Q. Why is Salvage Zone 1 described as a “journey into the surreal heart of darkness that is the future”?
TDM. Salvage Zone 1 is essentially a post-apocalyptic story with a surrealist legacy as part of its backdrop. Graphic novels and comics are an amazingly satisfying way to illustrate types of stories that can defy your average traditional novel―especially when there is a surrealistic element to the storytelling. For most people, surrealism is associated with the graphic arts and film, so when attempting to depict surrealist concepts it’s only natural that a more visual technique is used to convey the themes and plotlines I set out to explore in Salvage Zone 1.
Q. Why did you choose a science fiction setting for the story?
TDM. Science fiction is probably the most versatile genre out there. Science fiction can include elements from loads of highly different genres; romance, crime thrillers, westerns, war, spy stories, fantasy― they can all find their way into a science fiction story and this is very liberating for a storyteller.
Furthermore, there is a high degree of speculative license utilised in Salvage Zone 1, especially where ‘conspiracy’ themes are explored, and I think this is best dealt with by portraying possible outcomes in a science fiction setting.
There is a discussion on the world I’ve created in Salvage Zone 1 at the end of the book for those who want to explore this further.
Q. What were your main influences in creating the world of Salvage Zone 1?
TDM. I admit it! I love weird stories and films that go against the norm. But I also love the iconic characters of the great Hollywood westerns and comic book adaptions. I wanted to pay homage to characters like Clint Eastwood’s Man with no Name and the Judge Dredd character of 2000 AD comics. But I also have a huge interest in the history of art and I wanted to include that element in Salvage Zone 1 too.
In the end I decided to juxtapose these two influences by representing the ‘real’ world of Salvage Zone 1 in B&W art, while dipping into colour art to portray events in the dream-like world of the ‘psycho-sphere’. The ‘psycho-sphere’ is where we get to experience the influence of warped art on the story, while the B&W sequences are where all the ‘real’ action takes place.
Because Salvage Zone 1 was going to be released primarily on Amazon Kindle, I developed a variation of the ‘three frame’ per page format to best facilitate the Kindle medium. Salvage Zone 1 is best read on a Kindle, but there are plans to bring the complete series to print when it’s finished.
Q. What writers and artists most influenced the style of Salvage Zone 1?
TDM. Films and TV shows have probably had the greatest influence on me in creating Salvage Zone 1’s look. The story is laid out more as a typical story board for a movie than like your traditional comic book styles. I tend to visualise stories as a series of scenes and this best works as a storytelling device in film, but it also works well with graphic novels. I love Sergio Leon’s spaghetti westerns and often try to stage my ‘frames’ like his camera shots.
As far as writers go, I’m a big fan of Gene Wolfe’s novels and the work of George RR Martin. I think Frank Miller’s work is fantastic and the film adaptions of his graphic novels are amazing. Once again, you can see why film is so important to me when it comes to the writing process, because I think Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboots were classic!
However, I also have to mention Robert E. Howard and his Conan the Barbarian creation as a much older influence. It was actually the Savage Sword of Conan comic/magazine adaption that first introduced me to the Conan character; the artwork and writing in those issues just blew me away as a kid!
But what I was most impressed with back then was the process of world-building that went into the work of the early science fantasy greats. Writers like Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs pioneered this aspect of fantasy writing and I am still endlessly fascinated by the creative process of building fictional worlds―modern video games have continued this tradition and I love what’s happening there too . . .
Q. And the artwork? Who inspired you most in creating Salvage Zone 1’s artwork?
TDM. I’m not a trained illustrator or graphic artist, so I’ve had to wait many years for computer technology to reach a stage where people like me can create artwork that is acceptable for the kind of stories I want to tell.
I use DAZ Studio 3D to create my characters and scenes and then finish them in Photoshop. It’s taken a while to develop a technique and style, but that’s what is so great about the world of comics today―with a little bit of hard work and determination, people like me can produce and publish comics in ways one could only dream about twenty years ago.
When I was at art school, I was most fascinated by the work of the great fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, much to the chagrin of my fellow students and some art teachers. There was also the B&W work of master illustrator John Bescema in Savage Sword of Conan―a black ink effect that I have tried hard to simulate in Salvage Zone 1. Buscema’s work and that of Neal Adams have always been the benchmark for me in what makes a truly great comic book artist. Luckily, computer technology allows someone like me to attempt to do something similar―but it will never be as good as the work of the masters!
Q. Tell us about the characters in Salvage Zone 1.
TDM. The Marshal is the first character you encounter at length in Salvage Zone 1―he’s the guy on the cover! It’s through his experiences that we are introduced to life in Salvage Zone 1. I think anyone with knowledge of British comics will see that the Marshal has a heritage deeply rooted in the same tradition that spawned Judge Dredd―who, in turn, reflects much of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character from the movies. The kind of anti-sheriff characteristics that made Dirty Harry and Judge Dredd such iconic characters was a huge influence in the creation of the Marshal.
Then there’s Miss Shiloh ‘Meanie Boots’, a cyborg/clone faction leader in the war on slavery that’s taking place in Salvage Zone 1. She’s a freaky looking doll-like creature with a penchant for garish ballet gear―and huge stomping boots! Her runny goth-like makeup calls to mind Batman’s psychotic nemesis the Joker; she has a nasty streak!
The main villain is the clone of a long-dead criminal called Dr. Zaroff―he has some deep seated psychological issues which make him ideal as Salvage Zone 1’s main slave trader. The film The Most Dangerous Game featured a character called Count Zaroff, and he is also a major influence.
