by Jarrod Jones. As far as first impressions go, Strayed goes right for the emotional jugular. A cute cat, hurtling through the cosmos, searching for love, life and meaning in a universe that for sure only has an abundance of one of those things. Oh, this comic is going to make me cry, isn’t it.
It might get you, too. Strayed follows Lou, a small orange cat who can astral-project his wee orange self across lightyears of space, seeking new planets, new life, limitless possibilities. All of that sounds wonderful, until you realize that Lou is being held by The Infinites, a brutal military-industrial complex who uses our cat friend to exploit these new worlds for the resources they need to further their dubious agenda. Were it not for Kiara, Lou’s scientist human friend, Lou’s life would feel quite lonely indeed. But, like freedom, Lou is kept away from Kiara. All they want in this future life is to be friends for each other, but The Infinites have quotas to keep.
Lou and Kiara are largely separated, and in the most indelible moments of Strayed, you can really feel the distance keeping them apart hurt. But friendship, real friendship, has a way of transcending walls, rules—even the vast expanse of outer space.
This comic, in a word, rules.
What makes it especially great is that this is, kid you not, the first published comic from musician Carlos Giffoni, who has teamed with the impossibly inventive artist Juan Doe for what simply must be the next big sci-fi comics fable. Doe’s geometry, not to mention his patented neo-Christmas hues, give Strayed a wonderfully weirdo aesthetic. But read through the pages of its debut and you’ll find that the artist is working completely in sync with his writer to drive home the core of Strayed to its readership: Hope, love, perseverance. It works incredibly well.
Ahead of its August 21 release, DoomRocket spoke with Carlos Giffoni and Juan Doe about the affecting nature of Dark Horse Comics’ Strayed, the team’s creative process, and the limitless possibilities that friendship can bring to science fiction.
1. Carlos, I’d like to start with the concept of ‘Strayed’ and where it came from. Everyone has a certain affinity for their furry companions, but it’s not everyday that one pictures them astral-projecting through the cosmos at the speed of light.
Carlos Giffoni: Strayed is about a cat named Lou, who astral-projects through the cosmos, and his loving owner Kiara. She is a genius scientist who creates a brainwave reading device that translates Lou’s thoughts into speech.
The story takes place in a future version of humanity, where resources are scarce, so the military-industrial complex calling themselves The Infinites are using them to scout new planets. Unbeknownst to Lou and Kiara, the military is brutally colonizing these planets, slaving its native populations and taking everything they can. Eventually, Lou and Kiara will find out, and they will have to make some tough choices.
I agree it is one of those concepts that do not come every day. But, once I had the idea of an astral traveling cat in front of me, the rest came very naturally. It was like finding the first bone of an unknown pre-historic fossil and slowly discovering the invisible creature that was always there in waiting.
I understand you have two cats, Viktor Fulgencio and… Lou Reed?
CG: Yes. Viktor is a rescue that I have had for five years now. Lou Reed is an Ocicat that just happens to be named and look like the protagonist in Strayed. I named Lou after one of my favorite musicians.
2. Juan, I’m wondering how you came on to this project. You told SyFy that you love “anything space-related”, so this would obviously be a natural fit for you. But more than just a space story, ‘Strayed’ is a book with genuine moments of happiness and sadness, anger and loneliness. It’s emotion—the kind we see from these characters, and the kind that’s elicited from us, the readers—as well as spectacle. What kind of limits did you want to push as the artist of ‘Strayed’?
Juan Doe: Strayed came at an interesting point for me; I had mentally put it out there that I wanted to do another cool project for 2018 besides the amazing Dark Ark from Cullen Bunn. A few days later I get an email from Carlos with an introduction and an abbreviated pitch.
I was a little surprised because it wasn’t a company and I’ve never worked on an independent project with anyone that wasn’t a publisher. I asked to read the pitch and it was 100% legit—an astral projecting cat, c’mon, that’s amazing right there—and when I read the outline, with these great characters and operatic space setting, I knew I was going to do this project. It would be another opportunity to travel to space and push the limit on how I could visualize these monumental images all through the scope of this cat.
3. Carlos, you mentioned to The Wire that the current political strife in Venezuela and the U.S. played a part in forming the book’s core concepts. One thing that stands out to me in ‘Strayed’ is how ruthless this Infinite military complex is. They seek out new life on new planets and then exploit them for resources to fuel their campaign, which appears to be designed to , well… seek out new life on new planets and exploit them for resources. Simple, frightening, recognizable. It’s hard to miss the feeling that there’s some sort of message to be found here. What was on your mind when you began structuring ‘Strayed’?
CG: Once I started to treat the idea of the astral traveling cat like it was real, it became evident that it wouldn’t take long for humanity to find ways to exploit said cat’s abilities.
