Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dissecting Alpha Gods: Part One: Origins & Influences

[Note: Part One was written before the name of the series was changed from Young Gods to Alpha Gods]

So, the plan is to start going in depth into some of the thinking behind my writing, so I struck upon the idea of doing a chapter by chapter discussion of the Young Gods OGN which you can now read for free online. Oh, and check out this awesome review of the book here.

But I digress…yes, the plan was to go chapter by chapter, but in thinking about writing about the thinking behind the Prologue, I realised that I really need to start a lot earlier than that, and if I’m really going to explain the thinking behind Young Gods, I need to talk about the very genesis of the idea. I need to go back to the start, and explain how the idea first came about, and how I got from “Hey, I’ve got an idea…” to actually sitting down and writing a comic. Basically, I need to talk about the influences on the creation of Young Gods, before I can talk about Young Gods itself.

The Music

Back in 1991 my dad decided to join one of those mail order  music clubs, and he let me pick the four tapes (yes, tapes…it was 1991…I didn’t get a CD player for another few years) for the introductory discount offer. I was fourteen going on fifteen and knew I wanted to get into hard rock and metal, but my music collection was…well…a little thin, shall we say. All I had to go on in picking my four tapes were tiny little pictures of the covers, and so, knowing nothing about them, what their music sounded like, where they were from, or anything, I picked out a tape that, to my eyes, looked like it might be my kinda’ thing…it was an album by a band I’d never heard of, Little Angels, and the album was called “Young Gods”.

It’s hard to explain just why the album conjured up images in my mind of a super hero team raiding an enemy facility to rescue one of their own, but nevertheless it did. The feel of the album as a whole has deeply influenced the creation of the comic, with the rousing anthem of “Young Gods” itself serving as a backdrop in my mind to the action scenes, and more intimate tracks such as “Feels Like The World Has Come Undone” naturally leading me to write more downbeat moments. The villain of the piece was ultimately hinted at by “Boneyard”, the idea that we should all just have fun while we’re alive because we’re all going to die eventually anyway, naturally led me to create a villain who embodied that kind of hedonistic approach to life.

Those readers who are Little Angels fans may have noticed that the title of each chapter of the OGN is also the title of a track from the album. Sometimes the links between the track titles and the actual content of the chapters are fairly tenuous, and sometimes the thematic links are much closer. Of course, the observant among you may have also noticed that the title of the Prologue is not a track from Young Gods, but is, rather, the title of a Manic Street Preachers song. The fast paced feel of Slash n’ Burn just seemed to fit with the feel of the Prologue for me.

The Comics

Well, as much as one recent review commended Young Gods for being “fresh and original”, like any work of fiction, it’s heavily influenced by what has come before it. Early influences came from the original Gen 13 mini series from Image. I recently found some old notes I’d written about the characters when I first started playing around with ideas for the series in my teens, and one of the characters was a complete rip off of Grunge from Gen 13. My original story ideas were, well, to be honest, pretty much a retelling of that mini series but with my own characters. I was young, and thankfully the ensuing decade and a half saw me move beyond such immature plagiarism. Young Gods has been far more heavily influenced by the many comics I’ve read since. Most notably the Simonson/Blevins run on New Mutants, which I always felt was far more about the relationships between the characters than the action. Also, the early Lobdell/Bachalo issues of Generation X were a big influence. I’ve always been drawn to those kinds of teen books, and in many ways you can see the Paladin/Impact dynamic as being similar to the Sam/Dani dynamic in New Mutants, or the Jono/Paige dynamic in Generation X. Also, every teenage team needs their mysterious dark outsider, in New Mutants that’s Ilyanna, in Generation X it was, to an extent, Penance. In Young Gods it’s Eclipse who, of course, owes more to Ilyanna than Penance, but they all fill the role of exploring those teenage feelings of alienation and the uncertainties surrounding one’s own morality that surface around that time. There are further parallels that can be drawn, of course, but I’ll leave them up to the reader to explore further.

The Claremont/Byrne/Cockrum era of Uncanny X-Men has, of course, been a huge influence. Arguably, it’s been a huge influence on every team super-hero comic to follow it. The theme of a group of heroes protecting a world that fears and hates them is, of course, lifted wholesale from the X-Men. I don’t think I could possibly get away with claiming otherwise. One thing I have done away with is the artificial distinction between mutants and heroes whose powers come from other sources. It makes little sense that the general public in the Marvel Universe would see any difference between the mutant Pyro and the altered human The Human Torch. Instead I imagined a world where mutants, cyborgs, aliens and supernatural beings were a fairly common occurrence, and the inevitable reaction to that by “ordinary” humans is one of fear, mistrust and hatred. The other big deviation from the X-Men model is, of course, that the Young Gods are not a privately funded group of vigilantes; they’re a government sanctioned strike force, set up specifically to police their own kind. In that sense, the team are as much reviled by the extra human community as they are by regular humans. Of course, even that’s not original; having been pretty much the theme of X-Factor from Peter David’s run onwards.

