FCBD19 Interview: The Dark Age & Afterburn Explore The End of the World as We Know It

“The End of the World as We Know It” is a theme commonly explored in media, examining how our society functions and what happens to our humanity after the collapse of structured, often technologically advanced, civilization. Some popular examples include The Walking Dead, Mad Max, and The Hunger Games.

Now, Red 5 Comics is presenting their take on the “End of the World as We Know It” theme with two post-apocalyptic tales that approach the new world order from different starting points and perspectives.

In The Dark Age, there is no catastrophic event; no radiation, no zombies. One day, a gray haze appears reducing every known metal on earth to worthless piles of rust, and leaving in it’s wake, a society reduced to feudalism.

In Afterburn, a solar flare wipes out half the earth, with radiation mutating survivors in the Burn Zone. With valuable relics remaining, the bravest treasure hunters will venture into the Burn Zone to retrieve treasures that could earn them the payday of a lifetime.

We spoke to the writers behind each title in Red 5’s jam-packed Free Comic Book Day offering to find out more about how these post-apocalyptic worlds function, how the characters survive and what’s next for them in these worlds. Also, The Dark Age writer Don Handfield and Afterburn writer Scott Chitwood tell us what comics they’re reading today, what they love about the comic book industry as a whole, and how they’ll be celebrating Free Comic Book Day! Check out the interview below, and make sure to read through our PREVIEWS Prevue of the The Dark Age/ Afterburn.

 Free Comic Book Day (FCBD): Set up your title for those that might be new to your comic book: What will new readers need to know before diving into your Free Comic Book Day issue? Free Comic Book Day, FCBD, The Dark Age, Afterburn, Red 5

Don Handfield (The Dark Age): In the near future, a gray haze reduces every known metal on earth to worthless piles of rust and dust. With no technology, no guns, no computers, humanity reverts to a violent feudal system with each pocket of civilization is ruled by knights of plastic, wood and glass... This is a new DARK AGE.

Scott Chitwood (Afterburn): Afterburn is one of Red 5 Comics’ earliest titles and it has been optioned as a feature film starring Gerard Butler and produced by the creators of “The Fast and the Furious”.  Now ahead of the film, the series returns to our comics lineup with all new mayhem and adventure.

In the world of “Afterburn”, a solar flare hits the dayside of Earth and wipes out Europe, Africa, and Asia.  Radiation wipes out most living things and mutates the survivors.  But amid the destruction valuable treasures have survived.  And anyone bold enough to venture into the Burn Zone to retrieve them could earn the payday of a lifetime.  That’s where Jake and his fellow treasure hunters come in.  They must face hostile mutants, rogue armies, and other post-apocalyptic hazards to raid the rarest treasures in the world…for the highest bidder.

For Free Comic Book Day, Jake and his team attempt to steal the Imperial Fabergé Eggs from Moscow in this standalone short story.  Things…don’t go so well for them.

FCBD: Who are the characters and what’s the storyline?

Handfield: The Dark Age, while high concept, is at its core, a family drama. The father, Frank Jaeger, is a professor of archeology and paleontology at Cornell, and has a tech-addicted 10-year-old daughter, Johnnie (Jondalyn) and a wife very pregnant with his unborn son. When all metal in the world suddenly and mysteriously oxidizes and crumbles to rust and dust, civilization as we know it ceases to exist in a few moments.

We then flash forward fifteen years and see what has become of the world and our main characters. We will find that this paleontology professor’s particular skill set – his mastery and knowledge of ancient technology – have enabled him to be quite successful in this new world. Cornell has become “New Cornwall”, a feudal fort slash city-state within the Canadian States of America. The relative peace of this new status quo is thrown into chaos when a new army invades their territory, which will ultimately lead our main characters on a dark quest to uncover the secret of ‘why’ the metal disappeared.

FCBD: What did you enjoy most about writing/drawing this comic?

