As it turns out, the idea of the power trio isn’t just something you can apply to rock bands. Duncan Trussell, Donny Cates and Andy Belanger are each talented artists in their own right: Cates has written left-hook takes on the superhero genre in series like Buzzkill and The Paybacks; comedian Trussell has made us squirt milk from our tear ducts in his freewheeling podcast, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour; and Belanger horrifies and delights as the artist behind the ominous science fiction vistas of Southern Cross. Now, the three of them are working together on a new project with some provocative themes for the latest incarnation of Heavy Metal, edited and curated by post-modern comics icon Grant Morrision. Paste checked with the three collaborators to learn more.
Paste: First and foremost, how would you describe the new project you’re working on for Heavy Metal?
Donny Cates: The easy answer is that it’s about a pair of missionaries going door to door spreading the good news about Simulation Theory. Duncan, you wanna tell these fine folks more about Simulation Theory?
Duncan Trussell: It’s the perennial philosophy replaced with technological symbols. At some point, our species will be able to perfectly simulate reality. We may figure out how to achieve “whole brain emulation” where we digitize a human brain and place it within some simulated environment, or an as of yet non-existent super intelligent AI may simulate the entire universe and populate it with other AIs. The point is that based on the exponential growth of technology, it seems that there is a relatively high probability that this will happen. And since we exist in an infinite universe, the odds of our species being the first beings in the universe to simulate reality are less than the odds that some advanced civilization has already simulated a universe and we are the AI that this advanced civilization has chosen to populate their simulation with. In other words, we are not living in base reality, but are more than likely existing in some kind of super-advanced computer. Right now they call it “simulation theory,” but eventually it could be a new religion.
Cates: As you can probably tell, there’s a much deeper storyline that will begin to develop as the story goes on. Not everything is as it seems with these two. We get into the nature of religion and reality in a pretty heavy way. But it’s still very, very fun.
Paste: When did the idea to work together on this project come about?
Cates: Shortly after [Trussell and I] met at SDCC, we started emailing back and forth. As soon as we started chatting and I mentioned the Heavy Metal stuff I had done (Interceptor, The Paybacks, Atomahawk,) Duncan started telling me how much he loved the magazine growing up. Then and there I knew I had to try and get Duncan into Heavy Metal. He and Grant [Morrison] share similarly amazing/weird taste, so I knew it was a no-brainer to bring him in.
Paste: Donny, how have you and Duncan handled the collaborative aspects of the project?
Cates: It’s been a blast. It’s really no more complicated than us talking on the phone and just entertaining each other with odd and interesting concepts.
Trussell: That’s it! Donny is really good at writing comics and I just feel lucky to be involved.
Paste: Andy, I’m more familiar with your art through Southern Cross. Does The Simulationists deal with similar concepts and images, or does it show off a different side of your work?
Andy Belanger: First and foremost, I’m crazy pumped to work on a project for Heavy Metal. I started collecting when I was about 13, then so on into my 20s. It was the first place I got to see European artists like the great Moebius, Manara and Serpieri. I have a few new tricks up my sleeve for The Simulationists. I’ll be “me” here, but I plan on tapping into a few more of my layout tricks. Super pumped to finally be in Heavy Metal!
Paste: What has Grant Morrison’s involvement in the project been?
Cates: Well, I’ll say this…this story, in particular, is so far-out and so mind-bending that we honestly couldn’t do it anywhere but Heavy Metal. The great thing about having Grant as your boss is that no idea is too far out there. I’ll also say that I cannot wait to witness Duncan and Grant on a panel together.
The Invisibles is the ultimate occult manual since Crowley’s Liber 4 and I can’t believe I get to have anything to do with him at all. Maybe this really is a simulation!
Paste: Is this intended as a standalone story, or is this a setting that the three of you might return to for later stories?
Cates: Oh, we’re going for it big time on this one. We have a lot of ground to cover and a lot of big ideas to try and stuff into the impressionable youth reading the magazine. I’d assume you’ll hear more from The Simulationists next year!