There’s been a bit of a running trend of comics getting picked up for movie adaptations even before they release an issue—and Heavy Metal’s next big creator-owned series, Interceptor, is joining that trend. We sat down with writer Donny Cates to discuss the wild new series, and what it’s like having your comic turned into a movie while you’re still writing it.
io9: Tell us a little bit about the set up of Interceptor.
Donny Cates: The basic, super weird premise is that a long time ago, there was a pretty horrible war on Earth between Vampires and humans. Vampires came out in droves, we tried to fight back, and we lost—we lost very, very badly. The entire Human race—or a select few, as we’ll come to find out—got out on ships, and as they left, they nuked the entire planet, in hopes that they could clear the Earth of infestation and eventually come back. What they did instead was blanket the Earth in darkness, and in the hundreds of years of darkness that followed, the remaining Vampires have evolved. What we’re seeing [in Interceptor] is an Earth where the Vampires are a dominant species, evolving to the point of full-scale space travel—and they’ve found our new home.
There’s something gleeful in mixing up sci-fi, post-apocalypse, and then Vampires on top. What brought you to the initial mashed-up idea in the first place?
Cates: Man, that’s a great question! It all came pretty naturally, in a really weird way, it’s almost like I sent myself a note from the past. That sounds bizarre, but I was going through the notes that I keep—every writer on the planet has notebooks just filled with weird ideas!—and I found something that I wrote, probably from 2008, and it was written in a margin. Basically, all it said was “After a nuclear war, the sun is blotted out and Vampires come out in droves”. That’s all it said! I don’t remember writing that, I don’t remember where it came from, but I sat down and started thinking it over. Then one piece linked to the other, into this chain, and this book is what came out of it!
I’m a huge Vampire fan. Vampires, to me at least, are the most interesting of the classical monsters. They’re the only one of the classical monsters that have charisma, and can be sexy—they have a background to them, all those societies and rules, and that kind of thing is attractive to me. With this book and what I like about it is that it’s something we’ve never really seen in Vampire stories. Vampires for the most part have been in the shadows, on the fringe, and Interceptor envisages a world where they have essentially won. To me, it looks like a neon-drenched rave! [laughs] They’re going crazy and having sex, and doing drugs—basically being immortal teenagers.
The first issue spends a lot of time setting up on Palus, the planet Humanity has colonized after leaving Earth, and we meet its President and his staff. Will the series spend more time there, or will the focus be on Earth?
Cates: We’ll be checking in on Palus every now and then. Without giving too much away, there’s some decisions that President O’Conner has to make that will directly impact [main character] Poli’s time on Earth. As readers will see reading the first issue, the politics of Palus are not the most forthright in the world. The implication is that Humanity, for having reached the stars, really isn’t that different when it comes to things like keeping things from its populace. The ramifications of that will be rather large. That’s all I can really say!
You have to prominent female characters in the first issue—Poli, a supersoldier sent back to Earth, and Weep, a little girl left behind on Earth. Was it important for the book to explore the relationship between those two women, at the heart of a crazy “nuclear space vampires” story?
Cates: Having it be two women really comes from classic Vampire stories. Almost every great Vampire story has a woman at its heart, going back to things like Dracula or, obviously [Buffy] the Vampire Slayer herself. [Poli and Weep] are really interesting because it’s about the difference between training and real-world practice. Poli has an almost mathematical approach to doing things, but Weep, for being all of 12 years old, has way more experience doing these things. Them playing off each other is kind of great because Weep sees Poli, to put it bluntly, as a savior. [In the first issue] she’s fallen out of the sky, and is gonna help her. Whereas Poli—again, without giving too much away, this is the first interview I’ve done about this book!—and the more we explore about her, the more we learn, she is not wild about the fact that there are essentially child soldiers [on Earth], due to her own background.
Poli’s background could be mirrored to [Buffy’s]—she’s trained to do one specific thing for her entire life, but in a much more science-fiction-y way. Those two characters are really fun to write, and as the series goes on, their personalities begin to mix with each other, and Weep gets to see how much her world effects others, while Poli gets to see how her orders [from Palus] effect things in real time.
A big problem for Poli is that she wasn’t necessarily told the entire truth about what’s happening on Earth, and to what degree does she follow her orders. [Interceptor] is probably the most political I’ll ever get in writing, because there are a lot parallels between, you know, going into a foreign place, orders that are not entirely truthful, and to what degree as a soldier do you draw the line between doing what is right and doing what you’re told. We’ll see the ramifications of that play out on an almost cosmic kind of scale.