When I began thinking about the real world and its history, I knew where I needed to go. The history of exploration, colonization, genocide, war, exploitation, racism, and the current political situation all over the world are all things I couldn’t ignore as a writer. It has always been the human race continually fighting against itself. I started to imagine a future where humanity can travel through space but remains as flawed as it is today, and I had the setting for the world found in Strayed.
Have you found some kind of catharsis by realizing it on the printed page?
CG: There was no catharsis. I did what was necessary and it was a lot of hard work to get it right and see it come alive.
4. Tell me about the relationship between the book’s protagonists, Kiara and Lou. They’re victims of this military industrial complex, unable to live their lives unfettered from this hideous Infinite machine. So how did you go about deciding how to convey their very palpable love for one another on the page when they’re so often kept at arm’s length?
JD: This is all Carlos right here. He really knew how to deliver character relationships in the script and was so deft in creating those layers and links that are vital when building the interactions across the story. It’s not an easy thing to do and with all the characters and the overall narrative arc; he did a great job staging everything for me. All I had to do was not mess up the scenes and it worked out great.
CG: I poured my heart into Strayed, pulling from my own experiences with isolation, distance from loved ones, and the beautiful friendship I have had with cats. If it feels real, it is because I based it on things that I have experienced.
I went through a breakup several years ago where suddenly I could not see a cat that I had raised since it was a kitten anymore. It’s still painful to think about it, besides the usual pain of losing the person that was my partner and best friend, I miss that cat all the time. This is the first time I mention it in an interview.
Thank you for sharing that, Carlos.
5. Let’s talk about process for a bit. What was your back-and-forth like when you were both working on the first issue?
CG: When I reached out to Juan, I had the pages for the initial proposal ready to go. Those pages became the first eight pages of issue one, the descriptions for everything were very detailed since I wasn’t sure of who the artist would be. We had a two-hour conversation once he was on board, where we discussed the overall story, expectations, and the direction for the art.
After I started getting the first pages from Juan, my writing got significantly looser and more targeted towards letting Juan do what he does. The process was very much a feedback loop; each time Juan turned in visuals my imagination would jump to new directions.
We have been in constant communication throughout the process, and I have grown a lot by creating this story alongside a pro like Juan, who’s art made everything better in every way.
JD: I think we’ve both stated this before and the more I discuss it the more apt it is to describe our process like making music. Carlos, being a musician, of course understands this—and myself with the visuals, it’s always about pace and beats and rhythms. So using Carlos’s words as the melody, I was able to harmonize around that and I think by issue #2 we had developed a very cool attunement [sic] on how we worked together.
How did you collaborate with the book’s letterer, Matt Krotzer? There seems to be a specificity to the placement of Matt’s captions and word balloons, particularly at one point in the first issue when Kiara and Lou have to speak to each other through a door.
JD: Matt was incredible with the letters and overall design of the book. I love what he did with the word balloons to identify each of the characters, especially with Lou’s translator device. I always try to leave enough space for the lettering and dialogue and Matt’s choices were on point and gave all the scenes the proper unifying flow it needed.
Carlos, this being one of your first comics work, what did you learn about writing sequentials from this experience? Anything you’d like to impart to aspiring writers out there?
CG: Yes, trust your artist. Do the best you can when it comes to the story but don’t worry too much about the layout or camera position unless the artist asks you for those things. As a comics writer, you need to think visually and imagine how the page will work but don’t dictate to the artist how to do their job. Let the person you have given the visual-story telling do their thing, and the work will benefit. It is always a collaboration.
Also, sometimes, you are going to need to hire an editor. Strayed is a wild story, so I needed one. For Strayed to hit the quality I wanted to hit, I needed some help. Chas! Pangburn brought a lot to the team when we added him as an editor. He walked me off dangerous writing cliffs many times.
6. When you first read the script, what did you know you wanted to bring to this series? It features the trademark Juan Doe hues, which our contributing writer Lauren Fernandes described in her review of ‘Strayed’ as “flowing fuchsias, luminous ceruleans, and candescent chartreuse greens”. Beyond that, what kind of designs were you looking at for inspiration?
JD: Yes, the colors are something I always take pride in as it’s my favorite part when making comics, but I also got to play around with structure and layouts. We have a killer spread in issue #1 that was conceived by Carlos. He sent me a small diagram and I understood that he was someone who would appreciate a bit of experimenting with the layouts. It helped embolden me to have fun and take risks with the layouts that would pay off from a visual perspective.
7. Juan, you’re rendering planet after planet of never-before-seen life, hurtling us through nebulae and the wide expanses of the cosmos. What’s going through your mind when you’re rendering these visuals? Is a big part of creating a wholly unique cosmos the sheer curiosity of what’s out there? What do you think about when you’re conjuring an actual universe?
