Ales Kot on Collaboration, Story and Bringing 'Zero' to the Screen
The writer of the Image Comics espionage thriller talks about the origins of his series about "bleak male rage" and American dread, and the possibility of it moving into a new medium.
Since the release of his debut comic book Wild Children two years ago, Ales Kot has been a comic book writer to keep an eye on. Mixing superhero work for both Marvel and DC (Suicide Squad, Secret Avengers and the newly announced Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier, which launches later this year) with more personal work like Change —created with Sloane Leong, Morgan Jeske and Ed Brisson — Kot has demonstrated a willingness to experiment and push himself in new directions.
The best example of this to date is Zero, an ongoing series published by Image Comics that is ostensibly an espionage story told in a nonlinear fashion on a grand scale. In practice, it is something else — a genuinely experimental series that nonetheless speaks to the mainstream, with artists changing every issue to redefine the book visually even as Kot slowly reveals the larger story at play.
"When I began writing Zero as a comic, I wanted to explore war, violence, nature and nurture," he told THR. "Each project has to come from a true place — and in this case, I had to face my own darkness, both in terms of genetic and cultural heritage. It's easy to wallow in the pain, but to create something new out of it — that was the goal."
The darkness he speaks of, he went on to suggest, is what he described as "bleak male rage, one of the biggest issues we are facing in the world today," pointing to other iconic action characters ("James Bond, John Rambo, Jason Bourne, many protagonists of James Ellroy's stories") as examples of this in popular culture. "Zero became a way of exploring that through the existing storytelling tropes of spy stories, action thrillers and speculative fiction," he said. "I knew where to start — and I let the path lead me, knowing some places I wanted to stop by on my way. The basic question was: How do we create a storytelling event that will speak to the truth of where we are at right now and how do we make it as engaging and thrilling as possible?"
The idea of letting the story lead has become increasingly important as the series has progressed. "We switched issues, changed timelines, killed characters without planning it and brought in others because the ideas came and felt right," Kot explained. "I am of the mind that a firm outline is a great thing, however it isn't the end of the process — the end of the process comes when I let the project out of my hands. When something new comes and tells me 'this is the way this has to go, this is right,' I want to listen."
That something may come in the form of the other people involved in Zero; in addition to the different artists contributing are a core team of collaborators who accompany Kot on each and every issue of the series. "I would be nothing without everyone else — without the artists, who change every month, with every single story, and without the designer, Tom Muller, the colorist, Jordie Bellaire, and the letterer, Clayton Cowles," the writer said. "Collaboration is at its best when it combines creativity, intimacy, excitement and a safe work environment. Together, we create a unified world that, through the changing artists, also reflects the changing state of mind of [lead character] Edward Zero."
He continued, "the collaborative approach that guided me to the successful creation of Zero as a comic is my core approach: It applies to every project I make now. That is why I didn't go with something like selling the rights or otherwise letting Zero out of my hands." Instead, he wrote the pilot script for the show himself and shared it with some producer friends — who, in turn, shared it with some agencies.
"WME's interest was so straightforward and dedicated that I chose to sign up with them, specifically with Roger Green and Phil D'Amecourt, who are now my agents," Kot revealed. "I also decided to sign with 3 Arts, bringing on Ari Lubet as my manager. I am delighted with the team dynamic; we believe in each other and we support each other."
That team is now working on developing Zero for the screen. "The TV series is not the same as the comic," Kot said, "but it has a very similar high-strung energy, an interest in many of the same themes and an atmosphere that lies at the intersection of a stylized, adrenaline-heavy action thriller and an existential spy horror. It's an exploration of the secret superagent archetype, of American dreams and of American dread — an examination of privacy, security, freedom and what we do for them."
Beyond Zero, his Marvel work and upcoming creator-owned comic projects, Kot has turned his attention to movies. "I currently also have three feature screenplays in active development, and the aim is to have them all finished — and ideally also sold — by the end of 2014," he revealed. "I believe that mind-blowing art and deeply engrossing entertainment can coexist as one uncompromising unit, and I am committed to giving people just that."
Zero is available monthly from Image Comics. Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier launches from Marvel in October.