Comics are changing at a rapid rate. It’s an undeniable fact that operates on all scales: just as publishing models have shifted to accommodate a new generation of writers and readers, innovative storytelling approaches have also abandoned traditional tropes to engage on a deeper, more challenging level. Now, more than ever, the medium stands at a precipice of something special and unique with a cavalcade of creators pushing the industry forward—sometimes kicking and screaming. Curt Pires is one of the voices at the forefront of this charge.
Pires debuted with the self-published LP, a comic about a haunted record that gives its owner some rather unholy powers. Illustrated by rising star Ramon Villalobos, the work showcased a subversive, atypical talent akin to other ascending creators like Ales Kot and Brandon Graham, marked by a strong aversion to standard linear narrative tropes. Since then, Pires has explored the depths of the human soul and the psyche’s never-ending consumption of media—comics included—through projects like Theremin, Mayday and POP with artists Dalton Rose, Chris Pearson and Jason Copland, respectively. As 2015 revs its gears into proper motion, Pires is set to release two new ambitious series: The Fiction with David Rubin at BOOM! Studios and The Tomorrows with an army of artists at Dark Horse Comics.
Poised to expand the medium in new and brazen directions one complex endeavor at a time, Pires emailed with Paste about the power of fictions, changing post-apocalypse attitudes, learning from the past and charting the future.
Paste: Let’s start by talking a bit about your new book at BOOM!, The Fiction. While I know details on the series are purposefully scarce at the moment, can you talk a bit about your thoughts on the book? From what I understand this may be your most meta work yet, in terms of writing about the power of stories.
Curt Pires: I guess a good place to start would be where the idea came from, which is a story I’ve told absolutely no one at this point.
It came to me in a dream. I had a dream that me and a few others were in the heart of a destroyed New York City and that some giant tidal wave was heading towards us, being directed by some being who wanted us destroyed for one reason or another, and the only way we could stop the waves was by reading ourselves into another story. All of us were crouched over this book on the ground trying to escape. For some reason I think the author of the book was Jonathan Franzen. Weird, I know. I woke up after the dream and made a note (dream journals, Carl Jung, etc.) the next day I ran with the idea and started outlining The Fiction.
As for the book being meta, I suppose so. It’s meta in the sense that it’s very much about stories and mythology, and the narratives that comprise our reality. But it’s not really “playful” about being meta in a way that I think a lot of things are; it’s a deep exploration of these ideas, more akin to study than a tongue in cheek wink.
The Fiction is me saying everything is a story. The Big Bang? It’s a story. I get out of bed in the morning? It’s a story. We live in a universe where hundreds, thousands, MILLIONS of our stories interconnect and intertwine in ways we can’t even begin to understand. The Fiction is me looking at this and saying, ‘This is beautiful, let’s explore it.’
The Fiction Cover Art by David Rubin
Paste: That’s interesting, given the origin of the story and the dream-like premise of the story. As you explore the nature and power of stories, what do you find conducive about using dreams, dreamstates, Freud, Jung, neurobiology et al to explore the power of storytelling? One might say that structurally dream narratives aren’t normally conducive to “traditional storytelling,” for example.
Pires: Well I mean, if we consider the very nature of dreams themselves, they pose interesting questions about stories themselves: who are the authors of our dreams? Do we create our own dreams, or are they messages from elsewhere—glimpses into other multiverses, lives? Dreams are stories that we cannot hope to ever understand nor contain; in a way they are the very raw essence of narrative without the constraints we as humans need to understand anything, or satiate our desire to understand things.
I spent basically the last six months struggling with insomnia, and part of that for me was walking around and sometimes feeling like I was inside a story or a simulation or… something. Walking across a bridge at 7 a.m., no sleep, fog hanging—how thick is the line between the world I live in and the fictions I consume? I could see the simulation flickering sometimes. (This is something I only recently conquered—the insomnia, that is).
