By: Nicole D’Andria
Today on “Kickstart the Week,” John Ward is discussing his thrilling crime-centric comic book Acausal, which also has science-fiction elements. He describes it as “part QUANTUM LEAP, part CRIMINAL.”
The story of Acausal follows a group of misfits consisting of criminals and cops who have a device that receives messages from the future. The first issue introduced readers to RCMP officer Tara Becker, who worked with a pair of criminals who had a device that enabled them to receive messages from the future. This led the trio to stop an anarcho-terrorist from destroying Toronto. The second issue picks up right where Acausal #1 lefts off with the group repairing their device and questioning the identity of the person interacting with them from the future.
John Ward is the creator and writer of Acausal. Some of his other comic book credits include Scratcher, Offbeats, and Ultrabot Go Go Go. A multi-talented man, John also hosts the 49 Degrees North Writers Podcast and created short films like Linda and Dollhouse. His PhD in string theory may also have come in handy when he was writing Acausal!
The art team for Acausal includes artist EV Cantada, who recently worked on comic books like Unborn, Masque, and Hatchet: Halloween Tales II. EV is joined by graphic designer and letterer Lucas Gattoni (aka the Lettering Bear), who’s worked for numerous comic book publishers including ComiXology Originals and Scout Comics.
The project is seeking to raise CA $800 (US $636) by April 22, 2022, at 12:05 PM EDT. Rewards include digital (CA $5/US $4) and physical (CA $10/US $8) copies of the 30-page second issue. There are also additional options to get both digital issues of Acausal (CA $9/US $8), along with a digital copy of the Dark Fragments Anthology (CA $12/US $10) including limited edition physical books if you live in the Vancouver BC area. Other rewards can be viewed on the Acausal #1-2 Kickstarter page.
Let’s get a look at both the here-and-now as well as the future of the series with creator and writer John Ward below:
Nicole D’Andria (ND): Despite the science-fiction elements, you want this to be a grounded series. How do you go about balancing that with those sci-fi concepts?
John Ward (JW): One of the things I love about science fiction is how it makes you engage with “big ideas.” When it’s done well, this engagement is extremely personal and you have immense empathy for the characters. But sometimes it’s not executed as well as it could be, and you end up with the story focusing on the gadget or the idea instead of the characters. So, this is my starting point for trying to flesh out something grounded. The story has to focus on the characters and their relationships, even if they’re engaging with these big science-inspired ideas, and it has to be understandable.
My goal isn’t to be “scientifically accurate” (although we could certainly debate what that even means in the 21st century) or focus too much on pseudo-scientific explanations of the “big idea,” but instead, it’s to focus on characters and what these things mean to them. The other important element for helping to ground the science-fiction is to make things work on a small scale. Ideas such as time-travel are inherently very large and profound because they challenge our fundamental concepts about the nature of the universe. I want to take that big idea and put it in a smaller setting (which creates contrast). So instead of time-travel devices being under the control of government agencies or corporations, we hand it to people who are not too dissimilar to ourselves: flawed, complicated, and contradictory. Their interest in the device is not necessarily altruistic and the story’s stakes are therefore more personal (as opposed to stories where characters need to get a widget to a machine in order to stop the universe from collapsing).
ND: If you could go back to your past self (say from 10 years ago) and tell them one thing, what would it be and why?
JW: Ironically, I wouldn’t say anything to my past self. I believe the universe is fundamentally chaotic in nature (in the sense that small changes in initial conditions lead to dramatically different outcomes), so I would be hesitant to give my past self any information, as that would invariably set me on a different path. It may be a better path. It may be worse. We have no way of knowing. I believe that I’m the person I am today because of the totality of my lived experience, both good and bad. If any of those experiences were changed then I wouldn’t be who I am—or where I am—today.
ND: In your first Kickstarter, you mentioned that Acausal is perfect for fans of Criminal, Comeback, and Murder Book. What was it about these works that inspired you to compare them to Acausal that will draw fans in?
JW: To be honest, I find it hard to compare my books to other books (I hope I’m not alone there), especially when those books are so compelling. From a marketing perspective, I understand the need for comps, but as a creator, it does give me pause.
Time Before Time wasn’t out by the time we put the first campaign together, and I feared that time-travel and crime may have been a difficult sell for readers, so I focused on the books that influenced me during the writing.
Criminal is an amazing series from a creative team working at the top of their game. I love how they build a large world populated with complex characters, who we often find ourselves rooting for, even though they often appear to do despicable things.
Comeback is a great time-travel/crime (maybe we should call this crime-travel?) series from Ed Brisson and Michael Walsh. It’s a fast-paced and engaging story right from page one, which integrates interesting, flawed, characters and time-travel in a wonderful adventure. Murder Book is a fabulous crime anthology from Ed Brisson and a slew of incredible artists. Each story has a unique look and different criminal focus, but they’re each grounded in character and relationships.
So, those were the big elements I hoped to distill down in Acausal: flawed characters with conflicted relationships, with the hint of a larger world.
ND: How would you describe, in one sentence per person, each member of your team of misfits in Acausal?
