by Jarrod Jones. Ryan Ferrier has a lot on his mind. Headlines scream misery, fear and panic all day, every day. The weather has lost its damned mind, folks seem to have lost their senses. Dodgy politicians are as brazen as ever, and our structures appear to have devolved into a consequence-free environment. It’s enough to make one go berserk. For Ryan, it’s another chance to put that ennui to proper use.
I ask Ryan what parts about our contemporary lives factor into his latest opus, Death Orb, a nasty future shock with angst to burn. “Not to sound like a pessimist, but, like, everything?” he says, and then does the email interview equivalent of gesturing broadly. Considering the story of Death Orb, where a lone biker navigates the wastes of a decimated North America ruled by a maniac and his ever-expanding cult, you can see how certain anxieties could foster such a story. Watching the rise of global warming, homeland extremism, and other such horrific things occur in the ceaseless real-time of social media? Yeah. We could use a bit of catharsis in our escapism.
Ahead of the May 22 release of Dark Horse Comics’ collected volume of Death Orb, DoomRocket spoke with Ryan Ferrier about the mindset and process that made this unique series possible, his love for giallo films, and what one does when all seems lost.
1. You’ve said that the central idea behind ‘Death Orb’ is that the future cannot be salvaged on the course we’re currently on. This… is a grim story, but not without its moments of levity. Tell me, why did you feel it was time to dig into the gnarlier aspects of your creative id? Why ‘Death Orb’ after you’d worked on critically lauded fare such as ‘Criminy’ and ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’?
Ryan Ferrier: That’s a great question. Death Orb is certainly the most mature and immediately dark story I’ve worked on, for sure. I think with other things I’ve written, like D4VE and Hot Damn, that same sensibility is there—it’s just part of who I am and what I want to do—but hidden more within the comedy and levity. Certainly, partnering with Alejandro was integral in shaping the tone of Death Orb, so the decision to shift into this kind of story was fairly organic. Originally, I think it was maybe a bit more on the camp side, but the narrative evolved into something that we both put more importance in.
For me personally, the initial ideation of the story came during a slightly tumultuous time. My work always pulls from my mood and headspace, so that is somewhere in the story, surely. Alejandro [Aragon] and I clicked so unbelievably well during the creation of the series, and now I consider him one of my dearest friends; Death Orb felt like a journey for us too, as cheesy as it sounds, but that really helped shape the theme of clawing for connection in times of great duress.
2. Let’s talk about the world of ‘Death Orb’. The end of humanity is near, yet there’s clearly a functioning hierarchy in place. And while the world’s banks are no longer in place, there’s still an exchange system for goods and services—and for liquor and other vices , it seems. What parts of our contemporary society do you feel are reflected in the society of ‘Death Orb’ and why did you feel it was important to include them in this story?
RF: Not to sound like a pessimist, but, like, everything? I mean, obviously there’s the global trash-fire happening seemingly everywhere and that’s something in the book, be it a cautionary tale or extrapolation. I find the idea of cults to be very interesting and shocking in that they still exist. We’re a species that still, in the year of two-thousand nineteen, adults will drink the Kool-Aid of psychopaths. But it reaches farther beyond the wild and wacky UFO stuff; take a look at the rise of neo-Nazism in North America right now—there’s a stall in emotional evolution that is terrifying, perhaps more than a giant manufactured comet. So where does that come from? It’s reflected both in Death Orb and in real life—fear, general unintelligence, lack of empathy, ignorance. Thing is, we didn’t want to create an all new fantasy world like Mad Max or re-tread on typical post-apocalypse stories, nor did we want to go too far towards Blade Runner future stuff. We really tried to keep everything grounded as far as what a future could look like for us, but admittedly one that allowed us to lean into the characters’ motivations.
3. You’ve professed love for a certain genre of film—the giallo, which (owing its eclectic life to the yellow Italian pulp novels of the late ‘20s) was a strange miasma of films from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Horror, psychological thrillers and murder mysteries, the giallo runs the gamut of genre and so does ‘Death Orb’. Talk to me about the creative freedoms that come from working off of such a loose, but no less influential, style of storytelling.
RF: Great question! It’s true, I love giallo films. It’s easy to approach this style thinking it’s merely lighting and saturation and visual style, but to me, giallo is far more atmospheric and tonal. For Death Orb, we referenced giallo early on in our inspirations, but I don’t think we were too terribly beholden to it; and see that’s the problem with modern homage, is that people are far too beholden to things and it becomes a cheap facsimile. There are visual elements—shout out to Chris O’Halloran, our amazing colorist—that pull from stuff like Argento, but for me the way Alejandro lays out a scene, or how we purposefully pulled back on exposition sometimes was more important than how the scene looked, as far as style. So, I think that once you embrace something as an inspiration, or a part of a huge chain of a story’s DNA, it’s up to you to lean into gripping and unsettling your readers with atmosphere.
4. Which giallo films stand out to you the most, and which film would you drop everything for to watch right now, this minute?
RF: It almost feels like a lazy answer, but Suspiria is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I love introducing people to it. But Belly of the Black Tarantula is sitting on my TV stand, and I do adore Stage Fright an awful lot.
