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More than a decade after it started, Duncan Jones is bringing his Moon trilogy to a close with Madi: Once Upon A Time in The Future — but, just as 2018’s Mute moved from the cinema screen to Netflix, Madi is a further evolution, debuting as a graphic novel from independent publisher Z2 Comics.
Co-written by Jones and writer/filmmaker Alex De Campi (Twisted Romance, Bad Girls) and illustrated by an army of some of comics’ most talented artists — including Chris Weston, Annie Wu, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Duncan Fegredo, Pia Guerra and Simon Bisley — Madi is a 260-page graphic novel centering on an eponymous protagonist, a special-ops veteran whose attempt to survive one last mission ends up with her on the run across the world from everyone she’s ever known.
The book will be published by Z2 in November, but fans have a chance to check it out early — and get a limited edition version of the book with 30 pages of additional material, to boot — by backing its Kickstarter campaign (already funded at the time of writing, despite launching earlier today). Crowdfunder editions of the book will ship out before stores receive their copies.
More information about Madi and the Kickstarter campaign can be found here. THR talked to Jones and De Campi about the origins of the project.
The obvious question is Duncan’s: Why move to comics to complete the Moon trilogy? Both in terms of, why switch media at all, but also, why comics as opposed to prose, animation or some other format?
Duncan Jones: Control and budget. (Laughs.) Part of the beauty of comics, and especially graphic novels, is that you can do whatever you need to do to tell the story in your head. You don’t need to pre-sell based on foreign estimates, you don’t need to scale down to hit the designated budget, you don’t need to shave off your edges to fit your story in that round studio four-quad hole … There is an absolute purity to the storytelling in comics that comes down to the writer and the artist meeting minds and then building the final experience together.
It’s an additive collaborative experience, where ideas build on each other, rather than a subtractive one where ideas are whittled down to the most acceptable … sometimes it’s nice to let your hair down and just jam for the love of what’s in your heart. When I decided to go this route, I ran a poll of people’s favorite comic artists then commissioned four pages of work from the story. It taught me a lot about what I knew and what I didn’t know about the medium, and convinced me that to do it right, I needed to partner up with someone experienced. After a little poking [of] some of my comic world contacts, multiple people repeatedly pointed me towards Alex and after talking, we knew we could work together.
Alex, what was the experience like from your end? Was it as simple as “Duncan asked and I said yes”? You have a background in both comics and filmmaking, so it feels like a natural pairing.
Alex De Campi: Duncan made a post on Twitter looking for someone to collaborate with and I answered it and the simple version is, that was it. The slightly longer version is Duncan and I chatted for a while over DM and he asked around about me and, for once, my friends decided not to drop me in it and only said flattering things. It’s certainly the sort of project that I do well in and have a lot of experience doing: complex, high-stakes productions where you need someone who can write and edit and produce, and who knows a lot of great artists.
It also helped that I could talk to Duncan in the language of film, and that my comics scripts use a lot of cinematography shorthand. You could say my old book Ashes in a way was a dry run for this, as I used a lot of what I learned there to inform how I adapted Madi to comic script and conceptually split it up between different artists.
So what was the writing process for the book like? How much of Madi already existed before work on the graphic novel started in earnest? How did the two of you collaborate? In terms of process, I mean — “very well” is the answer I’d expect if I was asking about how it worked out.
De Campi: Madi was a screenplay by Duncan, and I printed it out and took it away last summer to Maine with me and did the initial adaptation pass by hand, scrawling my breakdowns on the blank facing pages of the screenplay. Then every 20 pages or so I’d convert those breakdowns to a draft comic script and put them into the ever-growing Google doc that was the comic script, and Duncan would tweak it and ask questions and fix bits. Everything went very smoothly, really — there’s a lot of mutual respect and Duncan is very open and collaborative. I wasn’t in any way trying to make this script mine, however. I have my own books to do that. I was just trying to bring to life the most amazing graphic novel version of his vision that I could. I did get to put some cat ears on some cop helmets, though. Still chuffed about that.
Of course, now I’m lettering the book, and Duncan’s also been really chill about me tweaking dialogue to fit the art best. Really, both of us are just here for the story, and I think that’s why it’s been so easy. We haven’t had any absolute differences of opinion that I recall. The book is so pretty. I’m looking it anew as I letter, and it’s making me raise my lettering game, or fall deeper down a graphic design hole with my lettering — not sure which — just to be able to measure up to, say, Dylan Teague’s sublime art or Glenn Fabry’s surgically precise character storytelling.
You mentioned Dylan, whose art can be seen in the preview below, as well as Glenn Fabry, and the artist lineup on the book is just ridiculous; how did you gather together this kind of team? And, for that matter, what was the process of splitting the story up to be illustrated by so many people?
De Campi: The very first part of the project, worked out in DMs, was creating a conceptual basis for how we divided this story up into parts. Finding an artist to draw 250 pages and then waiting for them to have space in their schedule to begin and then the two years that page count takes to draw … we didn’t want to do that. This story has waited long enough. So we decided to divide the book up into scenes and give each scene to a different artist.
