Your trusted yetis sat down with Matt Mair Lowery (Lifeformed, ThoughtScape) to discuss the evolution of his work on ThoughtScape (successfully funded on Kickstarter!) as well as the potential return of Lifeformed, his YA graphic novel at Dark Horse with Cassie Anderson.
COMIC BOOK YETI: ThoughtScape has an obvious confidence in itself and what it wants to be, from the design all the way through. How has your vision of ThoughtScape evolved from the seed of an idea into such a fully fleshed-out concept?
MATT MAIR LOWERY: Well, that's great to hear. The project started pretty organically. As the second Lifeformed book was being drawn, I was pretty frustrated with the traditional pitching process with a couple other projects that I was trying to get going, and I was wanting to make comics faster than, for me at least, the very slow-moving nature of comics publishing would allow, even if someone DID decide to pick up anything I was wanting to put out there.
So, I started writing some shorter stories that I was hoping to bust out quickly, both writing-wise and art-wise. Then I started searching for artists to collaborate with. And then that went slowly. But I found collaborators for a couple of them, and it was more than worth the wait, because I got to work with Tyrell Cannon on a story called Drones, and with Lisa Naffziger on Adorable Orphans.
In this first batch of stories, there was a sort of organic thread of Twilight Zone/Outer Limits style sci-fi, and some shared elements to the worlds of each story, so I started thinking that it would be fun to try and write a bunch of stuff in this very loosely shared universe. As I started thinking along those lines, I pulled in some other concepts I'd had around for a while, because they also seemed to fit, and things coalesced from there.
By the time Dave Law and I connected and started work on ThoughtScape 2319, the flagship series of ThoughtScape Comics, I had a good sense of the world and concept. And, when I had no takers on TS 2319 as a stand-alone series (which is wild to me – just based on Dave's art alone I think it merits publishing), I went to my backup plan, which was to start compiling stories 2000AD-style.
As far as the design and such, my old friend John Larsen is an amazing graphic designer and he and I have collaborated on all sorts of stuff through the years: music, day-job projects, and so on. Anyway, I brought him in to design all the ThoughtScape branding elements, and he created an amazing branding package for me to work from. A killer logo/masthead, font selections, icons, page design templates, and elements, and then I had a blast running with those to build out the book. So, long answer, but basically, started organically, then once I saw I had something gelling, I moved in with a plan and become more intentional. I love plans. I have many, many plans.
CBY: It feels like there's an intent to play with the styles of the stories within. Was that a goal of yours from the outset of the project? Or did you choose the artists you wanted to work with first, and the stylistic differences just happened to grow organically from the diverse artistic talent?
MML: 100% the intent, but then also based on who I found to work with. I started writing these stories because I wanted to vary what I was writing. The tone, the subject matter, or at least my approach to the subject matter, my style. I wanted to really learn more about making comics. I mean, Lifeformed is a very specific thing, and I'd spent a lot of time writing that and wanted to mix it up and see if I could pull off different things. So, as I had these stories of hopefully varying styles coming together, I was wanting to work with all the diverse talents and styles I was seeing in all these amazing artists I was coming across online.
My hope was that I would be able to pair the artists with stories that suited them. And things have kind of gone from there. And it's been a blast. The first story I did with Tyrell, "Drones," is awesome and he crushed it, but the story itself is a sort of workplace-oriented thing, and as I got to see more of Tyrell's work, especially his DOOM tribute comic IDKFA, I was like "Oh, man, I need to write Tyrell something that is just unhinged, gonzo action," which is how A Spy Without a Face came about. Anyway, for sure, variety in the art is definitely a big goal, as is playing with structure and other writerly stuff.
CBY: It sounds as though it was kismet in its coming-together. You had the ideas to set it in motion but then all these brilliant collaborators also came around at the perfect time.
MML: That's a great way to put it. I really feel like so much of it came from finding the right folks to work with, and that their work really inspired me. Like with Karl [Slominski], I was discovering his art at the same time I was writing just these sort of rant-like deals in my notes app, and as I kept my eye on what he was posting and kept writing these rants in my head they started to come together and I was like, "Could I turn this nonsense I am writing into a script that Karl could draw?" And so I did, and thankfully Karl was up for it, and of course, turned it into something real. And amazing. Anyway, I feel like that happened a lot, the bringing to life of all these things kind of went like that, in different ways.
CBY: Speaking of your creative collaborators, how will each issue in this series work with regard to who you work with? Do you already have an idea of artists who will work on each issue, or do you plan to have more of a submissions process?
