Exploring Trauma In A Digital Age – Dan Hill Talks Disconnect

by James Ferguson

It’s safe to say we’re probably all a little too connected to technology. It’s needed to do our jobs and run our lives. In Kelly McLuhan’s case, she’s a little too connected. Writer Dan Hill and artist Gav Heryng explore this in Disconnect, a new digital one-shot from Mallet Productions. I had a chance to speak with Dan about the project, the research that led to it, and how he balances his work as a writer and an editor.

Kelly McLuhan is doing her best – a single mother with a child to raise, bills to pay and a persistent deadbeat ex.

Kelly also happens to be a drone operator, watching and killing people half a world away. As the trauma of her day job begins to seep into her home life, Kelly must meet her waking nightmare head on or risk losing it all…

James Ferguson: Disconnect is the second in a trilogy of sorts beginning with Go Home. What brings you to topics like those seen in these comics?

Dan Hill: Initially, I think I was fascinated with the extremes that war brings out in humanity. We have xenophobia, rampant nationalism, as well as just exploring the depths people will sink to when they’re ‘following orders’.

Alongside that there are also moments of sacrifice, camaraderie, and selflessness. I’m under no illusion these concepts have also been used to rile up those sent to die in the name of the powers that be, but it doesn’t take away from the fact these things do occur when armed conflict breaks out for a prolonged period.

I did find myself returning to the setting and subject of war and conflict in a lot of potential projects to the point I actively resisted writing more stories of that ilk. In doing so I’ve discovered the theme underpinning most of my work and what draws me back to the well isn’t warfare or conflict as such but trauma, the way people process it, live with it, and try to get past it.

JF: Judging from your newsletter, you did a fair amount of research for Disconnect. How did you begin to dig into the world of drone operators?

DH: It was a subject that I found myself reading a lot about to the point I just amassed this large collection of articles and errata about it, especially during the Obama administration when drone warfare began rolling out on a much wider scale. PW Singer’s book Wired for War, the work of Douglas Rushkoff, as well as the work of French philosopher Gregoire Chamayou were both huge influences too.

Reading a piece in GQ though I became aware of former drone operator Brandon Bryant. I reached out to him via Twitter and then email asking if I could ask him a few questions regarding some of the technical aspects. Brandon was more than gracious with his time and I chatted to him for several hours via video and he not only pointed out where I’d gotten some of the details wrong but described his own experiences and emotions when performing the role of an operator. It’s a conversation that stuck with me.

Brandon also had a huge impact on the way the book ended. Originally the story ended on a much more downbeat note. Brandon raised the point that veterans or others in a similar situation to Kelly would likely read the story and want to see a glimmer of hope amid the darkness. So, the ending changed with a sign that things can and will get better for Kelly. I think it’s a much better ending than the one I had envisaged.

JF: How has your experience been releasing the book digitally through ComiXology Submit?

DH: Lee Robson over at Mallet Productions dealt with essentially all of the submission side of things in that regard. I know from experience with other projects though that the process is pretty painless. For me as a creator the experience is great as there’s less obstacles in the way of getting work out there than going the traditional route. I guess the dream would be for Submit to have something similar to the Originals line where print on demand services were available. I’m not sure that would be entirely cost effective though, even for a juggernaut like Amazon.

JF: How do you juggle your writing work with your editing work?

DH: My editing work tends to come in waves. There will be weeks where I’ve cleared the decks or projects are in one of those intermission periods between drafts so there’s plenty of time for me to plug in my own work in addition to that. It’s all about time management.

This year has been the first one where I’ve kept a Bullet Journal and stuck with it. It has been invaluable in being able to plan out a week (or a month) and slot things in without burning myself out. Pen and paper is the future, kids.

JF: What can we expect from the third part of this trilogy?

DH: I’ve got a bunch of ideas for what could be the last part of this trilogy. All of them, naturally, focus on a potential future of armed conflict. At the moment though any kind of extrapolation as to what might look like is like trying to moonwalk across a ball-pit. The topology of technology changes almost daily, the world is burning and right now it’s unclear there will even be a future for us to fight over. That said, war, or conflict of any kind, seems to be inevitable for the human race sadly so I’m sure I’ll come up with something between now and the end of the world.

Disconnect is currently available on ComiXology. Comicon would like to thank Dan Hill for taking the time to speak with us. You can follow Dan’s projects through his newsletter.

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