by Jarrod Jones. Think of a better tomorrow. Not perfect, but better. What about our lives would change? How would we change? Or, rather, how would we need to change in order to see this tomorrow arrive? What would need to happen first?
No One’s Rose, the latest from Vault Comics, has a certain kind of tomorrow in mind. One of balance and sustainability, a paradise, one that would be hard-won and well worthwhile. To conjure such a thing would take a different kind of mindset, one that’s nowhere near as pervasive as the many cynical post-apocalypses you’ll find on comic shelves today.
Though, wouldn’t you know it? The writers of No One’s Rose, Emily Horn and Zac Thompson, came up with exactly that kind of different idea. Call it “Solar Punk.” Think hopecore revisted, transmographied, enhanced. A story where our world had been torn apart—not necessarily by war or plague or even an alien invasion, but by our inability to change our own destructive paths—and the things we learned from it. A story about the better things that happen next. Emily puts it a better way: “I think solar punk at its core is the anti-dystopia, it’s about showing a world where we get it right.”
In terms of optimism and forward-thinking, two things that modern science fiction desperately needs, No One’s Rose is a big green deal.
So. The Quick Pitch: The world broke. And we were left to find what parts of ourselves that were left over. We collected them, built a better tomorrow with them. And from ruin came this new home, the “Green Zone”—a habitat of hope that swelled into a community, then a society. Now a home to Tenn and Seren, two siblings with a dark past with vastly different ideas of what’s to be done about the future. Because no matter if we’re talking about today, yesterday, or the far-flung future, people are going to still be people. Their hearts may be the same but their ideas are always going to be different. Where we go, conflict follows.
“We’re visiting the Green Zone at a very interesting time. One where that idea of balance is starting to topple,” Zac Thompson adds. And caught in the middle of this oncoming change are two young people, a sister and a brother whose love for each other is about to be tested in an unexpected way.
Ahead of the March 25 release of No One’s Rose #1—a gorgeous issue illustrated by Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque, colored by Raul Angulo, and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou—DoomRocket spoke with Emily Horn and Zac Thompson about the concepts, research, and dreams that made this daring new series possible.
1. It seems that the terms that get thrown around most often in synopsis materials for new creator-owned series are “post-apocalyptic” and “dystopia.” But here comes ‘No One’s Rose’, and a term that I have never heard before: “solar punk.” Where some would operate in the well-worn cyberpunk stratas of science-fiction, Zac and Emily, you are both introducing to the world a refined version of hopecore. Tell me how the philosophy of solar punk is applied in ‘No One’s Rose’.
Emily Horn: Sure. Hopecore is a cool term, I haven’t heard that one before. Solar Punk is a positive imagining of future cities that are ecologically sustainable, full of greenery and really socially collaborative. Tenn and Seren are the sister and brother at the heart of the story, who live and work in a solar punk-style domed city called the Green Zone. We really wanted this society to look gorgeous, open and inviting. A kind of paradise on the Earth that has been torn apart by climate change. I think solar punk at its core is the anti-dystopia, it’s about showing a world where we get it right. Of course, there wouldn’t be a story if the Green Zone wasn’t running into its own problems over time. But that’s something we’ll get into…
Zac Thompson: Yeah, Emily and I really wanted to reject the idea that the future is something broken, hopeless, and destitute. It was really about capturing a different type of worldview that is inherent in every aspect of the story. Flipping the conventional tropes of “cyberpunk” to give green technology, renewable energy, and socialist societies their time to shine in the spotlight.
So from the get-go, we built a world from the ground up with these tenets in mind. Instead of looking at the problems of today and how they would get worse, we looked at them and went: How are people working to solve this? It’s about taking the science that’s happening right now, and amplifying it tenfold to show how it’s made this small part of the world better. It’s also part of the reason the world around the Green Zone is destitute and gray. Like the Green Zone, No One’s Rose is firmly rooted in a defiance of these bankrupt images and tropes. It’s all about giving readers something new and different.
2. As Emily mentioned, the main characters of ‘No One’s Rose’ are Tenn and her brother Seren. They share opposing perspectives on how this book’s neo-Eden survives and thrives: Tenn is a scientist who makes career moves towards the upper echelons of the city, while Seren is a “lowie”, a grunt worker who realizes that the disparity between classes will never change if he doesn’t act. What was the genesis point in the rift between these two characters?
ZT: So much of their rift comes down to the worlds they occupy. Seren from the get-go is someone who is doing the manual labour that keeps the Green Zone functioning. He feels like he’s breaking his back to make this closed system work and that he’s being exploited by the bureaucrats and politicians who run the domed city. There’s a chip on his shoulder about this dynamic and he wants to desperately change the way things are done. While Tenn is someone who’s working for change within the system. She’s doing everything she can to advance within the ranks of the Post Environmental Liberation Union—the party who runs the dome. She truly believes that real demonstrable change can come from within. Moreover, she’s convinced the key to the future of this domed city is working to advance the frontiers of environmental research. She knows that there is a class system in play but believes that the system is working, and benefiting everyone inside the dome.
