Inside the podcast-turned-graphic novel Bubble where monster-hunting apps are made real

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Weiss (First Second))

What if Pokemon Go was real - and more vicious? That's the conceit of the upcoming graphic novel Bubble, which centers on a new app called Huntr which allows users to  post monster sightings and then track them down for money.

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

Based on the hit scripted sci-fi comedy podcast of the same name, Bubble is set in the unique metropolis of Fairhaven - where you can visit a farmer's market or stay out late doing trivia with your friends.. as long as you're careful to watch out for alien wildlife sneaking its way in from the Brush through the city's protective walls. The OGN centers on Morgan, a Brush-born Fairhaven transplant who is the latest to sign-up for the Huntr app.

Bubble is a hilarious and action-packed graphic novel that offers something for both fans of the show and newcomers alike in its exploration of where the gig economy can lead, set in a beautifully illustrated suburban utopia (well, some of the time). 

Ahead of its July 13 release, Newsarama recently had the chance to chat with Bubble co-writers Jordan Morris (also the creator of the show) and Sarah Morgan, along with illustrator Tony Cliff and colorist Natalie Riess about Fairhaven, the alien beauty of the world beyond the bubble, and bringing a podcast to the page. 

Newsarama: For those new to the world of Bubble: what's the elevator pitch?

Jordan Morris

Jordan Morris (Image credit: Danielle Spires)

Jordan Morris: A group of goofy but well-meaning hipsters have to battle monsters, mutants and robots to make ends meet in a dystopian sci-fi version of the gig economy. Weird, I finished my pitch and the elevator hasn't stopped yet… wait, are we stuck?! How much air is in here!?!

Sarah Morgan: Well I'm British, so we call it a 'lift' and also we'd never be so vulgar as to 'pitch' anything. But the 'lift suggestion' goes: "Hello there! Bubble is a graphic novel about a group of relatable 20-something pals making it work in the big city, but a city which happens to be located inside an artificial biodome on an alien planet, and their gig-economy job is killing monsters via a corporate app. If you like comics like Sex Criminals and Giant Days and shows like Broad City and Buffy, I feel strongly you should purchase a copy. No bother if you don't, toodle pip! Gosh, this lift is still going eh…? Are we stuck?! Ackkkk… ackkkk….I die…for Her Majesty the Queen…" 

Newsarama: What are some of the thematic inspirations for Bubble? It has a 'What the Power Rangers were independent contractors in the world's worst gated community' energy that I really, really loved, both as a fan of the Power Rangers genre and, uh, not a fan of the gig economy. 

Jordan Morris: Personally I wasn't thinking Power Rangers but that's a great analogy! I might steal that for future interviews! *lil devil emoji* 

I've always loved the 'I'm just in it for the money!' character who gets emotionally pulled into whatever adventure they are on. I like imagining that if Han Solo lived in our world he'd operate on an app called 'Smugglr' and do the Kessel Run to boost his star meter. 

I also really love genre storytelling that values comedy. Those '80s Booster Gold-heavy Justice League International comics are just the best and I know Tony Cliff and I share a love of Hellboy, who doesn't get enough credit for being hilarious.

Sarah Morgan

Sarah Morgan (Image credit: Karla Gowlett)

Sarah Morgan: Thematically, we've stuck to the classics. The treasure is the friends you make along the way; there's no shame in hustling to get where you want to be; the real monster is man. (Well, it's Bonnie. She's awful.)

I mean, if we were cheap, we'd mention the fact that most of us have spent the last year in bubbles of our own making, and Bubble is a stern, action-packed warning about the dangers of that. But that would be a little sleazy, right Jordan?

Jordan Morris: [Laughs] It is a bit sleazy, but so is the book. 

We started writing in 2018 so we're not directly commenting on recent events but there's definitely some spooky similarities between our reality and the one in the story where participating in the gig economy could be deadly. 