JW: The team in Acausal is comprised of Becker, Zoe, and Anders, but the story examines how they change over time.
Becker starts out being quite conservative. She’s someone who believes in rules and structure (exemplified by her job as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer) and is skeptical when it comes to the voracity of Keisha’s messages. She starts to believe the information, and in the process, rejects the rules and structures that she previously clung to.
Conversely, Zoe begins as a chaos agent. She’s not bound by social conventions or structures and is an enthusiastic believer in Keisha and her information. As the story progresses, she begins to have doubts about what is really happening and that makes her start to question everything: including her own boundaries, and she becomes more cautious in the process.
Anders is quiet and more technically minded than the others. He keeps his cards close to his chest but is fascinated by the science of the acausal messages, and that guides his choices and his relationship with the others. At this stage of the story, he’s still a man of mystery.
ND: Why are the members of your creative team, artist EV Cantada and letterer by Lucas Gattoni, the perfect duo to be working on Acausal with you? Do you have a favorite page by Cantada and favorite use of lettering techniques from Gattoni?
JW: I’m very lucky to be able to collaborate with two incredible and complimentary artists on this book. I love EV’s attention to detail in the linework as it helps identify the tone of the world (and the story), and the detail in his character expressions really helps us understand what they’re going through in a personal way. My favourite page of his so far is actually from issue one: It’s a fight sequence that proceeds clockwise around the page, anchored by a flashback panel in the centre. It’s a beautiful sequence that highlights the internal and external character conflicts in an interesting way.
Lucas is an amazing letterer, and his work perfectly supports EV’s visual storytelling. The lettering again highlights the tone through the font choices and the caption boxes are specific to each character. His sound effects are perfectly balanced and highlight the science-fiction elements in the story when they arise. His text placement is great and really helps pull the reader through the page without difficulty, even on those pages when he has to go “against the flow” (text going right to left as the eye goes down the page).
ND: What is the number one reason why people should pledge money to your Kickstarter campaign?
JW: Every pledge for our book is a show of support for the creation of independent art. The world is currently a dark and dangerous place for too many people and it’s easy to become depressed and disillusioned about it. But art and stories have the ability to lift people. They can inspire us to be better, to imagine and create a better world for ourselves and for one another. Art represents freedom, which is why it’s one of the first activities to be censored, controlled, and banned in repressive societies. A pledge for our book (and other books) is a vote for art that’s not defined and controlled by corporations. It’s a vote for freedom, tolerance, and empathy.
ND: As this is your second Kickstarter campaign for the series, what were your biggest takeaways from your first successful Kickstarter that you hope to implement into this Kickstarter to make it even more successful?
JW: The biggest takeaway from the first Kickstarter campaign was just how much work it was to put together. I felt relatively prepared thanks to two great resources: Kickstarter Secrets by Greg Pak, and the Comixlaunch podcast by Tyler James, but even so—it was tough. As I reflected on the first campaign, I realized I needed to give myself more time pre-campaign to build up a list of followers and to do more advance press. I like to have the book completely finished before the launch, which means I can send out preview copies—which is what I did this time. It’s early days still so the jury is out on whether my approach was more successful.
ND: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book writers?
JW: I’m not sure I’m established enough to give out any inspirational words, but with that said: be interesting! I’m sure most writers will say something like “don’t quit,” and that was my first inclination too—but I think we also need writers to dig deep and try to elevate their work. Finishing is the first step, I think. Beyond that, you need to make your work interesting (so don’t be boring). I know we sometimes need to get out a lot of exposition, but pages of talking head sequences are not always the most interesting way to do that. I think writers need to ask themselves how and when to dole out exposition and should do it in an interesting way. Similarly, I have read too many first issues where there’s too much set-up or backstory and the actual story doesn’t start until we’re almost at the end of the issue. Is this the most interesting way to tell this story? If it genuinely is, then that’s great. But I’d wager in most cases there are more interesting ways to do it, and they will almost always get us hooked into the story much quicker
ND: Promote yourself! What other projects in addition to this one do you have planned for us to look forward to in the near future?
JW: I’m currently working on new stories for a follow-up to Dark Fragments, a dark-fiction anthology written by me and drawn by a host of incredible artists. Dark Fragments was voted third favourite Canadian comic book of 2021 by Sequential Magazine and is currently only available as a pledge tier on the Acausal Kickstarter. The next iteration of this anthology will hopefully be out in 2023.
Right now, I’m also developing two different projects that I’m really stoked about: one is a paranoid science-fiction thriller about weaponizing nostalgia, while the other is an aquatic body-horror. I’m still kicking the tires on these ideas, so they may or may not end up being my next book. You can always follow me on Twitter @arbutus_films and check out my website https://arbutusfilms.com/ to find my podcast, newsletter, short films, and other cool stuff.
Do you have a crowdfunding project? Want to be interviewed about it and have the project featured on “Kickstart/IndieGogo/GoFundMe/etc. the Week?” Then message me on my website. Also considering checking out the official Kickstart the Week: Interviews with Comic Book Kickstarter Creators Volume 1 on Kindle.
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