Boom’s innovative new series Godshaper returns for its second issue this week, written by the prolific and inventive Simon Spurrier and drawn by indie comics artist and newcomer Jonas Goonface. The series takes us to a world where sometime in the 1950’s, technology was superseded by the presence and function of personal gods. Into such a world the occasional outcast is born–someone who can have no personal god and therefore no status or wealth, but possesses the unusual gift of being able to modify, update and “shape” gods.
Absolutely necessary, but absolutely unwanted, these distrusted travelers like Ennay, our central “godshaper”, make the best of their lives. Ennay has found an equally mysterious counterpart in “Bud” a little god without a worshiper, and together they con and work their way through a meager existence.
In the second issue of the series, arriving this week, we encounter more godshapers and learn a great deal more about just how they survive and perpetuate as a caste of beings. We also learn what elements of the underworld they still must fear, even if they seem remote from the dangers that threaten ordinary citizens.
There’s a big, strange world of things yet to discover about Godshaper. Fortunately for us, Simon Spurrier has joined us today to talk about the series.
Hannah Means-Shannon: This isn’t the first time by a long shot that you’ve addressed ideas of deity—from Numbercruncher where there is an omnipotent being, to exploring lesser gods in God is Dead’s vengeful Cupid, to superheroes who could, I suppose, be viewed as gods. But these gods are more ambiguous and nebulous. In a way they seem even more pagan and ancient for that reason, like little forces of nature. Can you tell us more about the gods in Godshaper?
Simon Spurrier: First and foremost, they’re an extremely practical expedient. I suppose one of the recurring themes in my work is to gleefully remove all trace of sentimentality from sentimental things (or to inject it into unsentimental things) just to see what happens. Hence, it’s no big shock that one of the central theses of Godshaper–and one of my favourite pub rants–is that religion really is just another technology.
In Godshaper‘s world, the laws of physics have gone wonky, personalised gods have replaced the conveniences of our modern world, and so metaphysics have become even more closely enmeshed with the day-to-day. It’s really all just a hyperbolic version of our society’s current regard for its god or gods, but one that throws up some really fun phenomena when in the process of exaggeration.
For instance: vanity. I propose that in a world where people have their own personal gods accompanying them at all times, those gods become fetishized in the most tawdry ways imaginable. Their look, their trend, their color, their accessories: these become by far the most important aspects of the social aesthetic. Then there’s the cultural impact. What happens to creativity, invention, wonder, when the big spiritual questions have not only been resoundingly answered, but replaced with (what amounts to) a glowing magical status symbol? (My argument: it stagnates utterly. Hence Godshaper‘s American culture is dreary, endless fugue of lame pop soft-rock and greaser hair that never left the late 50’s.)
Thirdly, these gods serve practical functions. If you want to commute to work in the morning you better make sure your god is big enough to haul a vehicle chassis around, or you’re going to want to get a special transport superpower built-in. So: constant acquisition, ambition, want! The drive to accumulate! And that’s not to mention the huger elements of the social contract, such as a viable military force or civic law enforcement, which now similarly rely on godly muscle.
…all of which, when you spend even the gentlest amount of time thinking it, forms the basis for a seemingly unique–but, horribly, not actually all that speculative–economy, in which wealth, status, self-determinism and power are all localised and manifested in the person of your own private god. In other words: the gods are capital. Godshaper is set in a world where everyone stopped pretending that they don’t worship capital and just made it obvious.
The gods here are sort of fuzzy stand-ins for anything that makes life easy. Whether social construct or practical tool. So money, power, technology, etc. The fun shit happens when that system goes wrong. When inherited power doesn’t work, or when people express their capital in a seemingly amoral way.
But, y’know, fuck that. I can come up with these bonkers alternaworld economies all day long and never stop enjoying myself, but the trick to a good story is to shove all that stuff into the background and focus down on interesting and vulnerable characters who have to navigate this weird world all on their lonesome. Hence our two protagonists. In a world where everyone has a god of their own, our heroes are Ennay–a man without a god–and Bud–a god without a man.
World building is often really just the process of inventing new forms of misfit.
