Losing Control Of Consciousness: Discussing Come Into Me With Lonnie Nadler And Zac Thompson

by Hannah Means Shannon

Coming up in March 2018, a new body horror comic is landing from Black Mask Studios, from the same writing team who brought us the critically acclaimed series The Dregs. Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, who have since been announced on Cable from Marvel Comics, have teamed up with artist Piotr Kowalski, colorist Niko Guardia, and letterer Ryan Ferrier to dive deeply into the psychology of social sharing of information and identity.

The series Come into Me is far from esoteric or hypothetical–this is a tale of science reaching not so far beyond our current reach to allow human beings to share minds and bodies. But Nadler, Thompson, and Kowalski see little wonderment in that, based on my reading of the first issue. In fact, there is plenty to fear and exploring that fear makes for some great reading. In issue #1 we meet scientist and entrepreneur Sebastian Quinn who has developed this technology after some very messy bumps in the road. We also meet a young woman who seems to have her own mysterious drives to bring this invention to the world as the culmination of our social need to share with one another. What happens next is the basis of this thriller.

Both Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson join us here on Comicon.com today to talk in depth about Come Into Me and where this chilling, fascinating, story comes from.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Hi Lonnie and Zac! Good to speak again. I’m still thinking about my experience of reading The Dregs and what an interesting comic you both created there with Eric Zawadski. Though I find it hard to classify The Dregs primarily as a horror comic, it has some horrific concepts, and the reader doesn’t feel “safe” because of the intensity of revelations that unfold in it.

I recently saw your new comic, Come Into Me, with Piotr Kowalski, described as a horror comic. Is that term more applicable this time around? How would you describe this new series?

Lonnie Nadler: Thanks for having me back, Hannah. I always appreciate your questions. They’re so much more in depth than most interviews I do and that is always a pleasure. Keeps me on my toes. It’s funny you bring up the idea of The Dregs as a “horror” book. While there are certainly elements of horror in there, we always hated that it was being marketed as a horror book. If it must have a label, it’s more so a crime story than anything.

I think it was an easy way for our publisher to market the book and us as a team rather than saying, “Oh this book defies genre labels” because that language is hard for readers and retailers to understand, and rightfully so. With Come Into Me it is definitely more applicable this time around…somewhat. That is to say there’s going to be more outright genre moments throughout, and at its core it is a body horror story. But it’s also a sci-fi book. It’s also a medical drama. It’s also a social thriller. Confining ourselves to one genre feels reductive at times, but it makes the books easier to market. We just hope we don’t get pigeonholed as “Those guys who do horror”.

Zac Thompson: Yeah, we’re never looking to exist solely in one genre. Our hope, if anything, is to broaden people’s perspective and create challenging stories that exist at a crossroads of multiple different genres. With Come Into Me it’s definitely more horrific than The Dregs, but really tries to take a social pulse in a way that makes it break free of the genre in many moments. We wanted to channel our love for the work of David Cronenberg and make a social thriller with body horror moments that makes people rethink their relationship to sharing culture and social media.

HMS: I feel like The Dregs explored a mind isolated from other minds and Come Into Me is poised to explore a mind in the context of other minds. Things are getting more universal and the context seems much wider. Does that seem fair?

ZT: I think so…to a degree. It’s certainly an interesting way to look at it. Lonnie and I are incredibly interested in storytelling from a certain perspective. Come Into Me definitely comes from the idea of asking “how much sharing is too much sharing?” We really wanted to dive into and criticize the common condition of sharing your personal life with a bunch of people who are effectively strangers outside the lens you apply to your own life. Social media is all about controlling what you share. Carefully curating an image to appear one way or another, and we really wanted to blow that open. We wanted to show what happens when that control goes away, when you can no longer guard your image or curate anything. Fully sharing yourself and your mind rarely happens anymore. It seems scary and dangerous, and that’s exactly why we wanted to blow it wide open.

LN: With The Dregs we had to keep everything in the protagonist’s perspective or else the whole unreliable narrator tactic doesn’t quite work. With Come Into Me, we’re seeing the vast majority of the book through the eyes of Sebastian Quinn, but it just so happens there are two people within that mind, so it naturally expands narrative perspectives. At this point in our careers, Zac and I are very much intrigued by more limited stories and digging into the inner minds of a limited cast of characters. This is the gateway to exploring universality for us because when you uncover the deep truths about one or two people, it allows you to touch upon more detailed aspects of their lives and thus more ubiquitous themes.

HMS: You can’t throw a quote in at the beginning of a comic without me asking about it, so here we go. That’s William James, the brother of the novelist Henry James, right? William James the psychologist who wrote, The Varieties of Religious Experience?

