The following is an interview between CaPC editor Alan Noble and the author of The Blessed Machine, Mark Rodgers. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Over the last year, I have been watching from a distance with anticipation while Mark and Cave Pictures Publishing has developed a line of comics. Knowing the care, intelligence, and mission of Cave, I’d encourage Christians to give their comics, like The Blessed Machine and The Light Princess a try.
AN: In your article about The Blessed Machine, you mention writing a script inspired by E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” which, as you point out, predicts many technological developments (like the internet) and their effects on society. What significant development (or effect of a development) do you think Forster failed to predict? Were you able to work that missing piece into The Blessed Machine?
MR: The quest for knowledge of the workings of the universe has always been a goal of the hard sciences, but Forster didn’t anticipate the degree to which scientific advances, such as the atomic bomb, could literally threaten our planet and human existence. When I started the script, the CERN Collider was still under construction, and I conjectured that it might inadvertently create a black hole that would destroy our environment. Little did I know, a few years later (in 2008) opponents of the project sought an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights to block the collider out of fear that it would create a mini-black hole that could tear the earth apart. Since writing the script, I had to change the premise from CERN’s confirming the existing of the Higgs Boson, called the God Particle, to the splitting of the particle to unlock even deeper secrets of the universe.The story works wonderfully as a comic for the same reason it so masterfully captures the imagination without illustration—it presents a complex and compelling underground existence, maintained by various pieces of technology.
AN: You started the script in 2001, which feels like a lifetime ago in terms of technological and cultural change. That was three years before Facebook launched and six years before the first iPhone. Did you have to adapt the script to reflect some of the recent technological and cultural changes we’ve witnessed since 2001?
MR: Although we didn’t include it in the final draft of the comic series, I did explore in my script developments in genetic engineering, and conjecture that there is a “God gene” which theoretically inclines some people more than others to believe in the divine. However, we added the concept that technology might become sentient. Artificial Intelligence was not something Forster could have foreseen, and we felt that this was a useful way to further explore the idea that we can become slaves to our own creations, especially by becoming too dependent on them.
AN: Forster’s original story was not illustrated, yet it managed to become highly regarded as a work of science fiction, and it still inspired you twenty years ago. If this kind of story was so successful without illustrations, why make it a comic? How do the visuals contribute to the storytelling?
MR: The story works wonderfully as a comic for the same reason it so masterfully captures the imagination without illustration—it presents a complex and compelling underground existence, maintained by various pieces of technology. While a reader of the short story can enjoy dreaming up their own images of what this underworld looks like, readers of the comic will be enthralled by Jesse Hamm’s rendering of the underground city, the visual evidences of its decay, and the technological components (like the help-bots) that keep the city going.
AN: Having recently written about the dangers of technology of distraction, it seems to me that many if not most people in the West acknowledge (on some level) that some of our technology (social media, for example) is deeply harmful, but as a society we aren’t very seriously interested in undoing that harm. We know that we are addicted to smartphones, but we accept it as the necessary cost of living in the modern world. Arguably, our recent cultural fascination with apocalyptic and dystopian stories reflects our awareness that society is disordered, but rather than address that disorder, we manage to turn it into entertainment. For example, sometimes dystopian stories are a way of distancing ourselves from the reality of societal problems by fictionalizing them. But there are ways of telling these kinds of stories that do lead to serious reflection, criticism, and action. While The Hunger Games can make us feel more comfortable in our disordered society, I think The Road forces us to reflect on cultural decay. The sense I get from the mission of Cave Pictures Publishing is that you aren’t interested in merely entertaining readers. How do you think The Blessed Machine will invite readers to actually see the problems surrounding us?
MR: You are right that Cave’s mission is to engage and even challenge readers to reflect more deeply about the stories we tell and their own lives, experiences, and the world around us – while entertaining them as well! The Blessed Machine has some great comedic moments, but ultimately it is a cautionary tale and raises a lot of questions about technological dependence and the potential dangers of worshiping what we create. The ambiguity of the ending is specifically intended to evoke the reader’s reflection, regarding both the world of the story and our own.
AN: You’ve worked with artists in every major medium: music, film, painting, literature, etc. You’re someone who understands the strengths of each medium and the challenges to producing works. Why start a comic book publisher right now?
MR: I grew up reading comics, so they have been a personal passion of mine for decades. Comics are accessible for readers of all ages and are much less expensive to experience than going to a theater (whether film or live), concert tickets, visiting an art gallery or purchasing fine art. And comics are quicker and less expensive to produce than film, stage plays and television. At the same time, they are the ideal medium to develop a story for further life as a film or TV/streaming series, because the dialogue and visual storyboard is right there on the page! Comics have also gone mainstream, in a sense, thanks to blockbuster superhero films of the last decade. Marvel and DC are now household names and comic-cons have exploded around the world, with countless suburban towns hosting conventions where fans can dress up as their favorite characters, buy comics and related merchandise, and see celebrity guests. There is a great contemporary passion for comics that Cave hopes to both fuel and benefit from.