Smash Pages Q&A: Transience and forgotten memories

Do you remember yesterday? I often barely remember where I parked but I more or less know what I do day to day. In Transience, Leo Johnson and Ricardo Mo have assembled a collection of stories that build a world wrecked from amnesia.

In a unique science fiction premise, they’ve imagined a world where a series of biological attacks have left cities and towns around the world without the ability to form new memories. Each morning, people wake up with the previous day lost to them. Each story is set in a different city around the world where years have passed since the attack.

The creative teams tackling these stories often come from the location of their story, and make up an international team of collaborators that helped form this world.

Leo Johnson provided us with a complete line-up of the anthology’s contributors:

  • Natasha Alterici – USA story, writer/artist
  • Alex Diotto – Italy story, artist
  • Kristen Grace – Italy story, writer
  • Eric Grissom – USA story #2, writer
  • Will Perkins – USA story #2, artist
  • Bruno Hidalgo – Spain story, artist
  • Ben Kahn – Spain story, writer
  • Mark Lauthier – Australia story, artist
  • Ryan K Lindsay – Australia story, writer
  • Ricardo Mo – UK story, writer/co-editor
  • Alberto Muriel  – UK story, artist
  • Sam Read – Ireland story, writer
  • Cian Tormey – Ireland story, artist
  • Skylar Patridge – cover artist
  • Christopher Kosek – logo/design
By Natasha Alterici

We sat with editor Leo Johnson and editor/writer Ricardo Mo to discuss the comics anthology and the Kickstarter campaign that just launched. We were also joined by cartoonist Natasha Alterici and writer Eric Grissom, who both contributed stories.

SP: Leo and Ricardo, let’s start with you. Tell me more about the premise and concept of Transience. Where did it come from?

Leo Johnson: The rough idea of Transience is that biological attacks have left large chunks of the population in places all around the world with anterograde amnesia – the inability to make new memories. I jokingly like to pitch it to people as 50 First Dates with fewer Adam Sandler jokes and more existential crisis. Basically, we just have all these people in all these different countries who suddenly can’t remember anything beyond yesterday. Years pass by without them knowing it. People get older, die, go away, and it’s all a shock to them because they can’t remember it even happened.

Transience was originally Ricardo’s idea, so he’ll probably have some story about how the thought struck him in some opportune moment or something, but where Transience became a thing for me was because of an email. Ricardo sent me an email one day back in late 2015 with the basic outline of Transience – it may not have been 100% what we see now, but it was pretty close. I think my reply was something along the lines of, “If you don’t do something with this, I will.” So rather than have me steal it, we decided we should get other people involved and make this a big effort, something we could all really be proud of. Nearly two years later, I think we accomplished that.

Ricardo Mo: I wish I did have an interesting story about how the idea struck me, but it was basically this: Man, all these years later and Memento is still a really good movie. But what if every character suffered from the same condition as the protagonist? No, that would be crazy. But what if they could all hold onto their new memories until they slept? Now that could be crazy in a good way.

Stage two of my process is always to run a half-formed idea by Leo and see if it excites him. So with this particular idea, that’s precisely when he threatened to steal it and scared me into doing something with it sooner rather than later.

SP: Amnesia is a recurring device in fiction. Why do you think we’re drawn to this idea?

By Ryan K. Lindsay and Mark Lauthier

Leo: I think amnesia is such a popular idea in fiction because memory is already such a fickle thing even when we like to think it’s good or perfect. Our memories can be influenced and changed in really subtle ways without us even realizing it. With a good story, we can ramp that idea up to 1000 and have people completely lose their memory or make it so they can’t make memories. Your memories and experiences shape who you are as a person. With Transience we get to explore that some. If you can’t make new memories, do you essentially stop growing as a person? If you can’t remember what you’ve done before, do you get stuck in the same loop? Can you change if you can’t even remember when you fail?

