It’s not every day that we get to enjoy seeing writer Matt Hawkins chime in on SYMMETRY, THINK TANK, and all things indie comics, so let’s do this, with relish.
Q: It’s been said that SYMMETRY “explores the dark underbelly of Utopia.” What more could you tell our readers about this tale, without giving too much away?
MH: What price would we have to pay to have a Utopian society? What would we have to give up? These are the basic questions I try to answer with this story. I’ve posited that we’d have to give up things like diversity and creativity, among other things…and these kinds of things, imho, are what make us human. I also am obsessed with artificial intelligence and I don’t like how most fiction assumes A.I. will be bad and turn on us. This is a benevolent A.I. that is trying to do the best for humanity, but humans are always messing up everything. I’ve gotten some shit for this story because I segregated all the races, but for what the story is, I think it holds true to the premise.
Q: The world sure could use more appearances of benevolent A.I. in sci-fi tales, to balance the scales. What’s your all-time favorite appearance of benevolent A.I. in a sci-fi tale, and why?
A: I’m not sure I can think of one, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to do it. A.I. is a scary proposition and the idea that it’ll put us out of work or take us over is more compelling fiction that what will ultimately become the reality.
Q: THINK TANK is a shining example of how thought-provoking indie comics can be. What were your inspirations for that tale?
MH: I’ve met many of these scientists who enter into the field with hopes and aspirations for bettering mankind and then end up developing weapons to more-ruthlessly kill people. It’s usually a slow transition, but for some they don’t adapt well. Most scientific funding in the U.S. comes through DARPA and the military. I got a hold of some declassified weapons systems documents. When reading through them, I saw how everything can be dual-purposed. This duality of beneficial/destructive fascinates me and has been part of the story since Day 1.
Q: Let’s deconstruct the character of Dr. David Loren. What elements went into making him the fascinating protagonist that he is?
MH: Well the core of his character is he’s trapped doing something he no longer wants to do. He was seduced into this life at the age of 14 in the same way they recruit young athletes now. He was kind of a loner, disliked at school, and was never around any similar minds. They brought him in to a state-of-the-art facility, sent him to a great college, and put him into a group of his peers that he could actually talk to about stuff that interested him. Flash-forward 14 years, he’s 28 now, and doesn’t want to develop things that kill people. The military doesn’t just let people retire, especially when they are a national security asset. So over the past many years Loren has become disenfranchised, become kind of a dick and lashes out in creative ways at his overlords. He’s also obsessed with technology and science and in many cases gets seduced into doing stuff because he wants to see if he can do it.
Q: What do you suppose the chances are, that a real David Loren type exists in reality, right now, as we speak?
A: I know of several. Two I went to college with. When I initially came up with Loren it was more loosely based on what if I was a hell of a lot smarter and went into that field. I based it on some personal experience I’ve had. I have the luxury of calling many leading scientists friends. I often grab a beer or meal with them and chat them up about their work. My favorite question to ask them is what scares them at the moment. Their answers are usually stuff I’ve never heard of before and that drives my curiosity and passion for the research. One of my college roommates actually told me that what will eventually wipe us out as a species the regular person won’t understand what it is or why it happened.
Q: How might you explain the craft of creative writing to an attentive class of college freshmen?
MH: Focus on the character. What’s his or her story? Why do we care? What is the crisis that forces them to start the story that we’re going to tell? How can we make them relatable and show emotional depth and complexity that is sorely lacking in a LOT of stories out there now?
Q: Which current indie comics do you feel are really doing it right, when it comes to emotional depth and complexity?
A: I really like SAGA, LAZARUS, and THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS. Image Comics has had a crazy renaissance with Robert Kirkman coming on as a partner and Eric Stephenson taking over as publisher. The company is the best it’s ever been and offers a terrific line of books. I read almost all of them.
Q: Of the current crop of indie comics, which three (3) are you most curious to read, and why?
MH: I want to read BLACK SCIENCE. I like (writer) Rick Remender, and it’s a topic that I love. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I have them all. I’m curious about SNOT GIRL, I really liked SCOTT PILGRIM. And for a third, I’ll say whatever Jonathan Hickman’s next creator-owned project is. I love all his stuff.
Q: Science and religion in storytelling. Discuss?
MH: Tricky. With religion you have to be careful to balance how much you’re willing to offend people and what that does for your story. Straight atheist works and straight Christian works, but it’s the areas between I find far more compelling. What people believe is one of the most fascinating things to discuss, but everyone is chicken to do so. With science, I think you need to either make it a part of the backdrop like most Science-Fiction does and don’t bother explaining it, or you need to try and make it as plausible as possible. I prefer the latter, but when people just have tech, and they don’t explain why it works, that it just does, I’m ok with that. It’s easier for me to accept that than to have someone come up with some lame answer as to why.
