The Ninjabot

Interview: “Epochalypse” Writer Jonathan Hennessey

Posted on November 22, 2014 at 8:22 am by Tyler Waterman

Time travel never seems to end well. Whether it’s a ruptured space/time continuum, getting stuck in the wrong era, or even just having your teenage mom see you in your Calvin Kleins, jumping through time never goes as planned. But what happens when time travels to you instead? Bad news; the results are even worse.

In Epochalypse, the latest offering from Legendary featuring writer Jonathan Hennessey (The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation; The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation) and artist Shane Davis (Superman: Earth One, Shadow Walk), we see exactly how broken time can truly be. Six hundred years worth of time has collapsed into a single era, and if that weren’t already a big enough problem, the use of displaced artifacts from any time past 1951 threaten to cause even more damage. The new government that’s risen out of this new world has put together a team of Resynchronization Officers to collect these items, but shadowy agents like The Salesman continue distributing them nonetheless. With no shortage of hidden agendas on both sides, both sides are caught in a literal race against time, with everyone else caught in the crossfire.

Jonathan Hennessey took some time to talk to Geek Legacy about his new book, the challenges of jumping from nonfiction to fiction, and how his love of history and science fiction helped create one of the most unique post-apocalyptic settings in comics.

Geek Legacy: Your bread and butter has been historically accurate graphic adaptations for both the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address. Is fiction or nonfiction easier to work with?

Jonathan Hennessey: It’s much easier to work with your own world, that’s my experience. If you care about doing nonfiction respectfully and accurately, you can’t make one little assertion without backing it up or having facts at your command. With the nonfiction work I’ve done you can do hours worth of research into what one character is wearing in one panel. That’s not to suggest fiction is easy, but nonfiction takes a lot more work in my experience.

GL: Working for so long in nonfiction, were you hoping to get into fiction as well, or was this a happy coincidence?

JH: I never wanted to be a writer that expected to do any nonfiction at all, and in a strange way the nonfiction books came about in failing to sell Epochalypse ten years ago. Epochalypse is a story idea that I’ve been living with for a long time, and I was able to get it to a certain point that I could get people to look at it but no one was really interested. But they saw potential, and a few publishers approached me about some nonfiction stuff they wanted to publish. That’s how the other books happened, and for a while I thought if I’m going to be a nonfiction author I’ll be happy with that, but I kept pushing for Epochalypse and eventually made it happen. But fiction, particularly science fiction, is my first love.

GL: In Epochalypse, one of the first things that pops out at you is the Resynchronizers uniform. It’s unlike anything else in comics; was that design a collaboration between you and Shane Davis, or his creation?

JH: I had a basic concept for what the overall look of the limited number of futuristic things that you’ll get to see in this universe, and I wanted to channel elements of Soviet fiction as well as more obscure 1950’s and 1960’s American science fiction. But I give Shane total credit for the design. He started with the shell of an idea that I had, and he had very specific ideas about those uniforms, and really about law enforcement and how a police state works, and how it could be done with the human profile and how weapons and tools were worn on the body, in sort of psychological operations to convey authority and power.

GL: Shane is an artist I’ve raved about before, both for his work with Legendary as well as other publishers. How was it working with him?

JH: Getting to work with Shane Davis was like literally and figuratively winning the lottery, because I wasn’t the one who pitched it to him. He had done some previous work with Legendary, Legendary really liked him and they wanted to make him a big part of their portfolio. He sort of had his pick from a grab bag of projects that Legendary is interested in, and I’d never say that mine was the best idea, but out of all the synopses that they gave Shane, he saw something in Epochalypse that he thought would work well with what he wanted to do, so I’m extraordinarily grateful for that.

GL: One of the things that really jumped out at me the most was The Salesman, one of the shadowy figures you’ve introduced. He was really cool, especially for me to get such an impression from just a quick glimpse, and it gets away the normal villain tropes; he’s not twisting a mustache or in a creepy cloak. What was your motivation in creating a seemingly normal yet still ominous villain?

JH: The Salesman is sort of emblematic of the ground-level situation of this universe, where it’s fourteen years after the mysterious event that has shaken up history and caused 600 years to collapse into one timeline. Very few people survived this jump in time; the Epochalypse world is really a post-apocalyptic setting with only a few tens of thousands of survivors. And over the years people have been clinging to the idea that things were going to work out, and they’d be able to go to their home times. But now society is reaching a critical juncture where they’re beginning to question if they’re really going to go home, or if it’s time to go one with their lives. And, if it is time to move on, and if this new government that’s risen up (called the Trustees) isn’t capable of fixing this and sending everyone back, why shouldn’t we have items from the future? Why shouldn’t we have life-saving medicines and computers and things that people from before 1951 hadn’t even dreamed of? If these things are not going to prevent them from going home, why shouldn’t they have access to them? And The Salesman is giving them what they want. In a way, you might think of it as an allegory for the war on drugs.

GL: So far, we haven’t seen anything like George Washington walking into the room. Will we see historical figures become characters in this book?

JH: Well, this is sort of one of my bones to pick with most time travel stories. You know how someone has a “past-life” reading from a fortune teller, and it seems like everyone was Cleopatra, or Napoleon, or Julius Caesar? There are so many human lives, and so few of them have made the record books, I’m really interested in the ordinary people and they’re overlooked history. It can be fun to involve historical characters, like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure or Riverworld, but I would not anticipate any historical figures, other than very obscure ones. There are a few names I’ve added that are listed from things like very old county histories from the parts of the country where Epochalypse takes place, but we won’t see George Washington or Teddy Roosevelt or anything like that.

