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Interview:Root and Branch

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Ryan Gibson Stewart conducted an email interview with Oliver Grigsby, Zach Craley, and Jason Badower, the creative team behind the Root and Branch series.

Root and Branch, Part 1.jpg

Ryan Stewart: What's up with all the cloning, Ollie? First Evan, then Julien...

Ollie Grigsby: I pitched a version of the first part of Root and Branch last year to Aron Coleite (a simultaneous bag and tag mission which turned out all to be "clones"). He liked the idea but it didn't really fit with the current continuity of the show and I ended up writing Pursuit instead. The idea was still fresh in my mind, so that's how I came up with the idea of the Evan clone army. Then when it was decided that this latest set of novels was to involve Company agents I finally got the chance to go back and do a version of my original idea. What can I say? I'm a one trick pony.

RS: How do Evan's power and Julien's power differ?

OG: I think the basic distinction is that any of the Evan clones can clone themselves (and also somehow clothing etc.) Dumont on the other hand is based much more in reality. Only the Root can duplicate and it's only his organic self. I'll let Zach talk more about the science as he's the mastermind behind that aspect.

Zach Craley: Oh great! I have to explain it? Well, where my original pitch came from was aspen trees. I've always found the idea that they're really one massive organism fascinating, so then when I was drumming up ideas for a new Heroes ability, I kept coming back to that. Logically it formed some scientific grounding for a duplicating ability. In the end, I returned to what inspired me as a route to explain the power and establish the rules. And since we had Sabine, who comes from a science/biology background, it made sense that she would parallel the two in her mind. Julien's power is nearly identical to these plants that reproduce in clonal colonies, though Julien's "roots" aren't underground--instead they exist on some more metaphysical level. What I really wanted to strive for was making it real enough that it seems plausible in the Heroes universe; basing it in this real method of propagation and giving it limitations did that for me. Restrictions such as: Julien can only duplicate his body and not what he's wearing; the omniscience of where others are and what's happening to them only flows one way; the process of cloning is literally the growing a second body; and the speed of that growth would stunted if it were being chemically stimulated vs. by choice; etc. Those limits are what set it apart from what we saw Evan do. At least in my mind, though Ollie might disagree, I sort of view that since we saw Evan through Adam's eyes and memory, perhaps these powers are the same or very similar, but told from Adam's perspective it takes on a more fantastical quality.

OG: Guess that still leaves the possibility that Evan and Dumont are related.

Julien Clone 2.jpg

Jason Badower: I tried to make both Evan's and Julien's powers as visually distinctive as possible. I wondered if it was the same guy until I read Part 2 and read how he replicated. I knew there a fair bit was riding on my ability to make their two powers look as different as possible. I think Part 3 really clinches it. Zach and Ollie took the time to really explore Julien's power as we see him split over three panels, which is nothing like Evan's spontaneous duplication. Julien's power is painful, slower and very, very organic.

RS: What is the life span of a clone?

OG: I guess it depends when he's "created".

ZC: I think all the debate over clone-life span has come out of a poorly worded sentence of mine. Somewhere in the editing process, Gael's speech to Sabine lost some explanation and a pronoun with it. To clarify, it is the root who can withstand the deaths of the branches. The clones cannot cheat death under any circumstances; once they're dead, they're dead. But Julien can survive their injuries, including their death, without being physically injured himself--although I would imagine it causes considerable mental anguish, and you know, especially when that power is abused.

RS: Can clones make clones?

OG: Evan can, Dumont cannot.

RS: Do clones have bellybuttons?

OG: I sure hope so.

JB: While I heard no word from Ollie or Zach on this, I made the deduction that they must have belly buttons. When I read this question on the 9th wonders boards I think I even tried to draw them in, but they might have got cropped. I figured that if they didn't, Sabine would have noticed and figured out that she was sleeping with a clone and not the root. I mean, I'd notice if the person I was sleeping with didn't have a belly button.

