Comic book creator Phil Jimenez has been an industry staple for three decades. He’s behind an iconic run on Wonder Woman, and recently, his issue of Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons earned him a well-deserved Eisner Award. Add to that The Invisibles, New X-Men, JLA/Titans, Infinite Crisis, The Amazing Spider-Man, and many, many more, and you have quite the legendary resume.
Back in 2006, he created his own universe with the science-fantasy series Otherworld for Vertigo. Now, over fifteen years later, he’s reimagined that series as The Wild Choir for Zestworld. We got the chance to talk with Jimenez about recreating his vision for the 2020s, and how it’s both changed and stayed the same.
Nerdist: For all of our readers that are unfamiliar with the original Otherworld, what’s your “back of the VHS box” synopsis for what it is? How would you describe it to someone who’s never read it?
Phil Jimenez: So the original Vertigo project, this project is based on, the pitch was, “What if the cast from Lost landed in Middle-earth instead of that island? And what if Middle-earth was at war with TRON?” Basically, the original book was about a group of mostly young people from Los Angeles who were kidnapped and taken to another world, another dimension. And then forced to fight in a war between the two opposing notions of that world. That was the big, big story arc.
And then within that, I got to investigate some stuff that had been brewing in my head. Some big ideas that had been brewing in my head post-9/11 and Gulf War. So I always like to say it was a big idea book. I’m not sure it was a particularly emotional book. I had done Invisibles not too long before that. And I was trying to take some big swings, some of which were successful, some of which were not. But that’s mostly what it was about. It was about groups of friends partitioned in a war, and how they end up choosing their sides, and if they stuck with them or not.
So as you mentioned, the book first came out from Vertigo/DC back in 2006. But I think there was meant to be 12, and only seven of them came out.
Jimenez: Only seven of them came out. They shunted me to Infinite Crisis and then I renegotiated my deal with them. And so I put the book on hold for a very long time.
All these years later, you’re giving it another go. Do you see this as a total do-over? Or is the first one still canon at all?
Jimenez: I see this as a reinvention. There was no way that I could have gone back to that 15 years later and just picked up where I left off. So what I wanted to do was take the elements of that work that I liked, including some of the characters, but regenerate from the ground up. Having had 15 years now to think about it… I wanted to start small, I wanted to start human.
Also, I wanted to start in 2022 as opposed to 2006. A lot has happened in the last 15 years. So the idea was to take the format offered to me by Zestworld and reconfigure the whole thing based on that. And make it small, digestible, easy, and again, focus way more on the human stuff than the big concept stuff, which is pretty, but not very emotional.
You grew up in Southern California. But you moved to New York quite a long time ago. So I definitely think you would agree that you’re more of a New Yorker now. But you based the series cast, both the original and the new one, in Los Angeles. Is there something about this that makes it a California-specific story to you?
Jimenez: This first chapter, this first book is in Southern California. Partially because the lead character is loosely based on my mother. But further stories, assuming they continue, because there are five distinct chapters, will take place in different places. The next one… thinking about it, also takes place partially in Los Angeles. Because this story has a lot to do with gay Mexican folks. And so in my head, there’s a lot of Mexican tradition, including my family, that’s sort of rooted in Southern California.
So this series obviously deals with other dimensions. Now, was there anything specific you grew up with that dealt with other dimensions that inspired it? I know you mentioned Lost. Obviously, as you grew up with DC Comics stuff, other dimensions are a big thing in that cosmology.
Jimenez: Oh sure. I mean the Dungeons and Dragons (’80s cartoon) was the full-on inspiration for this. A bunch of kids suddenly swept away to a magical land. I mean the original Otherworld, the stuff that this material is based on, was so much about me plucking from childhood, including that cartoon. That was a big one. But to be fair, the very first one that ever stuck in my head was Chronicles of Narnia. You go through the back of a closet and you’re suddenly in a universe.