Newsarama: What made you want to bring Bubble from podcast to comics? 

Jordan Morris: I'm a lifelong comics fan and it's always been a dream to help make one myself. When First Second reached out to see if we were interested in adapting it, it took me negative-five milliseconds to shriek 'yes' through tears of joy. 

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

I think the story is very comic book-y. The genre-but-with-jokes style is something I think comics readers are more used to than non-comics readers. I mentioned JLI and Hellboy. I think fans of stuff like Sex Criminals and Rat Queens would also apprecaite the genre sandwich we created. 

Sarah Morgan: Jordan made me want to. I love comics (cool British ones you've never heard of) but if he asked me to help adapt Bubble into ie a range of inspirational smart waters or a series of awkward little TikToks, I'd agree. Fairhaven is a place I want to be, with our weird little friends. 

Newsarama: How did the creative team come together for the book? 

Jordan Morris: Sarah worked on the podcast and was instrumental in fleshing out the characters and the world. I knew I wanted her to be involved as soon as we got the ask. 

I was a huge fan of Tony's Delilah Dirk series so he was the first name I gave to our editor Calista Brill when she asked what I wanted the book to look like. I honestly thought they'd go after someone who drew kind of like Tony but was thrilled that the actual guy himself wanted to work on the book. 

Natalie Riess was Calista's suggestion and she absolutely killed it! I picked up her great kids book Dungeon Critters and loved it!

Newsarama: Tony, you're being quiet. What say you?

Tony Cliff

(Image credit: Ian Muttoo)

Tony Cliff: Jordan doesn't know this, but I incepted this idea into his brain, Inception-style. Jordan, if this is how you're hearing about it, then you haven't been reading the notes I've been leaving under your pillow.

Newsarama: Can you all talk a little bit about the collaborative process for Bubble? Where do you start when you're trying to decide what to keep or cut or tweak for an adaptation or deciding on designs for the characters (human or otherwise)? 

Jordan Morris: We knew we had to make some big cuts from the podcast, lest this become the Infinite Jest of comics (In terms of length, not quality. Although I do consider this to be as good as Infinite Jest).

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

And we also knew we wanted to add some stuff so podcast fans were getting some new material. We figured out the fun stuff from the podcast that we definitely wanted to keep, mainly monsters. 

There's Book Club, this group of fun wine-moms that become a Borg-like hive-mind and the Beard, a monster made up of 'Actually...' guys who get meshed into this beast made of bad facial hair and hot takes. Then created a story that was less episode-y and more streamlined. For the new stuff, we wanted to focus on the characters and get into what made them tick.

Sarah Morgan: From the podcasts, we scavenged what served the story we wanted to tell, but the podcast is her own beast. There are actually tons of canonical differences, and if you notice any, tweet us and if we did it on purpose we'll send you a winking face emoji like 'Yeah, you get it.'

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

Tony Cliff: For example, in the comic book, the Book Club (and I would have quit the project if we didn't get to keep Book Club) makes their sangria using a pinot noir blend, whereas in the podcast it is primarily merlot.

Newsarama: For Jordan and Sarah - what's different about writing for an audio show versus a graphic novel? You've mentioned before that Bubble started as a TV pilot; did coming at the comic script from a screenwriting perspective streamline the process at all? 

Jordan Morris: Sarah and I both have a kind of maximalist approach to TV writing that made it into the podcast. We come from late-night  where your bosses give you props for the sheer volume of jokes you turn in. 

This worked well for the podcast because it's not a big deal to have the actors just say some extra jokes (or in some cases improvise some more jokes). But for comics, you don't want to fill the page with goofs in a way that distracts from the art. We learned that if we condensed the dialogue the art can tell its part of the story better. 

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

Sarah Morgan: I coined a useful maxim, which is definitely mine but which your readers are welcome to use, it goes: 'a picture paints a thousand words.' It's a more universal version of my previous maxim: 'A picture of a sunset by Tony Cliff is worth a thousand wordy dick jokes.' (Don't be afraid, dick joke enthusiast, there's still plenty here for you.)