Handfield: Technology rules our lives. Anyone with a child knows the appeal of the ‘screen’ and also how we as adults are not present with those around us. So I wanted to tell a story about how humanity, specifically one family, adapts to a world where technology as we know it suddenly ceases to exist. No guns, no knives, no metal. I was also fascinated in exploring what kind of governing systems would arise in these circumstances. I imagined something feudal, at least for our heroes. Other pockets of civilization, as we will learn, are very different.

I find reality is almost always more interesting (if not stranger) than fiction, so the most enjoyable part of forming the story was the research. My former college roommate from Ohio State (Bill Schindler, PhD. Director, Eastern Shore Food Lab Experimental Archaeologist, Washington College) now happens to be this renowned experiential archeologist – he actually makes his students flint-knap stone knives and has this incredible knowledge of ancient technology. Picking his brain has been so valuable to the story and the characters. My brother Jay Handfield was also influential in forming the story – beyond being an encyclopedia of science fiction he also has a PhD (in Mathematics) and did his post-doc work at Cornell. Beyond being a resource for the science, he is the one who recommended setting the story at Cornell. Finally, Patrick Naeve, a PhD candidate from Cornell in Medieval Studies, was amazing in helping me break down the ‘science’ of how a feudal society might rise up on the rubble of the modern world – specifically his own college campus.

Hopefully people will ‘feel’ the authenticity of this fantastical world because of that research.

Chitwood: The thing I enjoy most about writing Afterburn is dreaming up big, crazy action scenes in a post-apocalyptic world and then seeing our artist, Rod Thornton, and our colorist, Sean Lee, bring that vision to life.  The sky is the limit with the comics and we can create big, epic scenes without constraint.  For me, letting my imagination run free is what I enjoy most.

FCBD: Why should people pick up this Free Comic Book Day title?

Handfield: The Dark Age handles ‘TEOTWAWKI’ aka “The End Of The World As We Know It” in a much different way than we have seen before.  No radiation. No zombies. It’s more like “The World After People” in the sense that the forest has started to regrow almost everywhere. Nature is on the rebound. An odd sort of feudalistic Eden with what I refer to as paleo-punk (paleolithic steampunk) with some pop culture thrown into the mix.

Chitwood: Often in comic shops, small independent publishers like Red 5 Comics get lost among the mass of books on shelves.  Free Comic Book Day is a great way to put a spotlight on our small lineup and try something you might have otherwise missed.  We love making fun, action-packed books and with Afterburn and some of our other titles being adapted to TV and film, this is a chance for readers to discover them early.

FCBD: What other comic books would you compare to this title?

Handfield: Fans of character driven post-apocalyptic dramas like The Walking Dead and The Road would enjoy this, also fans of science fiction with twist endings like Planet of the Apes or The Village.

“If a comic reader likes The Walking Dead they should pick up my title…”

Chitwood: We’ve always said that Afterburn is essentially Indiana Jones meets Mad Max.  If you like post-apocalyptic action with healthy doses of humor, you’ll want to check out this title.

FCBD: Looking to the future, is there anything you can tease about what's upcoming for the title and its characters?

Handfield: A bombshell drops every issue. Either a major plot twist or a bit of mind-blowing information about how the ‘metal’ disappeared in the first place.

Chitwood: The week after our original Free Comic Book Day short story, the sequel series Afterburn: Crossfire will hit stores.  In this story arc, Jake and his fellow treasure hunters will race against other teams of raiders to gather the most Catholic holy relics from the Burn Zone.  He who has the most toys wins.  But there are a lot of twists and turns along the way that could only take place in the world of Afterburn.  Then there is the Afterburn movie starring Gerard Butler which will be coming in the near future and will be directed by Byung-gil Jung who directed the Korean action movie The Villainess.  If you haven’t seen it, treat yourself.  It has some of the most insane action scenes ever filmed and bodes well for what he will do with Afterburn.

FCBD: What got you into reading comics?

Handfield: I have been reading comic books since I was very little. I still have most of those comics and boxes in my garage. I was a big fan of Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Turtles (was lucky to get the second issue first printing) and Spider-Man back then. Then later got into X-Men with John Byrne, Alan Moore’s Miracle Man and of course Watchmen were benchmarks. But also indie greats like Fish Police, Samurai, Nexus, the Badger, Armor… I could go on and on.

