There’s often a question from the anthropologically curious whether or not humans, having evolved throughout the millennia to where currently sit on the food chain, are continuing to make any more evolutionary leaps. Of course, evolution itself is a multi-generational process, but the question certainly has merit. What’s next for humanity? Have we more or less reached the pinnacle of our progress or are there more leaps, gradual or subtle, for us to make?
These and more questions are posed in Evolution #1, on sale today from Image Comics and Skybound Entertainment. Writers Chris Sebela, Joseph Keating, James Asmus, and Joshua Williamson and artists Joe Infurnari and Jordan Boyd depict a world in which human evolution has been kickstarted into overdrive. Filled with questions of science and faith, with dashes of cults and Hollywood oddities thrown in for good measure, Evolution looks to examine a world where humanity’s faith in the divine and our empiricism clash and are put to the test.
Misters Sebela, Asmus, and Keating spoke with me recently about the conceit of the book, the dichotomy of faith and science in the series, and what we can expect to see moving forward.
FreakSugar: For folks considering picking up the book, how would you describe the conceit of Evolution?
Chris Sebela: At some point in our development, humanity hit a wall, evolution-wise. We thought we’d gone as far as we could go and now something has turned it back on and hit fast forward. Evolution traces how this change sweeps through the world and three different sets of lives caught up in the middle of it.
James Asmus: Creeping dread. A rising, global body-horror pandemic. Three sets of characters tainted by what’s coming. 1970s Hollywood cults. The Catholic Church. Back alley medicine. Virulent thoughts. And plenty of grimy, early David Cronenberg DNA goodness baked into every issue!
Joseph Keating: Evolution is an experiment in storytelling unprecedented in modern comics. Multiple writers on one book featuring all-new characters in the horror drama, all gathering their own takes on what frightens them most under the unified visuals of Joe Infurnari and Jordan Boyd.
FS: There are quite a few of you pulling writing chores on the book. What was the genesis behind the series? How did the idea of the book evolve? (I swear that was not intended.)
CS: I’m not sure who came up with the initial idea of doing a group horror book, but once I heard about it I was fully onboard. As for the concept behind Evolution, that was all of us throwing ideas into the middle of the room and seeing which ones stood up and which didn’t. The fun part of writing with others is that you tend to lose track of which idea belongs to who. If a collaboration works out well, that’s kind of the ideal state.
JK: As I recall, Skybound realized we all lived in the same town and suggested we come up with something together. We all love horror, so after throwing ideas back and forth, Evolution was born.
FS: Following up on that, what is the collaboration process like on Evolution? Is there a division of labor that goes on between the group or is it a more naturalistic approach to writing?
CS: All of us live in Portland, so just being in the same time zone means we can easily shoot each other texts and emails to get smaller ideas across and then we meet up every couple months to break down issues and arcs and explain our stories to each other. Then we break them apart and figure out how they all mesh together both in each issue and overall. Then we go off and write our bits alone. So the writing part is pretty natural, it always comes back to being by yourself in a room trying to string all these thoughts into stories.
JA: We build the bigger story together, mapping out where we see our characters tying into it, but then mostly step back and work on our own threads. There’s more collaboration in the places where the ideas (and ultimately, the actual stories) start to connect. But we have a real excitement and support of each other’s work that makes it easy to take your hand off the steering wheel when it’s someone else’s turn to drive.
FS: There’s a distinct melancholy, even the calmer moments, that hangs over each scene of Evolution. Where do we find the state of the world at the beginning of issue 1?
CS: It’s not as bleak as it is right now, for sure. When the book opens, the world is a bit more in a calm state where people are used to the daily/monthly/yearly grind of their lives for the most part. There are no big surprises. Everyone knows what to expect and their expectations are usually met. So I think that accounts for the melancholy. It’s the world and the world is what it is. It’s not amazing, it’s not awful, it’s just life going on all around us and the usual routines of life can feel kinda melancholy after a while.
JA: Frayed. All of our stories follow characters who are relatively isolated. On fringes of society in one way or another. I think that feeling is increasingly common in a hyper-subdivided and customize-able world. But so many of the things we were all interested in diving into – the vulnerabilities that attract people to cults, the way society ignores so many suffering people, and the seemingly impossible search for answers – they stem from, or lead to a genuine emotional dread. That mood just rose naturally out of the story, and infects the whole fabric of this with (what is to me, at least) a deeper, more relatable horror.
JK: It’s reflective of the world as it is now, which is arguably something of a mess. The real world pre-apocalyptic 2017 is as about as good of a set up for horror as you can get, for better and definitely for worse.
FS: One of our POV characters in Evolution is Dr. Hurley, who has been investigating the evolutionary jumps humans are making across the globe. What can you tell us about him and why both he’s seemingly disgraced in his profession and why he’s so motivated to explore these new phenomena?
CS: I could, but those blank spots in his past are intentional. As for his motivation, Hurley is a guy who notices something that no one else does. He’s a scientist, and maybe a lot of his behavior is motivated by that particular kind of selfishness. He wants to be the first one there, to be right in a world where everyone else is wrong, the groundbreaker. But he’s also a doctor in a free clinic, so his job is to help heal people and to keep the most vulnerable okay in a world where they’re ignored. He’s a lot of different angles on two legs.