You’ve got some really dynamic art from Dylan Burnett on this series. What’s it been like working with him on Interceptor?
Cates: [Dylan’s] been here from the very beginning. It all goes back to a different book that I was working on, that will be announced next year, that I was working on with an artist named Adam Gorham. He got this other great opportunity and had to bow out, and when did, he emailed me and said “But hey, I have this buddy who is fantastic and is ready for the big show,” and I opened up that email and it was Dylan. I looked at his stuff and I loved it, and I knew he was perfect for this crazy story.
When I look for artists, I don’t really look for tone, or what they like to draw—I look for personality. Artists can figure out how to draw a space ship, but it’s how [their work] emotes that really attracts me. Dylan is a force of nature—that guy cranks out fully colored, fully designed pages every day. The credit for the book is as much him as it is me at this point, because he will just draw something and go “Can we fit this in somewhere?” and I’ll be like “Hell yeah, let’s do it!” and that was great. He’s coming up with as many ideas as I am—the book wouldn’t exist without him.
Interceptor has come to represent a big push at Heavy Metal for creator-owned comics. What was it that brought you to them in the first place, and what’s it like being part of that legacy?
Cates: It’s awesome, and weird! I think it was at New York Comic Con last year, and Jeremy Atkins, our marketing guy that I knew through his work for [Comics publisher] Dark Horse—he invited me to come to this panel and said “You guys are gonna want to hear what we have to say”, and it was there that Jeff [Krelitz, Heavy Metal’s Co-CEO] announced this creator-owned thing. Right after that, I started getting the book together, and getting the art—I sent it to Jeremy, and he sent it to Jeff, and it was really amazing. They approved it pretty much based on the art alone. When I asked if they wanted to know what it’s about, they said something that you never hear in comics these days, which is “No, we trust you” [laughs]. They had read my previous work, and they said “We dig this, this looks great, we trust you”. Obviously they know what it’s about bow, and they like it a lot—we’re making a movie out of it—but since then, we pretty much get to do whatever we want.
We don’t have anyone looking over our shoulder telling us what to do, or suggesting thing. We’re pretty much on our own, which is great. They’re there to help with marketing, but as far as the story goes, it’s an environment of complete trust. With the background of [Heavy Metal magazine], the idea is to get weird, to get out there. I can’t think of a better company to put this really weird, quasi-vampire-sci-fi-politics book than these guys.
You mentioned being optioned for a movie—you’re joining comics like Descender or Chrononauts which get optioned for films well before the books are actually out. What was it like getting that process started, and hearing Interceptor would be a movie?
Cates: Making things into movies is not something I ever think about—and certainly if I had sat down and tried to make a comic that would be suitable for making a film, it wouldn’t be Interceptor. It wouldn’t ever be this crazy sci-fi epic! That’s what I love about comics. You can do anything without a budget, you can draw or write whatever the hell you want. It was actually right after [Heavy Metal’s] panel at San Diego Comic Con—which was bizarre because I was on a panel with Grant [Morrison], who’s our Editor in Chief, and he’s great—that everyone took me aside and said that [Interceptor] sounds like it could be a movie, or a TV show, or something.
It was something I never even considered, but I agree with them now. It can totally be a great movie! Obviously there’s things I know about that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s really exciting. Some of the conversations that we’ve had, some of the names that are involved with it right now, are really amazing, and really surreal. If I were to go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self, I don’t think he’d ever believe me!
If there’s one thing you could distill Interceptor down to, to convince people to pick up the first issue, what would it be?
Cates: Man... what a crazy question! [Laughs] I’m much better typing than I am talking out loud, but I think if you’re a fan of vampires, or sci-fi, or even something as small as a female protagonist who’s just a total badass, then I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this, and how it’ll explore Vampires and their relationship with human beings.
At the heart of vampires, they’re not that different from us. They live off of blood, but so do we, in a way—it’s what’s so sexy about vampires as an idea, because they are a version of us. The parallels between how the human race treats other humans, and how the Vampires treat the humans in Interceptor, is not all that dissimilar. At the core of this book, it’s really about two very powerful ruling classes warring against each other, and the people who are caught in the crossfire, the soldiers and the civilians used as pawns in a bigger game. If you can distill that and write that and make that sound better, I’d appreciate it! [Laughs]
Interceptor #1 is out December 30th.