We caught up with Si Spurrier at Wondercon, a feat considering the amount of panels he bounced back and forth between all weekend, to discuss his next project from BOOM! Studios, Godshaper. Find out what he had to say about the series before it debuts on April 12, 2017.
Can you give me the elevator pitch for Godshaper?
Si Spurrier: For Godsh- oh god, this is the first thing everybody asks and I’m useless at it!
I’ve read it and I can’t explain it!
SS: No, it’s hard, right? It’s really hard. Okay so, I’ll do it in tiered stages because there’s a short version and there’s a slightly longer version.
The short version is that it’s the story of a man without a god and a god without a man traveling together across the midwestern America. It doesn’t really tell you very much as far as elevator pitches go, but it’s kind of fun.
The longer pitch is that, in 1958, the laws of physics broke, technology no longer works. The very next morning everybody woke up to discover that they were accompanied through life by their own personal god. These are part bodyguard, part assistant, it does all the things that technology used to do. It’s part fashion accessory – people are incredibly vain about the way their gods look and act – and most importantly, it’s your bank account. So, the bigger your god is, the more rich you, the smaller it is, the poorer you are. If you want to pay for something, you pray to the other person’s god. It expands and yours shrinks a little bit, so it’s a weird society where metaphysics has taken the place of physics.
In this world, there are very, very few people who are born without gods of their own. Our central character is one such person, his name is Ennay. As a result of having no god, he is able to manipulate other people’s gods like clay. He can change the way they look, change their color, change the things they can do, sort of re-configure them, they’ve all got superpowers basically.
But he’s incapable of owning any wealth because he has no god of his own, he has no bank account. And so, he’s in this weird position where everywhere he goes, people want to use his skill, but nonetheless he’s a pariah, he’s dispossessed, he’s completely disenfranchised.
His only ace card is that he’s accompanied through his life by this little guy called Bud, who is probably the only existing god who has nobody of his own. That shouldn’t be possible. So there’s a whole mystery about what Bud is and who Bud is and where he comes from, which neither Bud nor Ennay want to solve. They have no interest in the mysteries of this world, all they want is to become musicians, so they’re going to San Francisco to play in a festival.
In this world, one of the themes we play with is that when all of the metaphysical questions have been answered, there’s nothing to wonder about, nothing to be mystified by. Culture just stagnates. This world is stuck in kind of a vanilla, beige 1950s rockabilly crapness, where pop stars use their gods as instruments and it’s all just very safe and dull.
Whereas Ennay is part of this vibrant, illegal underground scene called cantik. They gather in secret parties every night and play some bizarre music. I have no idea what their music sounds like. That’s kind of a cool thing to be able to do as a creator, be visual about music and allow the readers to fill in the blanks themselves.
So, the subtext of the whole thing is that Ennay wants to be identified as a musician, but instead everywhere he goes, he’s identified as that guy without a god and that’s what the tension and the heart of the story is about – faith, belonging, wealth, capitalism, and all the big things, but also just this very personal, cute journey about two friends traveling across America and getting up to hijinks together. It’s cool.
Can you explain the setting and what kind of research went into creating it?
SS: It’s set in the present day, but it’s a present day that has deviated from our own by half a century. It’s scattered across the midwest, they’re traveling from Chicago to San Francisco with lots of digressions and deviations along the way. I’ve visited Chicago and I’ve visited San Francisco, so I know those bits, but the bit in the middle has lots of homework and reading up on it, looking at photos.
The beauty of this is that it’s not up to me to draw any of this. I have a very, very talented artist, Jonas. He goes by the name Jonas Goonface because that’s his nom de plume and who am I to say otherwise. I think he has a background in the midwest, so he knows what he’s up to and he really identifies with this wandering spirit. I think he’s a sort of cheerful itinerant in his own right, so he just nails that stuff without me really needing to give him much direction on it.
When it comes to research about music and metaphysics and all that stuff, that’s stuff I just read about for fun anyway, so it’s not a huge amount of research needed.
Speaking of your artist, Jonas Goonface, it’s a heavily visual book. What was the process of working with him to create that style and that look for the book?
SS: Weirdly enough, and I say this usually as a control freak, it was just kind of, “Go, see what you can do.”
The biggest challenge for both of us – I mentioned this cantik scene before, which is a sort of underground musical culture – the trick is how do you come up with a counterculture aesthetic, which is completely made up, it’s completely imaginary, without it being a copy of something that has already existed?
Jonas, having gone through lots and lots of different design aesthetics, has ended up with a little bit punk, little bit glam, little bit jazz, little bit blues, and a lot of completely other stuff in there. There’s lots of gender-bending beautiful goodness in there, which makes it all very free and open and esoteric in the best possible way and he’s just leaned into that and gone with it.
