“Anything that expands the number of outlets for storytelling will open doors for more people to come on through” Jonathan Larsen and Cecilia Latella discuss digital publishing with Thrillbent and their sci-fi fairytale The Endling
With it’s tale of a high school intern who creates the last born human being inside a computer simulator Jonathan Larsen and Cecilia Latella’s The Endling (published via Thrillbent and now available on ComiXology) takes elements from classic science fiction and literature then gives them a smart modern twist. It’s difficult to define and in our review we described it as a “modern sci-fi fairytale”, but writer Jonathan and artist Cecilia think differently and were more than happy to share their thoughts on just what makes The Endling so much more than an easily definable genre piece.
JL: To be stupidly honest, the inspiration for The Endling was the fact that I needed a backup pitch. Specifically, I was pitching another series at a variety of places and getting good feedback, but it’s fairly edgy and potentially controversial so even though the editors who saw it really wanted to do it, the higher-higher ups were skittish. At some point during this process I realized that this pitch got me in the door at some places–but then I had nothing else to pitch once my initial pitch scared them off. So I wanted to come up with a backup pitch.
As a philosophy major in college, I had read a small amount of work by Richard Dawkins, now probably the world’s foremost pitchman for evolution, and found it endlessly interesting. So the germ of the idea for The Endling was my interest in considering what human evolution might look like as social forces begin to drive the process of natural selection. I didn’t want to use time travel, and I knew that computer simulation has become a powerful tool for problem solving, so I thought a computer simulation might nicely let us get the last genetically human human into our world. I’m confessing here to something I actually address in more detail in one of the collections’ bonus material: That my characters didn’t come first. The concept came first.
So did the characters go through any kind of evolution early on?
JL: At a certain point, the way I thought about The Endling was that he and a band of older teenagers would team up and go on missions/adventures Scooby Doo style. The story we’re telling in The Endling now was originally intended merely to be the origin story for this team. As I began to plot out the origin, however, I kept having to wrestle with questions about how the various characters would react – and kept having inspirations about fun/dark/messed up plot twists…which would then necessitate the invention of new characters and so on. Basically, it turned out, I became more interested in exploring how my characters would react to each other and the events of the story than in just setting up a batch of archetypes to go have adventures.
Amber probably went through the most dramatic evolution. She started off as a boy. It didn’t last long. Other than that, I have to say, no, the characters didn’t evolve all that much (irony!) from where they started. One thing I knew going in was that I didn’t want a bad guy. People would do bad things, sure. But I rarely enjoy stories where people are motivated by Evil, so I wanted to create situations and back stories that would provide emotionally realistic motivations for people to do bad things.
It has a very fairy tale like feel to it rather than an obvious comics or sci-fi feel (even name checking Pinocchio at one point) would that be fair?
JL: It’s funny, I have several references in The Endling. Pinocchio, as you mention. But also Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, Frankenstein and more. So based on the number of citations, you might actually be able to argue it’s more science-fiction inflected. I do suspect that the artwork has a lot to do with the fairy tale quality you’re seeing in it. Cecilia, of course, has an art style very compatible with that kind of storytelling, I think–and I suspect much of her existing work bears that out. Our original colorist was Paul Mounts – whom I love and hope to work with again – but I think our current colorist, Jenn Manley Lee, has a particular style that might give rise to the fairy tale comparison. Softer, maybe.
As for whether it was intentional, I have to admit it was not – at least not on my part. I did know very broadly that I wanted my characters – and the readers – to think about the literary predecessors, Pinocchio and Frankenstein being two of the most obvious (and you could toss in Pygmalion). I had a couple motives for the name-checking: One, it always bugs me when characters don’t reference existing fictional parallels to what they’re going through; and two, I wanted to concretize some of the expectations readers might have about where the story was going, so I could more effectively upend them!
CL: Yes, Pinocchio is mentioned at the very beginning (in chapter 2), but as a privileged reader of the script – reading the first twenty chapters in a row – personally I never felt a fairy tale vibe from it. Fantasy, yes – my approach to the Endling’s world is similar to the one I’d have to a fantasy world.
JL: It’s kind of funny, though, that you cite fairy tales, as I actually see it as fairly grounded in real life. As you’ll see in future issues, the problems in Amber’s life revolve around such common problems as grades, money and her parents’ divorce. When I hear “fairy tales,” I think of archetypes, but as I think you’ll see in future issues, Amber and her friends are pretty unique, individually realized people. (You’ll have to let me know if I’m wrong!)
I think you’ll find in future issues the action and violence ratchet up in intensity–especially as we learn more about our characters and the Endling’s capabilities are revealed. If it’s a fairy tale, it definitely skews toward the dark, European, originals!
You say in the notes at the back that you based some of the ideas on the evolution of animals and life (both positive and negative) how important is it for you to make the story scientifically accurate? Or at least scientifically plausible?
CL: From my point of view, searching for references for the various scientific concepts and items mentioned in the story, I found out that almost everything is actually existing (or existed at some point.)
JL: On a certain level, of course, the story is neither scientifically accurate nor scientifically plausible. We don’t have the computing power to simulate a billion years of human society and all the individuals in it. We can’t grow genetically encoded human bodies. So, in that regard, I had to say farewell to any ambition I had for scientific accuracy. In the future, however – and maybe not all that far from now – I think the particulars of the story you’ve seen will become both accurate and plausible. There’s no reason we can’t have that computing power some day. And there’s nothing that says we can’t grow a human body from scratch. It’s just a matter of time, as far as I’m concerned.
As I wrote in the afterword, however, I did want to do something different from previous characters with animal powers. I wanted to think differently about what evolution is capable of. So in that regard, yeah, I’d say everything we see The Endling do is based on things that exist in biology – which doesn’t mean they’re not surprising, by the way, just the opposite. The trick for me was not to focus on things like cheetahs for speed and elephants for strength – I tried to go a little deeper to find some of the truly bizarre and disturbing things living things are capable of doing to each other, and focus on those. Much more creepy biology fun to come in future issues.
How did the two of you come to work together on The Endling?
JL: I had sent Mark Waid my pitch and maybe the first ten scripts or so for The Endling. He wanted Thrillbent to publish it and we began to talk about who might draw it. He had some artists in mind he wanted to work with whose work I really liked. In the meantime, though, I had posted an ad of sorts on DeviantArt looking for an artist and Cecilia responded. I checked out some of her previous work and showed Mark some panels in specific that I just loved. I knew the series wouldn’t have colorful uniforms to help distinguish my characters and I knew I was going to have at least a couple of teenage girls in it so I wanted to be sure the girls were going to be depicted in a non-sexualized way that let us come to know them for their emotions and personalities. Cecilia had done one page of three girls sitting around talking–all of whom were instantly identifiable as unique and distinct from the others. I showed her work to Mark and Mark fell in love with it, too. We got in touch with her, showed her the scripts and she signed on.
CL: I answered to a job offer post in the DeviantArt forum and a few weeks later I got a mail from Mark Waid. I did not know either Mark or Jonathan at that point. After a short mail exchange with Mark, I was send the first half of the script and I was introduced to Jonathan.
I was lucky not only to get the opportunity to work on a fabulous story, but also to collaborate with a writer who is really open to my own ideas and interpretation of the plot – since the beginning, I felt I could discuss freely with Jonathan about any aspect of the comic. My own take on the characters often differs from Jonathan’s, but the possibility of discussing our opinions is what makes The Endling a collaboration, much more than an usual work-for-hire.