In his latest book, creator Ho Che Anderson invites us into the dystopian world of Stone.
In this near-future world, the societal divide between the haves and the have nots is a gulf that is widened after a co-opted election gives rise to the Merit system. This is a system with built-in safeguards for the rich that allow them to rule.
This world isn’t far from ours as the only way to rise out of destitute life, citizens have to become a part of the system that suppresses them with taxes for simply being. A tax that forces you into a legalized system of slavery when you can’t pay. For most people the easiest way to pay these taxes is through joining the military, risking their bodies, joining the police suppressing the people, or the golden ticket of sports entertaining the elite. This bleak future is full of intellectual suppression and harsh inequality as corporations are dynastic in their rule over people. And for rising basketball superstar Graciela O’Leary aka Stone, she is working to escape this life of institutionalized poverty when her life plans are upended by the reality of this country. Stone is a gritty fusion of dystopian fiction and political commentary held together by justified vengeance and violence.
As busy as Anderson is with his work, he was able to take some timeout for BlackSci-Fi.com to talk about Stone and this latest glimpse into a future that has a strong possibility of coming true.
BlackSci-Fi.com: Let’s talk a little bit about your artistic background and creativity, were you always drawing or writing, was something that you always had in you that you needed to get out?
Ho Che Anderson: Yeah, man, it was one of those things, I’ve said this many times over the years, I never chose to be a cartoonist or visual storyteller, it was always I think that it choose me to a large extent because it’s something I can’t ever remember starting to do. It was just the thing that I did ever since I was a child. I always had a pencil in my hand, I was always drawing pictures when I was a child or writing stories, or combining the two, sometimes they were separate, sometimes they were in combination with each other. It was sort of a Mobius Strip, there was no beginning and there’s no end, it just always was.
BSF: The beginning was the end and the end was the beginning.
HCA: 100% brother.
BSF: Obviously, you still have your artistic chops. What was the choice for just doing a novella with only pinups?
HCA: For Stone, I guess we’re talking about specifically. That was just the job that they came to me, Stone was not something that I originated. It was a commission, the people behind NeoText approached me saying, “listen I’m familiar with your work are you interested in coming on board with this project.” I read the particulars of it, got to talk with the man behind the project, and discovered that we were very much compatible in terms of our artistic aspirations and also our political ideology. I realized it was a very good fit, and that was something that I could kind of sink my teeth into. I didn’t create the character of Graciela O’Leary in our book Stone, it was sort of a pitch that was handed to me and said “transform it, turn into your own thing, put whatever artistic bent, whatever political bent that you have onto this material and run with it.” And you know, that was a pretty good offering, you don’t get that too often, I was very happy to jump aboard. And the good thing was, it’s something that even though I didn’t create it, it’s something that I would have created in an alternate reality, so it all kind of synced up pretty well.
BSF: What was the template they gave you and how did you build-out of that framework? What kind of seasoning did you add to that pot?
HCA: Well, let’s put it this way, the final manuscript turned out to be about 20,000 words, and what was handed to me were about 5,000 words. What I got was the character, the bare bones of the plot, and some of the details, but it was up to me to kind of put flesh to those bare bones and to transform it into whatever I felt was appropriate. As it turned out, me and the person who created the character initially, we’re very much kind of simpatico, I got a template that I could very much kind of respond to and wasn’t much of a challenge to kind of make it my own. I put a lot of the flesh on those bones, I got to kind of make her what I wanted her to be as opposed to whatever she was on the page initially. I got to flesh out her life story, put a lot of the details into her background, and kind of steer the direction that she’s going to follow. So she’s very much a co-creation between me and her originator, but I feel like I’ve taken custodianship of this character and her future to kind of shape her further adventures the way I seek to shape them.
BSF: How organic was your process doing this, did they give you the template to get from A to Z, and everything in between was you, or was it here’s A and go?
HCA: It was here’s A, go. It was here’s what we’re thinking, how do you feel about it? I checked it out and said, “I like this, I can do something with this.” They said, “fine, you go and make it your own,” and that’s what I did. I mean, I’ve worked in scenarios where it’s been much more constrictive, where it’s “we need you to sort of color between these narrow parameters.” I’ve done that kind of work before, and that’s fine. As a creative writer, as a creative artist, you need to kind of go where the work is and sort of run with what you’re able to run with, I’m used to that. But this was kind of a nice, luxurious scenario because I got so much freedom to transform it into what I wanted it to be. There was no one telling me, no, no, you can’t do that, it was always “how do you feel about this?” And I would say I’m committed to this idea, I put this idea down there for a reason, this is what I want, and they were “okay, cool, well back you up, not a problem.” This was kind of an ideal scenario for a writer to be able to do what you wanted to do when you felt this right and have the people behind you back you, know that they’re going to back you up 100%
BSF: Let’s talk about the world itself because you never say outright what country or city this is, the closest we get is the Flats, where she lives with her father. Was that a choice that you didn’t want to nail it down to a certain city or place?
HCA: We wanted to make it sort of every land, North America. It’s definitely sort of leaning towards the USA, needless to say. It’s definitely leaning towards the kind of a dystopian sort of Trump-ville, where he has enacted his threat and become the dictator that he is threatening to become. It’s no secret that this guy would love to not only take a second term but then take a third or fourth until he drops dead and then makes it a family dynasty. This is sort of imagining a world in which this has come to pass. That’s where we’re coming from.
BSF: The sketches in the back have this project starting around 2018, but it felt like it could have been started in 2016. With the real-world problems that we’re facing now and could possibly lead to this Merit Society.
HCA: Well, I mean, I feel like many people who’ve had their eyes open kind of sort of sense that we’ve had eight years of Obama and you know not a perfect presidency by any stretch of the imagination, but at least one that was governed by intelligence, compassion and the thought of the betterment of America, as opposed to turning it into this sort of xenophobic fiefdom that it’s turned into over the last four years. I think anybody who was conscious could tell that after eight years of Obama, there is probably going to be some kind of a backlash. And I think that’s what we were playing on, sort of anticipating what was to come, unfortunately, I think we’re maybe a little bit too accurate in terms of where things could lead, because never in my wildest dreams did I really think we were going to be seeing what we’ve been seeing over the last 12 months or four years, but definitely, the last year or two throughout America and trickling down even into my country in Canada. I mean, it’s kind of a dark comedy, I’d be laughing my head off if it wasn’t just so horrifying and scary.
BSF: Since this is a work for hire will there be more from the Stone Universe?
HCA: Absolutely, it’s a long term thing which I got the bare bones of the story, but then once I got those bare-bones, I spent a lot of time putting thought into where her further adventures would go, and how we would flesh out her world. We’ve already got another story that’s been written for quite a while, at least a year called Rizzo, a character that turns up in Stone, and sort of explores his adventures that take us to even darker territory, which is kind of sad to say. And I’ve got ideas for many years of adventures where she kind of turns from the revenge-seeking vigilante that she was in our first story, into a revolutionary and then potentially becomes the thing that she’s the most afraid of down the line. There are quite a few adventures to come for our characters.
BSF: Do you have any other projects coming out?
HCA: Yeah, I say it’s been a very fruitful couple of years. Quite a few things in the pipeline, several graphic novels that I’m working on, and some projects which are very close on the horizon, but it’s a little too early to start running my mouth off, but there are some cool things coming.
George Carmona 3rd is an Artist/Writer, former Milestone Media Intern, former DC Comics paper pusher, current book lover, and lifelong comic geek. He is the author of the DC Super Friends Joke Book from Penguin Random House. You can find his work at FistFullofArt.com or follow him on Twitter at GCarmona3.