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Credit: Vault Comics

Giant mech comic GIGA reinvents the relationship between man and machine

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Oct 30, 2020, 8:27 PM EDT (Updated)

Vault Comic’s new hit series GIGA is a mecha lover’s dream. A subtle homage to stories like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Transformers, plus an expansive world-building, time-traveling storyline with a murder mystery to boot, all make for an exciting first issue out this week. It’s hard to believe GIGA artist John Lê hadn’t drawn a comic longer than 30 pages before award-winning writer Alex Paknadel (Friendo, Incursion) emailed him an invitation to join the project. 

The titular GIGA are giant robots who brought their rock ‘em sock ‘em death battle to Earth, almost leveling the planet in the process. No one knows why, but when the war ended, the remaining mechs went dormant, allowing the humans left to rebuild a new world. A century later, the post-war generation, a faction known as the "Dusters," distrust technology because of what these sleeping giants did to the planet — and rightly so. But, civilization adapted, and cities have sprung up around the GIGA remains as humans make their homes within their steel walls. 

The Order of the Red Relay, a religious organization that claims a spiritual connection to the bots, controls the government and all of the technology, including every GIGA left on the planet. With strict regulations and a ban against all artificial intelligence, it’s one part Factory and one part Galactic Empire as the citizen’s struggle under the weight of a semi-fascist regime. This same sect is where Evan, a bilateral amputee teen with a brilliant engineering mind, serves as an apprentice. But, when a terrorist bombing kills his teacher and half his classmates, and implicates his best friend in the process, the Order suspects Evan as a Duster sympathizer and his world turns upside down.

And that’s all in the first five pages.

In true Paknadel fashion, GIGA questions society and our relationship with technology. The Order worships the robots, but what if they’re wrong? What if these mechs, like dormant volcanoes, are waiting for the right set of circumstances to come alive again? Evan, whose disability forces him to look at the world from an entirely different perspective, might discover the answers that will save them all. 

SYFY WIRE had a chat with Paknadel and Lê about GIGA's worldbuilding, sensitivity readers, and just how time-consuming it is to create a fictional bible from scratch.

Credit: Vault Comics

So much of the design feels like Gurren Laggan or Evangelion. Were there specific anime or manga that influenced the design of this project?

John Lê: Evangelion was definitely my first love with mechs, so I’m sure there’s a lot of that in my subconscious. I would also say some Akira, Tekkon Kinkreet, as well as the works and worlds of Ashley Wood, Simon Stålenhag, and Kow Yokoyama are sprinkled in there as well. 

However, one of the things I’ve been into is cars, both on a visual level and a mechanical level. So there are times in GIGA, particularly on their interiors, that I’m pulling from real mechanical parts such as motor mounts, valve covers, engine bays, etc. Then, I balance that with whatever setting we’re in, whether it’s a mech-converted-church or a mech-converted-precinct, and somewhere along that process we extract the look and feel of our set-pieces.

Did the GIGA really take pity on humans and power down for them, or is this the slowest alien invasion in the history of science fiction?

Alex Paknadel: The real question is, do they even acknowledge our existence? Do we pity the bacteria and fungi in our intestines that enable us to digest food? Do alligators pity the small birds that clean their teeth by pecking the rotten meat from their mouths?

Credit: Vault Comics

What is exactly is the "Book of Assembly”? 

Paknadel: According to the Order of the Red Relay, the GIGA are “unknowable,” so creating synthetic brains or attempting to communicate with them is strictly forbidden. The only public access to the GIGA’s will arrives in the form of the Book Of Assembly, which is the Order’s key religious text-cum-engineering manual. Everything these people know of the GIGA and their own past comes from this text, which of course was composed by human hands rather than mechanical ones.  

There are verses from this fictional text throughout. How many did you write?

Paknadel: I wrote a whole stack of verses, yeah. Laborious and time-consuming, but tons of fun!

The world you drew is rich and diverse, was that a direction from Alex?

Lê: It was [a collaboration]. We wanted to show the weight of oppression in this reality. So for that look, we looked for a certain type of city structure and we took inspiration from places that have a very stark and abrupt contrast between the wealthy and the poor. Then we harmonized that with totalitarian aesthetics and design. Once we had that as a foundation, we were able to implement a wide variety of people that are caught up in this reality, while finding a way to survive it.

Credit: Vault Comics

Evan is one of the few disabled characters that we see in comics. What was top of mind for you when creating this character?

Paknadel: Evan’s an incredibly gifted engineer, so what I really wanted to draw out was his lateral thinking. The people in my circle with disabilities are unfairly required to be masters of the workaround — of finding multiple routes to achieving the same goal, and often in real-time. As an engineer, Evan adapts the world to his needs rather than the other way around, and that’s something he takes a measure of pride in. In consequence, he’s the most adaptable person we’re going to meet in this world.

What’s your favorite panel or page so far?

Paknadel: My favorite panel would have to be that first spread from issue one. I love the stillness — almost the banality — of that first breathtaking look at our mech city in all its glory. It’s this canyon of robots, but people are just calmly going about their days as though the beings looming over them belong there and aren’t unusual in the slightest. I think it’s just majestic.

Lê: I think my favorite panel for #1 would be the establishing shot on Page 2 — the interior of one of the GIGA Temples. There’s something about the balance of the imagery that I feel is such a good tease of what’s to come. It’s pretty but it’s also terrifying.

Credit: Vault Comics

You worked with Danny Lore as a sensitivity reader on this. Can you explain that process and why you felt it was important to work with them?

Paknadel: My choice of protagonist — a Black wheelchair user — made a sensitivity reader an absolute necessity. As a straight, white, British guy I know there are experiences with which I can empathize, but that I nonetheless can’t hope to understand on a visceral level, let alone plausibly represent. I knew that if I wanted to make Evan a living, breathing character that I’d need to do it in such a way that I was never attempting to “ventriloquize” very specific cultural experiences to the point where it tipped over into appropriation. 

I didn’t want [Danny] to work on the book to indemnify me against criticism or anything; rather, I wanted them to point out any roadblocks that might exclude readers. I know that if something as simple as a bad British accent can pull me out of a story then wholesale cultural appropriation must be the Mount Everest of barriers to entry.

Credit: Vault Comics

Regarding the process, it’s fairly simple: Danny takes a look at each script as it comes in and flags areas of concern. I’d say I act on 90 percent of those recommendations, but I’ll only keep 10 percent if Danny and I agree that they’re justifiable and theoretically warranted.

Overall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Danny in this way because it’s exposed some biases and preconceptions I didn’t know I had. 

Are we going to get a Cybertron-level battle in this story? 

Paknadel: I’m deliberately withholding the epic robot vs. robot smackdown everyone’s bound to be anticipating, but I’m not doing it to be puckish. It’s coming — we all know it’s coming — but I want to have done my job so well that you’re no longer breathlessly anticipating it. I want the murder mystery and the texture of this world to be so compelling that you forget about tropes and expected beats and just relax into the story. I want you to care more about the characters than the kicksplosions to come.

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