Cosmic Level Occult Mecha Warfare and Corey J. White
Some publishers just publish periodicals. Oh Nothing Press releases new and weird cultural artifacts, killer t-shirts, and narrative worlds that you can lose yourself in.
The first of these worlds is MECHADEATH – The story of occult mecha warfare on a cosmic scale. Think ‘black metal mecha anime’ in text and t-shirt form.
Sounds cool? Its all new and you can download Mechadeath free HERE.
Corey J White is the co-founder of Oh Nothing Press and author of Mechadeath. Corey is known for VoidWitch Saga, the epic space opera trilogy consisting of Killing Gravity, Void Black Shadow, and Static Run published by Tor.
Moving forward we find Corey behind Mechadeath, a story that is unquestionably rooted in its own identity while sharing a kinship with Heavy Metal Magazine and 2000 AD.
If, after all this, you haven’t click on the above link for a free download, feel free to and while its downloading, come back and read my interview with Corey below:
I am fascinated by all these character and artist names!
Mechadeath features characters with names like Karnak, Gadian One, Tzemeger, Ikamulum and you enlisted artists with names like Megan Mushi, 6VCR, Daniel Comerci, Septian Fajrianto, and Trash.Been.
As a collection of just names, you might think Mechadeath was a post apocalyptic super band. Having read Mechadeath, I feel synergy not only with text and visuals, but you get a vibe that would could very well turn into an awesome soundtrack.
Let’s set the mood for the reader before we get into the wires and electronic guts of Mechadeath. What would your inter-dimensional demonic occult warfare soundtrack sound like? What might you and your collaborators have been listening to in the creation process of Mechadeath?
For me it’s Genghis Tron’s Board Up the House, it’s Sleep’s Dopesmoker, it’s Big Black Sabbath (a supergroup made up of Big Black and Black Sabbath that surely exists in an alternate reality somewhere), it’s the Akira soundtrack performed by Secret Chiefs 3. It’s also Puzahki, a veteran of the Australian electro scene, who put together this awesome vid for us.
One of the things I love about this project is that it’s so dense you can almost hear it, and you can imagine all these other weird forms it could take. It’s a cartoon series, it’s a metal concept album, or it’s a zine and some t-shirts.
Very cool. Big Black Sabbath is an awesome idea. Not only would the music be awesome, the stories from such a collaboration due to the personalities of those involved would be the stuff of legend.
Secret Chiefs 3 is so all over the place with their music and influences, you never know. Them doing a live soundtrack to a showing of Akira might be something down the road or perhaps, sometimes fiction turns into reality, Secret Chiefs scoring a reading of Mechadeath (anyone who knows the guys personally :). Come to think of it, I happen to know an amazing harpist who has recorded with them 🙂 Steven Haluska!)!
Puzahki’s video does give life to the idea of Mechadeath as anime. No doubt Mechadeath came before Puzahki’s video of Mechadeath and I suspect the story came before the art and design. This brings up an interesting question of what came first? What were the steps that started Mechadeath and how did everything arrive at the present point in time? Everyone you worked with is very well accomplished with their creativity. How much freedom where they given to present what we see in Mechadeath? I ask because Mechadeath is very much a collaborative project. Each individual involved really does bring something to the final product. Without the project would have turned out different. I don’t think the personalities of the creative team for Mechadeath would be like those of the fictional Big Black Sabbath, but you can see an interesting mix of personalities present.
COREY J. WHITE:
That’s very cool! It sounds like you’re the missing link to make an ONP/Secret Chiefs 3 MechaDeath event happen!
The pitch that started the whole Mechadeath project came from Austin Armatys, a long-time friend, collaborator, and my partner in Oh Nothing Press. ONP was originally his baby, so I think of myself as a quiet (rather than silent) partner – I’ll do whatever I can to help him see his vision through, but I still consider it his vision.
So Austin had the high-concept pitch, and he scoured Instagram to find the individual artists and the design team Trash.Been. The artists were definitely given freedom to respond however they liked to the pitch – we wanted collaborators, not art drones. At the same time though, the pitch included suggestions for some of the undead mecha, because we didn’t want to leave the artists feeling high and dry – we wanted them to have everything they needed to dive right in.
