Readers around the globe are anxiously awaiting Jay Gunn’s comic book debut, Surface Tension. This highly anticipated 5 issue mini-series is already being talked about within sci-fi and horror circles, but not a lot is known about the man behind the project. GeekGirl World had the unique privilege of asking Gunn about his work, feminism, the fate of the world, and what would happen in a celebrity death match between two Zombie Superstars. His eloquent answers left us completely enamored, and if his prose is anything like his graphic novel, then we absolutely can not wait for Surface Tension, which debuts May 2015 via Titan Comics.
GGW: We heard that Surface Tension is creator owned, and you’re both the writer and artist of the work! Nice job. Did you have 100% control over the end product? What was that experience like? Did you prefer any one aspect of the job over another?
Gunn: When I originally pitched Surface Tension to Titan I had written a much longer treatment that focused more on the human relationship drama within the island community. Senior editor Steve White really liked the idea of the story but asked me to cut the page count down by about 50% and to merge a number of the characters. I restructured the story that helped to focus and streamline the action. I’m actually thankful for that initial steer as I’d still be drawing the book years from now and would never finish it!
I tend to think in visuals more than I do words and, if I could, I would prefer to just draw the story right onto the page and think about the words later. I had a very strong idea and vision of the overall story but I’m also a very collaborative artist so I enjoyed bouncing ideas around with others which is something you can do at the writing stage. Drawing is very time consuming, or at least it is for me as I was doing everything, I labour over every panel – what is the meaning in this drawing, what is the feeling I’m trying to convey?
GGW: Surface Tension has been described by Titan Comics as The Walking Dead, meets Studio Ghibli and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. In what ways would you say your work is similar? Were they a conscious inspiration? What other works have inspired your career?
Gunn: I’d say I was more inspired by “Ghibli” and “Invasion of the body snatchers” than I was of “The Walking Dead.” Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the Philip Kaufman version) is a masterpiece of building up slow burn paranoia and there are some wonderfully composed street level shots and scenes that work at a subconscious level to make you feel uneasy. It’s such a carefully crafted film, in some ways it is the ultimate ‘nature versus humanity’ film. Everything worked so well, it had a very clever use of location – setting an alien seed pod invasion in San Francisco – the home of ‘flower power’, hippies and alternative psychotherapy. And that ending! Perfection! I tried to capture some of that sense of location in Surface Tension, both beautiful and at the same time a little off kilter.
It may not be obvious from the first episode of Surface Tension but the work of Hayao Miyazaki was instrumental in helping me to have the confidence to tell a story without the need for macho superheroes or overt violence. Underneath the lovely colourful visuals of his films are ideas and a philosophy, they’re not just stories of good versus evil. His films have a lot to say about our relationship with the world around us. I respond much more positively to these sorts of stories and so I wanted to put some of Miyazaki’s philosophy on nature and society, which is very similar to my own, into Surface Tension.
Most of all I wanted Surface Tension to be about my own personal outlook on with the world around me. In the end I was less inspired by the works of others than I was of my own experiences. In the early stages of writing Surface Tension I was diagnosed with cancer and, for a time, I thought I would be too ill to finish the book. I had to take some time out to re-evaluate my relationship with life in order to get better. I started to spend a lot more time outdoors and I started to notice the small things that I’d always taken for granted, the changing of seasons, birds, insects – all of that stuff that happens outside of the home or office. I soon realised that I had become disconnected with the natural world around me, always too busy hurtling from one office deadline to the next working on jobs that didn’t fulfil me and making myself very ill in the process. So I pulled myself together, took a deep breath and went back to the book with a new vigour for life, I wanted to write something that was full of optimism and hope. Even amongst the horror of human bodies falling apart and when most of humanity is threatened – there’s always that glimmer of hope, something to cling on to! So the biggest inspiration for the story was life itself.
GGW: GeekGirl World is excited to see the story appears to contain a female protagonist! Gender in geek culture, specifically comics, is currently a hot-button issue. How would you describe the character? Do you feel as though she would be considered a feminist? What does the word “feminist” mean to you?
