What is MUTATION: The Wasteland Survival Guide?

MUTATION: The Wasteland Survival guide is a six episode long series exploring the quirky and unusual world of MUTATION, as seen in The Journal of Joe Junkman. The show itself documents the writing of the Mo-Javi Wasteland’s very first survival guide. Charged with writing this book is wasteland legend James Gray and local shyster Joe Junkman. Throughout their journey, our heroes will struggle with radioactive dust storms, water scarcity, and each other.


I want to break character for a moment to say how excited I am to be moving forward with this project. The world of MUTATION has gone through a lot of change since its conception. What originally began as a pen and paper RPG has transformed into serial fiction, a website, and a show. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

To make a long story short, Ben and I got together in the summer of 2015 and began brainstorming ideas for this short series. Although we have all the footage, brainstorming was about as far as it got. It seems embarrassing now, but we didn’t have a script or anything. Essentially, we had a concept for each episode and a location. For better or worse, almost every scene is improvisational.

When I first established this website, I had no idea what the response would be. These past few months, I’ve been consistently amazed at the hospitality and support I’ve received from the online post-apocalyptic tribe. Thank you for giving us a chance and following our stories week after week.

I’d also like to announce at this time that Ben and I are planning to attend Wasteland Weekend this year! I’ll be in character as James Gray and I believe Ben will appear as Joe Junkman.

We hope to see some of you there! The Rad-Lands wouldn’t be here without you.

-Ron Welch

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Familiar Faces

Upsetting.

The doctor left me alone to “get over” my radiation sickness and broken arm. Without tags, I was out of luck. My contaminated water had been confiscated by the soldiers. I had nothing. No one would want to trade with me. All that time spent out in the desert was for nothing.  All that hardship and dehydration was worthless.

I now sat alone in a corridor-like room of the fortress hospital. The walls were lined with beds, mostly unoccupied. At prices like these, I can see why. I wish the doctor had given me a blanket or something. It was downright chilly in this place. A cloud of frozen white air bellowed from vents on each side of the hall.

A raspy voice caught my attention. “That you kid?”

I looked over at the next bed to see an older guy with horrifically burnt skin. His face was discolored and covered in scabs. I almost didn’t recognize him until I saw the faded anvil tattoo on his forehead.

“Saul?”

The other patient smiled at me. “What are you doing in here?”

“Radiation sickness.” I replied, raising my puke bucket.

Saul chuckled softly “Went off into the rad-lands, didcha?

I nodded and explained that I had been captured, robbed, and captured again and that all I had to show for it was a few gallons of irradiated water. Saul suggested that really write a “wasteland survival guide” to help people like me. If anyone was going to do that, it would have to be James Gray. He seems to be the only one who knows what he’s doing out here.

I rolled my eyes. I then told Saul that I couldn’t afford the anti-radiation medicine or surgery on my arm. The old man lifted an eyebrow; or he would have if it hadn’t been burned off. With an elderly groan, he reached down onto the floor, picked up a small felt pouch, and threw it at me. The thing was heavy and jingled with every movement.

“Take whatcha need.” he said, giving me a toothy smile. “It’s the least I can do.”

Good things come to those who suffer!

-Joe Junkman

Unlucky Charm

I don’t feel so good.

I couldn’t believe it. I went through hell and back to get my measly jug of water, but somehow that bearded bushman had beat me to it. So there I was, looking like an idiot in front of the old soldier and his entire army. To top it all off, my arm was still in excruciating pain after being broken in three places.

It would have been nice if Gray had just let me walk away, but he had to go the extra mile to “help” me. The Australian pulled a chrome tube out of an old leather bag and waved it over my water jug. Surrounding soldiers started chuckling as the tube produced a violent ticking sound.

The bushman raised an eyebrow. “I sure hope you didn’t drink any of this.”

“W-why not?” I stuttered. I honestly had no idea what Gray was talking about.

“It’s contaminated. Radioactive. I’m surprised that jug ain’t glowing.”

Unfortunately, I had already drank about two liters before leaving Urmit’s cave. I was literally dying of thirst, after all. When I told Gray, he and the old man just stared at each other for a few seconds. The old soldier called for one of his men to escort me to the fortress hospital.

Half an hour later, I was placed in a bed and put under observation. I didn’t understand. I felt fine, except for my aching arm. Maybe I was immune to radiation or something; that would be a pretty cool superpower. The doctor told me to wait, said radiation sickness gives you a false sense of security or something.