Chitwood: As a kid, I lived in Norway for 4 years and was looking for anything to read in English.  On the newsstands were Web of Spider-Man featuring Kraven’s Last Hunt and Iron Man featuring Armor Wars.  Those stories got me absolutely hooked on comics.  I was also able to find John Byrne’s Fantastic Four issues and Classic X-Men which got me further hooked.  35 years later I’m still a weekly comic reader.

FCBD: Many newcomers will pick up comics for the first time on FCBD—what was the first comic you remember reading?

Handfield: Ghost Rider. It was the 70s, I just thought this skull guy on a motorcycle was the coolest thing ever.

Chitwood: I randomly picked up comics in gas stations and 7-11’s as a kid, but the first comic I really collected was Transformers which I picked up at Toys R Us.  I read that comic till it was falling apart….and I still have it in my collection.

FCBD: What are some of the titles you're reading today?

Handfield: In general, I love anything Gaiman, Moore, Miller, also Brubaker, Vaughan, Ennis, etc. Right now I am reading a great anthology SHOCK from Aftershock I got from my friend Joe Pruett. I am digging Riptide by my friends at Red 5 and Solar Flare by my sometimes-writing partner and all around great guy James Haick III.

Chitwood: I’m primarily a Marvel reader and I’ve been reading Old Man Hawkeye, Star Wars, Fantastic Four, and a few other titles.  I also have been following the Superman issues by Brian Michael Bendis.  And I’ve been reading The Walking Dead for a number of years as well.

FCBD: What is your favorite part about working in the comics industry?

Handfield: I have been a working screenwriter for about two decades – which is a blessing, but 90% of what you write is just a blueprint on a shelf that no one outside of four people will ever read. Comics are an end product, and the creative possibilities are not just endless, they aren’t constrained by budget. It’s literally the same price per page whether you have two people talking in a box or aliens leveling San Francisco.

Chitwood: My favorite part has been simply seeing my scripts brought to life by the artists.  It’s also very rewarding to be at a convention and have a reader come up and say how much they love something I’ve written.  We often work in a bubble and don’t always get to see the reactions of readers.  It’s also surreal to find out that people like Gerard Butler or writers and producers of your favorite films have enjoyed them and want to adapt them for film or TV. 

FCBD: Tell us why everyone should read comic books!

Handfield: There are so many amazing artists and incredibly rich and diverse voices in the market place right now. Everyone should read them because there is something for everyone.

Chitwood: Comics are a storytelling medium unlike any other.  They combine writing and art in a way that isn’t seen in other storytelling forms.  There are no limits in what can be done in them or the kinds of stories that can be told.  There is such a variety of genres and art styles and there’s something for everyone.  And reading comics as a kid, it helped broaden my vocabulary and prompt me to venture into novels and other literature.  Comics are often dismissed as “kids’ stuff”, yet I’ve found them to be a great way to get kids to become avid readers later in life.

FCBD: What is your favorite part about Free Comic Book Day?

Handfield: It’s such a great family event.

Chitwood: My favorite part of Free Comic Book Day is the festive atmosphere surrounding it.  It’s great to go to your local comic shop and see so many people in line to get the books.  And it’s great to see kids picking up comics for the first time and discovering new characters or titles that they might not otherwise pick up.

FCBD: Where do you plan on spending Free Comic book Day?

Handfield: I plan on doing a signing somewhere, exact location TBD. (Who wants me?!)

Chitwood: I will be hitting a variety of comic shops in Houston, TX along with my artist, Rod Thornton.  I’ll be giving out extra comics to attendees and signing books with Rod.


Free Comic Book Day, FCBD, The Dark Age, Afterburn, Red 5
Free Comic Book Day, FCBD, The Dark Age, Afterburn, Red 5
Free Comic Book Day, FCBD, The Dark Age, Afterburn, Red 5
Free Comic Book Day, FCBD, The Dark Age, Afterburn, Red 5
Free Comic Book Day, FCBD, The Dark Age, Afterburn, Red 5


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