This past weekend at Silicon Valley Comic-Con in San Jose, I sat down with the creators of The Space Odditorium, a twisted, wacky whirlwind of a book that’s as funny as it is nice to look at.
Morgan: Describe your individual backgrounds, and how you met each other.
Chris: In my early 20’s, that’s when I started studying film. I got into film theory and then film production. Went to De Anza College out here in the Bay Area. Then I went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. From there I started to branch off into more writing. After graduating, I did some music videos and some film production kind of stuff. Then I got more into the writing game of music video treatments for directors, then writing short pieces for directors and a production company, and then working on featured scripts when I was accepted to UCLA. I moved down to Los Angeles and continued to work on writing featured scripts for a long while and probably ended up doing that for about 5, 6 years until Dave called me up and wanted to get started on a comic book. And during that whole time I had been reading comics and always had an interest in writing comics but it was just, I didn’t have an artist to work with. There were a couple failed attempts in which I tried to recruit an artist on a comic book but it was just very short-lived.
M: It’s really difficult being someone who just writes, to find a good partner to work with.
C: Yeah, because it’s so much work, I mean it’s a commitment. And you have to be ready for that commitment.
M: And you, Dave? What’s your background?
Dave: I’ve always loved comic books from a young age. I think X-Men was what really got me into comics at first. Jim Lee in particular. After that, I got more into indie comics through Vertigo. Because they opened my eyes to the fact that there are other kinds of stories that didn’t have superheroes in spandex, which I still think is cool. But I found this so much cooler, and you know, comics can be so much more. It’s all about the fantastic. It doesn’t always have to be superhero versus supervillain. Because it’s such a free-flowing medium, you can do that. You can take people in different places and so I always felt that the superhero/supervillain archetype was a little bit limiting. All through college, I was drawing my own mini-comic that was more of my observations of my friends and things that were going on at the time and it didn’t have anything to do with superheroes but life took over and I dropped that and went into bicycle sales but that proved to be unfulfilling. So here I am ???
C: And for a very short while, we worked on that mini-comic together.
D: He wrote a couple issues near the end. So that’s why he was the first one I thought of when I decided I wanted to do this, but I didn’t really want to write it ??
The Fantasy of the Future…Or A Potential Tangent of Reality
M: Describe The Space Odditorium to someone who has never read anything outside of a Marvel or a DC book.
C: In a nutshell, we kind of describe it as kind of like Tank Girl in space. So –
D: But they may not have read Tank Girl. ??
C: ? Yeah, that’s true. Well, it’s science fiction, but it’s not science fiction where it takes from a lot of science fact or a lot of science theories. So it’s a light-hearted science fiction and it takes itself very fun (sic).
D: I think people use the words ‘Space Opera’ in almost a negative light, but I actually embrace that sometimes because I appreciate when someone just takes the aesthetic, the fantasy of the future or a potential tangent of reality, and tries to tell an interesting story with it.
M: ? Yeah, Space Opera was something I thought about when I was reading it, but I wasn’t sure if that term exactly fits. Maybe aesthetic wise, but definitely not the story. This was a lot more twisted and gritty than a Space Opera would be. It doesn’t feel romantic or anything like that, you know?
C: Yeah, we never really wanted it to take itself very seriously. We wanted it to just be a fun book. Bringing the fun back into the comics. In the medium, you can go as far out as you want to. You have so many different types of readers. Whereas if you’re making a movie, you need to direct it toward a certain audience. It’s kind of like we’re directing it (Space Odditorium) towards, you know, it could be anyone. But it would fit some of those more sophisticated readers where it is outside the readership of Marvel or DC. It’s gritty and it’s crude. It’s vulgar and wacky, weird and strange. And it is science fiction. I think the art is also a huge selling factor. And it’s what sort of like draws people in immediately. We have people walking past us and the first thing they see is the artwork. And that sort of causes them to stop, come over to the table, check it out and flip through the pages. They realize that the artwork is really kind of cool, and that’s when they ask what it’s about, too. The artwork is so unique in that it’s brightly colored, and (looking over to Dave) how would you describe the aesthetic of your work?