I don’t know if the quote is of deep importance or just captures the right meaning for you, but WJ was one of the first people to try to account for the internal, experiential level of religious feeling and talk about what human beings need in life beyond material subsistence, I think. Is Come Into Me a story that addresses what human beings need that society in the comic might not have been able to account for, or measure before?

LN: I actually feel ashamed that I didn’t know William and Henry were brothers…I feel like an idiot but it makes a lot of sense given their areas of interest. The quote serves a few functions for us. Namely, it encapsulates what the first issue is really about and the series as a whole. By offering a rather lofty quote like that at the beginning it forces the reader into a certain mindset before the story fully begins and makes sure their brain is already thinking about certain topics as they go through the book.

It’s a bit of manipulation on our part to try to ensure our intentions are being communicated from the get go. That said, yes, William James and his philosophies did influence certain aspects of the book in minor ways. It’s not so much religious or spiritual, in fact it’s probably pretty anti-religion because it takes place within a scientific community, but some of his pragmatism and ideas about personal truths certainly seep into the narrative.

ZT: I spent a lot of time in university studying the work of William James. He’s considered to be one of the first people who brought the study of the human mind to the forefront. His work seemed like a really great place to start the issue as Lonnie said – to get people thinking. However, James’ philosophy of the mind comes into play later in a big way. He was the first person to coin the term “stream of consciousness” and in a lot of ways the book begins to delve into how we control that stream, what do we do when someone else can dip their hands into that stream, and what happens when we lose control of our own consciousness. Where do we go when it’s interrupted? These are all very lofty questions that we develop our own answers for over the course of the narrative.

HMS: Related to the previous question, it seems like our inventor, Sebastian Quinn, might be someone who measures things about human need in purely an external, biological sense. He’s a materialist, I think. Then there’s Becky, who is going to be an important character, too, and from the outset, she seems to be suggesting that humans need something more, a certain kind of experience. What interests you about bringing those two different minds and approaches into dialog in the comic?

ZT: It’s about exploring the dynamic between people who approach memory and experience in a utilitarian way versus the more modern idea of sharing/oversharing as humans. Sebastian is, by and large, someone who is disconnected from others despite creating technology that literally connects minds. Becky is someone who is desperate for empathy and connection, and she wants nothing more than to understand others, to feel the way other people feel, and to step outside of herself. There’s something to be said about both of those perspectives. Lately it seems like a lot of people are trying to push back against this idea of oversharing and shouting our perspectives at one another via social media. There’s a lot of utility in connecting with others and relying on one another to open a dialogue. Sebastian doesn’t really see the use of it and Becky longs to break free from isolation. By engaging both in a conversation, we’re hoping to show the benefits of both and also hone in on the devastating effects of intermingling your mind with an opposing perspective with no chance of escape.

LN: Zac pretty much nailed it. It’s about exploring how two people with different life experiences could possibly come together to co-exist, or not. It’s about the idea of initial appeal and attraction and what happens after periods of over-exposure, and I mean this on many levels. I think we’re on the verge of having technology not dissimilar from this so it’s also about looking into the future and trying to extrapolate the possibilities, no matter how dark they may be.

HMS: I’m dragging the comic into all this intellectual discussion and away from the fact that it’s a thriller that’s probably going to be very disturbing. When the comic was in the process of being conceptualized, what ideas came up that seemed scary or disturbing to you and the rest of the team?

LN: These sort of ideas are what Zac and I talk about a lot when we’re writing because a thriller without an intellectual and emotional backbone is superfluous. If there’s no thought behind the grotesque images or morphing bodies, then what’s the point? The book itself evolved from Zac and I discussing what aspects of our modern society scare us, disturb us, or have potential to ruin us from the inside out. The answer to that and to your question is “oversharing”.

The lack of privacy and ability to keep secrets, to hide your thoughts from others, that is horrifying to us. We live in a world where everyone, ourselves included, share so much about themselves on social media, through texting, on apps, and all that information is out there for good once its sent or posted or whatever. So it became a question of where you draw that line, how far is too far, and how your own past can be weaponized against you. This developed into the horrific idea of completely sharing a mind with another person, so that there were absolutely no secrets anymore. It’s unfiltered thoughts, memories, perversions, desires, fears, all presented to another person. It seems more relevant than ever, but these are things we were talking about four years ago.