EH: They are definitely approaching the same world from completely different perspectives. If I had to choose a genesis point it would be the legacy of their father that really divides them. We explore this more in future issues, but their father is a notorious rebel within this world. Tenn is embarrassed by his legacy, but Seren is really into this image of his father as someone who tried to fight the government. Seren resents how his sister co-operates with the government, and Tenn can’t understand why he won’t just try harder to fit in and help support this society.
3. How do you go about fleshing out the differing worldviews contained in this story? It’s clear from how Tenn and Seren are depicted that it’s not as simple as painting someone as “right” and the other as “incredibly wrong.” These two love each other, they are all they have, but the way of life in the biodome has already frayed their bonds. A full break is imminent. How do you break the hearts of a brother and a sister?
EH: Social cooperation is the art of the possible. How far can you go, how much can you push the people around you to make the change you want to see before your bonds start to break? And if those bonds break, do you let them go? Both Tenn and Seren refuse to give any ground on their convictions, and this is ultimately what starts to break their relationship down in the series.
ZT: As Emily said, those questions of how far you can push for change is integral to the series as a whole. I think a lot of people are experiencing this sort of thing within their own families right now. The world is becoming increasingly divisive thanks to social media. People are quickly moving to occupy opposite versions of reality. When you love someone and really want the best for them, you’ll do everything to show them what you believe is right. You’ll work tirelessly to show them that your “reality” is inherently more important. And, you know, one reality is usually a lot more emotional than the other (especially today). But what happens when you can’t convince someone you love to fight for what you believe is right?
Tenn and Seren’s relationship is the emotional core of the book. Their bond asks tough questions about the sacrifices we make for those we love. It was also incredibly important for us to ensure that readers didn’t have an objectively “right” viewpoint to rally behind. Like real life, there are layers of nuance to this and only a marriage of differing ideals can truly activate real change. Can they listen to each other enough to move forward?
4. Where would Tenn and Seren, as they appear at the beginning of this issue, stand in our present-day society? I’m not going to ask who you think they’d vote for, but how would Tenn and Seren function in our world as it is today?
ZT: Ohhh boy. This is something we’ve thought about a lot. Seren has a deep mistrust of power. He’s someone who would be asking questions rooted in class struggle. He’d be first in line to take down billionaires and would have a lot of problems with capitalism. Tenn, on the other hand, would probably be a huge supporter of people like AOC [U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]. She’d be at the forefront of sharing science and hopeful green initiatives online. She’d be at every climate march and would be a card-carrying member of the Sunrise Movement. She’d be drafting policy for the Green New Deal before she even graduated high school.
EH: Seren would probably tweet a lot about the 1 percent. And Tenn would probably stan Greta Thunberg. I think readers will see that their politics are rooted in some similar class issues that we are talking about today, but things get a bit more complicated as the series progresses. In issue #2, there’s a real shift in worldview for one of the siblings.
5. Emily, you said in the official announcement of ‘No One’s Rose’ that sustainability is one of the most important aspects of your life, and you imparted how important it was to be able to create a world where sustainability was the prevailing way of life. If you would, tell me a bit about how you went about building this optimum world, and how you applied the elements of change in this story that you wish to see in our very real lives.
EH: Sure. Research was a huge part of the process, which originally I was a bit afraid of. Climate news burnout is a real thing, and I anticipated that doing all of this research about climate change adaptation would become exhausting. But it’s actually become one of my favourite things to read about. The everyday news really does a terrible job of highlighting the really ingenious ways that people are tackling climate change.
Bhutan just became the first carbon negative country in the world, and Scotland is producing enough wind energy to power the country twice over. Countries like India and Ethiopia are planting literally hundreds of millions of trees to help. People are experimenting with fabrics that are literally produced by bacteria that create cellulose material you can wear (bio-fabrication), that has no environmental impact. You can make building materials out of fully compostable fungus.
I guess that’s just to say there’s a lot of inspiration out there to build a better world with. When it comes to my own life, I have to admit that over ten years ago when I really started to learn about the impact climate change could have on the world I got really depressed. I had to stop reading about it because I felt so hopeless. I ignored it for a long time after that, so I’m not the poster person for how to change the world. But today I feel a lot more hopeful. We have to hope because that’s the only thing that really changes things, and there are a lot of hopeful people, and even whole countries, that are being constructive about the problems today.
To answer your question on how I apply this to my own life, I was a vegetarian for about 9 years, and then switched to being a vegan a year ago. Aside from cutting out meat and dairy, I’m trying to go zero waste (the struggle is real). I generally cycle or walk or bus everywhere. Systemic change at the government level is obviously the most important thing when it comes to tackling pollution or climate issues, but I believe our everyday choices matter a lot.
