Where Cavemen, Mammoths and Devo Collide: Rick Remender on Devolution

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Where Cavemen, Mammoths and Devo Collide: Rick Remender on <i>Devolution</i>

Devolution, a new five-issue series from writer Rick Remender and publisher Dynamite, revolves around a terrific central idea from which a bizarre and dangerous world has emerged. It begins with the best of intentions: releasing a biological agent in the hopes of ending religious strife on a global scale. Things, of course, do not go as planned, with the result of nearly everything on earth reverting into a more primitive form. The kinetic art comes from Jonathan Wayshak and colorist Jordan Boyd, and encompasses familiar settings turned unfamiliar, along with sprawling plants, sinister Neanderthals and other prehistoric creatures. Paste talked with Remender about the project’s origin, how its distinctive look came about, and what the quirk pop pioneers of Devo have to do with the whole thing.
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Paste: Where did the central idea of Devolution come from? Was it the same idea that factors into the plot—of trying to remove humanity’s capacity for religious belief?
Rick Remender: This is a book that I wrote ten years ago, so going back into the thought process and the origins… If I’m wholly honest, this one came about when I was listening to Devo. I started thinking about devolution, and about the notion that Devo was all about, and that we’re all devolving. It seemed like that would make a good pulp comic book, because I hit upon two things, and I wrote down, “The Road Warrior meets Jurassic Park.” That, coupled with the notion of devolution, tickled me. That was the germ of what made me want to do it.

Beyond that, it needed an artist who could do Mark Schultz-level Xenozoic Tales, amazing creatures. That was initially Paul Renaud, and as my schedule filled up and his did, he was no longer able to do it. I was ready to just be done with it, because at that point, this was a story that I’d written so far in the past, it wasn’t urgent for me to do it any longer. [Dynamite CEO and Publisher] Nick [Barrucci] was very insistent that we do it, and so I compromised and considered doing it again, at which point I realized that Jon Wayshak would be absolutely perfect for it. That reinvigorated my desire. I took the scripts, punched them up a little bit, but ultimately, it was already written. I said to myself, it’s a story that’s ten-years-old, but Jon Wayshak and Jordan Boyd are going to make it look amazing, and it’s going to be this visual eye candy that’s this pulpy romp that has a little bit to say, in terms of the devolution agent.

Part of the idea of Devolution is the idea that, if so many of our conflicts are based on “Whose God is right?” and religious strife, then that would maybe be a fun place to start with—that it was a chemical agent devised in order to regress the part of the brain capable of theological belief. That was the fun, nonsense, B-movie, schlocky foundation on which I built so that I could get a bunch of people fighting giant spiders and crazy Neanderthals.

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Devolution #1 Cover Art by Jae Lee

Paste: How did you first encounter Jonathan Wayshak’s work?
Remender: When I was teaching at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, that was when I was first introduced to Jerome Opeña and Jon Wayshak, who were my same age. They were graduating; they were in the Illustration department and I was in the Animation department. Their sketchbooks had started to make it to me, and I’d go to some of the life drawing events that they were at, and I’d watch what they were doing. It was clear that both Jerome and Wayshak were high-level geniuses.

Jon ended up also becoming friends with Harper Jaten, one of my early collaborators—we did Black Heart Billy and Captain Dingleberry together and worked at Fox Animation. He’s one of my best friends, and he and Jon became very close, and me and Jerome became very close. Jon was someone whose work I’ve always admired the hell out of. He’s incredible. He’s absolutely incredible. So when this opportunity came along and we had this book, I told him, “Hey, it is an old script, but I think that visually, if you can get excited about it, you can do something pretty great with it.” And Jon agreed. Even if you just buy the book for the art, you can’t go wrong. What Jon’s done with it, and with Jordan coloring it, visually, it’s spectacular. It gets better and better with each issue. As we get into some of the crazier things, and they’re chasing through the wasteland on their way to San Francisco.

Paste: When you first revisited your original script after ten years, was there anything that surprised you?
Remender: What really surprised me were its similarities to the Mad Max movie that came out last year. My instincts were to focus on a strong female who had been charged with potentially doing some good in a world of evil men. And that the same hierarchy had formed, although in this case it’s very alpha-male-oriented, like Gil, the racist, horrible, scumbag who runs the military camp of the Still Sapien folks. I tweaked a few things. Ultimately, the similarities were too much. I changed a few of the dynamics and changed a few of the character beats.

