Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of The Panic, first digitally through Comixology Originals and later this year in paperback from Dark Horse! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the series’ premise?
Neil Kleid: Thanks, much appreciated! So, The Panic is about ten strangers—all from diverse political, cultural and racial points of view— who are trapped together beneath the Hudson River when their PATH train accidentally and mysteriously derails. As the hours tick away and no signs of help or rescue appear, the survivors are forced to depend on one another in order to survive, get out and discover what exactly happened. It’s a love letter to New Yorkers, it’s my exploration of individuals thrust into an uncomfortable and unwelcome group dynamic…and it’s also about the moment of fear and fright that settles in after the unknown occurs. Will they come together and put aside the prejudices and points of view that define us as people in order to reach the light at the end of the tunnel…and what dangers await for them, if they do? Sure, they have to deal with claustrophobia, self-esteem issues, sexual tension, blood and rats (oh, so many rats)…but those aren’t even the largest concerns.
BD: How would you describe your shared creative process in working with artist Andrea Mutti to bring this story to life, and what (or who) were some of your creative influences in terms of the characters and tone?
NK: Working with Andrea—a master of tension, a conductor of color—has been a dream. Yes, I wrote the scripts and dreamed up the characters, but Andrea breathed them into life. Not only has he been integral in setting an atmosphere, and using his wonderfully painted pages in a way that each color heightens or sharpens tension, presents what could have been a story filled with neutrals (I mean, it takes place in the dark.) in a way that introduces color as part of the ensemble. Andrea was also great in that he is as invested in the narrative as I am; we always say that neither of us are right—only the story is right. And if he had recommendations to script or I did to the art, as long as it was the correct choice for the narrative, for the best possible story, that’s the choice we would make.
As far as influences go, I was heavily inspired by 1960s/1970s disaster films along with New York and all the diversity, charm, violence and hope it has to offer. The characters themselves are—or at least I hope they are—a diverse, authentic set of tri-staters each of whom brings their own unique point of view (flawed or not) to the tense, gripping narrative. I tried to look at comics and television shows that juggled ensemble casts in that way, attempting to give each character a chance to shine…but also ensure that every moment, every decision they made drove them—and their fellow survivors—to our ending. Some of them, like our lead Annie, were infused with my own personal worldview; I’m a left-leaning liberal, as is she, and I’m fairly naive about certain things, as is Annie. Some, like Rocco—our de-facto conservative—don’t come from my perspective but from those I’ve observed or know that do (family members, colleagues, etc.). I’m influenced by people, you know? What I see around me, in the mall, at stores or work…less so from other forms of media—which do inspire, in their way…but what I strive to present is an authentic representation of the world around me. This cast…they’re people I know, folks near and dear to me…and the fear, the city—they’re characters, too.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Annie and the other survivors’ story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
NK: I mean, this subway car—this slice of the smallest part of society—truly represents the way the world has moved in the last decade or so. We as a people—America especially, not to mention whatever passes for a “people” in a virtual society—are more divisive than we’ve ever been. When I started writing The Panic, it was a story about fear, about the unknown, about surviving terror…I started writing it in 2002, catalyzed by a city rocked by a horrific tragedy and informed by my own experiences on public transportation home and abroad—in Jerusalem, for instance, where friends of mine had been restaurants and on buses that had been targets of suicide/terror attacks. But since that first draft, The Panic has endured two decades of injustice and conflict; the Occupy movement, MeToo, Ferguson, the 2016 election, Charlottesville, George Floyd—hell, a plethora of shootings and hate crime—a global pandemic, Anti-Gay and Anti-Transgender legislation, and much more. And as it did, its characters—and the narrative—evolved. And that’s just in America; there are countries and cities, of course, that simmer, boil, and erupt far worse in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Earth’s a disaster movie, and most of us are struggling to live until the credits. Trying not to live every single minute filled with blinding, numbing, anxious panic.
Look; recently, in Brooklyn, a man entered a subway and opened fire. Thankfully, the New Yorkers aboard that train sprang into action and helped one another. There were injuries, but no fatalities; we should be thankful for that. That was what one would hope might happen—what we would expect from one another. To help. To step forward. To put aside the bullshit and remember that we are humans first and everything else comes second to that. The Panic…the story Andrea are telling…this is the worst-case scenario. It’s a cautionary tale; our warning to those like us, worried that humanity may not come together when the lights go out.
BD: What makes Comixology Originals the perfect home to debut The Panic?
NK: ComiXology Originals has built a wonderful, diverse library of well-crafted titles ranging from the eight thousand books being masterminded by Scott Snyder and a battalion of talented co-authors, to the heart-warming and incredibly important Adora and the Distance by Marc Bernardin and Ariel Kristantina. This is a banner that Andrea and I are proud to hang above our story, and everyone at ComiXology—from editorial to production to marketing—has rallied around this title and understood exactly what we are trying to say and allowed us to do it the way we wanted. Right now, the landscape for creator-owned comic books is exploding, especially with new outlets and avenues to get work into the hands of good-looking, discerning readers. ComiXology is definitely ahead of the curve there, understanding that there is no divide between digital and physical books—marrying both with their Dark Horse partnership, providing content for those who know most media is now consumed in a digital space…but also realizing that the comic retail market—the stores that are the lifeblood of our industry, getting good books into the hands of readers—are more important than ever.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
NK: I’ve co-authored some stories for Z2 Comics, set to drop in July and September. The first, Screaming for Vengeance, is an epic science-fiction graphic novel based on the album by Judas Priest, co-authored with Rantz Hoseley, Chris Mitten, Dee Cunnife and Troy Peteri. The second is a short story with Andy MacDonald, to be included in the Tori Amos anthology based on her album, Little Earthquakes; a very personal tale about my own demons. I’m also working on a licensed novel that will hit shelves in 2023, and developing a few projects which will hopefully, all signs flashing green, drop in the next year or two.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Panic?
NK: The first issue, “Coffin,” hits the ComiXology app on May 3rd and subsequent issues arrive for the following four months. The print collection arrives from Dark Horse Comics in Fall 2022, and you can pre-order a copy today. Of course, keep apprised of all things Panic by following ComiXology and Dark Horse Comics on social media, and I can be found on both Twitter and Instagram at @neilkleid.
Mostly, what I’d like to tell fans is that, of course, there’s more. Andrea and I would like to do more volumes of The Panic, but that depends on our readers. Support of books like ours—digitally or physically—via reading it, pre-ordering it, and spreading the word helps us tell more story. That translates into success, allowing us to do future volumes. This holds true for all creator-owned comic books—if you read something you like and are vocal about it, tell others to do the same. Check out great books on ComiXology and pre-order them to your local shop. You—our good-looking readers—are the most valuable part of ensuring the tale continues. Whatever may come, Andrea and I thank you for checking out The Panic.