Karnak and Ikamulum came directly from Austin’s pitch, while the art for Tzemeger and Gadian One were entirely the artist’s own responses. What this meant for me is that I had to come up with their names and abilities, and work out a story for these two mecha that worked with the existing narrative shards from Austin’s pitch, and could also fit into the larger story that I needed to weave together to make it all work. It was an interesting challenge and exercised some different writing muscles than I would normally use.
Zugaikotsu (“A multi-horned, skull-faced mecha with the remnants of a dying star installed in its chest – to gaze upon this void can send Zugaikotsu’s enemies insane!”) is my favorite of Austin’s ideas that didn’t get the art treatment, so I had to make sure I got that one into the story.
And then when it comes to the design of the zine, I’m actually not sure exactly what Austin pitched to Trash.Been, but they’ve got such a distinctive visual style that I imagine he was mostly hands-off and trusted them to simply work their magic.
Austin had the hardest job out of all of us as the project manager, overseeing everyone and herding all these cats, and I think the quality of the capsule is entirely due to the strength of his initial pitch and his ability to find these super-talented collaborators.
In a world of digital content, there needs to be a physical component. In Mechadeath’s case, its cool looking and unique t-shirts. The visual narrative and the digital bridge to the physical T-shirt is something different for the comic and prose world.
What is Austin’s background that led to ONP? How did you guys meet? I noticed the use of ‘Capsule’ as a substitute for ‘Release’. It’s an interesting word that has been used in interesting ways. Is it medicine for the mind? Or is there another intention for its use?
COREY J. WHITE:
I think it was purely an interest in streetwear that led to Austin wanting to start ONP, and recognizing that, while there were plenty of brands creating cool clothes, there was a niche we could fill at the crossroads between striking, eye-catching designs and narrative/conceptual depth.
‘Capsule’ works on a few different levels. For one, it’s because each Capsule “encapsulates” a number of items and designs under the one banner. Mechadeath is MechaDeath, and the next Capsule is going to be its own completely distinct thing. Also, ‘Capsule’ is just a far more evocative word than the alternatives, plus the related Akira imagery is a bonus. Lastly, it’s a term used in streetwear that will be familiar to people who really pay attention to the sort of thing we’re doing. It’s not quite “insider” terminology, but slightly obscure, and another way of demonstrating our trust in the intelligence of our audience. They’re smart enough to get the idea of a Capsule, just like they’re smart enough to get why we’d want to put together a dense story zine alongside some t-shirt designs.
Austin and I met at university, at least fifteen years ago. We already had similar-enough tastes, but he’s the one that introduced me to William S. Burroughs, The Invisibles, Alan Moore, Miles Davis, and probably a dozen other artists/artworks I’m forgetting, but which still resonate with me today.
Mechadeath will take many readers by surprise. One of the surprising aspects is how you envision the future in Mechadeath. The future you created is horrifying.
The first indicator of the horror is the appropriately title of Mechadeath. It is filled with mechs and death. Lots of deaths. The death toll within the story is in the billions if not a considerable number more.
People are likely familiar with Marvel Comics Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Galactus, who in his own right, is terrifying. Gigantic, Devourer of Worlds, whose moral and ethical compass is alien to human considerations.
Galactus, though is not specifically evil. Karnak, who also is a destroyer of worlds, is evil as much as he is gigantic. Karnak’s moral and ethical compass seems to be less alien and more singularly minded, – rooted in death and destruction. For example, out of boredom, Karnak creates a tournament that is the impetus of the billions of deaths in the story.
What inspired such a dark vision of a distant future with something like Karnak in it?
