By Ani Bundel
To say that we live in a golden age of conspiracy theories would be an understatement. The advent of the internet, the information feedback loops, and the echo chambers created by selective social media use have given rise to an ability to live in alternate realities that never existed in previous eras. But humans have been fascinated by conspiracies since the dawn of time. It’s hardwired into our brain to see patterns and find connections, even where none exist. That long legacy mixed with the new conspiracies of today inspired James Tynion IV‘s latest series, The Department of Truth, from Image Comics.
At the NYCC 2021 panel, aptly called The Conspiracy Theories of The Department of Truth, Tynion was joined by a panel of lettered academics, including Dr. Bob Baskiewicz, Dr. Eve Siebert, and Dr. Brian Regal. All of them are experts on the wild theories and stories his new graphic novel and its Substack spinoff, Wild Fictions, covers. Tynion opened the panel by outlining his working definition of a conspiracy theory: Not just as a wild and crazy belief in something that may or may not be real, but one certain nefarious motives are behind it. So, the existence of the Loch Ness Monster is not a conspiracy theory; believing the government is breeding and training Nessie to create a super-soldier race is.
Though Tynion’s The Department of Truth, Vol. 1: The End of the World only arrived in February 2021, he put in years of research ahead of it, starting, unsurprisingly, in 2017 after the election brought out some genuinely startling rabid fantasies from passionate political advocates. His initial research line was Pizzagate, which began with an off-the-wall claim that a trendy hipster pizza joint in Washington’s DC’s tony neighborhood of Chevy Chase, Comet Ping Pong, was the front of child trafficking. (The story became national news when a man who believed that story attempted to set the place ablaze.)
At the time, Tynion noted a tiny offshoot of this bizarre story, called “Q-Anon,” and thought to perhaps include it in the book before turning his attention to things that seemed more important at the time. Obviously, things have changed radically since then, and the group’s rise now has a prominent place in the series.
But it’s not all political sideshows in The Department of Truth. Tynion’s series also dives into several older and deeper conspiracies, which his fellow panels are experts in. Dr. Baskiewicz took a long look at the Denver airport conspiracy, ranging from secret Nazi symbols to proof of alien invasions; Dr. Regal recounted the history of faux scholarship of Gordon’ Grover’ Sanders Krantz around Cryptids. And Dr. Siebert did a thorough explainer (and debunking) of perhaps the nuttiest of all these theories, the Phantom Time conspiracy. Though the conversation wandered a bit far afield from comic books, it was a delightfully odd hour in which fans learned just how far the human mind can take things in its stubborn need to be right.
The Department of Truth is currently releasing new installments monthly. The next collected edition, The Department of Truth, Vol. 2: The City Upon a Hill, arrives on shelves on Oct. 27, 2021.
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Tynion and a panel of experts discussed the reality behind the hit Image Comics series.
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