HMS: In this world, humanity have kind of lost some elements of that which makes them human due to this strange symbiosis. It feels almost like a Greek, Dionysan situation that music somehow digs deep enough into those layers to still reach human beings on a participation level in “cantik” music. The gods can aid and embellish music in this world of the comic, but something else seems to be going on with cantik. And of course, it has all the sexy animalistic aspects of the dawn of rock music in the late 50s/early 60’s. Is music a greater god?
SS: Misfitism, right? The bigger, duller and less permissive the mainstream culture, the more vibrant the counterculture. Cantik’s probably the most vibrant there is. It’s not just the music–although that’s the backbone of it. It’s a freeing, angry, chaotic, raw, sexy scene which completely struggles (rightly) to define itself. But hi, I’m the writer, so I have to be able to boil this shit down into a few words, so when you get right down to it Cantik is this: you are not your stuff.
Wonderfully, because this is comics, I don’t even have to define what this music sounds like. That happens all on its own inside the magical gap between the page and the reader’s brain. I’ve had people who assume it’s jazz, or punk, or grunge, or whatever. And of course it’s not. (For what it’s worth I hear it as a sort of glam version of Katajjaq Inuit throat-singing, but I’m weird like that.)
Anyway, in character terms, Cantik serves an important function. Our hero Ennay is defined by his godlessness. He hates that. He wants people to look at him and see something other than a “nogody”. Cantik–which combines flare and poetry and charisma with the implied rejection of god-as-all–is his ticket to self esteem. As we’ll see: that ticket only takes him so far.
HMS: The outsider, the drifter, the perspective character, Ennay also shows us the worst side of his world by dealing with prejudice, lack of compassion, and total lack of empathy for his plight. Not that he wallows in self-pity, but he’s definitely dealing with a lot of bullshit. What ideas helped you formulate Ennay, and why is it important that we see this comic through his eyes?
SS: Horrible cliché answer, sorry: he just sprang from the page. Especially when Jonas started noodling around with designs, and he became a far more sensual, self-possessed sort of guy.
The misfit is and always will be the perfect vehicle for reflecting on the world that’s rejected them. In Ennay’s case, he also happens to be this very creative, eternally disappointed guy. He’s vulnerable, he’s loving, he’s kinda promiscuous in the loveliest way, but he refuses to admit that what he really wants–what he’s yearning for–is for people to tell him he’s worth something.
Sadly, he occupies a world where he, a godless man, is literally worth nothing. And that’s the way American society intends to keep it.
This is not surprising. All models for individualist societies collapse if people start refusing to do all the vital but shitty jobs at the bottom of the pile. So, you keep the unfortunate fuckers poor, needy, despised, and incapable of protest. As Ennay puts it: always needed, never wanted.
HMS: Can you tell us more about how a Godshaper operates? What qualities seem to contribute to their role? Will we see other Godshapers turn up in the comic?
SS: I’m being deliberately coy about the mechanisms that allow them to do what they do, for now. A lot of the big questions in this world–what happened in 1958? Why did the laws of physics break? Why can the shapers do what they do? –will, no surprise, bubble towards the foreground as we go forward. But yeah, thematically, the idea is that someone with no personal stake, but a lot of personal skill, is the ideal candidate for either slavery or governance. Throughout history, societies have tended to favour the former option.
And yes, we absolutely will be seeing other Godshapers.
HMS: What was your reaction when you saw the first artwork coming back from Jonas Goonface for Godshaper? Did it shift or change your own conception of the world of the comic? Has Jonas’ art led to changing things up in any particular direction?
SS: I think “Oh holy sweet shitting heck look LOOOOK this kid’s going to be a star” pretty much sums up my first reaction. Jonas is about as far from mainstream US comickery as it gets–which, huh, behold a new and accidental Godshaper metaphor for reality–but he’s got storytelling oozing from every pore. In his unique, grotesque-but-glam sort of way, monkeying around with color and flow, he’s totally defined the look and vibe of the book, and excavated the conceptual void I was referring to earlier re: Cantik.
He’s good. Very very good.
Big thanks for Simon Spurrier for doing this interview with Comicon.com.
Godshaper #2 arrives in comic shops on Wednesday, May 10th.