Here’s a fun thought exercise: what happens if you take a group of human beings and launch them into space? We’ve seen this idea explored countless times in sci-fi and fantasy stories, but in Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted, writer Ben Kahn flips nearly every expectation of the genre on its head. This genderqueer space opera is full of blood, guts, and cursing — but it also has an omnipresent, if odd, sense of heart.
The Beat caught up with Kahn via e-mail to talk about Gryffen, working with Bruno Hidalgo and Sal Cipriano, and what’s in store for the future.
Samantha Puc: What inspired you to write the script for Gryffen?
Ben Kahn: I think what inspired me was genre and themes. The ‘spaceship crew goes on adventures’ genre has been having a resurgence lately what with games like Mass Effect and shows like Star Trek: Discovery, Legends of Tomorrow, and The Orville. It was after Black Mirror did their own Star Trek episode that the gears really started turning and I decided that this was a genre sandbox I really wanted to play around in. I’ve worked in urban fantasy a lot the last few years, so it’s been great switching gears over to sci-fi.
And then in my past books like Shaman and Heavenly Blues, I tried to explore more personal themes: fatherhood, grief, regret, passion. But with Gryffen, I wanted to explore more societal and philosophical themes. The world has so completely gone insane and driven itself off a cliff the last few years, I needed to express some of those feelings in story. There’s so much to be angry about, to be made to feel powerless by, and for my own sake I had to write a story like Gryffen out of a need for catharsis. I wanted to write a character who could punch all the Nazis, and tear down a broken world in ways I can only fantasize about. Science fiction is all about exploring the themes of today, and I hope Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted is another chapter in that legacy.
Puc: Is there any media you wanted to emulate or flip on its head with this story
Kahn: I mentioned some of the influences and the general genre tropes I’m playing with, but you have to talk about Star Trek. Star Trek is in this book’s DNA at every level. Even the 12-page chapter length is an attempt to create something like the ‘dramatic break to commercial’ you’d see in a TNG or DS9 episode. While this volume is all about the central mystery of ‘just what happened to Lyla Gryffen?’ I still tried to give it a bit more of an episodic feel with multiple adventures to give it a little more of that Trek feel.
Where I want to completely flip Trek on its head is the idea of morality and humanity specifically. With every version of Star Trek, it all comes from a place of believing in fundamental human goodness. I find that…hard to believe in these days. I mean, ya look at history and human exploration. There’s a loooooot of colonialism and exploitation, not so much on the mutually beneficial co-existence. There’s a lot of reasons to think humanity taking to the stars would be disastrous for any species we encounter. So much of the Federation assumes that at some point we just become this magically better species that has overcome our original sins, but we never see how that process actually happened. I wanted to show that human society, no matter how advanced, can still exemplify all the evils we know we’re capable of if we don’t confront our historical mistakes.
Puc: What is it like working with Bruno and Sal?
Kahn: Working with them has been a delight. For me and Bruno, this is our third series together. Our first was an OGN called Shaman, then Heavenly Blues with Scout Comics. So I think we’ve got a nice rhythm now, and we get better and better about bringing out the best in each other. I’ve really been trying to think more visually and cinematically for Gryffen, and Bruno’s been there to knock it out of the park every time. I love the expressiveness he gives the characters how he makes the world of Gryffen both dirty and bright at the same time.
Sal does a great job with the lettering. He’s able to make these great layouts with the text that I never would have thought of. And his lettering really helps create the atmosphere of a gritty, desperate world. I’d be nothing without them, and I’m so lucky to have them with me on this project.
Puc: Do you have a favorite panel or scene from the series?
Kahn: I think my favorite scene is probably Gryffen’s orbital space punch in Issue #5. I talked before about trying to be more cinematic with Gryffen, and that’s always the example that comes to mind. A moment where I fight my natural instinct to cram everything full of dialogue, and let Bruno really take you on that journey. The way he was able to capture speed, distance and momentum, it’s a visceral feeling that’s a joy to read no matter how many times I look at the art.
