The Wasteland Intro That Would Have Been

So, here's the introduction for this week's Wasteland Vol. 11: Floodland (Oni Press) that I pitched, but didn't end up getting used for one reason or another. 

When I bought Wasteland #1 at San Diego Comic Con in 2006, I had never heard of Antony Johnston or Christopher Mitten. That’s my fault.

But, I had another skill which didn’t fail me.  It sounds horrible to admit, but when you’re a grizzled old comic book critic like me who’s been at it for over 10 years, you actually can start to judge a book by its cover. With about a 97% accuracy rate, I can tell instantly if I’m going to like a book or not with a mere glance.

I knew I was going to like Wasteland immediately.

There was the post-apocalyptic drifter. There were the scattered tribes of people struggling to survive.  There was the mysterious hook of an event only whispered about in laconic tones as “The Big Wet.” Then there was the downright dangerous art of Chris Mitten, full of sharp lines and even sharper deeds. Mitten’s lines played like flinty ink on crumpled parchment, illustrating a lost manuscript chronicling The End Of The World As We Know It.

That’s all it took. I chatted briefly with Antony, Chris, and (then) cover artist Ben Templesmith, got my copy of #1 signed, and went about my way. My instincts were right. They say that “good” sci-fi begins with nothing more than a compelling “what if?” premise, and Wasteland followed suit. In a tradition of high-quality, high-interest sci-fi, it was also an examination of evolving social paradigms. It was a parable about lost opportunities. It was a general warning about man’s ability to muck about in things we don’t fully comprehend, that precarious preoccupation with “could we?” instead of “should we?”

It wasn’t just a cautionary tale of apocalyptic proportions; it was ultimately a humanitarian story about what it means to simply exist on Planet Earth.

There’s been some terrific artists who’ve graced the pages of Wasteland over the years (Justin Greenwood, Carla Speed McNeil, and Sandy Jarrell, to name a few favorites), but the most prominent is the co-creator of the series, Christopher Mitten. Chris is a genuinely nice guy, and you’d never know it judging solely by the disturbing images he likes to draw. His visuals move fluidly between a stripped-down abstract sensibility and more ornate design elements full of pattern and texture, revealing emotional truths.

The work you’ll find from Antony and Chris is a true collaborative effort, a partnership which has now transcended Wasteland and marched forward to other projects. You see, other artists have a relatively easy go at the craft. The writer will create a script with instructions like: “Draw Batman.” “Draw a city.” “Draw an explosion.” But, these things are known commodities.

Antony worked with Chris to create the unknown, imagery that was altogether foreign. His scripts often said: “Draw Sand-Eaters.” “Draw The Dog Tribes.” “Draw The End of The Goat-Fucking World.” These things simply didn’t exist. There was no sensory point of reference. Chris had to invent them. They were wholly conjured from the arcane phantasmagoria of Chris Mitten’s mind.

The term “world-building” gets thrown around a lot in the industry. There’s no mistaking that Antony is one of the best practitioners working today. Antony’s characters talk to each other, not at the audience. Antony won’t define acronyms for the reader. It’s maddening at times. With a Tolkien-esque affinity for languages, he infuses his worlds with degenerated speech patterns, new colloquialisms, and cryptic clues that are never spelled out for the audience. The answers are doled out naturally over time. His characters will typically operate under the guise of old rivalries, entrenched dogma, and enticing back stories that take place long before events in the book. As readers, we connect the dots through casual conversations and inference, not staged monologues which advance the plot or explain motivations.

If exposition is a poison, Antony’s scripts are the antidote.

There’s also an expansive quality to the writing that makes the world feel as if it extends beyond the panel borders. The way he writes is about long-term vs. short-term gain. He invests time front-loading the world with research and maps and histories we might never see fully rendered on the page, but it’s also an investment in an the audience’s ability to parse meaning from an immersive experience. Antony makes a foundational assumption that his readers are a fairly intelligent lot. It’s an unspoken agreement between creator and consumer, an interactive process which engages the reader and allows a sense of discovery. That’s the key.

Now it’s time to discover it for yourself, here at The End Of All Things.

I’ve reviewed all 60 issues of Wasteland over the years. At this point, there’s nothing left for me to say. There’s no review. There’s no critique. There’s no clever insight. There’s just this:

Wasteland exits stage left as one of the great modern epics.

Justin Giampaoli
San Diego
July, 2015


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