Gunn: All my life I’ve been surrounded by strong women. My mother was a home helper for the elderly and people with disabilities such as motor neuron diseases. She would bring them food, cook for them, bathe them and so on. As a child I would sometimes accompany her on these visits and see her helping. I was a little afraid, and sensing my fear the patients would chat me and try to put me at ease. At that young age I witnessed human frailties but there was always a smile, a joke or a story to be had. These people had a strength and a lust for life that, today, I don’t see in people half their age or ability.
It was natural for me to write strong female characters. For me strong female characters come in all shapes, skin tone and age and from all corners of the globe. I’m not overly keen on the ‘superhero’ representation of female strength. The superhero myth perpetuates this idea in society that ‘strength’ always comes down to a perfect physical appearance and who can hit the hardest.
I read a brilliant graphic novel, “The Photographer” that follows Medicins Sans Frontieres and Juliete Fournot who served as the head of a mission to bring aid to those caught up in war torn Afghanistan. Now she was a true depiction of a strong female ‘superhero’, someone brave and strong enough to stand up to traditional male dominated hierarchies, enduring and overcoming many hardships to alleviate the suffering of others. She was a strong and beautiful person!
There are two strong female protagonists at the heart of Surface Tension, Mary and Megumi;
Mary is a kindly 50 something lady who, even in darkest of times, believes in people, the community and the potential of people and humanity. Megumi is a 30 something biologist, she works in the field of environmental studies, going out to disaster areas. Megumi is world wear and has lost her faith in mankind, she now believes that the planet would be better off without us.
There is a debate at the heart of the story between the two female characters – can we be trusted as custodians of the planet, as a species are we cursed with a perpetual desire to destroy each other and everything around us? The outcome of this debate will decide the fate of the human race. The heart of this debate drives the story and the fact that two strong female characters are having this passionate conversation was very important to me and the story.
What is ‘feminism?’ For me, the answer is the same for both men and women – it is a belief in one’s self, to buck conventions (cultural and establishment) and to have the strength and the autonomy to stand up for one’s sense of ideal. Men and women should be the same in these regards, we’re all people prone to same strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t set out to write a pro-feminist story, I just wanted to write a story about men and women being equal, we all bring something different and unique to the table regardless of sex, race or creed.
GGW: Surface Tension appears to take place in a post-apocalyptic world, in which most of mankind becomes ill and walks into the oceans, leaving the planet (and those who remain behind) radically different. Things appear to get stranger on earth when some return from the sea! How do you really imagine earth being 10 years from now? 50 years? 100?
Gunn: I think the Earth will go on with or without us, we might make a mess of it but it will always prevail over us, it’s vanity to think otherwise, the planet doesn’t need us but we need it. Now the future of the human race, that’s a different story! There are times that I can get quite pessimistic about our future. You only have to watch the news to lose one’s faith in humanity; images of war, human greed, clashing of cultures, environmental catastrophes, the list goes on. I feel that things will get even worse before they have a hope of getting better. The human race is just like any one person; it sometimes takes something bad to happen before you realise the error of your ways, something to wake you up! Be that from an unhealthy life style that you know is wrong or a job that is slowly killing you, a toxic relationship, or whatever it may be. Once you’ve had this bad thing happen to you then you might decide to change your life and try to prevent it from happening again. I think the human race hasn’t quite realised how bad things are getting, it is in a collective denial. I’m sure that there will be a major event in the near future that will shake things up and if we’re wise enough we’ll have to radically rethink our way of life in order for us to survive. I don’t think that we can sustain our way of life for much longer, we’re rapidly outstripping the planet of all natural resources without giving back, something has got to give – it always does. And that’s the debate that is at the heart of Surface Tension.
GGW: Who would win in a fight: George A. Romero or Frank Darabont?
Gunn: Who would win in a fight between Romero and Darabont? I see them as two different beasts; Romero I see as an outsider, a wily old coyote, a survivor that’s always circling the chicken coup of Hollywood. And Darabont, well he has way more heavy hitters behind him so he’s more as a big old grizzly bear. Would they fight? I know that they have a mutual respect for each other and they’re fiercely independent so I think that they would sit down together and have an understanding and then they would team up together to fight the suits that threaten their creative existence. :)
Watch the Surface Tension Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px48D2F1aRQ
Pictures provided by Jay Gunn’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JayGunnArts
Learn more about Titan Comics: http://titan-comics.com/