MML: Well, first we have the series ongoing stories, ThoughtScape 2319 and Ex Post Facto: A Dash Varrick Misadventure, and those are co-created by Dave Law and Karl Slominski, respectively. For the self-contained stories in each issue, it was important to me to come out of the gate with work already completed or in progress for at least the first four issues (I'm imagining right now that ThoughtScape Comics will be a quarterly, unless someone wants to come drop a big bag of money in my lap or something to move faster).
So, issues 1-4 are all locked in as far as their covers and story art go. I'm working right now on writing stories for Issues 5 and beyond, and starting to reach out to artists for these, but I also have to balance my desire to get out in front of all this with the budgetary stuff, because all the artists get paid as they work (as it should be). So, I haven't really considered submissions, but I'm certainly always open to folks sending me samples of their work. Finding new comic artists to follow and such is one of my favorite things. Ultimately, though, it comes down to casting the right artist for a story and making sure they're interested in it and all that.
CBY: One of the things you specified was an influence is 2000AD, and that can definitely be felt through A Spy Without A Face (especially with the choice of black and white). What other influences will inspire future iterations?
MML: Well, I'm glad you can see that influence, because I could just re-read Rogue Trooper and such for the rest of my life and be happy. The other influences that I think will show up or be apparent to some folks are books like Matt Wagner's Grendel, Miller and Gibbons Martha Washington, Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz's Elektra: Assassin, Dark Horse's first Aliens series, and The American, by Mark Verheiden. Mostly all the '80s comics that would be an '80s kid's go-to, I suppose. But all the stuff that when I was a kid felt like it revealed the world to me. More recent stuff I think is probably undeniably in my writing is the occasionally Bendis-style decompression approach, the Tom King sadness approach, and I hope some wild imagination a la Michel Fiffe and such. Or that would be a goal, anyway. And film noir. There will be noir! And culinary horror.
CBY: You're also a big sci-fi fan, from what I hear. Is a more long-form science-fiction story the ideal you're building towards?
MML: I am. Speaking of the influences above, Terminator, Alien(s), etc. all the classics are huge influences on me. For ThoughtScape, I definitely have some long-form stories in mind to tell within this world. But for me, I'm less interested in how exactly everything fits together than I am in thinking about how the pieces and stories *might* fit together. And having space for readers to think about that as well. I think the variety I want to always have means that continuity or anything like that needs to always take a back seat to a good story and no real guardrails. But, there definitely is a backbone to the ThoughtScape universe and if I can figure out how to pull it off, I would like to tell the tale of that backbone in some longer-form stories (either series or graphic novels).
CBY: All the stories are littered with little notes of world-building that it makes sense that there is some connective tissue that could become a wider-ranged story.
MML: Yeah, I'm a planner, so do I have in-world-centuries' worth of ideas both big and small roughed out? Yes. Do I have an overarching story that is being set up in ThoughtScape 2319 that goes both backward and forward in time? Yes. I can't help myself. It's both fun and a little frustrating, because I have so much I'd like to get to, but of course finite resources...I try to take comfort in knowing that timing, like we talked about earlier, plays such a huge role, and that stories generally get written when they themselves insist on it, so it's all good. I'll get to all those little corners eventually, I'll get to the larger arcs eventually, and so on, and probably they'll be better for the waiting.
CBY: I guess you’re building your own little empire with these stories. Is that something you had in mind before?
MML: I think in the back of my mind, yes. And again, speaking of collaboration, I had coffee kind of back when I first started writing stories in this world, and I wasn't really seeing them yet as part of a whole... I had coffee with Benjamin Skaggs, a friend who's a comics fan and a podcaster who's also starting to write comics himself, and he was kind enough to read some scripts and give me feedback, and he pointed out how I was revisiting some particular themes a lot, so I am guessing that really helped me also see that at least thematically I was operating in a certain world. And then when you take what I gravitate toward naturally, I think the seeds were there from the start.
CBY: I noticed on your site that Lifeformed, your YA work at Dark Horse, is slated to return. What can you tell us about that? Or, if you can't contractually speak on it yet, can you tell us when to expect news? (We also accept Morse Code, if you're only barred from vocally discussing Lifeformed.)
MML: I can't say much right now other than I think you can look for a Lifeformed announcement sometime in the first half of this year. I LOVE writing Lifeformed, and working with Cassie is a total joy and I really want to get back to those characters badly.
Matt can be found on Instagram and Twitter @mattmlpdx and the website for