In the second part of our in-depth interview, Ales Kot discusses his forthcoming projects: Zero, a futuristic spy thriller and Surface, a metafictional cyberpunk adventure, and looks back at his devastating breakthrough work, Wild Children.
Ales Kot’s Wild Children, published in July this year, is the first comic to seriously engage with the metafictional, multiversal themes of Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis and Alan Moore. Packed with mind-bending tropes, references to net culture and dozens of quotations from music, philosophy and psychology, it is a dense, allusive work. Kot grew up reading the works of the Morrison / Ellis / Moore trifecta, and exploring the meme-pools they fish in. In a thrilling turn of events, he has proved himself to be the first comics creator to absorb, process and evolve these ideas for a new generation of readers.
USA Today called Wild Children: “Network for the prep school set” and it’s not a bad comparison. Kot’s comic shares a sense of societal outrage, of a driving need for change, with Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film. But that’s only half the story – for comics fans who have kept pace with the revolutionary use of space and pacing in the work of Warren Ellis; the metafictional weirdness of Moore, which culminated in the comic-meets-word-virus that was Neonomicon; and even the compressed, ‘talking heads’ interludes pioneered by Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns, there are visual and technical nods and asides to enjoy as well. Ales Kot wears his influences on his sleeve and synthesises them in a way that is urgent, visceral and new.
Looking at the sparse information given out so far about his futuristic spy thriller Zero is enough to moisten the palms of any comics fan, or indeed any James Bond aficionado. What attracted Kot to the genre? ”I always loved it,” he says. “The spy thriller genre and the super-spy thriller are tonally different, but they often deal with a lot of the same themes – glorification of white crime, politics of power, gender politics… Oh, we also get fights, chases and beautiful women.” The character was the hook that got him writing: “In the beginning, I was simply enamored with the ideal of the extremely capable man who does what he wants and gets what he came for, but as I grew older and discovered more about the world we all live in, I started realizing that figures like Andrew Zero are not nearly as cool as they might have seemed. Zero is a thug first and foremost. He’s easy to steer as long as you give him a decent target, enough booze and painkillers and some women on the side. He’s the bleak male force unleashed.”
It’s a subtle mashup – given that the spy thriller and super-spy thriller are close cousins, what will make the character of Edward Zero different from a Bond, say, or even a Jack Cross? For Kot, it’s about the questions the character poses: “How do you live with being a person like Edward Zero? You’re young, you’re great at killing people, you’re an addict… Where do you go from that? Do you even go anywhere? What if you begin questioning what you’re told by your superiors? Answering those questions will take us all over the globe.” Kot has mentioned Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba’s Casanova as an influence, but Kot’s take on the genre(s) seems to be more in line with Warren Ellis’s short-lived but masterful Global Frequency, with each mission or issue drawn by a different artist.
“I tend to be pretty holistic about life”
In Surface, it seems Kot will be addressing quite complex notions about the nature of reality and consciousness, as he did in Wild Children. What can readers expect from the series? “The Surface is an action SF with artwork by Langdon Foss, who just recently wrapped up Get Jiro with Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose. The way I describe the Surface is ‘What if Moebius worked on District 9 or Inception?’ I’m not saying we’ll be reaching his greatness, but we are certainly doing our best to deliver the strongest, most interesting comic book we can possibly create, with a strong imaginative bent. I like making stories because I like giving people a chance to feel and think in new ways. With The Surface, that love for imagination translates into the environment of the comic in a very direct way, because we enter a place people considered an urban myth for decades – a place that allows us to transform it with our minds.”
The plot is deceptively simple: “Three hacker kids on the run. One place away from everything, or so it seems. What can go wrong? Pretty much everything.” Kot promises the work will explore not only the complex theories of ‘Ideaspace’ and virtual realities, but deep psychological territory as well. It’s this mixture of psychological exploration/excavation and fabulistic near-future SF that is fast becoming Ales Kot’s trademark. He dives into what could be incredibly dry, intellectual territory with a light, easy touch and an assured grip on character and structure. As always, Surface asks interesting questions: “How about the nature of our reality, for starters,” begins Kot enthusiastically. “Are gigantic robots fun? And what are the bonobos doing there?”