JD: It helps that I am a big fan of space and have seen tons of content on various space-related subjects. They always have great visuals and coupled with everything else I’ve seen in comics, TV and film, space is a limitless canvas to visualize on. There is also a bit of transcendental activities that take place in the mind too, I like to pretend to be traveling in the midst of these cosmic landscapes and Lou is a great imaginative proxy to help do that. Believe me, when the cat is astral-projecting, so am I.
[Laughs] Have there been moments in illustrating this book that have surprised you creatively?
JD: Everything I do surprises me. That’s the best part of this job, not knowing what the end result will be but trusting that there will be something stimulating in the end. As long as I’m having fun and working with a great story, the results are usually good.
8. Carlos, you’ve been called “the Godfather of the current New York experimental/noise scene” by The Quietus, and now here you are in comics land. But you’re bringing your musical acumen to ‘Strayed’ as well, releasing new music with each successive publication of the book on your Bandcamp page. What does writing comics do to your composing music, and vice versa? Are you landing on a mood, harnessing it in music, then translating that creative purging to the page? Or is there a higher creative strata that I haven’t quite grasped?
CG: The way I write words and music is very similar. I have a foundation for how things should work, and sometimes I will apply elements of that foundation, but I am always working with intuition to guide the creation. Whatever I am making, I want it to stand on its own and make you feel something, regardless of the type of sounds or words that it takes to get there.
In music, I use abstract sounds and self-taught synthesis techniques to drive a composition where it needs to go, often ignoring academic musical rules. When it comes to writing, there is a bit more structure, but I am still following abstract thoughts rather than trying to use a formulaic story device. I am aware of things like the Hero’s Journey and [Dan] Harmon’s story circle, but I have no desire to use them as tools in my writing. In both music and writing, I think the only rule I follow is that regardless of length everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. You can get there however you want.
For the soundtrack, I used the visuals from each issue as inspiration. There is no formula. I am just looking at the pages and trying to translate the feeling of the visuals into sound. I finished issue #1, and I started the soundtrack for issue #2, so I still have a lot of music-making to get done.
9. You’ve both seen the completed version of the issue by now. What kind of feelings do you expect to experience once ‘Strayed’ is out in the wild—for you, Carlos, who’s just kicking off his comics career, and for you, Juan, who has the privilege of working on a project he’s so proud of?
CG: It already has been a roller-coaster of emotions. Initial reviews have been overall very positive. And at SDCC, I was able to talk to potential readers who were very supportive. I had a ton of very excited people show up to my signing there, even though I was expecting crickets since the book is not yet out. So it feels like the book is already resonating with people, even based on them just hearing about the concept. A lot of creators and readers are talking about it on social media too, that also has been great.
I also visited over 20 stores to talk to their owners and present them with the idea for Strayed, emailed about 500, and I sent packages with stuff to give away to about 100 stores. I am inspired by how receptive retailers have been. Their support helped me keep pushing Strayed forward. I am doing three signings to celebrate the release of issue 1 and hope to do as many as stores want me to do in the future. Retailers are a massive part of getting the book out there in the hands of readers.
I am very anxious to hear what readers think after they get their hands on it. We have been hard at work crafting a unique story that we feel needed to be told and to provide the reader with an experience unlike anything out there. I hope they feel the same way when they read it!
JD: This wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill gig for me. I knew that Carlos was investing his own money to hire me and I felt that I needed to give it everything I had because the goal was to get the book published and into the hands of readers. I was so happy when Dark Horse came on board and felt proud to have been part of this journey with Carlos. Although this was his first major story in comics, he was as professional and knowledgeable as anyone I’ve ever worked with and all the accolades are well-earned. It’s a great story.
10. Do you think we, as a people, will ever make it out there someday? If we ever do, what do you hope we’ll accomplish among the stars?
CG: I don’t think it’s a question, we have to get out there, or we’ll perish. We have already exhausted a significant part of the resources on Earth. I hope that we go out there as the type of people that will respect and honor what they find, and also, that will have learned how to live without abusing other life. We can hope, right?
JD: It’s amazing how much we’ve accomplished as a species with our exploration of the cosmos, so we’re already out there in some capacity. Colonizing and living in space will take a leap in many forms but it seems inevitable that if we survive as a species, we’ll probably be vacationing in Alpha Centauri soon enough.
More importantly, will there be pets?
JD: Man will always have pets, even if they’re not organic.
CG: Yes, otherwise it was not worth it.
‘Strayed’ hits stores August 21. You can read the DoomRocket review now.
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Strayed’ #1, including a variant cover by Dustin Nguyen, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!
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