Vault Comics is gearing up for the debut of their new psychedelic sci-fi thriller Mindset. Written by Zack Kaplan (Eclipse, Port of Earth) and illustrated and colored by Eisner-winning artist John J. Pearson (Blue In Green), the series is lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (The Blue Flame, Engineward) and designed by Tim Daniel. Pearson contributed one cover while Martin Simmonds added another.

Issue #1 is slated to hit store shelves on June 29, introducing the story of grad students who accidentally discover mind control while designing an app that is supposed to help people break their addiction to technology. 

The Beat chatted with Kaplan and Pearson ahead of the release.

Deanna Destito: Clearly the inspiration behind this is our addiction to technology, social media, etc. How did you approach turning a very timely situation into an intriguing, sci-fi story?

Zack Kaplan: Mindset is very much about our relationship with technology today, and we set out to explore that by infusing those themes and timely subject matter into every facet of the series. The narrative especially has a lot of layers in this regard. The characters actually discover a real form of mind control, but when they put it into an app and disseminate that to the world, the app becomes a metaphor for mind control. Then as they set out to build their business, expand their success and influence the world, that mind control influence is shroud in the guise of technological influence. In addition, there are several storylines beyond the app’s success; our protagonist, Ben Sharp, is struggling to find his place in the world and the more he uses mind control and technology, the more important he becomes. The series really plays a lot with double meanings, duality, and the idea of having the narrative experience be controlled at all times. Then there’s this taut thriller that we know is coming with the murder of the company’s investor, and with mind control, you don’t really know what to think. Who’s really in control?

John J. Pearson: The approach of having these dualities in play is one of the key elements for me, both in terms of the narrative and the artwork. We’ve got a story about technology and control, with quite a tactile and fluid approach to the artwork, which can be at odds with what you’d expect from a tech thriller like this. There’s also a huge amount of people that can relate to the idea of technology controlling their lives to some extent, so that’s something that acts as a hook straight away. You can empathize with the situations we’re presenting, which has always made for great sci-fi, but we’re trying to take that and push it further so you start to question the things you’re seeing, as well as the things around you. Trying to create the art with that in mind has been an absolute blast, and hopefully one that’ll engage people enough to come back for multiple readings. 

Destito:The art style is eye-catching and has a Dave McKean vibe to it. What inspired this particular take on the visuals?

Pearson: There’s a big melting pot of influence to my approach, but McKean is absolutely up there, along with [Bill] Sienkewicz, with their ability to communicate the emotive elements of a story through their art. I come from a fine art background, and I think that’s something common with comic artists that try to push for more emotive and tactile elements with their work that can drift into painterly abstraction. With Mindset, the artwork needs to be able to reflect the dualties we’re dealing with through having varying levels of nuance and ambiguity. The story shifts subtly over time, so the artwork plays with those subtle shifts and changes through being able to completely switch the style in an instant, or slowly build up images over the entire run of the series. One of the things I love about this approach to comics is I’m never entirely sure how the finished pages will turn out. They become their own living thing, hopefully heightening the story and pushing the beats into interesting and unexpected territory. 

Kaplan: I knew from the first time I began playing with this idea that it really needed an innovative and creative artist that could play with the medium itself and bring out these layers in the story. John’s strong background in visual arts and his work as an artist really allowed him to bring more than just a typical comic approach to Mindset. But I’ll tell you, when pages began coming into my inbox, I was mesmerized. There are so many incredible nuances to the art work, from the inventive layouts to the varying textures and psychedelic colors. I really think readers are going to want to savor these pages and even return to read it all over again.

Destito: Besides our device addiction, the fact that it’s connected to a meditation app is also quite telling, considering how anxious and overwhelmed so many people have been in the last few years. Why was that an important element to include in your narrative?

Kaplan: There’s several fun aspects to the protagonist’s use of a meditation app. First, meditation apps are the current attempt to calm our anxiety even from our own technology. It’s almost absurd, in that the advertisement will pop up in the middle of your social media doom scrolling to suggest you take a break with another app by staring at another video of something calm, like a rotating abstract pattern, while you listen to AI-generated crickets. You’re not actually taking a break, and in fact, that app is asking you to absorb just as much toxic screen time and continue the addiction. But it’s also the app’s attempt to control our minds. Our hero, Ben, starts his journey with aspirational good intentions, and so what better way to try to use mind control to help people and to fight off our manipulative dependency than with…a meditation app! Hypnotize away that bad technology with good technology! I will add the story is this dark, twisted techno-thriller, but there is a small hint in the series of satirical, absurdist, and albeit very dry, humor.

Destito: How has it been collaborating with this team and Vault

Kaplan: There’s a lot of people who compare Vault Comics to Vertigo, but I think Vault is a really special publisher, and the entire team is very adventurous and passionate about making comics that surprise us and challenge us. John, Hassan and I knew Vault was a great partner for Mindset. We brought this idea to Adrian and Damian Wassel, and they immediately got the vision and came in one hundred percent behind us. It’s been a fantastic experience working with them, from Adrian’s brilliant editorial direction, to Tim Daniel’s great design work and the entire Vault team’s really strong marketing game. As for John, Hassan, and I, we’ve really rolled up our sleeves and gotten into the artistic weeds with this series. We’re looking at every page to ask ourselves how we can elevate these thematic ideas and connect the reader more to the emotionality of the story. There’s lots of subtlety and subtext, and plenty of easter egg layers to the story. For example, keep your eyes on water in the story, tying into that motif of duality and reflection. So, it’s been a really incredible collaboration and I think we’re all really proud of the result of it. 

Pearson: Vault has been great. They’ve been really invested from the start and they get that we’re trying to push things a little with the series. The whole team there is just enthused with what they’re doing, and that enthusiasm has been infectious. I think at times it’s easy to drift away from the confidence you have in what you’re making because you’re just so close to the creative process. You can end up questioning the value in what it is that you’re doing, but Vault has been excellent at being a solid sounding board. I’ll send over artwork and the reaction from Adrian, Tim, and the rest of the team is always humbling.  

Destito: As with most people, I both love and hate how reliant we are on our devices. What is your opinion or relationship with technology and social media nowadays?

Pearson: It’s a part of our lives, and there’s no way around that. I used to try and distance myself, but now I just embrace it, and it’s great. I know my personal limits, and I know that people can be toxic to say the least online, so I just use technology and social media for my own ends, and disregard everything else. I’m happy. Long live the new flesh. 

Kaplan: One great point our Mindset protagonist makes: “Because when a person knows how they are being influenced, then they have the power to free themselves and change their mindset.” Do you believe that? It’s just that easy! So as long as you are aware of the influence, perhaps reading will help ease your anxieties. Perhaps a new comic that deals in something silly and frivolous like mind control. Try Mindset from Vault Comics! You can follow all of the creators here at all major social media platforms: Zack Kaplan @zackkaps John Pearson @johnjpearson or Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou @HassanOE, and of course Vault Comics @theVaultComics, and may I daringly suggest you give us your total and uninterrupted attention for as long as you can…because the real truth – the devices are here to stay. You might as well enjoy it!

Take a peek at the covers and some preview pages below! Mindset #1 will be available on June 29.