One of Dark Horse’s big announcements at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con was a collaboration with Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, among others. His series, Orchid, depicts a dystopian future where the vast majority of humanity lives as slaves, with a few powerful figures dominating–which, if you’ve followed Morello’s history of activism, should come as no surprise. What is a surprise is how rich and vibrant Orchid is, thanks to Morello’s fully realized storyline and artist Scott Hepburn’s amazing vision.
We had the chance to interview Morello right after a sound check in the UK, where he’s currently touring as The Nightwatchman, his acoustic solo act, with hardcore punk band Rise Against, and Hepburn also took some time to answer our questions for Dark Horse Month. Enjoy their responses, below, and make sure to check out our preview of Orchid #2, out November 7!
TFAW.com: Hi Tom! I just saw the announcement that Orchid #1 has sold out, so congratulations!
Tom Morello: Thanks.
TFAW.com: Were you expecting it to sell out so quickly?
TM: Frankly, I hadn’t dared to hope! [laughs] I love the book, and put my heart and soul into it, and I’m pleased that issue #1 has been well-received.
TFAW.com: How did your own activism and political leanings influence the creation of Orchid?
TM: I’ve always been a fan of big fantasy epics, like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, but I always thought they were missing a class component. So when I had the idea for Orchid about three years ago, it was something I wanted to weave into the story.
I didn’t want to lose any of the excitement of the scary monsters and narrow escapes, or the big battles and dramatics, but rather than trying to get the king into the castle or the princess back on the throne, Orchid has a very different ideological bent.
TFAW.com: Although you came up with the idea three years ago, Orchid seems strangely apt right now, with Occupy Wall Street and the 99%. What do you think of all that?
TM: It does seem prescient, in a way, in that with Orchid, it’s not a world of the haves and the have-nots; it’s a world of the have-nothings and the have-everythings. And our world is sliding more toward that abyss every day.
TFAW.com: What’s the cause of the post-apocalyptic situation in Orchid? Will we find out?
TM: It’s mentioned in issue #1 and it’s going to be fleshed out in future flashbacks, but it’s due to global warming. There’s a real-life phenomenon called the Great Pacific Trash Vortex, which is a big island of plastic and garbage that’s bigger than the state of Alaska. In Orchid, humanity foolishly tries to combat that with a plasticide that causes a breakdown in the DNA of sea life, which travels up through the food chain and causes these mutations. Then the waters recede, and much of humanity is gone. The normal species are extinct, and humans find that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.
TFAW.com: When we first meet the character of Orchid, her personal mantra is, “Know Your Role,” and she seems to have accepted her role in the community as one of the disenfranchised, a prostitute. Is she going to become part of the rebellion? What’s her evolution going to be?
TM: Without giving away too much, she has two markings on her: she has a tattoo of “Property” on her collarbone, like all the other prostitutes in her world, and then she has her own personal mantra of “Know Your Role” branded on her arm. It’s important that one’s a brand and one’s a tattoo.
We’ll see over time. It’s not as simple as her finding a different role in the rebellion. There are some complicated twists and turns that take place once she starts discovering that’s she’s more than the prostitute life she was born into.
TFAW.com: What’s Simon’s role going to be in this series?
TM: On one hand, Simon is the comic relief, but he’s also the everyman character. Even in this horrific dystopian future there’s room for a little humor, but he also has the engineering and scientific skills that may prove helpful down the line. But he’s a real geek, too. In this world, there are hostile enemy soldiers and and ferocious monsters, and he’s like the wimpy nerd who has to somehow navigate it all.
TFAW.com: I was surprised that in this post-apocalyptic world, that he was so articulate and educated, which made me really curious about his past.
TM: We’ll learn more about that. In this world, no one is literate. So he’s in stark juxtaposition to everyone else.
TFAW.com: What’s it been like working with the folks at Dark Horse?
TM: It’s been great. I was introduced to them by Gerard Way, a friend of mine who’s the singer for My Chemical Romance, but who of course also writes The Umbrella Academy. Gerard was kind enough to read the 25-page synopsis of Orchid, and he liked it and he forwarded it to Dark Horse, which started our relationship. But it’s been really great. It took us more than a year to find the right illustrator for the book. My editor Sierra Hahn recommended Scott Hepburn, and we have a great working relationship, so it’s been pretty great from the start.
TFAW.com: You’re also doing a song for each comic; will they be collected into an album?
