The Department of Truth comic wants you to think about who benefits from belief in conspiracy theories
What if every conspiracy theory had the potential to become real? The Department of Truth comic, from writer James Tynion IV and illustrator Martin Simmonds, posits a world where the beliefs promulgated by QAnon and Flat Earth can manifest if enough people give them credence.
In these pages, every conspiracy becomes true once enough people start to believe in it. The titular organization is tasked with disabusing people of these notions, so that their paranoid conspiracies stop materializing in reality. To make your head spin even more, the Department of Truth is led by an old, wizened Lee Harvey Oswald.
"There's a big JFK conspiracy element in the book, but what I really wanted to put up front and center were the conspiracy theories that are actually living in the modern moment and causing damage in the real world," Tynion IV tells EW. "I wanted to lean into crisis actors, the Satanic Panic, which is just the immediate predecessor to QAnon and Pizzagate, and we lightly even touch on birtherism. I wanted to address what people really believe in the modern world, through the lens of the series which allows us to fictionalize that and keep the story focused on, who are the people who want people to believe these things, and why do they want people to believe these things?"
In the wake of QAnon believers storming the U.S. Capitol back in January, it's even easier to connect with The Department of Truth's vision of conspiracies crossing over into the real, physical world. But when Tynion and Simmonds were first conceiving the series a few years back, they were doubtful about Q's longevity.
"To be perfectly honest, when I started pulling the book together in 2017-2018, I was convinced that Q stuff was on the downswing at that moment," Tynion says. "But then Q has stayed very relevant to the present, which I think upped the responsibility of not dealing with these subjects carelessly. It's in grouping these conspiracies that you see over and over that the drive to believe in a flat Earth is similar to the drive to believe in QAnon: It's all just trying to take control over a chaotic reality that people are living in. They want the simple answers that make them feel in control."
Tynion continues, "that was the big thing that both me and my co-creator Martin Simmonds said early on: We don't want anyone to hold up our book and say that's the reason they believe in a dangerous conspiracy theory. I want it to be the book that makes someone who's potentially fascinated in these things see that believing in Q is the same as believing in flat Earth, and they should focus much more on the question of who benefits from you believing in these things?"
Simmonds' art, which displays a clear influence from legendary comic creators like Dave McKean and Bill Sienkiewicz, captures the blurred lines between fantasy and reality in disturbing fashion. Most of the time, The Department of Truth follows protagonist Cole Turner as he learns the ropes of his new job in the organization. The art in turn looks realistic and grounded, albeit with a noir/thriller bent. But every once in awhile, Cole will be investigating a case, and suddenly his reality will be disrupted by a burst of fiction. A monster from Satanic Panic fantasies will appear real to him, and even the reader might lose track of what's fake and what's not.
"Martin captures a very grounded world, but then seamlessly breaks into unreality," Tynion says. "It has an almost documentary feel, and then all of a sudden there's an impossible monster standing next to a bunch of realistic characters. His art distorts really well. Every issue we keep pushing each other further to see how much more we can get out of this story of reality vs. unreality."
Though Simmonds is the co-creator and main artist on The Department of Truth, there are one-off issues exploring the history and mythology illustrated by guest artists. For instance, the issue that hit stores this week (issue #7) was done by guest artist Tyler Boss. The previous issue was handled by Elsa Charretier (November) and concerned the historical conspiracy known as the phantom time hypothesis.
"In between the main story arcs, we will see more of these standalone one-shot issues where we bring in guest artists. It allows us to show the breath of different ideas and further broaden the lens of the book," Tynion says. "It's all a part of one big thing. That's what I enjoy doing: I love drawing the connections that I see underlying a lot of these different beliefs."
He continues, "before Martin returns with issue #8, our one-shot story in issue #7 by Tyler Boss deals specifically with UFOs and the men in black for the first time. Those early men in black stories are still very scary. Everyone has the image of the men in black from the Will Smith movies, but the classic stories are the ideas that most directly shaped a lot of Twin Peaks, like the lodges and the red room. I'm getting into tap into a lot of esoteric concepts that I've always been fascinated by. Now I get to play with them all in a book that is a great excuse for doing a lot of weird and interesting research."
The first collected edition of The Department of Truth is available now, with new issues coming monthly.