Also, actually, to be fair, the precursor of all this, of course in my childhood was the Land of the Lost. You go over the waterfall and you’re suddenly sucked into a different world with a different dimension, with different rules. And the thing I always loved about Land of the Lost was, even though it’s a children’s show, because they had all these sci-fi writers, there were all these internal rules about the way the world worked. I thought that was very cool. So the idea of being taken and sucked away and shoved somewhere, that’s pretty genre. But it’s something that clearly appeals to me as an idea.
But what is it about magic versus science as a concept that drew you in? Was it from coming from comic books growing up?
Jimenez: No, no, no. The original material that I based this on, I rooted very specifically in post 9/11, Iraq War readings, where they suddenly positioned the world into basically two forces. And it was religious fundamentalism on one side, and then a kind of soulless, unfettered capitalism on the other. It was kind of like the evils of technology versus the evils of fundamentalism. So magic and science ultimately became metaphors for those ideas. That’s kind of what I want.
And then a lot of the readings I was doing were basically saying that the problem with religion and the problem with science, when we talk about those two warring ideas, is that they solve different problems. They solve different human problems. And our constant need to meld them or make them work, dilutes both of them. I’m not a religious person at all, but I know a lot of people who are, and clearly, belief systems are huge around the world. And the notion of finding meaning in cold science is very hard for people. But I wanted to explore at the time was, what was being positioned by all these media outlets, is essentially the great culture war and who was going to win it. And so magic and technology became perfect visual metaphors for that.
You said in a statement that this series “was tackling everything from war to religious fundamentalism through the lens of a racially and sexually diverse cast.” Now, we both know that meant something totally different in 2006 than it does today. So how has everything that has happened, changed the story for you?
Jimenez: Well, certainly I’ve grown up. Even, I never stop growing and changing or evolving or learning. So a lot of what I’ve learned is sort of pieced in these characters. Most of the characters we’ll be seeing in the first run of the stuff are new. And my hope is that there will be a little, they’ll be more dimensional than the ones from the original Otherworld. They were based on people I knew, and I built them to be archetypes in a hero’s journey.
And these that I’m using now will be less wedged into story where they need to be. And I’m hoping that they will dictate how the stories go. But I’ve learned a lot about particularly sex and gender representation. I think that will be way more interesting than racial representation. I think is, my sense of racial representation is still, it’s not dissimilar to what it was many, many years ago.
And the other thing that I’ve interested in personally, honestly, is I would say Latinx representation, which is not such a thing for me 15 years ago. And it’s really something for me now. So the next big chapter of this book is all about that across three generations. And that’s partially based on my family and some experiences I’ve had. But that, if anything, is what’s changed, is my interest in that particular part of race and sexual politics, which I feel, at least for me, I’ve not explored a lot in comics.
Now you’ve worked with a lot of other great creators on different books in your career, but I think one of the best creative partnerships you’ve ever had is Grant Morrison. You both made the Invisibles together, and it was incredible.
Jimenez: I learned the most working from Grant. Because they had more ideas pouring out of their little finger, as the expression goes, than I will ever have in my whole life. And because they are a genius, and because they love the stuff so much. They l ove the medium of comics, it just pours through everything they do. They are also a messy writer, which I love because I’m the same. And I mean, they just make big swings, and most of the time, it’s great.
So does this version of the story have an endpoint in mind? Or do you see it as something that could go on and on?
Jimenez: So I have both. I have an ending if it needs one. And what I really, really would like it to be, eventually is a place for young people to come and create their own otherworlds and different worlds. I just want to start it. And in a perfect world, that’s what it will be, eventually. Just let it go, and let people add to it and build on it and sort create and maybe teach through that as well. So this is just a little start to get something going. If it needs to wrap, it can wrap. But in an ideal world, it will find a different life with different otherworlds from other creators of all types.
The first chapter of The Wild Choir, “She Used to Be Me, Part 1”, is now available for Phil’s paid subscribers here. Paid subscribers get exclusive early access to new chapters for a two-week period, after which they become free to read for anyone who visits Zestworld.