Ricardo: Everyone likes a fresh start, don’t they? Also, I guess amnesia makes for a built-in mystery and everyone likes a mystery.

SP: How did you two decide on an anthology format for the premise, rather than just working on the concept yourselves?

Ricardo: It’s going to sound like all of my decision-making is motivated by fear, but it was just such a daunting task to build that world alone. There are so many threads to follow if you’re going to do the concept justice. How do you keep people working? What happens to kids if they can’t remember what they’re learning? And how would different nations react to the same problems?

It seemed obvious to us that doing it right meant sharing the burden, and the fun, of the world-building. Or rebuilding. Also, while a long-form story of somebody navigating this new, broken world would be fascinating, we felt that an anthology would allow us to cover much more ground and answer many more of those questions that the original premise naturally throws up.

Leo: I’ve always really liked anthologies, especially themed anthologies, because the limited space often makes the creators make really interesting decisions with how they structure their story. That along with the idea of people from all different walks of life and in places all over having to deal with this same catastrophe in their own different way made it so I can’t imagine Transience being anything but an anthology.

SP: Were any of those world-building questions answered before handing off to your creative teams? What sort of rules did you put in place?

By Kristen Grace and Alex Diotto

Ricardo: We tried to keep things loose at first, so as not to choke the creativity of the writers and artists. Some of the teams grasped the basic premise quickly and proposed stories that both fit into the world and expanded it in interesting ways. Others needed a bit more guidance. But as each creative team got to work and started setting things in stone, it became necessary to inform everyone of the rapidly-developing rules. Say you get in first and decide that babies conceived after the event are not affected by the amnesia, because that’s what you want or need for your story. Well, now that’s fact, and we can’t have subsequent stories contradicting it.

The biggest rule was that contributors couldn’t chicken out. All stories had to take place in affected areas, using affected people. Nobody was allowed to go for the easy option of following a character out into amnesia-free territory and have everything explained to them by those who remember. We don’t like to make things easy, even for our friends who are essentially doing us a favour.

Leo: Yeah, we just had some very basic, broad rules that we used to begin with and let the various creators fill in the rules as we went along and discussed ideas. Originally, I think we wanted all the stories set the same number of years after the amnesia incident, but as time went on and the stories started to take shape, we realized that having varying lengths of time between the stories and the incident just allowed for some better stories. If there wasn’t a really good reason for a rule, we tried to change it if it meant a better story. In the end, I think that idea served us well.

Ricardo: That’s right, they were all meant to be 10 years later. Ben Kahn wrote an amazing script that only worked if considerably less time had passed. Leo and I took about ten seconds to decide we wouldn’t cling to that timeline at the expense of a really great piece of writing.

SP: How did you assemble the creators and coordinate who would tell what story?

Leo: Assembling the creative teams was a lot of fun, honestly. Everyone involved is someone whose work we admired and enjoyed, so it was a thrill to be able to have them involved. For the most part, the creators were people that Ricardo and I knew through Twitter or my many interviews I’ve done for Multiversity Comics and other sites, so it almost was more like getting buddies together for a game night than it was undertaking a giant project.

By Ben Kahn and Bruno Hidalgo

For the most part, we knew who we wanted to pair together. For instance, Eric Grissom and Will Perkins had previously done a one-shot together called Gregory Suicide (Gregory Suicide is now a OGN through Dark Horse and in Previews!) that Ricardo and I both loved, so we knew that we wanted to have them work together again if possible. Obviously, these two killed it. For the Spain story, we had read Ben Kahn and Bruno Hidalgo’s Shaman and gotten to know Ben online, so we knew we wanted those two guys to make a story set in Bruno’s native Spain. Again, they killed it. For others, it was more just we knew we wanted to work with a certain person and once they said yes, it was a matter of finding someone who would compliment them well. I think it was this way with Alex Diotto, the artist on the Italy story, because we both really loved his work, but weren’t entirely sure who would be a good fit for him initially. We were lucky in that pretty much everyone we asked said yes. As difficult as some aspects of the project were, getting people excited to work with us on this was definitely one of the easier parts.