Turns out he was right. A few hours later, I was puking my guts out. I couldn’t even move. Doctor said he had some anti-radiation medicine, but it was going to cost me a few hundred dog-tags. I tried to explain that all of my money had been stolen by a tribe of spider women.

The doctor shrugged his shoulders and said, “Such is life in the wasteland.”

I just hope this doesn’t get any worse.

-Joe Junkman

The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

It’s not even funny anymore…

After suffering through the perils of the wasteland, I finally made it back to Abundance. I was beaten up, almost eaten by giant mutant spiders, had all my stuff stolen, wandered through the desert without any water, was captured and almost eaten by a disgusting mutant, AND to top it all off I had my arm broken in three places before I was set free.  So…what do I get for my trouble when I walk into town with a full five gallon jug on my back? Nothing. Absolutely friggen nothing.

I walked into town to find that the town was basically empty. The saloon was all locked up. I heard some hustle and bustle from the fortress wall at the end of the street, so I went to check it out. A line of some hundred people stretched out onto the street. Soldier boys all dressed up in black armor and rusty red fatigues kept the peace from the fortress’ battlements. Something big was happening here.

With nothing else to do, I decide to get in line to see what’s up.  I quickly realized that every person coming out of the fortress was proudly carrying a canteen with a funny looking 47 on it.  Over an hour passed before I passed the fortress gates. I couldn’t believe the inside of this place. Everything was just like the old times! The streets were freshly paved, not a pothole in sight. The buildings were blocky, made of white concrete, and electricity flowed freely. Oasis had nothing on this place.

Another hour passed before I finally got to the front of the line. I came before a table in front of the only two story building on the base. Two guards fumbled with paperwork. The first asked for my canteen. With sharp pain in my arm, I removed my pack and presented the five gallon jug. The two soldiers turned to each other with smarmy grins. One of the goons spoke into a walkie talkie then asked me to step out of line. A few minutes later he showed up.

The notorious James Gray appeared, along with a bald old man wearing a black leather greatcoat covered in medals. The Australian recognized me this time.

“Hey there little buddy, you’re not lookin’ so good. Whatcha got there?”

I presented my jug once again and explained that I had discovered a sustainable water source. I told them that I would just need some workhands to assemble a caravan. The old man let out a light chuckle. His voice was roached out, like he hadn’t had a drink in ages.

“Old Gray here beat’cha too it, son.” He said, placing a fatherly hand on the bushman’s shoulder.

My eyebrow still hasn’t stopped twitching…

-Joe Junkman

Living Legends: General Kass

Few know the reason for the war. Fewer are willing to speak of it.

Forming a technological powerhouse with Australia, the Aztec-Roman Empire (ARE) produced 99 legions to seize the United States. Rising above the rest was the 47th legion, stationed in the state of Southern California. After the horrific siege of Los Angeles, the 47th earned a fearsome reputation due to the sheer number of sacrifices collected by General Morris Kass. After the battle, the Aztec-Romans continued into the high desert, leaving a trail of blood soaked skyscrapers in their wake. From that day forward LA would be known as “The City of Angels.”

At the end of the war, Kass found himself in the relative safety of the Mo-Javi valley. While fiery mushroom clouds illuminated the valley walls, the General ordered the construction of bunkers to survive the incoming nuclear winter. Over the years, the 47th legion’s shelters grew in size and number until they combined into a fortress with electricity, running water (when available), paved streets, and thick concrete wall meant to keep out the wasteland’s unwashed masses.

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A VERY early sketch drawn in 2011 (Credit to Ben Wright)

As the world around him deteriorated and society devolved into tribes and guilds, Kass maintained military discipline and the traditions of his people. Everyone in the Mo-Javi knew of “The 47” who lived behind ivory walls and refused to help those in need. Realizing that he was at an increased risk of attack from unorganized wastelanders and that the rations in his legion’s hypercube would eventually run out, General Kass founded the town of Abundance. Skilled workers from the Guilds of Academia were hired to train settlers in the arts of farming and animal husbandry. In exchange for food, the General provided the townsfolk protection and established trade routes.

Though many fear the old man, Kass truly cares for all of his subordinates. After every battle, the General ritually repents for each soldier lost under his command. Although General Kass will take educated or experienced wastelanders into his ranks, he cannot feel the same connection that he does for his original ARE veterans.

Though the General is often perceived as a hero of law and order, every action the old man takes is for the gain of his legion. Abundance provides him food. Trading routes provide him steel and gunpowder. The people’s trust provides him an army who is willing to fight and die so that ARE veterans might live.

