Scott Westerfeld has written some pretty harsh dystopian futures in the past, including the Uglies series. But now, he's written a graphic novel that takes place after an apocalypse. The Spill Zone features art by Alex Puvilland, and we're happy to bring you the announcement and the exclusive first look!
Here's the official synopsis for The Spill Zone, coming from First Second:
Nobody's ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one's allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night, and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world.
"I've been writing The Spill Zone for seven years," Westerfeld says in a press release, "and am overjoyed to be partnering with First Second on my first graphic novel. Alex Puvilland's brilliant artwork has the perfect balance of grit and otherworldliness to bring the Zone to life."
Here's another amazing art piece:
And here's Westerfeld's essay about the creation of the book, followed by one more art piece:
In 2004, a Ukrainian photojournalist named Elena Filatova (aka KiddofSpeed) blogged an account of her motorcycle journeys though the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Her photos and writing were elegiac and apocalyptic, evoking the otherworldliness of the forsaken city of Pripyat. But soon after the posts were Slashdotted, certain discrepancies were noted, and Filatova admitted that her account were "more poetry than reality."
In short, she might have taken a tour bus.
But the poetic version stuck with me—a woman on a motorcycle, a camera, an empty and dangerous world.
Since the late 1970s, when I read Roadside Picnic, I've loved tales about exploring broken, abandoned terrain. Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's novel is set in and around the Visitation Zone, a place where aliens landed, played around for a couple of days, and left behind various miracles that were, to them, simply garbage to be discarded. The Zone is off limits, but is plundered by crafty interlopers known as "Stalkers" (who give their name to the Tarkovsky film and the video games based on the novel).
I think it was Roadside Picnic that made me an "urban explorer," though that term wasn't around back then. As a student I spelunked the buildings at my upstate New York college, and I've explored abandoned sites in and around NYC since. There's nothing quite like the silent loneliness of a place that has been abandoned, restricted, and left to ruin. In these spaces, the usual rules don't apply. It can feel as if the laws of physics don't either.
So what if they really were a slice of another world?
Spill Zone is set in a working-class town in upstate NY that changed one night three years ago, when something weird and awful happened. Unlike in Roadside Picnic, the cause of the Spill isn't known. Maybe it was a nano outbreak tangling with the local nuclear plant, or perhaps a portal opening from another world, one more Lovecraftian than ours.
Whatever happened, the Spill Zone isn't a place you want to go anymore. Staring at the lights in the storm drains gives you nightmares, and once you've seen mealy worms take down a deer, you won't ever walk on the grass again. (And don't get me started on the meat puppets.) But the strangest part is the sense of an intelligence at work, a playful but inhuman force that animates the standing waves—whirlwinds of empty clothing, swing sets that never stop swinging. The Spill Zone is a character as well as a setting.
Going into the SZ might be illegal, but perfect hermetic seals are hard to build. My exploring days have taught me that it's very hard to keep people out of large areas. I've had friends wander into live fire zones by accident, and dedicated anti-nuclear protestors have breached even the best-patrolled boundaries.
On top of which, Addison Merritt, my protagonist, has local knowledge on her side. She grew up in the town now at the heart of the Zone. She was lucky enough to have been away during the Spill, having snuck out to do a little underage drinking a few towns over. Her parents disappeared that night, but her little sister was one of the few to make it out alive. No one knows how exactly Lexa escaped, because she hasn't spoken a word since. (Well, except to her doll Vespertine, but no one can hear those conversations save you, the lucky reader.)
Like any good urban explorer, Addison takes only photographs from the Zone, and leaves only footprints—or rather, motorcycle tracks, thanks to Ms. Filatova. Her photos are illegal enough that she has to sell them secretly, to collectors who keep her originals hidden and (mostly) uncopied, more like the Victorian pornography trade than the modern art world.
Then one day one of her collectors asks her to bring an object back from the Zone, something very specific and unthinkably dangerous. And Addison must decide whether to break her principal rule: Never Get off the Bike.
Working with me to make the world inside the Spill Zone alien and unsettling are artist Alex Puvilland (Templar, Prince of Persia) and colorist Hilary Sycamore (Battling Boy, The Shade). Together, they've created a world that's both alien and beautiful, and characters that look like they belong in the hardscrabble upstate Zone towns that some downstaters still call "Tawana Brawley country."
Despite all its other influences, what I've hoped to create most of all is captured in a line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (S1E12), about seeing a room of people killed by vampires: "And when I walked in there, it . . . it wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun."