In anticipation of their appearance this weekend at Toronto Comicon I spoke with Andy Belanger and Becky Cloonan about their new series from Image Comics, Southern Cross.
The comic’s title is the name of an enormous space shuttle that brings passengers to Saturn’s moon Titan, where Alex Braith’s sister Amber died mysteriously. Alex is traveling to the oil rig where Amber worked to figure how (or why) her sister died. But Braith has secrets of her own, and so do the others on the ship.
The first issue, released on March 11, introduces the characters as well as the spooky atmosphere that hangs over everyone aboard the ship. The creators talked to me about the horror/sci-fi genre, the comic’s aesthetic, the comics industry’s slow shift toward equality, and which character in this comic is the sexiest.
Like myself, Andy Belanger is a self-professed “horror movie fanatic,” and feels that (with some notable exceptions) there aren’t very many good options in the sci-fi/horror subgenre. After drawing swords and chainmail for years for the hugely successful series Kill Shakespeare, Belanger wanted to create an “ode to the summer of 1982” when movies like Blade Runner, TRON, and The Thing hit the box office.
Before seeking a writer for the series, Belanger spent a year and a half honing in on the series aesthetic. For the eponymous Southern Cross spaceship, he wanted to use a “lo-fi” look to create a setting “that people really felt.” He referenced old WWII bombers and ocean liners as well as computer systems from the 1970s, which lend the ship a sense of familiarity that makes it feel like it doesn’t take place in a too-distant future.
Even the fashion feels familiar, with a mix of contemporary fashions and homage to superhero comics of the ‘90s, so be on the lookout for lots of tech, pockets, and pouches. Belanger wanted to integrate Jim Lee-style head accessories and ended up drawing a Gambit look-alike into the comic. “I tried giving him a moustache, but then he just became Forge,” he joked.
He then sang praises of Lee Loughridge’s fantastic colour work. With a flat and moody colour scheme, Belanger was blown away by colours that not only contributed to the atmosphere, but are enough to tell a story alone.
After working on the aesthetic elements, it was time to bring in a writer. Cloonan had some ideas for a “Lovecrafty” mystery set on an old ocean liner that turned out to work well with Belanger’s designs.
Yet Cloonan pointed out that this isn’t just “an old-timey story thrown into space;” they thought through the science of their world (“bogus science obviously,” joked Cloonan). They asked themselves practical questions about life on the Southern Cross like “what kind of food would you eat in space, what kind of drugs would you do in space,” and their collaborative world-building is obvious in their debut issue.
The first six issues were imagined as a self-contained story taking place on the ship. Despite its size, Belanger worked to convey the Southern Cross as a claustrophobic space and promises that the oppressive atmosphere will continue beyond the first arc, when the mystery will start to go beyond the Braith sisters. Their relationship will form the core of the series, as we learn more about their history and what made Alex the black sheep of the family.
Cloonan admits that readers will find Braith a difficult protagonist, but promises that we’ll learn about her history and understand what made her this way. As for the rest of the characters, don’t expect too much development for them just yet. We’ll learn more about them and their conflicting agendas, but only through Alex’s eyes.
The second arc, starting with issue 7, will expand the mystery and will open the character roster a bit. For those like me who want to learn more about the enigmatic Captain Tetsuya Mori (nicknamed “Sexy Mori” by his creators), I’m told we should look forward to issue 3.
A male character positioned (at least partially) for the straight-female gaze isn’t all this comic is doing to appeal to a wider audience. Cloonan said she wants her work to feel “true and honest” which means that she writes what she knows. While not in any sense autobiographical, the story definitely draws from some of Cloonan’s experiences, and for his part Belanger had imagined the series focusing on girls from the beginning.
Cloonan lauded the comics industry for taking strides toward inclusivity, for having important conversations, even if they can be frustrating. She believes that these conversations will “make a healthy industry,” especially with the increasing diversty of voices in comics today who are “bringing everything they have to the table.” Southern Cross is already a unique voice from some of the industry’s top talent, and with a diverse cast in place, it’s a part of that diverse and exciting future.
If you’re in Toronto, pop by Belanger and Cloonan’s panel on Southern Cross at Toronto Comicon, or come to the comic’s launch party at the Silver Snail this Saturday. If you can’t make the event, be sure to check out the comic’s Tumblr, where you can already find concept sketches and interviews.
//Images via Image Comics and the Southern Cross Tumblr page