ministry of compliance john ridley idw publishing

The Tiresome Bureaucracy of Alien Colonization  – John Ridley Talks ‘Ministry of Compliance’

“We’re just going to destabilize until you all are soft targets. Then we’re showing up and we’re going to bring stability in here. Everybody seems to like authoritarianism on this planet, so what’s the problem?” 

John Ridley neatly sums up the soft alien invasion happening right under humanity’s nose in his IDW series, The Ministry of Compliance. Accompanied by his GCPD: The Blue Wall team (illustrated by Stefano Raffaele with colors by Brad Anderson and letters by Ariana Maher), Ridley pokes and prods at the alien invasion trope. 

“It’s really about colonization [colonialism] and taking over the world, but it’s a different perspective,” Ridley explained in a recent Zoom call. “To them, it’s just kind of a big bureaucracy and they’re tired of it and they hate their job.”

Credit: IDW Publishing.

Avigail Senna is at the center of the story, the anchor holding the readers (and the other ministers) in place. She’s a no-nonsense, blade-wielding alien that keeps people in check, or “in compliance,” with a sword appropriately named Greymatter.

“The lead character is this individual you don’t normally see in this type of story and that alone can be powerful,” Ridley said. “With Avigail, it’s colonialism, but what happens when you change the visage of it? All of a sudden, what’s the conversation? Bringing order to chaos. It’s bringing civilization to the uncivilized. They’re trying to be as non-violent about it as possible. It’s the opposite of Independence Day. They’re not trying to blow up everything.”

“We’re just going to destabilize until you all are soft targets. Then, we’re showing up and we’re going to bring stability in here. Everybody seems to like authoritarianism on this planet, so what’s the problem? But when you change the look in that perspective, this individual represents as female, [of] color, as an outsider.”

It’s a fascinating notion to tackle, an alien presenting as a Black woman, part of a methodical alien force called the Devolution. Avigail wears sleek suits, has a very serious haircut, carries a sharp blade, and walks into every room knowing no one can or will ever check her. It’s a daunting character to feel any sort of empathy for, but Ridley and Raffaele do a neat job showing the exhaustion underneath her facade.

“She’s [Avigail’s] talking to her new teammate, Kingsley, and says look at me, look at how we represent, how far do you think I would have gotten on this planet? But where I’m from, it’s all about: can you accomplish and I can accomplish and I’m respected for that. So why would I not buy into a system, where they don’t see this [referencing skin color], they see this. When this operates, I can go as far as I want. If you, Kingsley, will buy into that system, why would I not be here for you? Because it’s not about how you look, it’s about are you down or are you not? To me, that was just a very powerful thing to say and to do.”

Avigail and Kingsley. Credit: IDW Publishing.

“Not everyone has the luxury of saying ‘I’m just gonna go define myself…”

A biracial, human-alien hybrid character, Kingsley, is another interesting focus in the series. We meet her not doing her job correctly and getting fired by Avigail. However, after finding out that Kingsley is mixed, Avigail decides to use this to the Ministry’s advantage. 

Biracial human beings (people of two Earth races) have their own complex journey figuring out where they fit in or belong, especially if their parents are of two very different cultures. The same kind of idea is being played with here with Kingsley being the child of an “Earther” and an alien invader. This creates an even more complicated divide than being a child of two distinct races. How does a “biracial” in this context choose when there’s almost no chance of culture blending or mixing happening? 

“The questions you ask are the questions that I want Kingsley to ask as a character or Kingsley to elicit, at the very least, as a character and the answer, I hope, is satisfying on the page,” John answered. 

“Not everyone has the luxury of saying ‘I’m just gonna go define myself,’ because so many people are defined by their environment, by other people’s reactions. Ultimately for Kingsley to say ‘but I’m me and the decisions that I have to make. I’m going to love my group and love my people or love my family, but if they can’t ultimately see me as ME …because the world already sees us as monolithic,” Ridley shares. “Your skin is this way, so you’re that. There are identifying features about you, so you’re that. [The way] you dress or speak or your mannerisms are one way, so I’m gonna assume you’re this.” 