GL: It seems like we’re going to be talking more past than future, is that safe to assume?

JH: One of the special things about Epochalypse for me is that my twin passions are history and science fiction, and this story lets me smash the two together in an interesting way. The characters from the past I’m working very hard to put in an accurate historical context, but because the mysterious event called the Incongruity collapsed 600 years of time, that means the far end of the spectrum reaches into the 2100’s. I had to configure a narrative for the next several hundred years of history, and the people who’ve been displaced from that time have their own agendas and may be trying to pull some strings behind the scenes. Starting at issue #3, we’ll start to get some hints about these people from the future and what they have to do with the Incongruity itself.

GL: For our readers who may be seeing this book for the first time here, what do you want them to take from this interview the most to make sure they go and buy this book?

JH: It’s an unprecedented model for a time traveling story. I don’t think we’ve had a story before with everyone spontaneously time traveling at the same time. Usually you have one person or a small group of people going somewhere in time, possibly multiple places, having a big adventure, contemplating some big historical question and then coming back. None of that is happening in this; everyone has time traveled, and no one know how to go back. So we’re left with this very interesting world with all these people and cultures and languages and ideas that were never meant to coexist, and are seemingly now permanently side-by-side. Also, there’s a thematic thing going on here too, there’s a reason that 1951 is the midpoint of this crazy time-crunch, and that’s because I think in a way our society is still sort of stuck in the 1950’s. I think, whether we realize it or not, we look to the popular narrative of the 50’s as sort of what’s “normal” or “ideal,” and we’re judging ourselves or our present by that ideal. The 1950’s are kind of a lens that we look at the past, present and future through, and so the book in a thematic way is looking at that as well. Why are we so stuck in the 50’s, and how might that narrative change?

The premier issue of Epochalypse is available now, both in digital format at Comixology and in print form at a comic shop near you!

Epochalypse_01_cover_WEB

About Epochalypse
In a world where the future is a thing of the past, the battle for the present has begun.

Legendary Comics turns history on its head with the sci-fi adventure Epochalypse, a mind-bending new series from historical author Jonathan Hennessey (The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation;The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation) and acclaimed artist Shane Davis (Superman: Earth One, Shadow Walk). The first issue will be available in comic shops and online.

When a mysterious space-time phenomenon causes 600 years of human history to collapse into a single era, societies from the past, present and future are forced to coexist in a dystopian civilization. To set the timeline straight, an elite team of Resynchronization Officers must rid the world of Anachronisms – futuristic artifacts that threaten the very laws of time. To ensure our future, we must undo it.

As one defiant officer leads the manhunt for elusive scientist Dr. Tomorrow and notorious outlaw The Salesman, he is challenged by shadowy agencies, rebel militias and forbidden desire. Can our hero save history – or doom the future?

Writer: Jonathan Hennessey

Artist by: Shane Davis

Release date: 11/19/14

Retail price: $3.99

Issue #1

Page count: 32

About Jonathan Hennessey

JONATHAN HENNESSEY is a writer of both nonfiction and fiction. These days, at least, American History is his muse.

Jonathan is the author of The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (Hill & Wang). A fully-illustrated edition of the entire U.S. Constitution, it was chosen as a “Best Book of 2008” by The Village Voice, received a starred review in the School Library Journal, and currently is in its 7th printing.

A conceptual follow-up, The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (William Morrow), also a collaboration with artist Aaron McConnell, was released June 25, 2013.

In autumn 2015, the Random House imprint Ten Speed Press will release The Comic Book Story of Beer, a third project of Hennessey and McConnell’s. Joining Hennessey as co-author for this project is noted New England-based craft brewer, Mike Smith. The Comic Book Story of Beer will be another nonfiction graphic novel telling the story of the world’s favorite alcoholic beverage from 7,000 B.C. to the present.

In addition, Legendary Comics, the publishing arm of Legendary Pictures (Inception, The Dark Knight franchise, Interstellar, and Godzilla), launched Hennessey’s first series of fiction. Also rooted in American History, the high-concept science fiction maxi-series Epochalypse began appearing in comic book stores on November 19, 2014.

Jonathan has appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show, has guest-blogged for Fox News and the American Constitution Society; written for the Austin Chronicle; and has appeared at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, San Diego Comic Con, New York City Comic Con, as a featured guest at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., and the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago.

A graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, Jonathan has also done extensive work in film and television. He has worked on the production crews of several noted film directors, including Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, Richard Linklater’s Suburbia and The Newton Boys, and Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids. He has worked as a screenplay and story analyst for Phoenix Pictures (Shutter Island, Black Swan, Zodiac) and Jerry Bruckheimer Television.

A lover of illustration with next to no capacity for it himself, Jonathan has been drawn towards working in the graphic novel or comics medium. He also writes across other platforms, including prose for middle grade and adult audiences. He also blogs about ginger beer at ilovegingerbeer.com.

Jonathan grew up in the Boston area and now lives in a most improbable of places: a quaint, small town just outside Los Angeles.

Jonathan Hennsessey web page link
http://www.jonathanhennessey.com/about/about-jonathan/

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