JUST JOSHING: The Empty
Jimmie Robinson is one of my favorite creators. I discovered him reading a comic called Five Weapons, in which I read a very cleverly constructed book that was very visually crafted (And was very much considered for this second column). However, the work of his I saw afterward convinced me just how powerful Robinson’s voice is in comics, and why you should probably give something of his a look.
Created, Written and Illustrated by: Jimmie Robinson
The Empty begins with Tanoor, a hunter with her fox, Fenx, trying to find food and precious resources in a poisoned land, stumbles onto Lila, who has survived an attempted murder from a mysteriously prosperous city. Lila recovers from the attempt fairly quickly and can do a few mysterious things. First, she learns Tanoor’s language quickly. Then, she makes a desolate tree grow again. With her newfound powers, Tanoor gets the idea to destroy the mysterious roots that poison the land. The elders of her village banish Tanoor and try to kill Lila, leaving Tanoor and Lila to fend for themselves against what is left of the wilderness.
Issue two continues the journey where issue one stops as Tanoor tries to protect Lila from a species called Mools. After fending them off, Robinson explores the differences in lifestyle between Lila and Tanoor. Where Tanoor has to always think of survival, huge differences are revealed in lifespan and the worlds they lived in. Lila eventually gets captured from the mools, but here the series gets clever. You see the mools are not what they appeared to be. They are a species struggling in this world. Lila negotiates a truce between Tanoor and the Mools and the son of their chief, Gharak joins the party as they come to contact with one of the poisonous vines. It turns out that vines are artificial.
Issues three and four are a yellow brick road, and Tanoor and company seek out the artificial source of the roots. Along the way, they encounter Queen Za and the insect horde who capture them and make Tanoor and Gharak fight in the Colosseum, with the promise that they will be allowed to live if they survive. Which, at the end of issue three, they don’t.
Issue four is the turning point of the series. Lila’s powers have evolved to the point where she can restore life not just to plants, but to people. By reviving her friends they are allowed to escape. From there Queen Za gives them the location of the source of the poison, which so happens to be an old satellite system.
Issue five we enter Oz in which the companions meet Dr. Shane, who explains the origins of how the Empty came to be, once she gets over the shock of being the only survivor, she explains how Lila’s people get all the benefits of the planet. It’s an amazing and interesting concept of energy use. Once Lila is aware of what’s going on, a decision has to be made.
Issue six is the fallout. Tanoor keeps her promise to Lila and takes her home, where the subject of her murder and her message come to the head of the noble class who want to keep everything. Tanoor and company protect her as she tells the truth.
The ending is a bit rushed, but at the end of the series, the world is not quite as empty as it was.
Behind the Story
The story behind writing The Empty came to me by refurbishing an old story I did way back in the 1990s. It was a 6 page story called, “Lila’s Garden” and it appeared in the comic anthology Mythography #1.
The original story was set in a more typical European fantasy world with castles, towns, villages, etc. The main character was named Lila, just as in The Empty. Likewise, the character had the power to grow things. She came across a village that, unbeknownst to her, was under a spell. Everything in the town, including the people, were in a state of not aging. The twist was, nothing else in the town could be grown. No trees, no crops, no flowers, whatever. The town was dry as a bone. Lila grows something for them, thinking that she’s helping the people, instead, the spell is lifted and everything turns to dust.
I like the idea of a weaker helper-type hero, rather than a physically strong hero. The frailty is a good base for building stories. I took the original story and tweaked it into our world, but again with a twist, the world has already gone to dust, hence the title. I wanted to explore what could be done after things have already gone bad, instead of the typical save-the-world from the consequences of becoming bad.
Using the post-environment as a platform allowed me to explore evolution and what happens to those in severe conditions. It also allowed me to talk about environmental change and how humans can help, or hurt it.
The Empty only lasted for 5 issues, but my full story arc was really around 15. The book didn’t make enough sales/orders to justify more issues. So I ended it in the first arc.
I really enjoyed writing The Empty. I was able to build characters, play with language, and do massive world building. The additional characters also gave the story a bit of a Wizard Of Oz slant. Travelers followed a road to a wizard of sorts hoping to find answers. In this case, the characters followed poison pipelines, instead of a yellow brick road, to the source. Along the way they run into other side adventures and in the end, there is a type of home they all come to.
However, in my full arc, I took it a step further. A war starts between the-haves and the have-nots over the resources left on Earth. This was my platform for the 1% vs the 99%. The war took the characters back into The Empty where a war was waged and ultimately everyone ends up on a level playing field. I also added more politics and personal conflict among the main cast. I wrote the entire story outline and Image Comics liked it. We all wished it just sold a bit better, but that’s the gamble we all take when pursuing an idea. I wrote the story with the knowledge that it wouldn’t be a huge seller, but as a writer, this was a story I wanted told, no matter what the outcome.
The Empty is a surprising deep dive into the issues of energy resources and class use of said resources. The world feels like elements of the Wizard of Oz and John Carter of Mars. Robinson manages to craft a story from pencils to words that is imaginative, insightful, surprising and very well thought out. Jimmie Robinson has a gift for complexity and a lot of talent that is rare in any creative field. Bomb Queen tends to be what he is known for, but this series is my favorite. It is relevant, fascinating and far from the title of being empty.
This week on Just Joshing my guests are Jill Maria Robinson and Chris Andrew Carolan. Check out Just Joshing on Itunes and other available streams here.
See you guys next week when I review another favorite of mine. You won’t want to miss it!