Every once in a while, you need a break, and the creators of the thought-provoking Hacktivist comic-book series are taking a much-needed change for their next project for Boom! Studios. Joyride started out as a handmade comic by artist Marcus To when he was in high school, and he later showed it to collaborators Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly (Batman & Robin Eternal) to update it and make it a much bigger story.
Their work on the Hacktivist required intense research and careful crafting with the story’s initial creator, Alyssa Milano, and now the creative team looks to let loose and go back to their youth and head out into space with their new story, which features three teenagers hot-wiring a spaceship and breaking out of a hostage situation called Earth with imagination as their fuel.
We’ve got an exclusive interview with the Joyride creators about the new story and six-page prequel story exclusive to Blastr for you to check out in the gallery below, or click on the images in the story to expand. The four-issue mini-series will begin releasing to comic shops on April 13.
Marcus, Joyride started out as your brainchild. What inspired the comic?
Marcus To: When I was in high school, I worked on practicing drawing comics, and the way I’ve always thought about learning how to do that is to actually make a comic and come up with my own story that me and a high school friend and I just talked about. It’s funny; I never watched Star Wars until I was in grade 10, so it invigorated me to do something space-related. There was no rules or plan of what to do, this was just what I could come up with on the spot, to draw and practice, and it built on itself in college and became the start of Joyride. You know when they say that all the ideas when we were kids are unfettered, that it’s just pure creativity. I wanted to recapture that.
Creative people will always stumble on something they did when they were younger and be embarrassed about it, yet for you it triggered something else. What eventually gave you the confidence to revisit Maximum Velocity and want to bring it out of the attic?
Marcus To: I went through a phase in my work where I had to remember what brought me joy I had in drawing and creating stories. I’ve been working in comics for more than 10-11 years now. A lot of it was working for other companies on other people’s projects. As much as I love doing that stuff, after a little while, you’re wondering, where’s my creativity, I’m just doing what other people did. I looked back at old stuff when I was just creating and I was talking with the guys in the (RAID Creative) studio, we think that that some of those ideas when we were kids, it was inspired and no one could tell you any different. I wanted to see if what I did back in my younger teen years was good so we too the raw nuggets of what it felt like as opposed to the idea and brought that to Jackson and Collin.
What about the climate of creator-owned comics and specifically science fiction comics made this the right time and Archaia/Boom the right home?
Jackson Lanzing: I think the early stages of this book probably started in December of 2013 and it’s been a long ride. When we started, there was less of a surge in space content or space fiction than you see now. Collin and I as creators come from a hardcore science-fiction and fantasy background, we bonded over comics, we bonded over science-fiction books. I grew up on Star Trek and graduated into Iain Banks and Battlestar Galactica. Babylon 5 taught me about politics. Science-fiction helped raise me, and I think the same is true for Collin. When we had an opportunity to work on a creator-owned book, especially one with Marcus, we were really pleased when he threw us Maximum Velocity. It’s something that was a free-wheeling, runaway, have fun on a spaceship book. Collin and I were rubbing our hands together like Gollum, thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is exactly what we’ve been looking to do for years.’ So, it had very little to do with the surge in the market and over the last couple of years, once we had Hactivist Vol. 2 off our plates, all of us have grown as creators, we’ve watched as the creator-owned market has embraced space content and that goes as mass market as Saga or niche and crazy as Matt Fraction’s ODY-C. Watching this stuff balloon has made it an exciting time to tell this story but it’s also raised the bar. If we were looking to tell a simple crime fiction, throwback stories, there’s already a big market and glut of that already. By the time it came to scripting the book, we had to sit down and say, “What can we bring to this? What is ours here?” and not just bring another thing to the market.
Collin Kelly: In another way, the reason this is so exciting is because a lot of people in the world today are looking at the news, and what’s going on in our country, and a lot of it sucks. There’s a lot of cruelty, hate, and negative influences in our day-to-day world that makes us look to the stars. The reason we have sci-fi in the first place is because we look up there and say, I hope it’s better out there. I hope we can get away from this stuff and embrace something that is new, exciting, and strange and not mired in all the weight and darkness of our day-to-day world. The very nature of science fiction, is escapism at its very raw and most real. We’re looking at telling stories that aren’t told. The last thing we wanted to tell was regurgitate another Star Wars. We wanted to tell a story that resonated with everyone, about young people flipping the middle finger that everything that sucks and embracing your youth, your energy and optimism. I feel like a fundamental optimism in science fiction is something that is missing and we’re thrilled to be bringing it with Joyride.
Marcus To: Which is funny, because this is the exact opposite of what we were doing in Hacktivist, which was all about responsibility and negativity in the world we live in now. At the same time, with Boom! they saw what we were able to do on multiple projects and saw that we had the idea that was– at the time that we pitched it, they knew people were going to be hungry for science fiction stories, which I believe we’re in that zone right now.
