Thursday, April 30, 2009

Interview: Red 5's Scott Chitwood on Drone, FCBD and the funniest Atomic Robo story ever

If you made it to this year’s Staple! expo, you might have run into Scott Chitwood manning the Red 5 table. And at first it might have been a surprise to find the co-founder of the successful small publisher pulling booth duty, but not once you got a taste of his enthusiasm for the group’s upcoming projects.

This Saturday (May 2), Red 5 will be participating in Free Comic Book Day with a jam-packed one-shot featuring the ever-popular Atomic Robo (if you aren’t reading it, you should be), which includes back-up stories debuting two new titles, We Kill Monsters and Drone. Drone is written by Chitwood and is scheduled to be out sometime in late summer ’09.

The writer shared some thoughts on Drone, an action-adventure story focusing on satellite-controlled robots, hapless hackers and a daring rescue:

Great Caesar’s Post: Who are the creators of Drone? What other work have they done?

Scott Chitwood: Drone is written by me. I'm the co-owner of Red 5 Comics and I co-wrote Afterburn with Paul Ens. The art on Drone is done by Randy Kintz. He has previously worked on Ray Harryhausen Presents: Jason and the Argonauts from Bluewater Productions. The colors are done by Garry Henderson, who does a lot of work for Zenescope including Grimm Fairy Tales, Return to Wonderland, and other titles. The concept art and designs for most of the robots was done by Jesse McGibney. He's still in art school, but based on his work I think you can expect to see a lot from him in the future.

GCP: What's the general idea behind Drone?

SC: The story was basically inspired by the reports of drone airplanes being used by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was intrigued by the idea of people conducting war via remote control from the other side of the planet.

The basic story is that it's the near future and the U.S. military has started to secretly use robotic drones in combat in a war in Kazakhstan. The drones are searching for a rebel leader while the operator controls it from a bunker in the U.S. A hacker and his friends stumble across the satellite transmission and start watching the feeds for entertainment. It's kind of a reality TV show for them.

But when rebels capture the robots, lock out the U.S. military and their controls, and start killing the human technicians accompanying the drones, our hackers quickly realize they are the only ones that can save them. Against their better judgment, our heroes take control of a drone and clumsily save a lone female technician. Thus begins a race across war torn Kazakhstan to get her to safety. They must run from pursuing rebels, evade hijacked enemy-controlled robots, and maintain the satellite uplink as the drone becomes more and more battered. It's a little bit War Games, a little bit The Last Starfighter, a little bit Terminator, and a lot of action adventure.

GCP: From the description you gave me at Staple!, it sounds as if it's going to have plenty of near-future, run-through-the jungle robot action; how do you humanize a story centered on remote-controlled soldiers?

SC: The real human story takes place between our technician, Cat Dixon, and the hacker on the other side of the satellite uplink, David Weaver. As the story progresses, he becomes more and more emotionally invested in saving Cat. David is desperate to get her to safety the more he gets to know her. The video from the other side of the planet goes from being reality TV entertainment to something very real to him.

Cat is also very independent, yet she must rely on the stranger on the other end of the line to save her. She must also maintain the battered drone which is her only hope for safety. So there's a lot going on here and we play up this tenuous technological lifeline between life and death. And this robot is also kind of an avatar for David and almost acts as super powers for him. It allows him to do more than he ever could simply sitting on a couch playing video games.

Another important key was to not just have our heroes sitting in front of a computer for half the story. That's not very interesting. We do manage to shake things up on the U.S. side and put David in a life or death situation, too, as he simultaneously tries to save Cat.

GCP: Along those lines, is that part of the reason for the "faces" painted on the robots, as well as being a call-out to the paintings on World War II bombers and phrases written on helmets?

SC: Well, mainly the decorations looked cool. But from a storytelling standpoint, it allowed us to differentiate one drone from another. If they are all identical it makes it kind of hard to tell which character is doing what. But as one drone is singled out to save Cat, that becomes a non-issue up until the big finale where we have a rock 'em, sock 'em battle between drones.

GCP: You had also mentioned the creators were careful when designing the drones; what was the process like, and what were you trying to avoid?

SC: We had to be real careful to create a unique robot look. Turns out it's a lot harder than it sounds. You try one thing and it looks like a Terminator. You try something else and it looks like a Transformer. You try another thing and it looks like it's from Star Wars.