5. The protagonist of ‘Death Orb’—provided we can call him that—is a nameless biker with a propensity for violence, stalking the wastes of the country for his missing pregnant wife. He’s not here to save the world, or even himself. The violence he causes, and he causes quite a bit, is driven by love. Why did you land on the “man with no name” archetype for ‘Death Orb’, and why do you feel this was the optimum lead for this story?
RF: When Ale and I began creating this story, we really leaned into the motivation more than crafting a “bad-ass;” really, I think we were trying to sell the goal more than the person as a means to tie us to the story itself. That may sound counteractive—there’s no backstory for The Rider nor deep dive on his psyche—but anything else would’ve felt forced for us. We wanted to explore world-building in a way that felt logical without hand-holding readers. The inclusion of The Convoy (Carvell and his crew) picks up a lot of that slack, so to speak, but honing in on that motivation, that desperation, was most important to us. The design of The Rider was all Alejandro’s brilliance.
6. Inversely, I want to talk about the nemesis in ‘Death Orb’, “Father”. His leather mask and insane, merciless philosophy—say nothing of the leather and chains—makes him a dead ringer for a proper giallo heavy, infused with a proper flourish or two courtesy of Georges Miller and Lucas. Talk to me about the mindset you had in regards to our current political situation when you and Alejandro Aragon began to build the idea that became “Father”. It takes a certain amount of nihilism to conjure such a character, no?
RF: It takes nihilism, yes, but also a heaping dollop of narcissism stirred with psychosis and just plain being dumb. There’s that old thing about the villain having good intentions—Lex Luthor, Veidt, etc.—but we wanted to flip that just a little bit. What if that villain’s good intention wasn’t to save the world through catastrophe, but just say “fuck it, this whole place is a dumpster fire” and start fresh. I don’t think Father believes he’s entirely righteous, as say a certain president right now; Father’s smart and knows his position in the world. I also think Father doesn’t believe most of the stuff that comes out of his mouth. So, take all the good things in Death Orb, all the hope and love and effort, and just strip that away to get Father—but really, given the landscape of the world, it’s an also totally reasonable response in theory; Father’s just acting on it because he’s an absolute lunatic who’s completely worked what’s left of the system. He was a lot of fun to write.
7. In other interviews for ‘Death Orb’, you have nothing but superlatives for the series’ co-creator and artist, Alejandro Aragon. I’m interested in process, how writers interact with artists during the beginning stages of creating a story. How does a story like ‘Death Orb’ take shape in an exchange of ideas? When it comes time for the heavy narrative lifting, who takes the brunt?
RF: Yeah, I love Alejandro. He’s brilliant. Working with him is the best. Death Orb was one of the most collaborative comics I’ve been a part of. Alejandro and I would chat several times a week at least, whether it was just shooting the breeze on “what ifs” and things that inspired us. Really, at first it was kind of a “what would you like to do” kind of open chat between us, and Death Orb at that time was really quite basic. We both clicked on that right away though, and would pass the baton back and forth with ideas for the world and the narrative. Obviously, Ale’s workload was way bigger than mine, but it felt like we were operating as partners, creatively. We were both invested in the characters and their journeys, so having Ale by my side during scripting was huge for me.
8. When Chris O’Halloran came on as colorist, what conversations did the team have concerning the aesthetic approach to ‘Death Orb’? How important is establishing mood during these conversations, and how much of the book’s ambiance came from Chris’ contributions?
RF: I can’t say enough good about Chris, his talent and professionalism. Wouldn’t be Death Orb without him. The colors in the book are imperative to the mood, the tone, the pacing, the world-building. Alejandro and Chris worked together initially to explore how the colors could look, but really, Chris brought his style and vision to the book in a way that fit right in with what the story had to be; it was a pretty perfect pairing, and you can see how important Chris’ work is to the, again, atmosphere.
9. The chapter titles in ‘Death Orb’ are lyrics from groups like Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Every Time I Die, others. What was it about these bands that drove you to write during this particular time with the book? What was it about this particular sound and energy that gave you this wild narrative ardor?
RF: Good catch! I think the songs in particular I reference subtly speak to the themes at play in the issues but also the overall vibe and depth. A lot of times, hardcore music is brushed off as fast, angry, structureless noise, but a fair amount of time these bands have more in common with jazz than, say, pop music. Not to dump on pop, as I have my likes too, but there’s a particular denial of nuance and emotion in heavy music that attracts me to it, but also worked its way into my mind and this book. Like, listen to “Eve” by Converge and tell me it isn’t only wildly emotional and raw but also inspiring and driving. Ultimately, music was a big part of exploring our inspirations to make this book. Ale and I have a playlist just for Death Orb; I usually make one for each of my projects, but this one in particular we felt more connected to.
10. It’s hours before the apocalypse. Anti-life is raining over our heads, the banal responsibilities to society have evaporated and the tether to civility has snapped. Where are you, what are you doing, and what’s your mood in these final times?
RF: Part of me imagines a spree of indulgence and indifference—eating, drinking, and dancing to records, but in reality, I’m almost certain I’d be with my family, trying to tell them, and my close friends, how much I love them. Probably an insurmountable task, but it would be done with the utmost heart and terror.
The ‘Death Orb Volume 1’ TPB hits stores May 22.
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Death Orb Volume 1’, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!
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