Interview with Parallel Man’s Christopher Jones

Christopher Jones discusses FutureDude's Parallel Man series, transmedia, and working on Batman '66.

It seems weird to say, but while Christopher Jones has established himself while drawing DC Comic’s properties like Young Justice and Batman ‘66, he’s actually branching out now to a bigger world with Parallel Man through FutureDude.

The comic — which will spring a mobile game and an animated TV series from its concept — tells the story of the Ascendency, an unrepentant empire sprung from a parallel world that has designs on our world. Naturally, there is a rebellious faction of scientists and a heroic agent named Nick Morgan who goes against his training to embrace the side of right in this planned 7 part story that feels very much like a tangible sci-fi epic.

In this exclusive interview with Jones, we talk about the multiplatform release strategy employed by FutureDude with Parallel Man, the evils of the Ascendency, the two Nick Morgans, the look of the book and exploring alternate worlds within the series.

Den of Geek: Talk to me about assembling this creative team. It seems like there are a lot of chefs in the kitchen and I imagine there are a lot of moving pieces with the multi-platform approach. Whose baby is this story and how collaborative has the process been to build this?

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Christopher Jones: Thankfully, I’m not the one having to coordinate all the different aspects of Parallel Man in production, I’m just drawing the comic book and did some story and storyboard work on the animation. I say “just” but that’s been enough to keep me busy for the last several months!

When I was approached by Jeffrey Morris to work on Parallel Man, there was already a story outline in place by Jeffrey and his co-writer Fredrick Haugen. There were a few pieces of concept art by Battlestar Galactica designer Eric Chu and a number of vehicle designs were being modeled in 3D because those models would be needed for the planned animation and games. That left plenty of design work for me to do — characters, uniforms, props, and locations. A lot of the look of Parallel Man in other media is being based on what we’re doing in the comic, but almost all the work I’ve been doing is stuff I’d have had to do anyway if we were only doing the comic.

Is there any concern that plotting a mobile game and a show at the same time as the comic may be perceived as putting the cart before the horse? What are the benefits of this aggressive approach?  The buzzword that FutureDude likes to use is “Transmedia.” The basic idea is that by launching this as a franchise in many forms you reach more people, and hopefully any buzz generated has a cumulative effect and creates a kind of moment that you wouldn’t get if you just did a comic book first and waited to see how that did before putting the other stuff into development. This way you might get comic book fans wanting to check out the game, or gamers wanting to check out the comic book. Obviously there’s a lot of overlap between those groups, and this gives them more ways to be exposed to the media juggernaut that is Parallel Man!

The Futurists and the Ascendancy, what’s at the core of these opposing sides?

The Ascendancy is an empire of 12 parallel versions of Earth. They don’t consider themselves bad guys, but they’re imperialistic and are convinced that they’re way of life is best and that they’re doing a favor to any parallel Earth lucky enough to be targeted by them for annexation. They’ve been expanding since the original Ascendancy Earth (Alpha One) discovered the “Skip” technology back during World War II and they’ve been at war or expanding their empire ever since. It’s left them on a permanent war footing and they’ve never seen the social progress we’ve enjoyed. The civil rights movement never happened for them, and women’s’ role in society hasn’t changed from what it had been after the war. So they’ve got all this amazing technology because they’ve been able to harvest tech and resources from all the parallel Earth’s they’ve visited, but culturally they’re stuck in 1945.

The Futurists are a group of scientists who are acting as a resistance movement, trying to take back this technology they feel responsible for from the empire they think is using it unethically. The Futurists are led by Alpha One’s Carl Sagan, and we actually have Carl Sagan’s real-life son Dorion Sagan acting as our science consultant on the comic book! Pretty cool!

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Why was it important to ground this, somewhat, in reality with our actual political leaders?

Our version of parallel worlds is one of divergent timelines. Something in that world’s history was different from ours, changing all the history to follow from what we know. But when you travel to another world, you’re still in the same geographic position and in the same time. It was important to us to show that this book is taking place here and now in 2014 and to contrast these other versions of Earth with the one we know. You can’t do that if “our Earth” is presented as some sci-fi version of our world with a fictional President. So when the Ascendancy moves in our first issue to begin the annexation of our world, it’s 2014 so the President we see is Barack Obama.

What’s the significance of Dr. Morgan’s reading materials? It seems like there is a lot of effort to highlight those even in the background.

The book Tobias Morgan is actually seen reading is Cosmos, which is our way of referencing the fact that Tobias personally knows the Carl Sagan of this other parallel Earth. Cosmos isn’t just Carl Sagan’s best-known work, it’s the pinnacle of his mission to talk about science to an audience of non-scientists, and help them understand and engage with what we are learning about the universe. That’s a mission that really resonates with what we’re trying to do with FutureDude and specifically Parallel Man — tell science fiction stories that are really rich with science and science-fiction ideas. We’re wanting to tell exciting and fast-pace stories that are interwoven with ideas and concepts that are ripe for discussion and further exploration.