RS: Can you confirm that it was Gael Cruz who was shown promoting Sabine to her new position as the Hartsdale duplicate's partner? It looks like him with the beard and glasses, but the faded picture makes it hard to tell.

JB: It is Gael. Sorry I didn't make that more obvious.

ZC: Consider yourself confirmed.

RS: Do the Roswell-like symbols on the trees of the Utah picnic spot have any meaning?

JB: Not at all. The Aspen tree's "eyes" (as they're known) are an actual feature of that particular tree. I just felt they made the scene creepier . If they evoked feelings of alienation and mystery resonant of Area 51, well--I will take that.

ZC: Who said they're in Utah, eh?


RS: What level of security did the root Julien have?

OG: "The Root" is locked up in a science lab. I think you're probably talking about "Julien", the one Sabine kills in Part 2 and who is posing as the root. He has a pretty high level. He's in on some Company secrets and obviously had access to the Root who was drugged up in the science lab.

ZC: If you mean what kind of security was there for the room the root was locked in? I'd say it's good, but not enough to arise suspicion. After all, it was a secret operation. If Sabine didn't know, you can bet that the hired security guards aren't told more than her. With fake Julien's security clearance she technically was authorized to be in there, since he was (how do you think the fake Julien tracked down the rouge clones, he'd have to use the root right...?). So no alarms would have sounded until she started disconnecting him, and even then it's probably a silent alarm linked to Gael's office. And if Gael was out of the country (say in Germany) it's likely no one knew what was happening until she was spotted in the hall and the guard sounded the alarm.

RS: Any chance we're going to see how the rogue clones escaped, including the clones who traveled to Winnipeg, Gardenia, and Seoul (as noted in Julien's assignment tracker)?

OG: Not in the current plans. Maybe some day.

RS: There appear to be at least six clones in the duplicates' cell. Did those six clones include the ones from Winnipeg and Seoul?

OG: Sounds logical to me, but who knows. Clones are hard to keep track of.

RS: Did you two writers collaborate on the assignment tracker? Also, did you really come up with "classified" sentences and paragraphs that were omitted?

ZC: I worked with John O'Hara, one of our new media producers, who is the go-to-guy for all things assignment tracker. I provided him bio text, descriptions, etc. and he helped to flesh that all out. And as far as those omitted was all part of the plan. It'd be fair to say Julien's story is far from over; once some of those blanks get filled by the rest of the story, that file may be de-classified.

Root and Branch, Part 2.jpg

RS: For the July 2007 Comic-Con, Jason did an exclusive cover for the Heroes program. The 2008 Comic-Con is coming up. Jason, do you know if you will be featured again for the program?

JB: I didn't even know I was featured for the last one until it was put down in front of me to sign at the actual con! I was more shocked to see it than anyone. I haven't been contacted about it, but I'd love to do something.

RS: Is the bald man driving the car at the end of Part 3 a clone of Julien? What else can you tell us about this fine gentleman?

ZC: He's hired muscle, and definitely not a bulked up Julien clone. Though I'm sure he has an interesting story as to how he came to work for his current employer. But on a purely story level, I wouldn't stress about it. I'm sure Jason can give some insight into "who" this guy is...or at least who he looks like.

JB: This guy is a very good friend of mine who is also one of my biggest fans. He lamented to me in an email that I'd drawn almost all my friends but him into a comic. So when I needed a random dude I raided his Facebook for reference and made him a very happy man.

RS: Why did the clones go crazy when Sabine freed Julien? She didn't kill him or hurt him.

OG: The clones have a telepathic link to the Root. So when Sabine extracts the Root and he starts to die, the other clones (especially those in close proximity) have a reaction to the trauma. Some go crazy, others begin to hemorrhage. In short, it's not a pretty picture (aside from being drawn by Jas, of course).

JB: Thanks!

