From Eisner-nominated writer Christopher Sebela (Heartthrob, We(l)come Back, Harley Quinn), and Ro Stein & Ted Brandt (Captain Marvel, Raven: The Pirate Princess) comes the new Image Comics series, Crowded.
Set ten minutes in the future, where the world runs on an economy of job shares and apps, including Reapr: a crowdfunding platform to fund assassinations. Charlie Ellison leads a quiet, normal life until she’s suddenly targeted by a million-dollar Reapr campaign. Hunted by all of Los Angeles, Charlie hires Vita, the lowest-rated bodyguard on the Dfend app. As the campaign picks up speed, they’ll have to figure out who wants Charlie dead before the campaign’s 30 days—or their lives—are over.
Christopher, Ro & Ted took some time from their schedule to discuss their new book.
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FOG!: Congratulations all around for Crowded #1. I loved it. Christopher, what was the genesis of the book and how would you describe it?
CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: It was one of those hundred idle thoughts I had one day. I feel like I get that kind of stuff swimming through my brain and a lot of them sound sort of interesting but they get lost in the wake of bigger ideas swimming thru. Crowded, that concept, it was big enough that I went back inside and Googled it, just to make sure I wasn’t stealing it. Then I started figuring it out and a couple years later, here we are.
The best way I can describe Crowded is it’s a dark comedy sci-fi book about a world not too different from ours but ten minutes in the future, where there’s a crowdfunding platform for assassinations called Reapr.
One of our characters, Charlie, wakes up one morning to find a campaign open on her that’s already worth more than a million dollars. She hires a bodyguard from a Uber-like app and they have to stay alive for the next 30 days while everyone tries to kill Charlie and cash in.
FOG!: Ro and Ted, how did you get involved in the project?
RO STEIN: It started when we met Chris through our editor, Juliette.
TED BRANDT: I’d been friends with Juliette for a few years at that point, and she knew we were looking for work, and Chris was looking for artists, so she got us together. As soon as Chris pitched us Crowded we were onboard!
FOG!: The book focuses on a near future with social media and apps having even more input into our lives. In Crowded, the story focuses on Reapr: a crowdfunding platform to fund assassinations; as well as the bodyguard app, Dfend. How much do you use social media in your own lives and do you think about it’s possible evolution to less than desirable applications?
CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: I use Twitter a lot, which is both a delight and a worst case scenario endgame all wrapped into one. It’s definitely helped inform Reapr for me, how you can just be having a regular day and someone runs up on you and yells at you for stating an opinion they disagree with or they don’t like how you said it. It’s all very hit and run and mostly from people you’ve never met before and will never talk to again. I think pretty much any technology is susceptible to being mutated into a weapon of sorts. All depends on who’s using it and why.
RO STEIN: I don’t use it much for interacting, honestly, but I’m not sure you need to look to its evolution to see the horrifying potentials of social media. It’s pretty terrible as is.
TED BRANDT: I use Twitter a lot, and check in on Tumblr occasionally, which I find enjoyable as I have a pretty strongly curated set of feeds. It allows me to avoid a lot of the downsides that Ro and Chris talked about, but I definitely agree that it’s plenty dystopian already.
Honestly one of the biggest fears making Crowded was that it would already come true before launch, making us look like terrible hacks!
FOG!: In Crowded, Charlie Ellison is the target and Vita is her Dfend bodyguard. Ro and Ted, how much in terms of the look of the characters came from Christopher or did you have a freehand in designing them?
TED BRANDT: We’re very lucky, Chris gave little-to-no visual description on the key characters, just background and personality information. It allowed us to really cut loose on the designing! Vita’s look is all about her past, trying to escape from it but being fundamentally unable to. I can’t clarify much more than that without giving major spoilers!
RO STEIN: After Ted made Vita, I tried to pick a look for Charlie that would make her the complete visual opposite of Vita. I went with comfortable-but-cutesy clothing and a curvy frame for that reason. The first outfit we see her in is also her very much trying to hide, with the hat, glasses and scarf. But there’ll be plenty more looks for Charlie as we go!
FOG!: I want to note that there are some truly fantastic storytelling sequences in the first issue. Christopher, how detailed are your scripts and Ro and Ted, who are the biggest influences in your comic storytelling?
CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: My scripts are pretty detailed. But it’s mostly a way of saying “here’s what happens in this panel” kind of stuff and “here’s how Charlie is feeling” direction. I rarely, if ever, go so far as to say “it should look like this:” except for the occasional page or panel I visualize perfectly. That’s not my job.
Ro and Ted are the art geniuses of the team, so I’d be dumb to not let them follow their muse and do whatever they like with my scripts.
RO STEIN: We’ve kept Stuart Immonen as a primary influence for a long time, though I’m not sure how much that’s impacted Crowded. My visuals, in terms of shot choice, come more from TV and film than comics.
TED BRANDT: When it comes to collaborating on layouts, I’m not sure we have any recognisable influences, as we just try to resolve the page in the way that we both find easiest and most compelling to read! For inks, I’m definitely looking more at Klaus Janson; it helps me to bring a little more sharpness to Ro’s linework.
FOG!: How long until we learn who targeted Charlie?
CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: We’ll definitely get there. I don’t want to say exactly when because we’re still trying to figure out the best way to unveil stuff like that, but we know where the book is heading and it’s heading towards a definite ending somewhere way down the road, so we’re just figuring out the best road to get us there.
FOG!: The series has already been picked up for a movie. Will the option this early in the book’s existence change the plot or storyline in any way? If you had a say, who would you cast as Charlie and Vita?
CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: The only real effect the movie option will have on our book is we got some money that ensures that we can keep working on the book. I have a very definite story in mind and whatever happens with the movie, that’s its own thing. Our book is our thing. Maybe the two will meet up in some perfect synthesis, but it’s not our main concern. We just wanna make the best book we can.
And I wouldn’t say no to Tessa Thompson as Vita.
RO STEIN: Chris has already answered about the plotting, but I’d be thrilled to see Rebel Wilson actually play Charlie, which she has said she would like to do.
TED BRANDT: Seconded! After watching all of The Good Place earlier this year, my pick for Vita would absolutely be Jameela Jamil. I think she’s great.
FOG!: What are you currently geeking out over?
CHRISTOPHER SEBELA: Comicswise, I’m really enjoying Tini Howard’s new book Euthanauts, I’m still recovering from that last issue of Saga and wondering how I’m gonna last a year until the next one.
TV-wise, I’m playing catch up on my TV backlog, so lots of shows like Legion, Fargo, The Terror. I just got a car again, so I expect to get back to geeking out about new podcasts, but I love The Best Show and The Dollop.
RO STEIN: Critical Role! We’ve started on campaign 2 recently, and we’re slowly catching up. Also I really enjoyed seeing Ant-Man & The Wasp over the weekend.
TED BRANDT: Critical Role is fantastic. I’m super behind on most comics these days, but I’m really enjoying the current Justice League book. I’m also getting back into D&D finally, and starting to write a campaign to launch by the end of the year.
Crowded #1 is available in comic book stores and via Digital today!