Metaphor Over Metaphysics: An Interview With Jeremy Sorese, Creator Of Curveball
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Jeremy Sorese, the creator of BOOM’s Steven Universe Series, just finished a bi-coastal book tour for his graphic novel Curveball (Nobrow Press 2015). This debut chronicles unrequited love amidst the dissolution of a futuristic society, in which citizens can barely brew a cup of coffee without the aid of robot butlers. The plot smacks, however, of 21st century romance: agony over text exchanges on a souped-up Google Glass-esque device, for example. Sorese captures the unspectacular side of a breakup: the lingering, unsexy, weep-all-day-under-the-covers part. A tumultuous sci fi society of explosions and burning cities takes a back seat to quiet emotional catastrophe.
Sorese took some time out of his busy tour schedule, during which he got stuck on a Greyhound for thirteen hours due to a mudslide, to chat about his new creation.
Liz von Klemperer: How’s the tour going? Have you had any interesting reactions to the book?
Jeremy Sorese: The tour was really really lovely. After having spent so much of the last year feeling cooped up getting the book done in time, having the flexibility, the freedom, to leave my real life behind me and disappear for two weeks was wonderful. The stress of being an artist, especially one who makes a living with their work, can be exhausting (especially when you consider how lucky you are to get to do that and want to be as grateful as possible), so to have the only goal for each day to be just see whatever you can and meet whoever you can was nourishing.
On the second day of my tour, while visiting San Francisco, I was walking through Golden Gate Park on my way to the De Young museum and someone stopped to tell me how much they had loved my book. They found a copy in a book store and, after a quick internet search, found my plethora of selfies while looking into more of my work. It was a startling moment for me, a reminder of just how easily the internet allows us to make connections but also a reminder about the power of making work, the benefits of continuously putting yourself out there, not to try and make quote unquote important work but rather to help you connect with the people in your life, open yourself up to be known a little more intimately than we are in our daily lives.
LvK: This is your first full-length graphic novel (congrats!) What sorts of unexpected challenges did you encounter? Can you take us through a typical day of creating Curveball?
JS: Having spent so long creating Curveball, a little over four and a half years, many of the sections of the book had largely different feelings, tones, having been drawn at various times in my life, which had to be smoothed out while I was inking the pages over the past year. Like the different strata of a rock formation, the book is definitely a testament to the amount of growth I’ve done as a person in my early twenties. I haven’t looked through the book since I first received final copies back in October, but only with that quick glance, each section of the book felt so tied to certain times, places, people I’ve known that seeing it all as one object, a book, was strange for me.
Making peace with the book I made has been the biggest challenge for me. Nobrow was only involved with the creation of the book for the last year and a half. Up until that point, it had been all me, slowly chipping away at this mountain I was climbing. There was a lot of comfort in that, steadily working on something that I didn’t know would ever see the light of day. It’s nice to endlessly tweak something, it’ll always be perfect when it doesn’t exist. So seeing the blemishes, the different geologic ages, has been important for me to accept, because this will be how every book I make will ultimately feel. The enjoyment is in the creation, not the completion.
LvK: At first glance, Curveball seems to be set in a dystopia in which human reliance on machines leads to the ultimate destruction of a city. In an interview with The Comics Journal, however, you say that the setting is utopian. Can you expand on this?
JS: Science fiction, especially mainstream blockbuster science fiction, approaches the worlds their well publicized characters occupy as these horrific oppressive worlds that the characters, and by extension ourselves, can see as a problem worth overthrowing. Of course burning books is bad. Of course having teenagers kill one another for sport is bad. Of course having sentient robots take over the world is bad. We, as viewers, get to feel pretty good about ourselves after seeing the good guys save the day.
With Curveball I tried to make a world that felt optimistic, hopeful, but also delusional, the same way that my life living here in the United States often feels. We ignore so much to try and let ourselves be happy, putting our needs and wants over the greater good to dizzying effect. Unlike science fiction that hinges on a big reveal to show the digression of society (Soylent Green being people for example) I wanted something that never had that moment of discovery. The book begins in the same way it ends, the society is largely unchanged, things will continue on without much of a difference.
Personally I think what we consider Dystopian is fairly Utopian in terms of being a world with easy answers. Our world is too complicated, too intricately balanced to say that oh, of course, the solution to everything is this or that.
Dystopian and utopian have to go hand in hand, there has to be that contrast. Personally I think what we consider Dystopian is fairly Utopian in terms of being a world with easy answers. Our world is too complicated, too intricately balanced to say that oh, of course, the solution to everything is this or that. Curveball is all about putting on a brave face, muscling through the tough times without letting yourself see the awfulness just below the surface. A utopian city built on top of a dystopian landfill.
LvK: Your characters and robots have a rapport, and their behavior often mirrors each other. For example, the concept of a “snap,” in which an excess of energy accumulates and creates an explosion, mimics Avery’s agonizing fixation with Christophe. Can you tell me about the theme of human machine interconnectedness, as well as “snap” as a metaphor for the human psyche?
