Insane time traveling dinosaurs getting you down? How about vampires from outerspace? Well, thankfully ATOMIC ROBO is here to give those baddies a good sock in the kisser! We caught up with the creators of this delightfully daffy retro-comic for some Q&A action.
First off tell us who you guys are?
We’re the co-creators of Atomic Robo. Scott does the art and Brian does the words.
Tell us about Atomic Robo?
Brian:Atomic Robo is the kind of book that makes you go, “Holy shit did you see what that robot just punched in the face? I didn’t even know those things had faces!”
Scott: Robo was built by Nikola Tesla in 1923. He’s still alive in 2010, and the comic chronicles his B-movie sci-fi adventures. Giant ants, crazy Nazis, communist robots – whatever the decade and its stylistic tropes call for. We don’t go in any particular order. We just decide that an idea would be fun to develop, figure out what decade it would best fit into, and we plow on ahead from there.
Brian: We do these in distinct volumes which are centered around a particular theme or story arc so it’s not all haphazard craziness. You can start with any volume, read them in any order, and never be lost. We skip all the boring stuff, all the angsty stuff, all the melodramatic stuff, and jump straight into the fun action stuff.
Now you use real-life scientist Nikoa Tesla as Robo’s creator. Tesla is often said to be the real life version of a sci/fi movie scientist. How much research on Tesla did you do?
Brian: Too much! I’ve read a couple reputable biographies and a ton of absurd conspiracy-laden ones! Did you know Tesla’s theories were all based on ancient Atlantean technologies? It’s true! You can tell because there’s no evidence. Because, you see, there’s actually all kinds of evidence but it’s hidden by the government. Damn you, The Government!
But, yeah. Tesla’s a fascinating person. He lends himself so well to sci-fi, because the more you find out about what he really did, the more easily you can believe – if even for a second – anything about him.
The character has a great look! What went into the design of Atomic Robo?
Scott: Buckets of frustration. Ha! It took us about a week, and a few dozen rough ideas, to settle on the design of Atomic Robo. It was several months later, and two more “this is really the final design, we swear” designs before we arrived at the Robo you see in the comics. And even there he’s been evolving slowly over time, though because I’ve grown as an artist, I don’t think most people clue into the fact that the changes are intentional, and not just an evolution of my style.
At the core of Robo we needed something that looked like it was designed in the 1920’s, but which would still look cool in the 2020’s. We started with a lot of art deco designs, but I felt like the era that best represented Robo physically – at least in terms of design — was the 1950’s. You could still see a lot of the art deco influences in popular art and design at that time, but it’s mixing with a lot of new ideas that were bubbling up in the post-atomic bomb world. Things are futuristic and spacy, yet still very down to earth. Robo is basically a 1952 Ford, that walks on two legs, and has fins on his head instead of his fenders.
Personality-wise this was a happy coincidence. The 1950’s sci-fi hero was a physical man. He went into space, or to lost islands full of dinosaurs, or down into Hollow Earth, and he punched the shit out of whatever he found there. He’d just kicked Hitler and Tojo’s asses. There was no way some green skinned Martian, or subterranean mole man was going to stop him. And that punch first, talk later attitude is pretty much how Robo operates also.
How about the world of Atomic Robo and the characters? Any specifics on those designs?
Scott: We try to keep the world around Robo pretty mundane and accurate. We will fill it with crazy-ass stuff, but we like to blend the fantastic with the ordinary. Robo doesn’t drive a hovercar. He drives an El Camino. He sometimes uses lightning-guns, but he’s more likely to use a big 20th Century revolver.
The world is littered with bits of mid-century pop culture. Are you guys fans of silver age comics or pulp fiction?
Brian: We’re mostly pulp nerds. I just picked up The Spider vs The Empire State last week. It’s wonderful and horrible and I love it. I’m starting to get into some Silver Age comics. The problem there is that the range between Amazing and Atrocious is incredibly narrow. They’re fascinating comics though. They cram more into 22 pages than most modern titles do in a year. The sheer uninhibited idea-ness of it all is a sight to behold.
Scott: I love the corny old pulp heroes. Mystery Men are my favorite comic book characters, And yet I seem to hate the corny old silver age comics. I’ve actually never been a big fan of superhero stuff. I’ve always been a science fiction lover, more than fantasy – and fantasy is basically what superheroes are.
Plus, the Shadow will shoot you in the face if you deserve it. Superman won’t. In my book, this means I’d rather fuck with Superman than the Shadow.
I also see a lot of Indiana Jones in this. Am I right?
Brian: You are absolutely right. We think of Robo as The Ghostbusters plus Indiana Jones plus Buckaroo Banzai all crammed into a robot who wears pants.
What about older music, movies, etc?
