By Alasdair Stuart
Thought Bubble this year was as much about time travel as it was about comics. On almost every table you saw an indie or small press creator or company, and on almost every table, the standard of work was staggering. There’s incredible energy and love for the medium out there and if even a tenth of the creators I saw at Thought Bubble stay in the industry, then things really will only get better. Just, for those in the UK who’ll get this joke, without the unfortunate song.
Sam Read was one of the creators I met there, and his enthusiasm and love for his work shone through, even on a couple of hours sleep. Read’s a fiercely creative, intelligent writer and his debut book, Exit Generation is now available.
Set in 2055, Exit Generation opens with a montage. It’s effectively the comic version of the excellent opening montage from Pacific Rim, setting up a colossal global event and how people deal with it. However, instead of giant aliens, giant robots and face punching, what we get is a world food crisis as population growth reaches unsustainable levels. The answer is “Project EXIT” (Extraction by Interstellar Transport), a global effort to construct arks large enough to move the entire planet off world.
This is where most books would be content to stop. Sam isn’t even ten pages in. EXIT is a grand idea that, of course, doesn’t survive contact with the real world. 5% of the Earth’s population have to be left behind and we follow one couple through the crisis and up to ‘EXIT Month’ when the evacuation happens. For one of them, it’s a catastrophe, for the other, a quieter kind of disaster.
This is where a lot of books would stop. Sam has bigger plans.
Twenty years later, their son is one of the 5%. Earth is a quiet paradise and Jack lives vicariously through punk rock and old action movies. Along with his friend Mo and his parents and together they celebrate his 20th birthday. The world is quiet, cash is meaningless, everyone has the room they need, and Jack?
Jack is bored.
The scenes between Jack and Mo are where Read’s script shines. There’s a well-rounded, corners knocked off feel to conversations between best friends that’s captured perfectly here. It’s also cleverly used to show how the world has changed and to cast doubt on just who made the sacrifice, the 5% or the Ark crews. Read has a real flair for character that puts me in mind of Terry Moore and Sean McKeever, and that shows in every scene Jack and Mo share.
That makes what follows all the more shocking. You’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on from the front cover up there but when it does hit, the invasion is shocking in a way most writers never manage. The aliens are both pulpy and deeply unsettling; Read scripts them to have very specific, chilling, speech patterns. It’s like a classic pulp alien from the 1950s walked, fully formed, into a Neil Blommkamp movie. It feels absurd and comical and terrifying all at once.
Caio Oliveira’s art has the same strengths as Read’s cript: excelling at character and expression and giving the action scenes room to breathe. It’s impressive stuff and is backed up by Ruth Redmond’s excellent, deep color palette and some kinetic, expressive lettering from Colin Bell. Ramon Villalobos’ cover wraps everything up with exactly the sort of impact it needs and Adam P. Knave’s editorial work is the best kind; an invisible structure that allows the book to grow on its own strengths and terms.
Exit Generation is a massively ambitious undertaking and more importantly, a completely successful one. This is high impact, high concept science fiction from some of the best new creators working today. The future is now and at least part of it belongs to the Exit Generation.
Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer and RPG designer. He’s written sourcebooks and modules for the official Doctor Who, Primeval and Victoriana RPGs, and is now filled with the desire to write something involving space arks, punk rock or, perhaps, both.