Alex Paknadel is a Lancaster-based comics writer, whose first work is being published in the form of Arcadia from US publisher Boom! Studios next month. Intrigued by the premise behind this new science-fiction story, I decided to have a chat with him and this is the result…
Matt Badham: Please tell us the concept for Arcadia?
Alex: Arcadia is about the aftermath of a global viral pandemic that killed seven billion of us, leaving only a couple of hundred million people left alive. They’re not alone though, because four billion people were digitally stored at the point of death and uploaded to a utopian simulation called Arcadia.
We’re six years on from that now and relations between the real world (aka ‘The Meat’) and Arcadia are pretty strained. Arcadia’s a resource-hungry beast as you can imagine, so there’s colossal resentment from a humanity that’s still reeling from its brush with extinction.
However, as the virus that wiped so many of us out is still doing the rounds, Arcadia represents the real world’s best hope for a cure. There’s a mutual dependency neither side is happy about.
Death is theoretically impossible in Arcadia, so when someone does die, the stage is set for a pretty nasty showdown.
Matt: We’re chatting by email in early to mid-April 2015. Issue #1 hits the shops on 13th May. Where are you at the moment in your schedule? Which issue are you currently writing?
Alex: I’m halfway through issue #5, which is the beginning of our second arc. I’m tentatively calling this arc ‘Hurry, My Children’. This is significant, I swear!
Matt: How did you come up with the concept for Arcadia and what themes are you hoping to explore with the title?
Alex: I suppose the idea began to take shape after I saw Adam Curtis’ brilliant documentary series All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace. I know a lot of people take issue with some of Curtis’ conclusions, but I see him as one of our great polemicists.
Anyway, this particular series was a really acidic critique of cyber-utopianism and it helped to focus my thoughts on the issue. I love technology and I’d be a total gadget geek if I could afford it, but I’m still very suspicious of this idea that technology is going to cure every disease and redress every imbalance. Something or someone always has to be removed to make utopia achievable, and that’s usually the unfamiliar and the vulnerable.
At the moment the supposed barriers to our great technological leap forward are the so-called disrupted – folks who, we’re told, are too lazy or too feckless to adapt when they’re replaced overnight by some shiny new algorithm. The thing is, societies and economies are massively and subtly interconnected, so each and every disruption ripples outwards in increasingly unpredictable ways. If you’re a tech company and you disrupt every sector then sooner or later nobody’s going to be able to afford your stuff because they won’t have any disposable income, right? It’s self-defeating.
Arcadia is really my take on all this. You can’t put your finger on the disrupted in the book, and that’s quite intentional. Are the Arcadians the disrupted because they’re dead or are the survivors the disrupted because their back-breaking labour keeps the simulation running?
Matt: Can you describe a couple of moments that give our readers a good idea of the tone of Arcadia?
Alex: There’s a sequence in Issue One where this luckless Arcadian with no money to maintain his appearance just tears his skin off in the middle of the road to reveal a vector wireframe beneath. It’s intentionally reminiscent of the self-immolation of the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức Malcolm Browne captured on film in 1963. Everyone comments on the eerie stillness of that tragic photo and I wanted to bottle some of that here. I set out to highlight the desperation and hopelessness of Arcadia’s poor in the most brutal manner I could think of, and I think Eric [Pfeiffer] delivered big time.
The other moment I really like is in Issue Two, and it’s where a young Arcadian kid’s being assessed by a child psychologist. He can’t discern any difference between organic and inorganic objects, so an apple is a baseball and a sticky tape dispenser is a snail and so on. The distinction between organic and inorganic is totally meaningless in Arcadia of course, so there’s really nothing to stop anyone building skyscrapers out of dog food if they want to.
This sequence establishes the fact that anything can and will happen in Arcadia. I want this comic to feel like a vast sandbox where anything goes, so this sets that up quite nicely I think.
Alex: Nobody needs me to tell them how brilliant Matt Taylor is. Andy Belanger loves him, Becky Cloonan loves him, Ales Kot loves him, etc. I picked up his achingly beautiful Great Salt Lake one shot at Thought Bubble 2014 but I never dreamed I’d be working with him less than a year later. He’s doing a series of interconnecting covers for our first five issues, which is great news for us because he has this incredible ability to tunnel into a premise and surface with the most striking and provocative imagery.