And again, from my position it’s a horrible cheat because I don’t have to be able to put my finger on what cantik sounds like, so it could be anything. I have ideas of my own, but what’s lovely is presenting this picture of a cultural scene based around a music, we don’t have to tell anybody what the music is. They can just picture it or rather hear it themselves. It’s really cool.
In the first issue, can you talk about how you scripted out the full page scenes and how you worked with Jonas and your letterer, Colin Bell? I found them really interesting.
SS: There is one double page spread in particular where the challenge was to persuade the audience to read in the wrong direction, an inverted S shape or Z shape. Jonas actually did some really clever things with that that I hadn’t foreseen. He used color in a very clever way, so the whole page seems to be mostly blues, but there’s this subtle thread of pink and purple through the middle, which leads the eye.
Our letterer, Colin, has done an absolutely splendid job. This is an uncelebrated art, lettering, it’s usually overlooked, but in pages like this, you need your letterer to be very, very conscious of eye track, guiding the reader’s eye. It was a group process. I drew a thumbnail for that particular page, hoping that it would be enough. Jonas kind of used the thumbnail, but actually incorporated a whole bunch of stuff on his own, which made it even better.
That’s the sort of experimental stuff I love about comics, but it’s very hard to just go to it fully formed, you have to go through quite a few iterations to get it right. I think it works very well.
It was very nice, I liked it a lot.
SS: Thank you.
How did you develop the language and the slang used by the characters in the book?
SS: It’s really just 1950s and 1960s greaser slang, stuck through a distorted mirror. It’s like American Graffiti or Grease, but imagine a world where Danny from Grease was the most boring individual you can imagine. He’s like middle class, white collar worker who dresses in a leather jacket and talks like a greaser from the 1950s – that’s the world of Godshaper. It was about finding ways to make that fun 1950s and 1960s slang feel a little bit dull and middle of the road, while inventing new and different corruptions of it to define the counterculture. I love this stuff.
People always say, “This must have taken a lot of work to create this language.” Not at all. I’m a creator of language and I find it very fun to fiddle around with words. It’s my job.
Was there any specific inspiration behind starting this story in this setting?
SS: I don’t know. That’s a really unsatisfying answer I’m afraid.
The idea just occurred to me one day. It’s one of these ideas where the idea for the world and the idea for the story inside the world kind of occurred at the same time. Frequently, it’s the opposite, you’d have an idea for an amazing alternate reality and then you have to create a story to go in it and work with it or the other way around.
I do a lot of world-building in comics, Six Gun Gorilla, The Spire, all sorts of stuff, and my starting position is that you need to create a world which works, which needs to function. Which usually, and this is the sort of stuff that you never tell your reader because it sounds frankly very boring, but you need to create an economy. An economy is the most important thing that exists inside a society and by economy I don’t necessarily mean money, I mean the interactions of humans in a way that makes society function.
If you can create a functioning economy then you get to just tell stories in the world that aren’t necessarily about the world.
One of the things we’ll see in Godshaper is frequently our central characters are presented with the opportunity to learn some of the secrets that undermine this world. How did it end up like this? How is Bud able to exist as a god that doesn’t have a believer? They get many opportunities to start to think about these questions, to make themselves feel special because they’re clearly involved in something very mysterious.
The tension is always between whether they give a shit about solving the grand mysteries of the world or whether they are humans who want to be respected and loved and admired for the things that they can do, rather than the things that they know or the things that they’ve discovered.
I think that that’s a really interesting dynamic that is true of all of our lives. One of the big themes in Godshaper is that as soon as you solve all the questions, as soon as you have the means to say, I know everything empirically, what’s left? You’ve got nothing. So frequently, these two will refuse to learn secrets because it keeps them human, it keeps them interesting.
That’s sort of jumping ahead a little bit there.
Is there a specific process you use each time you start world-building or is it different with every series?
SS: It’s different and usually the idea will take the form of the economy I mentioned before. I spend a lot of time thinking about the real world and the ways that it is good and the ways that it is bad and the things that you could flip on their head.
You can make shit up. How would it be if the world ran on twigs? You can just completely compose silly things and ninety-nine percent of them you just go, “No that’s stupid,” but occasionally you’ll think of something, “Oh yeah, that’s a very different model from our own, but that would create the following repercussions, people would have to live like this. That would mean that they become far more obsessed by that.”
For instance, in the case of Godshaper, if you are joined through the whole of your life by a god that sits on your shoulder or walks along behind you, then you would become very vain about it. People treat their gods like grand status symbols. They stop looking after their own costume and physical look and start really worrying about how their god looks.
That’s an interesting repercussion of the economy, rather than because that’s something that we see in our own world. It’s just one of those things, you start with the idea and the world and the humanity inside that world kind of sorts itself out afterwards. It’s a really interesting process.