Returning to his breakthrough comic, Wild Childen, Kot is completely upfront about the way he uses quotations, homage and references in his work. “Whatever works, works,” he says. “It’s as simple as that. Does it work within the story, does it feel new because of the connections you have created? If so, use whatever you want. Be nice, be inventive, never settle for a half-assed decision. Create the most truthful story you can come up with.”
He talks of the “deep influence” he “felt from many different areas.” It was a question of using his influences wisely to help him grow and evolve: “I understood that I wasn’t as good or elegant writer as I wanted to be and I couldn’t simply transcend the influence certain creators had on me yet, so I decided that the only way out was through – owning up to the influences and embracing them, finding the good in them.” He pulls it off with remarkable flair. “I tend to be pretty holistic about life,” he says, “so it wasn’t that hard to achieve.”
One theme that has emerged in Kot’s work is the notion of comics ‘universes’ as a stable alternative dimension – how far does he take this notion, in terms of applying it to his own life, and his approach to reality? “3D is just 1D away from 2D,” says Kot wickedly. “Life is a string of moments that we put together, separated so often within every second that we can’t measure the frequency according to which the empty space between two moments appears. That empty space is to our life in 3D what the gutter is to comics, which are two-dimensional. That empty space contains every possibility. That empty space – every single one of them, however many there are for every second – is where we can transform ourselves and the universe. It is beyond dimensions and beyond words. The thing is, that separation into 2D, 3D and such… is a work of fiction in itself.” Asked to explain the flecks of ink in the panels and margins of Wild Children, he attributes their presence to: “Punk rock aesthetics, pure and simple. A way to transfer raw energy on the page without diluting it.”
Music is one of the passions Kot explores in his work. Who were the bands he loved first, and where have his tastes led him lately? “I really enjoyed Backstreet Boys when I was about ten,” says Kot. “How’s that for being controversial? Shortly after: Prodigy (Fat of the Land being the first thing I ever heard from them), The Cure, Pink Floyd. Then Radiohead, The Velvet Underground, Tori Amos, Venetian Snares, UNKLE and many others. I was about fifteen and exploding. So much good new music. It beautifully deformed me. Recently: Johnny Greenwood’s scores for There Will be Blood and The Master are works of art. The new Bat for Lashes album. Mutamassik. The Notorious B.I.G., Marnie Stern, the new remix album Bjork just put out… Reign of Terror by Sleigh Bells has some great pop songs. I love Talking Heads more and more with every day. The new Crystal Castles album is raw as fuck. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Alellujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! fascinates me to no end. Anything Ben Frost touches. DJ Rupture’s new mix.” Just like his comics work, Kot’s playlist is a thick gumbo of influences and flavours – there’s a little bit of everything in there. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Although the great majority of his work so far has been creator-owned, Kot has already written an issue of Batman, and given Marvel and DC’s penchant for jumping on indie creators when they gain a bit of success, would Kot take a crack at a Big Two superhero book, if offered? “Superheroes are very interesting and I get how they work,” says Kot. “I would be flattered to be asked and I would certainly consider it. Can I tell the story I want to tell while honouring the character and the character’s history? If the answer is yes, the company is interested and we agree on the terms, I’ll gladly do it.”
Given that his work is so densely packed with research, can he explain just how he became so goddamned clever? “My parents taught me to read early on,” Kot replies. “I read books and comics by the time I was three years old. When I was ten, my favorite writers were Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. Looking at my life right now, I think that explains a lot.”
Read part one of our in-depth interview with Ales Kot, where he tells us about his early influences, and discusses his new Image series, Change.
Change Issue #1 is on sale from 12 Dec. Zero and the Surface debut in 2013. Check http://www.aleskot.com for news and updates.- TEXTURE