Scott: As far as how it influences the comic? There’s the classic 80’s movies that I mentioned before. I always feel like Robo has a solid link to stuff like Star Trek and Forbidden Planet – those cowboys in space again. And of course any and all B-movies with rubber suit monsters and some cleft jawed scientist in a lab coat who’s going to get the girl and save the day.
Brian: Yeah, any old school monster movie where The Scientist is also The Hero had a huge influence on what we do with Robo. I mean, these are terrible movies. But they’ve got fantastic iconic ideas in them. You rip those out, pit them against a robot, and suddenly it all makes sense.
Scott: Musically? I don’t know. Robo’s musical tastes developed in the 30’s and 40’s. He’s a huge fan of big band and swing. Which is cool. Personally though, when I picture him tearing shit up it’s always to a soundtrack of Johnny Devlin’s version of “Rocket In My Pocket”, Carl Perkins “Slippin And A Slidin”, Wanda Jackson’s “I Gotta Know” (I think Brian turned me on to her), and other stuff like that. Embryonic rock-n-roll, rockabilly, and country music, from back when country didn’t suck so hard. Really anything that’s a little raw, primitive, and rockin’.
Brian: Robo’s a big Johnny Cash fan. He sings a version of Johnny Yuma in the first volume and a couple of songs from what was then Cash’s most recent album in an issue that takes place in the ’50s. I think he’s also into the Ink Spots and Glenn Miller.
I keep meaning to do a story where he teams up with Wanda Jackson, but I don’t think it’s going to work. Singers are ill-equipped to fight most sci-fi monsters.
Brian, you worked on 8-Bit theater. Did any of that filter into Atomic Robo or do you see it as it’s own animal?
Brian: Robo is mostly it’s own thing. But 8BT was a great opportunity to hone my bickering dialog to an incredibly irritating edge.
And you recently picked up a gig at Marvel?
Brian: We both have. So many gigs! I’ve got a four issue mini-series retelling the Infinity Gauntlet saga, only this time with space pirates and Dr. Doom. That’s been a lot of fun. And my first on-going series starts in January 2011!
Scott: I’m doing a mini-series called Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes in between doing Robo Vol 5.
Is it a challenge to create new characters outside of the comics mainstream?
Brian: It is, but it’s easier than it ever has been thanks to the internet and digital distribution. It’s still an uphill battle to get the attention of easily frightened consumers, but at least it’s a battle where you now have a chance at something that isn’t a Pyrrhic victory.
Scott: It’s hard to create anything that hasn’t already been done to death. If we could bottle or format what makes people like Robo we would. But I don’t think we have any real idea. Defining and recreating the creative process for anything is just impossible.
We’ve got a pile of secondary characters that we want to introduce. In most cases we didn’t set out to create them though. They just sort of birthed themselves out of throw-away ideas, little sketches, whatever.
Out of the storylines you’ve done, which one would you say is your favorite?
Scott: Shadow from Beyond Time. The whole mini-series in general, but the stuff with the 50’s “zombies” and then Carl Sagan were the best. That probably means nothing to your readers, but maybe it will inspire them to go check out the book. Also, our digital short story: Yonker’s Devil.
Brian: It’s usually whichever one I’m currently working on because that’s the one I’m most excited about at the time because I’m always researching and tinkering with it. But if I can be objective about it for a minute, I’d say Shadow From Beyond Time too. We got to play around with some great historical figures in that one and it’s a big ol’ time travel story where no one actually travels through time.
Care to tease us on any upcoming stuff with Atomic Robo?
Scott: Scott: Oh man,so much stuff. Brian what’s that link to all our future Robo ideas?
Brian: I can’t find it, but here’s a rundown of what we’ve got to look forward to over the next 7ish years.
Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science.
Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X
Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the Pacific
Atomic Robo in Diamonds are for Never
Atomic Robo and the Spear of Destiny
Atomic Robo and the Soldiers of Fortune
Atomic Robo and the Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur
Atomic Robo and the Knights of the Golden Circle
Atomic Robo and we haven’t figured out the title for this one yet.
Atomic Robo and the Day the Earth Ended
Right now we’re working on Deadly Art of Science, our fifth volume. It’s our first completely traditional, fully linear story line. It all takes place in 1930, so we get to see some more of Inexperienced And Kind Of Dumb Robo who, by the way, is a joy to write. We’re going to meet Robo’s first mentor, his first love interest, and his oldest enemy – uh, all three of those are different people. That’ll start in November and run until March.
Any new projects we should be aware of?
Scott: People can always go to our website, www.atomic-robo.com and check out the free comics we’ve got posted there. There are also several free Robo downloads for smartphones and the iPad. Did I mention all this was free? Because it’s free.
Brian: Look for my on-going title from Marvel starting in January, 2011 – Captain America: The Fighting Avenger. Beyond that it’s all Robo all the time. We make as much of it free as our publisher will let us, so take a gander!