ZT: I think at the time we were conceptualizing this book, I was moving in with a partner for the first time in my life. That experience was a really intriguing moment where I couldn’t shake the idea of sharing a mind with that person. It felt like I was losing a lot of my personal freedom and boundaries. At the time, it was scary and I wanted to take that to its natural extreme. Apart from that, we talked a lot about physical horror, mutation and losing parts of yourself to another person. The idea of someone else controlling your limbs came up a lot, and the ideas of degeneration, which I know is vague. The process of overloading the flesh to a point where it turns on you, where you look down at a part of yourself you used to know intimately and now it stares back at you completely alien. I think Lonnie and I are both perpetually afraid of waking up one day to see that we’ve become a horrific monster.

HMS: Ok, back to being needlessly intellectual. There’s a quote in the first issue, which I hope it’s ok to cite here. It says: “Only those who risk going too far will know how far it is possible to go”. That sounds very Faust-like, very Doctor Frankensteinish, but also very firmly grounded in real scientific endeavor. Were there any real-world scientists or developments you were thinking of as inspirations for the comic?

ZT: Not necessarily scientists, but characters in fiction. In creating Sebastian’s character we wanted him to have some of the enigmatic qualities of Seth Brundle from The Fly while also taking some of the greasier qualities of Max Renn from Videodrome. Once we settled on that weird intersection, we found we had someone who was brilliant and ruthless, but we wanted to drive it in a different direction from the typical Cronenberg protagonists.

We actually channeled a lot of Leo Bloom from Nightcrawler and I think that comes through in the line you cited. Sebastian is brilliant, but much like Bloom he definitely believes that all you really need to make something work is drive. That’s why he spouts off inspirational lines like that, and doesn’t let up when the odds seem completely stacked against him. He’s incapable of giving up and that’s allowed him to achieve almost impossible things in life, like creating technology that allows two minds to share one body.

LN: In addition to those characters, we certainly also looked at Victor Frankenstein and tried to channel that god-complex type of scientist from early science fiction that Cronenberg also borrowed heavily from. In addition, we looked at various philosophers and contemporary thinkers and their thoughts on the mind/body problem, consciousness, and memory. It was philosophers like Daniel Dennett, Joe Cruz, and even going back to Descartes.

There was one particular scientific breakthrough that inspired the story as well. It was a group of researchers from University of Washington, about 5 years ago, who found a way to link two people’s brains together so that they could control each others’ bodies. They called it “brain-to-brain” interfacing and talking about something biological in such cold, technological terms was very intriguing to me. So following the progression of that technology in a fictional world obsessed with social media made a lot of sense in our strange minds.

HMS: Can you tell us a little about the aesthetics and settings for the comic that you and Piotr came up with, and how that sets the stage for the kind of story you want to tell?

LN: Zac and I have been developing this book for years, and so we had a very specific idea of how we wanted the world to look before we even brought it to Piotr and our colorist Niko Guardia. We knew we wanted it set in Toronto for a couple reasons. Firstly, we’re Canadian and we don’t get enough stories that feature our major cities as themselves. They’re always  masked to be something else and we hate that. Secondly, Cronenberg is from Toronto and set most of his movies there, so it doubly functions as an homage. And lastly, the culture in Toronto was the perfect setting for this because they have a big medical industry and a big tech industry.

When it came to style, we wanted this to feel different from other comics, more vibrant, but also colder. We gave Niko color references from movies like Don’t Look Now, Taxi Driver, and Videodrome. But once we handed things off to Piotr and Niko, they did their thing, added their own flare, and really made the book feel unique and creepy and sterile. The book would be nothing without those guys and their amazing talents.

ZT: To hone in on aesthetic for a second, we really wanted Come Into Me to work within that space of 1970’s and 80’s horror films. We wanted to channel that early, grainy Cronenberg look with the colours and the direction we gave to Piotr. In my opinion, there are not many comics that ground themselves in a particular genre and time. Lonnie and I really consider every piece of the puzzle before we begin. We knew from the beginning that this book had to be a love letter to those films and had to look and feel like it existed in that space. And yeah, every chance we get, we’re going to set our work in Canada. We love our country and it’s just not immortalized in fiction enough.

HMS: Can you tease anything that’s coming up in the story to keep us on our toes?

ZT: The following issues only get weirder and now that issue #1 is over, we dive into our larger premise. It’s not something I want to spoil but you can expect a hard look at self perception, memory, and body image. We really set out to make a challenging book about the horrors of sharing your mind and your body with another person. Things get pretty insane near the end, and our ending…well, I’m really worried about how shocking people will find the conclusion to the series. It’s not going to be pretty.

LN: Prepare to witness the downfall of the social flesh.

Come Into Me #1 arrives in comic shops on March 5th, 2018 and reaches Final Order Cut-Off (FOC) today, February 12th, so get your orders in to your local comic shop for what is sure to be a freaky and thought-provoking series!