Artist Andre Araujo Constructs a Dystopian Android City for ‘Man Plus’ [Interview]
For the last few weeks, writer/artist André Araújo has been publishing pages from his new Titan Comics series Man Plus as a webcomic, offering a free look at the opening chapter in his story about a robotic dystopia. As he puts it, it's a story about "a shimmering metropolis where technology rules with a heavy hand, and cyborg strike teams are commonplace" --- or in other words, the perfect chance for him to assemble an entire city using only his imagination.
Having completed a thesis in architecture, Man Plus provides Araújo with the opportunity to realize some of his ideas on the page, and create not only a futuristic world and narrative, but a futuristic landscape as well. With the series heading to print in January next year, ComicsAlliance spoke to Araújo to find out more about how it came to be.
ComicsAlliance: This must be a passion project for you. How did the idea for Man Plus come together? What made you want to tell this story?
André Araújo: I’ve always been interested in sci-fi and cyberpunk as a genre, but it was only after completing my master thesis in architecture that I found the substance for the stories I wanted to tell. The thesis was about interpreting architecture as an instrument instead of a simple object, and looking at its design as the extension of the human body. In many instances, this vision for architecture translated as a vision for technology as a whole, in that designing technology became synonym of designing our body.
With this concept, extracted from authors like John McHale, Marshal McLuhan, William J. Mitchel --- among many others --- I knew I had found the conceptual cornerstone for the story I wanted to tell. The title was taken from an expression coined from John McHale in his 1969 book The Future Of The Future, referring to the idea that man was always more than what he was born with. From tools like fire, to concepts like language, man has always been Man Plus.
CA: Is this something you’ve had in mind for a while, or did it come together quite quickly?
AA: Since I always wanted to tell a story on that genre, after I found my themes and the subjects that I wanted to talk about I felt comfortable about writing a story, so it became only a question of finding the time to actually do the story. After finishing my degree I still worked a year as an architect, but after starting working on comics full time, Man Plus was one of the first stories I tried to publish.
CA: Titan is releasing the project as a webcomic first --- something that has also worked very well over at other publishers like First Second. Do you write the series as a continuing, webcomic-style story, or do you consider it in the typical comics 20-page style?
AA: The book is four issues long and was finished when the idea for the webcomic came along, so it’s written with the typical monthly structure in mind. In this case, each issue is 22 pages long, with some nice moments and cliffhangers taking advantage of that structure. But I planned the story as a continuous thing as well, so it will work nicely when collected or published in a continuous manner like on this webcomic, which is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
CA: The webcomic has hinted at the overall story, but it looks like there’ll be a lot of politics in this series. Do you view Man Plus as a commentary on current real-world events?
AA: Absolutely. Like all sci-fi, Man Plus is more of a reflection of our times than anything else. I was never interested in making it a prediction of the future, as that sounds rather pointless. Sci-fi is very useful for picking up some of the concerns that we have now and exploring them by amplifying the conditions that exist in reality, something achieved through using certain tools as putting a story in the future.
CA: How do you prefer to work as writer/artist? Do you script first, or plan pages and then add dialogue later…?
AA: After an initial process of scribbled random notes, I write the plot, breaking it scene by scene. It’s usually something fairly quick and about a page long. Then I distribute the 22 pages by each scene, so that I can move to the script itself with a solid structure laid out. I write in a full script, meaning that I break down all the pages and panels before I draw anything. In the panel descriptions I add many visual notes as references for my own layouts (like camera angles, composition and whatever comes to mind.). If a scene is driven by dialogue, I’ll usually write the dialogue all in one go first and then go back to the panel descriptions, aiming at visuals that match what is being said.
In the end, the script is a process for me to take note of the visuals that I have in my mind and allows me to visualize and stabilize an idea quickly, before moving to the layouts. Plenty of things then can be added, removed or changed in the following stages but the basic aspects of the story, like overall pacing, dynamics, scene lengths or tone are already set.
CA: Has writing and drawing the series changed the way you look at creating a comics story?
AA: Before drawing for Marvel I kept working on a bunch of creator owned stories that I was trying to publish, so the method of creation as always been there in a way. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn a lot from writing and drawing Man Plus (I certainly did), just that it was more of a natural process as a creator than a turning point.
CA: This is the sort of comic which must require a lot of design work. What did you want readers to take away from the style of your Man Plus designs? What did you want your world to be?
AA: When I think of a story, certain visuals pop in my mind. I then proceed to collect references from other works, authors and nonfiction sources that match the tone that I have in my mind and that I use as inspiration for the designs. My first concern is always of having visuals that represent the story, themes, tone, mood etc, so that’s my first intention towards the reader, that she/he might absorb, from the first glance, the nature of the book.
Then I also like adding lots of details to every panel to add depth and life to the world of Man Plus (or any other book I work on), sometimes with things that aren’t mentioned by characters or particularly relevant to the story, but that help to flesh out the book beyond the obvious.
CA: What are your artistic inspirations? Are you a big fan of science fiction?
AA: I am a big fan of science fiction, which is probably my favorite vehicle for a story, but not exclusively. I like many other genres (historical, fantasy, crime, mystery, etc.) and I’m heavily interested in many subjects, like technology or history (in particular of my country, Portugal). My artistic inspirations relate to this of course, with Katsuhiro Otomo and Jean Giraud/Moebius being the biggest names in my mind. Everything about these authors, from the themes, stories, designs to their careers as a whole are extremely inspirational.
Other authors like Masamune Shirow, Hermann, Frank Quitely, Kim Jung Gi, Naoki Urasawa, Brandon Graham, Hiroaki Samura, among many others, are huge inspirations for me. Apart from comics, movie makers like Riddley Scott, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan or bands like Pink Floyd, Genesis or Led Zeppelin have a great effect on me as a creator.
CA: Which have been your favorite characters to work on? Are there any little touches in the way they look which you’ve especially enjoyed?
AA: Definitely the characters from Man Plus, as I got to design exactly like I wanted. Particularly the main team and main character, Rodrigo, and the leader of the cyborgs. I draw many details in them that vary from nods to books I enjoy, authors that inspire me, things that I like, things that interest me etc, so I’m always enjoying drawing them on the pages.
CA: How do you find working with colorist Arsia Rozegar? What’s the collaborative process like?
AA: Arsia is a true artist, so our collaboration goes beyond the technical aspects. I think that the most important thing that a colorist needs to do is to understand the story, the tone and mood of it, and choose his palette and style to reflect it. Arsia, being one of the very best colorists working in comics today, did exactly that. We talked about what I had in mind, I sent him some references and he nailed it in the most amazing way, right from the beginning, which impressed me a lot.
CA: What can we expect from the series as it goes forward? Why should readers give Man Plus a read?
AA: Readers should be excited about Man Plus because I believe that it is a well crafted comic in all of its aspects. It’s also a piece of creator-owned work that reflects my as a creator rather well, as I did exactly what I wanted, the way I wanted, to the best of my abilities. More specifically, if you like cyberpunk and things like Akira, Ghost In The Shell or Blade Runner, if you like androids, cyborgs and a fast paced cyberpunk thriller, this is for you.
It’s also a contained story, so readers can pick up Man Plus knowing that they’ll have a 4 issues journey with a beginning, middle and ending. And this structure is what I want to carry on for the future of Man Plus, bringing more well defined stories, in 4-8 issues installments.