In the far future, a military-industrial complex reigns over all humanity and actively destroys distant alien worlds. The galaxy’s only hope can be found through an unlikely pair: an astral-projecting cat named Lou and his loving owner Kiara. Trading nine lives for the well-being of billions, their revolt is a battle for love, friendship, compassion, and the soul of humanity.—- Dark Horse Comics
That’s the premise for one of Dark Horse Comics’ newest comic books, Strayed, written by Carlos Giffoni. We caught up with Giffoni at San Diego Comic Con 2019 to talk about Lou and Kiara, his own cat Lou Reed (and how we can get his other cat, Victor, into a second arc), and the entire creative team behind this trippy space exploration book about the friendships we forge and the lengths we go to do good.
Read the full interview below.
Can you talk about the premise of Strayed?
Strayed is about a cat that can astral travel and his owner, Kiara, creates a device to communicate with him that translates his brainwaves into actual language. This is in the future and the military is actually using them to find new planets that they’re colonizing. And Lou and Kiara don’t know that that’s what’s going on at the beginning of the book.
How did this project come about?
Well, I started writing it about two years ago. I’m originally Venezuelan and I love comic books from when I was a kid. But I didn’t know like, “Oh, you can actually make comic books,” right? So after I was in the US for a while – I’ve been working in video games for the last 12 years or so, doing creative direction, production, a little bit of writing – but finally, two years ago, I was like, “I want to make my own comic book, it’s time,” and I started looking into it, researching how to do it.
I figured out that the scripting method is similar to any kind of screenplay writing. And then I started thinking about different ideas, different projects, that I could do. I read this article about a program that the US government ran, that was called Remote Viewing. It started in the late 70s and it was canceled by the CIA in 1994, you can find documentation about it. They were trying to create psychic spies to spy on other countries. Of course, it did not work. That’s not a thing that’s possible.
That you know of.
That I know of, who knows, right? But that inspired me. And then I was in my house looking around and my cat, who is also named Lou – just a coincidence – was kind of staring into space. And I was like, “Oh, wow, this will be interesting.” And that’s how the idea got started. From there I tried to find the right artist for it, the right team. And we started working together until we had the book.
Did the concept change wildly at all, in the two years that you were working on the book? Is there anything big that you started with that you left out or major changes you made in the process?
It did change a lot. The ending I knew from the beginning, so I knew what the last page was going to be, but there were different characters that came in there that I didn’t expect, different things that happened. And having Juan Doe as the artist on it, when he started drawing also inspired me to change it a little bit and include more psychedelic scenes, more space pages, more crazy creatures and stuff like that because he’s an artist that really shines on that. And I wanted to make sure that it was a collaboration.
Did you name the cat in Strayed after your cat, Lou? Because you have two cats!
I did! I have two cats, Lou and Victor. The cat in the book is named Lou. And I actually sent references to Juan of Lou, so that’s how he looks like. My cat, his full name is Lou Reed. He’s named after one of my favorite musicians who passed away, actually, the year that I got Lou. And he was in the Velvet Underground, which is one of my favorite bands. I’ve lived in New York for a long time, so he was someone that was an inspiration for me.
And then I have my other cat Victor, who I couldn’t write into the book. But if there’s ever a second arc, I have a good idea for how to bring him in. But we’ll see how that goes and then we’ll go from there. If there’s a sequel, Victor might show up.
What made comics the right medium for this story?
Oh, man. Comics are a great combination of words and pictures. And because they’re static, and they’re next to each other, you can do things that you cannot do in any other medium.
And beyond that, it’s also originally I’m a musician as well. There’s something to writing comics that has to do a lot with rhythm and pattern and pacing. Because if you do a really crowded page — let’s say eight, nine panels — that’s going to take you a while to read and you’re going to look at everything, but you can’t see any details. If you do a two-page spread, then you’re going to have a lot of beautiful stuff to look at, but you’re not going to read that much. So you’re caught, you’re going to change the way you access that. So that was always fascinating for me.
Also, the budget is your imagination and the time of the artists. If I try to do these – imagine as a TV show, as an animation, or a film. It will cost millions and millions of dollars to get it right, so that was part of it. But also I love comics. I read comics pretty much every day.
Can you talk about working with the creative team?
Yeah, Juan Doe is the artist. He’s done stuff for DC with the Fantastic Four, his own stuff for a lot of independent things, he did Dark Ark recently, and he’s one of my favorite artists, to begin with. I wrote him out of nowhere. I just happened to catch him when he was finishing another book and he loved the concept. And then we talked on the phone for two hours. And then he was on board.
