Dave Devries And John VanFleet: Working The 'BlueShift'

BlueShift creators Dave Devries and John VanFleet have spent the last year and a half underwater. Well, that’s not quite right: the characters of BlueShift—survivors of ecological catastrophes in 2061 New Orleans—are the ones underwater, but Devries and VanFleet has been busy crafting their world for Seed Studio, a Taiwanese game development house looking to term the comic into something a bit more interactive. The book is written by Blake Hutchinson and was co-created by Devries and Alex Jiminez, and it's described on the BlueShift site thusly:

[BlueShift] takes place in New Orleans of 2061, a stubborn urban enclave that reinvented itself into a makeshift fortress perched like a barnacle on the slivered remains of the Vieux Carre, the famous core of the French Quarter. The rebel jewel of the Gulf Coast Federal Emergency Zone, New Orleans itself is now nicknamed “the Big E-Z.” It’s a data haven, a marine base for FEMA enforcement operations, and an Incorporate research and trade nexus in the Gulf. It’s a frontier town populated by tough, independent types able to cling to their traditions and make their lives in the shadow of Leviathan.

Devries elaborated to us the plot of Blueshift:

"The backdrop of the story is that its fifty years into the future, the world has gone through a catastrophic climate change, and the whole look of the Earth, the continents have changed because the seas have risen 21 feet."

In this mix is VanFleet, who provides backgrounds and designs the environments for the series. He says that he got involved in the project thanks to a call from Devries, whom he’d known for a while. At the time, both were drawing cards for Upper Deck, when Devries called VanFleet saying, “Hey, I got this project—don’t know if you’re interested in it.” VanFleet would handle environments and world-building while Devries would deal with the figure work. ”It was really funny, because I’d just come off of doing a job—it was Alias: Animated for the Alias TV show… and I did all the backgrounds for it. And then another guy came in and did the cel work on top. So it was like, ‘Okay, seems like something’s in the air, like this is something I’m heading towards doing.”

Devries and VanFleet have been working together for nearly a year and a half, now.

In that year and a half, the duo has constructed an environment afflicted by the ravages of out-of-control climate change at the back half of the century. The actual story was developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the ample visual evidence of the impact of catastrophic flooding on urban areas. Devries commented on the research that went into Blueshift: "The basis for the setting is actually research from the UN Global Warming Report from 2000-2100. We just ratcheted it back to 2061, its kind of compressed -- but nonetheless its based upon some really scary facts."

In preparation for the project, VanFleet says, “[Dave] and I sat down before the story was even started, and New Orleans had happened for real. So there was a lot of material that we were able to draw from—a lot of real facts as to what happened, what broke, and how it affected the people there.” Later he explains that to get some kind of veracity in their environments, ”We sat down and looked at Google Earth maps and before and after stuff and drew over certain stuff that’s come out over global warming. Neither of us is an eco scientist or anything, but it’s good to familiarize yourself with ‘what is real,’ especially if you’re going to be playing off of it with the fiction.”

The two artists create a landscape not only submerged, but by necessity vertical for its inhabitants; thanks to climate change in the story, the flooding was a long-standing phenomenon which has been the affliction of the New Orleans residents for years. However, New Orleans isn’t the only affected location in the story, with other major metropolises afflicted by radical changes in their environment. ”With New Orleans, it’s all about the flooding. Other parts of the world would have been affected [differently]. I believe, right now, France is partially under a glacier… and Chicago’s been turned into a desert.” Van Fleet explains that the impact of wide variation in climate would—according to climate science—have variable and drastic impact on other parts of the world. ”When people say ‘global warming’ you think everything’s going to be hot, everything’s going to be a desert. And that’s not the case at all. ‘Global warming’ [more often referred to as climate change] means we’re going to have really severe weather shifts.”

If it seems like climate change—which until only relatively recently was referred to as global warming—seems to be important to the artist and central to the concept, it also seems to be something that Van Fleet and Devries are both passionate about. On the BlueShift site, Devries even challenges the political, often partisan attacks on climate science last year in what was dubbed “Climategate” at the time. However, the site does go to great lengths to note that the plot of BlueShift is an exaggeration of the science, with elements changed for dramatic effect.

Interestingly, the story of BlueShift—whose first issue I had the chance to read, isn’t a polemic on climate change. Cleverly, it’s a sci-fi story about increasingly hybridized humans dealing with the very normal (and sometimes extra-normal) elements of crime.

VanFleet jokes that some of the complex imagery that he and Devries concoct can often get lost due to the exigencies of plot and communicating the story. For instance, they wanted to have a scene that deals with the mausoleums—used in Louisiana because so much of the state is at sea level, making below-ground graves impractical. This spun out to ideas of how they could create an “underwater city of the dead” in the story—ultimately, this ended up being only three panels in the book.

Check out this video of Dave Devries discussing Blueshift:

Dave Devries Talks 'Blueshift' Research

Check out an animated trailer for Blueshift:

Blueshift Comic Book Trailer

Read Blueshift #1, Part 1 right here:

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