Weird science turned to bad science gives us leftover life that looks something like Si Spurrier’s Angelic Volume 1 (9781534306639) from Image Comics. Though different, it’s all too familiar. As today’s hipsters are far removed from those who first scribbled in ancient biblical texts, so too are today’s cybernetic dolphins long and flying monkeys a long way from remembering the names of those that first gave them the gift of speech. Yet, religous dogma dictates one should still prey to the silent gods, as tradition demands it. In this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview, writer Simon Spurrier relates to us the story of a one winged monkey that refuses to pray out of habit. And that’s when things get crazy.
Angelic Volume 1 (9781534306639) is in shops May 2018.
Vince Brusio: Evolution stuck in fast forward mode. That appears to be the backdrop for Angelic. What was the catalyst for conversions, Si? Earth shedding humanity for genetically modified animals? Can we get an executive summary for how the planet cleaned house of Homo sapiens?
Si Spurrier: Haha, we-ell, “what made the world like this?” is really one of the big questions at the heart of the heroine’s journey, so I’d be committing spoiler-suicide by answering straight out. Instead here’s the more entry-level approach to the tale.
In short: Angelic’s a story about Earth, after us.
Mankind’s gone. In the poisonous remains of our abandoned planet the only societies that even look like civilization are basically the leftovers of our bad science. So we’ve got cybernetic dolphins, energy-blasting gibbons, and a whole tribe of flying monkeys living on skyscraper rooftops. And that’s just in the first three pages.
To flirt a little more with answering your question: there are hints from the start of a terrible war which was fought in the distant past, with GM animals used as assets. None of our characters really know much about that, but it’s no great leap to assume their ancestors were engineered through artificial means for a particular purpose. They just don’t know what it was, or is. They’re like children, enacting strange ceremonies they don’t understand, worshipping the “makers” they’ve never met. They’ve inherited the earth, but they know almost nothing about it.
Most of the tale’s told from the POV of one winged monkey. She’s this awesome, courageous, quizzical little “girlmonk” called Qora, and she’s really not down with the religious ideas that define her tribe’s routines. She’s expected to take part in all these pointless ceremonies, on a path of righteousness which will literally end up costing her her wings. Whereas all she wants to do is go have adventures. So she runs - well, flies - away. And that’s when things get crazy.
I guess the big thing to say here is that with Angelic we’re deliberately shooting for a very all-ages-friendly vibe. And to that end we’ve taken a leaf from the Pixar book. This is the sort of tale where, if all you’re looking for is an adventure about sci-fi animals and friendship, that’s what you’ll find. But if you’re also looking for deeper meanings - religion, society, responsibility, science; all the big Spurrier preoccupations, frankly - then you’ll find that in there too.
Vince Brusio: The title of the book is Angelic, and yet the players on this stage are not human. So who or what has the need for angelic symbolism or deliverance in this world? Do these creatures aspire to be “angelic”? What is the significance of the book’s title in relation to the characters or the plot?
Si Spurrier: As I mentioned before, there’s a bunch of religious and pseudo-religious commentary going on in here, if that’s what you’re looking for.
So, for instance, from Qora’s perspective: she’s grown up in this weird, repressive faith. She’s been taught from an early age that her gods - “the Makers” - ascended into the heavens long ago, leaving the monkeys - “the Monks” - as stewards of the Earth. They’re the last defenders of goodness against evil, which is personified by a gang of rampaging cybernetic rocket-powered dolphins - “the dolts” - who come tearing through town at odd intervals. The monkeys believe that if they do everything the Makers expected of them - endless rituals, cleaning and maintaining strange relics - then eventually they’ll return and cleanse the planet.
Naturally, part of Qora buys into this dogma. She’s never known anything else. But more important she’s driven to rebel against how horribly unfair it all is. The females in this society are treated appallingly, virtues like curiosity and difference are actively punished, and then there’s the awful “Alter-Peace” ceremony. I’ll come back to that, but it’s pretty chilling.
But the religious overtones don’t end there. There’s a Great Devil in the mix too. Just as our monks worship the Makers, so, too, do their enemies (like those crazy rocket-fuelled dolphins, and their deeeeeeply mysterious overlords) have their own deity: a hedonistic god known as “Ay”.
When Qora does the unthinkable and goes AWOL from her tribe, she soon finds evidence of Ay’s works… and before long faces an audience with the devil himself.
