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Alex de Campi and Duncan Jones talk 'Madi', action in storytelling, and humanity's future

Comic Books

Alex de Campi and Duncan Jones talk ‘Madi’, action in storytelling, and humanity’s future

For fans of near-future science fiction post-war cyberpunk road trip comics.

Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future is one heck of a comic. For one, it’s written by filmmaker Duncan Jones (Warcraft) and Alex de Campi (Dracula, Motherf**ker!) It also features art by a slew of A-list talent, including Dylan Teague, Glenn Fabry, Chris O’Halloran, Pia Guerra, James Stokoe, Tonci Zonjic, and Christian Ward. Lastly, it’s the third and (to date) final story set in Jones’ genuinely gripping “Mooniverse” — preceded by the films Moon and Mute. It’s compassionately cynical, bitingly funny, and possesses excellent, crunchy action — a comic for all true fans of the medium.

With Madi currently available, we recently had the opportunity to speak with both writers about the book, touching on subjects ranging from the way they work together and where Madi falls in relation to their respective bodies of work, among many other tidbits. 

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Alex de Campi and Duncan Jones talk 'Madi', action in storytelling, and humanity's future

Courtesy of Z2 Comics.

AIPT: How did your storytelling styles and preferences overlap when you worked on Madi? Where did they gel? Where was there friction? How did you both navigate this specific collaboration?

DJ: The friction was genuinely minimal! I have always been very comfortable letting talented people do what they do best, so working with an Eisner-nominated comic veteran, my responsibility was to make suggestions and keep “True North,” as Alex did the grunt work of taking my film script and turning it into this beautiful book.

AdC: Both of us don’t really have a lot of ego involved in the creative process, it’s all about telling the best story possible. And we’re both character writers, so our priorities aligned pretty smoothly. Besides, there was so much to do! We had a pretty great routine of passing the comic script back and forth, and then the art pages, and then the letters so we ended up with something we were both happy with. I think there was one minor thing where I was like, “I disagree with you on this, but also it’s not a hill I’m going to die on,” and that was it. 

Alex de Campi and Duncan Jones talk 'Madi', action in storytelling, and humanity's future

Courtesy of Z2 Comics.

AIPT: Alex, How did you approach Madi‘s action scenes and violence? Your comics, from No Mercy to Dracula, Motherf**ker! have never shied away from carnage (whether horrific or awesome or otherwise), but they’ve used different languages and lenses for it as needed.

What were Madi‘s lenses? How did this story shape your action, and how did this action shape your story? And to build out from that, how has action developed for you as a tool across the years you’ve been writing?

AdC: With Madi, a lot of it was writing to the skill sets of specific artists. In a way, it always is. But also I think one thing people don’t talk about enough with writers is how some of us don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I’m always looking to push the formal envelope and try to get across exciting action sequences that feel fresh, at least to me. That’s not just in visual representation, but also the story twist—I try to do unexpected things.

The lens with Madi was taking these big, blockbuster action sequences and making sure they felt very personal to the characters— a lot of that is inherent in Duncan’s writing, which is why I like working with him so much—but some of it also comes across in the way we lay out the page, how we focus in on the emotional arcs of the characters within the big action, which is something that certain manga creators like Naoki Urasawa are great at balancing. That’s always been a goal of mine. And storytelling is often about teaching the reader a pattern, and then breaking it at an unexpected moment. We do that in Madi in some fun was.

Alex de Campi and Duncan Jones talk 'Madi', action in storytelling, and humanity's future

Courtesy of Z2 Comics.

AIPT: Duncan, Victories in the Mooniverse tend to be relatively intimate ones, without necessarily being world-shaking. A Sam makes it to Earth. Leo gets the answers he’s looking for. The Drone Squad gets clear of their debt. Meanwhile, the horrifically destructive capitalist system continues to happily munch on people, even if it chips a tooth here and there.

How do you balance personal catharsis with the greater spiral in this setting? And to build out from that, how do you see the Mooniverse‘s greater history trending? Does the system persevere until everything’s reduced to dust? Is there a global reckoning?

DJ: This is going to sound terribly bleak, but I don’t see any of these stories as dystopian. All three are set in a world of EVs, clean energy, a rebalancing of humanity’s impact on the environment… but the truth is, the macro level of humanity’s impact on the world is not the same as the micro level of people dealing with people. Our society may save itself, but individuals will always be territorial apes. We will always want to “own.” Those battles will go on into utopia. The Red Sun company that Madi travels to at the start of the story has created a “perfect city” in Beijing. A world that has given up on national governments, fallen into bloody wars of corporate territorialism, is relieved to be under the predictability of corporate order. The hostile takeovers are over. The aggressive expansions complete. Red Sun is the dominant player in the social space. Society functions… It’s just all the damn people that can’t behave!

Alex de Campi and Duncan Jones talk 'Madi', action in storytelling, and humanity's future

Courtesy of Z2 Comics.

AIPT: Alex, Mr. Jones. Madi‘s antagonists are both layered characters and, in their own separate ways, slimily pathetic. Aside from it being strong writing, there’s something really dreadfully accurate about their despicable striving.

It’s something that’s recurred in both of your work, so I’d like to ask about how you wrote MADI‘s villains? What were the conversations surrounding them like? How did they grow and change from concept to their final forms?

DJ: I would love to hear Alex’s thoughts on this as a writer in general, but for myself, morality is a result of pressure. No pressure, no true measure of morality. It’s also a slow pressure, created over years of life experience. I always try to see the world through my villains’ eyes. What are they up against? What do they think their options are? What priorities have they set? That’s the crucible of morality.  “Villains” are just the ones who have gone whereby the grace of God, we have not.

AdC: Oh yeah, I agree. You meet very few straight-up evil people in the world, and every villain is the hero of their own story. Duncan did a great job at making everyone’s motivations (or, in one case, lack of motivation) feel very natural and real. I think it’s something all character writers like to do, when they see someone being despicable, is to start poking at that. Why are they like that? Why is this a reasonable choice in their mind? What are they getting out of it? It’s not because we want to sympathize with terrible humans, or rationalize their behavior, but humans are just… interesting. What would it take for me to make the same choice in this person’s place? How do you get there? It’s like poking at a scab, but the scab is a person.

Madi

Courtesy of Z2 Comics.

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