Exclusive: Zack Kaplan Reflects On THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS Vol. 1

AfterShock Comics has learned from the Image Comics model, and is using the medium of comics to tell great stories. One of those tales is The Lost City Explorers, an homage to the big screen youthful explorers of the 80s. Written by Zack Kaplan with art by Alvaro Sarraseca, the first story arc wrapped up in October with the trade paperback hitting your local comic book store on January 16. FOC (Final Order Cut-off) is this Monday, December 17th, so be sure to call your local comic shop ASAP and tell them you want it!

Kaplan talked with Monkeys Fighting Robots about life, music, storytelling, and influences, as we reflected on the first five issues of the series.

MFR: Zack, I loved your introduction to your The Lost City Explorers trade. Turning the mirror yourself, who encouraged you to explore? Did you listen?

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Kaplan: Wow, we’re going deep right off the bat. The honest truth, I don’t know that I’m an explorer at heart. I love exploring ideas, worlds, and stories, in the safety of my office chair, and many teachers and writing mentors have helped to cultivate that intellectual exploration, but if I found the beginnings of a real-life adventure like this, the chance to go looking for a lost city underground by dodging subway trains, slugging through sewers, running from mercenaries, well, I would probably respond more like the cautious Homer Coates than his brave, wanderlust sister Hel. I’ve always struggled with taking risks and doing the dangerous thing, and so I think if anything, this story is a wish fulfillment for me, the chance to vicariously live out the desire to go exploring down the road less traveled. I think we all get wrapped up in that same daily routine and responsibilities, and we forget to look around us, and find more meaning, more depth and just explore life. Maybe our little graphic novel will allow others to enjoy a little adventure and exploration.

MFR: In the first issue, you have the main characters doing pretty mundane stuff while having a conversion. Why are these elements essential in storytelling?

Kaplan: Yes, early on we see Hel and Maddi as they enjoy a night out at the rock show, in the bathroom, grabbing a late night snack from a food truck, riding the subway, and making their way home. Other times, we see them eating churros at the museum. I think it’s important in an adventure story, especially an adventure story about taking a risky, dangerous journey into an uncharted world, it’s important to establish a mundane, boring atmosphere. That’s why we meet Hel behind the railing, behind bars, and despite being at a super fun rock show, she feels trapped and unfulfilled. I think those early scenes are important to establish the ordinary status quo of our character, the pacing creates the staccato rhythm of routine and sets up how even a rather incredible night out can be quite void of meaning to our heroine.

MFR: Also, in the first issue, you start the series with “I Wanna Get Better” by the Bleachers. What song would play for the last page of the trade, and why?

Kaplan: Well, Hel’s a teenage girl, she’s tough, edgy, a still bit pissed off, and at the end, she’s motivated now, so she needs an anthem. A girl anthem. And since I already went with Jack Antonoff from Bleachers, I’ll go with Lorde (music fans will get that connection) and pick Green Light.

MFR: From our previous conversation, I know you did a ton research about Atlantis – What was the coolest fact or myth you found out about the lost city?

Kaplan: The coolest things were the details about Manhattan. This island is the most strategical location on the entire American seaboard, which is why the Dutch settled there and why it became such a powerful location throughout our country’s history. Manhattan was originally very hilly and had streams and ponds. There were even wooly mammoths that roamed the area. The entire area actually suffered a lot of tectonic activity. All of this lent itself perfectly to supposing that the city of Atlantis was in fact actually located on the island of Manhattan. Because Atlantis was actually located on Manhattan!

MFR: The first trade of The Lost City Explorers is an origin story. How far do you have the series outlined?

Kaplan: Oh man, just wait! If we get a chance to do more, I’ve got a killer second arc planned out that definitely takes the volume one and goes ten times harder. The first volume was always meant to be a fun, fulfilling adventure and an introduction to the characters, the truth about Atlantis and the beginnings of this adventure, but it simply was not enough room to do everything I wanted to do. So I definitely saw the first trade as a chapter one, an origin story for Hel and her friends, but there’s enough left unresolved at the end, that we definitely need to rejoin our heroes and go a bit deeper with them both into Atlantis and into some other lost cities as well. There’s just so much more here to explore.

MFR: What is your favorite panel or page from the trade and why?

Kaplan: That’s a tough one. I’ll give two. One of my favorite pages is the funeral in Issue #1. It’s silent — no dialogue. All amazing visual storytelling by Alvaro Sarraseca, and he just captures Hel’s pain so beautiful, and that close up really does it for me. And the final moment of three panels all getting closer and closer to Hel when she finally discovers the truth about her father in the end. It’s a heart-breaking moment, and I just love those close-ups. It’s funny, but despite all of the amazing underground locations and fun thrilling set pieces and supernatural phenomenons, it’s the quiet emotional character moments, especially with Hel, that means the most. I never wanted this to be an easy journey for her, and to be honest, I think it’s a very bittersweet ending for her, but even though she doesn’t find fulfillment the way she wanted, I think she finds it in a way she needed, and that’s the most important. Hel Coates is just one of my favorite characters of all time. I love her close-ups.

Exclusive: Zack Kaplan Reflects On THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS Vol. 1

MFR: You mentioned that the GOONIES was a huge influence on The Lost City Explorers. Mikey has his epic “This is our time” speech. Does your main character, Hel Coates have that type of speech in her?

Kaplan: Early on, Hel gives us a pretty good explanation as to why Atlantis might be under New York City, why her father’s research might actually hold water, but I think the entire adventure she’s advocating for why they should do this. I decided actually to flip it. There’s a moment in our journey where the teenagers have to choose whether they are essentially going all the way or not, and it’s a pivotal moment. But rather than having Hel give them one more “this is our time” argument, that felt repetitive, and that this had to be the moment where she owned her pain, she took responsibility for her actions, and instead her friends rallied, and the whole group comes together. A bit of a flip, but this story is about rescuing a missing father, not recovering pirate treasure. But maybe I’ll write that speech in the next arc!

MFR: Is there any update on the television adaption of the series?

Kaplan: We’re just getting started, but we should have more news next year!

What did you think of the Kaplan interview? Comment below with your thoughts.

About the series


Writer: Zack Kaplan
Artist: Alvaro Sarraseca
Colorists: Dee Cunniffe & Chris Blythe
Letters: Marshall Dillon
Cover: Rafael De LaTorre & Marcelo Maiolo

Lost cities aren’t the stuff of myth! They exist right under our feet. When her archaeologist father goes missing, teenager Hel Coates rallies her friends and brother to find him. They’ll have to dodge a shady corporation, mercenaries, and speeding subway trains while they follow the trail deep into the tunnels under Manhattan—and what they find down there will change their lives forever. Follow Hel and her friends on a coming-of-age journey through subterranean tunnels, and ultimately to the holy grail of lost cities: Atlantis!

Zack Kaplan (Eclipse, Port of Earth) and Alvaro Sarraseca (Magnus, Turok) bring you an adventure story unlike any other, collecting the whole series (issues 1-5)

TPB / $14.99 / Full Color/ 120 pages / ON SALE 1.16.2019 / FOC 12.17.2018

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.