D: I definitely was going for the earlier pop color. I really wanted the color to affect the moods of the different themes.
C: The coloring and the artwork itself makes it stand out from other books that you would see on the shelves at comic shops.
M: I agree. It’s got a very distinct look to it.
M: So Chris, going back to your background in film, do you find it rewarding writing a comic? Because comic books are in a sense a step of filmmaking.
C: I do. I actually like it a whole lot more because you get to see your product. You get to see your end result so much faster. Writing a featured script, especially for someone who doesn’t have any representation makes it hard to get it out there and then it’s hard to get it produced, developed and then made into a movie. ?
M: ?? And then I feel like they change so much too from script to screen.
C: They do. I had the opportunity to work with some executives down there in Los Angeles who were interested in one of my scripts and it was just rewrite after rewrite after rewrite, and I wasn’t sure if it was actually leading to anything. And then it ultimately fell apart. Whereas working on a comic book, specifically independently, I can just write the script, and Dave will draw it ??. I think when we first started working on this, we didn’t exactly have like a destination or a direction in which we were going. We were just sort of figuring it out. And now after having worked on it, we have more of a direction that we’re going. But for the most part, it was just great. I’d write a script. I’d just go bizarre, wacky, and weird and have as much fun with it as I want to and then Dave will draw it.
M: That’s more of the luxury too with doing it on your own because you can figure it out while also producing work, whereas publications will want to know your beginning, middle, and end before they even think about reading what you send them.
C: Or if you’re working for Marvel or DC, you have to work with editors and sometimes you’ll have to tailor a story that fits the overarching universe.
The Mechanics of Mechanics Making Art In Space
M: What’s the main source of inspiration that The Space Odditorium pulls from?
D: When I decided that I wanted to get back into art, I just did a lot of drawing and little by little, it just started to filter into some of the designs and the characters that inevitably he (Chris) would use. There were a whole lot of characters that I had just sketched out because I thought it would be interesting and he kind of picked the ones that he liked and worked with those. My inspiration comes from a lot of things. I come from the bicycle industry so mechanics has always been something I enjoyed looking at, that I find aesthetically pleasing. So that comes into play in a lot of my designs.
M: I think that’s definitely one of the book’s strengths. It just looks so intricate. I found myself staring at certain pages for a long time trying to figure out what connects to what ?. It just adds a fun layer to the experience.
M: So you (Dave) had an idea which spawned from your sketches, so you called Chris up and then what? You just ran with it?
C: Yeah, we just built off of it. Initially, there was an illustration of what became the Major Trauma character. You know, this girl in a sci-fi setting with this robot. And so then we just kind of like took that illustration and built off of it.
M: It’s cool to see a situation that developed that way. I think a lot of the time when you hear about someone looking to work with someone else to make a comic, it’s usually a writer looking for an artist, because a lot of the time, if the artist can write, it’s easier to just work alone. So it’s cool to see this story develop so equally.
C: It’s very ‘fly by the seat of our pants’. And it’s starting to have a little more of a structure to it. That’s also what makes it so much fun.
Having A Soundboard
M: What are some of the challenges and rewards of working on this together that you think wouldn’t be as prevalent if the relationship you two have wasn’t so strong?
C: It’s a new way for me to create. When I was working on screenwriting, it was pretty much just me coming up with ideas. Dave provides me with feedback. And also tailoring the story to make it better. We entered that 5×5 contest and were voted as one of the finalists. I think one of the original concepts that I had pitched to Dave probably wouldn’t have been one of the finalists. It was really disjointed and confusing and he asked me to come back and sort of re-tailor the story. So it’s kind of like, it’s having a soundboard. It’s having an editor to help you polish everything. In my case it’s rewarding.
