Metal Society - Interview The Nerdy Basement

Metal Society: Interview with Zack Kaplan and Guilherme Balbi

Metal Society is an Image Comics run by Zack Kaplan and Guilherme Balbi. The story follows a human, Rosa, and a robot, WOL, in their quest for dominance. In an inverted future, evolved robots have resurrected humans for manual labor.

When a tribalistic cultural clash breaks out, a fearless human fighter and a frustrated, displaced robot will square off in a public MMA-style sport fight of epic stakes to determine once and for all who reigns supreme: man or machine.

The Nerdy Basement had the fantastic opportunity to sit down with the creators and pick their brains over the series. If you want an insight into the series, 4 out of 5 issues have been released with the finale set for the 7th of September 2022.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: First question for you both: What would you want your last meal to be? You can include drinks.

ZACK KAPLAN: A nice steak and an old-fashioned.

GUILHERME BALBI: That was a great question,…I think…, because this question is difficult, which would be rice with shrimp, I love it!

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Both are very simple yet satisfying meals! Despite themes that I will mention later, the basic premise of Metal Society is Man vs Machine. Immediately, audiences and readers draw similarities between it and iRobot or Real Steel or even a Blade Runner/Rocky mashup. How do you feel Metal Society differs from those stories?

ZACK: I think a lot of stories in the pantheon that deal with robots in control of the world usually look at malevolent robots trying to destroy or enslave humans, whether Terminator or The Matrix. The robot stories that show the humanity in robots usually show them as new to the world and persecuted by humans, stories like Ex Machina or Westworld. I found it fascinating to consider a world in which robots were the dominant ruling class but also quite human.

This is the world of Metal Society, and by bringing extinct humans back into the fold to co-exist in a world with human-like robots, it gives us a platform to explore humanity’s relationship with itself, and how we handle division and the fear of the other in our society. The fight drama just acts as a channel to explore the bigger fight in society.

GUILHERME: Metal Society is beyond all that in my opinion, it’s clear the similarity with these works, but let’s go beyond most people are looking for Robots and Humans, but they don’t “see”; …human created the robots in their image and likeness to later understand what was wrong with humanity, it’s strange to think like that, but it’s the human way of doing things, we don’t just take action after the problem gets serious.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Speaking of film, who would you cast in the title roles of Rosa or WOL-421313 or Abe?

ZACK: There are so many great actresses and actors who could explore these roles. I’m not sure we’ve seen our Rosa yet in film or TV. I think WOL has to be played by someone with a lot of empathy and understanding, perhaps a Chris Evans. I always thought of Oscar Isaac.

GUILHERME: Rosario Dawson is a steadfast actress. I loved her in how Gail in Sin City and Death Proof, I think it would have a “right” tone. And for WOL I think it would be Cillian Murphy, I thought of him creating WOL.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: I also had Rosario Dawson in mind and agree with an empathetic persona with a strong presence—Cillian Murphy is a great choice for WOL. The story touches on humans (described as greedy, self-involved and horrible) destroying the planet. This is obviously something that we see in current times with pollution etc. What do you think would be a “quick” solution to combat the deterioration of Earth’s natural environment?

GUILHERME: Always education. I live in a country where the general population doesn’t think about the next; think as it suits you. In my opinion, I don’t like that. Doing good for others, education is fundamental and the basis for putting a little brake on human nature.

ZACK: I’m a lot more cynical than Guilherme. I don’t think there is a quick solution, and I believe we are headed for centuries of climate collapse until we invent the technology to restore our planet or our planet gets rid of us. But maybe that’s just the sci-fi writer in me.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: It is certainly something that feels out of our control now because of the damage done in decades past. Hopefully education can inform current and future generations. But leaning further into that, In terms of a cleaner future or one depicted in Metal Society, where do you see our current civilization heading?

ZACK: I think civilization is a pendulum. We’ve been enjoying a pretty stable upward swing in terms of humanity’s overall ability to thrive. I think the pendulum is swinging the other way now, and I don’t know how far it will swing, but I think we’re in for some dark times in the next century. Maybe we will do ourselves in or maybe those pesky robots will save us? I think the world of Metal Society is very possible.