Newsarama: Tony and Natalie - what was it like bringing Bubble to life on the page? The colors in particular are gorgeous; the kind of perpetual sunset palette of the Brush is both beautiful and a little unsettling. 

Tony Cliff: One question early on was, 'how sci-fi should it be inside a Bubble?' 

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

A strength of the 'every day' sequences is that they're relatable to a contemporary reader. Pub quizzes, book clubs, farmers' markets - should they have elements that gives them a sci-fi flavor and reveals their manufactured nature? Should everything be 'off' just a little bit?

The end result - where everything is more or less true to life - is the funniest, I think. Weird bugs and fruits are funnier if the farmers' market is otherwise normal. A disgusting, otherworldly monster is more disgusting and otherworldly if the setting is mundane. 

For the Brush, the challenge was making it weird, but not so weird that a reader would find it difficult to imagine anyone wanting to spend more time there.

Natalie Riess

(Image credit: First Second)

Natalie Riess: I would hang out in the Brush for sure! I think I got a specific note to make it look 'alien', which I read as 'not green'. Opposite to green-blue is pink-yellow, so, that's where I ended up. I'm really glad they let me choose fuchsia for the 'magic' color, because that's one of my favorites to work with. Tony's inks and compositions were beautiful, and painting this book was a pleasure.

Newsarama: Were there any moments that came up during scripting where it seemed like it might not work from audio to visual that you were able to keep in? 

Tony Cliff: Did we re-word or reconfigure some jokes that would have depended on the tone of delivery to land? Thinking back, that seems like a thing we might have had to do.

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

Jordan Morris: Most of the actors in the podcast we had worked with before so we had a sense of their delivery. 'Cristela will say this in a funny way' is something we could rely on. But some of those jokes that rely on delivery had to be reworded. 

I will say that I think Tony's characters have great facial acting and he's great about drawing in comedy pauses so a lot of those types of jokes did work on the page. I'm thinking specifically of Mitch's line: 'I feel weird' when he first gets his powers. 

Sarah Morgan: I refer you to my other Maxim, "A picture by Tony Cliff is worth a thousand words from a narrator about Mitch's toe shoes."

I don't think we ever felt like this was a straight adaptation, like those novelizations of movies you got in the '80s. 

The concept and characters have always felt real enough to transfer across mediums (Jordan is currently writing the movie for Sony, which will be a whole other beast again.) but it's never felt like we're dragging a whole MCU around with us. 

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

As with other great characters from literature, your Batmen, Irons Men, etc, this graphic novel is just one way of exploring these, actually kind of serious, themes of self-inflicted social isolation and the perils of the app-based gig economy.

I personally can't wait for the super-intense Mad Max version where everything is sand and death. Mitch will still love 311. 

Newsarama: Any favorite details that maybe you were able to expand on from the script? I love the app screen pages - in particular the line "or the old-fashioned way, like a paranoid little internet criminal." That's me, I'm the paranoid little internet criminal.

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

Tony Cliff: That is also me! I am also a paranoid little internet criminal! I don't understand why they always deprecate the email-login option, and I hate it, and it does make me feel like a criminal, and I'll never stop doing it. That's just one of those fun things you can do on a page or a screen that you can't do over audio.

Jordan Morris: Those are all Tony! There's also a page that stops the story to get you to 'rate' the book like an annoying app would. Hopefully, Sarah and I don't get all the credit for the comedy in the book. Tony is a hilarious writer and had many many great joke pitches that are in the book.

Sarah Morgan: Oh, so Tony gets to do 'jokes' in the book but we don't get to do any of the drawings? Wow, Jordan. Just wow.

(Image credit: Sarah Morgan)

No, I do not expect us to use this. I did this because I love you all and I am on a deadline.

