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Art by Scott Hampton / Credit: Paperfilms

Why Jimmy Palmiotti and Scott Hampton's new comic 'Rage' probably wouldn't have happened if not for COVID-19

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Jul 30, 2021, 9:03 AM EDT

Jimmy Palmiotti finds inspiration for his stories in the world and the people around him.

No, really. It may seem hard to believe, considering some of the outlandish characters and concepts he's worked on. But even when he and Amanda Conner, his wife and creative partner, were in the midst of their bestselling run on Harley Quinn, a good number of ideas for some of the absurdity Harley found herself tangled up in came from the things Palmiotti observed and the people he talked to. It's just how the guy works.

That's how Rage, the new Kickstarter-launched original graphic novel from Palmiotti and co-creator Scott Hampton, came to be. The new 68-page graphic novel (fully painted by Hampton, by the way) launched this week and in less than 12 hours exceeded its initial goal. As with all of Palmiotti's crowd-funded books — this is his 16th Kickstarter project — it's available in digital and printed editions. You can learn more about it and back Rage here. Also, we have some exclusive art showing how Hampton brought these characters to life down at the bottom of the page.

Art by Scott Hampton / Credit: Paperfilms

While the majority of us spent the past year and a half rage-tweeting about some thing or another, doing long-neglected home improvement projects, or binge-watching every single Jason Statham movie on Netflix (don't judge me!), the comics veteran got together with Hampton to brainstorm ideas. The duo had previously tag-teamed on G.I. Zombie (along with co-writer Justin Gray), one of the more memorable entries from DC's The New 52. 

This time they were kicking around ideas that were high-concept yet much more grounded, and personal. As Hampton tells SYFY WIRE, "Jimmy and I batted ideas around for a concept and Jimmy came up with Rage, in the vein of the classic seventies disaster films like The Towering Inferno, etc."

Rage is a rip-roaring action story with a central theme that grabs you instantly. Braden Radovick is a broken man who finds himself across the country from his daughter, as the world begins to fall apart. Fueled by a father's desperation, he sets off on a frantic mission to find and save his daughter. Think of a film like Taken, but set in America and on a much bigger scale, and you get an idea of what Rage is about.

"What makes Rage unique is that it's an adult graphic novel that focuses on a father and a daughter separated by a worldwide disaster that is more about how fast the human race can adapt to a disaster while at the same time what really is important in our lives and the importance of the connection between people," Palmiotti says when asked to describe this new project. 

Art by Scott Hampton / Credit: Paperfilms

Palmiotti tells us that the story's big action beats combined with the personal story at the heart of the book were an ideal fit for Hampton's storytelling skills. "What made Scott the perfect choice when putting together Rage for Kickstarter," the writer explains, "is we are both at that point in our lives where we are seeing the big picture much clearer after this pandemic and understanding what really is most important. This step-back storytelling had to be less about explosions and more about connection and emotionally driven reactions."

The story's juxtaposition of a big global event with the story of father and daughter trying to find each other allowed Hampton the chance to push his artwork in several directions. "I wanted to slow the pace down whenever the imagery was more romantic and speed it up with the action. I'm not sure exactly why, but I equate romance with paint and action with line so there's a real mix here," he says. "As a reader, I like the visual curveball that comes at you unexpectedly and adds variety to the story, so I tend to move in that direction if the story seems to call for it." 

Along with his work on the book they did together, G.I. Zombies, Palmiotti saw Hampton's work on Dark Horse's American Gods comics (adapting Neil Gaiman's legendary novel) as emblematic of the style he could bring to Rage and its travelogue adventure.

"Since this is set in contemporary America and is a road story, I see similarities with American Gods, but trying to evoke the day-after-doomsday feel makes it a bit more raw and [more like a] horror story," Hampton says. "American Gods is an incredibly textured tale that takes room to breathe — a little like the way Sting described jazz, and I'm paraphrasing here, but having the luxury to get into different grooves at a slightly relaxed pace. There's an immediacy in Rage and it needed to hit the ground running from the first scene with very little let up."

As I mentioned above, Palmiotti finds his inspiration anywhere he can. It's why he says this new project likely would not exist if COVID-19 hadn't upended the world for the past 16 months. "Since we were and still are dealing with the pandemic, a lot of us had time to think about the possibility of how things might get worse and are we prepared for it, which I have learned since, most of us are not," Palmiotti says. "These thoughts snuck their way into the book and can be seen in fringe details."

Some are obvious, such as the fact that the world is gripped by a global disaster. Of course, COVID didn't develop out of nowhere overnight, as the triggering event in Rage does. Still, readers who pay attention will see how real-life influenced some of the story beats in the graphic novel.

"Because it’s a story about people dealing with a disaster that literally happens overnight, the reactions are different than the slow crawl we have been going through," Palmiotti says. "I think there are a few quiet moments in the book where we can see exactly how some of the interactions between characters is a direct reflection of what all of us have been going through in real life, though I never thought we would be in a world where a cure is given and a percentage of the people decide against taking it."

Palmiotti has been vocal about his desire to step back from doing work-for-hire projects for DC and Marvel and focus on creator-owned works through his and Conner's Paperfilms label. And he's not alone. Scott Snyder and his just-announced creator-owned line of books for ComiXology, as well as fellow superstar writers Donny Cates and James Tynion IV putting out their own projects via Image Comics proves this is not a fad, but an industry-wide shift. Creators are seeking more control over their careers. For Palmiotti, that's the goal.

"Kickstarter — the people behind it and the supporting community — has been a real blessing for the crew here at Paperfilms," he says. "It has given us a chance to experiment, get feedback and create books and products worlds better than any mainstream publisher with content, format, and production. It is books by creators and not corporations and stockholders hoping to just make money. Kickstarter gives us the opportunity for us to truly connect with the audience. We love it."

Rage is available now. Along with Hampton's main cover, backers can also get one of the variant covers drawn by Amanda Conner or Bill Sienkiewicz. Check out Bill's stunning cover here:

Art by Bill Sienkiewicz / Credit: Paperfilms

And because I know some of you are process junkies like I am, we have an exclusive look at Hampton's character designs. The way he works is a stark departure from the way most comic artists do it. Hampton breaks down his pages and panels separately and then assembles them, creating a much different look to the graphic novel. 

Check them out below.


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Check out past videos and podcasts from Behind the Panel, loaded with my in-depth interviews with some of the best comic book creators in the business.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.