ZC: While all the Julien's look like individual people, they're not. They're all one collective body. If a finger gets cut off on your left hand, your right thumb doesn't necessarily know; but if your head were cut off... all over. So whatever happens to Julien is going to happen to all of them. And on some instinctual level he is displacing his own body's trauma out along the network to save himself, it's self-preservation. Of course the clones down the hall are going to be the first hit and the hardest hit, while that clone over in Korea might just feel dizzy. But our buddies in the cell can't escape the pain, so in short, they'd rather beat their own brains out than live with the excruciating pain any longer. It's kind of how I feel in rush-hour traffic in LA.

Congo Duplicate Death.jpg

RS: Can Julien or one of his clones clone someone other than themselves? For instance, can they clone Sabine? Or maybe a pumpkin?

OG: Alas, no. Seriously, who wouldn't want to clone Sabine? The Company should look into that.

ZC: Not a pumpkin. Possibly a butternut squash.

RS: Describe the process of writing this graphic novel set.

OG: Zach and I pitched separate ideas to Chuck Kim that happened to both have a "cloning" character. He thought the stories might work well together as a multi-part arc so Zach and I teamed up and figured out a way to mesh things together.

RS: Did one or both of you have to give up anything in the way of ideas in order to write a cohesive whole? If so, what was thrown out?

OG: I'm sure lots of things were "thrown out" but to be honest, I don't remember any of them. It's easy to let things go when you see a better way of doing things. That's one of the reasons I love working with a writing partner. The other is that it keeps you honest; there's much more pressure (in a good way) when you're working with someone you respect. It makes you really want to deliver your best material and not let the partnership down.

ZC: Anything that gets thrown out, probably is best left there. Though, maybe this is interesting: in my original pitch, Julien's partner was going to be a guy--but after some discussion with Ollie we scrapped it in favor of upping the ante with a relationship between the two. I think the story went to a much more interesting place because of it.

RS: Have you (Zach and Ollie) known each other for a long time? Did you meet in person to collaborate on this series?

OG: Zach and I have offices next to each other. We've been working together in the Heroes writers office for a while now. When we got teamed up with Jason we found him through Facebook and got in touch that way. Fortunately for us Jason is the type of artist who likes to ask questions so it was nice to be included in his process and help him out on the rare occasions that he needed it. I love handing over material and watching an artist give it his own life and direction. Jason is amazing at doing just that while also playing close attention to the story being told.

Guns Thompson Jr, Donna and 2 others.jpg

RS: Did you (Zach or Ollie) have any influence in having Jason do the art? How was Jason chosen?

OG: I didn't on this part, but I hope to in the future.

ZC: If by influence you mean luck, then yes.

JB: For my part, Frank Mastromauro (of Aspen) contacted me saying they needed an artist to do all three parts. I think I had a fair track record for doing the larger arcs so he felt confident offering it to me. I'm so glad he did.

RS: Jason, you revealed on your blog that four of the character designs used in this series came from Peter Steigerwald, and Frank Mastromauro said Peter had made 12 of them. There were two agents that are not readily identifiable that were searching in the garage in Part 3 with Thompson and Donna. Did they come from the Steigerwald profiles? Who are they?

JB: There are three agents who should be vaguely identifiable. Thompson, Jr., Donna, and Devin. The third guy is not one of the agent designs, he's just some random dude. I was reluctant to use anyone as they could be somewhere else in the timeline. Hell, you only have to ask Chuck or any of these guys how I've been trying to shoe-horn Elle in anywhere. You can't imagine the restraint not to draw her here. But I'm also very aware of the sensitive continuity and timeline of Heroes. My little in-joke could have disastrous consequences for the writers later.

RS: When the clone in the final escape SUV turns to look at Sabine in Part 3, his hand is bloodied and appears to be holding something. It's hard to make out if it's a tissue, a messaging device, or something else altogether. Can someone clarify what that's supposed to be, or if it's supposed to be anything at all?

JB: My bad. It's a tissue. He's been cleaning his bleeding eyes and nose. C'mon! You try drawing a scrunched up tissue! Maybe I should have had a box of tissues next to him? A big arrow? A neon sign?

Nat and Noo Hotel.jpg

RS: There were lots of "shout-outs" in this novel. (Right back at ya, Jas!) Did anybody from NBC say anything about these additions?

