Working with actor Prasanna Puwanarajah and artist Coke Navarro, author and Line of Duty writer Jed Mercurio has begun an intriguing SF thriller graphic novel series, Sleeper, the first volume out this week, with a second already in the works – and a television pilot in the pipeline.
Published by Scribner UK, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, and not to be confused with Ed Brubaker’s spy thriller series of the same name, although it’s been reported it just might, Sleeper by Mercurio and Puwanarajah is a full-on SF conspiracy thriller set in the 24th-century, that started out as a film screenplay.
Opening in the year 2381, in Sleeper, DS-5 is a biologically-enhanced law enforcement marshal, due to be decommissioned after decades in deep space. He returns to a solar system finally rising out of a devastating climate war following the discovery of a miraculous new energy source: Titan Green.
When his pod crashes on Titan following a mysterious explosion, DS-5 deploys for his final mission: an investigation into mass murder that becomes entwined with a geologist’s quest for her missing father.
But as DS-5’s ageing tech begins to fail, human faculties and memories resurface, forcing him to confront the dark provenance of his recruitment…
That Jed Mercurio has stepped into creating SF – both as a graphic novel and a potential TV series – should surely be celebrated as great news, further boosting an already thriving and inventive genre. His TV shows like Line of Duty are international hits, and while concerns have been raised that the Sleeper title shares the same name as the Ed Brubaker-penned spy series, not least by Ed himself, it’s immediately obvious that the content of both stories is entirely different.
(The project also shares the same title as a Woody Allen film and a Britpop band).
Sleeper is a collaboration with the graphic artist Coke Navarro and his co-writer, Prasanna Puwanarajah, the actor and director who played a colleague of the murdered TV journalist Gail Vella in series six of Line of Duty. He and Mercurio first met when he starred in his 2015 hospital drama Critical and bonded over the fact that they had both worked as doctors before moving into entertainment.
“As a writer I want to do things that I’m interested in, that I would want to watch and read. And that’s how I’ve always gone about creating things,” says Mercurio of the project in a wide-ranging interview with the I newspaper.
“We looked at our medical backgrounds and thought about ways in which we could create an enhanced humanoid protagonist that follows in the tradition of the Blade Runner or the Terminator but is different from them in quite distinctive ways,” Mercurio told the paper’s Arts Editor, Alice Jones.
Of protagonist DS-5, Mercurio told The Guardian, “We are interested not just in things as artistic concepts, but also digging into how things might happen in a real world setting. So with the character of DS-5, how that biological augmentation would take place, and the setup on Titan – all those things borrow from our interest in matters scientific.”
It’s no surprise that a second book is planned, the first ending on a sinister cliffhanger, or that Sleeper may yet spin out into adaptation for TV, with the team keen to build the project as a brand.
Prasanna Puwanarajah is clearly equally excited about the release of the graphic novel, discussing his approach to writing it with Jed with the I newspaper and, perhaps, bemusing his followers on Twitter by changing his avatar to an inside cover portrait by Coke, “because I’m really very excited about our graphic novel Sleeper coming out and I thought sod it, just be excited.”
Talking to The Guardian, Puwanarajah reveals the story was developed during production on Line of Duty, pegging Mercurio as a “classical sci-fi fan”, favouring Captain Scarlet and the works of Isaac Asimov whereas he himself is, “a cheap date – it’s just sort of ThunderCats and trash from the 80s.
“I was thinking about how sci-fi films and cartoons in the 80s and 90s often seem to be about these bionic naifs,” he explains. “They explored human behaviour through a version of a human that didn’t quite get it.” As a teenager, he related to these characters. “I felt like a person that didn’t quite get it.”
Coke Navarro, who spent a great deal of time designing the setting of Sleeper, even creating clay busts of the characters, says that collaborating with the writers taught him plenty about plot and structure, but it was a learning process for them, too. “When you do a graphic novel you have to think in static images. And these guys think in terms of action and movement.”
This may not just be the first of many graphic novels we might see from Mercurio and the team, as he’s happy to reveal he’s enjoyed working in the medium.
“With graphic novels, readers go at their own pace,” he notes in comparison with the more passive watching of a TV show. “The book cannot be absorbed without their active participation. That creates a much more intense, immersive and personalised experience.”
• Sleeper is out now and available from all good bookshops | ISBN 978-1471194979 | Buy it from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
Jed Mercurio‘s most recent television series Bodyguard and Line of Duty have broken UK viewing records. Other credits include Bodies, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Critical, Strike Back, The Grimleys and Cardiac Arrest. He is the author of three novels, Bodies, Ascent (subsequently turned into a graphic novel) and American Adulterer. Jed is a former hospital physician and Royal Air Force officer, having originally planned to specialise in aviation medicine.
Prasanna Puwanarajah is an actor, writer and director. His writing and directing work has played at the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. He completed his directorial debut feature film Ballywalter in 2021. Prasanna worked as a hospital doctor in the NHS for three and a half years. This is his first novel.
Coke Navarro is a Spanish illustrator, influenced by 1990s comics, and a lover of classic sci-fi art. Since graduating in fine arts, he has worked at his Valencia based studio for many clients including Sony Animation, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Variety. His own work focuses on comic book art and narrative. Coke is represented by the Central Illustration Agency. Sleeper is his first graphic novel in the UK – find out more about his work by visiting his web site at cokenavarro.com
Both of these interviews are a great read, the creators of Sleeper discussing their approach to graphic novel story writing in detail
UPDATE, 4th November 2021: Deadline reported Bodyguard creator Jed Mercurio and his HTM Television partner, Episodes and Flack producer Jimmy Mulville, have struck a first-look deal with 20th Television. “These guys are artists at the top of their games and their projects are always as successful artistically as they are commercially,” said 20th TV President Karey Burke. There was no indication Sleeper was among the projects to be offered