Ricardo: I remember thinking we would never land Natasha, because she already had this great book Heathen (the first trade of which is published by Vault and is now in Previews) and people had started to really take notice. However, she agreed to join us, produced a beautiful story and, as an added bonus, introduced us to the super-talented Kristen Grace. Sam Read similarly introduced us to an artist, Cian Tormey, and we knew right away he’d be a great addition to the anthology. Talented people tend to know other talented people, and that certainly worked in our favour here.

SP: Each creative team has a writer or artist that is from the country that is the setting for their story, which is a great idea that adds some authenticity to the settings. Was that something you intentionally set out to do? Did you encourage your creators to use their neighborhoods?

Leo: It just seemed to make sense, you know? Social media has made it easier than ever to communicate and collaborate with people all over the world. Hell, Ricardo lives at the bottom of England and I live in Northern California, but we still end up talking almost every day. If we wanted to make an anthology that affected people all over the world, it only made sense to work with people from all over the world. As far as if anyone used their neighborhood, I really don’t know, but I know some of the stories, like the Spain story, incorporate different things that mean a lot to the creators.

Ricardo: I can’t say it any better than Leo did. Although I will point out that we call it the South Coast of England, not “the bottom”.

Leo: You live at The Bottom, Ricardo. Embrace it.

SP: Natasha and Eric, when you were first told about the concept, what were your initial thoughts? What was the thing you really latched onto for your story?

By Eric Grissom and Will Perkins

Eric Grissom: When I first heard the idea from Ricardo and Leo I immediately thought of that Adam Sandler / Drew Barrymore movie 50 First Dates. That actually made it a lot easier to wrap my head around because I was already familiar with the basic concept. The more I thought about it, the more interested I became in what would happen to a child if they had to grow up under these circumstances. We learn by doing, failing, adjusting, and trying again. Repetition, especially among young children is an important facet of development. What happens when we remove the part of that process that remembers? Without the ability to remember repeated behavior and its resulting consequences, how would a brain develop? How would that child learn to speak? To walk? To function?

Aside from the effects on a child, what does a situation like this do to the parent? Children physically develop at a much faster rate than an adult — if a parent is unable to remember day to day, at what point does the child become unrecognizable? At what point do they appear as a stranger?

Leo: I’m going to butt in here, because one of the first things I thought about when we started working on this anthology was how a child would develop and what not being able to form memories would mean to a teen who still has the memories of a toddler. It was my greatest of hopes that someone would do a story about that and luckily Eric incorporated that in his story. Naturally, he and Will nailed the delivery.

Natasha Alterici: Like Eric and Leo, I also thought of how this would affect children, and specifically I thought about the time when kids start to become adults. How would a preteen just starting puberty be affected by this lack of memory? It’s a time of big changes and for girls specifically you have to learn a whole new hygiene routine, which can be frightening and gross and weird. I thought about my childhood exploring the woods and climbing trees and wanted to harken back to that. And I liked the idea of imagining a scenario where the attack had only happened very recently, and the girls happened to have been having a slumber party the day their memories stopped. So they’d be re-living a fairly happy time in their lives, with only the minor annoyance of a menstrual cycle to be upset about.

SP: Natasha, your story has these wonderful small moments. One of my favorites is the black vs. pink debate, and what it says about each character. And then, the story is colored with this green tint. As both the writer and artist for your story, is color something that becomes more significant for you as you get to the drawing stages, or are you thinking about how it reflects on your characters and their world from the start?

Natasha: When the project was proposed to me, I knew our stories were going to be grayscale, the tinting came afterward. So when I was writing the script, I was merely thinking about the personality of the characters and how they can reflect on larger issues. So what on the surface appears to be best friends having a playful disagreement, ends up being two young feminists debating the merits of discarding vs. reclaiming traditional gender roles, so to speak. Admittedly, in the context of the story, such discussion may no longer matter as far as making progress for fellow mankind would go. But in another way they almost matter more, because if people stop trying to make progress, then regression is inevitable and people would lose all sense of morality.

