William Gibson on his time-bending trip into comics with IDW's new Archangel miniseries

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May 17, 2016

Visionary sci-fi maverick William Gibson (Burning Chrome, Pattern Recognition) may have ushered in the cyberpunk age with 1984's seminal work, Neuromancer, but one dynamic territory he'd never explored as a writer until now was the kaleidoscopic world of comic books.  Blending the clever genius of one of the world's most influential authors with a talented core of artists was first on IDW Publishing's mind when the project for Gibson's four-issue Archangel miniseries was hatched, and the results are nothing less than stellar.  

IDW's Archangel #1 begins an immediately captivating post-apocalyptic world where the Earth has been decimated by radiation and society's future revolves around a mysterious government-controlled machine called The Splitter, a dangerous device able to manufacture alternate timelines to control and conquer.  Co-authored with screenwriter Michael St. John Smith (The Dead Zone) and aligned with the masterful art of industry veteran Butch Guice (Micronauts, Winterworld), Archangel may be one of the most anticipated releases this spring. 

Blastr chatted with Gibson on the eve of Archangel #1's celebrated launch about his fantastic flight into comics, the perils and promises of the medium and what readers can anticipate when this warped-reality thriller hits the shelves on May 18.  Have a listen, then check out our five-page preview with covers in the gallery below and tell us if you're jacked for Gibson's latest creative odyssey.


How did the Archangel project and your first foray into comics evolve with IDW?

WG: I go into that at some length in the back of issue one. The short version would be that my friend Mike (Michael St. Jon Smith) and I happened on a highly unlikely Germain television opportunity and decided to pitch them something. What we came up with was, very approximately, the narrative core of Archangel. The opportunity proved to be totally unlikely, as in they wanted nothing to do with it, or us. But then we had this story idea on our hands, which we kept fiddling with, envisioning it initially as a feature screenplay, which at least gave us a format to start hanging things on. Mike acts in film and television, and we often talk film and television together. IDW initially approached me about doing an adaptation of a novel, but I immediately thought of Archangel. "Well, there's this thing here, that I've been working on with my friend--"

Can you give us a nickel tour of Archangel's plot mechanics, and what can readers expect from this provocative sci-fi mini-series?

WG: We called it "Band of Brothers vs Blackwater" from very early on. Band of Brothers in the sense of a loose alliance of (mostly) Allies for our good guys, and Blackwater in the sense of something American, but mercenary, very high-tech, dystopian, from some version of 2016 or so. But we needed a story-mechanism to get those two halves head to head. 


What were some of the agonies and ecstasies in writing Archangel?

WG: The agony of writing anything, for me, regardless of narrative form, is always The Middle. I'm much more comfortable with the beginning and the end. In screenwriting, The Middle's the dreaded second act, and that gets into that whole Story Structure thing, which makes me want to scream. So that was fully as nasty as usual, though I'm still surprised at how much of the discomfort went away in the course of the script for the comic. 

How is the “splitter” different than the unnamed process that creates alternate timelines in your last novel, The Peripheral?  

WG: Archangel actually pre-dated The Peripheral. I was working on the earliest version of The Peripheral when I stopped to work on the earliest version of Archangel.Archangel, when I went back to The Peripheral, immediately started suggesting all sorts of other things that could be done with those particular "rules" of time travel and alternate history. And at this point I should say again that we got that from "Mozart In Mirrorshades", the 1985 short story by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner. Bruce and Lew described it at the time as "third worlding the past", and it's been one of my favorite pieces of "movement" cyberpunk from the day I first read it.

What was the collaboration like between you and co-author Michael St. John Smith?

WG: Fruitful! Possible, mainly. I mean you can either co-write with someone or you can't. Sometimes, as much as you and the other person might want to, you just can't. I've been able to co-write, so far, with John Shirley, Michael Swanwick, Bruce Sterling (twice, even, and once novel length), and Michael St. John Smith, and that's been it. Mike is, seriously, a writer. Wouldn't have been possible otherwise.


What was your inspirational gateway into comic-books as an adult and what do you enjoy reading now?

WG: Being old as dirt, I grew up on pre-Marvel DC, mostly, then largely missed the emergence of Marvel because I was reading Zap Comics and whatnot. When I was starting to try to write prose sci-fi  though, Heavy Metal had gotten going, and that exposed me to the Europeans, and started making me aware of manga to some extent. Important influence, really, because there wasn't much sci-fi illustration, then, that I thought was cool at all. Brandon Graham comes immediately to mind, for contemporary comics, and I suppose you could say I tend indie, but then you could also say that I'm still relatively illiterate, when it comes to comics. (It's actually weirdly enjoyable, I'm finding, to be able to work in a field I'm less familiar with than I am with prose fiction.)

Why is Butch Guice's exacting art so well-suited for Archangel's pages?

WG: At this point, it's become impossible for me to imagine Archangel minus Butch. I have to be able to visualize what I'm writing, as I write it, or it just doesn't happen, and I guess you could say I visualize at high resolution. Butch's art is wonderfully high-res, but it's so many other things as well. In the course of watching him draw the comic, his vision has completely replaced whatever I originally saw, but it's done that by being at once entirely sympathetic to our script and so brilliantly his own thing. 


Your influence on manga, anime and American comics is unsurpassed.  When you look back, how do you see your ideas and concepts integrated into the evolving medium?

WG: Thanks, but (fortunately!) I'm unable to see it that way. I think it's a matter of my having been very much of my time, as were lots of other people, including the ones who were writing and drawing comics. I remember reading Watchmen for the first time, and not being so much amazed as just nodding: "It's sure as hell happening here too." But it sure wasn't happening because of me. It was just happening!  

Will you make another venture into comic books or are you headed back to novels?

WG: Archangel has been a really enjoyable experience, relatively low-stress compared to getting a new novel out. Butch is, as we've discussed, amazing, and everyone I've worked with at IDW has been hugely helpful, super-professional, and fun to work with. So mainly I'm scared that this has spoiled me for comics by setting the bar impossibly high. But it's certainly put the medium on the table for me, in lots of ways I would never have expected.

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