Ian Edginton on mechanical universes and ‘Brass Sun’
Brass Sun, by Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard, is a hero’s journey set in a special kind of universe: an orrery, a model of the solar system, created eons ago by a blind clockmaker who set it up so that the different worlds would coexist in peace, giving each one a piece of the key that keeps it moving.
Over the years, power has shifted among the different worlds, and now the universe is starting to wind down, icing up at its extremities. It’s up to Wren, a 12-year-old girl whose grandfather was executed by the quasi-religious authorities for the heresy of speaking about the problem, to locate the missing pieces of the key and reboot the universe. Her quest takes her through a series of adventures in vividly imagined worlds, connected by the brass arms of the giant orrery.
The story originally appeared in the pages of the British weekly 2000AD, but Rebellion/2000AD is re-releasing it as a monthly miniseries for the U.S. market, beginning next week. We spoke with Edginton about the story, and were also provided with a preview of the first issue.
Robot 6: Brass Sun seems a bit like an environmental fable: The universe is slowly winding down, the solution depends on everyone working together, and yet the different groups are concerned only with their own self-interest. It feels like a reverse version of global warming. Was this your intention, and if so, was it part of the story from the beginning?
Ian Edginton: There’s an element of that, yes. I didn’t initially set out with that in mind, though; it developed naturally as the story progressed and expanded out. The outer worlds winding down and icing over are the impetus that starts Wren off on her quest. The other worlds aren’t really concerned about it because very few of them are interested in what’s happening beyond their own. Most don’t even believe that there’s life on the other worlds.
It didn’t used to be this way. Once upon a time, they all cooperated and traded with each other but then there came dissension, jealousy and war, which threw the whole wheel of worlds back into a dark age that’s it’s barely begun to emerge from.
At the same time, it’s a great adventure story. What are your plans for Wren and Septimus? Do you have an end in sight, or will it be more like a Saturday serial, with new adventures in every story arc?
It is a big, sprawling story. Ian and I agreed at the outset that we wanted to tell a wide-ranging, expansive tale that spanned dozens of worlds. In some respects it does harken back to more pulp, Saturday-morning serial feel, in that it’s a rich tapestry of colorful and quirky characters and worlds.
However, I’m also conscious of outstaying our welcome and letting the story meander on for it’s own sake. There is a definite end, that’s for certain and Wren and Septimus will be there, but things between them will have changed quite significantly by then and that’s all I’m going to say about that!
It’s interesting that although there are many planets, everyone seems to share a common language and, to some extent, a common culture. Why is that?
Well, way back in the past, the planets and cultures of the orrery traveled and traded between the worlds via a transit system called The Rails that runs through the planetary spars. The wheel of worlds was a vast system spanning community. Over time, some planets made alliances with others giving them a stronger hold and trading position over the others. Out of this inequality and resentment there grew skirmishes and finally outright war that devastated the entire system. It wasn’t by chance however, and as Wren’s story progresses, we start to realize that there’s a sinister presence behind of all of this but again, I don’t want to give too much away!
Working with such a unique universe must be a challenge for you as a creative team. How do you envision the universe as a three-dimensional space, and how do you communicate that with one another?
You make it sound as if Ian and I thought it through in a lot more detail than we actually did! When Ian came to lay out the first big spread that shows the orrery in all its glory, we realized that we had to be careful how many worlds we showed as we didn’t want to paint ourselves into a corner. By that I mean, you can almost guarantee that further down the line some one will says that we’ve visited 25 worlds but there were only 22 in that establishing shot.
So, we know how many worlds the story’s going to take place on and then there are others that get mentioned in passing that we may or may not see later on. We then also decided to add a few more, just in case! Technically speaking, a genuine orerry has a fixed base for it to stand on. Obviously ours doesn’t need that and so Ian and I worked out how it would exist, floating in space. We also had to work out how the giant spars connecting each world to the sun would function. On top of that we had to fathom out how The Rails, the transit system between the worlds, would also work. Ian and I talk via email or long phone conversations, which act as a good excuse not to get any work done!
The story as originally written appeared in very short chapters. How did that affect your storytelling? Would you have done it differently if it were published in 32-page issues?
I should explain, 2000AD runs six stories — Judge Dredd lead strip and five others — weekly. The Dredd has six pages, while the others have five.
A Brass Sun story arc will run to 12 installments per series. In addition, the first and last of these will often be double-length, so you’re looking at 70 pages per series. By its very nature it’s designed to be an episodic serial. You enjoy the ride while it’s going, then when it’s done, you can go back and read the story in its entirety and very often pick up on things in it as a whole that you might have missed the first time around. Each five page chapter moves the story along and builds to a cliffhanger at the end. If the series had started life as 32-page series, the structure and pacing would be a little different but it wouldn’t affect the overall story.
What sort of changes are you making for the American edition?
I haven’t had to make any. I think Ian might have had to shuffle some of the panels around a bit to accommodate the different format but I’m not certain. It was mooted but I don’t know if it’s happened.