6. In this story there are hierarchies, classes, a sense of “us” and “them”. As the last of humanity, cradled in a survival-sphere where balance is essential, we’re still pitting ourselves against each other. Why do you think that is? Does “balance” mean that some people should have a better life than others for the center to hold?
EH: Oh no, I hope people don’t think that’s a message we’re writing into the story. But that’s a fair question. I would actually love to write a version of this story where everyone just gets along perfectly and everyone is equal and there’s no conflict and everyone just loves their lives. But that would probably be pretty boring. We’re not writing a perfect future, we’re writing a future with a society that is trying to get it right, but still gets it wrong in some really human ways. For the most part it’s a really peaceful society where people are collaborating really happily, but obviously things are going wrong. Personally I do think you can keep improving societies and create a culture of honesty and equality. It just requires constant work and revision.
ZT: One of the essential questions the series is asking is “what does it mean to have empathy for others?” And typically that is thought of in a very “anthropocentric” way. In that we don’t really lump non-humans into that distinction of the other. But having empathy for the world around us means working to care for every life within a closed ecosystem like the Green Zone. Hell, it means that in reality you should stop and look at a tree on the sidewalk in the middle of your city and ensure it’s living healthy. It’s about treating the non-human with the same care and attention that we give others.
In the larger context of this story there was a time when The Green Zone was a perfectly socialist system where everyone helped share the load equally but over time that system succumbed to imperfection. It forgot the tenets of empathy that it was founded upon. So we’re visiting the Green Zone at a very interesting time. One where that idea of balance is starting to topple.
7. Some comics take longer to finesse than others, and ‘No One’s Rose’ took nearly three years of development before its Vault release. Once upon a time, this was meant to be a novel. Zac, you’ve said that when Alberto had taken a crack at character designs, you knew that this had to be a comic. What was it about this particular story that you felt would work more ably as a comic series than a novel, where you have all the room you need to describe the motivations of your characters, the world that you’ve constructed and, most importantly, the science behind it all?
ZT: Once the decision was made to adjust the project to another medium a lot of decisions had to be made about the size and scope of the story. The interesting thing about a process like this is that once you’ve built the world and have decided on the rules of how everything works, it becomes a lot easier to imagine different stories within it. Most of the overall story structure remains in place from the original vision but on a considerably faster timeline.
The science was never a problem because we always knew exactly how that was going to be part of the story. It was never about breaking down in hard detail the mathematics of how a domed city can exist. We wanted to keep things simple. It was about a green world, featuring real climate science being done today. The story was always about a young scientist and her struggle to perfect a theory that could end up changing everything.
But moreover, this vision of the future is something that we so rarely see in film, television, or comics. Getting to realize it visually with an artist as fantastic as Alberto is not something you pass up. We wanted to show people the green future we imagined. The realistic thing is that comics don’t really have many narratives that talk about the environment. Science fiction, in particular, seems to be a real blindspot when it comes to plants and animals. That’s not as true for prose fiction. So it was as much about making a book that stands in stark contrast to everything else as much as it was about telling a story we care about.
8. There’s a very interesting bit in this first issue where Tenn provides a demonstration on how photosynthesis changes once you’ve altered the genetic strands of a living tree. Clearly, there is some real science at play here. What kind of research went into ‘No One’s Rose’? How much of the book’s pre-production development went into this research?
ZT: Emily and I are constantly trading different articles about people leading the fight against climate change. There’s all kinds of cutting edge research being done right now. And in many ways, we wanted to reflect that. Show people these speculative science theories, experiments, or very real methods in a world where it’s worked out and easy to replicate. So much of this book is us getting to share the kinds of things that excite us and give us hope for the future of the human race. But also teach people a little bit in the process.
EH: I definitely had to revisit my biology and earth science classes when it came to some of the science in the book. We’ve done a lot of research that will probably never see the light of day, and we’re still doing research as we go along.
9. The two of you introduce the world outside the Green Zone biodome right from the jump, and it’s a fascinating (re: horrifying) place: A cursed earth of scorched lands, killer storms, bombed-out skyscrapers. Real “final boss level” nightmare stuff. Without giving anything away, what can you tell us about the lands beyond the dome and how they’ll factor in the story going forward?
EH: There’s more than one way of living in this world, I’ll put it that way.
ZT: No One’s Rose is about siblings as much as it’s about societies.
10. There’s a panel where a character is singing along to “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Is this yet another aspect to solar punk, where New Wave bands like Duran Duran survive well into humanity’s future through minor acts of rebellion?
ZT: I don’t think it can be a better, more hopeful future if New Wave died.
EH: I think we can all agree that climate change may ravage the earth, but Duran Duran will endure.
‘No One’s Rose’ #1 hits stores March 25.
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘No One’s Rose’ #1 (including variant covers by Nathan Gooden, Tim Daniel, and Adam Gorham), courtesy of Vault Comics!
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