What more could you bring to a book that already has Mike Costa’s guiding hand deciding to turn a whole mythological epic into a detective story and one that has Alan Moore ACTUALLY writing himself into a story as a reluctant priest of a returned largely unknown god, Glycon? Well, who could you bring to any party and be glad you did since he seems able to insult the entire world and still make them smile? Simon Spurrier (Disenchanted, Numbercruncher, Six-Gun Gorilla).
The story of gods come to earth to fight it out for supremacy over humankind enters its second major arc with God is Dead: Book of Acts, and to introduce us to the wholesale escalation of the series is a two-part story comprised of an all-star team up, “Alpha” and “Omega”. Costa, Moore, and Spurrier take us into “Alpha” to explore some of the less trodden avenues of the God is Dead mythology, but with a subtle build in plot elements that are going to prove crucial later on.
Spurrier’s story, “Pitter Patter” follows the return to earth of one very pissed off Cherub who, deprived of the terrible greatness of his origin Biblical incarnation one of the four-faced Cherubim (as in the book of Ezekiel), will pursue a new kind of multi-media veneration at all costs. Spurrier ingeniously takes us inside this struggle for notoriety and does not hold back with the endlessly inventive profanity, either.
Spurrier talks with us here at Bleeding Cool about the concept of creating gods (the contents of which will blow your mind), the role of social media, and lastly, the last expletive necessary in any fight.
Hannah Means-Shannon: You talk in this story about a concept that’s becoming increasingly significant in the God is Dead universe, and particularly in Alpha, that we create our gods and both limit and empower them. Do you find that terrifying?
Simon Spurrier: No, on the contrary I think it’s an incredibly liberating concept – arguably the most freeing idea the human mind is capable of in today’s world.
With the acknowledgement that metaphysical entities are the instinctive abstractions of the human brain comes a painful but wonderful helter-skelter of questions and follow-ups which can be best summed up in a single word: Why? That is: why the fuck would we thoughtlessly offer ourselves as slaves to fictional masters?
I have a sort of work-in-progress theory on this. It’s deeply unscientific and I may look back upon it in years to come with deep embarrassment – that’s fine; that’s life; that’s thought; that’s progress – and worst of all it’s not a particularly entertaining answer in an interview about a deliberately WrongFun short comic, which is actually a lot more about the cult of celebrity and the court of public opinion, with lots of swears, than it is about capital-R Religion. So I’ll try (and fail) to be brief.
My contention is that religion is a technology. Which, to my mind, is a word meaning “a System Which Serves A Function”. Religion arose to fill a particular mental niche as a result of a particular set of circumstances, and it worked towards a very particular end. To narrow it down, religion is a technology through whose agency humanity was first able to transition from small-scale communities to large-scale societies. From packism towards nationalism, if you like.
It did this by rendering everyone – adherent and apostate alike – completely unremarkable in comparison to one’s deity or deities. In other words we were all unified in our mutual mediocrity. It gave us the means to recruit strangers and outsiders – suddenly the only different between Them and Us was whether they shared our god or not – rather than seeing everyone outside our group as fundamentally alien. At the same time religious systems allowed us to pass behavioural codes between generations in the most brutal and arbitrary way – “act like this because the gods say so, don’t do this because the gods hate it” – in societies which weren’t yet equipped to rationalise or police these behaviours as simple expressions of Universal Benefit.
Whether they’re bringing communities together or causing them to hack each others’ goolies off with machetes, religions naturally form blocks of commonality which would otherwise be impossible.
But like all technologies it’s encoded into the mimetic DNA of religions to eventually become obsolete. At a certain point – and you can argue when, if ever, that was – they stopped doing more good than harm. My guess is that this has a lot to do with the extremely irregular way we’ve globally distributed the infrastructures which allow people to throw away the spiritual crutches and try a life without religion: education, leisure time, freedom of thought. So just as some of the world is feeling impossibly interconnected, whispering the word “globalism” and losing the need to have those arbitrary rules and regulations dictating obvious codes of majority behaviour, so other parts of it are cleaving to their rulebooks even more grimly than before.
