GateCrashers’ Eliza Viera sits down with Zack Kaplan to discuss his latest comic in partnership with Scout Comics, Forever Forward, the story of a scientist who accidentally travels 33 years into the future with his friends, forced to continue jumping forward in time without a clue as to how come back.
Hi Zack! Thanks for agreeing to an interview! At Gatecrashers, we always start interviews with the most important question:
What is your favorite sandwich?
Zack Kaplan: A good sandwich is really all about the bread like a good story only held up by its framework. I like a good brioche French roll, or perhaps, especially one that’s crunchy on the outside. After that, good crispy or char-grilled chicken with some teriyaki and avocado for the win, although a solid lean corned beef on rye with lettuce and Dijon honey mustard is a good runner-up.
Your new series just came out! What do you want to tell us about Forever Forward?
Zack Kaplan: Forever Forward from Scout Comics is my take on time travel, but built on my fascination with the future. What if we could go forward into the future, but only forward? So the story follows this brilliant but flawed quantum physicist Dr. Lewis Moody, who’s sacrificing his personal life, his friendships, and his own happiness to complete his project on time travel. On the eve of his 30th birthday, he, his friends, and his evergreen love interest are accidentally launched 33 years into the future, where they find a message from their future selves that says the only way back is forward. Knowing they wrote this message, Moody deduces they must end up traveling to the future and eventually being sent back home. So, they set out on a crazy thrilling adventure into the future through the rise and fall of human civilizations to find their way home. It’s a nonstop sci-fi adventure, it’s a love story, and it’s a bit of dystopian horror about our possible futures.
Forever Forward is futuristic sci-fi. Do you think the actual future will look like the one you’ve built in your series?
Zack Kaplan: Er, uh, I am kind of concerned about our future, and yes, actually, I do fear some of the landmark moments we’ve featured in our comic. Upon the heroes first jump, they find themselves in the midst of a second US Civil War and a Russian invasion of California. I am concerned that some of our divisions might escalate to armed conflict in our future, fighting over the very control of our country, and I do fear Russia may not exempt themselves from weighing in on that conflict. The next jump leads our heroes to a catastrophic hurricane style storm off California. But California doesn’t get hurricanes! However, just recently the meteorologists were predicting atmospheric rivers due to changes in Pacific Ocean temperatures and wind patterns. So yeah, I think this one is pretty likely as well. A hundred years into the future, after war, division and climate collapse, our heroes witness the collapse of America into trading fiefdoms. I do think civilization has a bit of a potential restart ahead as the supply of food, water and energy are threatened, and I don’t think any country is free from major issue. So yeah, I worry this one might happen too. The good news, our heroes then discover fascist robots taking over, and that would never happen.
Right? Right, that’s a silly idea, right?
Your protagonist, Dr. Moody, seems to have horrible work life balance. Is this who he is as a person, or did academia make him this way?
Zack Kaplan: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the workaholic scientist choose academia because he was driven to be great and he was already willing to sacrifice his own ideals and personal contentment for the greater good of discovery. Or was he a noble yet ambitious student seeking to follow in Einstein and Edison’s footsteps, and he learned the hard way that the only path forward is by sacrificing your own present for a brighter future. Of course, this is the theme and thesis of the story – must we sacrifice our present happiness today for a better tomorrow? I think we as a society have reached a fever pitch of this conflict. Technology tells us we can work any time now. Post-pandemic workplace dynamics tell us we can work anywhere. Any time. Anywhere. And social media and modern success measurements tell us you are only successful if your accomplishments can be seen right now. So, while Dr. Lewis Moody starts off at his low point in the story, already dismissive to his friends and love interest, this is the crisis we’re hoping to explore. How do we come back from this dilemma? What does it take to give up future ambitions and just accept living in the moment? Maybe the answer is fascist robots.
Is there anything you hope does happen, or anything you think is a long shot but would like to see happen portrayed in this future?
Zack Kaplan: Ah man, I just told you how bad it’s gonna get! The collapse of civilization, the rise of robots and AI, cats and dogs living together. I can only hope that in the chaos that may be the next century, and I fear it will be chaos, there is the opportunity to reset some of the broken ideals our modern society has been built on. The book starts off sort of idealizing this promise that the future seems to offer us: the chance at social justice, basic equality and human understanding. I think it’d be nice if we emerge from some hardships with a bit more of that.
Tell me about working with Arjuna Susini, Brad Simpson, and Jim Campbell! How did you decide on the look and the feel of the future?
