by Jarrod Jones. Let’s be perfectly serious right now: If you had the opportunity to live inside a giant mecha, you totally would. (I would.)
Giga—a new Vault Comics series by Alex Paknadel, John Lê, Rosh, and Aditya Bidikar—starts there. Giant leviathans of bolts and circuits warred on our planet and fell dormant once the fighting was done. When the dust finally settled and it became clear that these techno-hulks weren’t about to jump up and start fighting again, humanity began to reassemble society—only this time, we would make our homes inside the very same giants who slumbered in our midst. We would build cathedrals inside our new mechanical gods, pay homage to them, count our blessings and live out our lives as we dwelled in their shadows. Giant robot gods? That actually allow us to live inside them? Sounds a bit off, but hey—it’s home.
Which brings us to Evan Calhoun. If Giga is an expansive, mysterious world of sleeping giants then Evan is Jack. As an engineer, he knows the intricacies of robots, even keeps one in his flat. (A big no-no in this robo-centric religion, called the “Order Of The Red Relay”.) Evan’s a genius but he’s deliberately resisted his own personal ascent in this society, has kept secrets from those in charge and has every intention of keeping more before his story is done. There’s something up in this world, something off-kilter about the Order that props these sleeping robots up as our deities and Evan knows it. And he’s going to crack this mystery wide open, even if he has to do it himself.
“To me, that is what makes Evan’s character admirable, he isn’t someone that is going to spend too much time feeling bad for himself and the cards he’s been dealt,” Giga artist and co-creator John Lê says. “Instead, time and time again, Evan chooses to redirect that energy into making the best choice he can at that time and then adapting to the results.” It’s an assessment of Giga‘s central character that co-creator Alex Paknadel agrees with: “Evan’s done his best to navigate this world and he’s failed, [but that] failure arose from a conflict between institutional loyalty and personal loyalty.”
Ahead of the December 9 release of Giga #2 DoomRocket takes a look under the hood of this intriguing new Vault Comics series with Alex Paknadel and John Lê to see how the complexities of their story actually work.
1. ‘Giga’ is out in the wild. By now, it’s clear that the two of you have thought of little else than sleeping giant robots and the various human intrigues that play out between their feet for some time. I’m curious: from the moment you first conspired on the initial concepts of what would eventually become ‘Giga’ to right now, what have the two of you learned about your world and how its stories can be realized on the comics page?
John Lê: Personally, I think the comics page and medium fits what we want to do with GIGA perfectly. With a world as vast as this is, I can’t help but daydream about dormant mechs in a number of different locations and the stories that may take us through them. There’s something about how well scale and frame can be manipulated in this medium that makes discovering these locations a very fun experience from both the creators’ and readers’ point of view.
Alex Paknadel: As pleased as I am with the story and its presentation, for now we have a five issue commitment so I’m consistently haunted by what we can’t show—at least for now. The world’s taken on a life of its own and its capacity to surprise us has only grown, but we have limited real estate to tell our story; accordingly, we can only show you the tip of the iceberg. That said, Vault have been very generous in giving us a few more pages per issue to play with over the usual 22, so we can really be luxurious with ourselves in terms of the sense of scale we wanted to convey.
2. Without getting selfish about it, I already want to know more about Evan Calhoun, the focal character of ‘Giga’. Evan’s a tech-minded fellow, somebody that could have ascended to the higher echelons of this world’s society with his knowledge and ability, but somewhere along the way he hit a ceiling. Was the barrier that kept Evan from becoming something more than a novice in this religion/world order a thing of his own deliberate making, or are there opposing forces pulling Evan in different directions?
JL: I would have to say both yes and no. Evan made a choice, something that is going to happen a lot, and although his choices aren’t always the easiest to live with, they are choices that he feels are the right ones. To me, that is what makes Evan’s character admirable, he isn’t someone that is going to spend too much time feeling bad for himself and the cards he’s been dealt. Instead, time and time again, Evan chooses to redirect that energy into making the best choice he can at that time and then adapting to the results.
AP: I don’t have a great deal more to add to John’s take other than the fact that Evan was born into a system that does not—indeed, cannot—properly account for the needs of the individual. Human needs are subordinate to the needs of these mute, unresponsive gods who are at once achingly close and infinitely remote. Evan’s done his best to navigate this world and he’s failed, but—and this is all I’ll say—that failure arose from a conflict between institutional loyalty and personal loyalty.
3. I noticed that the inestimable Danny Lore was brought in as a sensitivity reader. Alex, how did Danny help with ‘Giga’?