Then the letterer, it’s Matt Krotzer. Matt did a book for Image that’s called Retcon and there was something really special about the way he lettered. Instead of doing very standard lettering, he would change the balloons and sometimes the colors, depending on the character. For me, that did two things, he made it a little bit more science fiction, and also a little more personal. He did a fantastic job, he did special balloons for Lou — when he’s thinking — there’s gonna be a lot of different balloons because there are a lot of different ways of communicating in this book.
And then Chas Pangburn is an independent editor that I actually asked online, my friends, and someone had worked with him and recommended him. He was also great, because otherwise — right now, it’s 24 pages per issue — without Chas, it would probably be at least 35. And not all of them would be good. He helped me narrow it to, “Okay, this is the best for each issue.”
How did you learn to script comic books? Did you learn to script as you went or did you take a class at all?
So I live in LA, now I’ve been there for six years. So of course, like a year and a half into it, I took improv classes, and then I took comedy writing classes. And actually, the scripting for comic books is very similar to what you would do for comedy, for TV or film, right? It’s the same kind of structure to the script. So I had an idea of how that would work.
Then I did a lot of studying on getting scripts and comparing them to comic books that were finished and trying to figure out how they did things — but also any book from anything that Will Eisner did, to Scott McCloud, Understanding and Making Comics, to Marvel and DC books — all of it. The Bendis book was great, too. I read all of them.
Before I even started I felt like, “Okay, I need to really understand how this works.” And Strayed was actually my second pitch. I did another pitch that’s still up in the air. I did a few short things before I felt like I was ready to really go into the full series.
Can you talk about the other extras that you put at the back of the issues for Strayed?
Yes, so there is a Bandcamp link. Basically what I’m doing is, like I said, I was a musician too, or I am a musician too. So I’m making a 20-minute soundtrack per issue that you’ll be able to get for free at the Bandcamp link. So every time, the day the issue comes out, a new soundtrack releases. That’s one of the extras.
We’re also having a bunch of really talented artists do pin-ups. Each issue will have an extra illustration from an artist that I love. Also, I’m writing a little letter, a little essay, per issue that will be there as well. And I think that’s it because between the 24 pages and all that it’s like 28 pages, which is the max we could do.
Oh, there’s an alternative cover per issue! It’s not limited or anything, you can order either or, and we have a really amazing group of artists for that. So Dustin Nguyen, who did Descender, is doing the first one, Jim Mahfood is doing the second one. The third one is by Alexis Ziritt, who also does Space Rider, which is another book that I’m working on now. Matteo Scalera, who is an amazing, amazing artist, is doing the fourth one. And then Sanford Greene, from Bitter Root and Power Man and all those great books, is doing the last one. So a lot of nice art. Yes. I was so happy.
That was my dream lineup of artists to get, and I was able to get them. So excited. Super excited. Yeah.
Delving into the story, can you talk about what’s the driving force behind this space exploration/astral projection?
Sure, I think there are two different components to a story. One is the plot, the cycle, all the things that are happening. They go here, they go there, they go to this planet, whatever. And that’s a conduit to what this story is actually about.
So I like to talk about what the story is actually about. There are a number of things that I’m exploring here. One is the relationship between a person and their pet. I’ve had, I feel like a lot of people have had, a tremendous, loving relationship with an animal, right? And it’s something that sometimes gets you through really difficult times. So I’ve had occasions in my life when something bad happened, and thanks to my pet, I got through. And I know that there are a lot of people that have been through that. So that’s something that I wanted to explore as much as I could, that close relationship between a pet and their owner.
And the other thing I wanted to explore — let me see if I can get this right. It’s a complicated idea, but it’s basically: sometimes, without knowing, you’re put in a situation where you do bad things, and you think you’re doing good things, right? Then when you find out that you’re actually doing something bad, how do you get out of that situation? How do you make things right?
Like I was saying before, Lou and Kiara are exploring new planets that are getting colonized, so they don’t know. Once they find out what will they do, what will they sacrifice to get things right again?
Those are two of the driving forces of the book. And then I just really wanted Juan to draw a lot of pretty pictures of space and planets. And I had a lot of ideas for different creatures that I wanted him to draw and that was so fun.
Can you talk about the creatures that they’re encountering and how you decided on them? There are a lot of different ones that show up in the first issue.
Yeah, and you’ll see more in other issues. I was trying to imagine what a different world could be. In some cases, there are more, “Oh, maybe they could be plants that are sentient. Maybe they could be robots, right? Maybe there’s a world where the creatures are all made of gas? They’re like gaseous elements.”
I just kept thinking about ideas like that and it was a lot of fun. You know, I just spent hours writing down different ideas for what a world could be and then bringing those to different issues.