COREY J. WHITE:
A big influence was cosmic nihilism – or existential nihilism by way of cosmic horror. Existential nihilism says that individual humans, and even humans, on the whole, are utterly insignificant, we will exist for the merest moment of time and then we’ll be gone, leaving no last impact. So if we’re really insignificant, if we’ve merely fooled ourselves into thinking we’re at the top of the food chain, then what else could be out there? We say that Karnak is evil, but perhaps that’s just an anthropocentric viewpoint. Perhaps he’s beyond or above notions of “good” and “evil”. Maybe he’s just as evil as a child pulling the wings off of flies or burning ants with a magnifying glass – which are both things I did as a “good”, church-going child, but which I likely couldn’t bring myself to do now.
For more on cosmic nihilism, you’d probably want to read Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of This Planet, Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, or, most obviously, HP Lovecraft (if you can handle the prose, I can’t/won’t). You’ll also possibly get a less depressing take on the ideas behind cosmic nihilism if you read works on post-humanism or Object-Oriented Ontology, like Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, or Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, which rather than saying “humans are insignificant” are saying “what if humans were only as significant as everything else in the world?”
But this is one of the reasons why I love collaborating with Austin. He’s smarter than I am and more likely to be bringing philosophical conceits to the table, where I’m more inclined to be thinking in terms of plot points and character arcs. So if I totally murdered any of the main philosophical ideas above, it’s because you’re talking to the less-intelligent half of ONP 😉
We also realized too late in the piece that Marvel had a character called Karnak, most recently written by Warren Ellis. But Austin (and presumably whoever originally named the Marvel character) got the name from the decayed temple complex, not the comic. As much as Austin and I love comics, and love Warren’s creator-owned work, neither of us reads company-owned superhero stuff, no matter who’s writing it.
It is interesting that you mention Ellis’ take on Marvels Inhuman character, Karnak. His story directly addresses nihilism and other philosophical ideas. Warren is of course known for bringing an interesting variety of concepts not normally used in comics or twisting old ideas into new. In fact, he has stated in interviews that the nihilist philosophies of Thacker and Peter Sjöstedt were taken into account when he wrote that Karnak series for Marvel.
It should also be noted that Vandermeer is known as eluding classification as an author. He successfully has created his own. Many say what he writes is unique in the light of others. Warren Ellis, Jeff Vandermeer, Thacker, H.P. Lovecraft everyone else that you mentioned are also noted for their new ideas. Mechadeath will hopefully be known for introducing new ideas to design, comics, prose, and t-shirts.
Given existential nihilism states life as insignificant, certainly your Karnak treats all life as insignificant – a little more in that others are just tools for his own instruction. Karnak is one of many characters in Mechadeath.
There is a character who cares about others though, Zhang Xin, the pilot of the Gadian One mech. Zhang Xin is Mechadeath’s first sign of hope. While he ultimately thinks his mission to protect Earth from the ravages of the tournament will end with his death, he appears heroic, confident and capable to those he hopes to save.
If Karnak is representative of cosmic nihilism, how does Zhang Xin figure into things?
COREY J. WHITE:
There was no deeper philosophical purpose behind Zhang, I just added him in an effort to ground the story, and give the reader a character they can relate to inamongst the scenes of large-scale destruction and death. Every story needs a hero, and considering the origin of mecha stories, it made sense to center the human resistance on Asia. Having Korea, Japan, and China team up to build Gadian One is its own sort of fiction, what with the long history of tension and conflict in the region, but at this moment in time, with the rise of Far-Right Nationalism, it’s perhaps important to focus on cooperation and unity in storytelling.
I’d like to think that if Earth was plucked out of our reality and strung up in a hell-realm to be warred over by undead mecha, we’d figure out a way to work together, but who’s to say, really. I can think of one real, unfathomably-huge threat to human existence that our governments are doing a superb job of ignoring whilst rallying support along nationalist lines. I’m not saying Karnak’s tournament is a metaphor for climate change, but it kinda works.
I noticed the Korea, China, Japan contrast right away. I thought that was pretty cool. It does leave to question, what technological wonders would those three countries create if they did unite?
There are a lot of mysteries in space that are leaning towards an answer indicating intelligent life does exist outside of Earth. Such as various theories surrounding the interstellar object coming to our solar system, Oumuamua. Like yourself, I always thought such an event would unify the planet.