How much of the original story remained and what did Jackson and Collin do to expand that story and make it contemporary and current?
Marcus To: There’s not much left from the original story. I wouldn’t say it’s very much like Star Wars, but I had a guy with his arm cut off, there was a lot of random things like the X-Men, too, and other crazy, random things that I loved. But the basis of it was young people that ran to the stars to for a better life, kind of like An American Tail: Fievel Goes West kind of story where they want a better a life somewhere else. What Collin and Jackson really brought was, I had a lot of loose ideas about random stuff, from my own past, from my mom, my brother, and the things that I’ve been through. These are the things I wanted to put into the story and in talking with them, they started really adding so much flavor to all of this. They brought together scenes, looks and ideas and energy that I could never have. They have the ability to take things and infuse their own personality into it. The best thing about doing this story is that I can say a bunch of random words and they got it. It works on a level on base on every point of the story. All we do is talk normally and story ideas just come out.
Jackson Lanzing: There’s a lot of Marcus’ life story based into Joyride concept. At the time, it had no title, none of the characters had names or were characters yet...it was soup. We’ve got a nice shorthand now. and we took what was already a tidal wave of enthusiasm for the idea of stealing a spaceship and ran it really hard forward into new ideas and new energy. We started using a shorthand on the book for anything we ran up against, which was a punk rock teenage Star Trek, focused on breaking the rules not just of the narrative of the comic but whatever place they go to. Kirk, Spock and Bones will enter any given situation and say, ‘how can we play with the rules of this place to make things better?’ Our main characters: Uma, a young rebellious teenager; Dewydd, a sheltered conservatively oriented friend that is trying to break out of that, and their friend Catrin, who does not start out as their friend. The three of them roll into a new story, a new planet and walk into each of these scenarios as think what rules here are bulls**t? What rules here are terrible? What things here are oppressive? What things here are bad and what can we break, what can we run through full force to find some sort of freedom at the end of it? Kirk is always looking to start peace, Uma is always looking to start a party and that winds up leading a different kind of story.
Talk about that short hand a little bit, you’ve now worked together for three, four years now?
Collin Kelly: After working this long with Marcus, and him working with us, we can speak in gobbledigook and understand each other well. Joyride gave us an amazing opportunity to forego traditional scripting methods. We don’t write the panels out, we just write what happens on a page or a scene. We write the dialogue, but have faith that Marcus has the ability to not only execute, but figure out the emotionality that we trust him to execute the page as he sees fit. He comes back with these layouts that are better than anything we could’ve imagined or written, and it’s purely based on his raw ability to create. Having that kind of faith and trust in your fellow creators is insanely freeing and it gives the entire book an unmatched energy.
Jackson Lanzing: Most Marvel books are written that way, but this is the first time we’ve written this way and the first time we as a team have foregone any those formal elements and it’s been very freeing for us.
Hacktivist was based on many events and people of today, that likely framed the world you were building for that story. Given the space setting, I assume many of those boundaries and parameters have been lifted? Talk about having that limitless vision and palette.
Jackson Lanzing: Hacktivist was a research intensive book, it’s a book that takes place in our world. Joyride is aptly named, because it’s not only a book about a joyride, but it’s also a book as creators we get to go on a joyride ourselves without the limitations of the real world, or other creative forces, it’s just the synergy of the three of us putting together something we’re really excited about.
Collin Kelly: In terms of the wild freedom that the universe gives us, it speaks to Star Trek of it all. With Hacktivist, you’re right, everything was grounded in realism. We really prided ourselves on that aspect of the storytelling. This is our chance to take anything you might see in the universe–all of time and space is our playground. Our challenge has been to come up with the most innovative, interesting thing for our characters to get involved with and how to turn it into a party.
The fun of it in every way is that it’s not just a joyride for these characters, but it’s a joyride for us. It’s us being able to take a vehicle, in this case a comic book, and the three of us really drive it as fast as weird and as wild as we want. We’re not going into Doctor Strange range, we’re not going to esoteric for esoteric's sake. Joyride is a very character-oriented story about Uma, Catrin, Dewydd, their robot friend and an alien they meet along the way named Colesack. These five characters have journeys to go on, which is why we want this to become ongoing. We can tell the initial steps of these characters, but we have lives for the characters that are thought out, and every time we write them, they’re alive to us. We might put them in crazy situations, and we’re going to be pushing each issue to get a little stranger, a little weirder, but it’s ultimately always going to come to these people, the kids who yearn for something better. They’re going to be searching long and hard for that. It turns out that freedom isn’t easily achievable, or it might not be achievable at all. That’s something we’re always going to be questioning with Uma. That’s what this book is about.
Our main characters are all trying to escape the Earth for a reason. Could you share with us with what made Earth so bad?