In terms of surprise, I still really like the ending. It made me chuckle. It’s got a nice Twilight Zone twist at the end, something we set up in the first issue that comes back around in the fifth. It wasn’t really until I started seeing Jon’s pages come in that this project—that had been very dead in my heart—I looked at the pages and said, ‘this is going to be a really fun trade paperback.’ You can sit down and enjoy this in the same way that you would, hopefully, enjoy a blockbuster. You can turn your brain off and look at the pretty things.

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Devolution #1 Interior Art by Jonathan Wayshak

Paste: Why did it originally get stalled ten years ago?
Remender: There’s so much inside baseball nonsense in terms of contracts and schedules and everything, that to go into it doesn’t do anyone any favors. Ultimately, I like to own my work, and this is something that I do not own. That was a hard thing for me to get over, doing creator-shared as opposed to creator-owned. Ultimately, there were a number of contract and scheduling issues that made it difficult to get around to doing it. I wasn’t going to do it until Jon agreed to, and I realized that would be something that would make it nice to see it alive, once it was in his hands.

Paste: Reading the first issue, I found some similarities between it and Black Science.
Remender: I didn’t consider it. The “survival in the face of crazy creatures” aspect, yeah, maybe so. I tend to do that a lot. [Laughs] I tend to give the artist crazy shit to design. Part of me does this just to see the artist design things with monsters and creatures, and so I end up doing survival situation stuff. When I do it too much, I recognize that I have to pull back—“Hey man, you have to develop characters!” “Oh yeah, characters!” [Laughs] And then I’ll unplug the creature chase stuff. In terms of that, it’s probably similar to Fear Agent and Low as well in that aspect, in that there are people surviving against gruesome beasties.

Paste: Did you have the locations of the comic in mind for specific reasons, or did you opt to go with places that you felt comfortable writing about?
Remender: I was living in San Francisco when I wrote it, so I know the area well, and there’s a lot of tech companies there. It made sense to me that the laboratory that had the re-evolution agent could be somewhere in San Francisco. And I kept having these visuals of San Francisco covered in strange plant life and mist, and Neanderthals riding mammoths through the streets of Chinatown or Embarcadero. Really, it was just because I was in San Francisco that that became the goal that they were headed to.

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Devolution #1 Interior Art by Jonathan Wayshak

Paste: In terms of the devolution that anchors the book, did you have a system in place, that every creature would go back X number of steps, or was it more a case of whatever fit the story?
Remender: Was it a cheat? [Laughs] It’s all cheating. You start to trace humanity back, there’s the missing link. If you go far enough back, Neanderthals are divergent from us; it doesn’t all work out the way that it does in a pulpy, fun comic book like this. Ultimately, birds are still the descendants of dinosaurs. In theory, if you devolved things far enough back, you could get to dinosaurs again. You could get to various critters that existed back then. The rest of it was then, “Okay, does a cat become a saber-toothed tiger? No, but let’s just say it does.” A lot of it was…an elephant’s not going to become a wooly mammoth, but I want a wooly mammoth. It’s nonsense science. It’s got dinosaurs and wooly mammoths, and cavemen have taken over the earth, and some people are trying to fix it.

There are some aspects where I make some commentary here and there. I can’t help myself sometimes. I look back on what I’d written, and it was more and more relevant. This was just a few years after we had gone into Iraq and caused that quagmire. Looking at the emotional place I was at, seeing all of the various religious conflicts around the world, I think that definitely played a role in what I had written in that first script. And here we are, ten years later, and nothing’s changed. It’s still oddly relevant, the emotional stuff I had written and the commentary about where mankind might be headed, should we not right the course. But the rest of it, if you want to go in and have some fun and look at some cool pictures, that’s really what Devolution is about.

Paste: Did revisiting your script and looking at the art for Devolution end up having any effect on some of the creator-owned work you’ve done more recently?
Remender: In the last ten years, I’ve written quite a few books. I think the craft of it all is something that you improve on, if you’re doing it right and putting in your time. Looking back at almost anything, I always wince a little bit—“You idiot! You made the wrong choice!” There was a gleeful abandon of my brain in this one. It was just, I don’t need to prove anything to anybody. I’m just going to make this really crazy comic book that has a lot of great chase sequences and stuff for some really great artist to draw. And I respected that it’s not a self-conscious story. A lot of the time, when I’m writing, I’ll end up overworking and having to pull back and go through a dilemma of trying to do too much. This was not that. This was a very easy, very simple foundation. It’s the kind of foundation you could see in a summer blockbuster film, in terms of where it heads and the beats that it hits. And I think it’s got a nice Twilight Zone twist at the end. I’m still very happy. It still made me smile, “Oh yeah! I did have an ending for this!”

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