A couple of weeks back I was able to talk with Robert Venditti, author of The Surrogates comic book series, as well as its follow up, Surrogates: Flesh and Bone. We were able to talk about not just his books, but also the film adaptation released this weekend starring Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames. Here’s what he had to say.
Geeks of Doom: What was the genesis of The Surrogates?
Robert Venditti: When I was in grad school at the University of Central Florida, I was in a class called the Literature of the Internet, we read a book called The Cyber Gypsies, which was a non fiction book a guy had written about people addicted to the internet, mostly through online gaming, and people would create these personas for themselves, and they would so identify with those personas, they would lose their jobs or get divorced because they would spend so much time maintaining that persona in the computer. So that was an idea that stuck with me, the sort of basic need we all seem to have to be something other than who we are, and that kicked around in my head for a year or two. And then I started to see a lot of shows on TV about people getting radical plastic surgery, like Extreme Makeover, Dr. 90210, and then that idea melded with the idea from the Cyber Gypsies and made me think about what would happen if we take the world now, where you create this persona for yourself on the internet, what if the technology existed where you can create this persona and that could go out into the world and live your life in your place. And that was where the whole idea started.
GoD: Have you always been a big science fiction fan, or is that something that came out through this class?
RV: No, I’ve never been a big sci-fi reader, I’ve read about 10 sci-fi novels my whole life, and a lot of them were for that class. The idea was just something that by its nature was a sci-fi idea, because you’re talking about technology that doesn’t exist, so that’s what it became. My influences are much more in detective stories, detective TV shows, police procedurals, things like that.
GoD: That’s interesting because so much of the Surrogates is the police stuff; is the detective story.
RV: Yeah, I always think it’s more of a detective story than it is a sci-fi story.
GoD: Yeah, but so much good sci-fi takes a genre and then throws in something else to make it a sci-fi story.
RV: The thing that I wanted to do was, as opposed to creating this world with flying cars and aliens and any other kind of sci-fi thing you could think of, I just really wanted to take one single facet of the society and change it. So, it’s very much a world like ours today except there’s the introduction of the Surrogates, but everything else is pretty much the same. Which I think helps with the detective aspect of the story; it makes it feel much more like it’s in the near future than the fifty years in the future that the story is set.
GoD: How did you get connected with the artist Brett [Weldele, artist for the Surrogates]?
RV: That was actually Top Shelf’s [publisher of The Surrogates] doing. Chris Staros at Top Shelf had known Brett’s work from the Savannah College of Art and Design, where Brett had gotten a degree, and Chris goes over there for editors day pretty frequently and he had seen Brett’s portfolio and spoken to him pretty frequently about his pages over the years. So when I gave Chris the script for the Surrogates and he decided he wanted to publish it Brett was somebody that he immediately thought of because he has a style that was very much in the vein of the cyberpunk story that I was trying to tell.
GoD: There’s a very strong religious under tone in the story. Did you grow up around that, or how did you latch onto that particular aspect of the story?
RV: I went to Lutheran schools up through 8th grade, and there was a religion class in school and a memory class where you had to memorize passages from the Bible and things like that. So I was very much steeped in those kinds of things growing up, and the Bible has been very interesting to me, not even from a religious aspect so much as from the scholarly aspect and even the literary aspect. There’s a lot of really good stories in the Bible so it’s something that’s been an interest of mine after all these years. So all of those things were working around in the background, and definitely when I was writing the story and I would be looking for parallels between the character of the Prophet and the life of Christ, all that background served me well.
GoD: What drew you to doing Flesh and Bone as a prequel, rather than doing another mystery in the same universe?
RV: From the beginning I’d envisioned the story as three graphic novels, I didn’t know that I’d ever get to do more than the first one, because that would all be dependent on how the book sold, and all those kind of things, So from the beginning I wanted it to be three, and I wanted it to be the first book and then a prequel, and then a sequel, so I was just writing the books in the order that I had always planned to do them.
GoD: So are you guys working on the sequel then?
RV: Haven’t started on it yet, since we just got the new one out, we’re just taking a little break and working on some other things. I do want to do the sequel, and maybe two other books actually before I get to the sequel so I have ideas for two more books that I’d like to do now, so we’ll see what happens.
GoD: How much participation did you have in the production of the movie?
RV: I was a consultant on the screenplay and I went to watch the filming a couple of times but I didn’t try to overly involve myself. Going in I sort of understood the Directors, screenwriters and actors are all creative in their own right, and so if their inspired by something I wrote and do something creatively with it, I don’t want to be sitting over their shoulders. I want them to have fun with it and do what they want to do with it and I just take it as a big compliment that they would even want to do it in the first place. I just took a step back and let them do it and I know from reading the screenplay and seeing what I have from the filming that all the themes and the subtext of the story and all the characters are all the same. So they stay true to all the key elements of the story.
GoD: Have you seen the movie yet?
RV: No, I haven’t seen it yet. I’m kind of waiting to see the finished film, because it isn’t finished yet, and I want to wait till it’s all done. [Ed. Note: This interview was conducted prior to the film's release]. I just want to see it in its final form. I don’t want to see it when the effects aren’t finished or the music’s not done. I just want to see it when it’s completed.
GoD:Did you ever think John McClane [Bruce Willis's character in the Die Hard films] would be playing a character you created?
RV: I was actually really excited. True story, when I wrote the story back in 2002, comic book movies were first starting to get popular; Spider-Man had done well, X-Men had done well and companies were starting to look for properties out there that were outside of the Marvel and DC stock piles. I was talking to my wife one night, we didn’t even have a publisher yet, we were just saying if they were going to make a movie out of The Surrogates who would be a good actor to play the lead role, and we both said that Bruce Willis would be perfect because he’s one of the few guys in Hollywood who can do action sequences and be convincing in those, but also do more subtle emotional character moments. So he was always the guy that we wanted for the role and it’s not like I ever said to anybody “Get me Bruce or there’s no deal.” Nothing like that , it just ended up working out through this crazy confluence of events that he ended up being the guy. So I was really happy when that happened.