I recently took a few moments (er, emails) and conducted another "Almost 20Q" interview with other pulpsters out there who are living the dream. This time I visited PopGun Pulp Studios and we talked about what it took for them to get their debut comic JOHNNY RECON off the ground and flying through the galaxy....
1. Who is Johnny Recon and what does he mean to you?
[MITCH GERADS] To me, Johnny is my escapist self. He's my outlet for getting as close to all the things I imagined my adult self doing as a kid, like traveling to distant planets, fighting aliens, getting by on my wit. Johnny is a magnet for adventure, and we could all use a little adventure in our lives.
[SCOTT DILLON] In thinking about what Johnny Recon means to me, I can sincerely answer that he is a character who is fun to write. I would have worshipped his passion for danger and adventure when I was a kid, causing my parents to scowl disapprovingly (and making me love him even more). He’s a sarcastic ne’er-do-well who is still searching for his place in the universe (and isn’t in that much of a rush).
2. What influences would a reader of Johnny Recon see in your work - both writing style and artwork? What are your personal influences that get your rocket engines going? (TV, movies, comics, cartoons, toys)
[MITCH] The pulp influence for me, obviously. I LOVE modern comics and movies, but there's something about the old stuff like Indiana Jones, John Carter, the early Adam Strange, Doc Savage, that stuff really gets me fired up. Men being men in seemingly simpler times. Sure, it's pretty misogynistic by today's standards, but no one can deny how much fun it was.
[SCOTT] Without a doubt, readers would identify the influences of Mark Millar, Joss Whedon, and R.A. Salvatore in my writing. Their flair for creating unique, adventure-filled stories with extremely memorable characters really hits home for me. As for my original inspiration in becoming involved in comic books, I can’t say enough about how much I loved the X-Men growing up (Archangel was the coolest).
3. Give us a little bit of background on Johnny - set up the universe for us.
[SCOTT] We had a bit of a concern at the beginning of our universe creation since stories about everything having to do with aliens and Earth have been done to death, but we felt comfortable about the foundation we were creating, and we really wanted to take the genre in a new direction. We explore this idea that an alien species comes to our planet and offers select individuals, ranging from significant historical figures to seemingly common individuals, the opportunity to start a new, peaceful civilization on a different world. But what make us human are our flaws, and, eventually, this newly created utopia crumbles. Enter our brash and charismatic protagonist that comes from a long family line of heroism, Johnny Recon, who lives on a planet built upon a framework of peace and coexistence that has devolved into a society of seclusion and war.
[MITCH] Scott really is the architect of this universe. He's put so much time and thought and research into this. It completely blows my mind. I just wanted to draw Indiana Jones in space, but he’s turned it into something SO much better.
[SCOTT] I think a large part of what makes me want to write about other worlds is the fact that I’m not completely satisfied with the one that I live in. I saw this universe as an opportunity to create not only idealistic views of humanity but also establish symbolic themes that expound upon issues in our own society.
[MITCH] See what I mean? Haha.
4. How did you guys meet and decide to do a comic?
[MITCH] I've actually known Scott since the first grade, so about 22 years. We both shared a love of comics, cards, etc. and we've been friends ever since. In the last three or four years, we've been trying to come up with a project for us to collaborate on, and, after a lot of trial and error, we re-imagined an old idea of mine, and that's where Johnny Recon all started.
[SCOTT] Wow, it really has been 22 years, I feel extremely old now. Thanks, Mitch.
5. What else have you guys done that would be known by this audience - toys, magazines, media graphics, etc?
[MITCH] For the last four-and-a-half years, I've been designing and illustrating children's cereals and stuff like that. Most of the General Mills kid cereals on-shelf, for the last three years or so, I've either designed, illustrated, or worked on in some form (Trix, Cookie Crisp, Lucky Charms, etc.).
[SCOTT] I’ve been focusing on a career in publishing up until this point, and I had put my dreams to become a writer on the backburner, so I’m very excited that Johnny Recon came along. It is the only example of my work out in the marketplace at this point, but it’s reignited my passion for writing.
6. Dream job?
[MITCH] Comics, without a doubt. Just getting my stuff out there right now with Johnny Recon and other samples, etc. I will say the future is looking bright!
[SCOTT] Mitch and I often talked about working together on a comic when we were younger, and it’s extremely surreal that it became a reality. My dream is to become a published author, whether it’s creating comics, short stories, or novels.
7. How did you put together this issue of Johnny? Who does what? How long did it take? What tools do you use?
[SCOTT] I wrote the script, collaborated with Mitch on the story creation, and he literally did everything else (penciling, inking, lettering, coloring, you name it). I found that, for me, the best way to write for the comic was to generate a free-flowing story, separate each beat into a page outline, and, then, draft the script.
