When ABC News’s Documentary Group approached me last fall to collaborate on a motion comic for an upcoming primetime show about climate change called Earth 2100, I was excited. Through an imagined future scenario — intermixed with interviews with scientists, a global summit simulation, and user-generated videos — the two-hour special explores the effects of catastrophic climate change, and educates viewers on possible solutions. Earth 2100 will air nationwide next Tuesday, June 2, from 9–11pm. (Here’s a promo.)
Earth 2100’s producers asked me (and my new studio Dojo Graphics) to create characters and scenarios that would put a human face on the hot-button issue. For me, this was a perfect match. Throughout my cartooning career (A.D., Titans of Finance, A Few Perfect Hours, and American Splendor), I’ve been drawn to documentary-style storytelling. And for my wife and collaborative partner Sari Wilson, this was an opportunity to use her strengths as a fiction writer and comics scripter to breathe life into my concepts and characters.
For the motion comics element, we took scientific concepts spelled out in expert interviews and built a sci-fi scenario around them. I pitched a dark, apocalyptic future narrated by a 91-year-old woman named Lucy. Looking back on the previous century from the year 2100, Lucy tells of a California under siege from wildfires and apocalyptic cults, a drought-starved Mad Max-esque Midwest teeming with bandits and mercenaries, and a flooded New York City with streets like Venetian canals.
There was enough excitement and cross-fertilization to make the collaboration a heady one for everyone involved. For the Documentary Group producers, it was a leap into integrating fictional elements and a comics universe. For Sari & me, it was a step into the primetime TV world. Working with a big company like ABC was thrilling because of their resources and large-scale vision (which includes numerous interviews with scientists, widespread use of "B-roll" and stock footage, and a gaming site for harvesting user-generated videos as "reports" from possible futures), as well as their commitment to exploring new animation techniques to bring Lucy’s story to life.
Due to deadline issues with the book edition of A.D., I wasn’t personally available to do the art for the show. So I helped ABC News producers Michael Bicks and Linda Hirsch audition artists to bring the "Lucy scenario" to life. Together, we settled on lead artist Joe Infurnari (later, cartoonist George O’Connor and fellow members Leland Purvis and were brought on board as well). What I’ve seen of their work has been phenomenal.
The entire process was amazingly collaborative, with the plot points and characters emerging out of long brainstorming meetings. I really enjoyed sitting at the ABC studios conference table with the producers, fellow writers, editors, and production assistants, kicking ideas around. (It was also funny when, just as we were discussing news anchor Bob Woodruff‘s potential involvement with the show, he walked in the door on the way to his surprisingly small office.) Once story treatment and characters were developed, Dojo Graphics cranked out detailed scripts on tight deadlines.
The most time-intensive stage of the process took place at production studio GuerillaFX. Guerilla (and head animator John Bair) is a leader in creating the emerging motion comic aesthetic based on techniques of “limited animation.” It was amazing to see Lucy and her family coming to life on Guerilla’s computer monitors. Finally, the folks at ABC News added voice-overs, sound design and music, and edited all the elements into a dynamic whole. (One thing I learned from the experience was to not let my writing get too precious — due to the many, many edits and revisions, not much of our original language remains in the script, though the scenarios and specific shots remain much the same.)
For fledgling Dojo Graphics, Earth 2100 has been a dream project: creating an original science fiction script, working (even tangentially) with a great group of other comics creators, connecting with a prime-time TV audience, exploring new storytelling techniques, and getting to weigh in on one of our era’s most critical issues. The show that will air to ABC’s millions of viewers next Tuesday night is the first (that I know of) integration of motion comics, traditional documentary, and user-generated content. Sari & were thrilled to have been part of this experiment, and eagerly look forward to seeing the final result.
Let me know what you think.
Miami in 2015: An example of GuerillaFX’s cool mixture of illustrated and photographic elements
The journey across the southwestern deserts
A flooded New York City