Brian Clevenger may be one of our favorite writers here at Geeks of Doom. If youâ€™re not reading his series, Atomic Robo, you really need to check it out, as itâ€™s one of the best series out there today.
Now, he has parlayed his success with that book into a gig writing a reimagining of the classic Infinity Gauntlet storyline.
Brian sat down to answer some questions about his new job, about Roboâ€™s origins, and also about his webcomics.
Henchman 21: First I just want to say thanks for doing this. I think there are a lot of fans of Atomic Robo who visit our site, and I think they should get a kick out of it. I know a lot of our staff, myself included are big fans of the series.
My first question is about the recently announced Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet. What can you tell us about the project and how did you get involved with it?
Brian Clevinger: One of Marvel’s editors, Nate Cosby, read the first volume of Atomic Robo one weekend and then called me up for a job that Monday. I’m not an idiot, so I said, “Yes.” The fact that it was part of Marvel’s All-Ages line was a huge draw for me. It’s an incredibly accessible line of books and where else are you going to have a chance to play around with a bunch of A-List Marvel characters on your first gig?
The basic idea of The Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet is to take this classic event from Marvel’s history and reintroduce it to a new generation. This isn’t a retcon or replacement of the original Infinity Gauntlet in any way. We’re just using the skeleton of that iconic story to have some fun.
H21: So, it’s safe for me to assume that you’ll be trying to write this as something that appeals to fans of the original book, while also making this something that you can give to kids?
BC: Turns out when you say, “We’re making some new fun comics,” there’s a segment of hardcore fanboy readers whose default reaction is, “NO WHAT’S THE POINT IT’S NOT IN CONTINUITY ARGH I HOPE IT FAILS AND IF IT WAS IN CONTINUITY THEN I’D SCREAM ABOUT RETCONNING!” Only with tons of typos.
Which is a simultaneously hilarious and sad reaction when compared to how my fans from 8-bit Theater and Atomic Robo reacted to the news: “Wow, this sounds like fun, I can’t wait to read it.”
H21: I think fans who know your work are aware that you write comics that are fun, and have a lot of action, so they have an idea of what this might be like, but those unfamiliar with your work automatically make a knee-jerk reaction and assume it’s something they won’t like. It’s always slightly depressing when you meet fans who want nothing more than to complain about something.
Are you finding it hard to strike a balance between keeping the story fun and also telling a story where Thanos kills off half the universe’s population? Or is that something that may be changed from the original. I don’t want to get into anything that ruins the story, but you say “All-Ages” and for whatever reason we’ve been trained to equate that with kid’s comics, which is kind of stupid (and I’m just as guilty as anyone of that.) And then it’s a step from that to, “well you can’t have people die in a kids comic! Think of the children.”
BC: Yeah, you hear All-Ages and you think “G-Rated Disney hug-fest.” But Atomic Robo is an All-Ages title. We don’t go out of our way to make it one, we don’t market it like one, but it is. Robo’s based on Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, that kind of thing. And while those aren’t kids’ movies, I watched them as a kid. We all did.
Basically, you can be “kid friendly” without being “for babies.” I think we manage the balancing act pretty well with Infinity Gauntlet.
H21: Can you say who the main heroes in the book are?
BC: The main heroes are The Avengers…but not the “real” Avengers! They’ve been taken out and a fresh team has to be put together at the last minute to save the galaxy from being swallowed up by chaos. Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and of course, Dr. Doom. Hey, if he’s going to take over the world one day, he wants to make sure it’s properly saved first. No way is he going to trust a bunch of superheroes to do the job.
H21: Was it Marvel that connected you with Brian Churilla or is he someone that you had been familiar with and wanted to work with?
BC: I was familiar with his work, and a fan, but it was Marvel’s idea to bring him on board. I think it’ll be a good match. He’s not a crisp, clean modern style, but with a classic comic undercurrent to it all.
H21: You’ve mentioned other places that you have another project coming out from Marvel that hasn’t been announced yet. I know you can’t tell me much about it, but any idea when it will be announced, and is it going to be something similar to Infinity Gauntlet?
BC: I have no idea when it’s going to be announced. My understanding is that it’s for an event this summer, but I don’t think the part I play in it warrants an actual announcement. I expect one day I’ll just be told its okay to talk about it. I can’t say much, but it’s my first for really real 616 work! It’s been a huge challenge on that front. It’s the first time I’ve had to deal with continuity I didn’t control and/or make up.
H21: You spoke about Atomic Robo already, and of course it’s your baby, so can you tell me a little about how you came up with the idea, and then what can we expect next from the series. I know you’re in the middle of the current mini, and then there’s the new Free Comic Book Day issue. Can you give us a hint of where the story goes next?
BC: Atomic Robo and his world was this thing floating around the back of my head for about ten years. It became this repository for cool stuff I liked. Over time it evolved into, well, what you see now. The whole thing is an excuse to play around with history, be it weird or alternate or completely real. Simultaneously, it became my living treatise for “fixing” what I felt was “wrong” with American comics. All the angst, the crossovers, the cheesecake, the filler, etc. Readers have been complaining about those things since I can remember, but there didn’t seem to be any big mainstream book out there taking those complaints to heart. Largely, I suspect, due to the accountants claiming that those things have worked for decades and people who rock corporate boats get thrown overboard.
So, Robo was this superhero-style book, in the sense of a comic about adventures that never end, but with all the stuff people don’t like taken out of it. The accountants may find it interesting that the most common phrase used to describe Atomic Robo is, “I wish all comics were like this.”
