Chris Sebela is a writer best known for his comics work including Shanghai Red, Escape From New York, and Heartthrob, and his prose novel I Lived in a Clown Motel: A True Story of the Dumbest Thing I Ever Did. His latest work is Test for Vault Comics.
Tim Midura: Can you give a brief overview of Test?
Chris Sebela: Test is the story of Aleph Null, a professional human guinea pig, body model and complete addict hooked on the future. They hear whispers about a test marketing town in the midwest called Laurelwood where they’re testing the far-flung future and Aleph goes looking for this mythical place. Test is about what happens when they find it and how the town changes them and how they change the town. Vault came up with the term “biopunk western” which I think is fitting. It definitely takes some inspiration from those Man With No Name Comes To a Small Town films.
Tim Midura: Test’s homage cover is to Transmetropolitan, which itself is heavily involved with future tech. Why pick that series for an homage cover?
Chris Sebela: Honestly, that’s a question for Vault to answer. But I think it makes sense in a way. We’re both books dealing with the human cost of the future. Transmet is a lot more whimsical and approaches different bits of bleakness, but I think both books have a similar kind of concern, if nothing else. Plus, personally, I still remember buying that first issue of Transmet, so it feels nice and full circle for me as a comics nerd.
Tim Midura: Have you ever been a human guinea pig?
Chris Sebela: Not for money. I did used to attend a lot of focus groups before I started working for that same focus group company, which is a very benign version of human guinea pigging, I suppose. Also I used to basically take any drug that was put in front of me and then figure out if I should have done that afterwards, but I paid money to do that, so it’s not a very lucrative business model.
The kernel of inspiration for Test came from a Patton Oswalt bit. Can you touch on that?
I used to do color flatting on comics and I was working on pages while listening to a Patton Oswalt album, and there was a bonus track, I think, about the KFC Megaleg. It was supposed to be the chicken version of one of those RenFaire turkey legs. In the bit, he mentions he heard about it from someone on set on something he was filming and the person he was talking to came from a test market town and how they’d get all sorts of things that no one else in the country got. While I knew those towns were a thing, hearing a testimonial of sorts from someone who lived in one, it got my brain spinning out on the idea. And flatting is the most mindless job in the world, so my brain just took the idea and extrapolated. That’s how I came up with the core concept. Aleph came much later.
Tim Midura: Aleph, the main character of Test, is a junkie. Can you talk about the importance of that in the story?
Chris Sebela: Me, personally, I come from junkie people, substance abusers. I’ve done my best impersonation of them at times in my life. So it’s something I feel familiar with and it gave me a window into Aleph, who is otherwise a lot different from me.
This just felt like a junkie kind of story to me. Someone who is so possessed by a notion or an impulse and they follow it despite the destruction that might rain down on them as a result. You have to be a certain kind of self-destructive to trade your good health for a quick check, or to do surgery on yourself. I think people cascade and a bunch of small personality bits can be representative of something bigger.
Tim Midura: How did you team up with Jen Hickman?
Chris Sebela: Jen worked with my buddy James Maddox on a couple of comics and when he showed me the books, I fell for Jen’s work right away. Some people’s art it’s just love at first sight. I knew I wanted to work with Jen on something but I couldn’t quite figure out what would be a good fit. Then when Vault and I started talking about TEST, I couldn’t figure out an artist until I thought about Jen again and I hit them up to see if they’d be interested. They were busy finishing up another book so I asked Vault if we could wait for Jen and they liked their stuff enough to say yes, totally. So we waited for Jen to get free and it’s probably one of the smarter decisions I’ve made in my comics life.
Tim Midura: If you could be the first to test something what would it be?
Chris Sebela: Teleportation. But only if I was guaranteed to not get turned inside out. If I had to become a half man/half fly I could deal with that, I guess. Oh, or some kind of hair genome regrowth tech. I’d be first in line and grow my hair out to Phil Spector in court levels.
Test #2 released July 31 from Vault Comics.