Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you made a different choice? What if you spent your life as a cowboy, ninja, or viking? Where you could be, instead of where you are in your life now? You could have met the significant other of your dreams, put yourself on the right path for the perfect job, or obtained some level of peace or glory that you have always yearned for. What if there was an app for that? In The Infinite Vacation by Nick Spencer (writer, Morning Glories, Forgetless, Existence 2.0/3.0) and Christian Ward (artist, Olympus, Dark Horse Presents, Popgun Volume Three), you can check out your favourite app store, download a gateway to a never ending list of possibilities, and take a trip to what may have been. The Infinite Vacation is not a “Total Recall” memory implant: it transports you to another universe, an alternate reality where you see and experience how the other half live, including the other you.
The book itself seems to be from an alternate universe, too – A “What if?” of creators working outside the box, transforming comic book storytelling into something fresh, new and incredibly satisfying. The story follows Mark, an average guy who hates his job, has no luck with the ladies and is relatively bummed about most of his life. However, one of the things Mark is quite good at is spending the vast majority of his time and money on The Infinite Vacation, visiting multiple versions of the only person he cares about – himself. It’s self-indulgence at its best, but even with endless options, Mark’s obsession with having everything ultimately ends with him being unable to truly enjoy anything. After a missed opportunity with a girl in a coffee shop (who is a “Deadender,” a person who believes life should be as it is without The Infinite Vacation), Mark begins to ponder the possibilities of accepteding life as it comes. As we all know, life is never that simple. All his vacationing has caught the attention of The Infinite Vacation Corporation, who places Mark in the middle of a conspiracy with all the Marks in the multiverse being killed off… and he’s next.
Spencer and Ward’s work in The Infinite Vacation is, in every sense of the word, a collaboration. With every page you can tell this was a symbiotic storytelling relationship – they could not have chosen their partners in crime better. Spencer’s writing is sharp, comical, and light in the right places, with a dark, sinister edge in others, twisting the reader emotionally throughout the series. As for Ward’s work, I am not even sure where to begin. Each page seems to be approached as a ready-to-hang piece of art, rather than a traditional comic layout. It’s trippy and beautiful in every way, with a design and flow rarely seen in comics today. The photographic contributions of Kendall Bruns not only allow the creators to give readers an information download, but also brings us into the world of The Infinite Vacation, as if we are just another alternate universe. While the concept may be a bit heady, Spencer and Ward take care to inform the reader how it all works (the alternate realities, and the ins and outs of those particular worlds), making sure that the book is accessible to all, and does not require a PhD to understand.
Artist Christian Ward took some time out of his increasingly busy schedule to talk to Dork Shelf about The Infinite Vacation, his collaborations, music, and what is up next for the rising star.
Dork Shelf: How did you and Nick Spencer get together on this project?
Christian Ward: Our debuts (Olympus and Existence 2.0) were released within weeks of each other and after meeting at SDCC that year we realised we were very much on the same page story-wise. Then it was just a case of waiting for the right ideas to form. Nick would email me every few weeks with a story ideas (some he later released with other artists, others not) then it was two years later when Nick had the idea for IV and we both knew it was the one.
DS: When did Kendall Bruns become involved in the project? Was he there from the inception or was it something that materialized organically?
CW: Nick built in these fantastic world building sections designed to guide the reader through the world we were going to create. I remember reading the first 10 pages of issue 1 at Nick’s place in Brooklyn back in 2010, and as soon as I hit the infogram part I turned to Nick and remarked that we should visually distinguish those parts from the rest, which as it turned out was exactly what Nick was thinking. Like I said we pretty much always on the same page. Kendall is an old friend of Nick’s and it wasn’t long before he came on board. I love that the idea that it almost suggests that those parts are from a different universe than from the one Mark’s story takes place in.
DS: You appear to have a writing credit for pretty much every comics project you are a part of. Is this the way you work best when it comes to your sequential storytelling? What is it about collaborations that you enjoy?
CW: I love art. Visuals excite me but stories are what make me tick. I love storytelling and taking people on a journey to hopefully somewhere new. I have two ambitions in comics and one is to make people laugh. The other is to make someone cry. That’s all about the story, not how ‘cool’ a page might look. I’ve been very lucky with all the people I’ve worked with. Both Nathan Edmondson on Olympus and Nick on IV have respected me as a storyteller and graciously let me have an input. I love having that involvement (even if that input isn’t always huge) because it makes me feel like I’m part of the story.
DS: The Infinite Vacation is an assault on the visual senses thanks to your dynamic page layouts and colour palette, what would be the perfect accompanying soundtrack to the book (to add a bit of auditory stimulation)?
CW: That’s a great question. When Olympus came out, I actually attempted to put together a soundtrack for the book. A few of my friends make really excellent music and rather excitedly made music for the comic. It’s thrilling to have your story/art influence a completely different art form. It’s certainly something I’d like to have a go at putting together again. Here’s a live performance of the theme song for Olympus and another track from the unreleased album.
