What if we lived in a world where evil was an infectious virus? Welcome to Quarantine Zone, a new graphic novel from DC and Alloy Entertainment. We sat down exclusively with author Daniel Wilson to talk about Quarantine Zone, his upcoming movie adaptation of Robopocalypse, and more.
We also have some exclusive artwork by Fernando Pasarin from the book!
io9: What is Quarantine Zone is about?
Wilson: DC comics approached me about the idea. They had kind of a high concept idea, which was that Evil was a virus that people can catch, that most of the human population has been cured, and that [cured] people are incapable of knowingly committing an evil act — but there is some subset of the population that could not be cured, and they are all placed into a quarantine zone, which is basically just a giant walled-off area of the country where all the people who are capable of evil live.
So I was really excited by that cool concept and decided to dig deeper into how the virus would work, how the mechanics of this would work, and what it would be like to go into the zone if you were a person from the sort of "good" part of the world, and what the military hardware would look like, because if a good person is infected with the virus, they undergo a transition which is essentially like a psychotic break. Which can lead really quickly to an almost zombie-like outbreak, where people turn evil and are able to infect other people, and it just spreads and chaos kind of reigns.
A lot of your previous novels are about robots and A.I. What made you interested in tackling a virus story? Especially an evil virus?
Wilson: [Laughs] Well yeah, I spent a lot of my life learning how to become a scientist, and in particular I did study robotics and artificial intelligence, so obviously I'm very interested in that stuff and I like to write about it, but that is really just sort of window dressing — I mean really, thinking like a scientist, is what comes in handy for researching any writing assignment that involves worldbuilding.
So in this case, I don't have as much knowledge about biology, so I went out and asked people, you know, trying to figure out good transmission vectors and realistic ground rules for this to play out in. But when I'm writing, what I really try to do is make sure that the technological world is an extension of the emotional journey that the characters are on, and this entire graphic novel is about light and darkness, and good and evil, what it means to be good if you can't be evil. Does it mean anything?
So as a result all of the technology, all of the virus and the rules around it and everything like that — that all really exists to serve the story, and ultimately getting all of the little rules right and trying not to break the suspension of disbelief, that's all just homework. The real heart of it is making sure that the emotional story is compelling and that, you know, you care about these characters enough, and some badass shit happens!
What aspect of Quarantine Zone are you most excited about?
Wilson: There's absolutely some really interesting interplay along the lines of what does it mean to be human in this world. I think the capability of committing an evil act is intrinsic to being a human being, the fallibility, the ability to sin is how we are able to judge each other morally. And if you take away something like that, if you can no longer participate ethically by being able to commit an evil act — that has shades of either post-human behavior or it's even almost robotic. So it's certainly playing with what it means to be human in a way I normally do by using robotic characters. But in this case I am playing with a lot of the themes that I love, is just in a little bit of a different setting.
You've written comics like Earth 2: World's End for DC, but this is your first solo graphic novel. Did you enjoy dipping into a new format for storytelling?
Wilson: I loved it. I have to say this has been one of the most exciting experiences I've ever had. I wrote this at the same time I was doing a weekly series for DC, called Earth 2: World's End, and a weekly series is an incredibly collaborative... shitstorm! [Laughs] It's a whirlwind of activity that never lets up, and writing a graphic novel is just the absolute laid back version of that.
So I was so happy to be able to see both sides of that, because writing a weekly series is so intense that I could see how you could get turned off by it. Everything has to come out and you just have to call it good and move onto the next issue. Whereas with this I was really able to take my time, work much closer with a single artist, Fernando Pasarin, who is awesome. He's in Spain, and the work he's done has been incredible. For me, my last hurdle before I publish anything is my wife. She has to read it and not hate it, so having Fernando's artwork to show her was what finally got me over the hurdle.
It was great to work with [DC Comics Editorial Director] Bobby Chase and Fernando, and have this much slower, more thoughtful and more personal experience with comics.
You recently wrote the mobile game Mayday: Deep Space as well. Are you getting more interested in telling stories in alternate media?
Wilson: Yeah! Storytelling is an evolving experience, and as human beings we use whatever technology we have in order to tell stories. We've been sitting around camp fires telling each other stories since there were people, but if you think about how storytelling techniques like novels, how long have they really been around, when you compare that to the history of the human race? How long have video games been around, how long has film been around? And so if you start to look at storytelling it's really fluid, and it's always changing, so I'm absolutely excited to use whatever kind of technology is available in order to tell a really cool story. It's awesome, diversifying doesn't hurt your bottom line. I've got kids to feed, you know? [laughs] So I need to make sure I diversify so I can operate in different mediums.
And also, it's just for your sanity. Writing a novel is a grind and it's very lonesome. Working in mediums that require more collaboration is really fun, and is really a relief sometimes. With comics, of course, you get instant gratification — you start seeing the art come in, and you also get that instant gratification of seeing other really talented people take the stuff that you've written and turn it into something better, and that's really exciting.
Mayday was about using speech recognition to tell a story, because when I was in graduate school I studied speech recognition and it was still crappy. It has gotten a lot better in the last decade, and I can't believe that we don't talk to the characters in our stories more often! I want to sit on a hillside and talk philosophy with Gandalf. Now we have speech recognition that seems to understand the symbolic content of what you said [but] How long until it can understand our emotional state? How long until I have to calm somebody down by talking to them in a video game? That's the story, that's the kind of stuff I'm looking forward to, and Mayday was a baby step in that direction.
Do you have any updates on the Robopocalypse movie? It's been a while since we've heard anything.
Wilson: [Laughs] Yeah... well I don't have any definitive news, but Robopocalypse was purchased by Dreamworks, so the studio owns it, so we'll see. I'll be very interested to see what Steven Spielberg decides to direct after his current endeavor, so there'll probably be more news on that after he's finished directing The BFG.
Quarantine Zone, written by Daniel Wilson and with art from Fernando Pasarin, will be available for $22.99 on January 6th, 2016, in comic book stores, and January 12th everywhere books are sold.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.