What we ended up doing is looking at the story requirements first. That dictated that it must be human-sized, multipurpose, carry grenades, flares, etc. After that, Jesse created several radically different robot designs and I picked and chose parts off of each of them (the head off of one, the legs off of another, etc.). Next thing we knew we had a robot that looked kind of like the Honda robot or a Terminator mated with an iPod. That then drove us towards creating all the robots with a more reality based approach. For example, the Gun Hound you see in issue #2 is essentially one of the Big Dog robots with a gun strapped to its back. It's incredibly creepy and works perfectly in the story.

GCP: (The art) you showed me at Staple! looked lush and moody; does that parallel the tone of the story?

SC: The scenes in Kazakhstan are definitely dark. We wanted it to look like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. But we flash back and forth a lot between the U.S. and Kazakhstan. To keep from confusing the reader, we made an effort to make both environments look radically different. Houston, Texas, is bright and colorful. The scenes in Kazakhstan are dark, foreboding, and the complete opposite of Houston. The production art by Jesse really set the color palette of the story and Garry has taken that lead and run with it well.

GCP: Along with Drone, what else will Red 5 be featuring on Free Comic Book Day?

SC: The FCBD issue will have an Atomic Robo short story featuring a new character called Dr. Dinosaur. As a reader, I think that this is the funniest Robo story to date. I've been quoting lines from it and people have no idea what I'm taking about ("Bah! Your mass is useless against my genius!!").

We also debut the first 10 pages of Drone. Then the issue is rounded out by a new series called We Kill Monsters. It's by the writers of the Sci-Fi Channel series The Lost Room (Christopher Leone and Laura Harkom). It also happens to be colored by Eisner-nominated Ronda Pattison and Robo letterer Jeff Powell.

Atomic Robo — Free Comic Book Day 2009, with sneak peeks for Drone and We Kill Monsters, will be available at finer comic book shops Saturday, May 2 (check here to find a shop near you). Be sure to put this title on your list.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Monday Fly: There is no uncertainty in his stance!

My unabashed comic crush on The Human Fly continues, and the torrid love affair has given birth to a new feature here at GCP: The Monday Fly.

Every Monday I'll be posting a panel or two from an issue of The Human Fly, unleashing Mantlo-generated greatness of such potency that your face may or may not melt off just like those dudes at the end of Raiders.

Let's kick things off with the Fly, two speeding cars and some of the most pulpy and excitingly written caption boxes I've ever read:

And later, Ghost Rider shows up.


Panel from The Human Fly #2
Bill Mantlo, writer; Carmine Infantino, artist

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Night Fights: The circle of life!

OK, I was going to put in some kind of lame joke about how hard it is to train cats, but seriously, if you go around calling yourself LION-MANE, you deserve to get face-maced by Hawkman.

Really, you're just asking for it.

(Just be glad Spacebooger isn't the one answering.)

Following a link? Read more Great Caesar's Post right here!

Panel from Hawkman #41
Justin Palmiotti and Justin Gray, writers; Joe Bennett, penciller

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who will be back in 'Black?'

Free Comic Book Day is next week, and DC has been ramping up the PR machine by releasing some splash pages from Blackest Night #0. I'm fairly burned out on big "event" series and crossovers from both DC and Marvel, but the Green Lantern fan in me can't help but look forward to the big galactic Rainbow War that's being promised. Whether that promise is met or not is a whole other discussion, but for now I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Of course, one of the biggest questions revolves around the Black Lanterns, the so-called "Zombie Lanterns" led by Black Hand and a renegade Guardian whose mascara keeps running. Any character that is currently "dead" in the DCU is a potential Death Lantern, so there's been plenty of debate about just who will come crawling out of the grave. Aquaman looks like a sure bet, but there are still numerous candidates to choose from and this Doug Mahnke page (man, what a great artist) offers some clues.

I recognize Aquaman's glove there in the middle and ... nobody else. Many of the designs are right on the edge of my memory, but I can't put a finger on any. Like that blue and red cuff at the mid-right? I know I know that design, but my brain won't tell me. And I think the knitted blue sleeve directly opposite is supposed to be Earth-2 Superman, but I'm not sure.

Recognize (or think you recognize) any of the soon-to-be Black Lanterns sprouting from the earth? Give me your guess in the comments.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Comics in the Wild: Justice comes cheap

Bruce didn't know which was more humiliating — the fact he had been deeply discounted, or the Bunny's clean getaway.

Found in the Target clearance aisle

Austin, TX

Monday, April 20, 2009

We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes ...

As a certain red-headed stranger once said, I'm on the road again, but this time I'm planning on updating as regularly as I can.

No, seriously.

In the meantime, me and the hard-travelin' heroes can also be friended on Facebook and followed on Twitter — it's all the rambling you can handle!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How Aunt Lily taught me to love The Human Fly

I bought 10 issues of The Human Fly yesterday, and my Aunt Lily is to blame.

