'Undiscovered Country' Creators Pull Back Curtain on Ambitious Comic

Undiscovered Country- Image Comics - Publicity-H 2019
Giuseppe Camuncoli/Image Comics
Scott Snyder and Charles Soule talk at length about the Image Comics title and reject the notion that it can replace 'The Walking Dead' as the publisher's flagship property: "We're not going to presume that it can be anything."

Announced at San Diego Comic-Con, Image Comics’ upcoming series Undiscovered Country is nothing if not ambitious. Creators Scott Snyder, Charles Soule, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Daniele Orlandini, Matt Wilson and Crank! reveal a world set three decades in the future that's unlike ours — and a United States of America very unlike ours, in many ways, and not that different, in others.

After the United States has withdrawn from the rest of the world behind a literal wall, humanity has fallen victim to a pandemic that has spread across the globe. The first communique from the U.S. in decades promises a cure, but — of course — things aren’t as straightforward as it might seem.

Ahead of the series’ November launch, Snyder and Soule talked about the origins of the series, the real-life inspirations behind some of the more outlandish ideas, and what America might look like after 30 years of isolationism.

The obvious first question, which might not be as straightforward as it seems: Where did this book come from? Just based on the high concept, it almost sounds as if the two of you might have just watched the news one day and —

Charles Soule: I mean, some of that. You know, we've been we've been close friends for years and years and years —

Scott Snyder: For decades.

Soule: Yeah, yeah. And so there's been a lot of a lot of sitting around the fire drinking, going for runs together, a lot of these conversations where we're looking for a book to do together — or a project of any kind — for a really, really long time. And out of one of those conversations came the basic premise of the series: the United States seals itself off for 30 years. Nobody knows what's happened inside. And then an expedition goes in to explore and see what happens. So that seed came from us pretty early. But then it really sparked to life, because there's there's this guy we know.... But I'll let Scott take that part.

Snyder: I sort of met him doing research for Batman, and he was a ex-CIA operative but it became clear he was not really "ex."

Soule: Yeah, he's "retired."

Snyder: So we started talking to him about this, just because we asked him, "Is this feasible? Is it possible? How would the United States essentially remove itself from the world economy?" And he was like, "Well, that's actually something that we think tank and war game all the time to different, like different degrees."

Soule: They call it “Fortress America.”

Snyder: What was so interesting about it is that, it wasn't just kind of a logistical thing he was thinking about, or they were thinking about, but there were all these different levels. And so he brought us down to the CIA, and he brought us down to DARPA, and the things they're thinking about in terms of this are wildly inspiring, both because they're they're protective in reserved ways and then in ambitious ways. And what we've done is kind of taken the seeds of the ideas that we heard there and then sort of walked them down to their extreme extension.

Soule: Now, to be fair, they started pretty extreme. Like, we were talking about the things they are planning, like the things that they will bring online fairly soon, that the world will hear about 50 years from now — it was, as you said, really inspiring, the amount of ideas poured into our brain that day.

Snyder: For example, one of the things was like, bacteria- and virus-resistant fish.

Soule: Because of fish farming, so they want to be sure that their stocks are resistant.

We should talk about the high concept of the book, about what Undiscovered Country is actually about.

Snyder: Our story is really about the United States 30 years after not just closing its doors for immigration purposes, but becoming this completely mysterious black box to the rest of the world. Nobody's heard from it. Nobody's come or gone. Just absolute mystery.

Now, the rest of the world has kind of organized itself into two empires. And at this point, a pandemic begins to ravage the population globally, and out of nowhere they get a message from the United States saying, "We have a lab that's been working on a cure for many years. We've been watching you. And we will allow in one diplomatic mission — seven people, you pick them. Send them in and we'll give them a sample of the cure and show that we're serious about this."

The thing for us that was so exciting about it was that it's based on, you know, real thinking right now — except it's taken to kind of comic-book lunacy. We want it to be a book that feels like Land of the Lost meets Lewis and Clark, where you read every issue and it's just terrestrial fish monsters and mammoths, robots and techno zombies. It doesn't feel political. Deep down, it's personal; it's about the dangers of isolationism, both on a personal level and on a global level.

As dads, both of us worry about the fact that our kids sort of spiral inward. You know, the things they find, the things they can insulate themselves with, in terms of pop culture and also politics. Whereas when we were kids, I feel like there was a sort of more open, or at least more objective, sort of truth. And it's been chipped away at. Yeah. So right now, this book is is largely about the the dangers of that. The pitfalls of the idea of isolationism on every level.

Soule: So that's the high concept of it. But it's really about the characters: Who is going on this journey? The main characters are a brother and sister — Daniel and Charlotte Grace. One of the earliest scenes we see in the story — it's not in issue 1, but it opens issue 2 — is, they're like 5 and 7 years old, and their parents who are — I'm not going to get into the details over who their parents are, because it's pretty cool and central to the plot —

Snyder: It's part of the mystery.

Soule: — but basically, the parents are like, "Okay, guys. We're packing your bags we're going to send you to your cousins in England." They're like, "What you talking about? When are we coming back?" And they don't come back until this series. And so they are both very wrapped up in the mystery of, you know, "Why did this happen to us? Who are we? Are we American, are we not American? What is America at this point?"

Their exploration through the country mirrors their own personal journey to find out who they are now and where they've been, and what what happened to their parents, and why this choice was made. Charlotte, the sister, is an epidemiologist who has been studying the virus, this pandemic has been raging throughout the world. And so the fact that there is in theory a cure inside the United States is gives her a professional reason to go. And then the personal reason is, she left her parents behind.

