Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Your monthly web comic, The Concrete World, has released 198 pages since its inception. What initially inspired you to write this sci-fi series, and what do you most hope that readers will take away from it?
Gavin Hignight: The initial concept for CW came to me in a fever-like dream. It was one of those moments where you wake up, startled in the middle of the night, have a flash of images and ideas . . . and, in this case, I actually got out of bed and made notes to myself. I wrote three pages of notes which would serve as the main structure of CW. I first thought of it as a feature film. Almost ten years later, after finishing my first graphic novel, I wanted to do something more sci-fi, especially because it was going to be live on the web, so CW seemed like the obvious choice. I will say flushing the idea out as a graphic novel greatly improved it from what it was initially. CW came from feeling helpless. I was in this big city, this world, where I had no money, no control, I felt like life and mankind had oppressed me. I was desperate for some kind of control or escape. Like many who use drugs for escapism from their reality. At the same time, I was thinking a lot about virtual reality. The idea of those addicted to machines for their escape instead of a narcotic just kind of formed and took over. It’s funny, CW was written before smart phones; the idea of addiction to technology wasn’t as understandable then as it is now.
At the core, CW is a noir story. So, I hope it serves as entertainment first, but I also hope it gets the reader thinking about technology, our addiction to it, and the pros and the cons of becoming so dependent on it. It’s not the device that will take us down, it’s our (human) nature. But, we keep making toys and devices that enable destructive parts of our human nature, and that sometimes shouldn’t be encouraged, should it? I think good sci-fi leaves a reader asking questions of his world. If I’m successful, my fear and love of technology will do that in this story.
BD: How did your creative partnership on The Concrete World come about, and how would you describe your creative process?
James Emmett: I actually replaced another artist that was working on the comic, I sent Gavin my portfolio online, and he liked my work and responded. It has been an interesting experience taking over for another artist, as Gavin was intent on keeping the original feel of the book, and my work is generally not so strictly linear or as cartoony. It’s been a good challenge for me to change my way of approaching a page, panel, and general design. Though, I think I bring some of myself to the work, as well, and Gavin is fantastic to work with. He has wonderful input and ideas. It feels like a very collaborative experience, though this is so Gavin’s world, and I am just trying to do what I can in it.
GH: Whenever I think about working with James, I think about the band Postal Service. We’re like the comic book version of Postal Service. Thanks to the interweb, file delivery, and email, he and I have a rock-solid working relationship, although I’m on the west coast and he’s on the east coast. It’s funny, we worked together for a year without having actually met. That’s an interesting thing about the world we live in these days. I will say, it wouldn’t have worked out so well if he wasn’t a total professional and great about communication. Those are key to working with someone whether they are in the same room with you our across the globe.
I had worked with the previous artist on CW for over two years. When she needed to pull out from the comic to pursue other parts of her life, it left me with quite a challenge. How do you pick up working on a comic with a new artist when you are on chapter 9 with only 3 chapters to go?! It’s not like we were at the end of a story arc. So, I had to find someone who had enough confidence in their own style to make things work but also could emulate what came before, so readers wouldn’t feel weird when they get to new pages and art. It took me almost a year to find James. I had done tests with other artist I had met online, and I wasn’t finding someone who I felt like they fit. Then, when I found James, I was like, okay . . . this guy can get the style of CW down. But, what really clenched it was his attitude. Super easy to work with, great about getting notes, so that was it. And, so far, he’s not tired of me yet. I guess that’s success!
BD: James, how has your art style developed as you have worked on the project?
JE: So, yeah I replaced another artist who definitely had her own voice in place for the comic, but I like to think I have brought in a bit of my own style and approach to page layouts, designs, and some of the newer characters that have been introduced.
BD: With the big milestone of 200 released page updates rapidly approaching, do you find that you already have a conclusion (or remaining story arcs) in mind, or is there a chance that the series will continue on even further?
GH: We’ve had a gameplan and roadmap the entire time. The actual script for CW has been completed for a few years now. So, I know exactly where the story is going. I actually knew where it was going that first night it all popped into my head. (Funny side note, the original script for CW was written on a Macintosh SE. How’s that for futuristic?) As for the future, when I wrote CW, it was one story as most noir stories should be . . . but about a year or two ago, I realized there was a sequel. I can’t wait to do it, it will be a completely different story arc, but in the same universe . . . and with whatever characters survive the first arc. I think the question for the creative team is do we go directly into the follow up, or do we play with another creative project first? The current team is myself writing and lettering, James Emmett illustrating with pencils and inks, Joe Mac coloring, and Timmar Jones assisting in the coloring. If we can all line up our schedules, resources, etc. . . . it will be fun to move forward. It’s tough with indie, self-financed comics; a lot has to line up.
BD: Gavin, if we promise not to tell, are you able to share any tidbits about the upcoming updates for the series?
JE: I know you said Gavin, but yeah, Gavin, can you tell me and them your future plans?!
GH: Absolutely, we’re moving into the final act. This is where the story turns to action. There are gun battles on the way, drones, AI battling in VR, and not everyone gets out alive . . . how’s that for a tease?
BD: Do you foresee or are there any plans in the works for The Concrete World to be adapted into another medium, whether it be film, TV, or animation, and, if so, would you like to be creatively involved?
JE: If there are plans, I’m not in the know at the moment, but I could definitely see this being adapted for animation. I would love to be as creatively involved with Concrete World as much as possible moving forward, time allowing, of course.
GH: Absolutely. The Concrete World should be a film or explored as a TV series. That was always my intention. I always saw it as live action. And, I would hope to be involved. You never know, sometimes you have to put your (creative) babies in others' arms to make sure they get raised and brought to life, but I’d have every intention of being involved if possible.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
JE: I am working on a few other projects, nothing I can announce at the moment; however, everyone can keep up with my new work and newest announcements at jamesemmettillustrates.tumblr.com and my current portfolio, jamesemmettillustrates.com. I am available for commissions. I was also featured in a recent Horror/Sci-fi anthology from Gray Haven Comics.
GH: About the time we hit our 200th page for CW, I should have a new episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles airing on Nickelodeon. Its title is “NEWTRALIZED.” Writing for that show has been amazing. Also, a short film I wrote and directed called “FIST” should be making festival rounds this summer. I don’t sleep, so, hopefully, there will be more and more to share. CW completes its first arc later this year.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about the web comics that you are currently reading?
JE: I like Young Protectors, Strong Female Protagonist, Questionable Content . . . I’m sure there are more. Can’t remember. I read a lot but still read a lot of traditional comic books, but I won’t even go there. I would be listing for a while.
GH: I haven’t been reading as much as I should due to my work load, but I will say, speaking of geeking out, I am completely obsessed with Attack on Titan, as I’m sure many of your readers are. It’s so damn good.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Concrete World?
JE: I would definitely start reading the comic and start at the very beginning. That, to me, is the nicest part about reading comics online. You can easily track back to the very start of the comic and read all the way to the most current page! Get to know these characters and have your hearts ripped out as horrible things happen to the characters you become attached to. Haha. But, the necessity is to read where I started, haha. Which was page 151, by the by. ;)
GH: First of all, I just want to say thanks to Fanboy Comics for all the support. It’s great you guys work so hard to support indie comics. Much thanks. As for The Concrete World, the best thing you can do is log onto the site, www.theconcreteworld.com, click on the tab for CHAPTER ONE, located on the left side of the screen, and just start from there. If you haven’t read the comic before, you’re in luck. That’s 200 pages of free science fiction at your fingertips. Looks great on a tablet. Also, LIKE us on Facebook for more content and funny, witty things that I sometimes say . . .