AP: Danny takes time out from their own soaring career to give my scripts a once-over and flag up any areas where I might be edging out of my lane. I have a Black disabled protagonist, and those are two subjectivities I can’t hope to inhabit in a meaningful way, so it just made sense. Danny doesn’t tell me what to change because they’re not censorious in the slightest, but they do flag up areas where I’m likely to be asked questions. It’s up to me whether I choose to act on those recommendations, but 99.9% of the time I do because they’re never structural.
Under what circumstances would you suggest to comic writers both fresh and seasoned that they consider bringing a sensitivity reader onto their projects?
AP: For me, it’s a pragmatic decision. I don’t have a sense of mission or anything, I just think it’s obvious that our books must and should resemble our world. That said, we’re all laden with cultural baggage—some of it pretty deeply entrenched—that can throw up barriers to entry for a lot of folks. I want my work to be accessible and welcoming to anyone of good will who’s prepared to meet it halfway, but if I want to have a world that’s as rich on the page as it is outside my window then I need to know where the boundaries are—that’s where a sensitivity reader comes in. They provide another layer of verisimilitude and quality assurance, which can only enhance the work in my view.
4. As it is with any culture or society, there is some arcane text that lays down the histories and rules of the land and ‘Giga’ is no different. Here, it’s called “The Book of Assembly”. Alex, I presume you haven’t written out the entirety of this tome for your story—you haven’t, have you?—but it seems to me that the Book was written long ago to rationalize what is clearly irrational: Giant robots waged war, fell asleep, and now we live inside of their constructs. The Book of Assembly makes this make sense to the people. Unless the answer is completely obvious, I wanted to know: what was the real-life basis for this book?
AP: I can’t speak to the book directly, but I can tell you that I based the religious system on the Reformation and the Protestant schism that preceded it. I don’t have a dog in the fight denominationally, but I find it fascinating that Protestantism’s more or less stated raison d’être was to remove what amounted to bureaucratic red tape from the individual’s direct relationship with God. Accordingly, the Book of Assembly in our book can only be read and handled by members of the Order of the Red Relay, the engineer-priests who rule this world. It’s half engineering manual, half holy text.
5. The language of The Book of Assembly seems designed to hold people in their place, to shrink at the mere thought of the beings that could possibly build such things. From early in ‘Giga’ #1: “Neither shriek of human babe nor howl of wounded cur shall disturb [the titans’] dreams of steel.” Those are carefully selected words, meant to frighten the masses. Alex, how does Evan view the Book? It’s clear he knows it chapter and verse, but how has it shaped his worldview?
AP: Evan views the book as partial truth, but he always wanted to go deeper. We learn in issue one that [Evan] has a robot companion, which is strictly and explicitly forbidden in the Book of Assembly. He does this in part because he’s lonely, but also because without realizing it he’s a true Enlightenment subject. He’s an explorer, and they don’t tend to thrive in periods of cultural and scientific repression.
In both a literal and metatextual sense, you are the person whose quill has scrawled the words of The Book of Assembly—does it include punitive measures for ridiculing it, dismissing it? Who enforces such blasphemies in ‘Giga’?
AP: The Order of the Red Relay are responsible for enforcing the blasphemy laws, and they’re very draconian, yes. Sentences range from excommunication to death, but we’ll see the Order themselves flout several of their own laws when it suits them. The great British writer and critic A.A. Gill once said of politics, “Its objectives are the same as you find in any other industry: to make more of itself and to not have to consume its own product”. The Order are dedicated to using the Book as a pretext for making laws that often don’t apply to them.
6. I want to get into the technical aspects of ‘Giga’ for a second. John, the mechs in this story have long laid quietly among the people in this story. They are for many folks a place of shelter, of worship—these mechs are home in the truest definition of the word. When you’re laying out panels and spreads, how do these robots become habitats? Is there a certain way you lay these giant robots on the earth so that it makes sense for people to live inside of them?
JL: This was easily one of the most challenging hurdles I encountered when first visualizing the world of GIGA. Having this world feel authentic and plausible, yet full of awe and wonder, was something that I’ve thought about a lot, and continue to think about, throughout our process. Even when it came to deciding how the Gigas’ would sit and how they would be arranged into a dense city was something that I spent weeks, if not months, trying to figure out. One of the things that I’ve found, that I think works, is exploiting the juxtaposition of the familiar within the unfamiliar. We can all imagine dense metropolitan cities—whether that’s through the help of life experience or the consumption of various forms of media. On that same note, we can also do the same when envisioning giant robots. However, when we start to extract elements from one and place it on to the other, something that should not be, I think that’s where we begin to scratch the surface of how crafting a world like this can be done.
