Imagining a new reality with Black Cloud's Ivan Brandon and Greg Hinkle

Contributed by
Apr 4, 2017

More and more, people's realities seem to be what they make them. The more stories we tell ourselves about the way things are and the way they should be, the more we start to believe them. But what if there was a place where imagination and reality were one and the same? There is, in the world of new Image Comics series Black Cloud.

Black Cloud follows a girl from this world named Zelda whose dreams become too big and she ends up stranded and on the run in real-world New York City. In Black Cloud, as the solicitation for the first issue says, "Dreams come true—and today, they go to war."

There were plenty of amazing titles that were announced at last year's Image Expo, but I was immediately sold on Black Cloud when it was described as "Jessica Jones meets Roger Rabbit." I wasn't just excited because Who Framed Roger Rabbit is my favorite movie of all time, though. I was also ecstatic about its incredible creative team: Drifter writer Ivan Brandon will co-write with Spider-Gwen writer and Southern Bastards artist Jason Latour, while the art will be handled by Airboy's Greg Hinkle and colorist of Paper Girls — and basically everything else — Matt Wilson.

I was lucky enough get a chance to chat with two of the men behind the book, Ivan Brandon and Greg Hinkle, and discuss the origins of the series, the ideas behind it and the book's protagonist, Zelda. Read on for the interview, as well as a look at the first two covers and a peek inside the first issue. Let us know the comments if Black Cloud looks like a story you'd want altering your reality, and be sure to pick up the first issue on April 5.

Where did the idea for Black Cloud originate, and how did the story evolve as each member of the creative team came on board?

Ivan Brandon: Jason and I had been talking a lot about the sorta weird abstractions that exist between how people perceive a place from a distance and how it is. We were looking at New York, reflected in the water, and that reflection was sort of its own weird ominous distortion of where I live. Sometimes you get an idea in your teeth and can't let it go, and whiskey doesn't help, so before you know it we were waist-deep in Black Cloud.

During the announcement at Image Expo you talked about how the book is on some level about working in the art world. Is there a particular experience you've had in comics that's provided inspiration for Black Cloud?

IB: Once you get far enough into an idea about how storytelling molds a reality it's not long before you start to see how weirdly that lines up with our lives working as writers and artists. It's less about a specific analogue that inspires us and more how looking at the story really brought a lot of crazy parallels to light. We're not really commenting on our lives or careers in the story but it has a way of really ringing true to the real world in ways we hadn't seen coming.

On the topic of parallels in the real world, I couldn't help but notice the second issue cover features a bunch of men wearing red ball caps, an image that's recently become pretty recognizable to Americans. Can you talk about how current events might have influenced the story?

IB: We made that cover months ago, believe it or not. We didn't know at the time to what extent our current world would really tie into the idea of reframing reality to suit your purposes, and how deeply your words can influence what people "see."

Greg, that idea of fiction blurring with reality seems to be a theme with your work after Airboy. What appeals to you about this idea, and how does your approach from Airboy differ?

Greg Hinkle: I think that we all blur the line between reality and fiction every day, and I think that it's something we can all relate to. How many times have you embellished a little piece of an anecdote to make yourself seem funnier, or tougher, or smarter? Words and stories can evoke a physical response, so it's really fun to play with that idea and exaggerate it.

The major difference for me on this book so far is getting to work with Matt Wilson on colors. It's my first time getting to collaborate on art in this way, and it's really a cool experience. This story features some large-scale world building, so being able to share that load with someone as skilled as Matt is amazing.

We've talked a bit about the more unreal aspects of the series, but what about the grounded part? You've described Black Cloud as "Jessica Jones meets Roger Rabbit," so where does the first part of that come in? Is there a mystery Zelda is trying to solve?

IB: Zelda, our lead, is a powerful and inspiring but somewhat tragic figure. She is capable of great things but doesn't always gravitate towards them. She can rally the troops into a charge without realizing they're marching off a cliff. Y'know that friend who's a lot of fun but you don't want to lend him any money? That's Zelda.

GH: Yeah, Zelda is the kind of person who gets herself in over her head sometimes. She's almost the manifestation of "biting off more than you can chew." You can't live that way for too long before consequences start catching up to you.

Greg, how would you describe the visual influences on the story? Are there particular sources you've gone to for inspiration, whether on the real-world stuff or in designing the fantasy world?

GH: Everything is visual inspiration for this book, so I don't know if I can pinpoint anything in particular. One of the really fun and really challenging aspects of this book is being able to incorporate almost anything into Zelda's world. If reality could be physically shaped and manipulated by stories, then the possibilities are only limited by our imaginations. And this plane of reality was shaped by thousands of different minds over millennia, so I'm really trying to make it dense without too much uniformity. We've got a kind of living file folder going, where everyone on the team can add pictures or links that could visually inform the look, to hopefully avoid too much repetition.

If someone (somehow) isn't sold on the series yet, what would you tell them to get them to pick up issue #1?

IB: If anyone's not yet sold I'd say this is us trying to take the race car of comics through its paces and really see what it's capable of. To really test the limits of what you can do in the form and tell the kinda story that you can only tell in comics. At least that's the idea.

GH: I don't know if I can add much to Ivan's answer, but in an effort to really milk that car metaphor -- We're firing on all cylinders? It takes you from 0-60 in 28 pages? Life is a highway? We're all pretty proud of the book so far, and we're excited to get to share it. If that excitement and enthusiasm shows through then I'll be happy.

Black Cloud #1 is on sale April 5 from Image Comics. All artwork by Greg Hinkle with colors by Matt Wilson.