GUILHERME: Well, I don’t know for sure about this, but I see that each time reaching the limit, the demand for drinking water, energy and food is increasing, and the most important thing is that we have the condition to reverse it, we can! But the advantage and many are in the hands of few, that’s not very fair, it’s just my opinion. The search for new technologies already having an impact on the planet is cruel what we do here, but in my view we haven’t been here for long.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Demand and dark times! We definitely have some sci-fi thinkers here haha! Unfortunately, I have to agree. When you’re in the mechanical realm it’s all blue and grey and white but if the focus is on the humans you’re subjected to an influx of oranges, reds and browns. This is clearly a purposeful decision but why those colours, and was it a decision of the writer’s desk or Marco Lesko (the colorist)?

ZACK: Yes, Marco Lesko does a brilliant job with differentiating the design of the robot and human world. This is something Marco and I spoke about before he began, and we both wanted to create two different palettes to show the dichotomy between these different peoples.

We saw the robots as cold and clean and thus a cool palette of blues and greens and greys complimented this energy, while a brown and red and warm color approach supported the human’s passion and grit. It really was a collaborative creative exploration that Marco and I came up with together. It was also important to show variety in the robots, to show that they were unique and varied, very human-like in this way.

GUILHERME: I really don’t know for this question, but it seemed like a wonderful idea, to point out the difference between the two worlds.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Starting a human life at college age. What implications or benefits do you see with that?

ZACK: I actually see more drawbacks and negatives. I think childhood gives humans a chance to learn, fail and discover themselves. The structure of parenthood is a magical relationship found throughout nature and obviously life benefits from it.

But yes, in Metal Society, these humans are being engineered without those benefits and thrust into a very complicated world. We assume that by the time they are working that they are acting at least like teenagers in the mature bodies, but it does raise some interesting questions about how these humans see the world. Hopefully, readers enjoy that aspect.

GUILHERME: Being born at an advanced age would be the same as being born at a younger age, right? Starting from scratch, and with a memory and physical conditioning better than a baby, but mentally you are a child, it takes time to learn, that would be the bad part.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Guilherme, the artwork of Metal Society is exquisite. I was awestruck by the detail of the robot designs, human facial features as well as within the landscapes and city backdrops. How long would it take you to draw a typical issue?

GUILHERME: Thanks =), drawing robots really is a challenge, to make an edit I usually take about 30 days counting layouts and final art

ZACK: I would just like to add how incredible a job Guilherme does with this world and these characters. It’s an immense amount of world-building and character work, one moment we have these cityscapes and another moment it’s a close-up of Rosa. Guilherme really guides us through this world effortlessly!

THE NERDY BASEMENT: I couldn’t agree more. Those details assist us in seeing the nature in which the robots work together—harmonious and logical—yet they also have the human nature of questioning existence, sadness, and even love. From an almost “behind-the scenes” perspective, do you see this as an evolutionary trait or something that was built into the robots originally?

ZACK: I believe robots are currently being “raised” to mirror their creators, and this aspect will remain as a central aspect of their DNA. What they are not programmed with, they will adapt and evolve. So yes, I think that their understanding of nature and balance and love will manifest given the right circumstances. Our goal was to show them as human as a robot could be.

GUILHERME: M.S Robos are a mirror of humanity, if questioning about love and sadness is a point, the problem is when it interferes with the social harmony of robots, … it interferes with ours, money is power, “Give the power to man, and discover who he really is Machiavelli” this will end humanity one day.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: I really enjoyed the way the design of the comic utilizes the panels in the fight sequences. You see an opponent’s head cracked over the gutter between panels. And beyond that, there is a distinct difference between movement styles within the fight sequences, for example, WOL’s are sleek and calculated whereas Rosa’s are gritty and powerful. From an artistic technical point of view, what strategies do you use to evoke that sense of difference?

GUILHERME: Thanks again,… well I followed Zack’s advice here. I watched almost ALL the MMA/UFC fights in a month before starting the fights in the magazine. Humans are even philosophically flawed in many ways, but their bruises are like less than perfect machines, in this case, robots. WOL is perfect, he doesn’t get tired, he analyzes and plans his movements, that’s why I draw straighter angles for the machines.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Art imitating life to the truest form! One of the underlying themes comes from this quote: “A LIFEFORM COMPLETES A FUNCTION; THEY DESERVE THE EQUAL REWARD ENTITLED TO ALL OTHER LIFEFORMS.” There are obvious similarities here with historical events like Apartheid. Without readers having an ending yet, was this a purposeful decision? How does this resonate with you about recent history?

