Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello tells us about his new dystopian comic (and his career as a D&D Dungeon Master)

Illustration for article titled Rage Against the Machines Tom Morello tells us about his new dystopian comic (and his career as a DD Dungeon Master)

Last night at Comic-Con, Dark Horse Comics unveiled Orchid, a new dystopian scifi series penned by Tom Morello, the guitar virtuoso for such bands as Rage Against the Machine and The Nightwatchman. Tom filled io9 about this bleak futuristic tale, which will span four three-issue story arcs.


First off, why comic books to tell this story?

I had the idea about Orchid three years ago and I asked myself that same question — "How do I bring this story into the world?" One thing I knew and one thing I didn't have time for. I didn't want to be another Hollywood jackass with a screenplay, I didn't want to relinquish that creative control. I also didn't have time to write a 600-page novel with my music [career]. Then I began doing my research and fell in love with books like Waltz With Bashir, V for Vendetta, and The Red Star. Those were my three entry drugs.


I collected comics as a kid, but when I picked up the guitar I put comics down. I found that comics have grown up a lot since I left them, and that any political or emotional subject matter that you can do in literature, film, or music is now fair game for comics. I tapped into my comic history and said, "Let's do that." Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and The Umbrella Academy introduced me to my new Dark Horse family, and it's been a great relationship.

I am the creator and writer of this, it's not farmed out. Each issue will contain a musical score as well. You get free music with each issue that comes out that will be a complete and comprehensive score by the end of the arc. In the graphic novel medium, you can be completely uncompromising in content. I'm wholly invested in this, I want this to go toe-to-toe with my work with Rage and The Nightwatchmen.

Would you say that the soundtrack scores particular scenes or more of each issue's overarching theme?

The first issue is like "the single," and the rest is instrumental score. I've scored movies before like Iron Man, but I'm trying to use unique guitar sounds to affect the vibe of say, orchestral, Celtic, or African music. One of the songs from that my new record with The Nightwatchmen is "World Wide Rebel Songs," and it's the first single for the Orchid series. It ties those two worlds together.


From what's been teased, Orchid has a dystopian, almost apocalyptic setting. Care to elaborate on that?

"When the seas rose, genetic codes were smashed" — it's like a Noah's Ark, Part II. Now that the seas have gone back, it's a very different world. Humans are no longer on the top of the food chain and animals are no longer domesticated. It's not the world of the Haves and the Have Nots — it's the world of Have Nothings and Have Everythings.


The high ground belongs to the rich and powerful, and the poor and outcast are caught between mutated creatures from the wild and the Plague Traders of the rich. Enter our main character Orchid, a 16-year-old street prostitute who must overcome internal demons to rise above her station. She becomes "the Spartacus of the Whores."

One of the things that I thought was missing from my favorite fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Dune, or The Stand was a sense of class consciousness. It's always about "Get the King back on the throne" or "Get the Princess back." In the back of my mind, it occurred to me that the Orc slaves of Mordor had more in common with the vassals of Minas Tirith than they'd like to admit. That element is front and center — at Harvard, I also studied folk literature, African-American literature, and literature of the oppressed, so there's that informing the story.


What kind of mutants can we anticipate in Orchid?

I loved coming up with these creatures, things like "the jaguar-wildebeest with parakeet talons." And then illustrator Scott Hepburn draws that thing! It's pretty fantastic, it taps into my old Dungeons and Dragons history.


Wait, you played D&D?

Yeah, I was the Dungeon Master. I'd spend hours coming up with these campaigns and then applied that OCD to my guitar playing. Now I'm sort of tapping back into that.


What sort of campaigns did you run?

My campaigns had a class consciousness to them. The king was always the bad guy! The heroes were either the rebels on the outskirts who ousted the king or I killed their ass!


Orchid hits stores October 12, 2011.

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I'm normally pretty annoyed by celebrities from other disciplines who embark on comic writing. But Morello has earned his nerd stripes. He's also a hard core Trekkie.