FABRICE SAPOLSKY: Ben, I have to admit, you put a lot of creativity in your book. I particularly love the bonuses/freebies you put with every issue (I’m jealous, I’ve been wanting to do that for years but could never find the time or the right people to help me). Obviously, this took a lot of planning. How long have you been developing The Great Divide?
BEN FISHER: Thank you! I’ve been developing The Great Divide for about a year. I also write and record music as Tesla Deathray Survivors Anonymous, so including a song as bonus content for the first issue was a natural combination. (The first album “This is Canon” is on iTunes, Spotify, etc).
In fact, Adam Markiewicz and I recorded an instrumental soundtrack to the series under the name Com-Unit 8. It’s free on Soundcloud and Bandcamp: https://soundcloud.com/user-867986415/sets/tgd-ost. It’s got a very John Carpenter feel and was a total blast to make.
The coloring book for the second issue was drawn by Michelle Nguyen, a very talented artist who worked with me on Grumpy Cat. I’m also working on a new unannounced project with her that she is absolutely crushing.
FS: The series hasn’t been shy with comics references in and out, nudity and violence. When you close your eyes, this is the world you see and imagine? This is the Great Divide Universe all the time in your head? I won’t touch you when I see you at cons, if so (laughs)
BF: I always wear gloves now, just in case.
It’s funny you’d ask that, actually. Working on scripts or world building for an extended period affects me in unexpected ways. For example, I find that I get anxious when I watch television any time the characters make contact or stand too close. It usually takes a while for me to realize that I’m subconsciously projecting The Great Divide world onto the screen, since I spend so much time being extraordinarily concerned about the proximity of characters in my own work.
FS: There’s some classic post apocalyptic feel in The Great Divide, but I can also see some Lost too. Has it been a reference at all while working on the book?
BF: Lost was certainly an influence on me as a writer — both for all its great characters and world building, but also for the dangers of jumping off a plot cliff without having a firm idea where you’re going to land. In fact, I reference Lost directly in the “chatlog” content for issues 3 and 4.
FS: Many high concept series, or shows, start with a bang then don’t know where to go. When you came up with The Great Divide and the different kind of strange people that populate your world, did you have the ending written already as well? Could you last 200 issues like The Walking Dead?
BF: I always have an ending established when I start writing any series or story arc. Of course, that ending usually morphs along the way, as characters inevitably take on a life of their own and steal some of plot’s control out of my hands. In the case of The Great Divide, I have the first three story arcs fleshed out. My preference is to avoid the “more of the same, but bigger” concept for subsequent story arcs, so each one is a dramatic shake up of the world order. Having said that, there’s plenty of room for the series to continue afterwards.
FS: There’s a lot of Spanish in the book (and cryptograms everywhere too, but that’s another story…). I know for a fact that dealing with a foreign language can be tricky. (I have Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese in Intertwined myself). But you decided not to provide any translations. Can you explain why?
BF: The foreign languages in The Great Divide are typically spoken by “riders” living in Paul’s head. Choosing not to translate helps establish the sense of confusion and chaos that muddles his thoughts. None of the dialogue is critical to understanding the story, but anyone who chooses to use Google or some other source to translate will get some fun extra flavor.
Now is also a great time to give a shout out to Maria Velez, the translator for all the Colombian in the book. She’s been invaluable.
FS: Sebastian makes me think of The Tall Man from Phantasm. I imagine you get that a lot, right?
BF: Good eye! Adam and I wanted Sebastian to be a mix between Tall Man and Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. The whole series, really, is a blend between high concept science fiction and more relatable human drama.
FS: You manage to write jokes throughout the series. It’s like a guiding thread. It’s just to distract the reader? To lighten the story while the mess happens within the pages?
BF: That’s a big part of it, absolutely. The world of The Great Divide could easily be overwhelmed by its own dark subject matter, losing any sense of fun and adventure. The book is dark, but reading it shouldn’t be a slog. So splicing humor into its DNA was a very conscious decision.
Humor is also one of Paul’s most important character traits — a way for him to protect himself from pain. Which is as much a projection of me into Paul as anything else.