GUILHERME: Zack could answer more precisely here,.. but the situation presented in M.S is segregation, even stronger here humans created the machines, and the funniest that the machines like the most perfect human mirrors cornered them in ghettos and villages, wrong humanity and robots realized this. Another point is that we invent things all the time, money and power are this, and exactly it separates us to have one more example, Humans create and destroy to a point that they will destroy more than build.

ZACK: Our intention was not to focus on any single moment in history, but rather the pattern in human history in which a society finds itself divided by the haves and the have nots, when we have people dismissed just because of who they are, rather than embraced and valued for being human. Metal Society explores the importance of equality and inclusivity but lets the reader draw parallels to specific moments in history as they so choose. I think readers will find those themes right through to our ending.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Another consistent theme of purpose comes from both robots and humans. What do you think the purpose of life is?

ZACK: Hahaha good god, how should I know? Be good to people, find love and live in the moment.

GUILHERME: The two could live in harmony actually, but this is very, VERY utopian in this case, knowing that human nature is destruction, but if robots were to have consciousness, we could have something there, but then it would give a Metal Society 2 not do you agree?

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Haha sorry to get so deep there! Tell me about your creative processes. I’d love to hear about how you two gather ideas and then the tools you use to put it all together. 

ZACK: There are so many facets to the creative process, but I’ll talk about our collaboration together, as well as my collaboration with our amazing colorist Marco Lesko and letterer Troy Peteri. I really like to provide my creative team with as much as possible, so I generate a world bible and detailed treatment/outline of the series, so that they can understand as much of the series’ vision as possible.

I offer lots of movie examples and go hunting for lots of visual references for examples. There are so many important parts that just don’t make it into a script alone. We do a lot of zoom calls, even despite language barriers, to try to talk about how a character or the world might look. I like to ask a lot of questions and always try to find the best choices for the story. Every partnership is different and there’s a natural give and take to find the best forms of communication with every series.

GUILHERME: Zack and I got together to talk about the character designs, and that was great to open my mind, I love to gather references that I like, in this case, Robocop, Neon genesis evangelion among various animes and mangas, (they have a lot of good designs robots) I use photoshop to draw, and sometimes I go for traditional. I like to watch several movies related to the theme which in this case were Ghost in The Shell, Ex Machina and many, many MMA fights.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Before we finish up, can you give any advice to those comic book fans who might want to follow in your footsteps as a writer or artist in this world?

ZACK: There is no easy path, and it can be very hard to build a career as a comic book writer. Just understand that no single comic, or script, or pitch, or project, will get you there. You have to just keep making one good comic after the next and finding the easiest way to share it with as many people as possible. For this reason, starting out, I recommend short comics and using social media and web formats to share your work.

Connect with the comics community and find like-minded creators; support them and they will support you. It can take years and years, and it requires a lot of patience and work, but if you love making comics, you’ll find a way, and if you make some cool stuff, it will get noticed. I think anyway.

GUILHERME: Throughout my career, I have seen talented people who have unfortunately been beaten by the worst path of those who want to enter the industry..themselves. There’s no secret, be a curious person, and always listen that he knows more than you, see, learn, practice, be humble; I’m tired of meeting unreceptive people at conventions and events, unfortunately, there is. I study a lot, take courses and make friends, be polite and always listen.

THE NERDY BASEMENT: Social media is such an interesting tool for finding new creators. Putting yourself out there and being humble is such a fine line to wander but the connection with the community is such a great key takeaway. Final question: What’s on the horizon for you both in terms of work other than the final two issues of Metal Society?

ZACK: I’m currently still working on Dark Horse’s Break Out, Vault Comic’s Mindset and I’m about to release a new time travel adventure series with Scout Comics called Forever Forward, which explores my concerns for humanity’s future. I also have several comics in the works for 2023, although I foresee most of that being announced early next year. It was a joy to work with Guilherme on Metal Society, so I’m sure we’ll cross paths on more comics in the future!

GUILHERME: At the moment Zack and I don’t have anything for the future, still hehe, but working with Zack was wonderful, I loved the script, and drawing a good story makes ALL the difference! Zack is awesome!

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