Exclusive Image Comics Preview: Black Cloud Explores the Fuzzy Line Between Fantasy and Reality

Comics Features Black Cloud
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Exclusive Image Comics Preview: <i>Black Cloud</i> Explores the Fuzzy Line Between Fantasy and Reality

The comic book medium offers the most open-ended, expansive storytelling, with no stubborn actors, insane directors or practical effects to constrain creativity. As Harvey Pekar put it, “Comics are words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures.”

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The limitless potential of comics makes them perfect for telling stories about stories, particularly stories involving different levels of existence. A new Image series, Black Cloud, explores the power, potential and danger of the stories we tell each other and ourselves.

Through Zelda—an exile from a realm of living stories—the first issue sets up an Inception-like, multi-layered set of realities, including sketchy politicians and animal-headed creeps. Like Grant Morrison’s trippiest work, Black Cloud will make you look at life in a new way, and wonder what stories are hiding in that stranger you keep ignoring—not to mention yourself.

Paste had a chance to chat with co-writers Jason Latour (Southern Bastards, Loose Ends, Spider-Gwen) and Ivan Brandon (Drifter, 24Seven) and artist Greg Hinkle (Airboy, The Rattler) about the new series, which debuts April 5. Publisher Image also shared an exclusive preview.
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Paste: What was the inspiration for this series and how did everyone get involved?

Ivan Brandon: I’m going to misremember, which will allow Jason to fix my broken memories. I remember having this idea for the reflection of a city being its own space, and I remember early on having a few drunken and/or caffeinated conversations with Jason where we riffed off of that. It didn’t take too long before we realized we were working on a comic. Those early kinds of conversations can actually be weirdly frustrating, where your mouth is writing checks your schedule can’t cash, and before you can do the math it is way too late.

Jason Latour: I remember fixating on a photograph of the skyline of New York City being reflected in the water, I mean some really cheesy shit that made it seem like there was a city beneath the city. So Ivan being a writer from New York, it was kind of a natural thing to talk to him about at the bar or over dinner. Just how there’s all these weird stories about New York that really don’t line up to the reality. Almost like they live in that other city.

And over time that conversation turned to how narrow and interchangeable people’s definitions of reality are. When you’re an artist or a writer you really kind of live in both your head and the outside world, and where those places smear or get confused can be a really weird, tricky space to navigate.

So it just seemed obvious that our story was about someone wrestling with both worlds. A character in Zelda whose ability to reshape her reality has finally created conditions she can’t seem to change with a snap of her fingers. It’s quite literally an attempt to do a story about reality vs. fantasy.

Greg Hinkle: Ivan and Jason emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in working on an idea they’d been playing with. They proposed to me this idea of a reality in which dreams and stories took physical form, and that on each trip into that world we’d get to explore the various fiefdoms of that space. The opportunity to get to participate in that level of world-building with a team of creators who I’ve looked up to for a long time was impossible to pass up.

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Black Cloud Interior Art by Greg Hinkle and Matt Wilson

Paste: At first glance, I wasn’t thinking this would be a very political series, but politics seem to be a big part. I bet a lot of politicians would love to have pesky family members relocated to another strata of reality for a spell. Plus, politics is frighteningly dependent on spinning fantasies. How much does politics inform the series?

Brandon: Well, it didn’t start very political at all, but I guess once we started to write about fiction forming reality, our own reality was going to bite back. I think our current world is maybe more driven by story than at any point going back to pagan societies, where people directly interacted with their religion almost as serialized drama. So much of what’s happening right now comes down to word of mouth vs. objective knowledge (which I know some will call an oxymoron).

I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re finding that a lot of stuff we wrote a year ago is suddenly, incredibly topical right now. Which is sort of creepy… We’re telling stories about the world accidentally, to a degree. So I’d say there isn’t a lot of direct cause and effect in terms of specific news and our reaction to it, but it’s still hugely political. But y’know, with talking lizards.

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Black Cloud Interior Art by Greg Hinkle and Matt Wilson

Paste: Matt Wilson’s colors are outstanding in this series and play a huge part in telling the story. What does he bring to this comic and what’s the collaboration like?

Hinkle: Matt’s colors are amazing! I’m blown away every time he sends pages back. Matt adds so much vibrancy and life to the story. He adds the emotion and soul to every scene. I’ve never worked with a colorist before, and Matt is really spoiling me! I lean towards overly detailed panels and his colors really add a much needed sense of clarity. As far as the collaboration goes, I’m just trying to keep up! Which, in my mind, is ideal. Matt’s colors and storytelling skills are pushing me to try new things and take more risks. It’s a dream.

Paste: Are there any particular movies, TV shows, comics, novels, etc. that influenced this? Or any characters that influenced the creation of protagonist Zelda?

Latour: Personally, I’ve always wanted to do a detective story, so there’s some connectivity to all of that stuff. Jonathan Lethem’s work was on my mind a bit, just because he’s a writer who isn’t afraid to try and explore something meaty and existential through a more outlandish premise.

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Black Cloud Interior Art by Greg Hinkle and Matt Wilson

Paste: With a story about stories, it seems like there are infinite places this comic could go. Can you give any teases for readers?

Latour: I do think it can go anywhere, and we’re really trying to take it step by step, brick by brick and allow for it to do so naturally. But I do think it’s important to remember the book is about two worlds. And having our world to reflect what we’ve made for Zelda is really essential to giving all these flights of fancy a landing strip. We’re trying to always make an attempt to explore Zelda’s relationship to her actions. Those actions have consequences, be they on this magical world of imagination she’s from, or on ours where there’s at least some form of consensus to reality.

So it’s fitting that just like Zelda, we have to be somewhat mindful about what we pull out of the magic hat. You never know what might not fit back in. And then you’ll have to hunt it and kill it. And well… shit, that sounds kinda fun.

Brandon: We’re trying to explore as much of, well, infinity as the logical confines of our structure allows. Which, as it happens, turns out to be a whole lot. Like most things—even in something that seems really wide and open, there are always layers of truth to peel away that’ll flip even our weirdest moments on their ear.

On a very basic level we’re trying to build a story world with a familiar through-line, and a protagonist to love (or hate), but where almost anything is possible. I think mainstream comics has erred on the side of a sort of cinematic, grim photo-reality for a while, and this is a book that has its darkness but hopefully couches it in tons of potential. Zelda was groomed to be an epic hero, but like most of us she’s a flawed person, and this is the story of her trying to overcome herself as an obstacle to doing something right.

Hinkle: Jason and Ivan are both so much more interesting to listen to than I am. I’m very happy to just be the linework guy, while they’re making big decisions and creating parallels. As far as teasers go, I will say that there’s been at least one moment after reading each script where I’ve thought, How am I going to draw that?

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Black Cloud Interior Art by Greg Hinkle and Matt Wilson

Mark Peters is the author of Bullshit: A Lexicon. Follow him on Twitter.

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