Philip Kennedy Johnson is a very interesting man. Per his own description, Phillip is a student of uniquely AMERICAN concepts like Jazz, Comicbooks, and MMA (yes, American).
Being an Eisner nominated writer and the author of several comic book series, Philip has also served in the U.S army, performed in the Moscow Ballet, toured the world with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and is currently a professional musician. After coming across his comic book work from DC’s AQUAMAN to BOOM Studios’ ADVENTURE TIME – I thought I’d talk to him about his current project, LOW ROAD WEST.
Saturday A.M: Could you tell us about your new project, Low Road West?
Phillip: LOW ROAD WEST is the story of five teenage American refugees, trying to escape the bombing and invasion of the East Coast of the United States. As they travel to the supposed sanctuary city of San Francisco, they get stranded in a mysterious ghost town of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, where they discover a doorway to another world.
Saturday A.M: What influence did C.S Lewis’s Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe have in your creation of Low Road West?
Philip: There are several primary influences on LOW ROAD WEST, including (but not limited to) Stranger Things and James Tynion IV’s The Woods. But I’ve been very open since the beginning that its core concept is loosely based on The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I love the idea of kids escaping the destruction of their world and finding sanctuary, and possibly purpose, in another one. But Low Road West has things to say about America, war, and the current refugee crisis that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe didn’t get into.
3. Saturday A.M: In a previous interview with Down & Nerdy, you had mentioned that you took great inspiration from the 1930s American Dust Bowl phenomenon for your story. Could you tell us about that?
Philip: The Dust Bowl was a region of Middle America that basically dried up and blew away during the Great Depression. What had been productive farmland just got wiped off the map and became this featureless, desert purgatory. I’ve always found photographs of the Dust Bowl really haunting and thought it was the perfect setting for a story like this, a story in which five American teens have lost literally everything and everyone, and have to figure out who they are again.
4. Saturday A.M: From what I understand, many of your other written works also take place in post-apocalyptic worlds. How was Low Road West influenced by your previous works, Last Sons of America and the Warlords of Appalachia?
Philip: My creator-owned works at BOOM! Studios all explore different kinds of dystopia, but I think that’s more about establishing a kind of “brand” at that publisher… having stories that are all unique but that all share genre or thematic elements. Last Sons of America is a world in which Americans can’t have kids anymore, so American adoption agencies basically become human trafficking corporations. Warlords of Appalachia takes place after Civil War II, and Kentucky has become an occupied nation within U.S. borders. Low Road West follows a group of American teens as they try to escape the war that’s destroying their world, and end up finding a door to a new one. To some degree, they all have sci-fi elements, they all deal with socio-political issues that I believe matter, but at their core, they’re all stories about family. And each one definitely gets more intense and leans harder and harder into the sci-fi/supernatural elements.
6. Saturday A.M: Low Road West takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. Could you tell us how the world ended?
Philip: The kids haven’t been through a literal end-of-the-world scenario… it’s more of an end to THEIR world. The United States is at the end of a losing war with a global military coalition, and is fundamentally broken… its government is crippled, its infrastructure is trashed, and most population centers have either suffered horrendous casualties or been displaced, especially on the East Coast. We’re being bombed and invaded all across the Eastern Seaboard, and there is ultimately no realistic hope for the United States.
The comic doesn’t get into a lot of detail about the war, except in the ways it has affected our characters. We do learn what the kids have been through, and the war is hinted at throughout. One example is the use of the slang term “Tommy.” In past wars, when America was fighting one primary enemy, we’ve given them cutesy little derogatory names: “Johnny Reb,” “Gerry,” “Charlie,” and so on. In Warlords of Appalachia, Kentuckians called Union soldiers “Jaspers,” or “Jasper Green.” In Low Road West, our enemies are simply called “Tommies,” or “Tommy Tango.” In the military phonetic alphabet, the word “Tango” represents the letter “T,” often meaning “Target.”
8. Saturday A.M: From what I have read, your cast of characters consists of a ragtag team of teenagers, trudging across the desolate country, searching for sanctuary. What dangers will your characters face?
Philip: Without getting into spoilers: our refugees will face a huge variety of threats, ranging from environmental to psychological to EXTREMELY physical to possibly supernatural. The place they find themselves in is mysterious, unpredictable, and extremely dangerous. Early on, the greatest threat they face is probably from other humans, but by the middle of the arc, that threat is slowly overshadowed by something more sinister, and much more powerful.
9. Saturday A.M: In the before mentioned interview with Down & Nerdy, you had mentioned that in the ghost town where your characters take refuge, “the rules of life and death don’t apply”. Care to elaborate?
Philip: All our characters have lost everyone they care about. They were just normal American teens, but now they’re suddenly dealing with death in ways they weren’t prepared for. Then they find this mysterious place, and they slowly come to realize that death might not exist in the way they thought. One line that recurs in the story is “There is no death… only change.” We see evidence of that again and again in the series.
10. Saturday A.M: While reading the preview copy of Low Road West, there was a scene featuring a rotting deer carcass coming back to life. Will zombies feature prominently in your story?
Philip: Not zombies, no. The characters have just wandered into a place where time, three-dimensional space, cellular decay, and even death aren’t as reliable as they are in other places, and the deer is the first evidence they see of that.
11. Saturday A.M: Could you tell us about your partner, series artist Flaviano?
Philip: Flaviano has been doing a lot of work at Marvel recently, on books like Power Man & Iron Fist, I Am Groot, America, and Thanos. He was the perfect artist for this series. Flaviano’s dynamic style, his amazing environments, and his knack for putting a ton of personality in every little nuance in a character’s face or body language made him the only choice.
12. Saturday A.M: How issues will there be in the series?
Philip: The series is planned for five issues.
13. Saturday A.M: When will Low Road West be available for purchase?
Philip: Low Road West hits shelves on September 12th!