How do you create a graphic novel set in a dystopian future?

Visual art inspires engagement with the cosmos. Science fiction writing is equally motivating. Graphic novels, a combination of both art forms, draw on the strengths of both. They tell interesting stories and bring those stories to life with compelling visuals. We spoke to Ben Mauro, the creator of HUXLEY™, a post-apocalyptic graphic novel set in space. He shares with us the origins of his project, how it relates to his previous work, and his tips for fellow creatives. 

What is HUXLEY™ and where did the idea for it come from?

HUXLEY™ is a post-apocalyptic graphic novel about two scavengers who find an ancient robot and get swept up in an adventure that could change the fate of the galaxy as they know it. The seed of the idea was developed when I created the yellow robot character named Huxley back in 2014. After that I started to write and kick around ideas while I was working on other films and games for my clients. Around 2016 was when I officially started on graphic novel pages and brought the story to life. 

For many years I kept telling myself, “After THIS project, I will take some time to work on Huxley.” With film work being what it is, though, there were always other cool projects coming up and HUXLEY™ kept getting delayed as I worked on them. At one point, I realized nothing would ever get done if I didn’t just start on it. After that, I figured out a way to make it work. I created pages during my nights and weekends while I worked for other people. It was hard at first, as I really wanted to take my time and plan out everything more extensively. The nature of the demanding entertainment industry meant that would never happen. 

I didn’t know what the whole story was, but I knew what the first few pages looked like in my head. So, I just started on Page 1. After those were done, I knew what happened after that and I kept going. After a while, I had 15 pages done, then 30, then 60, etc. It all started with me committing and sitting down to make Page 1, and then going from there. The project is very rooted in and influenced by a lot of my French and Japanese art heroes from when I was growing up – Otomo, Mobeius, Terada, and Miyasaki. All the while, I try to craft an interesting story and adventure for readers.  

How does HUXLEY™ relate to your previous work, such as what you did on Elysium and Halo Infinite?

Aside from the genre being science fiction, I don’t think it relates very much at all from a design standpoint to my previous projects. That was actually part of the goal for the project from the start. After so many years working on established projects for big directors and game studios, you get a little fatigued of the same tropes or creating the same type of artwork with the same couple of techniques over and over. I needed some sort of outlet that was just for me to balance things out. HUXLEY™ came partially from a need to have something to work on that was the opposite of everything I was being asked to do for my clients, going back to my roots and the things I loved growing up. 

From a story and theme standpoint, many of my projects take place in the future and tell stories about the struggles of humanity trying to survive amongst the stars, far in the future. As someone who grew up on a healthy dose of science fiction books, movies, and anime, this sort of setting is always a very exciting challenge for me. I like to imagine interesting stories to tell in this future landscape. Even though it doesn’t relate much to the other projects I have worked on in the past, the skills I learned working for other people and building their movies and game universes from the ground up have been hugely important. I don’t think I could have made HUXLEY™ without all those years of world-building universes. For HUXLEY™, I had to design the characters, creatures, environments, props, vehicles, and more for the entire project. After doing this multiple times for other people, it was pretty straightforward doing it for myself.

What advice do you have for fellow creatives interested in doing space-themed work?

Don’t let your great ideas wither away. Write them down, make a plan, and start creating today. Whether you are a writer, an artist, a filmmaker, or some other type of creative person, it can feel daunting and overwhelming to start. For me, it helped to break things down into little pieces so every day and week, I just had to focus on smaller manageable pieces that were easier to tackle. I could tell myself, “Ok, I just need to finish pages 58 and 59 this week”. 

I would also recommend researching and thinking about all the things you love. Surround yourself with inspiration and dive in! It also helps to absorb and understand what’s been done before, not only in entertainment, but in humanity’s explorations on Earth and in space. Study what humanity has discovered and explored in our Solar System. Learn about the current and future projects of NASA, SpaceX, and other private-sector companies. Then turn the clock forward 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years into the future. There are so many amazing things to contemplate just in doing that exercise. There are so many scenarios and possible stories to tell about where humanity may go in the not too distant and also in the far future. 

What sort of struggles might we have to undergo as a civilization on Earth with colonies on other planets? How will we address dwindling resources? Will we even get far enough to deal with such issues? Time will tell what actually ends up happening. For now, though, we can use our abilities to create things to inspire the world and help people dream about tomorrow.