How does this all relate to The Fiction? The structure of the story itself is positioned in a way that the past and the future collide; the pieces of the puzzle and the puzzle itself flicker in and out of view. I’m not telling this in an A-to-Z manner (which to readers of my stuff should not be surprising), and part of that definitely comes from these dreamstates, these concepts.
Paste: I seem to recall you telling me about the non-linear structure of the book, actually. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the book is told generationally, right? And we follow the books through multiple characters at different points in their life?
Pires: Yeah, exactly. We follow our core group of characters at two time periods, during their adolescence and during adulthood. The events that happen to them as teens very much shape them as adults, and there are mysteries and repercussions springing out of what happens. Without spoiling too much, we also spend some time with their parents.
Paste: As someone known for playing around with story structure, what new challenges does something like this, which operates on such a larger scale, introduce?
Pires: I feel like on this one it’s very much a case of substance over style. The time jumps are really not there to disorient or fuck with the reader, it’s just a very big story taking place at numerous points in time. So with that in mind, I’m trying to make it clear to follow. That’s not to say it’s a little more heady/meaty than the average funnybook that’s coming out today, because it is, but we’re trying for this to be something everyone can latch onto, plug into and ultimately understand.
The Fiction Cover Art by Tula Lotay
Paste: With your last book, POP, you commented publically on some of the responses people had that they “didn’t get it” via Twitter, and how those people weren’t reading closely enough. But with The Fiction, going off your comment about making the book’s nature something people can “understand,” is your writing/planning process for this series a bit different than normal?
Pires: To be honest, some of that is on me, and some of that is true. There’s certainly that demographic of people who didn’t get what I was trying to say, what I was trying to put out into the universe, but that’s their right. They don’t owe me an understanding. Yeah, it can be frustrating for sure, but I think a lot of what I’m trying to achieve now artistically and personally is moving past that anger/frustration and just do what makes me happy. I can’t control people understanding me or my work, so why try?
There’s always going to be that desire for love/acceptance. I mean, it’s what makes us human, but I can’t spend all day seeking it. I think the only way to even come close to that feeling we as humans chase is just to work on myself; am I the optimal version of myself? Am I better than I was yesterday? Am I closer? And during that process I embrace my flaws, and learn not hate myself for them. The same questions can be applied to my art: is it what I want it to be? Am I improving as an artist? As a writer? Is this story what I want it to be?
The process has been a little different on The Fiction, for sure. It’s the most planned and structured thing I’ve written, largely because the mythology of the universe is so large and the stories/scope is literally the largest I’ve ever tackled.
Paste: So far a lot of what I’m hearing from you comes from a deeply personal place—the story arriving in a dream, your struggles with insomnia, etc. You’re certainly no stranger from inserting yourself into the stories (Theremin #4), but as an author writing a book where the stories hold such a specific power or magic, where do you see yourself in The Fiction?
Pires: I think I’ve already tackled a bit of this in the past answer, but to really address it, I think I’m scattered all throughout the thing. There’s chunks of me in characters, in stories, in the characters’ emotions at certain places, in some of the mistakes the characters make and the humanity of them when they make these mistakes; and then there’s one character in particular who is sort of a version of myself—or an amped up caricature of myself at points in a not-so-obvious way. Art is a vivisection, and I think I hide and scatter parts of myself in everything I do.
The Tomorrows Cover Art by Jason Copland
Paste: Let’s transition over to your other new book, the Invisibles-esque The Tomorrows over at Dark Horse, which was just announced. From what I gather about it, this is closer to what we’ve seen from you than The Fiction; this is more subversive, more experimental, perhaps even a bit looser in its mythos. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind The Tomorrows, and wanting to make “your Invisibles”?
Pires: The Tomorrows is definitely me diving deeper and deeper into the waters I’ve been swimming in already. If The Fiction is the side of myself that is looking for patterns in nature in the universe, and sort of this naturalist very organic feeling, then The Tomorrows is me in a fast car high on acid, barreling straight towards NO FUTURE and attempting to blast it with a rainbow shotgun.
