This weekend, at East Coast Comicon, I got the chance to chat with writer Brandon Montclare (Fearsome Four) and artist Amy Reeder (Madame Xanadu) about their work, especially on their creator owned title Rocket Girl, which is published by Image Comics as well as sci-fi, action scenes, and much more. Rocket Girl is about a teen cop from the future named DaYoung Johansson, who travels back to 1980s New York to prevent an evil corporation from inventing technology to basically take over the world.
Sound on Sight: So why should readers pick up the second arc of Rocket Girl?
Amy Reeder: If you loved the first one, it’s so worth it to keep reading. We had originally planned to make our story five issues, but we were talking and realized that wasn’t enough time to tell this story. You have to develop the characters first so people can have some stake in them before we get to that powerful end. That powerful end is going to be at the end of this arc. The first and second arcs really go together pretty well. I feel like you haven’t read the second arc.
Brandon Montclare: You get the real, original Rocket Girl in the first ten issues. If we go to a million issues, I think future collections may have the first ten all in one volume. That being said, when you go back and read issue 5, you’ll see it’s a very important center point. Reading the second arc is going to enrich what’s in the previous arc because there’s a lot of things laid out in there that has significance.
AR: I think issue 5 is such a faux ending. There’s no way it could end that way. With issue 10, things are going to change, and whatever we end up doing, you’ll find that if we end up doing issue 11 that Rocket Girl will have to rethink itself. Exciting times.
SoS: One thing I liked about Rocket Girl and what was fresh about it was the idea of a teen police force. Do you think that could actually work in the real world? Also, how did you guys develop this idea?
AR: I don’t think that would work in the real world. Who knows? The world’s a crazy one. They had a Cultural Revolution in China where the younger people in the 60s took over and basically turned everyone who was older and more established into criminals. The teen cop idea was actually Brandon’s thought.
BM: It was the idea that people usually say, “Teens are so rebellious” or whatnot. But I don’t think so. I remember when I was a teenager that you might have had opinions, but everything was black and white. You weren’t grown up where everything is shades of grey. I think that teenagers could say, “I will be true to the law and never step aside. I won’t be corrupted. I’m not like an old person who does this. I’ll never do that. I’ll always be the way I am.” They have the ability to believe in their convictions so much. Going back to what Amy was answering, teen cops in real life would be a disaster.
AR: Unless things are really horrible.
BM: That’s one of the great things about science fiction. It’s really the “fiction” part of it. It couldn’t exist in reality, but the fact that you’re allowed to make it exist in your story is kind of a point in and of itself to crystallize it.
SoS: Like escapism.
BM: Yeah, exactly. But not just always escapism like flying to the moon. If it really worked, you would have reality, which is a mess. But you can reduce something down to its essence, ask what the theory behind something is on paper, and make it work. These teen cops are true believers, they’re physically fit, and hopefully they will follow some degree of order. A lot of what happens to them and their history will be in the second arc.
SoS: Like why they’re allowed to smoke cigars and drink martinis at the bar. The first arc was this crazy time travel plot, and I was wondering what some of your favorite time travel stories were?
AR: Let’s see. It’s less about time travel and more about future stories for me. I don’t think there are any time travel stories that really spoke to me, but I really love The Fifth Element. That’s THE future movie, and it’s so well thought out that you could really see it happening. Blade Runner was really good too. Back the Future was “cool” or whatever… I watched a lot of Quantum Leap as a kid. I have interests in those things and remember seeing The Time Machine (the movie based on the book I didn’t read) I love visions of the future. Actually, Bill and Ted is my favorite time travel movie.
SoS: Yes! It’s a comic book now from BOOM!
BM: Like Amy said, it’s always about the future stories and not just time travel. I saw time travel as an after thought. I love Akira and was reading it in 1986, and it was taking place in 2015 or whatever. Blade Runner too. Even “Days of Future Past”, it wasn’t a matter of jumping around as it was a future X-Men story written in 1980 that takes place in 2013. Part of it was wanting to do a period piece of the 80s stuff, and if you’re doing that, how do you use 80s sci-fi and as a lens for it. The time travel part was almost tacked on. There’s a lot of things you can do with storytelling even if it’s a movie like Memento where it’s not time travel, but told out of sequence. Like any David Lynch movie.
