Can America Be Saved? Sean Lewis And Hayden Sherman Explore A Divided World In ‘The Few’ [Interview]
In Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman's The Few, America is broken and divided, as the people left alive fight for scraps in the remains of what is now the no-longer United States. As the Republic wages war on the Remainder States, two survivalists find a young woman in the woods with no memories --- and a baby.
With the first issue of The Few hitting stores this week, ComicsAlliance caught up with Lewis and Sherman to talk about post-apocalyptic fiction in the current political climate, and what it can tell us about the modern day.
ComicsAlliance: What has your reaction been like, post-election, to the seemingly ever-prescient nature of The Few?
Sean Lewis: I will be honest, I don’t know if we knew how relevant the book was going to feel, now. I am originally from New York, but have lived and worked in the midwest for years now, and it’s clear that there is a lot of anger and blame between people. "United" is in the name of our country, but we are not a united whole. There is genuine hate for those who disagree. This is on both sides of the political spectrum. Liberal or conservative.
I’ll say it’s funny to be writing a dystopian book about a fractured United States and have it be actually less depressing than the politics right now. (Or less depressing than my current Facebook feed.)
In a fun way, with badass weapons, Hayden and I are able to explore people who think they are right who find out they are wrong. We also get to have marauders and survivalists and motorcycle gangs.
Hayden Sherman: Exactly right. When we started this book its largest themes were based in misconceptions, or how one person’s terrorist can be another person’s hero. Then, from the moment the election results came in, the book began speaking to new themes, themes that still spin out of where it started, but it has impacted the effect this story has in a way that I hadn’t seen coming.
Issue #5 is the first full issue that will be made post-election, and already these recent events have impacted the art. But I’ll let that be seen as issue #5 comes around.
CA: With the world becoming a scarier place seemingly daily, what is it about post-apocalyptic or dystopian fiction that is still so appealing to readers?
SL: I think it allows you to explore current issues, but with enough distance that everyone is invited. Like we can talk about a political break in the book, and no matter who you vote for you can read and be part of the conversation because what you’re watching are people and not ideologies.
I also think that these books get at something we all inherently hold onto --- the possible heroism of the individual. I think the daily crush of news and politics in real life gets overwhelming and people want to make a difference or be involved but it can seem pointless. I think we long for heroes, for people to rise up and make a singular difference, because we want to make that kind of impact.
And who knows, maybe there’s a level of planning to it; “Well if it all goes to s--- I’ve read enough The Walking Dead to know I need to find a fenced in prison to fortify myself in!”
CA: What is your collaboration process like, from script through to finished comic?
SL: Well, basically I wrote out a six chapter novella. Each chapter a short story length of about two to three thousand words. I send those to Hayden. With the first issue we talked a lot about character design and the look of locations, the way the weaponry and technology operates and should look. If there is a good visual model from a movie, I’ll pass that along, and I also tend to go through some of Hayden’s own portfolio and see where his strengths really announce themselves and try to write certain sequences towards that.
He’s an excellent artist, so that makes life a bit easy.
When we get to the scripts, they are a mix between screenplay and short story. Hayden then turns those into the actual book. I get those back from him and then do the final edit of the text spoken in the book. My personal preference in comic books is to not have everything be narration, and really let the art do storytelling as well. It’s a balance.
HS: Sean’s method of scripting is excellent in this book. For each issue I’ve got a run-down of everything that happens and who says what and where, and then I get to go out and interpret that visually.
From there, I’ll send Sean my penciled pages so he can redraft anything if he wants to, and then by the time I’m lettering, all the pieces have fallen into place. It’s a very natural collaboration and allows for plenty of fun unexpected things to just happen, which is always welcome!
CA: How was the decision made to go with a limited color palette?
HS: To me the limited palette allows for the color to act as its own sort of character through the book, specifically as one that could convey about what’s going on in our main character’s head. Hale goes through a good deal in these six issues, and as she does her views and opinions on things begin to shift.
Through the limited palette then, I can play the color to show us how she feels about her surroundings. When she’s in a city from her home the palette might be more separate, even changing as she revisits the same place since she’s still figuring out what this place means to her. While at the same time the forest is a muted green as she feels more relaxed there. Color allows us to tell the story in another way on top of the writing and the images.
CA: A lot of the action takes place featuring characters in big armor and helmets. Is it harder to convey emotions and reactions without a character’s face, or does it just force you to rely on other skills?
SL: I think as the book goes on we spend more time out of armor, though I would argue, that the armor itself can tell you something about the people. Being faceless can be terrifying, horror movies (think The Strangers) use this really well.
With the cults in the book, they feel disenfranchised, they are doing their best to look frightening, to obscure their humanity with a mask or helmet, to embrace their role as “other." As we get in deeper with the rebels, we will spend more time with human elements and human faces, people who are still trying.
HS: My chief example for a character in big armor and a helmet who we can always understand: Darth Vader. Costuming can tell us just as much and more about a character as any expression they could make.
In our book we have characters who wrap their whole heads up and wear air filters, suits built to avoid detection, a “king” whose face is kept largely in the shadow of his own head-piece, and plenty of other characters from there. Perhaps the characters who wrap their faces up do so because they feel that they’ve integrated into part of a whole and don’t have that sense of individuality they started with. Perhaps the eye pieces on the suits to avoid detection are shaped to convey the character’s know-how in the moment, or establish an order that they fall into. And perhaps the king’s face is largely kept in shadow by his own head-piece because he has overwhelmed himself with his own sense of privilege to where he can’t see quite right.
Costuming is definitely another skill apart from drawing faces, but it certainly gets the job done.
CA: How big is the world of The Few? Do you keep a story bible or something similar?
SL: I think pretty big. The current six issues are meant to stand alone, but if they connect with readers there is definitely more that can be explored.
There is a bible; we have these first six issues and then, if all goes well, I have a bible for another six, and an outline for a final six. With each we jump ahead in time a little bit, so the baby Hale has saved is growing up before our eyes and we see what this strife looks like for them.
CA: How much of the series is going to be based in flashbacks?
SL: There is a fair amount in the first six issues, because it gives us a sense of who Hale is with who she is becoming. She has her own secrets and beliefs that have shaped her that are constantly being challenged. She is helped by two boys in the badlands, who her whole life she has been taught were lesser than her. People she would have fought to the death a few years earlier.
To understand who she is it’s important to understand where she came from.
CA: Will we see how America got to this point, or is it more interesting to leave the unknown?
SL: Right now I am most interested in conflicts that have lasted so long that people can’t even remember how they got to this place. Why are they fighting, what started it? We have conflicts around the world right now that the original source is obscured. What happens when you are born into war?
We will get hints of how this came to be. We are using the inner covers to give clues and information on how we have gotten where we are. In later portions of the book the exact “how” we got here becomes more apparent. Just like in real life it takes the people in the book the time to stop and actually ask themselves why they are fighting to actually get close to an answer.