The Tomorrows is very much me looking at the negative trends of our world, our reality, our political systems and accelerating it to where I think it’s heading. It’s a worst-case scenario; it’s our dead future. But it’s also me looking at that and saying, “Fuck This, We Can Still Fix This.” The Tomorrows are the force we see in the book enacting that ethos, saying “fuck you” to the way the world turned out. In a lot of ways I think people love to write post-apocalyptic future, accelerated future nightmares, but they take no responsibility in saying, ‘hey, if this is something we’re heading towards, maybe let’s stop it?’ I’m not doing that; I’m saying we can stop this, I’m saying let’s co-create a new reality. Let’s co-create a more beautiful future—and in that sense I view the readers and the whole of humanity as my collaborators on this project.
I think it’s my Invisibles in the sense that it’s the most “me,” or the most fun I’ve ever had writing a comic in my life. I could write it forever. I love the world and the characters; it’s a fucking blast. That said, the book is almost MORE ambitious in scope than The Fiction. Well…quantifying is really pointless; the stories are so different, but I already know the ending. And the first six issues alone see us jumping through the multiverse, through timelines—it’s all happening.
Paste: Structurally, The Tomorrows is completely different than The Fiction, if only because the book will feature a new artist every issue a la something like Zero or The Multiversity. How does this shifting aspect influence your storytelling decisions, such as in comparison to The Fiction where you’re working with the phenomenon that is David Rubin?
Pires: With The Tomorrows it’s a case of picking the perfect artist for each issue, and then morphing the story to fit what I find exciting about them, about their work. It’s really a showcase of sorts. I wanted to see Alexis Ziritt do a brutal fight scene and urban parkour so I wrote it for him; I wanted to see Ian McEwan draw Tokyo cityscapes so I wrote it for him. It’s picking the right moment for each artist and crafting the books so they can shine.
I’m also sort of thinking of single issues differently in terms of The Tomorrows. It’s kind of akin to The Multiversity in that regard, where I’m viewing each issue as an event drawn by each artist. That’s really the only other book I can think of even close to the scope of The Tomorrows.
With The Fiction things are a little more traditional. We’re doing 22-page issues because that’s what the book is budgeted for, so I work within those constraints and craft the best narrative. Writing for David has been unlike writing for anyone I’ve worked with so far. I’m writing dense still in parts, but at other points I’m writing the first two page spreads I’ve ever written because I know his art wants to breathe and he will kill it. I’m also pushing the two-page spreads into J.H. Williams III territory at points. So I think, to answer the question, is each of the books has different DNA—once I see the DNA, I embrace it and craft the stories accordingly.
The Tomorrows Cover Art by Alexis Ziritt
Paste: I’ve got to say, at this still fairly early point in your career, it’s pretty incredible the murderer’s row of artists you’re working with, and it’s even better that each artist is so wonderfully distinctive from the next, like you have your pulse on the future of sequential art. Could you talk a bit about the artists that you’re working with on both books, what it is that makes their work tick for you, and what the process of planning The Tomorrows is like?
Pires: I’m lucky for sure, but I think there’s something to that too. I’m doing interesting things with comics, I’m writing good comics, I’m giving my collaborators space to do their thing, and most importantly I think I don’t read like Generic Comics Writer #123498. I actually give a shit about making good art and not just putting out seven books because I got a kid to feed or I wan to blow some bills in a nightclub with my friends.
So, The Tomorrows: I try and put each artist on the issue that will showcase their art, and while I’m scripting I’m also thinking, what’s the best thing that I can write for this artists style, to let them shine? It’s working out well so far.
Issue #1: Jason Copland. One of my most trusted collaborators. Maybe one of the only people I’ve worked with enough to feel like I can write ANYTHING for him and he will nail it. There’s just some overlap in our minds, and I think he just gets better and better and better as time goes.
Issue #2: Alexis Ziritt. I love how Alexis throws ink around, how he puts the fucking pedal to the metal. He’s like [Paul] Pope colliding with [Jack] Kirby colliding with [Jim] Steranko colliding with Basil Wolverton and it’s just amazing to look at.