JB: I haven't heard anything about them from NBC. And hope I don't! I try very hard to keep them subtle and way out of the way of the main narrative. People who don't know them shouldn't feel like they're detracting from the story, and people who do should get a nice little kick.

RS: What was your favorite part of working on this novel set?

OG: The collaboration for sure. Writing can be a lonely art so it was especially nice to have Zach to bounce ideas off of. And then getting to work so closely with Jason as well made an awesome situation even better.

ZC: Yes, the creative synergy is paramount. Having someone there to knock stuff back and forth with makes such a difference; being able to stick your head next door and say, "hey is this completely stupid or genius," and then pushing your own work to the next level. Rather than toiling alone and never knowing if what you're thinking is gonna hit or not--you'll drive yourself crazy! For me I think that my favorite part of any creative endeavor is collaboration. Seeing what each individual brings to the table to create the whole, and getting in sync with these other creative spirits. Of course sometimes that can be a painful process, but for Ollie and me, it went swimmingly. And of course getting to see how Jason interprets the crazy ideas we come up with, seeing images ripped right out of my own mind or a completely different take on it that can work so much better. Again I go back to the idea of the whole becoming so much greater than just the sum of the parts.

JB: While I didn't write this novel set, I just want to say this has been one of the most fun series to work on. Between Ollie's flowing, beautifully choreographed action and Zach's intense character driven dialogue, I think Root and Branch has really set a new bar. I found it one of the easiest arcs to lay out and found myself challenged at every turn by their ideas, action, dialogue and character performances. I'm incredibly grateful for the experience.

RS: Is there something about this set of novels or about your work on this set of novels that the fans would find surprising or interesting?

JB: This is the only time I communicated with the writers while I was drawing [a Heroes graphic novel]. Zach and Ollie found me on Facebook and we just got chatting. I was able to ask them questions and get their take on problems I couldn't figure out. I think it made for a richer visual narrative as it had a solid cohesion between the creators. The main thing I noticed about our collaboration was how trusting, respectful and smart these guys were.

OG: Perhaps that this put us in touch with Jason and when he recently moved out to LA, Zach and I got to meet him and show him around the Heroes set. Now he has no excuse for guessing what Level 5 looks like! ;)

Root and Branch, Part 3.jpg

JB: Their styles are also very different and I learned a great deal from both of them. Ollie has an incredible understanding of visual narrative and pacing. He is also an incredibly trusting writer allowing the action to speak for itself. Zach's strength is his imagination. He just threw so many ideas at me totally uncaring (but not unaware) about the limitations of comics. He just left it up to me to figure out if it could be done or not.

They were also very understanding when I couldn't come to the party on their suggestions. I really felt we grew as creators as we were able to discuss these issues. So many times I make creative decisions and am never asked to explain them. It's also just as rare that I get notes and am given the opportunity to explain why I was or wasn't able to do something. I look forward to working with the dynamic duo again.

OG: I'm currently working on a plan to team up with Jason again on a story involving one of the beautiful blonde ladies on our show. We just have to try to figure out everyone's busy schedules as well as the timing of the show (so no promises just yet).

RS: Thanks so much, guys!

Interviews edit

Sally ChamplinAlex FernandezMike FoyJames Kyson LeeNtare Guma Mbaho MwineJoshua RushJames RyenRoberto SanchezDiana Terranova


Adam Armus and Kay FosterYule CaiseZach CraleyNate GoodmanChuck KimTim KringJason La PaduraDebra McGuireJoe TolericoKevin Tostado

Graphic Novel Crew

Robert AtkinsMicah GunnellR.D. HallJoe KellyChuck KimKotzebue brothersRyan OdagawaJG RoshellMark Sable

Specific Works

BlackoutDark Mattersdirectors / writerDestinyEvs DropperGolden HandshakeInto the WildiStory (follow up) • Nowhere Mandirectors / writersThe RecruitRoot and BranchSlow Burn

See Also: LinksInterviews