SP: All of the stories intrinsically have a cyclical element to them, just by the mere fact that we assume everyone is going to wake up tomorrow and at least initially start to do the same thing all over again. Eric, your story really looks at Amy’s cycle of behavior. Do you think it’s possible for the characters in your story to break the cycle if they can’t remember the last day they had?

Eric: It’s an interesting question in that without an ability to remember a previous day, how aware of the cycle are the characters? Every day is essentially a new experience. Every day they must learn of, confront, and ultimately accept their fate. In Amy’s story, it’s her notebooks that establish this cycle. The “form” of this cycle takes shape only after she reads through the countless days she has already lived. This form of “memory,” while necessary as a means of adapting to this terrible reality, becomes itself a prison. Without giving away the ending to the comic Will and I contributed to this anthology, Amy does in fact take steps to end this cycle. It’s left intentionally open ended so readers can make their own decision about what that choice was.

SP: Ricardo, your story addresses regret and loss. One of your characters proudly proclaims, “no memories, no regrets”. Do you think that’s true for these characters, that the next morning will be a total fresh start with no emotional hangover or any other consequences?

By Ricardo Mo and Alberto Muriel

Ricardo: The fresh starts are as total as the characters choose for them to be. While one character actively chooses to be reminded daily of his emotional burden, the young man who utters that “no regrets” phrase has no intention of recording and passing on anything that would cause him guilt. So for him, it’ll be like his questionable choices never happened. However, these missing days are still taking place, and providing physical evidence that cannot easily be ignored. For example, early on the “teens” enquire after their absent friends. When we see the kind of reckless leader they follow, you might be able to take a guess at where those absentees may be.

SP: It makes me curious to see the next day for some of these characters. Or maybe a few years later or earlier. Are there any plans for another installment of the anthology, either with these same characters or brand new ones?

Leo: In a perfect world, there’d be enough enthusiasm and support that we could make more of these anthologies, further exploring the world and the people in it, but I really don’t know if that’ll ever be the case. I think the concept itself is one that you could play with a lot, though. It’s a universal thing on a global scale, told by people all over the world. Who knows? Maybe next year we’ll be doing interviews for Transience 2: The Quickening.

Ricardo: While all of these characters are cursed to repeat their days or, at best, shift to a different repetitive loop, there are still a thousand interesting stories to be told with other characters in this world. Personally though, instead of another anthology, I would like to see a long-form story about an outsider with a working memory dropped into an affected area, striving to complete a particular mission –
an amnesia-tinged Escape From New York, if you like.

SP: When did the Kickstarter launching? What are some of the perks?

By Sam Read and Cian Tormey

Leo: July 1st! We’re keeping things simple and running a digital-only campaign with one reward: a digital copy of the anthology. Ricardo and I are both big believers in digital, so we want to see a simple, digital campaign and see how it does for our first outing on Kickstarter. With the anthology already done and it being digital, we can send out the PDFs as soon as the campaign is done, with no hassle for our backers and no extra junk that they might not really want. Even better, the funds raised, after fees and all that junk, are going to go straight to paying the various contributors. Just our way of making sure that everyone gets at least a small portion of what they’re worth. The more successful the campaign is, the better paid everyone is.

SP: One final question for each of you: How is your memory?

Eric: Who is this?

Ricardo: My visual memory is terrific, but I often struggle to remember things I’ve been told. Come to think of it, that may be connected to whether or not I’m really listening in the first place.

Natasha: I forgot to answer these questions, so…

Leo: As long as it’s useless trivia, I’m pretty good. Anything else? Debatable at best.

Transience is now available through their Kickstarter campaign.

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