JS: Science fiction authors have always bothered me in their insistence to show off just how smart they think they are, how well thought out their worlds are which often means sacrificing plot and character in lieu of something closer to a history textbook. With Curveball, I wanted science fiction that felt human and livable, something closer to metaphor rather than metaphysics.
Truthfully I was more inspired by magical realism than science fiction which, once I realized the parallels between the two genres, it became infinitely more exciting to pull from than the more expected science fiction tropes. Authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even George Saunders use their story tricks to help bridge the gap between larger metaphorical ideas and the world the story takes places in and really emphasize that the way we lead our lives and talk about them, stems from the worlds we inhabit as much as who we are as people. It’s using ‘magic’ less as an imaginary anthropological study and more of a visualization of metaphor, to help redefine meaning which can often be subjective from reader to reader.
What I love about science fiction is that you have to talk about the world surrounding your story. Its easy to forget that politics matter, especially when you are a gay man and everything you make is political, and science fiction is becoming a nice system to work within as a way to check my privilege and my often narrow world view. Science fiction looks to the incredible feats of oh so far away worlds to find excitement (well, at least bad sci fi does) when the fabric of our own worlds are so unknowable, so complicated that looking at them critically easily falls into the category of “science fiction” without much of a leap.
LvK: Much of the book centers around Avery’s lingering heartbreak. They barely come into direct contact with Christophe, the object of their affection, and all pining is done through technology: a coded letter, a mixtape, and old texts. What about this particular stage of romance was compelling to you? Can you comment on the role of technology in modern grief?
JS: When I first started the book I was less interested in telling a kind of story and more content talking about the relationships in my life, capturing feelings I knew all too well. I think in more mainstream media, there is a focus on a more traditional kind of heartbreak, which often feels very heteronormative in how it places a lot of importance on sex and commitment and marriage. Heartbreak that is sad because there was a conclusion never met, a Happily Ever After that came up short.
Only through doing a lot of growing up while making this book have I realized that the idea of normalcy we see in media is completely arbitrary. Curveball is a deeply personal book for me, an experience I lived through and wanted to talk about but always felt burdened by because it didn’t align with the kinds of heartbreak I was seeing in media. Apologizing for your feelings, having to explain why something meant what it did to you should never be a coping mechanism.
We’re all just desperate to be loved and known and recognized for who we are.
Modern grief and technology is a really interesting topic to me, one that I have barely begun to scratch the surface of but hopefully will address more in the future. One of the big influences on Curveball was Pride and Prejudice and how so much of that narrative centers around letter writing. With Curveball, I wanted that same feeling in the narrative, to really focus on the awful wait we experience while pining for someone. I suspect grief and longing and feelings and how we express them haven’t changed throughout the ages despite what older people claim about the next generation. We’re all just desperate to be loved and known and recognized for who we are.
LvK: The protagonist, Avery, uses they/them pronouns. Speaking from personal experience, writing gender queer/gender fluid characters can be a challenge, as using accurate pronouns often subverts conventional grammar. Was this an obstacle for you? If so, how and how did you approach it? What advice do you have for writers/creators who want to write gender queer/fluid characters?
JS: The decision to give Avery non-binary pronouns was as much a decision to help redefine their character as well as call myself out on my clumsiness to recognize the lives of others outside of my own experience. The number of times I’ve put my foot in my mouth over they/them pronouns, not just in their use but in my own inability to recognize them in casual conversation has been a personal problem which I hoped to remedy by forcing myself to confront it in my work.
…it felt right to have Avery be sexless, to take back something of their own life from the scrutiny and questions love often brings out of other people.
The way in which I drew Avery, even giving them a gender neutral name without realizing, was something I had been skirting around for most of the project without coming to a decisive conclusion. Coming out of the closet felt so dramatic when it happened in my life, acknowledging not only my body and its wants but also specifying other bodies, other needs. I felt exposed, for lack of a better term. So for me, when constructing this narrative that already felt so personal, so intimate, it felt right to have Avery be sexless, to take back something of their own life from the scrutiny and questions love often brings out of other people.
For me, looking to the future and the projects I’d like to one day tackle, I’m really hoping to push myself further in thinking critically about tropes we assume to be ‘true’. I count myself very lucky to be surrounded by so many incredibly talented and smart folks who constantly remind me of how much is still left to be accomplished. At one point, the seemingly never-ending list of societal oppressions and problematic ideas we as creators need to maneuver around felt impossible but as I’ve grown into a role where this conscientiousness feels more comfortable, I am continuously excited to be challenged by the world around me. I am at a loss for the way in which life opens up to reveal something you could’ve never have imagined, whether that be a person or a way in which they think or view the world around them. As a creator, this is what’s exciting to me. To see the world and honor it the best way I know how.