With Oumaumaua and other possibilities out there, I admit, I am now worried. My worry is with select leaders of various countries in today’s world, I don’t think now is the best time for such a civilization-changing event to occur. Hopefully, whenever we discover intelligent life out in there (or they discover us), these leaders will be replaced beforehand.
What about the other characters that are in Mechadeath? How do you see these characters? We’re only in the first issue and I suspect that there are back stories to each of them. Will more characters be introduced?
COREY J. WHITE:
We’ve already got that US vs Japan mech battle happening sometime soon, so why not make it a regional thing, with lots of different mechs? Call it World War III…
I was reminded just yesterday that at the end of last year a report was released saying the US government had “alien alloys” in storage somewhere. At any other point in the past five decades, this would have been the story of the year, but the acceleration of politics and culture means it barely even registered. Maybe Oumaumaua is a sentient hunk of alloy, coming back to collect its sentient alloy child, and we’ll never even know we had an alien intelligence on our hands because it didn’t look ‘alive’.
I definitely plan to explore at least one of the alien civilizations through a character pulled from one of the other worlds, and I have a rough idea of how that character would interact with Zhang, but beyond that vague plan, I haven’t really thought too hard on it. I’m one of those writers who has more ideas than they know what to do with, which is why Mechadeath was so much fun to write – just throwing a whole mess of ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck. But it also means that I don’t feel the need to worry about further exploring Mechadeath right away – it’ll be waiting for us when we’re ready to come back to it, and I’ll just keep squirreling ideas away until that time.
With ONP we want to be constantly mixing things up and working in a few different styles. Capsule 2 is going to be Creeper Magazine, dedicated to the creeping horror of modern life/the horror of the now, and we have a solid idea of the two Capsules after that. We figure we’ll probably come back for Issue/Season 2 of Mechadeath by Capsule 6. Honestly, we’d love to do something more visual with it – as in comics or animation – but funding could be an issue there. At the very least, Mechadeath will be back with another precisely-wrought zine and a selection of t-shirts.
That is interesting. Mech Battles have happened competitively. 15 ton, two story tall Mechs! MegaBots’ Eagle Prime vs. Suidobashi’s Kuratas. Surprisingly the US won! You never know, it could go much bigger. Megabots is trying to expand that to include other nations.
While Zhang’s mech is far more advanced and significantly powerful than our modern day mechs, having seen the MegaBots mechs in competition like that, do you see a pathway from what they are to how they are depicted in anime, movies, and Mechadeath?
COREY J. WHITE:
That’s precisely the battle I was referring to, but I didn’t realize it had already happened (and over a year ago). I’m very disappointed in my twitter mutuals – that fight should have been all over my feed at the time. I think the biggest problem is simply that huge mecha are too expensive and too unwieldy compared to pre-existing vehicles and weapons systems. I think there’s definitely a potential future where wars are fought by machines on at least one side, but I think these would be autonomous or remote-piloted drones and tanks, or Big Dog-style robots for urban combat, rather than anything massive and bipedal.
The alien alloy is also interesting, although for a different reason. Political journalists have name value and sell a lot of books. I would love to see a journalist with name value investigate things like the alien alloy. Now that the United States Congress has more members with real science backgrounds than before, we’ll see greater transparency in these matters. Unlikely but hopeful. Could you imagine if Woodward or someone like that investigated the alien alloy or something along those lines?
I’m not sure if the news of the alien alloy would captivate the American public as much as other things. The government has already diminished its merit and scientists who for the most part remained unidentified indicate one of two things. That the technology exists to determine the composition of any material through a variety of methods that are available to others uncertain what to say. Without greater transparency, we might not ever know. Given the limited public exposure and lack of mainstream interest, I suspect the safeguards already put into place with what was made public did its job.
That is the sad aspect of mainstream public and science. The mysteries of the world are easier to romanticize about than to intellectually pursue and keep up with.
You’ve written the VoidWitch trilogy of science fiction books for Tor. Tor is a great company that is releasing incredible science fiction these days. I, unfortunately, have not had the chance to read any of the VoidWitch books. For myself and the readers, tell us some cool things about VoidWitch.