[MITCH] I started actual pages in February and finished everything in mid-early June, in-between my full-time cereal illustration job. As far as my process, I kind of stole it from one of my idols, Adam Hughes. Once I have the pages roughly laid out, I'd go in and pencil individual panels on whatever random scrap paper I had lying around. Then, I would scan it in and arrange it all in Photoshop and print the composite pencils, tape that to the back of a virgin bristol board, throw it on the ol' lightbox, and brush ink the entire page onto the board. Lastly, scan that in and finish everything else in Photoshop.
8. What lessons did you learn in doing it yourself?
[MITCH] My god, what didn't we learn? Ha ha. Seriously, it was the most educational comic experience I've ever been privy to. I seriously could go on and on, but it's easier to just tell you to see for yourself and pick up issue No. 02 this winter. I liken issue No.01 to a TV pilot. Issue No.02 might read, feel, and look a little different (...and it will!) , but it's only because we've learned so much from making issue No.01 that we know EXACTLY how we want to continue from here.
[SCOTT] I think that one of the biggest things we both learned was how to work with the other person. We’d never collaborated on anything until Johnny, so each one of us needed to learn how the other felt most comfortable in terms of creating our own interpretation of the story.
[MITCH] Scott and I are very different storytellers, which doesn’t usually work out for most people, but the fact we’ve been friends for so long lets us listen to the other’s ideas and find that creative common ground without any of the fight. That collaboration is what fuels all our ideas.
9. Will you guys be making any convention appearances? When and where?
[MITCH] For sure! In just a few days we'll be at the MN FALLCON in St. Paul, MN. I think that's it for 2009 actually, I'm hoping to get some shop-specific appearances somewhere in there as well. Next year, we plan on hitting as many conventions as we can work out. We're very excited for the new C2E2 next year; I predict big things for that show. I guess you can just stay tuned to http://popgunpulp.com. We're pretty good at keeping all our plans and appearances up-to-date on there.
[SCOTT] Our first issue of Johnny debuted at the Wizard convention in Chicago, and it was an amazing experience for both of us. It’s a wonderful feeling when we have an opportunity to interact with our readers and receive their thoughts and feedback on something we’ve both created, so we really look forward to doing more in the near-future.
10. There's a lot of creators out in the market right now - who are some of the people you want to work with - artists, writers, publishers, characters?
[MITCH] Ha ha, this is one of those questions us comic guys could go on for about 3 days straight with. I really want to sink my artistic teeth into both the big two companies and their characters, but, other than that, I have a HUGE goal to work on IDW's Doctor Who. Tony Lee is writing some incredible Doctor stories over there, and I want in on that.
[SCOTT] This is mostly due to the fact that I grew up watching the very cheesy TV show with John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen (have to love the outfit), but I would have a lot of fun writing The Flash. I still remember reading The Adventures of Superman #463, where Wally West races Superman to determine who’s the fastest – as a kid, I really identified with West in the issue, who wanted to show the world that he was better than Superman at one thing. This idea of him being so egotistical, yet portrayed as the underdog, was very appealing for me. Wow, that was a tangent – like Mitch said, other than the big two, in my dream of dreams, I’d work with Jim Lee or Bryan Hitch.
[MITCH] Can I change my answer to “I want to BE Bryan Hitch”?
11. Personal backgrounds - what's your education? When did you first pick up a pencil or typewriter/ laptop?
[MITCH] I'm the classic case of decent-to-good grades throughout school, but constant parent teacher conferences about my "constant doodling" interrupting "mah book lernins." Ha ha. After high school, I went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout and earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design, which has been INVALUABLE to me as an illustrator. All illustrators should be taking graphic design classes.
[SCOTT] I still remember writing these short stories with my younger brother when I was in elementary school. I actually have a couple of these now and, when I look back at them, a part of me wishes that I could have held onto that childlike imagination because, although they were extremely rough around the edges, the ideas themselves were so fantastical. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write – in pursuing that dream, I attended the University of Minnesota and graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and Journalism.
12. Where on the web can readers find you? (website, facebook, twitter, web store, etc...)
[MITCH] This is definitely my question, ha ha. I'm trying to get Scott to embrace the world of social networking. Slowly, but surely ;)
[SCOTT] Ugh, I am on Facebook, but I’m horrible about checking it. I don’t even have a Twitter account yet. I’ve seriously considered asking Mitch to just create one and update my status for me. I’ll get there.
[MITCH] We keep our main website (http://www.popgunpulp.com) constantly up-to-date with everything we have going on. That's really our main hub. You can access our web store on there, get all our updated news, appearances, links to both our Twitter and Facebook networks; it's all there on the main page. I'm a Twitter fiend, so hit me up!
