DC Nation talked with Johnson about the deep world-building of The Last God, and bringing the worlds of fantasy, horror and comics together.
It’s a conspicuous time for high fantasy in pop culture. What does it mean to you to bring the genre to DC with Last God?
The opportunity to bring high fantasy to DC is a huge honor and one I don’t take lightly. I know plenty of people who love Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, D&D, World of Warcraft, Magic: The Gathering, but who might not see themselves as fans of comics, at least not of superhero stories people immediately associate with comics. The Last God is my chance to bring new fans into the comics community and maybe even introduce some hardcore comics fans to high fantasy.
You’ve described Last God as equal parts horror and fantasy. What is it about horror and fantasy that works so well together?
The fantasy genre is an insane playground with no rules…you can ride a crazy idea as far as your imagination will take you, which makes it perfect for horror. But despite that, truly all-in horror/high fantasy mash-ups are rare, and I don’t think I’m the only one who wants one. In every fantasy series I ever read, the scary parts were always the most fun, and I always wanted to see more.
I want an alternate future of Westeros where an aging Kingslayer leads a mismatched team of psychos into a frozen King’s Landing to assassinate the Night King, Cersei the Night Queen and his own White Walker child, the undead Prince of Westeros. I want to see a fallen Red Priestess and her cult of cannibalistic Stone Men hunting a handful of exiled Dothraki through the ruins of Valyria. I want to see a rogue band of Uruk-Hai necromancers after the fall of Mordor, trying to resurrect a legendary dragon in the Withered Heath, accidentally freeing an imprisoned parasitic dragon-god that even Morgoth didn’t want a piece of. These are the kinds of stories we’re telling in The Last God.
What’s your process of building an entirely new fantasy world from the ground up?
The key to authentic world-building is to write hundreds of pages of lore for every page the reader gets to see. The foundation Tolkien built Middle Earth on was language. He constructed entire languages, which led to the invention of races, histories, cultures, geography, on and on…the actual narratives of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are less than the tip of the iceberg.
I followed Tolkien’s example with The Last God, but instead of language, my foundation was music. Almost as soon as I started outlining the story, I was writing folksongs, songs of worship and epic poetry from the different races and tribes of Cain Anuun, and they always lead to new backstories, histories, the fleshing-out of languages and cultures and maps… A world with real culture is a real place, and to me, Cain Anuun is as real as the world we live in.
The visuals for this are stunning. What’s it been like collaborating with Riccardo Federici in bringing Cain Annun to life?
Riccardo has perfect instincts for both fantasy and horror, and his imagination and technique are unparalleled. Every book I’ve read with Riccardo on the team has been elevated by involvement.
What more can you share about the titular Last God, and why his return is so terrifying?
You’ve heard “nature abhors a vacuum?” Well, that goes both ways. Imagine that the entire world is known to be a finite space, surrounded by Void. Not just space, but void, a place without stars, sound, life, light, even darkness. Now imagine this Void is sentient, hateful and hungry. The Void came first and regards all Creation as an aberration…a crime against nature…a crime against itself. As long as the world of Cain Anuun has existed, the Void has been desperate to consume it.
Now imagine that a generation ago, that almost happened. The Void got a foothold in the world and created a supernatural plague, making all dead things ravenous servants of the Void. The world is eventually saved by a group of epic heroes, but it was a really, really close call. Still, now the Void is dead, the heroes who saved us are running things, and we never have to worry about undead plagues ever again. And that’s what you tell your children.
Years pass, and the next generation begins to doubt if the Void and its plague ever existed…until the day the first of the great heroes dies. On that day, the Void returns to Cain Anuun, and you learn that the heroes’ story of killing the Void was all a lie! Now the world faces complete destruction again, and this time there are no legendary heroes to bail us out.
Mol Uhltep is the Void. He’s the darkness that’s been hungrily watching us from the window since the day we were born, and with their secret betrayal, the last generation’s heroes have made his victory inevitable. This is what our characters face in The Last God.
Well, while we’re still reeling from that, people are already excited about exploring the Last God lore even further. How much will backmatter like maps play into the overall package?
We want readers to dive as deep as they want into the lore of Cain Anuun, to the point that gamers will be able to create their own campaigns in Cain Anuun. Every single issue will include pages of backmatter at the end, specifically for lorehounds like myself. If you finish the latest issue and wonder why this one Eldritch Knight’s armor was different from everyone else’s, or you want to know more about that creepy Northern religion that got mentioned, or wish you could read Aelvan musical notation…you’ll find material in the back that explores all of that and much more.
For even more on the world of Cain Anuun, we have a printed sourcebook coming. We’ve already recorded in-world music that we’ll be sharing online periodically, complete with sheet music for people who want to play or sing it themselves. I’ve never read a comic that took world-building as far as we are on this series. If that’s something you’re interested in, DO NOT MISS The Last God.
The Last God #1, written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and illustrated by Riccardo Federici, Sunny Gho, and Kai Carpenter, is on sale October 30 in print and as a digital download.