Marketed as “a new adventure series with all the sci-fi drama of Breaking Bad set in Mos Eisley,” Tartarus already has us hooked. The ongoing series from co-creators Johnnie Christmas and Jack T. Cole debuts February 12th, boasting a 44-page first issue to kick off the saga.
Tartarus follows a cadet named Tilde who learns her mother was the warlord of the titular colony. When Tilde is framed for crimes against the empire, she realizes she might have to reclaim her mother’s crown to survive.
We’re excited to share an exclusive look at first issue, which was written by Christmas with art by Cole and letters by Jim Campbell. But before we dive into the preview, here’s the scoop on the series from the co-creators:
Paste: What’s the origin of Tartarus?
Johnnie Christmas: I love grungy sci-fi like Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, etc. and wanted to bring that together with my love of comics and mythology in a new and interesting way. So when the idea of Surka, a terrible warlord whose shadow extends long after her reign came up, and what it might mean for her daughter, Tilde, I knew I found my way “in.” Then add an ocean planet in the backwaters of space, where instead of drilling for oil, they drill for a Liquid that’s used to make the most dangerous weapons in the galaxy. Filled with warrior monastics, smuggling cartels and intergalactic dating apps. The whole thing came together in a way that felt epic, mythic.
Paste: What did you want to channel into Tartarus that you didn’t broach in Firebug or your previous collaborations?
Christmas: This is my first opportunity to really delve into sci-fi (with the exception of adapting the wonderful William Gibson’s screenplay for ALIEN 3 into a graphic novel). So being able to tap the well of great sci-fi, the “lived-in,” unpolished stuff is something I’ve wanted to do since watching Star Wars as a kid and seeing that the Millennium Falcon didn’t function properly all the time.
Paste: What led to your collaboration with Jack T. Cole?
Christmas: From the start, I thought it might be fun to work with another artist on this one and just write it, which was new for me when we began. I met Jack at VanCAF 2015, saw his work and thought his lyrical yet hyper-detailed sensibility would be perfect. Plus, Jack’s a fountain of great ideas. One of the most rewarding parts of working on Tartarus is hanging out with him at a bookstore or over a beer and talking for hours about the stuff we’re interested in and how to make this the best comic book in the world. Plus, he does tons of his own research; he’s fully immersed in the world.
Paste: Jack, how would you describe your collaboration with Johnnie Christmas?
Jack T. Cole: Tartarus formed out of an exchange of ideas to figure out where we’d be going with this series. It was based around the principle of having a really solid story as a base and then having the art be free to take on a variety of forms and directions. My goal was to come up with as many details as I could to create an immersive world and to render interesting concepts that would hook readers’ imaginations, while balancing that with hitting the story beats and expressing the characters Johnnie came up with as best as I could.
Since starting work on the series, Johnnie has picked up on these themes I’ve been putting in the background and incorporated them into the direction of the story itself. So it has begun to transform into something I wasn’t expecting, and it’s hopefully something that will delight readers and be unexpected to them, too.
Paste: What’s an example of a theme in the background?
Jack T. Cole: A more concrete example is that I began attaching tarot cards and esoteric images to consumerist things like cigarette packets and billboards. The images of a tiger-like beast and a serpent appear frequently, as statues, paintings and in various iterations, and they’re attached to certain characters and institutions. Along with the suggestive imagery of the cards, they create something of a sub-narrative, working in tandem with the main narrative.
Literature does this same thing with words, and I think it is part of the power of comics to create these things visually. Movies and illustration do this too, but illustration can’t build up context in the successive way that movies can, and movies don’t allow you to sit with an image for as long as you please. Comics is able to do both.
Tartarus #1 Cover A by Jack T. Cole
Tartarus #1 Cover B by Johnnie Christmas
Image Comics will release Tartarus #1 on February 12th.