The other books seen on Dr. Morgan’s table generally relate to physics and quantum theory, which is our way of trying to show that this is Tobias’s field, as it relates to parallel universes.

What can you tell me about Atlas and why he/it is so vital to Morgan’s mission?

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An “Atlas” is an Artificial Intelligence construct that acts as an assistant to operatives of The Ascendancy in the field and frequently manifests as a talking, holographic head. They regularly share information and “synch” with the Ascendancy’s Central Cortex network, but when agent Nick Morgan goes rogue, he severs his Atlas’s connection with the Cortex, allowing it to operate completely independently. This also causes his Atlas to begin to think independently and exercise its own judgement, which will cause complications for Nick down the road.

How are Nick and Nicholas going to get along when they align?

Not well at first. Nicholas is our Earth’s version of agent Nick Morgan, and he is far from being the well-trained agent his counterpart is. Nicholas Morgan is an out-of-shape gamer and sci-fi fan who is totally out of his depth when he gets caught up in this multiverse-spanning adventure, and Nick sees him as rather an unhelpful presence as he’s trying to find his grandfather Tobias and accomplish his mission. But circumstances will force both men to change.

What inspired the look of Parallel Man? Specifically some of these alt worlds?

We never wanted to do a book with a specifically “retro” look, but Jeffrey Morris and I are both big fans of a lot of sci-fi television and film from the 60s and 70s, and we wanted to bring some of that sense of flamboyant, fun design to this, while balancing it with a sense of functionality and realism.

The Ascendancy has a very sleek look to a lot of their technology, but the signature look of their architecture is one of brutalism. We wanted to really give them a flavor of being totalitarian and imperialistic, and brutalism conveys that while still looking really cool. Their fashions very much have a late 40s flavor, as we wanted to show that stuck-in-1945 aspect to their society.

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As to the parallel worlds we visit, they’re kind of all over the map – it depends on the concept of the world in question. It’s kind of like Doctor Who — you’ve got the Doctor and the TARDIS and you can drop them into any world and any story you can imagine. In the first issue we visit a world where the asteroid extinction event never wiped out the dinosaurs, but didn’t want it be like traveling back in time. It’s a world where sauropods are the dominant life form, but they’ve had an additional 65 million years to evolve and enjoy as much diversity as mammals have in our world. So we have dino-men riding and domesticating more bestial species of dinosaurs. This is a series that could go anywhere — the possibilities are really endless.

Is there the potential for spinoff titles and a deeper look at some of the other Earths that we’re getting a quick look at?

We’re already talking about a return to that dinosaur world, as well as a spin-off featuring a group called the Scavengers who live on Gamma One. Gamma One is the parallel Earth dumping ground for the Ascendancy. If there’s a person or thing you want to just make go away, you send it to Gamma One where there’s no way back. The Scavengers are made of former political prisoners and other undesirables who have been sent to Gamma One and are now trying to survive there. We’ll meet them in the main Parallel Man series but we immediately saw that their adventures would be a lot of fun to follow.

Can you talk me through the pleasure and pain of working on Batman ‘66, specifically with regard to creating a setting on the page that mimics the show, being faithful to the actors and the technical demands of making a digital book that has so much fun with the guided view and digital medium?

I can’t speak for anyone else but for me it was all pleasure and no pain. I’m a HUGE fan of the Adam West Batman and couldn’t have been happier to get to draw a story for Batman ’66. I’d have been happy to draw anything they gave me, but I got to draw a False-Face story with a cameo by the Riddler. I think the two best stories the TV show ever did were the False-Face story and the pilot with the Riddler, who’s my all-around favorite villain from the show. Trying to keep the characters looking like the actors from the show (the ones we had likeness-rights for, anyway) was a challenge but a fun one. It also wasn’t anything new. I’d drawn a graphic novel based on the Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series and the comic book adaptation of Re-Animator and that was back in the days before Google Image Search for finding photo-reference!

Most of the guided-view stuff for the digital version is put together by the in-house team at DC Comics. I just had to provide the art in the form of digital files (which I usually do anyway), with some characters and elements as separate layers and occasionally alternate versions of an arm position or something so the character could have a minimal amount of “animated” movement.

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It looks like I’ll be getting to do another Batman ’66 story as soon as I wrap up these first seven issues of Parallel Man so I’ll have time. I can’t wait!

Parallel Man #1 debuts on October 8th at a comic shop near you.

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