Living Machines is a prog metalcore band with a story tell, and they’ve decided that a post-apocalyptic science fiction comic called Gemini: After Onyx, that ties into their music, is the next logical step. They’ve chosen just the right time to do it.
Music and comics seem to communicate quite well with each other and have recently shown to be very eager to continue doing so. Ezra Claytan Daniels, for instance, has taken his award-winning Upgrade Soul and, well, upgraded it into a multimedia digital experience (accessed through an app) that includes its own soundtrack in addition to other immersive features that expand upon the overall experience. Claudio Sánchez conjured up his Armory Wars comic series out of the science fiction world he’s put in song with his band Coheed and Cambria and has had great success in the process.
Even Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo managed to get a heavy metal soundtrack out of their recent DC event Dark Knights: Metal. Daniel Warren Johnson’s Murder Falcon and Tommy Lee Edwards’ and Dan McDaid’s Vandroid also have their own soundtracks and they play into the story in different ways, whether it’s to evoke heavy metal’s greats or to capture that nostalgic, neon-tinged synth-wave sound for added ambiance and tone.
Now it’s Living Machines’ turn to bring its aggressive prog metalcore music into comics and see just how far they can go with the story on two separate mediums that play nice with each other if you treat them right.
The comic, written by Living Machines’ drummer/songwriter Quinn McGraw and illustrated and colored by David Cousens, takes place in a reality governed by riots and disorder. Deteriorating floating cities try to stay alive after a cataclysmic event that left most of the world in ashes and its survivors in a fractured society. A new threat surfaces in the midst of all this and the absolute end of everything starts to look like a more immediate possibility than previously thought.
The band’s newest single, “Harvest,” sets the tone for the comic and is accompanied by a music video that aims at setting up the rawness of the Gemini universe. The idea is to make both music and comic mediums be integral storytelling engines that can function independently but are more gratifying together.
The Beat had the chance to interview drummer Quinn McGraw on the new comic and how the band’s new singles will line up with the series.
Ricardo Serrano: What would you say sets this sci-fi/post-apocalyptic tale apart from other stories following along similar lines?
Quinn McGraw: I’ve found that many of the apocalyptic sized “alien invasion tales” all follow a similar thread: one side wanting to dominate the other, our inability to relinquish control as the dominant species, and our failure to coexist with other forms of life. We are very much an “act first, think later” species, and I wanted to write a story that could illustrate the power of what would happen if we learned to forgive others for our circumstances first instead of trying to act outwardly towards them. After Onyx is largely a tale about forgiveness and overcoming our innate anger.
I’d say that using an interstellar race to serve as a mirror for humanity to come to terms with our inability to coexist with other forms of life, and each other, is a refreshing angle.
Serrano: Did you have certain movies, or books, or other media in mind when crafting the story?
McGraw: Truth be told, I was never really into comic books before starting Living Machines, so when I dove in I began buying any comics I could get my hands on. Some of the authors that really stood out to me in the beginning and inspired a darker writing style for the series were Jonathan Hickman (East of West, Black Monday Murders, The Manhattan Projects), and James Tynion IV (The Woods, Cognetic, Somethings Is Killing The Children).
The world build was largely inspired by Arrival, District 9, and 1984. I also grew up as a big Star Wars fan, so I’m sure I subconsciously sprinkled that over a lot of it.
Serrano: I’m interested in the music/comic combination, especially in terms of how they structure and tie the entire narrative experience together. Would you say the music and the comic are two essential parts of a whole or is the musical aspect more complementary?
The idea is that the music and comics can exist independently. Not everyone is a fan of metal music, and not all metal fans like comic books! However, the experience is far more immersive if you dig into our music and read the story. Some scenes in the comic books are voiced-acted skits on the album, and some of the lyrics may feel a bit open ended if you aren’t following the narrative. There are also easter eggs in both for people to dissect and reassemble.
If I had to pick, I’d say the music is definitely more complimentary to the story, but the experience is enriched if you listen to the music as well.
Serrano: What has the music allowed you to add to the story that perhaps the comic on its own couldn’t have done or would’ve needed an entirely different approach to achieve?
McGraw: I’d say the music in general sets a very dark emotional tone to the Gemini universe. It’s a world of hardship, loss, and despair. Metal is a genre of music I’ve always found incredibly powerful, and it totally plays its own role in how the story comes together. One may read a section of the comic / story and feel that a character appears to be sad, when in fact the song captures them from an angrier perspective. If we write a song that’s quite emotional, I usually try to find a way to tie that emotion into the characters. It’s also fun having skits on the album that brings scenes to life sonically.
Serrano: Are you looking to experiment in other formats or ways with the comic?
McGraw: Like anyone building an original universe, I’d love to see Gemini expanded to other formats. As comics can be fairly expensive and time consuming to produce, the next chapter of the story may be release as an illustrated novella. I’d love to have the entire series delivered as comic books, but I’d also like to have story content to release as the band continues to push out records. There are still 3 single issues that need to be illustrated to finish telling all of the After Onyx story arc, yet we’re already releasing music from the new arc that takes place 30-40 years later. I’d like to not get too far ahead of the story musically, so it’s a bit of a juggling act.
Beyond that, I’m also slowly developing a tabletop a trading card game to accompany The Aluna War that takes place in the second and third issues of After Onyx.
McGraw: Thank you!
You can purchase Gemini: After Onyx #1 at the Splice Comics online store.