And then I think so much of the fun of Gryffen is captured in that moment. Audacious sci-fi? Check. Insane characters with insaner plans? Check. Ludicrous, gory violence? Triple check!
Puc: Which character would you say is the most personally relatable to you?
Kahn: It’s strange to say Lyla Gryffen because they’re such this avatar of chaos, but they’re really the character I’m pouring my anger and frustrations into. Our world is just as insane and cruel as Gryffen’s is, but they’re someone who’s able to do something about it instead of feeling powerless. Gryffen has no interest in civility or half measures, they’re here to punch all of the space nazis, and punch them as hard as they can. And I relate to Gryffen’s hope in science as, if not a force for salvation, then at least a force for change. Gryffen’s completely lost hope in humanity as a species, but I relate to them clinging to belief in science, that most human of endeavors.
Puc: Has anything about working on this comic surprised you? How so?
Kahn: I think it surprised me just how powerful a narrative force Gryffen would be. I didn’t quite know what it would be like to write a character with that much forward momentum, who doesn’t need a ‘call to adventure,’ but is the call to adventure. Normally the plot drives the main character forward, and it was so much more fun than I could have thought to write a character who drives it forward purely on the strength of their own will and intent.
The downside is that scenes without Gryffen can lose that clear, singular voice. So I have to take extra care to make sure characters stand out and that scenes retain energy. Telika’s sarcastic sense of humor and Dao’s refusal to take responsibility for anything came out of needing to make sure I was giving Gryffen a supporting cast that could stand on their own and not be overwhelmed by Gryffen’s personality.
Puc: What has the response been like from readers?
Kahn: Response from readers has been fantastic. People seem to be digging the humor, and really responding to the character of Captain Gryffen. I’m really happy people are seeing them as real non-binary rep; it’s awesome seeing Gryffen included among queer books. They’re definitely not a traditional protagonist, and I’m jazzed to see people still connecting with them. I’m throwing a lot of themes and ideas at the wall, and I hope they don’t get totally lost in the action and humor.
Puc: Is there work you’d recommend for readers who want more Gryffen-type stories, whether it’s other comics, prose books, TV…?
Kahn: There’s always the good ol’ self serving answer of me and Bruno’s other books together! Shaman is available on ComiXology and Heavenly Blues is for sale on the Scout Comics website, and they both have that same mix of genre action with plenty of comedy. I think people looking for more of that fun action and adventure will be wise to check out Kim & Kim and Crowded. And then books like Wasted Space and Invisible Kingdom are exploring really interesting ground in the sci-fi space.
Puc: Do you have plans for other stories in this universe?
Kahn: Nothing certain at the moment, but the hope is definitely to do more volumes of Gryffen for sure. I’ve got so much to say and do with this world and these characters. Even with 12 chapters in this first volume, I’m still just scratching the surface. There’s so much more to say and explore about just what science’s role in society is. I hope I’ve got a lot more adventures of the al-Haytham crew in me!
Puc: Can you talk about any other projects you have coming up?
Kahn: There are some projects I’m absolutely bouncing off the walls about coming up, but unfortunately nothing’s been announced yet so I’ve gotta attempt to be on good behavior. But I can talk about some of my amazing collaborators! Jeremy Whitley and I are co-writing a really fun and sweet Middle Grade OGN. Then I’m working with artist Georgeo Brooks on another kids’ comic, and then with Rachel Silverstein and Sam Beck on a comic that is very fun and queer, but not at all kid-friendly. It’s a fun mix of stories and I’m excited to be able to talk more about them soon.
Puc: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Kahn: Thank you to everyone who read this whole interview and listened to me ramble about my own writing. I hope this was a fun little insight into the world of Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted! If you haven’t read it yet, we have the first six chapters available for a dollar each on ComiXology.
Issue #7 comes out Wednesday, September 11 and kicks off the second half of the volume! And for more info, updates, and general ramblings, give me a follow on Twitter at @BenTheKahn or check out www.benkahncomics.com.