AARON: Why was Ballistic important for you to write, and what are you hoping audiences get from it?
ADAM: I’m trying to translate a certain feeling or set of feelings about being in our present moment – a moment which is embedded in a constantly refreshing future. The feeling of being a human form caught in a hyper dense technological present where communication and tools and entertainment and weaponry are all buzzing inside and out of us in a kind of rapid-prototyping micro-evolution. But I wanted to do it in a way that was funny, hence the Lethal Weapon-styled buddy-crime genre mutation. I mean, it’s about a guy and his drug-addict gun, it was going to have to be funny. It’s taking the comedy inherent in Cronenberg, Burroughs, and Ballard and make it a bit more overt. It all started when my friend Paul Laffoley claimed that if hammers were alive, they would refuse to be used as weapons because they’d have morality. He’s a utopian, and this all struck me as absolutely the opposite of true: If tools were alive, they’d be more likely to act irrationally and commit crimes, as this is the trajectory of life. I also wanted to present an eco-apocalypse story in which the ultimate ecological catastrophe has happened already, and been solved, and we’re all back to being assholes. The world of Repo City State is full of amazing “green” tech inspired by real world science, but presented in a way which is not precious, or utopian, or particularly optimistic. Nevertheless, I would love for this story to inspire some young geniuses out there to solve some problems with visionary engineering.
AARON: One could accept Laffoley’s claim, but with a different take on morality. The tools don’t need to be absolutely moral, but still possesses a sense of right and wrong and sometimes make the right choices, and sometimes make the wrong choices. Isn’t there a “middle ground”? Or are we living in a world of assholes, tools, and imaginary saints?
ADAM: Yes there’s certainly a middle ground to make all sorts of arguments about where there is morality in our use of technology. In the particular example of what inspired me, it’s exactly a middle ground — things that alive may or may not make good moral choices. Or they might be utterly insane. In the case of Ballistic, we’re talking about Repo City State here, which is a place of extremes. The technology is extreme and the culture is extreme — though, of course, it’s, I hope, a reflection of our time. The characters in Ballistic do what normal people do — they use current technology and social organization to try to have sex, get high and live the good life. We’re currently in a cultural norm that suggests being “famous” is the good life. In Ballistic, I extended my understanding of this cultural leaning into the idea that criminals are the celebrity class of Repo City State — criminals are cool, there are blogs and magazines about them, and everyone wants to be a criminal. Once you have that as your dominant populist outlook — well, things will go a little haywire.
AARON: You were influenced by the French film Martyrs. All the categories of horror — body horror, psychological horror, etc. — are here, which is why you could say Martyrs best fits into the category “intestinal horror.” I say this not because intestines are springing out at you like in Re-Animator, but because it seems to challenge the “intestinal fortitude” of the audience.
ADAM: I loved Martyrs, and I’m psyched to talk about it — but let me be clear upfront that it’s not a reference I used for Ballistic. Martyrs is something I love as a film, and for film-related reasons. In particular, I love what it does with the horror genre, and Ballistic, though horrific at times, is not in the horror genre. The work that the two actresses do in Martyrs is what makes it a great film. It’s about female relationships – their relationship to one another, to their past, to violence. It’s undoubtedly one of the most violent movies I’ve ever seen, and it is unrelentingly terrifying in a way that becomes an ordeal to watch, but it does not approach it’s material in a way that feels remotely exploitative. It’s one of the few movies I think of that depicts brutal violence against women but does not seem to present this violence as entertainment. Thematically, I feel it is showing us something about horror movies – a genre in which we revel in watching the destruction of young female bodies. Why do we do this, what are we looking for? Martyrs crystallizes this question into a metaphysical quest. There’s not one second of that movie that does not feel like an unflinching search for emotional truth, using the implied rules of horror as a tool to for that search. I always ask actresses I’m working with to watch this movie, the emotional commitment is unparalleled in the genre, except for Rosemary’s Baby and the Exorcist. We’ve veered into a whole different world than the colorful crime-infested streets of Repo City State. I’ve never thought to connect those worlds of influence, actually other than that even in my comic, even as crazy as it gets, I would hope that Darick and I are looking for truth.
AARON: Is it fair to say that Ballistic uses the rules of the ’80s action film — the “buddy cop story” — in a similar way that Martyrs uses the rules of horror to search for the emotional truth of existing in a world with an ever-changing future and hyper-dense technological present?
ADAM: Yeah! I like that. Part of that is the mechanism in the creative process of thinking about what kind of story are we telling, and therefore what kind of rules are we going to play with. My primary directive in this comic is to explore the idea through the characters interacting with the world. The idea rules all. So get those ideas into a story with forward motion, I need dot find structures that were pretty simple. And I also realized that despite this being set in a future Asia, it was in it’s DNA about the United States. A guy and his talking gun — that’s pure American action. So Lethal Weapon — and 48 Hours, and Midnight Run, etc.) were an important part of the foundation. As was Die Hard, which is, above all else, about a single, nearly naked man using a gun in some of the most ingenious gun moments I’ve ever seen. And the third part of the foundation was Raymond Chandler — the way that in a story like The Big Sleep we are gliding through the almost incomprehensible clues and puzzles, confounded but never once disengaged, as it is the world, the feeling, the character’s particular genius that keep us moving. Interestingly, Chandler is one of the biggest influences on Shane Black, the writer of Lethal Weapon (see especially his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). As far as the violence — I think Butch has a complicated relationship to violence. His best friend the Gun really pushes for violence, as that’s his sole purpose. But Butch himself – sometimes he seems to be shocked that he has to engage in such brutality to get to the next step. I think he hasn’t really thought things through too well, to be honest.
AARON: How does a guy who studied philosophy and literature at Columbia decide that writing comics is more important than, say, becoming a professor?
ADAM: First of all, I don’t think those jobs are very easy to come by. When I was born, my father was on a track to become a philosophy professor and he ultimately moved on to a different career because academic jobs were too difficult to secure. Secondly, I have a terrible memory, and when I was in school I noticed that the star teachers I studied under — Gayatri Spivak, in particular — had an absolute recall of everything they’d read, so that they could rapidly synthesize new comparative ideas. I’m too forgetful for that, so I needed a career in which I’m making new things and moving on. And it took me a long time to forget all the things I learned at school so that I could start creating in a way that would connect to other people, as opposed to form of creation that remains locked in the brain.
AARON: Is being creative creating something totally new?
ADAM: When I was in school I was reading lots of Derrida and Foucault and Adorno, and thinking about books and films in terms of what they mean. The practice was to extract meaning and context and use the work as if it was a piece of information to be used in making a larger argument, a tapestry built of other intelligible artifacts. Even though I would read, say, Jane Eyre and have an emotional reaction to it, I wasn’t analyzing the emotion, or how it was created, or why I was interested in it. I was looking at, for example, how the language around Jane was different from the language around Bertha and how that might related to aspects of the British Empire. This mode of thinking is not helpful when you are trying to break a story or emotionally connect to an audience. It’s a totally valid mode of thinking, but it really does stand in the way of storytelling unless maybe you already have an absolutely liquid, emotionally engaged imagination. But I had to unlearn it so I could get to the much more fundamentally important question: “What Happens Next?”