When I was just a little Maxo back in 1970s-El Paso, my parents would often drive downtown to pay the utility bills. Back then you could go in person to an office that would keep the water and electricity flowing, and since the short drive seemed exotic and adventurous at the time I'd usually volunteer to go along.

But I had an ulterior motive.

I didn't really want to spend an afternoon standing in various city-sponsored lines. Almost as soon as my parents mentioned a trip Downtown, I'd start pleading with them to leave me at the main library branch or at my Aunt Lily's used bookstore — knowing full well they wouldn't leave a niño on his own to navigate a cavernous library and its potential for stranger-danger. The idea of a bored and increasingly whiny kid didn't appeal to them, either, so Aunt Lily's it was.

Martin's Bookstore was named after my uncle, who ran the shop with my aunt until he passed away and she took her now-longstanding post behind the register. This is how I always think of her — perched on a stool, greeting customers with a brusque-sounding French accent that has never really faded after years in Spanish-heavy El Paso (Aunt Lily was a war-bride, marrying my Tío Martín after they met during World War II).

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated by her, even though she was always patient and generous. She didn't appreciate a lot of noise, and she made sure her books weren't being manhandled to the point they couldn't be resold. It was usually so quiet in there that when my sister came along we'd whisper, tiptoeing down the aisles of the rambling store as if we were hapless Greeks trying to sidestep the Minotaur.

Now, of course, I realize probably none of this was lost on her. But she'd let us play our games, only shushing us when we'd get too rowdy. More often I'd wander around the store for hours, picking things off the shelf and sitting cross-legged in a hidden corner, wrapped in silence and the musty smell of old books.

I don't remember when exactly it happened, but it was one of those seemingly endless afternoons when my love of comics would be sparked.

What I do remember is being plunked down at a small table in a back room, the same table where Aunt Lily would have lunch after closing the shop for maybe 20 minutes. She pulled a box from off a nearby shelf and put it on a chair next to me; the box was filled with comics.

From that time on, if I was in the bookstore I was reading comics. The Unknown Soldier. The Human Target. Justice League of America. Spider-Man. Superman, Batman and The Flash. Tomb of Dracula. House of Secrets and House of Mystery.

And, of course, The Human Fly.

Needless to say, I was hooked. Aunt Lily had a collection spanning the Silver and just-beginning Bronze ages, and for better or worse those would be the comics that would inform my basis for loving comics. And it's why finding a stash of The Human Fly slapped a stupid grin on my face and sent me reaching for my wallet; suddenly I was back at that back room table, a plate of cookies and a glass of Kool-Aid nearby, diving headlong into a world I would never completely leave.

It wasn't until years later I realized there was a reason those comics were in boxes and out of sight. Unlike the magazines she had in spinner racks throughout the store, these weren't meant for the random patron. These were books she was saving, books she was preserving for collectors and possible future sales. And she was letting her eight-year-old great-nephew paw his way through each and every one of the hundreds tucked safely away.

She still owns the bookstore, still perches on a stool behind the register. I make sure to visit her whenever I'm in town, and the last time I was there I made a point of thanking her — for everything, but particularly for introducing me to comics. She rolled her eyes and reminded me to pick a book off the shelf — something to take with me before I left.

How did you begin reading comics? Did you discover them yourself, or did someone introduce you to the medium? Were you a kid, or did you come across comics as an adult? Share your story in the comments!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

WTF Wednesday: Oh, THAT teleport ring

One of the dangers and joys of reading older comics is never knowing who's going to show up. Marvel seemed to be especially quick to jump on any trendy bandwagon back then (how many Obama covers did they put out again?), and even if it wasn't a full-on appearance, that didn't mean the heroes were above a little name-dropping.

OK, wait. I know Saturday Night Live was extremely popular at the time, but that can't be right, can it? Let's check that handy editor's note, because there's no way JOHN BELUSHI made an appearance in ...

... oh.

Panel from Marvel Team-Up #83
Chris Claremont, writer; Sal Buscema and Steve Leialoha, artists

Monday, April 13, 2009

Aw, crap ... I twittered.

Yeah, I finally gave in, so I can now be found on Twitter if you're so inclined. Don't expect constant updates (at least not until my obsessive gene kicks in), but if you're using Twitter it'd be swell to pal around.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Night Fights: Because sometimes words hurt, too

The other day a friend and I were enjoying some conversation out on the porch, and we were discussing the crazy slang the youngsters are using nowadays. We were trying to remember a particular phrase, but for some reason neither one of us could remember it — all we could recall was that it was the sort of thing that would get you a punch in the face. Now, what was it? Talking ... talking ...

