A Sinister Space Epic Gets A Prequel – The Promethee 13:13 Roundtable Interview

by Hannah Means Shannon

In the lead up to New York Comic Con, comiXology announced an exciting new project coming up in 2019 in their Originals line with an all-star team of creators diving into the best-selling world of French comic Promethee, created by Christophe Bec. In the Promethee comics, brought to the English-speaking world for the first time in digital-only versions via comiXology, the universe awaits a grand apocalypse and the denizens of earth plot and plan a mode of survival as history moves towards its inevitable conclusion.

Already running to 17 volumes, the original series is getting a brand-new story prequel, titled Promethee 13:13, edited by Will Dennis (Image Comics, DC Comics, formerly Group Editor at DC/Vertigo), written by Andy Diggle (The Losers, Thief of Thieves, Hellblazer, Uncanny) with art by Shawn Martinbrough (Thief of Thieves, Batman: Detective Comics, The Black Panther, Hellboy, How to Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling) and covers by Jock (Batman, The Losers). Promethee 13:13 will explore what happened before Christophe Bec‘s 16-volume Promethee series and will be presented in two 48-page installments. They’ll be available to subscribers of comiXology Unlimited, as well as Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime, and will be made available simultaneously in English and French on the same day worldwide, as well as being currently available for pre-order.

At New York Comic Con 2018, we took part in a round table with the key players in the upcoming Promethee 13:13 series, and were also joined by Brigid Alverson of Smashpages. Head of Content at comiXology, Chip Mosher, Jean Wacquet, Directeur Editorial at Groupe Delcourt,  Will Dennis, Andy Diggle, Shawn Martinbrough, and Jock were all present in the discussion you’ll find below.

Chip Mosher: Three years ago, we did a fairly innovative launch with Delcourt and Soleil. Delcourt is the second largest comic book publisher in France, but is the largest independent publisher in all of France, inclusive of any category. It’s run by Guy Delcourt, who bought Soleil eight years ago. There are many great bande dessinee titles that don’t make it over to the US from France, and into English, and so we created an innovative program with Delcourt to bring their titles into English and debut them as digital-only on comiXology and Kindle. One of the hit series in France and also digitally was Promethee by Christophe Bec. When we ramped up the comiXology Originals line, we were asking what other innovative thing we could do. We think of comics as one big landscape at comiXology, reaching to manga in Japan and more. We are always looking at ways to shrink that world. So we spoke to Guy Delcourt and Jean Wacquet, who put us in touch with Bec.

We decided that if we really wanted to do a kick-ass job on the English language side, we needed to bring someone in to work with Jean directly, and make sure that we were delivering as high a level of product as possible. So we brought Will Dennis on board as the English language series editor. Dennis and Jean have been working together for months with Bec, figuring out the story. Then they brought on Andy Diggle, Jock, and Shawn Martinbrough.

When the series debuts, in 2019, it will be available to the 100 million plus Amazon Prime members around the world, and it will also debut on Kindle Unlimited and comiXology Unlimited.  We’ll have the original Prométhée series in English on those platforms, too, and it will act as an introduction. It will be great for people who are already fans of the series, as well as for new fans, also. That’s the secret origin story of Promethee 13:13.

Hannah Means-Shannon: When it was one of the first series that you brought over with Delcourt, what made it a choice for you?

Chip Mosher: There are a lot of fantasy books that are super popular in France that I don’t think translate well content-wise to US audiences,  though I think that it’s reductive to call Prométhée a fast-ball-down-the-middle-lane sci-fi story, it’s very grounded in sci-fi traditions that I think that US and worldwide audiences will be familiar with.

Hannah Means-Shannon: For any of the creative team who would like to answer this question, what did you find compelling about the original series? Presumably that was where you started on this journey.

Andy Diggle: The original series is this huge, sprawling epic that takes place over thousands of years with dozens of characters. So, it was difficult, at first, to find a way in to doing a short, accessible story. Because there’s so much material there, and there are so many options. You’re spoiled for choice. But I did want to come up with something accessible and give a sense of the wealth of the material out there to be discovered. But without it feeling completely overwhelming and confusing.

In Europe, they are used to stories unfolding with a much more slow-burn pace to them. Whereas I grew up with the tradition of British comics, which are fast-paced and dense. I think that we’re doing here is finding a middle ground between the two, coming up with a nice self-contained story, which doesn’t require you to have any knowledge of the original series, but can act as a doorway to it.

For me, the entire premise was appealing. It’s basically the Ancient Aliens conspiracy theory. It’s grounded in this idea. The Ancient Aliens conspiracy theory is a kind of a genre in itself, and we think of the X-Files and Erich von Daniken [‘s Chariot of the Gods] and this kind of stuff as part of that. It brings in many familiar aspects of the mysteries of the universe, and ties them all together.

Christophe Bec takes these many strands of what might already be familiar from conspiracy culture and weaves them all together to create an internal logic. Figuring out that internal logic and how to tell my story in a way that wouldn’t spoil his took me awhile. I think I did. We’ll see.

Hannah Means-Shannon: That sounds like a substantial challenge!

Andy Diggle: Yes, it took me awhile to get my head around it.

Brigid Alverson: Is there a substantial following and fandom for Prométhée in Europe?

Chip Mosher: Yes, it’s one of Delcourt’s best-selling bande dessinee, with 17 volumes currently.

Jean Wacquet: I’m working on the 20th volume, and the 18th is coming out in a few months.

Brigid Alverson: Outside of Francophone countries, do English speakers follow the comic? Had you all read it before?

Andy Diggle: I hadn’t, no. I’m not sure it’s available in print in English.

