Escape Atlantis’ Bootheel With Undertow Creators Steve Orlando and Artyom Trakhanov

If you’ve kept up with the site then you know I’ve been a fan and supporter of Undertow. It’s a mini-series published by Image Comics and created by Steve Orlando and Artyom Trakhanov. The fourth issue of the six issue mini released this past week putting us on the downhill of the volume as it comes to a conclusion. I had the chance to talk to both creators via email; about what makes Undertow different from other Atlantis based stories and how they became creative partners and tons of great art that they’ve shared with us. Grab a seat and let’s dive into Undertow!

DUSTIN: For those that still haven’t checked out Undertow can you tell us about the series?

STEVE: Undertow is a no holds barred Sci-Fi adventure straight out of Jodorowsky or Herbert. We're not holding anything back! This is a modern, technological Atlantis full of all of the jealousy and corruption of today. The social trap. The money trap. The family trap.

Redum Anshargal is the way out. He crews a massive ship thousands of people strong that explores the surface world to escape Atlantis's bootheel. Like the pilgrims of old, they are pioneers in an unseen world, facing down savage humans, overdeveloped primal beasts, and one urban myth that has built himself into the insane God the Land. This is lasers, crazy tech, adventurers in watertight landsuits going places you've never seen Atlantis go before.

ARTYOM: Our comic book tells the story of the persecution of Atlantis’s worst enemy, and his struggle to build a life for his crew of free thinkers. But for me, the book isn’t important so much for the actual sequence of events as for its spirit. So I can say that Undertow, at its heart, is a story about free people, beckoning back to the spirit of the pioneers. History is full of losses and hardship, those who suffer, those who want a new life for themselves and their descendants. This is something that is in the hearts of many people, no matter if they have gills, or not.

Issue #4 Preview

DUSTIN: The concept of an underwater society isn’t a new one so what about Undertow made you want to pursue it creatively?

STEVE: It was the chance to imagine it as a modern society. We have seen Atlantis before, you're right. But the majority, even when it's the present day, treat it like a monarchy, with a sea king ruling over citizens in a nation that stands by a world dominated by democracy.

So in Undertow, those times happened too, but they were hundreds of years, or thousands of years ago, just like the monarchies in most of our nations. Now Atlantis is a nation stretching through the sea, completely modernized with technology as advanced as ours is, and adapted to an underwater world. This is Atlantis as you've never seen it before, chock full of a completely new race that evolved instead of humans, with all the passions, revenge, and fury that drive us today.

I wanted to figure out how all that would work! What could be done underwater, what couldn't, tech and lifestyle wise? And how could they achieve the same things we want, or that they would want, in a different way underwater? It was all about problem solving, invention, and a challenge for Artyom and I to give these rebels and city dwellers lives deeper and truer than we have seen in these alien faced fish people ever before.

ARTYOM: This comic sucked me in with two main things: its unusual satire (the idea to critique modern consumer society with the help of comic book Atlantean mythology captured my attention!) and the adventures of Atlantis on the surface. When I imagined all the possibilities the story opened up for me as an artist, I literally melted. Technologically advanced beings living under the water, letting us explore the world of such in a relatable way, it’s unbelievable.

Character Designs

DUSTIN: One of the things that I’ve noticed about Undertow while reading it, is that there is a vast history to the world. How much pre-production have you put into the series?

STEVE: So much! Artyom and I planned out everything about the world that we could think of, and it was all question and answer between us, a dialog that forced us to answer the WHY and HOW for every device we created. We know how these Atlantean do pretty much everything, from the profane to the mundane, and most of it will show up, but if it doesn't, trust me, you can see me at a con and ask me anything and I can tell you how they do it. We wanted a world where you could see beneath the surface, and planned Atlantean history back for centuries. It's there for our characters to uncover, along with the readers. This is most likely the only book where you could find out how fish people have children, use electricity (super dangerous), and keep mammoth sea beasts like Raptorial Sperm whales (which may still be alive in this setting) at bay.

ARTYOM: I often imagine the ancient times of this world’s creation, because there are so many moments of the past in which the history of Earth could have gone another way, and landed us in this world. But in this case I prefer a sense of mystery. Steve and I discussed the origins of Atlantis in the beginning, but since then I keep the further details secret from myself. What if the events are taking place in a distant future, in which humanity has moved under the water so long so as to have forgotten the truth, and the remainders have degraded slowly into savages?


DUSTIN: How did you end up working with Artyom Trakhanov on the project?

STEVE: Thank you, Internet! I lived in Russia for a bit, but was unable to track down the heart of the Russian comics scene. It turns out I should have been looking in Siberia! When I returned, I found the amazing webcomic MAD BLADE that Artyom works on (yes! someday we will translate it and drop in all the world). But if you speak Russian, check it out, because it is awesome. ANYWAY I reached out to Artyom about some short stories, and one unreleased western about cannibalistic angel lovechildren & a time travel love-hate revenge epic about a man and his monster later, we talked about Undertow. As soon as I showed him the script, he decided he had to create the world with me. And now I can't imagine the book without him.

DUSTIN: How did you end up working with Steve Orlando on the project?

ARTYOM: One day I received a letter, which I took at first almost for spam. At the time I was not very good at English, and my laziness almost cost me our partnership. Thank God, I still read the letter, which turned out to be from an American writer, very interested in Russian culture and the comic situation in our country! It took a lot more time before we started working on Undertow, but that time gave us an opportunity to understand best how to collaborate. In the interim we worked on short stories to hone our craft, some published, some awaiting the light of day. It’s unfortunate that all have not been published so far, but I still have hope!

Issue #5 Preview

DUSTIN: With the series being just a mini-series now, is there a chance that the future mini-series will be released? And do you know where the story would go after the first arc?

STEVE: Definitely! We would love to return once we have taken a proper cool down lap. And there is definitely more to tell. BUT it's important that the first miniseries be completely satisfying. This isn't MATRIX RELOADED or whatnot. The story of the hunt for the amphibian will wrap by Issue 6. But we have so much more to tell in the story of the books true love triangle - Anshargal, Ukinnu, and Atlantis itself. And like any relationship it's bound to come on hard times, and take down the people caught in its orbit.

ARTYOM: Of course, we would be pleased to continue our story! We have envisioned a course far ahead, and the direction and tone of the story can change dramatically in the next mini-series. It can become something completely different. Our first volume concentrates on the hunt for the Amphibian, but this world is much bigger, and there is much more new and different to see.

Well there you have it. A big thank you to both Steve and Artyom for taking the time to talk with me and be sure to catch up on Undertow which is available digitally as well and look for the fifth issue on sale June 25th.