How did writing VoidWitch differ from writing something like Mechadeath?
COREY J. WHITE:
The VoidWitch Saga was my attempt at writing a space opera, but I never wanted to focus on big political issues or some huge intergalactic war for freedom. I wanted to do something more personal, with all the usual space opera politics happening somewhere else in the galaxy while my story focused on one person and their struggles. Instead of space “opera”, I called it a space post-hardcore EP, taking inspiration for the rhythm of the first book – Killing Gravity – from the music of These Arms Are Snakes. So as you can see, music has always been integral to my writing – post-hardcore inspiring the VoidWitch Saga, and metal forming some of the DNA of Mechadeath.
The VoidWitch Saga follows Mariam “Mars” Xi, a telekinetic supersoldier who’s spent her whole life on the run from the research group that created her. When they finally catch up to her, she’s forced to rely on the kindness of strangers and is set on a path that will allow her to unlock her full, terrifying potential. Mars is not a hero by any stretch of the imagination, and the trilogy sees her rack up an astonishing body count in her desperate scrabble for freedom. There’s no mystical force that needs to be balanced, just violence, desperation, guilt, and occasionally the small spark of contact that gives our lives meaning. There’s also Mars’ weird experimental cat-thing pet named Seven, a misfit crew of kind-hearted fools, and an Imperial army hell-bent on reclaiming their greatest weapon.
I guess the VoidWitch books and Mechadeath are similar in that they’re both full of action, and they’re both quite distilled. Each of the VoidWitch books probably could have been a full-length novel (they’re novellas, which means each one is under 40k words), but I didn’t want to write something huge, and I certainly didn’t want to get lost in world-building like many writers can when they’re trying to do something “epic”. I just wanted to tell a big story in a small amount of space, only giving the reader hints of the bigger world beyond the story I was telling. And that’s exactly what I did with MechaDeath too. MechaDeath is perhaps the most extreme version of this notion of narrative distillation, with an entire scene, battle, or even planetary civilization outlined in around 200 words. It was an interesting challenge working to those constraints and a whole lot of fun.
Each book in VoidWitch is getting the audiobook treatment which is great. Audiobooks are breaking stories like never before. This is a great extension for those books. This is but one example of how an author today can bridge out to other media and formats. In this case, VoidWitch is getting downloaded audiobooks and CD format?
COREY J. WHITE:
Yeah, I’m really excited about the audio versions dropping. I feel like novellas are still quite niche, so I’m really expecting a lot more people to find me and my work solely thanks to the audiobooks. Killing Gravity is out already on CD and in downloadable formats – including on audible – with the other 2 books to follow.
With Mechadeath, at least in terms of formats, is, do you look at it as a bridge from your prose to comic books. Do you think you’ll find yourself writing a comic or graphic novel in the future?
COREY J. WHITE:
I don’t really see Mechadeath as a bridge to comics at all, it’s just a short story with strong visual design and accompanying art. I am, however, hopeful that I’ll have some comics writing credits to my name soon. Thanks to Warren Ellis reviewing the VoidWitch books in his email newsletter, I’ve had an opportunity to pitch to a couple of editors, though I’m still waiting for a green light. I’ve pitched a creator-owned sci-fi mini-series, as well as a couple of company books (one of which is a property I was obsessed with as a child, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for that one). And me and Austin are developing an ongoing that we plan to pitch early next year, but that’s still too early to talk about, except to say that it would be a high-concept, very “now” piece of science-fiction.
You mentioned a few comic book influences with Alan Moore and Warren Ellis. What other comic creators do you like? Likewise, what science fiction authors do you like?
Readers might not know, but you happen to live in Australia. Home to the Phantom, Eddie Campbell, Fox Comics, John Dixon (creator of Airhawk, and known for his run on Catman and Red Raven), as well as amazing new creators like Ryan Lindsay, Shane Smith, and others. All these talents are amazing in what they do.
Plus, anytime I get to mention Nick Cave and the many people he’s worked with is a good time.