Tony Cliff: One: perfect goat. Two: when I'm looking at Morgan, are those her crossed arms? Or something else? I know the answer, of course, because we discussed this already while working through the book, but I wanted to clarify for the reader.

Oh! And I need to mention Mitch's drug-induced fever-dream. I pitched the idea that we rotate the balloon text all over the place so that the experience of reading it would be disorienting, just like a drug-induced fever-dream. Even better, if you try to read it on an iPad, the iPad might fight you by auto-rotating, making it even more disorienting (and infuriating), which seemed appropriate. I was honestly surprised that no one else involved in this project gave the slightest amount of push-back to this questionable, potentially user-hostile design choice.

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

Newsarama: Was there anything from the show you were particularly excited to bring to life? Anything that might be new to fans of the show that you're excited for them to see? 

Jordan Morris: The Beard is one of my favorite monsters from the series and I think it looks so kickass on the page. If you're not familiar, it's a group of 'hot-take-well-actually' pop culture dudes that get Cronenberg'd into a hideous beard blob that can't stop spouting bad takes. 

As far as new stuff goes, we made online dating profiles for a bunch of the characters that I think are *chef kiss emoji.*

Sarah Morgan: God, I mean, all of it? Audio comedy is great, 'theater of the ear' and all that, but if you've listened to the podcasts, surely you want to see a flying, drooling roach-like imp attack a busy hipster farmers market that also contains a petting zoo full of baby goats? The day those illustrations came in was like, 'Yes. This is exactly what that would look like. This is what the people need to see.' 

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

And if you haven't listened to the podcast, there's this really cool scene in a Farmers Market where… PS Cronenberg'd? Cool. I'll also pitch Brundleflied?

Tony Cliff: Nude Mitch.

Newsarama: I'll end with this one -- who do you relate most to, in the wide world of Bubble?

Jordan Morris: This is perhaps a bullshit answer but I relate to a different character depending on the day. 

Like Morgan I sometimes just want to have a boring day where I binge '90s sitcoms and no one bothers me (although I'm more partial to The Simpsons then Frasier). 

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

Like Annie I sometimes just want to eat nachos in a blackout state. 

Like the Bug Imp I just want to lay my eggs and create a thriving blood-hungry brood. 

We contain multitudes. 

Sarah Morgan: Annie on the streets, Mitch in the sheets.

Proper answer - it's been alleged that the character of bar trivia enthusiast Karin is based on 'how I get' in a pub quiz environment. Let's just say if the Queen's Head in Crouch End, London wants to lift my ban, I'll calmly discuss the difference between a submarine and a fucking U-boat with the quizmaster. (Fun fact, in the podcast, Karin was played by the legendary Judy Greer, which honestly felt like I'd won some insanely specific contest. Life eh.)

I can relate hard to the whole gang - my twenties were spent doing shitty side jobs to fund my dreams, having dubious anecdote-worthy hook-ups, and getting happily fucked up with my friends, often at pub quizzes. I don't know if I would have wanted all my terrible side hustles dictated to me by a corporate app? 

(Image credit: Tony Cliff/Natalie Riess (First Second))

But every day I walk past my local McDonalds, and there's always gangs of young, cool moped drivers sitting in the sunshine, sharing a joint and waiting for their apps to ping and send them off on a new adventure. They look like they're having a good time. Would they rather be fighting drooling space imps? Only one way to find out, bring on the dystopian interstellar space colonies!

Tony Cliff: I really want to say Stuart, the Brush guy who also has the Sting and who seems relentlessly upbeat. But I am frightened to think I may actually be Three-Star Dad.

Natalie Riess: Hmm...I'd have to say Book Club, because I love hanging out with my friends and enjoying snacks! : ) Either them or any of the creatures, I love to see those little guys.

Bubble goes on sale on July 13, in comic shops, bookstores, and on digital platforms. Here's our recommendations for the best digital comics readers for Android and iOS devices.

Freelance Writer