Mandala is a new original graphic novel out from Dark Horse Comics this week. Written by Stuart Moore (Web of Spider-Man, Namor: The First Mutant), and illustrated by Bruce Zick (Thor), it details one man’s quest to save the multi-verse, with a lot of help from his friends.
An ambitious tale that deftly sweeps across timelines and genres, Mandala begins in a dystopian future where the human race is secretly controlled by a global mind-control system called the GRID. This might sound a lot like The Matrix, but readers will quickly find that Mandala is vastly different. For one thing, our protagonist here occasionally sprouts wings and additional arms. The mystical and supernatural elements do not stop there — throw in a bit of noir, mythology, time-travel, and you might get a bit closer to elucidating the immense scope of this effort.
Fortunately for us, writer Stuart Moore was kind enough to take a few of our questions, and to give us further insight into the inner workings of Mandala.
Q1: Mandala is an epic story that defies conventional genre labels, containing elements of science-fiction, supernatural, mythology. What did you find most challenging about combining all of these into one coherent narrative?
Everything was challenging! Mandala was created by a mysterious but benevolent group called The Thirteen. When they approached me, they’d worked out a very complex background for the story, which literally spans all space and time. My goal was to make this story accessible and exciting, and the key to that was the main character: Michael Morningstar, a warrior for freedom, who travels crosstime in order to stop humanity from falling prey to other-dimensional invaders and our own worst temptations.
I’m a science fiction buff, so that part came naturally to me. There’s also a touch of noir here, as Michael finds himself lost, living without his memory beneath the streets of New York. But even there, his instincts rise to the surface and he recruits a group of young people to help him.
Q2: The story draws inspiration not just from the various genres mentioned above, but also from many different mythologies: Native American, Greek, I think I caught a Hindu reference in there as well. Could you share more about how these were used for the book, and the core concept trying them together?
That’s the starting point for the story, in a way. A lot of these gods are real, in one way or another, and they’ve been manipulating humanity since the beginning—sometimes out in the open, and sometimes from the shadows. Michael’s own hidden past is a big part of that.
The Native American trappings were in the story from the beginning, and I ran with that. I’m fascinated with the Hopi, in particular, whose reservation is completely contained within the larger Navajo reservation. As Charlie Many Colors, Michael’s mentor, says early on in the story: “We’re used to surviving within other people’s spheres of power.” That’s a powerful metaphor.
Q3: With an ambitious tale like Mandala, the artist’s imagination and vision must be very important in the world-building. How did you find the collaborative process with artist Bruce Zick? Did his contributions maybe alter or shape your own scripting/vision as the book came together, and how so?
Yes, very definitely. Bruce would often take scenes and draw them out, expanding them in different directions. One of the great things about modern comics is that you can take a look at the art after it’s done and revise, rescript, as much as necessary. Mandala is very much a team effort, one that evolved as we went along—just as its protagonist does, within the story.
Q4: The cast of characters we see in Mandala is very diverse, more than most other comics I can name. Why was it important to you to ensure that your characters also reflected the broad/global scope of the story?
I think it’s past time that popular entertainment started incorporating a more global approach to culture. The world is a lot smaller than it used to be, and we’re all in it together. As a white male writer living in America, I’ve always tried to keep that in mind—though I’ll admit sometimes I’ve failed.
On a story level, it’s fascinating to throw bits and pieces of different mythologies together, and see how they mix. Natasmia, the snake goddess behind the subjugation of humanity, has creatures and minions from Greek mythology, but her primary aide on Earth is called Kane—or is it Cain? So that lends a lot of color and excitement to the story (I hope!).
Q5. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory here, but readers, upon finishing Mandala, will find that you’ve only just begun to tell the story of Michael Morningstar and his friends. Would you be able to share if there are plans for a continuation in the near future? How do you see the story’s themes and philosophies progressing?
The Thirteen have very large plans, yes. We’re already working on further comics stories. This first graphic novel tells a complete story: Michael’s quest to recruit a group of extra-powered humans to set the timelines right, and avoid an apocalyptic future from coming to pass. After that, we’ll be delving deeper into his psyche as he uses his team to try to raise the consciousness of the entire world. So the story grows smaller and larger in scale, at the same time. That’s a fascinating challenge.
As for the rest: We’ll all have to wait and see. Right now I hope people will give the graphic novel a shot. It’s got everything: gods, timelines, loss, betrayal, a cynical old man, and a trippy quest through space and time. Plus Bruce’s lovely art, which is uniquely moody and at times positively unearthly.
Many thanks to Mr. Moore for kindly taking the time to speak with us!
Mandala releases on May 14th as a trade paperback from Dark Horse comics; check out the preview here. The first chapter is also available as a digital purchase. Please keep an eye out for WOTN’s review, which will be going up later this week!
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