From there, the way I would construct set pieces is similar to constructing just about any other set, but with giant, giant robots. So I try to keep that in mind when I’m laying out each panel that reveals a bit more of this world. And with that, I’m often presented with plenty of windows of opportunities to remind us of where we are. In our mech-filled city, a bridge can be an arm, a post office can be a hand with the entrance at a finger, and so on, and so forth. Additionally, something I’ve tried to implement a lot is the use of graffiti to ground our story even further. I believe that when we see graffiti throughout a city, there is a strong narrative tool in not only what the graffiti reads, but where it is placed. In an instant, graffiti is able to communicate both the civil unrest of a city and the risks people are willing to go to in order to express that unrest.
What would it be like to live in, say, the knee-part of a robot? What would that look like?
JL: Generally, the knee isn’t a bad area to be housed in a Giga. There are large remote power cores in each “knee socket” of each Strike Engine. These cores are a great local source of energy that can be spliced into and rerouted to power nearby units. Among other things, the views from some of these units will be some of the best lookout points throughout the city—with a considerably higher monthly rent rate to match.
7. John, there are details in your pages that handle world-building without the use of expository captions or word balloons. For instance, how the people in this story clearly built their current civilization around these robots, and how out in the wilderness the ecosystem has long been growing over what remains of a city that laid there before. Are there certain details to the “before times” that you’re hiding in plain sight that may become important as ‘Giga’ continues?
JL: Thank you! I take that as a huge compliment. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is definitely some imagery that we will see coming back in various ways throughout the series—as the mystery unravels through the lens of our characters. On the same note, there are a lot of moments where I’ve chosen to add elements that allude to things that I’m not entirely sure if we’ll ever get to expand on. I think that these details add to the overall experience of discovering a new place. Things that may only reside in our peripherals as we only catch mere glimpses of new undiscovered areas.
8. Can either of you tease some of the conflicts to come between the various factions of ‘Giga’? Evan’s path is certainly going to be a complicated one, so how does his journey stir the pot?
JL: Again, without giving too much away, this tension that is building is only going to boil issue after issue. With just the two factions we have introduced in issue #1, it’s clear that there are two directly opposing factions that consist of those who worship the Giga and those who do not. Evan, however, will find himself in positions to poke holes in both of their philosophies and beliefs.
AP: Evan finds the body of a god, which has never happened before. I won’t give to much away, suffice it to say zealots of all stripes are often very fond of shooting the messenger.
9. Stories about giant mechs and the worlds affected by them are often imbued with metaphor, most often representing something profound, sad, terrible, or all three. And I can’t talk about giant robots without bringing up my all-time favorite anime, ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’. Its creator, Hideaki Anno, brought this series and its absolutely wild finale into the world to confront his own feelings of depression. What are you, Alex, and what are you, John, personally interrogating in the telling of ‘Giga’?
JL: From my end, it’s become a more personal story with every page I ink. Our story revolves around an event that sparks a chain reaction of difficult situations. Caught up in between the chaos is people’s beliefs, values, loyalties, etc. There’s something about how these types of phenomena bring a spotlight to one’s true character with how they adapt and react to different situations. 2020 and its events have been sort of a mirror of reality in that sense. How we act during these times defines our character—as it has been a very revealing year to us all.
AP: For me, this is a story about truth, and what people are prepared to do to defend their version of it. People are clinging to their own truths really tightly at the moment, and the world’s in bad shape as a result. As ever, my thoughts are with those people who inevitably get caught between fanaticisms. As a parent and a human being, I want to sit with some characters who embody that dilemma. It’s honestly cathartic and I’m glad people have responded to it.
If ‘Evangelion’ can be summed up quite haphazardly as a story of philosophy, perseverance, and hope, how would you sum up ‘Giga’?
JL: Truth, loyalty, and friendship.
AP: Reformation, truth and rebirth.
10. To wrap this up, a question for both John and Alex: If you had to shack up inside of a giant robot, where would you set up your new homes? Personally, I’d live in the head, both for the space and for the 360º view.
JL: I don’t think I could afford the rent up there, so I’ll more than likely be closer to the lower levels of the Giga.
AP: I’d live in the butt because I figure at least I’d be left alone.
‘Giga’ #1 is available in stores now. ‘Giga’ #2 hits stores December 9.
Check out this mecha-sized 7-page, 4-cover preview of ‘Giga’ #1, courtesy of Vault Comics!
Cover A by John Lê.
Cover B by Tim Daniel, Nathan Gooden.
Cover C by Adam Gorham.
Cover D by David Mack.
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…