Chip Mosher: No, it’s not. It’s digital exclusive on comiXology. But it’s done very well for comiXology. Our mission is to make everyone in the world a comics fan. So one of our goals is always to shrink that world. With Goliath Girls by Sam Humphries and Miralti Firmansyah, which we debuted at San Diego Comic-Con, we debuted it the same day in Japan in Japanese.

Brigid Alverson: Regarding the artwork for the series, Shawn, since you’re not the original artist on the series, did you feel the need to be consistent with the previous artist’s style? How did you make this your own?

Shawn Martinbrough: I don’t think I would try to ape Christophe Bec’s style. I think that since they approached me for the project, they liked my particular style of storytelling. I would approach it the way I would do so. I would try to capture certain aspects of his visual storytelling, or put my own stamp on certain characters that carry over into this new iteration.

But I’m just really looking forward to the scale of this story, because as the American on this creative team, I hadn’t read Prométhée before I was approached to do this, but growing up I was a huge Isaac Asimov fan. His Foundation Series has a lot of similarities, including the sprawling nature of the story and the epic, generational aspect of that storytelling compares to this. One of the things that’s very appealing about tackling something with a dense mythology to it is that I’m working with Andy [Diggle] again. Andy is very deft at distilling things down and simplifying things down, so I’m very curious as to how he’s going to approach that in the script. For me, I just try to follow the writer’s lead, and amplify what they do by infusing my own strong, dramatic, high-contrast, noir style into the storytelling from panel to panel.

Will Dennis: Yes. I would never hire someone and say, “I love what you do. Now change it.” There are a lot of editors who do that.

[Laughter]

These are professionals. They know what they are doing. Shawn did some of the first Loser art for me many years ago at Vertigo, when we needed a fill-in because Jock was pissing off to do something else. A monthly series is an incredibly hard grind, though, and even though these guys were used to working on 2000AD, it was quite a grind. So we had Shawn there doing some fill-in on some early issues. It was great to get everyone back together on this.

Andy Diggle: It’s like getting the band back together.

Will Dennis: Yes, absolutely. And it’s a band that you know, since you’re at a different point in your career and your life, that you don’t have anything to prove to each other. You’re collegial and you understand each other. These guys have been working together for years now, so there’s a shorthand to communication. And we want it to look like these guys’ work.

I think Andy’s pacing, in general, makes him one of the best. He’s able, as Shawn was saying, to distill things down into what the reader needs to know, and pace it in such a way that it slows down and speeds down where you want it to, and where you think it should. This is a massive thing, and I sent him 17 volumes of this story, and he came back with a two or three page plot that has all the beats, with enough room and air to get into the human side of stuff, too.

Brigid Alverson: I just got out of the Star Wars panel, where there was a massive line up of authors, like Charles Soule and Jody Houser, and everyone was talking about how much they love working on Star Wars, because there are so many openings for different stories. They are very specific, too, asking questions about how Princess Leia got the bounty hunter uniform. There are just so many stories.

Andy Diggle: I hadn’t really thought of that, but I do think this is accessible in that way. Bec is creating something so big that there are a million different stories you could tell in that universe that he’s created there. When you think of something like Star Wars, or big franchises like Batman, they open themselves up to many different ways of interpreting them. There’s not just one way to do Star Wars. You could do gothic horror, high-tech thriller, and more. Each creative team can do something with it that suits its own style.

But to speak to the original question about doing your own thing and not mimicking someone else’s art style, I feel the same way about writing, as well. I’m not trying to mimic Christophe’s writing style, and I figure they wouldn’t have hired me if they wanted me to do that. I’m going to do my thing. I’m doing the Andy Diggle version of the script, and Shawn will do the Shawn Martinbrough version of the artwork. But it’s such a big world, that maybe down the line, someone else will do their version. It’s so wide open. It’s such a huge storyline. It’s takes place across the entire course of human history, and it’s as big as Doctor Who in the sense that you have all of time and space to play with. There are a million ways to do this. We’re just doing one.

Will Dennis: Christophe has been amazing in letting us do stuff. There hasn’t been any request to make it sound like him or look like his work. And that’s a lot to ask of a creator, to have that kind of freedom, when he’s so invested in this project. To allow people to come in and play in your sandbox is pretty rare.

Andy Diggle: It was a huge relief for me when Christophe gave the enthusiastic thumbs up to the outline, since I wasn’t sure how he’d react. I thought he might say, “You’ve dropped my baby.” That was a huge relief, and very exciting, to be given that creative freedom to do it our way.

Hannah Means-Shannon: For anyone on the creative team to answer, I’m wondering what words you might use to describe the tone and atmosphere of the original series, and this new one? For instance, we were talking about Star Wars, and there’s a very specific tone to the storytelling there. How dark is this universe? Is there comedy or humor?

Andy Diggle: That’s an interesting question. It’s pretty short on laughs, I have to say, but not completely devoid. I’m trying to sew a little bit of comedy in there, and lighter moments. Tonally? It is kind of a sinister story. There’s an air of foreboding that kind of hangs over the original series. The original series is a long, slow build-up of apocalyptic events, but it’s not in a hurry to get there because there are lots of strands to explore and it takes awhile to wave them all together. To answer your question, if there was one word, it would probably be “foreboding”. It’s this sense that something bad is coming, and it’s people trying to figure out what that is, and makes sense of it. And prepare for it, before it hits.

Actually, it only just occurred to me now, but that’s kind of the mood that we’re all living with at the moment, anyway. Asking, “Is this as bad as it’s gonna get, or is it gonna get worse?”

[Laughter]

It gets worse. It can always get worse.

Big thanks to comiXology, and all the round table participants for welcoming Comicon.com into the conversation at NYCC 2018!

Stay tuned for more info on the release date and story behind Promethee 13:13!

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