FS: We also see many nods to religion and the mystical throughout Evolution, which sets up a nice dichotomy/juxtaposition between science and faith. Will we see how those two are intermingled in the world of Evolution?
CS: Definitely. A lot of Evolution is about beliefs: religious, mystical, scientific, philosophical. They intermingle as much as they do in the real world, I think. Even science is driven by deeper beliefs than just a pursuit of knowledge; it’s whoever is running the experiment, what drives them to seek this out. Everything comes down to the individual. Everyone is made up of a million things. We’re doing our best to bring that to the surface in every way possible.
JA: Religion and science are two sides of the same coin, in that they try to find understanding and answers to the Big Questions that otherwise terrify us. It made sense to us that if we’re following multiple characters as they grapple with something that… changes our idea of humanity so fundamentally, there should be some real (and literal) soul-searching. And as someone with a lot of baggage from my Catholic upbringing, I was happy to dive in and exorcise some of my own demons.
FS: I’m such a religion and anthropology nerd, so this book is right up my alley. With the focus on science and faith in the series, what kind of research goes into a series like this?
CS: Just speaking for myself, I did a healthy amount of research into evolutionary processes in our species and others, right up to modern-day evolutions that are happening all around us. But I didn’t want to do a procedural book, so I took enough facts to build a decent foundation and then I just piled all the big weird ideas on top.
JA: We all get inspired and compelled by non-fiction. So a lot of things that bled into the work were real-world theories or odd history that had been haunting corners of our minds, looking for a place to come out. From there, we definitely wanted to create a theory and working idea of What’s Happening that is rooted in real science, so we referred each other to some reading to get on the same page. The rest has been each of us digging into our individual characters’ worlds and exploring particulars that would come with it.
FS: A large part of what made the first issue so gripping to read is its look, which feels very much gritty and lived-in; it reminded me of so much of a 1970s horror film, in the best way possible. What were the conversations like with artists Joe Infurnari and Jordan Boyd about how the book should look?
CS: I try to stay out of the artists’ way whenever I can. Joe and Jordan I’ve both been wanting to work with. I’m a fan of both of them so I knew they were more than capable of taking what we gave them and making it better than we imagined.
FS: Following up on that, in that same vein, the story itself feels like an amalgam of tales from that 1970s era mixed with today’s sensibilities and thematic notes. Was that something you wanted to aim for in crafting the tale?
CS: A lot of my thinking spends time hanging out in the 1970s, so I’m always on the verge of unconsciously channeling a bit of 70s storytelling. I do feel like, as a horror story, Evolution is more in line with films from that era like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View. It spends a lot of time focusing on quiet moments and characters before it begins to get really freaky, but the freakiness is always kinda hanging out in the background.
JA: The 70s grindhouse and psychedelic cinema waves feed directly into the story and the lives of some of these characters. We also kept referencing early Cronenberg, which captured a similar feel but used it to probe into more thoughtful, uneasy territory and explicit body-horror.
I’d also argue that that era of film, with limited budgets, drilled down into their characters and atmosphere when they couldn’t afford to keep the blood and shocks flowing. And the best versions of that were more inspiring to us than the thought of just following modern horror tropes or style. Instead, we have the chance to take the things that worked best in the grimy, patient, atmospheric 70s films and twist it with comics’ ability to deliver Grand Guignol horror anytime we’d like.
JK: I think it was a natural extension of what we all love the most. I know Carpenter is one of the biggest influences I have, so he’s all over my work in general. I’m also somewhat obsessed with grindhouse movies from the 60s on, which is on the tin of my Evolution corner, for sure.
FS: Is there anything about what you can tease about what we can expect to see in the series moving forward?
CS: We have so much planned it’s hard to think of what’s worth hinting at more than the other. There’s gonna be rabbit holes we fall down. Things get so much darker than they are in this first issue. Lots of blood, lots of bad news. Oh and the end of the world.
JA: I’ll just say something I’ve loved about the experience. The split focus of the story gives you a wider variety of characters and elements to invest in and grab onto. But with more than one character or anchor in the story, that also freed us up to let the ground shift under you more, and more upsettingly, as the story unfolds. So be careful who you feel for here. They might just change on you.
Evolution #1, written by Joe Keating, Chris Sebela, James Asmus, and Joshua Williamson, with Joe Infurnari and Jordan Boyd on art, is on sale now from Image Comics and Skybound Entertainment.
From the official issue description:
Human evolution has taken millions of years to get to this stage. But next week, we become something new. Around the world, humanity is undergoing rapid and unpredictable changes, and only three individuals seem to notice that their world is being reborn. But what can they do about it? Skybound unites writers JAMES ASMUS, JOSEPH KEATINGE, CHRISTOPHER SEBELA & JOSHUA WILLIAMSON and artists JOE INFURNARI & JORDAN BOYD to create a new global phenomenon in this oversized debut issue.