SoS: Brandon, I have a question for you. You were an editor at DC and Vertigo for a while and worked on books like All-Star Superman and All-Star Batman and Robin. What aspects of being an editor have you brought to writing your own comic?
BM: You think you know everything and you’re a big fan, but reading scripts demystifies them a bit. It’s not just reading the Grant Morrison script that came in, but it’s getting the thumbnails and pencils from Frank Quitely [on All-Star Superman] or the colors from Jamie Grant. It’s not just the nuts and bolts of this production, but why certain things work and how some books succeed. Maybe, it’s luck, or maybe it’s just a combination of everyone playing to each other’s strengths. Having work with Amy as her editor, Madame Xanadu was a very different book because Matt Wagner would work old Marvel style where he’d just do a plot, and Amy was able to inject a lot of her creativity into the story. After she finished laying it out, Matt would add to dialogue to what she did.
But the biggest thing I’ve taken from being an editor and applied to my writing is the understanding of different peoples’ roles, and how important it is to be happy and do their best. Not just A + B, and you put it together, but it’s really about relationships and about making teams that work. And even when you’re on a non-creator owned book, like Fearsome Four which had a million creators and changed direction every few weeks it seemed, it was the ability to find interesting things for an artist to do and help the editor make it fit into the event. It’s interacting with people, which is underrated. And Amy never likes to interact with people so she’s the opposite. She likes to do her own thing.
AR: Yeah, I love people, but not creating with them. I think those introvert things that people share online are narcissistic, and that everyone is an introvert in the end. In reality, when they talk about someone who seems outgoing and happy around people, but love to be alone and thrive that way, that’s me. I’ve never enjoyed working with people on anything. I [collaborate] for work, and it’s good, but I’m more of a “Let me do my own thing and be in my own kind of world” person.
SoS: Amy, I had a question for you about the art in Rocket Girl. There are a ton of superhero comics out there with a lot of fight scenes, but there is something different about the fight scenes in Rocket Girl. They’re unique. How do you do the action choreography for say, the famous handcuffs scene [in Rocket Girl #1] or all the chases and fights when you lay it out on the page?
AR: Number one is realizing that it’s important. I think when people really care about what they do with their action scenes, they look better. I’ll look at other books (Not that I’m trying to put down other artists.) and I’ll be like, “They did whatever was easiest.” That’s part of it. Also, I’m a strong believer in doing action that people can tell what’s actually going on in the scene. They should be able to know what happens from one move to the other. These days, even in movies, it’s becoming such a huge problem with this shaky camera. I always thought I hated action movies, and then I started watching 80s action movies. In this movie They Live, there’s a fight scene in it that lasts forever. It’s two guys punching each other, and it’s riveting. It’s nothing magical, nothing extreme, but just two guys beating up on each other. It’s amazing, and you don’t need to do all these confusing things. It’s just a cheap way out. I try to make sure of that and always come up with body poses I haven’t drawn before.
And if she’s flying, I can’t use reference. I really have to understand how the body works and understand how movement and air works. It’s similar to how movement in water works, which is something I’m a little more familiar with.
SoS: It does look like [DaYoung] is swimming a little bit when she’s flying in the comic.
AR: Yeah, there were these bad guys that were going after her for a while in basically jet skis on air. And I’ve ridden Waverunners and jet skis, and I’ve spent some time in the water because my dad really likes to go to Lake Powell [in Utah]. He has a houseboat, and our friend has a power boat. I spent a lot of time watching waves, how they form, and how movement works in water. I used this experience to write those bad guys. They would drag when they would turn and make quick turns.
BM: Rocket Girl #4, which has the big chase scene, was really a challenge for Amy because you don’t really have chase scenes in comics. You have Akira and Paul Pope, who did it after watching Akira, in Batman Year 100, but those are really long-form chase scenes. In Akira, it’s 80 pages of a motorcycle chase scene, but we only have 20 pages to work with. We actually cheated on issue 4 and made it 22 so we could a little more of the chase scene in it. But it was also important because it’s cool to challenge. Most people might say, “That’s too hard. Just make it punching because I’ve been drawing the Hulk punching the Thing since I was eight years old.” But it’s not interesting, and also not Amy. You try to introduce different opportunities to try different things.
