Happy! co-creator Darick Robertson on the future of The Boys and Transmetropolitan

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Dec 13, 2017

SYFY’s bonkers new show Happy!, starring Christopher Meloni and the titular imaginary friend voiced by Patton Oswalt, is off to a great start in the ratings. A TV adaptation is a mighty task, but the show could never have flown like a blue, donkey-faced Pegasus had it not stood on the shoulders of the original Image Comics graphic novel from writer Grant Morrison and artist Darick Robertson.

As promised in our Happy! centric SYFY WIRE interview with Robertson last week, SYFY WIRE is now stalking out new territory with Robertson, an artist who's enjoyed more than 20 years in the comic book business. This time, we're discussing a couple of his other beloved creations: The Boys with writer Garth Enis, and Transmetropolitan with writer Warren Ellis.

The Boys, which just got picked up by Amazon with showrunner Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who brought Enis’ other comic Preacher to TV), represents Robertson's first Hollywood credit. What that means, exactly, he’s admittedly still finding out.

“I don’t know yet, we haven’t gotten into the production end of things, but I’ll have a title,” says Robertson. “When something’s based on something you created, it’s nice to be involved in it.”

And he couldn’t have asked for a better team to be involved with. “I love the people that are involved,” says Robertson. “I think Eric Kripke and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are going to do something amazing.”

The Boys (image courtesy of Darick Robertson)

And in our current superhero-saturated pop-culture landscape, the timing is perfect. The book has been around the block a little bit, having been first published by Wildstorm back in 2006, before moving to Dynamite after six issues and finishing the 72-book run in 2012. The Boys tells the tale of a super-enhanced Black Ops group known as The Boys (which includes one badass girl too, The Female) that keeps the world safe from all the reckless (and perverse!) superheroes flying around everywhere. 

“The timing is crazy, because it’s 10-years-old now, as of this year, and when it came out, it was a little prescient in that you look at The Boys in where it’s going to land in the current media environment, and its timing couldn’t be better,” says Robertson. “It feels like a lot of the Hollywood and movie stuff is catching up to where comics were back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. And you’re seeing a lot of smarter stories, and more faithful productions, as opposed to like the films that we were getting in like, say, the mid ‘90s, where they took the skull off The Punisher’s chest, and Captain America was running around with a costume that had rubber ears.”

The Boys (image courtesy of Darick Robertson)

Though Robertson’s Transmetropolitan is even older, having run on Helix and Vertigo from 1997 to 2002, it’s perhaps even more prescient than The Boys. “When we were working on it, I didn’t think it was going to be prescient predicting the future, it’s supposed to be an absurd future.”

The series follows renegade gonzo-journalist Spider Jerusalem keeping dystopian leaders in check, and having a madcap time doing it, in a world that looks utterly futuristic, but still somewhat recognizable.

Transmetropolitan (image courtesy of Darick Robertson)

“We didn’t actually set a time for it, so it could be right now,” says Robertson. “Warren’s idea was he wasn’t going to put an actual date on the year that Spider lives in, because in that regard it wouldn’t limit when it would be relevant."

And it's plenty relevant today, despite some anachronisms. “It’s funny when I look back on it now, it really tastes of the ‘90s to me, because there’s things that I thought were going to be WAY off in the future that are common place now … like a lot of the stuff that Spider’s using, like he’s still working on a typewriter computer. I had all these people walking around the streets with these helmets that would do everything that an iPhone does, because I thought that’s what people would want: to get their headphones and their computer and everything all in one place, and they’d wear it on their head. The irony is that the Google Glass is exactly what Spider’s glasses are.”

Granted, Google Glass ain’t got nothing on Spider’s unique sense of style.

Transmetropolitan (image courtesy of Darick Robertson)

But the characters and technology aren’t the only reasons the future of Transmetropolitan is so foreign yet similar. “I loved building that world because it was an anything-goes world, because anything I could think of had it’s place there. The city was just supposed to be a mishmash of worlds and times.”

Robertson was living in San Francisco when Transmetropolitan was first proposed, but he moved to Florence, Italy around issue 7 or 8, then lived in Europe for a year, and then moved to New York, where he finished the book. All the while, big life changes occurred, including marriage, kids, and losing both his parents.

“So I was really emotionally raw during that time, and on top of that, the interesting thing I started learning was I started to see cities differently because I was visiting and living in so many different cities at that time that I started to see a through-line, how a lot of cities have a lot in common,” says Robertson. “The past doesn’t really go away, the world that was there 200, 300 years ago is still there, just new stuff is piled on top of it.”

Transmetropolitan (image courtesy of Darick Robertson)

But then he’d see someplace like Germany, or even London, that had been bombed during World War II, and Robertson saw the “old buildings that were spared” next to newer buildings, “which looked like they had been built relatively cheaply. So you could see that contrast, because that’s almost like a scar that time left on a city.

"So I started to work that into Transmetropolitan, where it was like any kind of thing I could imagine, I just could think of a mental reason for putting it in there just so. I started to work in some ancient architecture but then put neon in front of it, stuff like that.”

Transmetropolitan (image courtesy of Darick Robertson)

As such, the series is also ripe for an adaptation. “I’ve heard that there’s interest in it. Yeah, I’d like to see that happen as well, but again, that’s another thing I can’t really talk about it,” says Robertson.

Hopefully, if the Adaptation Gods are just, Robertson will have something to say about that soon. For now though, we’ll just enjoy his amazing books, and Happy! on Wednesday nights on SYFY, starring Christopher Meloni as Nick Sax, a former detective, current hitman recruited to help save an abducted little girl by her annoyingly optimistic imaginary friend, Happy (as voiced by Patton Oswalt).

Check out a couple of Robertson's early sketches of Sax below, a part he says Meloni is "perfect" for, then let us know who your favorite Robertson creation is in the comments.