D: ?? I find the challenges when we butt heads. We have a very equal stake in it I think creative wise. I usually interfere very little with his writing. And vice versa. But every once in a while it’s just too much. One of us is like “I don’t like this” or “This isn’t right”. And it’s always uncomfortable. But I can’t think of an example where it didn’t ultimately come out better than I think I had envisioned it. I hope he feels the same way.
C: It takes a level of maturity. If you’re gonna be a writer, you definitely have to be open to feedback. Not be so tied to your ideas and so married to them.
D: And it’s the same for an artist. I’ll spend a day working on something and think it looks awesome, and it’s not doing what he wants it to do. And that’s hard for me to go back and restart. It doesn’t happen all that often ??.
C: I think it was that last page right? Of the book? Because that page, it sort of just exemplifies you know, this is what happened to the earth. I think beforehand we had just a very tiny image of the earth.
D: Yeah, it was pretty different.
C: So I asked Dave to kind of rework it and there was more stuff going on surrounding it too that felt kind of distracting. But otherwise, there hasn’t been anything that I’ve asked you to redraw, has there?
D: No, there hasn’t been a lot. I think there was a page in the second one where—you didn’t have me redraw it but there was a lot that wasn’t working. And in hindsight, I agree totally that it’s now so much better but at the time I was like “whaaat??” ???
Art Imitates American Pop Culture
M: Dave, so you mentioned how you draw inspiration from Pop Art. I noticed while reading this that it has a real nostalgic nature to it. And I was wondering, with the Full House references and all of that, is it all overtly deliberate, are you just poking fun or is there a deeper meaning to it all—
Chris & Dave: ????
M: ?? I just mean like you said that a lot of it is you guys just having fun and going wild with things. But I was wondering while reading if there is a reason for all of this.
C: I hope there is. I hope anybody can kind of read into it and then possibly decipher some sort of deeper meaning out of it. I think it does have to do with American culture. And what it means to be a human being. And I think ultimately that’s the theme that I was trying to tackle with it too. This girl that’s trying to be breaking from the chains of repression from this alien race and trying to figure out what it is to be a human. And she’s being guided along the way by the Full House family. This family that was a sitcom. That is not a reality.
D: You live in San Francisco! You know those houses don’t look like that! ??
C: Sitcom families are like this idealized version of American culture. I’ve always had this idea that there would be a race of people that would come and find the remains of Earth. And the one thing they would find would be video cassettes of Jean Claude Van Damme ??. So they would base the human race off of these Jean Claude Van Damme tapes. And that’s sort of like the concept that I’m going with them, too. Aliens are basing the human race off of this sitcom that they found, Full House. And it’s not exactly Full House but it is more like this bastardized version of it.
M: I can see all of that. While I was reading the book, it definitely felt like it was saying something about how artificial American society can be.
C: And then she comes across somebody that’s like the exact opposite of the sitcom family or what American culture would be idealized as. William S. Burroughs, whose ideas and theories were about “Okay we’ll go ahead and listen to what the government has to tell you, but question it. And think for yourself.” So we’re steering in that direction now. And we’re hoping that there’s gonna be more people that she meets along the way.
M: Talk a little bit about Major Trauma herself. What was her inspiration?
D: I think she’s more of a result of the other things that we thought of.
C: I started with this character that was just gonna be sort of like angsty and mean and sort of wild. And so she started that way on the surface. But then I wanted to get into sort of like that psychological result of her being held captive by an alien race. Being the sole survivor of Earth, not knowing where she’s from. Not knowing what it means to be a human being. So we’re starting to explore more of those psychological reasons while keeping that teen angst aspect to it by having her headbutt her way and kick people in the ass.
M: Which is very reminiscent of the mid-nineties (When the world ended).
Just Go Out And Do It Yourself
M: So for those who wind up reading this book, and see that it’s self-published, detail the process of inception to print for those who might want to follow in your footsteps.