I’m such a formalist, it hurts, so being handed an intricate story structure dilemma is the sort of thing that brings me enormous joy. Oh boy, I have a puzzle that I can solve with pictures! Yay! Duncan’s script made it easy, though, because it was all there. The key was already in the story. It’s a globe-spanning road-trip book — the U.K. to China to America, so each artist could own a location, and when we change locations, we start each new artist with a double-page spread so they have the entire space to establish their style and environment without being jammed confusingly up against another artist drawing the same characters. We managed to always change the scene on the page turn. (Not as easy as it sounds.) Also, in a book about the future, it’s good to see the future, give it some space to exist and show itself, beyond the strict rigors of plot. Of course, in true formalist fashion, we only establish rules so we can break them at the right time, but you’ll have to buy the book to see that.
As for the artist list, what can I say? Duncan and I drew up a wish list of nice, reliable people who are also brilliant artists, and then I called up my friends. I’ve been making books in the DMs for ages; we did that with my old book Twisted Romance too, and I met Ryan Howe, my line artist for Bad Karma, on Twitter. Duncan and I shamelessly packed the list with artists’ artists. It’s been this lovely experience working with a lot of people I know and love, and some new people outside my circle we reached out to, and they’ve produced such excellent work. Maybe there are a few less superhero artists than you’d expect, but then this isn’t a superhero story, and I don’t know so many of those guys anyway. My hope is with Madi that everyone will find an artist that’s new to them in the book and whose work surprises and delights them.
I think one of the greatest pleasures of the different artists was how well each one fit their scene. We put a lot of thought into how we “cast” each scene to a particular artist’s style: James Stokoe’s frantic line in a crowded casino; Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s dreamy character work in an undersea train deep below the Pacific; Simon Bisley giving bloody hell in a bare-knuckle fight scene; Pia Guerra’s peaceful road trip and Chris Weston’s hellish air attack, like North by Northwest on steroids; David Lopez mastering both difficult action and subtle character moments in the final section. It’s not that anyone is better than anyone else, it’s that each one is so perfect for what they’re doing.
Another thing that’s important to mention, and this is where I really respect Duncan a whole lot, is he made an early decision to pay artists fair rates for their work and give royalties, both for line and color artists. That is super rare in comics, where artists are often treated and paid really terribly — even by big-name publishers. It’s really nice when you meet a freelancer in a position of power who makes a conscious effort to treat others in the way he’d want to be treated if he were doing their job. It seems like such a simple thing, but it’s infrequently done. People say “be the change” and Duncan is doing that, and I’m really hoping our project is super successful not only because it’s a gorgeous book, but so we can tell other people, “Look, you can pay your artists fairly and still make money.”
Why crowdfund the project? Was there discussion about the more traditional publishing route?
De Campi: Oh, please, we had five publisher offers. Again, I mostly went to people I’d worked with before or who I knew personally, so maybe we could have had more. But after talking about it and just … pondering a lot, Duncan and I went with Z2 because they were excited about us also running a Kickstarter. Both Duncan and I love interacting with our fan base and have a very DIY mentality so the idea of going directly to fans is super appealing and feels very natural.
I’ve run two successful Kickstarters so I was a big proponent of the site, because I believe it brings you to a very engaged, curious reader base who want to be the first one with the new thing, who like trying out new stuff, and who crucially don’t really overlap with the bookstore audience or the comic shop audience. There’s also a sci-fi and film fan base that may not engage regularly with comics but who would love this, and we can reach them by Kickstarter. Also, Kickstarters are fun!
The book is still being published traditionally and will be in bookstores in November, but when that happens there will hopefully be a lot of strong word-of-mouth around the book to bring in a whole second wave of readers or holiday gift buyers. And honestly, what good karma that when there are no comic or book shops open, we have a cool book you can buy on Kickstarter. Plus, those shops can still make money off our book in November once things settle down, especially as we’re also not planning a digital version, so there’s going to be some scarcity value to the book. It’s a deluxe, oversize printing — both Duncan and I are really interested in the book as a beautiful object.
Duncan, Madi, in theory, completes the trilogy that you’ve talked about at least since promotion for Mute — but does having worked on this comic change that? Can you imagine expanding the universe further in comics, having created this?
Jones: I had a weird experience with my film Mute that was very educational to me. I couldn’t let it go. Sixteen years of trying to get it made and after it was done, I felt … well, “closure” to be honest. It was the damndest thing. Now Mute was weirdly therapeutic for a number of extremely personal reasons, but Madi has been the opposite. I love these characters now and this story even more than I did before we made this book.
I would love to do more with them. I would love someone else to! I would love a big Japanese anime studio to option it, translate it into Japanese and make their own version of it! Why are we always remaking their comics?! Maybe they might want to do one of ours! (Laughs.) That would be amazing!
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