It’s almost impossible to meet a person whose life has not been touched by cancer in some way, taking family, friends, or our own lives from us. For Matt Hawkins, creator of The Clock, that touch was his own mother who was diagnosed when he was only 17. At that time, she was given only a year to live, but over three decades later, she’s still fighting against a fourth diagnosis.
“Why do some people get this genetic lottery and others don’t?” is a question that Hawkins has asked himself, and perhaps it was this question that led him to a cancer research panel at a BioTech conference in L.A. a few years ago. During the Q&A session, he asked if anyone had ever tried weaponizing cancer. He was met with, unsurprisingly, a lot of uncomfortable silence. The researchers were relieved to later discover that Hawkins is a writer and were willing to answer his follow-up questions as the seeds of The Clock began to sprout. “The eugenics of it all came later in the story inception,” Hawkins explains. “These things tend to percolate in my head for a year or two before I actually write them.” Which leads us to where we are now where weaponized cancer is exactly what we’re dealing with in The Clock:
“Within three weeks, hundreds of millions of healthy people worldwide contract various forms of aggressive cancer, and the proliferation, seemingly a viral outbreak, stumps the best scientific minds available. But after a leading cancer researcher loses his wife and watches his nine-year-old daughter begin to succumb to the same illness, he must race against the clock to end a global conspiracy that could propel the world straight into WWIII…or worse.”
Through a very good friend, The Clock artist Colleen Doran has done her own exploration of cancer. Her friend, a professor and a Universal Chair at a major cancer research facility, allowed her to visit his labs. “I was incredibly impressed by what I learned there, not only in terms of the powerful research he is doing, but the incredible emotional strength of the scientists who work with people through their terrible personal circumstances. It’s inspiring and humbling.”
But no amount of research and learning can prepare you for the moment when cancer invades your own life. For Doran, that came later during the last weeks of working on The Amazing Fantastic Incredible Stan Lee graphic novel, when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer. Lee himself was also rushed to the hospital with ocular cancer during that same period. “As you may imagine,” says Doran, “this was extremely stressful. I was working 100 hours a week and dealing with this worry. The week the book was finished, my mother went in for successful lung cancer surgery. Both my parents are fine now, but the whole process was terrifying.”
Doran’s professor friend came to the hospital on the day of her mother’s surgery to collect a sample of the rare form of cancer she had, which, Doran explains, is now being used in cancer research. In her research, Doran learned about treatments such as immunotherapy. “My mom’s decision not to have chemo is probably what saved her life. Some cancers are held in check by the body’s immune system and chemo is counterproductive in that case, though it’s often automatically prescribed as standard of care.”
In The Clock, the prognosis for half the population of earth is not nearly as positive as the reality both Hawkins and Doran and their families have experienced in their dealings with this horrible disease. The first issue, available next month, takes us first to Nigeria. A cancer research professor named Jack is hoping to gain insight into why the new strain of cancer is not affecting a local tribe in the same way it’s been affecting the more populated areas around the world. During his visit, he learns that his wife has died from the very disease he is trying to cure, galvanizing his need to spread the word to turn back the clock on a global catastrophe.
Though there is a lot of science involved in the creation and implementation of the plot, Hawkins is careful not to bog readers down with too much detail, allowing Doran’s illustrations to move the story along. As always, readers can flip to the back of the book to learn about Hawkins’ research and follow up with research of their own thanks to the links he provides. “I try to make my books scientifically accurate and have a network of scientists I use to go over stuff and ask questions. Sometimes I get it wrong, but I strive for authenticity.”
Shifting from the exquisite, delicate imagery of her recent Snow, Glass, Apples (which we reviewed here), Doran shows off her versatility as an artist with The Clock’s more realistic style. As she’s noted in many of her interviews, her art style adapts to the subject matter. “I visualize the story and come up with a look, and then I become the artist who does that look. I don’t just have one shtick that I do over and over.” Doran is not afraid to fully immerse herself in a particular subject matter or object of inspiration. “The Snow, Glass, Apples art was a tribute to a major early 19th century artist named Harry Clarke. I’ve admired his work since childhood. I spent weeks and months drowning myself in his milieu and even traveled to Ireland to see his original art.”
But while The Clock differs in style from Snow, Glass, Apples and her other fantasy work, she points out that it is not far off from work she’s done in the past, including the Warren Ellis graphic novel, Orbiter. “I’m using a similar, straightforward storytelling approach for The Clock because I want the reader to be firmly implanted in the real world. For a science fiction tale like The Clock, the reader needs to pay attention to the facts. Body language is very important. A line of dialogue can have a very different spin depending on facial expression. I put a lot of effort into creating a believable environment, adding details to homes, offices and things so that you get this immersion in a real place, and you get clues to a character based on small details. I’m not using models for the art. But I’m researching places and objects thoroughly.”
Given the subject matter of The Clock, there is already a heavy emotional weight resting on the book. Doran’s art, coloured by Bryan Valenza, seethes with the stress of time and grief pressing down on everyone involved. There are several powerfully disturbing images involving children and death, including one of a child expertly firing a weapon, but Doran is accustomed to depicting darkness on the pages of stories like Sandman or Snow, Glass, Apples. Still, none of this compares to reality. “The real world is infinitely darker than anything I can make up. Everyone in my family except me is a first responder. They’re working in law, they’re working in medicine. They see real darkness every day. If I want to know what darkness is, we can just sit around the dinner table and talk about their job.”
When drawing a book like The Clock that realistically expresses such darkness, Doran is able to compartmentalize enough to focus on the process. “I generally don’t feel too rough about what I am doing until the work is finished and I sit back and look at it with a clear eye. While I’m working, I’m thinking about my function to tell the story. After I’m done, then I can be objective. If the imagery is troublesome, then I’ve done my job well. It should trouble you. That’s the point.”
With Hawkins’ and Doran’s well-researched writing and art, as well as the reality of cancer itself, The Clock’s concept of this weaponized disease promises a story that will hit on an emotional level and linger — and that’s before we discover the truth about the conspiracy behind it all…
The Clock will be available on January 8th from Top Cow Comics.