Books and Research

One thing that, I feel, harms the writing of a lot of aspiring comic book writers is that they read a lot of comics, and that’s it. Now, I read a lot of comics, I love comics, but I also read other things. Personally, I feel that if you want to write, and write well, the best thing you can do is start reading non-fiction. If all you read is fiction then all you’re ever going to do is recycle other people’s ideas. Start reading non-fiction and you’ll find yourself having ideas of your own.

A number of books have had a big influence on Young Gods. Obviously, there’s a Biblical influence in there, although, of course, whether the Bible falls into the category of Fiction or Non-Fiction is rather open to debate. In any case, it certainly fits the category of mythology…and that’s something that I’d recommend any aspiring writer (and I class myself as an aspiring writer myself…until someone actually pays me to write something I’m not going to claim otherwise) to explore. It’s very much worth exploring the archetypal stories that the human race has been telling for thousands of years. This is especially true if you’re writing super-heroes, which have, on many occasions, been likened to modern day gods. The Biblical influence on Young Gods is, really, fairly minimal though, obviously we have the Nephilim and the Flood, but the use of the Nephilim led me on to researching the extra-Biblical legends surrounding them. This is where the internet is invaluable as a research tool. Whatever you’re writing, it’s worth doing a Google search for all of the key terms and ideas, research your subject, it will result in your writing being a lot richer, and it will also lead your stories in new directions you might not have otherwise considered. I could have made Malak just some random demonic entity, but making him a Nephilim, and actually researching the subject has, I feel, made him a much more interesting and rounded character. He has motivations beyond just “being evil” and that’s something that will lead to your readers being far more engaged in your story. I hope.

The works of Graham Hancock have also been a big influence on my writing, and that can be found in Young Gods too (although for a clearer example of this, check out my short story The Last Days of Cydonia, from Eleventh Hour Vol 1). There are suggestions in Malak’s backstory of an ancient, advanced civilisation that was destroyed in a great catastrophe. It was also reading Hancock’s work that led me into reading about the Freemasons and the Illuminati, and so another dimension to the Nephilim was added. That they are the secret masters of an underground conspiracy that clandestinely controls everything. We’re very early in the story at the moment, but as we go on you’ll discover that the Nephilim are working in the background, controlling everything that happens. The name of Malak’s base of operations, the Bohemian Club, is a nod to Bohemian Grove…Google it if you’ve never heard of it. Of course, to return to comics, the Bohemian Club also owes a lot to the Hellfire Club from the X-Men, and a quick glance at the title of this blog will indicate my fondness for that idea.

The Structure

When I seriously started work on Young Gods back in 2005, it was originally conceived as a six issue series (with, hopefully, more series to follow). That original six issue series is essentially what will form Young Gods: Betrayal, the six issue series that follows on from the OGN. So…why write the OGN? In early 2006 I joined up with Visionary Comics Studio and took Young Gods there. At the time, their policy was that every series they were developing should begin with an oversized one-shot, a graphic novel. So, it was suggested that I condense the six issue series down into one volume. This was something I really wasn’t keen to do. I hope that once Young Gods: Betrayal is complete you’ll see what an impossible task that would have been. The whole point of Young Gods is that the focus is on the characters and their relationships with one another. Condense the story down too much and those characters have no room to breathe. So, the only option was to write something else… But what? Ultimately I realised that I had all this backstory in my head about how the characters had got to the point that they’re at in the first issue. I decided to riff off of Giant-Size X-Men issue one, and have a series of vignettes introducing all of the major characters, so you’ll see that there’s a chapter focusing on each team member, and each of the major villains. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when I had the idea of making each chapter title one of the tracks from “Young Gods”. So, while it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, it was, I felt, an interesting way to introduce the characters and set the plot in motion. Then Visionary asked for a six page story that would work as a teaser for the series as a whole. So I decided to take one step back, and to show the events that led up to the events in the OGN, and that six page story was added to the front of the OGN as the Prologue. Ultimately I left Visionary and took Young Gods with me when we formed orang Utan Comics, but the OGn was already written by then. So, as proud of the OGN as I am…none of that story was ever meant to have been told. Some of it might have been used in flash backs, but it was mostly just in my head to inform the writing of the series. For example, the fact the Alpha had rescued Outrage from an angry mob was something that I’d planned to hint at, as a reason why Outrage stayed with the team despite having an obvious dislike for rigid authority, but I’d never planned to actually show that scene. In the end, it meant I could work in a nice little homage to Dave Cockrum, one of my heroes, so I’m not complaining.

This is why I’m excited now I’m starting to see pages for Young Gods: Betrayal #1 come through from Ezequiel and Mauro, because this is the story I started imagining back in 1991 when I first listened to that Little Angels album.

So, that’s the background stuff out of the way. In the next part I’ll look at the Prologue in more detail.

1 comment:

Caine said...

Very nice post. Its obvious that you're well read. Not only does it show through with your storytelling, but also here on the blog.