EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: THE SURROGATES Author Robert Venditti on His New Graphic Novel THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE
Published: July 4, 2011 - 7:27am
The Homeland Directive, the latest original graphic novel from Venditti, is a political thriller dealing with government corruption, privacy, and the post 9/11 world we live in.
As a leading researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Laura Regan is one of the world’s foremost authorities on viral and bacteriological study. Having dedicated her career to halting the spread of infectious disease, she has always considered herself one of the good guys. But when her research partner is murdered and Laura is blamed for the crime, she finds herself at the heart of a vast and deadly conspiracy. Aided by three rogue federal agents who believe the government is behind the frame-up, Laura must evade law enforcement, mercenaries, and a team of cyber-detectives who know more about her life than she does—all while trying to expose a sinister plot that will impact the lives of every American.
Set in the Orwellian present, The Homeland Directive confronts one of the vital questions of our time: In an era when technology can either doom or save us, is it possible for personal privacy and national security to coexist?
This book deals with a lot of realistic government issues... privacy concerns and the amount of government involvement in people’s lives. Where did the story in The Homeland Directive come from and what themes does it touch upon?
“In the aftermath of 9/11, the government was recommending an array of new laws and procedures that they believed would make the country more secure. One that made a lot of headlines was the idea that the government would be better able to identify potential terrorists if they could track reading habits through the records kept by public libraries. There was a huge outcry from civil liberties organizations claiming that this would be a violation of civil rights. Around the same time, though, I was working at a Borders Books & Music, and the company rolled out a new program where customers could sign up for a frequent buyer’s card that would keep track of their purchases, and in exchange they would receive coupons and special offers. People couldn’t line up for it fast enough.
"It occurred to me that Americans are somewhat paradoxical in their nature. We ask that government protect us from the terrorist threat—and we’re quick to hold government accountable when it doesn’t—but when government suggests measures that it thinks might make that protection a reality, there’s an inevitable backlash. Meanwhile, the very same freedoms that we cling to so tenaciously when encroached upon by government, we’ll trade for a coupon that gives us a 10% discount on our next purchase. We put our leaders in a no-win situation, and The Homeland Directive is about what happens when one man in government endeavors to win in spite of it.
"I open the book with a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin: “They who can give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I intend that to be more of a question for the reader. I’m not passing judgment on anyone, and I’m not suggesting that I’m any different—I like safety and liberty just as much as the next guy. It’s up to each of us to determine how much of either we’re willing to let go."
Politics and civil liberty issues are not a common topic in comics, a very visual form of entertainment. Was it difficult to write a story set heavily in the political arena and keep the visuals interesting?
“If the entire book took place inside the Oval Office, then we would’ve run into a problem with too many talking heads. You can get away with that on film—the HBO original film Conspiracy being an excellent example—but it’s much harder to make it work with static images. Our story spends time in hospitals, fleabag hotels, mob hangouts, and a myriad of other places that hopefully keep it visually interesting. Mike’s stunning art doesn’t hurt, either.”
Venditti’s previously popular work The Surrogates -- which was also adapted into a major motion picture starring Bruce Willis -- dealt heavily with science fiction themes. The Homeland Directive, in stark contrast, is set in the current reality of North America. What prompted the shift in theme?
“I wanted to challenge myself by doing something different, rather than stick with science fiction. The Homeland Directive still has elements of technology in it, but it’s very much a story set in the here and now. That required a good bit of research—something I didn’t do much of with The Surrogates—but I enjoyed that aspect of the writing.
"I wanted to challenge myself in other ways as well. For example, The Surrogates has a relatively small cast, whereas the cast of The Homeland Directive is much larger. Also, in The Surrogates, you know what the antagonist’s master plan is, but not his identity. In The Homeland Directive, you learn who the antagonist is in the opening pages, but you don’t know his master plan.”
The book has a very unique feel, with art that drives a lot of the tension forward. Were the layouts scripted or designed by you as well?
“My script had the pages broken down into panels, but the layout and design of those panels was all by Mike Huddleston. I wish I could take credit for some of that, but the truth is that my wheelhouse is writing, and I don’t possess the type of creativity needed to come up with the things that Mike did with the art and coloring. My first reaction to the early pages as they were coming in was that they looked completely unlike anything I’d ever seen, and in a completely positive way.”
It's been written to be released as a graphic novel, rather than a collection of single issues. From a writing perspective did you have more freedom in penning one contiguous story instead of breaking it down smaller issues?
“Since I started on The Homeland Directive back in 2004—long before the first issue of The Surrogates was in print—I consciously wrote the story so that it would work as either single issues or as a graphic novel. I was an unknown writer trying to break in to the industry, and I didn’t want to limit a prospective publisher’s options. Overall, I think it’s probably easier to write for the graphic novel format, though, since you don’t have to worry about dividing the story up into even chunks. Graphic novels can go wherever they need to go.
"To keep the tension up, I divided the plot into three separate storylines: The main storyline with Laura and the rogue agents who are protecting her, a second storyline with Secretary Keene and the various parties working for him, and a third storyline with Dr. Lasky attempting to treat one of the first patients suffering from a mystery illness. That allowed me to switch between storylines and always maintain the plot’s upward trajectory.”
With this project wrapped up, couldHomeland Directive or Surrogates sequels be coming up any time soon?
“I do have an idea for a sequel, but that would be something that would get written down the road. Right now, I have several books in various stages of production. One of my ongoing projects is writing graphic novel adaptations of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. The Lightning Thief was released in October, and I’ve already finished scripting the next two installments in the series, The Sea of Monsters and The Titan’s Curse. Those are both scheduled for release in 2012. I have a couple of other projects in the works at Hyperion as well, but I don’t know if I can talk about them yet.
"I’m also currently writing the next group of stories set in the world of The Surrogates, and those are scheduled for 2012, too. Brett Weldele and I are doing something different with the characters this time around, and I hope the fans enjoy reading it as much as I’m enjoying writing it. There are a few Easter eggs throughout the story, little things I did to have some fun with what is otherwise pretty serious subject matter. I don’t want to give away what they are, though, so I’ll just leave it there and see if any of the readers discover them on their own.”