AR: One last thing about the action is that I tried to incorporate a lot of philosophies I have about paneling in general that I learned from [Osamu] Tezuka, who is like the god of manga. He was a really great manga artist, who made his work super directional on the page. Each action will move you to a different part of the page, and it matches the panel shape. I definitely use him as an example in my work. His style is simpler so it’s easier for me to deduce than something that’s really complex and detailed.
AR: I would say we haven’t had too many younger people talk about it. Not more than anything else that we do. The way we’ve targeted it was technically for the 13+ age group.
BM: “Teen Plus” is a rating that Image does for marketing purposes.
AR: We didn’t purposefully make it for kids. It’s supposed to be more nostalgic than anything else for people who remember it. Brandon likes to talk about how when he was a kid he didn’t watching or read things his parents wanted him to watch. He was reading bad, crazy things when he was 12, and he turned out alright. We kind of hope the young rebels will enjoy Rocket Girl. There was this girl today, who was maybe 10 or younger, wearing a really cute Harley Quinn outfit, and I guess she was a big Rocket Girl fan. It was cute. The people, whose store she went to, came to us first to tell us she was around so she came over and we gave her the full treatment. There’s been a good reaction, but we’ve never geared it towards younger people.
SoS: I sometimes listen to your podcast: Podcorn. I want to know how this podcast got started and how it helps in your collaborations together.
BM: It started out as a reward for the KickStarter for behind the scenes stuff. We started doing Q and A’s on audio. Then, we went to reviews or episodes where we’d talk about different books, like Dark Knight Returns as a bonus for people. And we kept on doing it. Sometimes we talk about the business itself, what’s going on comics, process stuff, stuff we read.
AR: Brandon is the one who really drove the podcast. I think it’s because he’s a fan of radio. He listens to old Phil Hendry episodes. He does comedy, but you can really tell in his voice that he sounds like a radio guy. I thought people wouldn’t care what we have to say, but so far it seems like we do.
BM: Now, we’re going to be put on the spot because we’re doing a video live broadcast on Twitch TV, which is basically a bunch of guys playing video games, and you get to watch and they talk about it. We met with those guys at New York Comic Con, and they like Podcorn and talking to us so our audio podcast is going to be video and live on Wednesday nights. Maybe in May, or maybe a little bit after that. Twitch has millions of people who watch people play Halo. Maybe it’s huge, and we get a lot of new people or maybe it falls on its face. But we’re committed to seeing it work.
SoS: My final question is what character from Rocket Girl are you most like?
AR: Oh man, I’m going to have to say Rocket Girl. I have some things like Annie, but I feel like I have Rocket Girl’s stubbornness and need to do whatever is “right”. I have a strong moral compass (Not that I succeed at it.), but it’s super there. I stop at nothing until I do what I wanna do. That sounds really conceited though.
BM: I didn’t really put any of Amy’s personality into any of the characters. Some of the situations and physicality with Annie maybe, but it’s not like she’s Amy at all. I did put her in Fearsome Four. She’s Frankenstein’s Monster.
SoS: Who was Howard the Duck?
BM: Howard the Duck was Shane Davis (Superman Earth One). I don’t think I put myself in Rocket Girl either. I love Commissioner Gomez. I don’t think we have anything in common.
AR: Except your sense of humor. Nothing is more Brandon’s type of creation than Commissioner Gomez.
BM: But he’s not like me in daily life. Commissioner Gomez is great.
AR: You are an old soul just like he is. Commissioner Gomez assumes being the boss. That’s kind of like you. Whenever we hang out with friends, you assume the role of boss. That’s how you act. I think it’s close. Maybe you should work on smoking cigars or something.
SoS: Or get a big trench coat. I love the trench coat. It reminds me of Commissioner Gordon in Batman: The Animated Series.
BM: That’s exactly what it is. But the great thing about Gomez is that his mom bought him that suit expecting him to grow into it. She thought he’d be growing in the next couple of years. Amy drew that really well with the excess of his belt that goes down to his knees. Part of that is his mom buying clothes, but part of that he doesn’t fit the role they’ve given him.
Rocket Girl Volume One “Time Squared” is available from Image Comics and Comixology. Rocket Girl #6 is coming out on May 6.