Anyway, the current run is about an average week in the life of Robo…only we happened to pick the busiest week of his life! The poor guy gets two new arch-nemeses by the time it’s over. After that, Volume 5 will take us back into the 1930s for Robo’s first real adventure. It’ll be six issues; it’ll be a prequel to the end of Volume 4; and it’s our first fully continuous and linear storyline.
After that, well, we’ve got plans for up to Volume 11. Well, Volume 13, really, but they’re not quite canonical yet.
H21: It’s great to hear that you don’t plan to leave the series any time soon.
I was going to ask if you’ve read Jeff Smith’s RASL, and if you have any thoughts as to what is it about Nicola Tesla that makes him such an interesting historical figure to use? It’s one of those weird things where Tesla keeps showing up in a number of recent fictional stories.
BC: Yeah, Tesla is an amazing character. You couldn’t make him up because no one would believe it. In fact, I came around to using Tesla because I was going to make up a scientist to invent Robo. And I kept coming across Tesla tidbits in my research. Eventually my “mad scientist” research turned into “Learn everything about Tesla” research because he was so fascinating. Turns out he was the father of modern robotics as we understand it today. He also patented one of the foundations of computing, a certain kind of logic circuit, if I recall correctly, involved in remote controlling it. And he did this so far ahead of everyone else that decades later some big company, IBM or an equivalent, tried to patent that logic circuit and they were rebuffed. They were amazed to find the patent had been around for twenty or thirty years already. All their cutting edge work and it had been figured out by Tesla as, like, a footnote of a bigger project, when they were still kids.
And, hey, that’s the kind of historical fact that earns you the ability to make a fully functional, super-strong, human-like intelligent robot in a crazy sci-fi adventure world.
There are a lot of levels to Tesla’s appeal. We’re all fascinated by genius. We all love underdogs. We love pioneers. Tesla is all these things and he’s the living inspiration for the Mad Scientist as a cultural icon. He was so brilliant in so many pivotal ways with so many emergent and world-changing technologies and such a consummate showman…how can you resist?
H21: Yeah, Tesla is a fascinating person, and I haven’t really read a lot about him, certainly not as much as you probably have, but whenever I hear someone talking about him, it makes me want to find a biography on him. He inspires a lot of passion in people. I just find it so odd that in the last few years he’s shown up as a character in a number of different projects, particularly comics. It’s like a switch flipped and he entered a lot of writerâ€™s subconsciouses.
BC: I would suggest Man Out Of Time and then The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla. The former is a biography, very well researched though heavily biased in Tesla’s favor, but it’s difficult not to get swept up in Nikola-mania. He’s like da Vinci that way, you can’t help but really like the guy. The latter is INSANE. Like, literally. It’s got the text of some of his speeches and art from his patents, and I bought it at a used book store just for those. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the chapter headings. I’ll just say that wholly fictional Atlantean technology, which is obviously completely real due to the lack of evidence discrediting that it could have existed (lolwut) features heavily in the rest of the text. It’s an amazing book for all kinds of reasons the authors didn’t intend. A better title for this thing would be So Many Atomic Robo Plots.
H21: Moving on to your webcomics (which is where I first became a fan of your work) you’ve now got two ongoing comics, How I Killed Your Master, and Warbot in Accounting. How did these come about and what particular creative itch does working on these scratch?
BC: Anyway, webcomics! How I Killed Your Master and Warbot in Accounting both came about during conversations with friends of mine. HIKYM started as an idea by my buddy John Wood, he managed the comic shop I worked at for a while. He’s a martial artist, a big fan of Iron Fist even before the Fraction/Brubaker renovation, and a comics nerd. Meanwhile, I love kung fu movies. We figured, what the hell, let’s write a kung fu comic that combines our favorite things about kung fu and the movies and comics inspired by them.
We brought Matt Speroni on board for art and the basic creative process is all three of us toss ideas into a pot and then I mix it all together and words come out. It’s a very fun comic to work on and completely unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s easily the least humorous project I’ve worked on in 15 years, but this time on purpose!
Warbot in Accounting was an idea I tossed at Zack Finfrock one day over lunch. The set up was, “What if ED-209 from Robocop had to go and get a normal job?” And we made a comic out of that. Well, okay, there’s a little more to it than that. I think robots are cool, always have, robots are cool the end. But I really dislike most robot stories! I’m being a little disingenuous here, but essentially all modern robot stories boil down to “I’m Data from TNG and I’m sad I don’t have emotions” or “I’m Bender from Futurama and oh boy aren’t I wacky?”
Don’t get me wrong. I love Data and I love Bender. But there should be more to robot characters in popular culture than those two extremes. Atomic Robo was a reaction to that, in part. Robo never worries about being human. He likes humans, sure, every friend he’s ever had has been a human. But he’s a robot and he’s very happy about that. Hell, he’s actually kinda vain.
Anyway, Warbot in Accounting is the anti-Robo. While Robo is obviously a robot, he’s very human-like and he’s treated and respected as one by other humans. Warbot is also obviously a robot, but he’s very appliance-like and he’s treated and respected as one by other humans. Some people love it, other people hate it, and somewhere in the middle are people who want to enjoy it but find the whole comic too depressing to read.
Zack and I honestly have no idea what we’re doing with Warbot in Accounting. I mean, it’s not a comedy. I laugh at every single one of them, but oh god, it’s not funny, it’s really, really not. It’s terrible and laughing at it makes you a terrible person. But we can’t stop ourselves from inflicting the world with it!
H21: Cool. Well, I think we’ve covered a lot of stuff. Any final words for you fans?
BC: Only that they are all clearly men and women of distinction who are far, FAR too intelligent and good looking to be swayed by appeals to emotion. I love you. Buy Atomic Robo.