Five Questions With Daniel H. Wilson About Quarantine Zone

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Writer Daniel H. Wilson and artist Fernando Pasarin's original graphic novel Quarantine Zone is available everywhere books are sold today from DC Comics's Vertigo imprint.

The story is set in a world where evil is a virus -- and one that most people have been inoculated against. For the most part, humanity is now incapable of doing wrong...but some have proven resistant to the cure, and those people are sequestered in a Quarantine Zone where they can't commit evil acts against -- or potentially infect -- others.

We spoke with Wilson, whose previous novels include Robopocalypse, which is being made into a feature film from director Steven Spielberg, about Quarantine Zone.

You're a best-selling prose novelist. How did this project become a graphic novel?

It was through collaboration with DC. Talking about th idea and flashing out the world and the scope of it and the aesthetics of it, it became pretty clear that this would make a great graphic novel built around a really cool high concept.

...And how did the creative team come together?

What I’d mostly been doing is working with DC on the Earth 2 series and admittedly, we had pretty amazing artists on that. DC and Marvel,t these comic book companies, they seem like these giant, faceless facades, but in reality it’s not a lot of people and being at DC and being around the editors there kind of led naturally to working with Bobbi Chase on this. It kind of happened organically just through the relationships over at DC.

For those who didn't follow the original announcement, what's your elevator pitch for Quarantine Zone?

The high concept is just what if evil was a virus that you could catch?

From there you really start thinking about this world where in the past, scientists discovered that people could be cured of the ability to do evil and the vast majority of the population was cured and then everyone who couldn’t be cured was sent to this Quarantine Zone, which is kind of like an Old West behind a big wall.

Then the monitoring for infection and outbreaks in the "good" world began, so the rest of the world is this paranoid place where they’re always on the lookout for somebody who could be an incurable, infected person hiding in plain sight. And so Quarantine Zone Enforcement is tasked with going into the Quarantine Zone when necessary and also basically tracking down people that have escaped from the Quarantine Zone and sending them back — and that’s the group we follow.

It’s really fun to think about this world and how people would deal with this situation, and how Quarantine Zone Enforcement would be outfitted. They’re basically Special Forces soldiers combined with biological containment. They have armor that’s clean room grade to keep them from being infected. If they are infected, it’s almost like a zombie outbreak: they’ll have this capability to do evil and it’s possible they’ll go crazy, so every Quarantine Zone Enforcer has weapons that are remotely jammable and they’ve each got an ultimate fail-safe of a chunk of Thermite in their shoulder blade that can be detonated remotely to stop them in case they’re infected and become evil.

Often, when you write this kind of story about a seemingly-idyllic society, the lesson is actually that it's deeply flawed. Looking at it primarily from the Quarantine Zone, do you get to explore that kind of idea, but from a different perspective?

On a macro scale, when you look at this society, it is from a distance a perfect place: nobody’s doing anything wrong. But when you get closer, you realize that the individuals are really torn by these black and white rules. For instance, if you see someone commit an evil act and it gives them away as being incurable, then you have to report them and they’re taken away and potentially their whole family is taken away.

It sort of reminds me of the Star Trek episode where they go to a planet where you break one rule and the only penalty is death. Step on the grass, it’s a capital offense.

So the question becomes at what price? And what kind of society is it where you don’t trust your citizens to make the right decision?

This is what really got me thinking: every day you see news out there that can make you feel depressed about human beings. We’re doing horrible things to each other all the time. But the thing that gives me hope is when I step back and I look at civilization as a whole and I see how much we’ve accomplished when you take all of us and put us together. And in this case, we’re looking at a society that’s sort of broken in that way. Civilization is stagnating. They don’t trust individuals to make good and bad decisions and as a result, they don’t really get the payoff that we get.

How did you come at the project?

For me, I just start with world-building, and I started thinking about all the changes that would stem from that one high concept, and that's really what roped me in, was getting really excited about this world and all the dramatic possibilities and action and all the cool scenes that could flow out of this one thing.

It's kind of a rule that I have with my fiction is, if I'm going to paint a picture of a future, I only want the audience to have to swallow one crazy thing, one difference. I'm not going to put time-travel and robots, just one or the other. And in this case, we have this one idea: that evil's a virus that infects the frontal lobe and changes your empathy pathways, and that's it. And I let the rest of the world fall out of that. And that's what got me excited, was that I couldn't stop thinking of that world.