Infinite Vacation musically was all about electronica with heart; a mixture of steely cool and warmth. Jon Hopkins in particular was always on my headphones while I was working but I did make a playlist when I was working on the book which I can share with you…
1- Time Code by Bright Eyes
2- Private Universe by Jon Hopkins
3- Ribbons by Four Tet
4- Love and Other Planets by Adem
5- Rox by The Aliens
6- Quitters Rage by Gold Panda
7- On Your Own by James Yuill
8- To build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra
9- Midnight City by M83
10- Crank resolutions by Meursalt
11- The One by radio department
12- Autumn Hill by Jon Hopkins
DS: You recently published an eight page story in Dark Horse Presents #25 with Matt Fraction. Much like your work on The Infinite Vacation, it deals with the choices we make in life and the possibilities/consequences which come from them. What is it that attracts you to this type of storytelling?
CW: Yeah, it’s funny that isn’t it. I’ll be honest. I said yes to working with Matt on DHP before I even read the script. I did that for three reasons. 1. Matt Fraction. 2. Dark Horse Presents. 3. Matt Fraction. I love the heart that Matt has in his books and really knowing that he’s not afraid to show that in his stories is what attracted me to work with him before I even knew the mechanics of what we were doing. I’m attracted to stories about life and love and all that comes with it. The sci-fi and the idea of how choices define us is an added bonus.
DS: As a treat to all the process junkies out there, could you let our readers know how you go about crafting comics – from script to the printed page?
CW: I’ll start by sketching out my ideas for the page I’m working on. This will be where I find the balance between design and storytelling. In my mind the design needs to be part of the story telling. Once I have my design in mind (I don’t make this too rigid, I like to let it evolve as I work) I’ll often draw the characters and background separately to allow me the freedom to move and change different elements as I need to. The colour comes from a mixture of water colour and digital photoshop work.
DS: I read that in addition to being a freelance illustrator, you are also an art teacher at a post-secondary school in London. What is it that inspires you about teaching? Are your students aware of your work in comics and if so, what kind of feedback have you received from them?
CW: If it wasn’t for teaching I wouldn’t be a comic book artist; it’s as simple as that. I always taught a comic book project and one year one pupil turned to me and asked “If you’re so good at it why don’t you do it?” Although he was deflecting to try to avoid working himself, he was absolutely right. So I began to try and practice what I taught. Teaching is a huge part of my life and even though I may one day decide to focus on comics full time, it will not be an easy decision. It’s an honour to be a part of young people’s lives at such an important age. I put an emphasis in my department on the importance of ideas. We strive to give our pupils confidence to express their ideas and when I say it’s an honour to see that confidence grow, I mean it. Nothing is as thrilling as listening to an excited pupil talk about what their art is about.
DS: Any special goodies we can expect in the hardcover edition?
CW: The book is a really beautiful package, with a great deal of thanks to our designer Tim Daniels. We have two introductions – one by myself and the other a fantastic short essay on the science behind parallel universes by John Gribbins – who wrote the seminal In Search of Schroedinger’s Cat. This book that sat on my desk as I worked on IV and is one that I would recommend to anyone interested in parallel universes. Believe me, the fact is actually weirder than the fiction. Both intros have new illustrations by me and then we have behind the scenes pages showing process pages and the like.
DS: Do you have any projects coming up?
CW: Right now I’m preparing work to be released next year. I’ll be working to get issues in the bank before releasing what’s next. 2014 will have three firsts. My first Marvel work [Dork Shelf Note: Recently announced as contributing pages to an arc on Young Avengers called “After Party” coming out at the end of the year]. Just a small gig that one, but very exciting. My first self-penned miniseries, a horror story about family that’ll be coming from Image again.
And even more exciting, my first ongoing. I’m working with Matt Fraction on ODY-C, a science fiction, gender-swapping retelling of the Odyssey. Matt’s idea behind the book was to give his daughter a hero she could look up to – remember what I said about Matt’s big heart? ODY-C will be the biggest project I’ll have attempted yet. The scale is huge. Currently we’re slowly trying to put the world together. To find the look of our hero (so far, an Amazonian cosmic warrior with an EVA suit made of oxidized liquid copper – a clash of the classical and the cosmic ) and the world she inhabits (pure light and colour). Design her ship. Create the monsters she’ll fight. It’s going to be a crazy wild ride. I’m looking forward to having fun with it.
Find scores of Christian Ward’s art at www.cwardillustration.com and follow him on Twitter @cjwardart. You can also check out the video for Michael Rockett by The Pictish Trail, for a sped-up display of Christian Ward composing his art in the background.
With the release of The Infinite Vacation Hardcover Edition (available in all reputable comic shops, courtesy of Image Comics), you can acquaint yourself with this hidden gem, and witness two creators pushing the medium further than it has in years.