet behind the ears when I came to this project that I didn’t even know what a letterer was. Simon did the work and got it done. I suppose his “crew member” role would have been audio engineer/recordist.
When readers turn that final page on this story, what do you hope they take away from your creative teams work?
MK: I hope they’ll go out and find and read and watch some of the media references made both explicitly and implicitly throughout the series. And hopefully this will connect our readers to other media that have a similar take on societal dialectics, such as Max Stirner’s “The Unique and Its Property.”
That and perhaps, without sounding too lofty but particularly in light of current unfortunate events, certain readers will be more thoughtful and compassionate about the very real scourge of ageism that has been percolating once again over the past few years.
To remember those immortal words of one of our greatest playwrights, Herb Gardner, in his “I’m Not Rappaport:” “You foolish bastards, don’t you understand? The old people, they’re the survivors, they know something, they haven’t just stayed late to ruin your party.”