Matt has gone out of his way to let me know how much he digs the concept and the book itself and I really think that’s evident in the stunning work he’s turned in. He’s a treasured member of the team and I’ll be so gutted to see him go after issue five.
My good friend Eric Scott Pfeiffer is my outboard brain and I’d be lost without him on interiors. He has a great grasp of the material and he always over-delivers no matter how absurd the request.
Arcadia is a real baptism of fire in professional terms for Eric because I’ve got him drawing everything from floating archipelagos to glass diplomats, but he always rises to the challenge. I trust him completely and I can’t wait to meet him when he comes to the UK for Thought Bubble 2015. I’ve said it of other artists I’ve worked with, but with Eric I have a powerful feeling that I’ve got him on loan from greatness. He’s going to be huge.
Matt: Colin Bell is doing your lettering, isn’t he?
Alex: Yes. He’s the other pillar of Arcadia. His work is wonderful. Some of your readers may recognise Colin as one half of the creative team behind the award-winning Dungeon Fun. Colin’s a superb writer in his own right, so as well as bringing stylish lettering to the table he’s also an indispensable final pair of eyes for me.
Matt: What’s your pre-Arcadia comics background?
Alex: My comics background is practically zero. I’ve been wanting to do this for the better part of twenty years though and I’ve dabbled here and there, but I didn’t take it seriously until a couple of years ago when I completed my PhD. I worked on a concept in 2013 with a great artist from Tamworth called Mike Kennedy. We had a full issue printed up on my dime and everything, but I was still cutting my teeth at that point (as I am now) so the writing wasn’t all it could have been. That said, Mike and I plan to revisit it in the near future after he finishes up a fantastic-looking new book called Spiritus with Tim Daniel, the writer of Enormous and co-writer (with Michael Moreci) of BOOM! Studios’ Burning Fields.
Matt: Do you still have a day job or is writing your full-time gig?
Alex: I’ve just given up my day job as it happens, but that’s just so I can fall back on my savings and write solidly for a month or so. I’ll need another one very soon because bills, bills, bills, but I’m really looking forward to pretending I’m a proper grown-up writer for a few weeks.
Matt: How did Arcadia come to BOOM!? Was it a cold pitch?
Alex: It wasn’t, no. As I understand it, BOOM! don’t accept unsolicited submissions so they, um… solicited it. A good friend waved my pitch and the first issue under the discerning noses of Matt Gagnon and Bryce Carlson [from BOOM!] and they liked it enough to get in touch and accept it on the spot.
I was a bundle of nerves when they Skyped me from Los Angeles so I rambled and stuttered like a Ricky Gervais character for about half an hour, but they didn’t seem remotely fazed by it. Niceness personified, those guys. I owe them big time.
Matt: Finally, and I think I’m going to ask this in every interview from now – it’s a question I stole from a fanzine interview with Philip K Dick – what’s in your fridge?
Alex: Rotting carrots, rotting spinach, rotting celery, pickled onions and fresh pasta. My wife’s been away for a few days now so I’ve embraced the opportunity to descend the evolutionary ladder. I’m not proud of it but I’ll let you know when I’ve successfully invented fire.
• Arcadia #1, written by Alex Paknadel, drawn by Eric Scott Pfeifer is published by Boom! Studios on 13th May 2015 – variant covers available: Matt Taylor Cover – Diamond Code: MAR151040 | Eric Scott Pfeifer Variant | Ten Years Variant
• You can follow Alex on Twitter @alexpaknadel
Artist Eric Scott Pfeiffer is currently based in Richmond, Virginia. Some of his clients include ESPN the magazine, Boom! Studios, Popular Mechanics, The New Republic and The Red Cross. He’s also the creator behind Kid Havoc.
Matt Taylor is an illustrator and comic artist based in the Sussex countryside who spends his days crafting expansive, sometimes psychedelic, Americana inspired illustrations with a nod to classic comic book art of the 1950s and 1960s. He released Great Salt Lake a highly-acclaimed one shot at Thought Bubble 2014.
• Boom! Studios Official Site: www.boom-studios.com
Matt Badham is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000AD and Big Issue in the North.