The really trippy part of this theory – which by the way is full of fucking holes and needs a whole lot more thought – is that technologies only become obsolete when they’re replaced. Which means that perhaps something, some mental apparatus which is probably right under our noses already, is waiting in the wings to help us transition from this to… well, whatever comes next. Which is exciting and amazing and probably quite silly sounding, or at the least very sci-fi sounding, but ohhhhhboy when you’re half a bottle of wine down and wondering why the world feels like it’s pinging and twanging with the pent-up tension of something waiting to change, is a very seductive idea.
For what it’s worth, I’d lay money that the New Technology we’re waiting for isn’t actually a new technology at all, but a new and unseen understanding of the oldest technology there is: story. Which brings us right back round, full circle, doesn’t it, to the idea of knowingly manufacturing religions as focal points for power. Because if you accept fiction is “making shit up so it has an effect on peoples’ minds and lives”, then religions and stories are all part of the same big incestuous scrapheap of mental tech, and it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference whether you believe your religion is True And Real, or know for sure it’s all completely made up.
BUT I DIGRESS IN OH SUCH A BIG WAY.
HMS: Can you tell us a little bit about why you bring in social media, Yootube, and internet culture for this story? Is this how we make our gods these days?
SS: I think it’s probably part of the same continuum, or at least an echo of it. It speaks to all that guff I was on about before – packism, tribalism, nationalism, globalism – but let’s not go back there. What it boils down to is ubiquitous access to information, which has led to the very modern phenomenon of these vast ripples of collective reactive adoration or disgust on a scale more massive and more immediate than ever before. If Internet Culture really is today’s stand in for religion then it’s the McDonald’s Drive-Thru version: instant, fleeting, full of flavour, supersized, but ultimately not very satisfying. Like I said: it feels like we’re waiting for something.
But yeah. My God Is Dead story uses all these weird outlets/inlets of public interaction in a really cynical way. Without giving too much away, our central character is a religious icon who – having manifested back on Earth – decides he has an Image Problem. The way that people see him doesn’t reflect the person he wants to be. And so he sets out to change it.
I’m quite overtly invoking a lot of recent Celebrity Scandal in this. We seem to have this weird cultural resistance to allowing our idols to evolve smoothly, so when they do change it’s usually with a seismic shift and all the associated destruction you’d expect: the Britneys, the Biebers, the Mileys; shucking off the Butter-Wouldn’t-Melt Innocence of youth by overcompensating like crazy. That’s an interesting phenomenon, and it speaks directly to the weird reciprocal creator/consumer relationship which lies at the heart of religion and of the celebrity/fan contract.
HMS: What are your top 10 invented or recycled profanities? Rapid fire: Why do you like them?
SS: Hahaha, it’s not that simple. A good swear owes as much to spontaneity as design. Now and then I’ve become briefly fixated on something crafted (I spent a while using “ottergash” as interchangeable with “bullshit”) but they inevitably wind up sounding daft. One disgusting exception came from a (female!) writer friend of mine, who expressed her excitement at a forthcoming project by declaring she was “fizzing at the slit”. Timeless.
Related: I’ve spent some considerable time in serious discussion with peers, all in the name of science, about the Ultimate Conversational Weapon. This would be a word, phrase or action which is the single best solution for stopping an argument in its tracks. It can’t be anything too clever or specific, partly because we’re after something truly universal, mostly because ripostes will only ever propagate a dispute. It can’t be anything personal or directly insulting, because that shifts the nature of the disagreement from The Thing to simply Two People Trading Insults And Possibly Fists. Sure, maybe it’s too late to prevent violence anyway, maybe it’s not, but we definitely don’t want to encourage it and we definitely don’t want people to think we deserve it. So no “your mum” jokes.
After much debate, we arrived at something of a disappointing conclusion. The Ultimate Conversational Weapon, far from being some exotic verbal stinger, is a thickset stalwart of the swear world. A bruiser, a slugger, a phrase which has survived the test of time not by being the most lithe or supple of terms, but by outlasting and out-simpling the rest. It’s this:
The long “fffffff” is important. Use those “ffff”s to almost but not quite empty your lungs, so the UCKOFF is delivered in a gassy rasp of loathing. You may now consider your conversation or argument medically dead. What happens next is up in the air.
God is Dead: Book of Acts “Alpha” arrives in shops from Avatar Press on August 13th and is listed in Previews with the item code: JUN140844.
Look out for upcoming interviews with Kieron Gillen and Justin Jordan on God is Dead: Book of Acts “Omega” here on Bleeding Cool.