A Conversation With Dan Abnett – RAI, COVID-19, And The Future Of Comics

Dan Abnett is responsible for creating more than a handful of epic stories during his 30-plus year writing career. Over the past year, he has built out the Valiant Universe with the Fallen World mini-series and the relaunch of Rai. During this crazy time in history, a rainy Friday afternoon was a perfect time to chat with the writer via email. Below are Abnett’s thoughts on the future of the comic book industry, Juan JosĂ© Ryp’s artwork, and hopes for a post-coronavirus world.

A Conversation With Dan Abnett - RAI, COVID-19, And The Future Of Comics

MFR: Dan, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I hope you and your family are staying safe at this time.

Abnett: Thank you. All good here. Hope you are too.

MFR: How are you handling the lack of conventions and social distancing?

Abnett: Honestly..? I miss seeing people very much, but I am probably at my happiest at my desk, writing, so it’s just an opportunity to do that, but more. I’ve been training for this my whole career 🙂 But it’s hard to be “happy at home and in work” when so many people are suffering. I’m still stunned by what’s going on.

MFR: Last time we spoke, FALLEN WORLD was about to drop; now we have six-issues of RAI in the books. If you reflect on Valiant’s past year, what was the one moment that stands out the most to you, and why?

Abnett: Probably, getting the first pages of art in from Juanjo and realizing this was going to be an amazing book. I cannot tell you how stunned I was. I knew he was good, but…

So, generally, Rai as a series. I’ve written stories I’m pleased with, scripts I’m proud to send in, and I think it’s a damn good read… but Juanjo. Man! He’s just taken it to the level beyond next. My scripts work because Juanjo ‘gets’ it too, and invests so much effort in the storytelling, the detail, the design, and the ‘acting.’

A Conversation With Dan Abnett - RAI, COVID-19, And The Future Of Comics

MFR: For readers who are not familiar with Rai, what are the essential elements that make up the character?

Abnett: Far future, ‘post-apocalypse’ Earth. Rai is a noble, semi-synthetic super-warrior who protected the orbital city of New Japan, a utopia… until he realized that father, the AI that created him and New Japan, was a tyrant. Rai brought Father down, for the good of mankind… but the price was New Japan crashed on the mysterious and abandoned Earth (which has rewilded in the past few centuries). New Japan’s survivors have to rebuild…and though saved from Father’s cruelty, they kind of resent Rai for ruining what they saw as their utopian lives. Rai is now on a quest across the strange new world to finish his job by hunting down the last back-up parts of Father, called “Offspring”, which are scattered. If they reform, Father comes back. Rai will not rest until Father is absolutely finished. Rai is accompanied by Raijin, who is an earlier “Rai prototype.” Raijin is his older brother, but appears to be a young child. They have an odd relationship (Raijin being more’ human in personality).

MFR: How have you played with these elements to make them your own?

Abnett: Building the relationship and giving Raijin a key role, and also in creating (with Juanjo) the wild and crazy environments of the Earth they discover. Almost anything is possible… nature and rogue technologies have run wild since mankind last had a proper foothold here.

MFR: Juan JosĂ© Ryp’s artwork is beautiful, and Andrew Dalhouse’s colors explode off the page. How would you describe the artistic tone for the series?

Abnett: World-class, and the main reason for following the series (okay, the story’s not bad, but that art….)

MFR: At the end of issue five, Rai says, “I’m trying to be human so that when the time comes, I know how to die.” Do you have an endgame for your run, or is this a sentence that you put out there for future writers to finish the tale?

Abnett: Now, I have an endgame. I have several. I hope to deploy them one after another 🙂

A Conversation With Dan Abnett - RAI, COVID-19, And The Future Of Comics

MFR: During the aughts, the superhero genre in comics was gritty, then over the past ten years, the film boom influenced the books, and there were more than a few reboots and relaunches – What are your expectations for comic books over the next ten years?

Abnett: I’m no prophet. I hope the good things continue and the best things get better. Right now, we have no idea what shape the industry will be in when this pandemic is ‘over’ (and it won’t ever be “full stop” over). There’s a lot of gloom and doom that comics are ‘finished.’ But I’ve already seen (and am involved in) some innovative new ways to make and deliver comics in unorthodox forms, and I can already see ingenuity and creativity flourish despite the situation. Maybe there’ll be an industry we recognize when we come out of this; maybe it will have changed dramatically, or been stripped right back. Maybe the mainstream won’t quite occupy the position of power it once did. But I believe there will be all sorts of other, new, innovative things: comics, projects, ideas, series, that will have arisen from this crisis and which will repopulate the industry in remarkable and unexpected ways. Varied, strange things that would never have happened if things hadn’t stopped. A bit like Rai’s Earth. A greater variety, and a renewed freshness and vigor, that may reshape the industry in very positive ways. Good out of bad.

MFR: The coronavirus has turned the world upside, and the loss of life is devastating. Once we get past this pandemic, what positives do you see coming out of this?

Abnett: I’m hoping that the sort of things I’ve just said about the comics industry may be true of society in general. It’s going to be tough. But this crisis has shown us the things that are truly important and “essential,” and they’re often things that were regarded as of low worth before, or we took for granted. We’ve also seen things working because they’ve HAD to work: the sorts of ideas for how we live that have often been voiced, but which have always been shot down as “they’d never work in practice.” Well look – they did and they have. The arguments are invalid. Some things need to change. Let’s just hope as many of us as possible are still here to appreciate that shift.

MFR: Comic book shops are drastically adapting during this time to sell comics by any means necessary. Are there any shops you want to give a shoutout to?

Abnett: All of them. My locals are Get Ready Comics in Rochester, and the American Comic Shop in Chatham (here in the UK). Both are great. But my support goes to all of them: those that are struggling to maintain a service, those who are innovating to mail-order to keep customers entertained, and those who have shut down, weathering the storm, ready to re-open when they can. Support your local comic shops. They may not be “essential” like the brave health care professionals and other vital services, who deserve unstinting praise, but comics, books, music, movies… art…. they’re important for our mental health while we shelter in place. Stimulation, entertainment, distraction, company, and escape.

MFR: Again, thank you for your time, best of luck with your Valiant books, and stay safe.

Abnett: Thank you – and stay safe yourself.

What are your thoughts on the conversation and Abnett’s career? Comment below.

Matthew Sardo
Matthew Sardo
As the founder of Monkeys Fighting Robots, I'm currently training for my next job as an astronaut cowboy. Reformed hockey goon, comic book store owner, video store clerk, an extra in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' 'Welcome Back Freshman,' and for one special day, I was a Ghostbuster.