TM: Yes, it will be a musical soundtrack for the book. The song that accompanied issue #1 was from the new Nightwatchman record World Wide Rebel Songs, a song called “It Begins Tonight,” but the other 11 songs–I’ve done a lot of composing for films, including the Iron Man movies–so the other songs will be an instrumental score that will be woven into the world of Orchid.
TFAW.com: Do you think you’ll do any comics after these 12 issues? Do you have any plans for more?
TM: I’m right in the middle of this one, so let me finish this first! [laughs] It’s a real labor of love, and I’m the writer; I’m not handing this off to someone else, I oversee every detail–from the color of the tunics to the hue of the scimitars–so I’m very deeply involved in it. You know, I’ve worked out this one storyline, so I really want to make that come to fruition, and beyond that, we’ll see. But no plans beyond Orchid right now.
TFAW.com: Well, thanks so much for your time!
TM: Thanks, and thanks very much to all the comics fans, and the rock fans, for embracing this. It’s really super fun to do. For me, it’s a new and really exciting artistic endeavor and challenge. Good luck to Orchid and her friends, because they’ve got a lot of trouble coming.
TFAW.com: Scott, how did you become involved with Orchid?
Scott Hepburn: I have been working on Dark Horse books for a couple years now. I worked on two Star Wars titles, Knights of the Old Republic and Clone Wars, as well as a story in the Dr. Horrible collection last spring. So when Tom was looking for a artist for Orchid, my name was on the list of possible contenders.
TFAW.com: How did you feel about working with Tom Morello?
SH: I was surprised to hear he was the writer on the project. I’ve been a fan of his for almost 20 years, so the idea of working with him was cool, but I needed to be excited about the work first and foremost. Thankfully when I read the story outline early on, I could tell right away that the book would be a lot of fun to draw. The scale and spectacle of his world and characters was immediately enticing.
TFAW.com: What kind of input did you get from him?
SH: Tom and I have been on the same page about the look of the comic from the start. There’s a lot of input and direction from Tom, but it’s always with what’s best for the book in mind. So if I propose a different look for a character or change in the story, he’s always open to change.
TFAW.com: What’s the most challenging part of working on Orchid?
SH: My biggest challenge is my own ambition. I always want every page to feel huge in scope, and detailed and unique and impactful, but we need to keep on schedule and get the books on the shelves. I’ve needed to learn to pick my shots and get more efficient as an artist.
TFAW.com: You’re no stranger to creating exotic landscapes and creatures, thanks to your Star Wars work. Was it different creating something that was supposed to be wild and foreign, but also take place on a plausible future Earth?
SH: There is some crossover in the work on Star Wars, and the monsters and environments of Orchid, but to me it feels like mostly new territory. Orchid‘s world is strange and foreign, but is still Earth. The bones of our world are scattered everywhere, and the culture is a patchwork of scraps cobbled together to make something new.
TFAW.com: When you first read the script, how did you picture Orchid? Did you have any specific inspiration?
SH: On first reading I found the character descriptions really inspiring. I could immediately visualize scenes and compositions, which for me is how I know I’m gonna enjoy the work. For Orchid herself, I saw her pretty clearly right away. Thin, athletic, and pretty, but hard and serious. The first thing I drew for Tom was Orchid, the character, which I finished about 20 minutes after read the story outline.
TFAW.com: Which characters interested you the most?
SH: I’d say Barrabas, a character that doesn’t show up until issue #4. I think once he arrives in the book, he steals the show.
TFAW.com: How did you break into the comics business?
SH: I started with a studio out of Toronto called Udon, a collective of artists that does comic books and fantasy, and video game and toy design. It was a great place to learn the business and get my feet wet in the comic industry, with a good support system behind me.
TFAW.com: What is the most difficult part of creating a page, for you?
SH: Most of the time I can see the layout of the page pretty clearly, but it’s hard to resist the desire to redo panels or pages in a couple different ways to see which works best. Obviously this would be disastrous, on our schedule.
TFAW.com: If you could choose one other Dark Horse series to work on, which would you choose, and why?
SH: I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan and have been nagging the Buffy editors for years to get on one of those titles. Also, Hellboy has been one of my favorite comics forever, and I think I would fit very well in that dark, monster-filled world.
We’d like to thank Tom Morello and Scott Hepburn for a great interview! While Orchid #1 has officially sold out, you can pre-order upcoming Orchid comics and save 20%!
Have you picked up Orchid? What do you think? Post your comments below.