Comic Watch recently had the exciting opportunity to sit down with both Zac Thompson and Emily Horn, writers of the upcoming Vault series, No One’s Rose! Set to hit shelves March 25th, this series is described as a “solar-punk” environmentally conscious sci-fi story. We caught up with both Zac and Emily to take a deep dive into the inspirations and ideals behind the series as well as what to look forward to in the coming months. Check out our full interviews below!
Interview with Zac Thompson
Comic Watch: No One’s Rose is set in a post-Anthropocene world, setting this book up to be rife with social (and political) commentary which seems quite on brand for you. Talk to us a little bit about the origins of this particular book.
Zac Thompson: Emily and I met three years ago. And we quickly bonded over our love for literature and she introduced me to Ursula K Le Guin. From there I devoured The Left Hand of Darkness, and started moving through her whole bibliography. Anyway, that led to Emily and I eventually talking about science fiction writing as an act of rebellion. Le Guin sort of represents this force for change in the genre that almost took an anthropological approach to building worlds and telling stories.
We were both coming to terms with a lot of climate anxiety and Emily had this idea for a story that tackled climate change through the lens of this domed city, this last bastion of nature growing in defiance of catastrophic climate change. She very generously asked me to help her write it. So we begin almost right away, writing a massive bible over the summer of 2017. We took about 6 months to develop the world, the themes, and the characters we wanted to be at the center of it. We knew that telling a story about climate change meant telling a story about those most affected by it. So that’s where teenagers Tenn and Seren come in. A brother and sister at odds with how best to move into the future.
And yes, while this book is set in the future – it’s also very much about right now. We’re coming to terms with the climate crisis with No One’s Rose and prioritizing nature in a genre where it’s historically been absent. We want climate science to be exciting and we want readers to learn something while also finding some hope and kinship in the character’s struggles. Because we’re all on this planet together and addressing climate change isn’t just about the planet’s survival – it’s about our own.
CW: Last year, you were one of the chief architects of the Age of X-Man event which toyed with faulty notions of Utopia, treading into the anti-utopian landscape. Here in No One’s Rose, we see similar themes of control and rebellion arising, particularly through the character of Seren. Seren is clearly a rebel with an agenda while his sister, Tenn, is an operative of the state. What can you tell us about the inspiration for these characters and their relationship?
ZT: Tenn and Seren are both simultaneously the protagonists and antagonists of this story. Both believe they have the full picture about how their world works and what needs to be done to safeguard the future. But neither can do it alone. These ideological slants allow you to really explore and unpack the power dynamic in the world but also simultaneously paint two very different portraits of this world.
When it comes to climate change, you’ve got a lot that needs to get done by the state for real change to happen. We wanted to show Tenn as a character who is a hopeful, dedicated, and brilliant public servant. Someone with the attitude and work ethic of Leslie Knope firmly aligned with the political party. In the world right now, there is so much negative energy attached to those who work with the system to get shit done. But those are the very real cogs in the machine that you need to affect change.
Then, with Seren. You’ve got a character who’s completely disaffected by the current class structure in this so-called Utopia. He has a chip on his shoulder and feels like they must be a better way of doing things. He’s driven to find a new way, even if he has to resort to violence to affect change.
Neither is fully right. And that’s what No One’s Rose is exploring. The idea of a Utopia is something that is precarious and hardly sustainable, people want more, people always need more. The Green Zone is fixed and finite. A snowglobe of biodiversity that could easily be destroyed if even one part of its intricate system fails. But if we work together, maybe just maybe, we can be fixed in one place and grow at the same time. Just like a Tree.
CW: The mystery at the heart of No One’s Rose seems to be rooted (no pun intended) on the perpetuation of class inequality. Even in a devastated world, human beings will still create demarcation between the proletariat and the elite ruling classes. Do you see this cycle as unbreakable as it would appear here or is there hope for humanity yet?
ZT: I believe there is hope and the cycle is breakable but in order to do so, human beings need to radically redefine their relationships to one another. We need to break free of perceiving any separation between ourselves and the world around us. And that comes down to having empathy for everything and everyone – living and nonliving.
A lot of our fiction is rooted in perpetuating class structure as well. So, we decided because The Green Zone is literally planted into the ground at a fixed point, it should resemble some shades of the past. That’s part of what this series is exploring…how can we dissolve that class distinction without violence?
CW: You’ve published comics with a number of publishers over the years. How do you go about choosing a publisher for a project and what made Vault the right home for No One’s Rose?
