Q&A With R.J. Collins - Creator of ARKS
When ARKS first came onto our radar, the premise and the visually striking art had us immediately invested. It's definitely one of the best comics out of the UK that we read last year and our review of issue two will be coming soon! It's sci-fi and beautiful art, what's not to love about that?
When Joe reviewed issue one he called it terrifying in scope and delivery, as well as one of our favourite review lines - "I didn't believe glistening mucus could be, well so beautiful."
Given the opportunity to ask Arks creator R.J Collins about this wonderful comic series, we had some questions that just had to be asked.
One of the original lines that sold us on Arks was a "current, theoretical method for achieving Extrasolar travel". Just how much research went into this? Have you collaborated with any scientists for additional information?
R.J Collins: The line "if you copy from one book it’s plagiarism, many books it's research" applies here. But add thousands of podcasts, TedTalks, Youtube videos etc and something like the idea for Arks starts to emerge. I’ve been writing and researching Arks for over a decade and I am still researching. I have actually rewritten parts of Issue Three and Four to bring it in line with recent discoveries about the exo-planet featured in the comic Tau Ceti E and some synbio advances.
I have a few good friends who are M.Ds and I regularly harass them to sanity check the work. Dr Lucy Crompton who edits the comic is a stem cell scientist at UWE Bristol and she torpedoes my whimsy on a quarterly basis.
What set you on your path to writing this story in a comic medium? Other than Sir Francis Crick (discoverer of DNA), astrobiologist Dr Leslie Orgel and astronomer Carl Sagan, what inspired you to make Arks?
R.J Collins: Science fiction should be new and confounding and with a few notable exceptions I think contemporary sci-fi has been pretty stale since the 80s (disclaimer: I was also born in in 80s }:0)
Somehow pop culture got really behind the science. Take SynBio as an example- It’s one of the most exciting fields of biology and yet most people have never heard of it. Creating synthetic life from biology?! Creating enzymes that convert CO2 into ethanol. Creating bespoke living machines to do surgeries and augment the human experience. Making organic robots that can make real robots!? It's enough to keep you awake at night. But there is virtually nothing about it in the culture.
Anyway, shameless artistic charlatan that I am, I saw this as an opportunity to make something original, and combine it with my love of Von Neuman probes which again, very few people have heard off. I’m sure the culture will catch up with the science in the next decade and I hope Arks will be a part of that.
The digital art for Arks is quite special. How was the process of bringing this story to life with incredible visuals?
R.J Collins: It came about primarily because I can’t draw :)
I was put off by the idea of making a comic for many years because the thought of drawing a character's likeness several hundred times for a graphic novel made me shiver. I knew I could do it, but as I wasn’t a jobbing comic book artist, I knew it would take me a long time. Then I hatched upon the idea of designing the characters in 3D and posing them like marionettes (which is pretty easy to do now) so that's how it came about. It was still a phenomenal amount of work but I could concentrate on it looking good. Not whether the character looked like the same person in the previous frame.
Issue Two and Three is illustrated by the great Andrew Morris who unlike me, can draw.
With issue three of Arks, how blown will our minds be at the end of the halfway point?
R.J Collins: Like most sci-fi’s, the first act is normally a bit bulky as you have to hit the audience with a giant exposition dump to put them into the reality of the universe. That was the challenge for the first two issues, conveying information whilst still making it an entertaining read. Issue Three and Four however are when the story really begins and I promise total pandemonium. The story evolves in terrible and thrilling ways that people will never have seen before. When this comic is complete there won’t be another comic like it so to say I'm impatient for people to get their copy is an understatement.
We have Andrew Morris’s gorgeous ‘Caduceus Cover’ for Issue Three and we’ll have some preview pages to share nearer to the launch of the Issue Three Kickstarter in late Feb. Otherwise, check out the ARKS Issue Three Kickstarter launching Feb 24th @ 8pm GMT.
Will there be a collected edition of Arks once the story is all available?
R.J Collins: We would love to do that, our tentative plan is to launch a Volume One Kickstarter in October / November this year that will include the first three issues combined into a single Graphic Novel, but this would depend on the Issue Three Kickstarter hitting a few stretch goals etc.
Some comic book fans treat the artform like speculators and think ‘I’ll wait for the comic to be combined into a full graphic Novel before buying it’ but I would say there is no guarantee we’ll get there. These books have high production values and are expensive to plan and make. But if we keep having successful crowd funders we’ll keep making ARKS content.
What can you tell us about your future comic plans?
R.J Collins: I have just finished writing a standalone issue of Arks that we’ll be producing this year. It’ll feature new characters that will intersect with the main story later on. It doesn’t have a title as yet but it's going to be really horrific. My wife punched me when she read the first draft and that, from her, was the ultimate endorsement.
We are ‘thinking’ of releasing it as a free physical comic with backers paying a flat postage rate anywhere in the world but we’ll have to wait and see on that.
If you want to read Arks, please check out their website clickysproutwife.com. There you’ll find their shop where you can buy issues one and two as well as a lot of preview images to really get you interested. Issue Three will be a Kickstarter exclusive until Winter 2022 and you can sign up to be notified when it launches here www.kickstarter.com/projects/arks/arks-issue-3