We are also introduced to a strange futuristic device called the Psycho-Sphere Simulator, a biological female-like machine that is our connection into the dreamlike ‘psycho-sphere’. She is crucial to narrating much of Salvage Zone 1’s overall plot.
Some historical characters like the surrealist artists Man Ray and Lee Miller also have major roles to play in the story. And then there is also the role of the historical suspect in the killing of Elizabeth Short.
Q. Without giving the plot away, it seems that associating surrealist art with acts of murder is a pretty extreme position. Why is the Black Dahlia murder from 1947 so central to the plot in Salvage Zone 1?
TDM. After I published ‘Saturn Death Cult’ as an investigation into the occult origins of ritual murder, a lot of people asked me for historical examples of the Saturn Death Cult in action―that is, examples of ritual murder. While it’s pretty easy to point to the more lurid and sensational examples of Satanist-inspired ritual killings, I did discover what to me was a more frightening example of ritual murder in our modern world―the murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles in 1947, best known as the ‘Black Dahlia’ murder.
This was a killing that didn’t have anything to do with religion or illuminati-type beliefs, but it did have all the hallmarks of ritualistic abuse after a prescribed pattern―surrealism.
The shocking dismemberment displayed in the Black Dahlia slaying has a distinctly surrealist signature that points to the mindset of Elizabeth Short’s murderer. The surrealist connection has been discussed in a number of books, the best being Exquisite Corpse by Nelson and Bayliss and the investigation by author Steve Hodel in his book Black Dahlia Avenger. In fact, Steve Hodel has gone on to produce a number of follow-up books on the subject in which he makes a convincing and startling case for Elizabeth Short’s murderer being his own father, an almost surreal turn of events in itself.
One of the primary keys to Steve Hodel’s case against his father is in understanding the influence that the surrealist artist Man Ray had over his father. This is best understood in terms of ‘thoughtprints’, a new field in forensic psychology that can help establish impulses and motives for murder . . . In this case, the ‘thoughtprints’ of surrealism are all over the Black Dahlia killing and show it to have been a clear influence in the committing of a modern ritual murder.
Q. And that’s why Man Ray and his muse Lee Miller are involved in Salvage Zone 1’s plot?
TDM. Absolutely! The Black Dahlia crime scene was a warped and macabre display of murder as fine art! The dismemberment of the female body has been a central motif in surrealist art and Man Ray and Lee Miller were there at the movement’s inception back in the late 1920s and 1930s. At the end of Salvage Zone 1 I provide an article that discusses why Man Ray and Lee Miller are part of a journey into the mind of a psycho-surreal killer. In the end, I’ve tried to highlight some of the failings in surrealism as a movement by portraying elements of the story in a dreamlike anti-surreal manner.
Q. How does that work? How does the surrealist-inspired motive behind a murder in 1947 get to be in the mind of a character living in the far future?
TDM. Probably the main sub-theme in Salvage Zone 1 is ‘obsession’. I wanted to explore the concept of ‘ideas’ having a life of their own and the ability to infect and propagate themselves down through generations, which is why clones are part of the story.
The obsessive need to express oneself through the act of murder is a pretty extreme example and I wanted to show this psychosis as a kind of ‘DNA’ of its own. If we can leave ‘thoughtprints’ at the scene of a crime, then so we can leave evidence of our ‘thought-DNA’ . . . to coin a term.
This pretty much follows the radical and controversial idea that human consciousness is something that is received rather than generated internally by the brain. It opens up the possibility that some humans are more attuned to receiving distorted signals than others . . . and that clones will replicate this process down through time. I’ve explored this theme in my novella Drosselmeyer, a story with a contemporary setting which acts as a kind of precursor to the future world of Salvage Zone 1.
Q. Is this what the so-called psycho-sphere in Salvage Zone 1 is all about?
TDM. Yeah! It’s the speculation that human consciousness exists as a growing field of energy and each human is a unique receiver of energies from that field. According to this, the ‘psycho-sphere is a vast field of existing human consciousness that our physical selves are programmed to tap into. This field can influence groups of humans, and it can influence individuals . . . all differently according to their individual ‘DNA’ tuning. The theory is that the psycho-sphere’s input forms us as individuals and shapes our responses to the material world.
In Salvage Zone 1 I hint at the idea of clone regeneration as the mechanism for accessing some of the more frightening ideas that are stored in the psycho-sphere―ideas that can transcend the passage of time through our regenerated DNA.
Q. Is this why slavery is a theme in Salvage Zone 1?
TDM. Slavery is an important theme in Salvage Zone 1 and it will be developed as the series progresses. Slavery is the murder of freedom and it fits in well with a world where murder is a way of life. This is related to the theme of ‘law’ as a way of regulating certain ideas like slavery, ideas which only spread misery and suffering.
Q. So, do you believe in conspiracy theories?
TDM. Only the ones that are true. (Ha!) But seriously, while some conspiracy theories have become conspiracy fact, I believe it’s a matter of keeping your mind open to the rational possibilities posed by whatever conspiracy theory you encounter while also guarding against the more sensationalist claims that are out there.
Of course, the whole field of conspiracy theory is open to interpretation, and what is considered by some as rational investigation is slammed by others as ‘kookery’.
My own foray into the ‘conspiracy sphere’ (Saturn Death Cult) has received the full range of responses, so I know how subjective this field is. But, yes, I do believe there are people out there, powerful and connected people, who would like to see humanity treated as a virus―a virus that needs to be eliminated . . .
Out now on Amazon Kindle!