Jackson Lanzing: A lot of people tend to operate in large groups out of fear. In the Joyride universe, much like in our universe, when they encounter something unknown, the mass majority of people are not going to meet it with open arms. Instead, they’re going to encounter it with a certain amount of shields up, red alert, you know? So, in the Joyride universe, a good couple hundred years before we kick off our story, we go to space, we get a long-range spaceship out into the universe and see what’s out there. What we find is classified and is terrifying. It’s stranger than we want it to be, hostile, maybe. All we know is that they went out there, and they came back and they said that we are never ever going back. This is our home, this is our place.
As a result, we built a big sphere around the planet, which the government of the Earth calls the Big Sky. It’s a massive shell around the planet meant to keep us safe. It looks like the sun is out there, but it isn’t. We no longer have a sun, it’s an artificial construct, the sky is an artificial construct. No one on the planet knows what stars are. Since we can’t move past our planet – that’s the psychological basis of this culture and world – that’s led to a lot of pretty horrible things: fascist organizations, rationing, and measures to control overpopulation. Perhaps worst of all are measures to control defense and radical thought. The worst symbol of this government is a giant gun mounted on the moon pointed at our planet. There are hundreds of cities over the course of the centuries that have been obliterated. We’re basically being held hostage, but by ourselves.
Given the age of our protagonists, is there more rebellion or a coming of age element to the story?
Marcus To: Probably all of that. Each of the characters represents a different type of reaction to that. Imagine when you move out of your parents' for the first time. The excitement is there, but so is the fear of how you’re going to eat or planning ahead. Uma is all for excited. Dewydd is more cautious, Catrin just wants to go back home. The conflict between them in the story we’re going to tell is going to show how they compromise to have an open mind to see what’s out there.
Jackson Lanzing: The push and pull of it is exactly in between those two poles you outline. I don’t think the book is about either rebellion or coming of age, I think it’s about rebellion and coming of age. As a kid who found who he was in mosh pits and punk rock shows in the basements in conservative towns, I have a lot to bring to that. I think each of us have that moment where we rebelled in order to find out who we were. That allowed us to come of age. The push and pull between rebellion and responsibility is the crux of the book but half of us lends to the idea that you have to come out of the other side of that responsible, Joyride asks if the joyride needs to stop, do you ever have to stop running? What are the merits of that, and running forever?
Have any of you drawn from your own acts of rebellion as inspiration or as story elements?
Marcus To: I’m still rebelling now [laughing]. I moved specifically far far away from my parents because I felt, with them around, I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be. There’s a certain sense of responsibility I always have, but I tried to run away from it, because it impedes what I think I should be as an adult. I apologized to them this past holdiay, but I took that idea and put it into Dewydd because that’s what his story tends to be like.
Collin Kelly: Conversely, I actively didn’t rebel. It was only in meeting strange and interesting creative folk that really pushed me out of my shell. Learning if you just do what you’re told doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll become the best version of yourself is a very difficult thing to learn. You have to rebel, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone if you want to become the best version of yourself. That’s very much Catrin’s story, and there’s a lot of her in me.
Jackson Lanzing: And to complete the triumvirate, Uma is often, to me, the most unfettered teenage version of myself. It’s who I would have liked to have been as a teenager. I don’t think that’s who I was, but she is more irresponsible, and even more freaked out than what she’d like to think she is. Like great musicians did for us, I want Uma to break those rules with careless abandon, and readers see the most extreme versions of themselves. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad people, irresponsible, or villainous. That maybe just means that the rules of the world are right for them and that they need to just steal a spaceship. [Laughs]
Collin Kelly: Every issue of Joyride, is to some degree, the dumb mistakes you make as a kid. That’s where this comic becomes autobiographical. That’s where this book comes to life. There are going to be space ship battles, crazy aliens, wild space stations and all kinds of weird stuff, but at the same time will be stories you can go everywhere on the planet as a teenager. That’s the part of the confluence that makes Joyride a joyride and not in the same way other incredible books that are playing in the same space.
Give us a tease about this prelude story that we’re about to reveal and tell us what we can expect about what lies beyond that artificial wall around Earth.
Collin Kelly: This is a prelude story. These six pages won’t show up in Issue #1 or the main story. This is essentially a #0 story that sets up the headspace of Uma, as we enter Issue #1. This is a little taste of who she is and who she’s going to be when the story start.
Jackson Lanzing: Issue #1 is the breakout, you’re going to see things from their perspective. You’ll see the best and worst of what Earth is in the future. Then, we’re moving onto some crazy places.
Collin Kelly: We’re going to have a house party on the space ship and the greatest mall in the universe, and be heading into a cool area of space where something horrible happened long ago and created a massive quarantine area that our kids don’t realize that they’re heading straight into. We’ll also see some cool concepts into how deep the history the galaxy is and how small Earth is in the grand scheme of things as our kids run headlong into a danger they do not understand.
Click on the gallery below and click on the image to expand. Look for Joyride in April 13, 2016.