Q: Which appearance of unexplained science, as part of a sci-fi tale’s backdrop, fascinates you the most? And, why do you suppose that is?
A: I love the transporters from Star Trek. I love exploring new places and traveling, but I hate the actual traveling part. The driving, flying…all of that really sucks. The idea that I can instantaneously be transported to anywhere on Earth is pretty damn cool. If we could do this, it would change life for us forever. There would be whole groups of people who just moved around without ever having a permanent residence. We have that now, but this would be more acceptable. It would also change security, globalization, nations, everything would change. How could you protect your border and your culture? It would be an amazing set of problems to conceive of and would change us as a species.
Q: If such technology as the Star Trek transporter was to emerge on our world, for real, which industry do you think would feel the squeeze from it first?
MH: It would devastate the transportation and shipping industries…almost immediately. You wouldn’t need airplanes, airports, taxis, Uber, FedEx, post office, et cetera. They’d linger for a while, and maybe some of them would morph into something else.
Q: What’s still on your bucket list, as a writer?
MH: I want to write a true, non-supernatural horror story. Movies like SAW and HOSTEL scare the shit out of me because I always feel that there are some twisted people out there that do that for real.
Q: Which five non-supernatural horror films scared you the most?
MH: SAW, HOSTEL, JAWS, and some of the sequels therein.
Q: Five dinner guests. Which five living writers and/or illustrators (of indie comics or otherwise) would you invite to a dinner party?
MH: Mark Waid, Alex Ross, Kurt Busiek, Greg Rucka and Jonathan Hickman. Love everything these guys do, it would be a fanboy dinner-gasm for me.
Q: Mark Waid, Alex Ross, and Kurt Busiek all at the same table? Wow. We’re having serious flashbacks of KINGDOM COME and ASTRO CITY over here right now. What’s a question that you’d like to ask each of them, meaning all five of them?
A: I’d ask them what their dream creator-owned project is and why. People’s passion projects tend to be more interesting to me, although in many cases they aren’t as commercial.
Q: Studies have shown that writers often read when they aren’t writing, so we were just wondering… What did you recently read? What are you reading now? What are you planning to read next?
MH: I just finished two books on artificial intelligence and its societal impacts. One called the Economic Singularity and the other called The Inevitable. I’m also reading Grace of Kings which was originally published in Chinese and translated to English. It’s a fiction book, but really good. I like reading foreign writers books.
Q: Who are some of your favorite foreign writers?
MH: Ken Liu, Haruki Murakami, and the classics of course, with Dostoyevsky and his contemporaries.
Q: [Role play] You’re on a ship at sea. It’s a dark and stormy night. The captain is nowhere to be found. What do you do?
MH: Sleep. I really love to sleep. I’ve actually been able to put myself into a slight hibernation. I slept for 38 hours once without the use of any drugs.
Q: [Role play continues] You wake up 39 hours later feeling refreshed. The seas are calm. The sun is shining. The ship is moored in a mysterious harbor that looks to be centuries old. No one is on board your ship. A pterodactyl soars quietly by overhead while the screech of exotic monkeys can be heard echoing from the island’s terra firma. What do you do?
MH: I’d secure the basic survival necessities and find some means of protecting myself and then slowly, methodically explore the island to try and find out where the rest of the crew is and why we’re here. If they’re all gone I’d try and survive. Flashbacks to Tom Hanks Castaway movie I’m an Eagle Scout and have read the Army Survival Manual many times so I know how to start a fire from nothing, how to live off of the land, etc. It wouldn’t be an optimal life for me as I don’t like being alone, but I wouldn’t kill myself. I’d make the ship my base that I slept on too because it’s probably more defensible from attack by wildlife. I’d also create some sort of sign on the beach with an SOS or something. This is a fun thought exercise but I hate sailing, I hate being on the ocean so not a likely scenario for me. I went on one cruise for three days and have vowed never to go on another boat, ship or any vessel on the ocean waters.
Q: [Role play continues] You find no other humans on the island. Aside from benevolent primates (and the occasional pterodactyl,) you also find a forgotten cache of Captain Kidd’s lost treasure, consisting of coins, doubloons, fancy dinnerware, and jewels. There at least a hundred pounds of the stuff. Knowing what you know now, what do you do next?
MH: Actually the ship was not destroyed, yes? So if I wasn’t shipwrecked I’d load up the treasure and set sail west and move towards the equator guaranteeing I’d hit land eventually. That’s assuming it was a small enough ship that I could sail it alone. I know how to navigate by the stars it would take me a long time but I think I could pull it off. I’d load up on provisions and set out. If I wasn’t able to sail the ship by myself, the treasure is useless so I’d continue to do what I was doing. I’d investigate the treasure, as a time-killing device. But, other than that, I’d leave it be.