Vince Brusio: Caspar, how did you come up with such fantastical drawings? What gene pools were plundered to come up with such hybrids that appear to have crawled from dystopian wreckage that borders on fantasy and steampunk?
Caspar Wijngaard: When Si and I began discussing a potential comic to collaborate on, he presented me with 3 possible story outlines. Naturally, the post apocalyptic adventure of flying monkeys battling cyber dolphins in a literal concrete jungle ticked my entire artist’s bucketlist of ‘Things I’ll probably never again get asked to draw for a job.’
Everything in this new world has a place, the design of the main players draw back to the areas of the city they inhabit. Key visual inspirations for me are Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira manga series. I read both religiously as a teen and they had a big impact on me creatively.
I love world building, it’s something I enjoy most as an artist, to build something that feels organic. I’ve exhausted the ‘petty, jealous, scheming humans doing awful things to one another’ trope in comics one too many times, it’s extremely refreshing as an artist to draw an entirely animal lead book.
All hail our new simian overseers!
Vince Brusio: Can you introduce us to some of the characters in Angelic? What roles do they play? What are their intentions? What are their fears? Do they pray?
Si Spurrier: I’ve mentioned Qora - she’s just plain brilliant. She’s brave and optimistic and above all curious. Unfortunately for her she’s been born in a society where those things are absolutely not what’s expected of an obedient girlmonk.
In issue #2 we introduce a second protagonist to join her on her adventure. I can’t say much about him because even his species is a bit spoilery. But he’s awesome too, and Caspar’s done an amaaazing job with design. He’s grumpy and sarcastic where Qora is bright and adventurous. We get into a buddy movie kind of rhythm quite quickly.
Beyond that… expect cororants, skeletal hermit crabs, bullying monkeys, adrenalised cetaceans and the main servants of the devil Ay, about whom I can say nothing at all... except that they’re shiny, hovering... and heavily armed.
Vince Brusio: For Qora, her plight seems to be akin to playing a vinyl version of Pearl Jam’s “Do The Evolution,” and having the record skip repeatedly. She’s supposed to have the freedom of flight, but something wants to clip her wings? Does she live in some sort of caste system? Does this new society of creatures in Angelic operate like the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm?
Si Spurrier: There’s clearly a whole bunch of societal and hierarchical stuff going on, sure. Angelic is one of those books where metaphor and parable are pretty abundant, if you choose to see them. To one extent it’s totally a story about The Creation trying avoid the same mistakes as The Creator.
I mentioned the “alter-peace” ritual above. It’s supposed to be this grand rite of passage for young monks passing into adulthood - a holy moment - but Qora’s terrified of it. And with good reason. Basically two chosen monks step into “the alter-peace”: a shrine at the heart of the community which is clearly a chunk of old gene-splicing tech. Lights flash, steam blasts. And when the pair step back out again, the female is pregnant. Oh, not with a “normal” monkey child, but with all the gifts of the Makers. Wings, opposable thumbs, colored fur, and a voice. The tribe sees this as the holiest of miracles and a sure sign of the Makers’ favor.
But there’s a cruel twist. When a female exits the Alter-Peace, pregnant, to be greeted by her cheering community, she’s also had her wings removed. Because - so the males say - a mother has no business flying around when she’s got duties to attend.
Well, Qora can’t think of anything worse. No wonder she flies away.
So, yeah! As I mentioned, we’re shooting for a very layered vibe. One of the things I love about movies like Wall-E or The Iron Giant is that to kids they’re just a ripping sci-fi yarns about robots and friendships, but to adult audiences there are jokes and implications and themes far, far bigger, and often darker.
For those who care to see it Qora’s tribe is a metaphor for a particular version of faith-based society. But their enemies - who represent a very different version of faith - have a lot of mysteries and problems of their own. Clashing cultures. All very relevant to today.
Ultimately Angelic is the tale of Qora and her companion trying to discover as much as they possibly can about their own creation. Discovering the histories and (often sinister) reasons behind the day-to-day stuff they’ve been doing for years. And basically casting a whole new light on what they take to be “normal,” all whilst being chased by all disgruntled cyberorganisms, angry adults from their own tribes, and the long shadows of the distant past.
Oh, and in issue #2 there’s a levitating humpback whale, which is fun.
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.