When film-maker Duncan Jones decided to tell the third story in his tangentially linked science fiction trilogy, following Moon (2009) and the 2018 Netflix series Mute, he ran into a problem: the tale he wanted to tell was so vast that it would need a crippling budget to get it filmed.
So Jones – the British-born, LA-based son of David Bowie and his first wife Angie – decided to tell the final part of his so-called Mooniverse trilogy, Madi, in a whole new medium: comics.
“When the reality of Madi’s scale hit the budgeting process, it was clear that getting a film like that made … was going to be an uphill battle,” says Jones. “But film is just one way to tell a story. Comics are another.”
Jones – perhaps a little disingenuously but charmingly so – says he’s not a big comics fan, while in the next breath describing a childhood spent reading The Trigan Empire, Marvel and DC comics, and his dad giving him graphic novels such as Black Hole by Charles Burns, Maus and When the Wind Blows (for whose animated version Bowie provided the title track). How is he not a comics fan? “I say that to be respectful of those people out there who truly are,” he says.
Madi, subtitled Once Upon a Time in the Future, is set in the “Mooniverse”, the same near-future reality as Moon and Mute, but none of the stories are directly linked. Jones refers to the three stories as his “salty Cornetto trilogy”, a reference to Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s “Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy” made up of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.
Madi follows the title character, who is one of many enhanced ex-military personnel who have become indentured to the giant private corporations that run the world, working as mercenaries in order to pay for the technology that was put into their bodies during their years of service. Madi finally has enough and, after a bad final job, goes on the run.
A year ago, Jones asked his 350,000 Twitter followers to recommend the best comics artists to bring his vision to life. Having assembled a roster of possible candidates, Jones needed someone who could help him adapt his movie into a comic. That led him to “my Sherpa, my Yoda, my guru”, the comic writer and novelist Alex de Campi.
It was De Campi’s idea to have more than one artist illustrate what turned out to be a 260-page graphic novel, splitting it between the talent that Jones had been wowed by on Twitter. “I’ve got a lot of work and made a lot of great connections via social media but this is by far the best,” she says. “It wasn’t so much a vote thing or an internet popularity contest, but I think a few big industry friends weighed in privately to Duncan to say ‘she’s all right’ when I responded to his callout.”
It took De Campi two months to adapt the script, sending it to Jones in 10-page batches. “Duncan over in LA would review the pages and tweak things and we pretty much had a constant back and forth about the script as we went,” De Campi says. “The adaptation happened very fast, because the faster I had a script ready, the more time artists had to draw.”
The artists behind Madi are a who’s who of comic talent, comprising Dylan Teague, Glenn Fabry, Duncan Fegredo, LRNZ, Ed Ocaña, André Araújo, Simon Bisley, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Tonči Zonjić, Pia Guerra, James Stokoe, RM Guéra, Chris Weston, Rufus Dayglo, Annie Wu, David López and Christian Ward, with covers by Duncan Fegredo and Yuko Shimizu.
On Tuesday, Jones and De Campi launched a Kickstarter to raise £40,000 to fund the project; within hours, it reached £125,000. Madi will be released in a variety of hard-copy formats – not digitally – in November, with the first 19 pages already available online.
Are either of them afraid that film or Netflix fans won’t follow them to a comic book? “Because of the pandemic, this is the Year Without Movies – and you’re asking me if we’re sorry we’re doing this as a graphic novel?” says De Campi. “Look, making stuff is hard. Get your work out any way you can. And who says this won’t also be a movie one day, when it’s safe to shoot again?”
Jones, who is also working on a film adaptation of the 2000AD comic Rogue Trooper, is convinced that Moon and Mute fans will enjoy Madi, even if they don’t normally read comics.
“Storytelling is storytelling,” he says. “From drive-in movies to stories around the campfire. If someone can engage you, they’ll paint the picture in your mind … and the painters I’m working with are pretty exceptional.”