D: Chris usually writes the script. Sometimes he’s got the full chapter done, sometimes it’s a chunk of the chapter. He usually has an idea of the chapter. Then he gives it to me and I’ll produce the pages and we edit as we go. Usually, there’s like a second edit that’s going on as I’m producing the pages. I think Photoshop and the way I work allows us a lot more freedom to change things. Some of these pages look pretty complete, but a lot of them I can manipulate where the panels are and the colors of things and so there’s a lot of flexibility and it seems to work out for the way we work. If we did really old-school and did everything on paper, it would make things a lot harder. From that point, once we get a chapter done—we call them records, we publish it on Comixology. And once we had gotten enough for a trade, we self-published it.
M: So with Comixology, how does that work, putting it on there. Is anyone able to upload their stuff orrrr?
D: I believe there’s a vetting process. You have to submit it and they say yay or nay. As to how hard that vetting process is, I’m not sure. I don’t know exactly what they look for. But there is a process. If that didn’t work, we were gonna just put it on a website on our own and do it like that but you know Comixology is nice because they have a marketing machine going. They have a great way of displaying the comics. They have a guided view so you can see how everything works. They collect the money and deal with all of that so it’s nice in that respect.
M: So when you got to the point of wanting to put it in print after you finished the volume, was that collecting the money that you got from Comixology, or did you fund out of pocket, did you raise money?
D: We didn’t do any Kickstarter. There’s the money that came from Comixology, but most of it came out of pocket. We briefly talked about doing Kickstarter, but I think we just wanted to not have to think about that kind of stuff and not have that be something that stops us from doing this.
C: I think for anyone starting out that wants to do a comic, I think that’s probably the best way to go about doing it. Of course, it costs you a lot of money upfront in order to make something like this, but then you’ll have a product. Then you can go out to comic book conventions. You can go out on the street and sell it too. And it cuts out the middle people which sometimes can cause a project to sort of lack and lag also. I mean, if you really want to get it done, just go out and do it yourself.
D: With the internet these days it is easier to produce your own book. The price you can get for doing a book is pretty good, depending on how many you do.
The Right Vibrations
M: I’m starting to ask everyone I interview this question. What music would you pair with The Space Odditorium for someone who would like to listen to something while they read along?
D: I’ll start with the one we both started with. Chris mentioned Tubeway Army when we were starting. It’s this 80’s band. He really played around with the synthesizer which is an instrument that we both really love.
M: I read this to some synth last night actually ???
D: Yeah, so that’s definitely one that I listen to a lot.
C: Also to clarify, Tubeway Army was Gary Numan’s band before he became Gary Numan. So he was like doing that synthesizer with Punk Rock.
M: Anything else or mainly that?
C: Craftwork. I listened to a lot of the Sex Pistols when I was writing it, too.
M: I just thought I’d ask because I don’t think enough people really listen to music when they read and I think it can elevate a book if you find the right music.
C: Exactly. And I mean I listen to a lot of music that inspires me to write the book too. So like Sex Pistols is about like flipping off culture and society and that’s what Major Trauma’s character is. So it definitely puts me in the right angsty kind of like zone and space. And then Tubeway Army and Gray Numan were definitely inspired by Phillip K. Dick novels, and far off psychological science fiction. So it gets into your skin too and sinks into your subconscious. And Craftwork just puts you in the right zone.
M: What can readers old and new look forward to in volume 2 of The Space Odditorium?
C: We’re gonna introduce more characters. We were just talking about this earlier today. We already have a new character introduced. His name is Roast Beef. He’s a sumo wrestler in space.
M: He’s the character you introduced for your 5×5 story.
C: Yes. Exactly. And so that story is being expanded and he’s gonna come across Major Trauma and Burroughs. And I was also then talking about this whole group coming together and possibly forming a band. And then that band being represented by Malcolm McLaren. But we’ll see where we go.
D: More action, adventure, mayhem. That’s for sure.
C: With little clues thrown in as to what happened to Earth in 1994. And more 90’s references.
You can read The Space Odditorium on Comixology.
Starting The Space Odditorium? Find BNP’s other reviews of the series here.