And then, Daniel — he took a very different path. He became sort of a soldier, or a mercenary, and his goal professionally, I guess you could say, was always trying to get back into the United States. He's the only person that almost did; he got the closest that anybody's ever gotten to getting inside before this invitation came out. He almost got in and didn't make it, and it was like a big potential military disaster. It was scandalous.

He's been exiled from both of the large empires that were formed in the United States' absence in the outer world. He's a man on the run until he gets found and tapped to be on this mission. And Charlotte gets tapped to be on this mission, and then there's five other characters, all of whom are interesting in very different ways. The expedition setup is very fun, and we just follow them as they go through the country. I guess we could talk about what they what they find, to a degree...

Snyder: The premise is essentially this team is sent in, and for reasons they don't understand, as soon as they breach the walls in this helicopter, they're shot down. They crash at the very edge of the country and find this incredibly bizarre landscape with terrestrial fish monsters and people wearing silver NASA robes. It's very Star Wars. It's very alien.

Soule: What they thought they would find is a society, right?

Snyder: That's what was promised to them in the message that that was transmitted.

Soule: "We'll have a nice meeting, we'll drink some coffee, we'll talk this out."

Snyder: "We'll show you what we've become, we've become this shining city, we've become this utopia," and instead it's completely out of control. And so, once they crash and they have to decide whether to proceed or try and find a way out, they realize that the United States is now organized into this kind of spiral path, almost like the Yellow Brick Road.

Soule: Oz allusions are intentional.

Snyder: Yeah. It spirals all the way through different zones, and each zone that we're designing for each arc of the story is wildly different. The first one is sort of Western Star Wars strange, with these monsters and, you know, strange mutants. The second one, without giving too much away, is going to be completely different — techno zombies being linked together, and then we get to the third arc and it's, well, I'm kind of spoiling things...

Soule: Yeah, maybe keep some of the spoiler stuff off the interview. (Laughs)

Snyder: The point we're trying to make is that every arc of it, every zone, reinvents —

Soule: — reinvents America.

Snyder: Yeah, and reinvents the story. The idea is essentially this: to make it feel like a book that has no political ambitions, because we want people to pick it up and just have fun. We want it to be something that feels like a bombastic, robust, over-the-top, epic adventure in the old-school format. And it is that; it's like it's super crazy fun. But deep down, it's a very personal book about, again, not only the dangers of isolationism but the dangers of what will become if we follow that kind of path, both politically and individually. There is a reason that each zone is the way it is, but you might not learn it until issue 20 or 25, and just to be clear, we have 30 issues of it planned out and committed to.

Soule: We should speak about the team. The whole team is amazing. It's Scott and myself, and we obviously have a pretty robust career in comics which we're both very proud of, but everyone else that we're working with does too. I mean, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Daniele Orlandini and I did a Darth Vader series together, so we're kind of a proven team. And then Matt Wilson is on The Wicked and the Divine, and Chris Crank, I work with him on Curse Words, with is another series I publish with Image, and he's a fantastic letterer. And we've got Will Dennis editing the book.

It sounds massive. It sounds as if the creative possibilities are, not endless, but you have this space to do anything you want.

Snyder: And also, we know how it ends. And it hasn't even started, so I feel so uncomfortable talking about it. (Laughs)

Soule: So don’t! Don’t! Don't talk about the end. But the end is great.

I was going to ask, do you have an end? Because it sounds as if this is an idea that could go on indefinitely.

Soule: Well, the nice thing about the spiral path idea is that we can add zones, but we know the question we're asking and we know the answer, which is a great place to write a series [from] because you know you can explore that question a billion different ways. And, again, we know we were going. We know what will happen in those last couple issues, and it's rad.

Snyder: It's crazy.

Soule: It's super crazy. So, a lot of times people, especially on creator-owned books, you get invested in the series and you don't know what's going to happen, if it's going to keep going, if it's going to go off schedule or whatever, and we are very committed to delivering an experience that we would want to have as readers, which is, you know, the great monthly series. You know, Y: The Last Man or The Walking Dead or Preacher or like any of these books that that were very satisfying from beginning to end. I think that's Undiscovered Country for us. We're trying to deliver that kind of experience for the readers.

Snyder: We're very aware of the fact that some of the series that we love and that have inspired us are coming to a close in the next couple of years, and not that we could touch the hem of the series, but our goal is to deliver to image something that you know has the same spiritual sort of core.

You say that, and my first thought when I heard about Undiscovered Country was, oh, this is what can replace Walking Dead. I know you didn't go into the book with that intent —

Soule: We did not. We did not.

Snyder: And we're both friends with Robert, and we loved that book.

Soule: I have a signed copy of Walking Dead issue 1. That series has been very central to me for the whole run.

Snyder: We hung out with him within the last year, and he didn't tell us it was going to finish! (Laughs)  

But it feels as if Undiscovered Country could be a new anchor book for Image, in the same way that Walking Dead was.

Soule: We're not going to presume that it can be anything. We just want to deliver a really good story. Yes, it's a story about people walking through a changed America, you know, whatever. Our job is to deliver a hell of a story that has a strong emotional core that we care about, with a great team, that's gonna come out on time and be beautiful and everything, and that we know we can deliver. The rest is kind of up to, you know, the readers, I guess, and the retailers and everyone else.