“You are a good man who will have to do bad things.” This quote from Pierce Brown’s young adult novel, Red Rising, is also a fitting description of the tone of his first foray into comic books. Red Rising: Son of Ares is a new series from Dynamite that takes place 20 years before the events of the books. The original trilogy of novels deal with the rise of one man, Darrow, from the lowly Red class to upper Gold class, who eventually destroys the caste system. The comic book series is a prequel story that will delve into the origins of the rebel group, Sons of Ares, as well as deal with the consequences of a Red and Gold citizen falling in love. I got the chance to interview Mr. Brown recently to get some of his thoughts on the creative process of turning his rich world from the novels into the comic book format.
All-Comic: Why did you decide to do the prequel as a comic book instead of another series of novels? Is it easier or harder writing for a comic book format?
Pierce Brown: Comics are our modern mythology. In creating a prequel, I wanted to explore the origins of the Sons of Ares terrorists/freedom fighters in mythic tones. My next series of novel is actually set ten years after the Red Rising books, so we are building out the world in both directions.
Fortunately, the lion’s share of the writing was done by Rik Hoskin, which spared me from having to completely learn the structure and formatting of a new medium. I’m still in training to write comics solo! In a way its more difficult, however, because of the limitations in page count. Every panel has to count. And a rewarding experience has to be delivered in 22 pages, that contributes to the greater whole of the six issues. It requires a lot of discipline and craft to make something compelling in such a condensed space–fortunately the images in comics and the wonderful artwork by Eli are so evocative that they tell half the story by themselves.
AC: You already have an established fan base that understands the world you have created because you had more time to explain it in the books. Have you felt cramped by having less time to get new readers up to speed? What from the comic do you think will excite your existing fans the most?
PB: Cramped, no. The Sons of Ares comics are meant for current fans and new readers alike. The rules and world of Red Rising are explored enough to introduce new readers, but show nuances and niche parts of the Red Rising world which I wasn’t able to explore in the novels. I think fans will be most excited to see the Colors and how they are represented, as well as the tonality of the world, and spaceships, fucking spaceships, man!
AC: I see fiction, especially science-fiction, as an opportunity to guide humanity’s future. We should look at all the possible outcomes that play out in books, television, and movies, and say, “What do we have to do to prevent something like this from happening?” Generally speaking, what do you see in our current social and political climate that could lead to a world like the one you have created?
PB: Consolidation of power is concerning to me. Left, right, doesn’t matter what political party or person has that power. History is replete with tyrants and oligarchies from all political backgrounds, from fascism to socialism. What I am most wary of is the unique ability of technology to concentrate power in individuals and systems. Democracy is meant to disperse power to the people. To sever the power of the state from the lawmakers and invest it in the people. But the more money and industry that is concentrated under individuals and companies, the more they can manipulate the power of the state to their advantage. That is inherently undemocratic and is fundamental in the world of Red Rising–the systematic concentration of power from the majority to the minority.
AC:The society that you created for the novels and comic books have a well developed caste system laid out. What did you study to world build the Red Rising universe?
PB: Much of it comes from my childhood. I had a peripatetic childhood, so I was able to see the social structures in 8 states, twelve schools. That helped form the caste system–as well as using Spartan, Helot relations, India’s caste structure, and Roman history texts–particularly Gibbon’s illuminating “Fall and decline of the roman empire”
AC: The line from the first book “Look into yourself, Darrow, and you’ll realize that you are a good man who will have to do bad things,” stands out to me. Will the main character in Sons of Ares have a similar destiny to that of Darrow?
PB: Certainly. I love the idea of an individual at war with themselves. When a man or woman must compromise their own concept of themselves to achieve something that is ‘good’, then you have the basis for a complex, nuanced character.
The books were very sweeping and epic in nature involving the entire solar system. Will the comic book series have system wide consequences or is it more self contained in nature.
From small dreams come huge empires. It will sprawl, but it starts with the war of one man against a system.
AC: Are you a comic book reader? Are there any comic books that have influenced your writing?
PB: I have been since I was a kid. So many AA batteries are casualties of my flashlight midnight reading. I loved X-Men and Spider-Man most as a kid, but the largest influence has to be Sandman or anything Alan Moore.