“It’s Magic.” Mark Siegel Talks ‘5 Worlds: The Amber Anthem’

by James Ferguson

5 Worlds from Penguin Random House continues this month with the fourth book in the series, The Amber Anthem. Mark and Alexis Siegel are joined by artists Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun for an adventure spanning multiple worlds with a deep message that resonates across all ages. I had a chance to speak with Mark Siegel about the project and what we can expect as we head into the fourth chapter.

In book 4, Oona Lee arrives on Salassandra determined to light the yellow beacon and continue her quest to save the Five Worlds from the evil Mimic’s influence. But the beacon is encased in amber! An ancient clue says that Oona and her friends must seek out the Amber Anthem to succeed. Meanwhile, Stan Moon sends an evil Jax robot to assassinate Oona and hunts down An Tzu himself. Turns out, as An Tzu fades away from his Vanishing Illness, he’s becoming someone else–someone who could tip the scales in the battle for the Five Worlds!

James Ferguson: As we enter the fourth book in the series, where do we find the characters in their quest to light the beacons?

Mark Siegel: Oona Lee has managed to light three of the five mysterious, ancient beacons. With each one, unforeseen consequences are affecting the worlds. When she lit the white beacon on Mon Domani, the Mother World, rains started pouring on the parched, overheating world—rains that also produced flooding… Lighting the red beacon of Moon Yatta, the technological superpower, destroyed an entire industry based on siphoning the beacon’s energy. And when the blue beacon of Moon Toki ignited, the five worlds’ orbits suddenly expanded, causing the worlds to move farther apart from one another!

Meanwhile our heroes are transforming too. With each adventure, their bonds have grown, An Tzu’s strange vanishing illness worsens, and Jax Amboy explores his new sentience.

JF: How are the characters and their mission viewed by the residents of these worlds? It seems mixed as we begin The Amber Anthem.

MS: Yes! There’s a wide range of reactions to Oona’s quest, everywhere she goes. While many favor the hope and promise of lighting the ancient beacons to save their dying system, many also have their doubts—is it actually a good thing Oona is doing? Could these unforeseen consequences of lighting the beacons be making things worse, not better? In fact, at the start of book four, our heroes’ arrival is met with protests and counter-protests. And of course, there are some nefarious influences at play behind these.

JF: The themes in 5 Worlds could not be more relevant now. How do you approach weaving in things like climate change into these alien worlds?

MS: With every passing year, my value grows for the thematic level of storytelling. A good story is about something. The problem with messaging or teaching is when it’s done badly. When it’s done well, with power and skill and humanity, it’s marvelous. The Wizard of Oz or The Shawshank Redemption are entertaining and exciting, but they’re also exploring potent themes—so they have lasting power, and a beating heart, and some vitamins for our soul.

With 5 Worlds, Alexis and I set out to make a stage where some of key things we face in our world today could play out—not exactly transposed, but translated into an exotic context. It’s not nearly as complex or multiple as the real world, but we wanted our heroes to be confronted with some real problems. So we looked at climate change, we looked at cultures clashing, we studied the nature of evil and corruption and deception—and then let those strands weave into the loom of 5 Worlds.

With an alien world, or multiple worlds, it’s also important that they have their own unique ecologies and histories, so ultimately things don’t feel like we just put tracing paper over today’s headlines—we’re not going for an exact replica, but a resonance, rather. I love when good SFF does that. In Game of Thrones, winter is coming—that resonates powerfully, without being an exact parallel. Some people read the White Walkers as climate change, but others don’t and that’s okay. In Lord of the Rings, Sauron’s quest for the ring has been equated with the Third Reich, but Tolkien (wisely) never confirmed or denied that.

JF: The art process for 5 Worlds sounds fascinating, with everyone you providing layouts and multiple artists penciling. How did you arrive on this setup?

MS: It’s magic. We discovered it as we went. At first, we thought of the art team as guns-for-hire, joining in to follow our direction. But before we’d even found a publisher, Matt and Boya and Xanthe added their voices, their passions, their skills, their charisma, and their belief to the project. So we evolved into true partners. Now that we’re taking steps in other media (stay tuned) we split everything five-ways. We’re a true team.

Comicon would like to thanks Mark Siegel for taking the time to speak with us. 5 Worlds: The Amber Anthem is currently available at your local comic shop, bookstore, and Amazon.

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