[SCOTT] He’s not kidding. Whenever I can’t get a hold of Mitch, I check Twitter to see what he’s doing.
13. Secret Mountain/ Volcano HQ or deep underwater complex?
[MITCH] Yes! Now THESE are the questions I was looking forward to! Definitely Secret Volcano HQ.
[SCOTT] No way – deep underwater complex. Have you seen Deep Blue Sea? Or played BioShock? Can’t beat the atmosphere.
14. Raygun or jetpack?
[MITCH] Oh, come on! What's the point of even having a jet pack if you don't have the ray-gun to go with it? PS. I totally have a thing for ray-guns, so if anyone wants to bring anything ray-gun related to a convention for me, I'll totally make it worth your while.
[SCOTT] Hmm, this one really made me think. It’s a close race, but I have to go with jet pack. Another one of those nostalgic things, but I was in love with The Rocketeer as a kid, and I would have given anything to strap one of those on and fly around the world. It didn’t hurt that it also helped the hero get Jennifer Connelly.
15. Flying wing or rocket car?
[MITCH] Rocket car! It's even fun to say.
[SCOTT] I have to agree with Mitch, here – I already have a jet pack.
16. What's in the future for the Recon family and Popgun Pulp Comics?
[MITCH] We have Johnny Recon issue No.02 coming out this winter. We've had a very hectic last quarter of the year, and we hope to make up for it by being a bit more regular in our release times in the future. Other than that, like I said before, we really want to hit the convention circuit running next year. We're super excited about issue No.02. I promise, it's gonna’ be a solid book.
[SCOTT] This question relates back to your earlier query regarding what we’ve learned. Both of us feel like we’re honing our craft so much, just by utilizing it day-after-day, and we’re really getting a sense for how the other person works. We have high hopes that, as we continue to churn out issues, hopefully at a faster clip, the future is bright for us. One thing that I know we both want to emphasize: we don’t like multiple first issues. We want to stay in the Reconiverse for a long, long time.
17. Advice to those who want to do what you're doing?
[MITCH] Get HONEST critiques of your work and LISTEN to them. You have to learn true critique. It's the most solid thing I learned from going to art school. You don't determine how far you make it in the business, the fans do, your art director does, the editor does, so listen to what they have to say and use it. This sounds really cheesy, too, but have fun, no matter what you're doing. You gotta stay happy!
[SCOTT] I hated this advice as a writer, mostly because I heard it so often, but it’s so true: write, write, write. Also, attend workshops where, as Mitch said, you can receive honest feedback on your work. Your family and friends will support you, no matter what – but strangers can oftentimes be the best thing for your work, providing you with critical comments that you’ll never receive from them. This quote from John Keats has always been inspiring for me: “I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.” The important thing is to always try – as a burgeoning writer, it’s almost expected that you won’t be that good. The important thing is to stick with it. Lastly, when you have an idea, see it through to the end. New concepts are constantly popping into my head – the hardest part for me to learn was to write them down, put them aside, and focus on what I was already working on.
18. You're casting the Johnny Recon movie - who's your all time dream cast (living or dead) ?
[MITCH] This is probably just the Doctor Who nerd in me, but I think John Barrowman would be the perfect Johnny Recon. Hell, even if Johnny Recon ends up being a musical, he's STILL perfect for it.
[SCOTT] Wow, Johnny as a musical, scary thought. Good choice with Barrowman, but I’d have to go with Nathan Fillion. His natural charisma is a perfect fit for Johnny. Running down the rest of the cast in the first issue, I’d have to say Doug Jones for Finn, Rita Hayworth for Kierra, Jimmy Stewart for Will, and Kylie from the Windows commercials for Laurie (although this would be tough to run by Mitch, who’s a Mac guy through-and-through).
[MITCH] Grumble Grumble
19. Star Trek or Star Wars?
[MITCH] Wars, but only the original trilogy. Somehow I've been involved in comics and sci-fi my whole life and have never seen an episode of Star Trek of any series. BUT I did see the NEW JJ Abrams movie, it was phenomenal.
[SCOTT] This may have to do with when I was born, as I missed out on the original Star Trek series, but I would have to say Star Wars. I rented the original trilogy from my local video store so many times that my family eventually bought me the movies (they worked out that I had already paid enough to have purchased them three times over). This was a tough decision for me, though – I absolutely loved Star Trek: The Next Generation. There was nothing like it on TV around the time it was on, and I really latched onto the idea of exploring the unknown. The STNG movies were a bit lackluster, but I’d take them over Episodes I-III any day.
[MITCH] Hey, what happened to that guy interviewing us? Are we done? Are those little sandwiches free?
[SCOTT] Weird, just disappeared on us. Take the sandwiches, ask questions later.
So give the comic and these guys a chance and visit their website to pick up the first issue of JOHNNY RECON.