Interview with Joshua Dysart
By John L. Daniels, Jr.
An interview with Joshua Dysart, writer and member of the lauded
Captain Gravity creative team. You'll also want to read
the companion interviews with team members
John Daniels: In writing Captain Gravity, did you take any
of the aspects from the original series?
Joshua Dysart: I kept the full cast and held true to their
shared pasts, but that’s about it. Tonally the two stories are very
different. The original Captain Gravity was more of an homage to pulp
serial films, while ours has its roots firmly in Golden Age WWII
adventure comics. I even ended up tweaking Captain Gravity’s origin
story. I turned the aliens who first brought the source of CG’s power
to earth into Atlanteans. Mostly because I’m tired of people
attributing the great accomplishments of our species (even fictional
ones) to external forces. I’m too much of a humanist to believe it was
beyond our reason to build the pyramids or create primitive batteries
or tap into some source of universal power. So I guess once I screwed
with the origin I was pretty much walking away form the original
series, for better or for worse.
John: How did you want to perceive this version of
Joshua: How did I want to perceive it? Uhm… well, I
don’t know how I wanted to perceive it. Only how I did perceived it.
I’ve always really been into the imagery of the Golden Age comics but
never indulged in the voice of the Golden Age as a writer myself. My
personal creative choices tend to automatically lean towards the very
dark, which is counter-intuitive to Golden Age storytelling, so I saw
this job as an opportunity to consciously go against my natural
tendencies and instead wallow in the ideas of heroism, positivism and
innocence. But even with this conscious intention I still had a hard
time reigning in my darker creative intuition. At one point young
Jeager was going to be working in a slaughterhouse in Munich in 1925.
Meaning that every time you saw him he would be covered in blood and
we’d have all this imagery of him slaughtering animals and of gore
running down gutters and severed parts hanging everywhere. I thought
it would be a great way to foreshadow the madness that Jeager and his
fellow German Worker Party members were about to unleash on the world.
But Sal didn’t think that kind of imagery was true to the piece, of
which 95% had already been written, and he was right. That element in
the story would’ve seriously undermined my original intent.
Apart from all of that, I also wanted to create an allegory for
atomic power and the coming of the Cold War, but I didn’t want to beat
people over the head with it. Vril energy became a perfect pulp
vehicle for me to explore the political and social implications of the
discovery of Atomic power. Historically, Hitler really was racing to
get “the bomb,” which in our story is the Power of the Vril. That’s
why we end with the Cuban Missile Crises, that moment when the
Doomsday Clock was the closest it had been to midnight ever before.
That’s also why, at the end, we see that both Russia and America have
acquired the Vril power.
“I'm tired of people attributing the
great accomplishments of our species to external forces. I'm too much
of a humanist to believe it was beyond our reason to build the
— Joshua Dysart
John: Do you like writing pieces that deal with history or historic events?
Joshua: Oh yeah. For two reasons. One, the research is
inspiring and compelling and forces me to continue my education well
into my adult years. The history of our species, despite all of our
wars and great capacity for cruelty, is extraordinary and every story
you could ever tell is already hiding in the past, just waiting to be
unearthed. But the other reason I love writing from a historical
perspective is that there’s an ethical obligation to it. I have to fit
this fantastic story, where people fly and ancient races pass down
mystical knowledge, into a place and a time where real people lived,
loved and died. For instance, I just couldn’t see myself writing about
Germany between the wars unless I mentioned the German resistance to
Hitler. Otherwise I’m mischaracterizing the full German experience
during that time. I like having that responsibility. It forces me
towards empathy and makes me a better person and, therefore, a better
John: Too lay your foundation for the story what type of
research did you do concerning the swastika?
Joshua: I had done a lot of that research on my own some
time ago, long before I had any idea I’d be writing Captain
Gravity. I’ve been fascinated with symbols and their role in our
conscious and unconscious communication process for some time now. And
you can’t really go through even the most informal study of symbols
without stumbling over the Swastika or Whirly Gig or whatever you want
to call it. I mean the damn thing is everywhere. So I’ve been pretty
intimate with the history of the Swastika since I was a kid. Picking
up and reading books here and there as I found them. I’ve long desired
to reclaim the symbol from the memory of the Third Reich and reinvest
it with its source meanings, which are all very positive, but that’s
an understandably difficult agenda. People simply do not want to have
that conversation. The symbol has been profoundly tainted. So I just
sort of lost my passion for trying to rehabilitate it. A decade later,
I was sitting around trying to think up a pitch for this Captain
Gravity project and I had just re-watched some of Kenneth Anger’s
films. I was really into how he used imagery in his movies to
essentially invoke spiritual forces and cast magic spells. I suddenly
realized that I might be able to redress the swastika in its original,
positive meaning, at least a little bit, if I splashed it across
virtually every page of a comic book and made its history an actual
dramatic element of the storyline. So that was all very intuitive
stuff that I already had internalized and was ready to spit out. I
just needed the inspiration of Anger’s work to plant the seed.
