Wednesday 17 July 2013

Hell 101: Interview with James Turner, author of Rebel Angels

Rebel Angels is an upcoming graphic novel from Slave Labor Graphics (SLG) Publishing about a counter-revolution in Hell. Ten thousand years after Eve bit into that juicy apple and Satan took on The Big Guy, the demon masses are wising up and asking, "What were we thinking?" Join fallen angel Balthazar on his quest for meaning and redemption in a mad, morally inverted world where hope is a sin.

The first volume is 240 pages of finely illustrated mayhem, as the Machiavellian schemes of Hell's ruling class descend into anarchy and chaos. Many comics feature demons. Few are set in Hell itself.

You can get the first issue from Comixology for FREE right here.

Not convinced? Read reviews by ComicSpectrum and AtomicSam.

Need more? Check out the SLG interview with James Turner below.

isometric view of hell, city of dis, rebel angels, war in hell
City of Dis

Q: What were your sources of inspiration? 

JT: I've been working long enough to self-reference. Yay! Rebel Angels merges the flat, graphic look of Nil: A Land Beyond Belief with the more cartoonish, multi-dimensional Warlord of Io. To regress even further, Nil was influenced by my love of architectural drawings and blueprints, while Warlord of Io drew from Frank R. Paul, the unsurpassed herald of the Retro-Future.

On top of that, I slathered influences like Piranesi's Prisons etchings, Bosch, Bruegel, Winsor McCay, and Louis Le Breton. Several demon designs are directly based on creations of Bosch and Breton. I wanted to establish an infernal visual verisimilitude that way, even if only on a subconscious level. It's fun to spot them, too. And of course there's a little John Martin in there.

Q: Many things parody or poke fun at modern tendencies and institutions such as the 'Seven Deadly Sins Stock Exchange' or the 'Department of Internet Forum Commentary'. Is Hell meant to represent the worst vices and excesses of modern life?

JT: Oh absolutely; our flawed institutions are enormously funny. It also makes sense that internet trolls are really demons. It's obvious when you think about it. Who could possibly be so nasty, or have so much time on their hands to spread it? Background signage was ubiquitous throughout Nil, but people complained it slowed down the narrative. If I can find a way to put it in without being disruptive, I'll ramp it up in future volumes, as Hell industrializes and develops a more sophisticated advertising industry

Q: Why do you think stories involving demons, angels and sin are so timeless and appealing?

JT: Because those stories are all about us! Same way sci-fi is about problems in the here and now. It's a way to explore the nature of people in a more 'arch' fashion using powerful metaphors and symbols. We add preternatural elements to stories in order to emphasize and externalize emotional truths. I see angels and demons in that light

Q: Your world building, backstory and cartography of Hell is extensive – where did you get the idea of Hell as a bloated hypocritical bureaucracy with feuding ideological factions?

JT: It was a natural direction to go in given Milton's description. He describes the Fallen Angels as being a diverse group, united only in their opposition to God. After the fall, some just sat atop mountain peaks in Hell discussing philosophy, for example. Entire populations with completely uniform yet utterly despicable political views only exist in the worst propaganda based caricatures. Think of Orwell's Two Minute Hate. So any charitable look, any honest look, would have to go beyond that.

As far as bureaucracies go, their nature is to expand. Hell has been around since before Adam and Eve, so they've had plenty of time to become obscenely bloated. Think ten thousand years of passing municipal bylaws.

Q: Will The Big Guy Upstairs -God- make an appearance in future installments of Balthazar's infernal antics?

JT: My outline doesn't, although that may change as inspiration strikes. It can be capricious. The book evolved a lot during execution. South Park has a very funny version of Him, not bearded-man-on-a-cloud at all. But it will all depend on how the book sells. That's the nature of the industry.

Q: Out of all the demons of Hell, what made you pick the Balthazar as the main character?

James Turner: Balthazar started out as demon detective Muk, a character from Nil: A Land Beyond Belief.

Back then Rebel Angels was a direct sequel to Nil, in which two demon detectives return to Hell with revolutionary memes and bring down the regime. Unfortunately people found demon detectives confusing, so while I took out that angle, I kept the updated designs for Muk, and renamed him Balthazar. He's a seeker, trying to find purpose in a world where spiritual meaning is essentially proscribed by the regime. I thought that was an interesting angle to explore, in between all the fighting, sex, farts, and explosions.

Q: Some people find Milton's Satan is a more compelling character than his God. Do you also identify with the scrappy underdogs, the demon grunts of Hell who trade a heavenly tyrant for a hellish one?

JT: Absolutely. Look at Arab Spring. Revolutions never turn out the way you want. Throughout history the hopes and dreams of the people are subverted, sabotaged by the raging ego of a manipulative tyrant. Plato talked about this in The Republic, thousands of years ago. Same old, same old.

That being said, revolutions always make for interesting times. Like World War II, the setting of countless movies, TV shows, video games, cartoons, comics, documentaries, etc, revolutions are a great canvas to paint drama upon.

Rebel Angels has action, explosions, battles, sex, and jokes galore against a backdrop of epic epicness. Take that, History Channel!