ZT: Vault was always the home for this book because their vision is bold, courageous books that can’t exist anywhere else. Most publishers would have scoffed at the idea of doing a “solar-punk” book back in 2018, but the moment Vault heard the pitch they were on board. And we’ve been building this world together since.
It’s rare to have a publisher get so excited about a book that seems so crazy. Honestly, Emily and I were worried that no one would want to get behind a climate change book. But turns out, we were very wrong. From the start, editor Adrian Wassel has been getting into weeds with us about climate fiction and the nitty gritty of how this world works.
CW: The artwork in this issue is amazing. What can you tell us about the process of working with your art team on this book from your perspective?
ZT: The stunning Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque came onto the book very early on in the process. In the summer of 2018, Alberto and I did a SP//dr one shot at Marvel and started talking about doing a creator-owned book together. Around that time, production on No One’s Rose was heating up and he got super excited about the idea.
Alberto’s work speaks for itself, but it’s not often you get someone to come back from steady Marvel work to get back into creator-owned. From the get go, Alberto had a vision for this world and the characters who live in it. His incredibly kinetic linework and gorgeous attention to detail gave the entire world depth we could never imagine. Emily and I wrote pretty dense scripts, heavy with world building and Alberto slayed every page.
Then we’ve got colorist Raul Angulo, who made the who book come to life with his light and airy colors. We wanted readers to feel like they were outside while standing in The Green Zone, and Raul got it right away, bringing a vibrant spirit to the world that feels like a complete rejection of most of the sci-fi on shelves right now.
On top of it all, we’ve got Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou on letters. Hass is one of the best in the business and has an impeccable story sense when approaching something that is typically “supposed” to be invisible. The letters on this book, inform everything thematically and bring the whole package together in this really nuanced and lovely way.
Finally, if that weren’t enough. We’ve got designer Tim Daniel who makes the whole book look flawless. His impeccable design sense is part of what keeps people coming back to Vault titles, and it’s no different here. We’re truly overwhelmingly lucky with this creative team.
CW: Anything else our readers should know about No One’s Rose?
ZT: This is a big story about our collective futures. Stick around with us for the long haul, there are many people… and societies to meet.
Interview with Emily Horn
Comic Watch: First off, Zac Thompson had mentioned building and working on No One’s Rose since meeting you over three years ago, can you tell us what that process has been like over the years and how it’s evolved into what we see today?
Emily Horn: We initially started talking about it conceptually, like why are there so few utopian ideas about what the future might look like? I’m borderline obsessed with climate change, and Zac and I really connected over this idea that creators have a duty to create a positive vision of the future. No One’s Rose became a creative way to engage with the grimmest climate change projections and build a beautiful world at the same time.
It started as a novel. We had the entire story outlined and were a few chapters in when Vault Comics picked up our pitch, which was hugely exciting. We had this epic story planned out in novel form, and a five issue miniseries gave us this interesting creative problem: we had to cut the story down to the basics, in terms of plot and characters. I think it really strengthened the story because we had to toss out a bunch of scenes that I loved but ultimately would have been pretty boring in comic format. We had pages dedicated to the history of the world, and it was hard to let that go because I’m an uncompromising dork and I am obsessed with history and the details of fictional worlds. Ursula K Le Guin is a huge influence for me, and she takes this anthropological approach to everything where she really takes her time and lays out the historical development of societies so it feels grounded and real.
I was like “The people need to know exactly which fictional people created this dome, and where they secured the funding,” and Zac was like, “We gotta lose that.” I think we both left some stuff on the cutting room floor which was tough, but I’m really proud of what came from it.
CW: The environmentalist and conservationist themes are overtly prevalent in No One’s Rose, but there is also a delicate societal class interplay happening in The Green Zone, so was it difficult to pull all of these narrative pieces together in a way that feels so organic while also being a lot of fun to read?
EH: Keeping momentum in the story was hugely important to us. One thing we discussed a lot is that we didn’t want this to feel like a downer warning about climate change. I think people are burned out on that, and I am too. Yes, climate change is happening, yes it looks pretty bad right now, but I keep reading stories about new developments like solar panelling that can pull moisture from the air and produce clean water. Ethiopia broke a record by planting 350 million trees in 12 hours just this last summer.
I think there’s a natural sense of excitement that comes when you read about advances in making the planet better. At least, that’s the hope. But, to answer your question, balancing hard science and showing the social structure of the city with a high energy storyline definitely had its challenges. Adrian Wassel, our editor at Vault, was incredibly helpful for feedback on that balance. Every step of the way he’s shared our vision in this kind of crazy intuitive way. We also really have to credit Alberto with bringing so much energy to the visuals. He really brought the world to life in this fun, beautiful way that feels so dynamic.