Issue #3: Ian McEwan. Ian’s one of the most talented dudes in comics, period, and it’s sort of blown my mind that all he’s done so far is the one issue of Sex. (Not surprising though, [Sex writer Joe] Casey has his finger on the pulse). Ian’s work combines a dense European/Moebius style with the sensibilities and scope of Otomo to me. It’s next level.
Issue #4: Andrew Maclean. Andrew feels like the heir to [Mike] Mignola, [James] Harren and about a dozen other of the greatest cartoonists who ever lived while simultaneously his own thing. I’ve wanted to work with him since 2012 when I saw his work on my friend Nolan Jones’ book Colonial Souls, and he’s only gotten better since.
Issue #5: Liam Cobb. Liam draws like a more chaotic Moebius. He combines this really great ligne claire sensibility with a kinetic energy that sometimes reminds me of Lando’s stuff, or Simon Roy. He’s great at drawing spaceships and his issue is going to be the most sci-fi of them all.
Issue #6: Kevin Zeigler. Kevin has this really cool lush, inky style. He’s a mentor of Tradd Moore’s and I can definitely see some overlap, but Kevin just pushes that style in his own direction. He’s a new voice and this is his first mainstream book. The finale of this first arc is going to be a big place for him to shine.
On The Fiction, Rubin is just a virtuoso. I’ve talked a bit with Eric (my editor on the book) about how working with Rubin is a lot like working with Emma Rios on her first big book, or working with Yuko Shimizu or James Jean. He’s just brilliant, so I’m letting myself push things in new directions, crazy directions and just seeing where he takes it. The book gets progressively more crazy as it goes, and so will the art.
The Tomorrows Cover Art by Ian McEwan
Paste: Speaking of directions you can get pushed in, both of these books will be your first ongoings. So far we’re used to more short-term work from you (Mayday, POP), what do you find are the biggest creative challenges in doing more long-form work? And how do you plan to keep pushing yourself and your comics further as you go?
Pires: It’s funny, the biggest difference I notice writing more long-form work is that the work has more room to breathe, that I can give the little moments a little more time, which is honestly something I enjoy quite a bit. This isn’t to say I’m going to lay off the hyper-dense chaos that readers of my work have come to like, it just means I can do new things too. It’s fun.
In terms of the “big challenge” of this type of work, it’s paying things off. It’s the planning early on, knowing where the story is heading but also giving it room to grow. Almost none of my finished scripts follow my outlines to a tee; most of the fun of comics comes in the form of embracing chaos and just losing myself in the writing, seeing where it takes me.
I would definitely like to write something 60-plus issues, and I can definitely see myself pushing in that direction, although I also think there’s a tendency once you hit a certain point to forget how tight and poignant a four-issue mini can be. I’d like to walk the line between those spaces.
Paste: So far in comics we’ve seen you tackle music, reality, drugs, Hollywood, fame, culture, media, yourself and more. Now we’re looking at fiction itself and fantasy, as well as the future. As you continue growing as a writer, how do you find your interests and influences changing from what they once were, and what can we expect to see as your career continues to evolve?
Pires: That’s a good question. I think I definitely think the things that influenced me early on still influence me, just in different ways. I’m less hung up on stuff now; I’m more confident. Writing about all those things is fun, and I’m sure I’ll circle back on some of those topics when I have more to say, or a story that is screaming to come out, but I always see myself exploring new subjects and topics. It’s part of growing. People in comics would love nothing more to be able to put a box on me and say, ‘oh, he’s the (insert genre here) guy,’ but I’m not interested in that. I’m not about that. People everywhere want to put boxes on other people, because it makes them easier to marginalize to control, to diminish. But I’m not playing that game.
Comics, for me, is a medium to explore and process reality. I’m going to write about what I want to write about. I’m going to talk about what I want to talk about—and if people don’t like it? There’s the fucking door.