Zack Kaplan: What a team! So, I first saw Arjuna’s work in Made Men, but it was his detailed world-building in Vault Comics’ Heist that made me know he was the artist for this series. Brad Simpson and I had worked together before on Aftershock Comics’ Join the Future, and Brad is brilliant at bringing in not just futuristic landscapes, but also balancing many different environmental looks in a single series. That was pivotal here because the future was going to change time by time. And Jim Campbell and I worked together on Dark Horse’s Break Out, and he’s really great at leading a reader through complex or busy scenes, which this book was going to have.
As far as the look for the future, we wanted something gritty, and we even discussed increasing the level of noise and dirtiness as we go forward in time. The future we see on the opening page is this odd, disjointed future with a hot red/yellow sky and cool uniform buildings. Seems futuristic and glistening, but there’s something more there. There’s a double-page spread in Issue #1 as Moody goes across the campus, and although it’s raining, this is meant to be the best it gets in the story – the rest is downhill. So, we aimed to make that shot beautiful. So we definitely spent a lot of time collaborating as a cohesive, creative team on how each era would look. Arjuna and I even laid out certain iconography for the story because we want you all to see the story of this journey. The heroes are jumping 33 years at a time, but when they land in a new era, we want you to look at it and say, oh yeah, this makes sense. Arjuna and I did a lot of world-building designs for each era. Maybe we will collect those into the final trade; they are pretty amazing.
Did seeing the art influence the direction of the story at all?
Zack Kaplan: Absolutely! But in a natural way, I think. As a writer and artist collaborate, you learn which layouts play well, what narrative styles are hitting. Sometimes you find a direction that your artist responds to, and sometimes you just develop patterns you want to repeat in the story. I had this narrative idea to keep returning to the same hilly overlook in the story and showing the vista and how it changed. Arjuna ran with this, and the series has one amazing landscape after another, and it even becomes a narrative engine towards the end. Arjuna and I also came up with using horizontal layouts that go across double page spreads to give the series a sense of travel. We do this when we want the pacing to speed up, and then we can go vertical on a more touching scene when we want the story to anchor and slow down. I don’t think it happens where I see artwork, and I change the entire engine, but the way in which the story is being told is absolutely dictated by the way Arjuna and Brad and Jim respond to the process and what they gravitate towards.
Are there any themes you want readers to really sit with and think about after they read Forever Forward?
Zack Kaplan: Maybe my cynicism will not come to fruition, and maybe the future will get better. But I think if the past few years has taught us anything, it’s that the future in general can be full of life-changing surprises. We don’t know what the future will hold. But I would wager that if you are working too hard now and neglecting important aspects of your life, then that behavior will continue in the future as well. We get the future that we give ourselves. So instead of making sacrifices today, find balance and happiness and live for the present. You never know if it’ll be your last chance.
You also have Mindset coming out, which similarly has a protagonist discovering new technologies. What makes each of these unique? What draws you to telling stories of innovative protagonists?
Zack Kaplan: That is true! There are some similarities to Forever Forward and Mindset in that they both involve very smart characters who discover some new technology or advancement and then must struggle with how to use it or make sense of it in our society. And absolutely, I’m hoping to use this scientific “be careful what you wish for” device to explore some real heavy ideas about our world today. And both protagonists do seek the spotlight or at least recognition from society. And yes, both are dreamers, disillusioned by our current world but hopeful to use technology to solve that for the better. But I also think Dr. Lewis Moody and Ben Sharp are very different, although I’m hesitant to go into too much detail without ruining both series. Needless to say, I think that the scientist or the hero who discovers a breakthrough is a great vehicle for a story to explore whether there is a quick fix to a societal problem or perhaps if there is a more organic, natural way to improvement. That’s what great sci-fi does, right? Holds up the mirror, shows us a variation on ourselves and asks what will we do about it before the future is upon us.
What’s next for you after these stories?
Zack Kaplan: You want more? Four titles this year wasn’t enough, huh. So, this will conclude my 2022 for new releases, four titles all released in a 5-month window: Dark Horse’s Break Out, Image/Top Cow’s Metal Society, Vault’s Mindset, and now Scout’s Forever Forward. Fun, but a lot of work! So yeah, as I continue to get these series out and prepare to get out the graphic novels to all those trade-waiters, the good news for you all is I have at least six new series in development. Some already getting drawn, some just getting started. I anticipate I won’t have any new releases until mid-next year, but by year’s end, there should be a lot more projects coming. So, stay tuned, and make sure you follow me online or at my Substack newsletter Technobabble for early news on those.