Any actual research I did for the series was more concerned with
Germany’s social and economic structure between the wars than with the
“This was my first paying gig
on something that wasn’t a T&A book… I had a lot of
doubt. All that doubt that Joshua Jones has about being a superhero,
that’s my doubt about being creative for a living.”
John: What were some of the qualities that you based the
character of Captain Gravity around, for instance did you use
characters from your personal history?
Joshua: Captain Gravity is me. This was my first paying gig
on something that wasn’t a T&A book (I worked for Chaos for about a
year) and I was hardly a hardened comic book creator. I had a lot of
doubt. Doubt that I was any good as a writer. Doubt that I could make
my living doing this. Doubt that I even had a superhero story in me.
So all that doubt that Joshua Jones has about being a superhero,
that’s my doubt about being creative for a living, and all those
scenes of him learning how to use his powers, those are about me
learning how to write a commercial, superhero comic book that I could
be really proud of. That’s just how I handled the main character. And
I feel closer to him than any other character I’ve written because of
John: The story is very intriguing and emotional. One of
the most incredible panels was of Captain Gravity showing an African
American navy sailor that he — Captain Gravity — was
African American and that he was a hero of the nation. What was one of
your favorite panels of the story?
Joshua: Thanks, yeah, I love that scene. It’s the only real
nod to racism we do in that series (except for a few lines the Nazis
say, but hey, they’re Nazis). I really wanted to keep that crap light
for the sake of the narrative.
But in answer to your question, my favorite panel in the whole
trade is in the new chapter. It’s the splash of Jeager as a young man
leaping into the fistfight at the German Worker’s Party Rally in
Munich in 1925. There’s the swastika flag behind him. This moment is
the first time that Hitler and his people have decided to use it as a
symbol. This is at the beginning of things. Before the Swastika is
turned into a symbol of evil, before Germany rises from the ashes only
to fall again. This is a single snapshot of when these men still felt
clean and pure and idealism was the order of the day. And Jeager is
yelling, “I’m the Hero!” But the reader knows he’s not. The reader
knows that what we’re seeing is the very birth of villainy. That to me
is the moment in which the book sings the most. Sal and Bob rocked
John: How was it to work with Bob Almond and Sal Vellutto,
two exciting artisans, on this project?
Joshua: Profoundly satisfying. I love their work. I cannot
praise it enough. They make me a better writer. Before I talked about
an ethical imperative to be as real and fair to history as I can be,
even while writing pulp. Well, Sal and Bob, they unconsciously seem to
understand that ethical imperative. They gave love to every detail of
the period in this work. They were like documentarians. And then, when
it came time to turn on the more fantastic elements, like mutant
Nazis, underwater kingdoms, that kind of jazz, they nailed that too.
Plus their character acting is impeccable. That’s the least developed
skill you see in comic book artists, their character’s acting
abilities (with panel to panel story telling coming in at a close
second). I can’t believe that Sal and Bob don’t have to beat editors
away for work. I’d really love to work with them again.
John: Would you like to work on another Captain
Gravity series for the fans?
Joshua: Yes. Absolutely, there’s another idea that Sal and I
will be collaborating on this time. We’ve bounced a few things back
and forth and think it’s going to be very, very cool. It’s just a
matter of finding mutual time in our schedules. When things are right
and in place, there will be more Captain Gravity. As long as Penny
Farthing Press is down for it.
John: The release of this trade paperback containing new
material is exciting. What would you like fans to come away with after
reading Captain Gravity?
Joshua: I’d just like them to have fun. This is the most
laid back and careless writing I’ve ever done. Yet at the same time
it’s the most rich thematically and it has an energy about it that I
hope is infectious.
Also, it wouldn’t be so bad if while enjoying an epic superhero
tale, maybe the reader gained a little unobtrusive knowledge about how
the interconnectivity of all things permeates history, but only as
long as it’s not at the expense of enjoying a ripping adventure yarn.
John: What are your feelings towards this amazing
accomplishment? For what I feel is the greatest comic book novel
series I have ever read.
Joshua: Wow, you’re awesome. I’m glad you liked it.
I, personally, feel very good about it. I‘ve grown a lot as a
writer since I wrote it back in 2002, and there are things I would do
differently if I were to have another go at it, but this book
represents the last time I would have a single project on my plate at
one time. The last time I would give every single waking moment to one
idea, one plot, one cast of characters. There’s something to be said
for that, and looking back on it, I can see where my obsession with
the march of history made it onto the page. In fact, all my concerns
regarding classism, racism, capitalism, fascism… they all made it in
there, and for once in my work, they didn’t act as speed bumps slowing
down the drive of the story. So I’m very happy with it. There are
single issues of other comic books that I’ve written which I feel this
way about, but this is the first time an entire trade has really made
me completely proud.
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