CW: While the worldbuilding following the fall of the Anthropocene is certainly astounding, this still very much feels like a character-driven story. What can you tell us about the dynamic between Tenn and her brother, Seren, and how the reality they live in has molded their worldview?
EH: I’m really glad that comes through. Tenn and Seren share a lot of similarities in their stubborness, and their drive to make change in the world, but they exist on separate sides of the ideological spectrum. Tenn really believes in the Green Zone, the domed city they live inside. She has a bright future as a bio-engineer. Her natural aptitude with science makes her a shoe-in for advancement in a science-focused society. Seren is definitely a more free wheeling and creative soul, and sees the cracks in the picture that is painted for them by the governing class. He’s being pushed to the margins by a society that he feels doesn’t have a place for him. Again, Alberto’s art here does so much heavy lifting when it comes to their dynamic. He created such incredible character design, and he really brings a lot of playfulness and an organic sense of frustration to their relationship that I think any sibling can identify with.
CW: As someone relatively new to writing comics, were there any influences or inspirations you wanted to channel going into this project regarding both the complex themes involved as well as the characters such an intricate world inspires?
EH: I am a lifelong Star Trek: The Next Generation fan and TNG has this amazing way of creating a sense of intrigue and adventure in a peaceful future. The conflict is mostly interpersonal and anthropological, dealing with how to make peace with different species and connect with new communities. They get away with these really nuanced philosophical conversations because Star Trek has this epic scale worldbuilding with such ingenious future technology. Sorry, I think I just turned this interview into a Star Trek fan blog post.
V for Vendetta was also a huge influence on this story, it hits this spot of scathing political criticism which really resonates with me when I think about governments that are dragging their feet on the climate crisis. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Black Orchid also felt really thematically on point for No One’s Rose. It’s this gorgeous water-coloured book where these hybrid orchid women are trying to survive after getting mixed up in a sinister corporate world. It explores environmentalism in this really sleight-of-hand kind of way. Black Orchid balances themes of conservation in a way that doesn’t feel in your face, but still moves you. For Tenn’s character specifically I’m really inspired by Mariko Tamaki’s work. She writes these introspective, broody teen girls, and she does it in this really authentic way.
CW: What was it like working alongside not only an industry veteran like Zac Thompson but also with such creative talent like Alberto Alburquerque, Raul Angulo and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou?
EH: It’s really an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talent in this book. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with this creative team. Zac is such a powerhouse, talented writer and has been patient with me and incredibly helpful as we transitioned away from the novel format to comic scripting. He has such infectious passion and energy and is a joy to work with. He’s also a genius when it comes to story.
Alberto Alburquerque is obviously an incredible artist, but before we began on the book he whipped up some quick “sketches” of the characters that were just so impeccably well imagined and stylish that Zac and I were blown away. We’re constantly amazed by his work, and his worldbuilding is really something else. Raul Angulo, again a huge gift to this book, has done an incredible job with the colouring and nailed it tonally. Finally Hassan has done a brilliant job on lettering, and came up with these genius ways to visually distinguish between Tenn and Seren’s internal monologues. I’m also really grateful to the creative team at Vault for believing in this book and encouraging us every step of the way.
CW: What are you most excited for readers to explore in this series with the release of No One’s Rose #1 in March?
EH: I’m really excited for people to follow Tenn and Seren’s journeys through the series. They go to some really weird places, and they face difficult choices moving forward.
variant by Adam Gorham.
There it is! This is sure to be one truly exciting series that you should definitely keep an eye out for! From Vault Comics, written by Zac Thompson and Emily Horn with art Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque, colors by Raul Angulo and letters Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, No One’s Rose will be at a local comic store near you on March 25th! See below for official description…
“Centuries after the fall of the Anthropocene, the last vestiges of human civilization are housed in a massive domed city powered by renewable energy, known as The Green Zone. Inside lives teenager Tenn Gavrilo, a brilliant bio-engineer who could rebuild the planet. But there’s one problem: her resentful brother Seren is eager to dismantle the precarious Utopia.
From the minds of Zac Thompson (X-Men, Yondu) and debut writer Emily Horn with artist Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque (Letter 44, Avengers ) comes a gorgeous and green solar-punk world filled with strange biotechnology, harsh superstorms, and divisive ideologies-ideologies that will tear Tenn and Seren down to their roots as they fight for a better Earth.“