“It’s that constant struggle to say I am proud of that, but also I got a first and last name, and I’m much more than that. I’m gratified that you are asking those questions, I want them asked. I’m going to answer it in a way that reflects my worldview. But more than anything, I would love for people to come out of that going, ‘I’m inspired to now make a choice.’”

That choice can be as simple as living your life authentically or as complicated as disrupting the entire system that makes people like you feel less than. It’s a choice Kingsley, other biracial people and even Earthers have to contend with in this series. 

“All I say is, we as people have the capacity sometimes to hide ourselves, very intimate things about ourselves. Sometimes, we’re forced to by society or feel forced to by society,” Ridley said, avoiding answering a somewhat spoiler-y question. “This authoritarian power is out there, it’s always out there. It’s insidious, and it’s always going after someone.”

“Once you put fear into your opponent, the battle’s half over.”

The conversations between Kingsley and Avigail end up being the most memorable. They’re colored by Kingsley’s questionable motives and Avigail’s impenetrable wall keeping everyone out. One of the more fun conversations surrounds Avigail’s sword, Greymatter. We’re all thinking the same thing after seeing her move and slice through people with it.

“Kingsley asked about the sword. She goes, ‘is this super? Is it one of these mythological swords that’s indicative of the fighting style [inherited from] your people?’ Avigail says to her, ‘at the end of the day, the sword’s got certain properties, but it’s a hunk of metal. If you’re in a firefight and the person on the other side has a plasma rifle in the 40-watt range. You see a middle-aged Black woman moving at you with a hunk of steel, would you not shit your pants?’ Once you put fear into your opponent, the battle’s half over,” he said, smiling as he described the moment.

Watching Avigail work her sword magic is spectacular, something you can thank Raffaele’s illustrations for. However, her quietest moments of reflection is where Ridley wants to explore most.

“Avigail is steely in public, but we see her. There is a moment where she’s just laying on her bed in the room and just wants to be left alone. There’s a moment where she’s outside in the first issue where something good happens and she just wants to have a cigarette and relax, then somebody’s on her. To me, there’s so much about Avigail, where as a leader, you got to put on that face,” Ridley said.

“Avigail, to have all of that, to be steely as an individual, to be human, even though she’s alien, more human than human, in terms of what she thinks and what she feels. Making sure on page, she has speed but more importantly, having a place to go. I want Avigail to be true to her nature, but if we see that nature on page one, and it’s the same on page 500, I’ve wasted your time. I’ve wasted my time. I’ve wasted everybody’s time. I’ve wasted Avigail’s time.”

Unexpected twists abound especially at the end of issue one, which leads to an even higher-stakes issue two. The mystery builds and a hundred questions form, but with Avigail as the readers’ and the other ministers’ anchor, there’s a calmness in the chaos. Avigail has to move quickly to keep things together, while not really knowing who the hell her boss is anymore.

“Who’s really running the show? That is the throughline of this whole thing. Starting at the beginning with the Prime Minister being recalled… who’s really in charge? I love the twists and turns in this, but they’re more built on the emotional and really about who can I trust? Who’s there for me, who’s down for me?” Ridley explained. 

The Ministry of Compliance is something Ridley says he’s been working on for about a decade and linked up with IDW Publishing to make it a reality. 

“I gotta give IDW and the editors there a shoutout because working with them is great. They come with no ego on their end,” he shared. Ridley credits the team for being unafraid to give him notes on his work, saying “the notes and the thoughts that they give are so dialed in and so focused on how do we make this story the best that it could be?”

Interview edited for clarity.

Catch up on the first two issues of The Ministry of Compliance by John Ridley, before issue three drops February 14, 2024. Check out these exclusive pages, featuring Kingsley below.

SUMMARY: Thirty-seven years ago, Earth was secretly invaded by an alien force known as the Devolution, and they have been shaping the direction humanity has been going in ever since to prepare us to be assimilated into their empire.

The Devolution has thirteen ministries, each responsible for manipulating a different aspect of human life. The Ministry of Compliance, the most feared of all the ministries, led by the fierce Avigail Senna, makes sure all the ministries stay in line and remain focused on the Devolution’s mission. As it appears the Ministry’s mission is on the verge of being completed and Earth will be assimilated, things begin to go terribly wrong, and a conspiracy among the ministries breaks out that Avigail must deal with head-on.