COREY J. WHITE:
The past few years I haven’t been keeping up with comics as well as I was for about the decade before that, so I don’t think I’ll have any groundbreaking suggestions to make. That said, David Lapham’s Young Liars is a phenomenal and phenomenally weird book that was taken from us too soon. Stray Bullets is, of course, amazing, but Young Liars has a sheer weird inventiveness that is all too rare. Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos is a fantastic blend of myth, action, and character. The closest comparison I can think of might be Sandman, but Sandman never grabbed me and Pretty Deadly had me from the first page.
Zero, written by Aleš Kot, with a different artist on each issue, is incredible, though readers who don’t have Burroughs as a problematic fave might find the final arc less captivating than I did. It’s the best spy comic since Casanova, to the point where I can’t even imagine writing a spy project until I have an idea for how I could beat Zero. It’s that good. (I’ve not yet read either Warren Ellis’ or Kot’s runs on Bond, but I plan to.)
Albert Monteys’ Universe! is some of the smartest and most touching science fiction from the past few years, in any format. It’s so good, and any ill will I feel towards Monteys is pure jealousy. The digital version is available from Panel Syndicate as a Pay What You Want, so you’ve got no excuse not to check it out.
I only just picked up Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder about a decade late, but it’s exactly as enthralling as you’ve heard.
As for science-fiction (and fantasy and horror) authors, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of coming up alongside some fantastic new voices, like JY Yang, Cassandra Khaw, Brooke Bolander, and Tade Thompson – I’ve read all of their Tor novellas, and each one is definitely worth checking out. Then there’s also Marlee Jane Ward, whose Welcome to Orphancorp was a big influence on Killing Gravity, Steve Aylett whose Beerlight books are bizarre, inventive and dense, Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Warren Ellis’ Normal or his short story Lich House, and Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City.
I live in the Cleveland, Ohio area. it’s smaller than Australia for sure, yet I find out this comic pro lives here and that pro lives here all the time. People that previously I was unaware of in my many decades of living here.
I’m curious how things are there for you in relation to other creative talents there.
COREY J. WHITE:
Austin and I actually interviewed Eddie Campbell way back in the day, and Eddie gave us an absolute scoop… but we were disorganized wastrels and we never ended up doing anything with it. He’s a really nice guy. And Ryan Lindsay is a mensch – people should check out Negative Space, which he did with Owen Gieni – it’s a gorgeous, weird, heartfelt look at depression and suicide through a sci-fi lens.
I live in Melbourne currently, and there’s definitely a thriving writing scene here, both in the literary and genre spheres. Through spec-fic conventions and twitter-arranged meetups, I’ve been able to connect with a bunch of really talented SFFH writers, working in short fiction, self-publishing, small press publishing, traditional publishing, and everything in between. The US is still where all the biggest conventions happen, and where all the most well-regarded writing workshops take place, so it’s easy to feel disconnected from the bulk of what’s happening. The internet helps, but I still hope to get back to the States in the next few years.
Last but not least, you have a mailing list that is somewhat different than most other mailing lists. The “nothing here but this newsletter”. What should one expect from your list?
COREY J. WHITE:
The idea with nothing here was to do something akin to a podcast in text form – though some issues we get closer to that ideal than others. Basically, though, it’s four of us – me, Marlee Jane Ward, Austin Armatys, and m1k3y – sharing links to interesting articles and videos, and talking about what we’ve been reading, watching, and working on. I’m just generally a big fan of the newsletter format and wanted to get in on the action, but I also knew that if it was down to me, alone, to put something together every week (or fortnight) that I’d quickly burn out. So with other people on board, it’s less work for me, and more of a variety of opinion and recommendation.
ENDNOTES by JOESEPH SIMON
I wanted to thank Corey. The interview was fun and engaging on many levels.
As mentioned at the start of the interview, download the free pdf of the first issue. If anything that was mentioned in the interview interests you, you’re going to enjoy reading Mechadeath!
Links for more enjoyment:
General MechaDeath link is here:
Direct link to the free PDF download is here:
VoidWitch series links on Amazon:
Void Black Shadow