That's it! Thanks, Zot! Now get off my lawn, ya punk, and take your giant killer robot with you!

(Don't worry — Spacebooger'll turn the hose on 'em ... damn kids and their baggy pants ...)

Following a link? Read more Great Caesar's Post right here!

Panel from Zot! #1
Scott McCloud, writer and artist

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rockin' out with Solomon Stone!

Hey, look what Sims did!

At long last, The Chronicles of Solomon Stone has hit the digital shelves and I'd recommend you get over to the Action Age and check it out for yourself. The first installment is funny, clever and just really, really good. Writer Chris Sims, artist Matthew Allen Smith and letterer Benjamin Birdie pull off the beginning adventures of the world's greatest half-vampire/all-man private detective with breezy confidence, and I'm looking forward to the regular Wednesday updates with the hunger of a Viking werewolf.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

WTF Wednesday: In this case, I'm the dog

The steady rumble of work at the day job has suddenly (OK, not that suddenly) turned into an avalanche that's going to take some extra attention to get out from under, so updating is going to continue being spotty this week. Things should be settling down by this time tomorrow — oh god, please let it settle down — and then posting will be back on track. Such as it is.

In the meantime, I'm glad I've got Herbie on my side.

Well, you know what I mean.

Panel from Herbie Archives Vol. 1
Richard E. Hughes (as Shane O'Shea), writer; Ogden Whitney, artist

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review: A stumbling start for Flash: Rebirth #1

After reading Flash: Rebirth #1 I'm ... ambivalent.

I'm glad to see Barry Allen back in the DCU, and for the most part Geoff Johns seems to have a handle on Barry's sense of duty and responsibility. But — as was mentioned in some recent comments — Johns has a seemingly growing obsession with the Silver Age as well as the increasingly in-continuity future laid out in Kingdom Come (originally an Elseworlds story).

He can lay in on pretty thick, which is the reason I stopped reading his Justice Society of America. And I don't know if it's my own paranoia or not, but I got the same sense of relentless nostalgia from parts of Flash: Rebirth #1. There are references and asides a reader would need a strong knowledge of Flash history to understand, and I can't help but see hints of Kingdom Come in the story.

In Kingdom Come Wally West is the Flash who is constantly moving, always running after melding with the Speed Force made his molecules unstable. If you've read Rebirth #1 already, you'll know this sounds familiar but with Barry being the Flash who won't stop, who seems to be connected to the Speed Force in a new way.

Frankly, that's annoying. I'm hoping it's a matter of reading too much into it, but I keep having flashbacks (no pun intended) to Geoff Johns' JSA/Kingdom Come storyline. It is only the first issue, though — I'll be sticking with it to see what direction the story takes.

There were some other, nit-picky stuff that jumped out at me:

• Johns is often chided about is his apparent love of gore, so the blood-spatter on page 3 ended up being a distraction more than anything else. I'm not a prude, but it came across as gratuitous and self-indulgent. And that new (as far as I can tell) backstory for Barry? Even moreso. Doesn't the character have enough tragedy in his background to make him interesting without giving his a traumatic childhood?

• The art by Ethan Van Sciver is great, with detail that informs rather than overwhelms. Hardly anything Van Sciver puts in a panel is static (no pun intended — dammit!), and he brings a heroic-but-human sensibility to Flash. But man, what's with all the Flash-lightning? Is it just me, or does it remind anyone else of the way Todd McFarlane would draw Spider-Man's webbing? Seriously, that lightning effect is getting waaaaay out of hand.

I did enjoy the banter between Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, and one thing I really liked — it might be my favorite part of the whole issue — is Bart Allen's scene. In it he's at the Teen Titan Tower grousing and basically tells his teammates, "Barry Allen, Schmarry Allen; who cares? Wally's the real Flash."

Because that's another way to read this issue: It not only reintroduces the characters and puts the pieces in place for the coming storyline, but it's also very, very meta. It's a fairly clever and gentle way of acknowledging the hand-wringing fanbase, and in a weird way it gives me some hope for the future of Flash.

Has anyone else read Flash: Rebirth #1? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WTF Wednesday: I seriously cannot resist a joke about Uranus

Honestly? Context really wouldn't help this make much more sense, but any Love and Rockets comic is just so freakin' charming and well-done it doesn't matter. Just go with it.

Panel from Maggie and Hopey Color Special #1
Jaime Hernandez, writer and artist