Though he would never admit it, Kass hopes that the ARE’s capital city survived nuclear annihilation and will be sending a rescue party as soon as they are able. In another life, the General had a daughter, but was forced to leave her in the spire city of Tenochtitlan.

Wasteland Style: James Gray

 

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While filming the MUTATION YouTube series, my friend Ben and I designed our own wasteland costumes. I took on the role of James Gray while Ben portrayed Joe Junkman. In preparing our costumes, there was a lot of reworking of both concept and costume ideas. Originally, I thought James Gray would be either a soldier in light combat armor or a generic post-apocalyptic survivor (hoodie, gasmask, jean, etc). Ultimately, both of those ideas were rejected. Instead, James Gray’s motif shifted toward a futuristic parody of WWI Australian cavalry, distinguishing MUTATION’s setting from other post-apocalyptic worlds.

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The original inspiration for James Gray.

To construct both James Gray and Joe Junkman, Ben and I went to our local Goodwill. Living near a military base, I found a long sleeve desert camo jacket that would become the base of the outfit. I then set to work on making the jacket more wastelandish. I began by unevenly cutting off the sleeves, making them seem torn. Then both Ben and I submerged our outfits in a mound of desert sand. This made the outfits course and uncomfortable, but most importantly it made them look lived in as though these characters have been marching across the wasteland for months.

To complete the outfit’s skeleton, I collected green camo shorts that offset the gray and brown camo jacket. I then grabbed a pair of crumbling 20 year old work boots. The walnut color contrasted both the desert sand and the jacket. The rawhide laces completely deteriorated during filming. Finally, I picked up an “Aussie” slouch hat and gave it a dirt bath. Thinking of stereotypical Aussie hats with crocodile teeth, I decided to give Gray a hatband of bullets, adding to the wasteland feel and reflecting the violent environment.

With the bulk of James Gray’s outfit put together, I now added detail to the torso. As Gray is a soldier, I thought it would be fitting for him to display some awards. For this, I used some old ROTC ribbons and medals (not caring about what they represent or their order). I added a button depicting WWII airplane’s to the collar of Gray’s shirt; this adds a little color flair to his appearance, a sense of scavenging, and subtly reinforces a militaristic history on close ups. Next, I gave Gray a bear claw necklace to reinforce his status as a wasteland survival expert and perhaps give his character a sense of tribalism, subtly reminding the audience that society has regressed to a constant struggle for survival. Finally, I latched a belt around Gray’s mid-section to break up the camo jacket and add a little of the WWI motif.

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Moving on to the belt, I wanted Gray to feel like a survivor who lives in the world and has his own story (because he does). To do this, I first gave him a small brown bag that hangs from his side. This bag is filled with MUTATION’s currency: dog tags, military challenge coins, and squadron patches. Next, I hung a Nalgene bottle from Gray’s waist; the water in the bottle decreases in each episode, adding to the sense that Gray and Junkman are really living out in the wasteland.  As a last minute addition, I picked up a leather hunting bag. The sand colored leather contrasted well in the desert environment and although it was cumbersome to carry around, I feel that it added a lot to the character.

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Finally, I focused on the tiny details, details which the audience won’t see, but that add to Gray’s personality. I filled Gray’s pockets with trinkets and items he would find useful, but that served no purpose in the show. A comb, cards, a bottle of pills, multiple pocket knives, dog-tags, and other trinkets helped me to think about how James Gray responds to the world he lives in. Additionally, James Gray wears two watches, one for California time and the other for Australian time, a constant reminder of his lost homeland. Although these ideas are less present in the show itself, they were developed further in The Journal of Joe Junkman, the MUTATION novel (in progress), and James Gray’s twitter account.

Even though the MUTATION YouTube series is still some ways away and may even be somewhat outdated as both Ben and I have dramatically improved on our writing, acting, and editing since the original filming, I thought it would be helpful to share what I found to be most important in constructing a post-apocalyptic costume. Whether at Wasteland Weekend, Halloween, or just for fun, your post-apocalyptic outfit tells a story. I’ve always said that a living breathing fictional world is more impressive than one that only serves to tell a particular story.

I hope this break down has helped you to think about the subtleties of wasteland attire. You can tell a lot about a person by their clothes and body language, but you can more easily tell when loving details have been added to enhance the experience. Costume detail and loving design is something that has been a pillar of post-apocalyptic fiction and I hope it continues to charm and delight. As you move forward with your own costume design, I want you to consider if your wasteland alter ego is just you in a tattered outfit or something more.

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See you in the Rad-Lands!