If you’ve read Joseph Campbell or if you’ve paid attention to the themes present in pretty much any action adventure, sci-fi, or fantasy movie you’re familiar with it. It’s called the monomyth or “the hero’s journey”. It’s the idea that most stories follow a sort of unspoken arc,
- Birth of the Hero
- Childhood Trial
- Withdrawal and Initiation (Rite of Passage)
- Trial and Quest
- Death and the Scapegoat
- The Descent to the Underworld
- Resurrection and Rebirth
- Ascension, Apotheosis, and Atonement
(*List taken from David Adams Leeming’s book, Mythology: The Voyage of the Hero)
We see it in The Odyssey, we see it in Star Wars, and to me it’s the thing that makes an adventure story resonate. Even my first literary hero Robin Hood loosely follows the pattern. The important distinction for me is that it’s done well.
Robot 13 is done well, really well.
It’s the story of a robot, a seemingly ancient robot, raised from the ocean floor by a fishing vessel. A creature out of time and seemingly out of nature. R13 has no memory of who he is, or what he is for that matter. And we don’t either, I felt just like that fishing boat crew, what is this surreal creation? But before you can even finish asking the question? The action begins!
And the action? It is wonderful.
By the third page of this book I was completely hooked.
In a smooth bit of story telling writer Thomas Hall gives us a tale layered just right, equal parts exposition and action. That journey I mentioned? It’s played out in bits and pieces of R13’s memories. That’s not to say that we get all the answers but the questions are asked well and the pieces R13 remembers are well woven into the plot.
I truly feel this book should be considered a modern classic, it’s Frankenstein meets The Odyssey, no more Frankenstein’s Monster as Odysseus. And this is the first three issues!
This isn’t a book I just picked up. When I first tried to go digital I saw a free app called Robot Comics. The sample offering? Robot 13 #1. I loved it then but the app was short-lived. I kept this title in mind but as we comic book readers know there’s a lot of stuff out there to read! Then it happened, standing at a booth at Asbury Park Comic Con talking I turned to my left, nodded to the dude behind the table and glanced at his stuff. I think I actually did a double take. There it was! And right next to it was King! another title I had come across, this time at Royal Collectibles. I immediately started extolling the virtues of Robot 13 and King!, asking way too many questions to keep straight or remember the answers to, yes I fanboy out often, ask around.
So after meeting Thomas and Daniel at APCC I sent them an email with just a few simple questions, enjoy…
Chuck- Can you give my readers a little background on Robot 13, King! and how you two got together to put these very cool concepts out for the masses?
Thomas- Back in 2002 or so, Daniel and I were involved in online groups that were making underground comics. I saw one of Dan’s pieces and I immediately felt I had ideas of stories I would love to write for the style he was doing, so I emailed him. It was pretty much a fan letter, telling him how much I liked his work and pointing out some things I thought were exceptional. At the end, I tossed in there that I would love to write something for him to illustrate if he ever wanted someone new to work with. I got a reply almost right away, and Daniel told me he really wasn’t working on anything and wanted to know what I had in mind. We went back and forth with ideas and found that we liked a lot of the same things and had similar influences and a similar drive to do good work. We ended up working on a book that got picked up by a publisher, but fell into some red tape and never came out. When that happened, we decided to try self publishing on a small scale, because I had done some of that with the underground stuff. We figured we would do something to get our names and ideas out there, and we didn’t think it would become what it did. This year it’s been 10 years of working together and our books have been read by people worldwide and translated into several languages. We are still doing it and people like Robot 13 and KING!, so the plan is to keep telling stories and pushing ourselves to do better work each time. That’s our hope, anyway.
Chuck- Robot 13 has been around since around 2002? Has the character or story changed at all since your original concept?
Thomas- The character design was something Daniel did for fun. At some point, he showed it to me and we developed it into pretty much what it is now. From the time we started work on Issue 1, we had all the elements of the back story in place and most of the major events. The funny thing is how the story evolved to the point that it’s back to the original simplicity of our early ideas. What I mean by that is, we had an idea early on that as a writer, I couldn’t fully figure out how to carry off. We settled on another concept and tried going forward with that, but as each issue came about, we slowly moved back to the original concept. I am not sure if I just understand it better or if we have grown as storytellers or what. I can say that when the story is all done, you will look back and everything will fit. You might still have some questions, but that’s okay. Life is that way too. Nobody knows all the answers. What is more important is the journey and where that takes you. So it’s developed, but as a stronger version of our original intent, not as a new plot or a change of ideas.
Chuck- Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? Do you stick to the traditional writer/artist method or do you collaborate?
Daniel – Every editor and writer I’ve worked with has done things a little differently, but with Tom its far more relaxed. We’ll bounce ideas around, he’ll send me a light script and I’ll draw it out. Since Tom handles the business end of Blacklist and I handle the art stuff then once I receive the script the rest of the production is in my hands.
Thomas– Dan and I have had countless conversations about Robot 13, and that factors in when the plot is being formed. We have a basic agreement, that I can write basically whatever I want in search of the best script and then Daniel can draw that script however he wants to make it the best final product. I do a ton of research and pull a lot of visual reference because I want to know what stuff should look like in the real world. I put all sorts of notes in my scripts, too. Stuff that isn’t intended to make the actual pages, but gives Dan the idea where my head is at and what I think should happen going forward or background on the Greek Myths or whatever I find interesting. He always takes that and pulls out the elements he finds most interesting and many times the pages end up far different than I expect, but the story is the master of both of us so it doesn’t matter. We just want everything to serve the story and give the reader something that they can re-read a hundred times and love. So my ego or Dan’s ego are less important than telling the best story. At points, I do think very cinematically and that can cause issues. Sometimes I come up with a scene that you could film easily but that’s almost impossible to draw, and those get changed. Usually, Dan calls me and tells me what won’t work and we come up with something better. And it’s always been better, so I just take that into account and more on. But it’s very collaborative in the sense that we love seeing the best ideas winning, so we take the work of the other person and try to expand it in the next go round. The more I see what Daniel does with my scripts, the better I fit them to what he does well and the more he’s willing to take chances with me. We like standing on ledges creatively. It’s exciting to put everything on the line when you trust your collaborator 110%.
Chuck- What are your plans for Robot 13? Do you have an end to the series set or is it a case of let the story dictate its fate?
Daniel- Nope. There’s an end in mind.
Thomas- We have always had an end in mind. There will be room to tell other stories later on if we like, because there will be gaps where some extra tales can be told, but the main story has an end. We have no intention of rambling on and on forever just because Robot 13 is fun to write and draw. It’s like any story of someone’s life. You can’t stay in High School forever. The point isn’t taking classes, but it’s graduation that’s the goal.
Chuck- You had originally had Robot 13 shipping with the iphone and android app “Robot Comics” (where I originally saw it), where can it be found now? When is the next issue coming out!
Daniel- ORIGINALLY the book was sold on shelves, the whole digital thing kinda fell into our laps. But now it can be found on the Comixology digital distributor. As well as shelves. And issue 4 is nearing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Thomas- We print our comics in print runs that make them collectable and available to people who love printed comics. We love printed comics, so we will continue doing that. The whole digital thing was a response to bootlegging online, though. We found out that on the torrent sites, over a million downloads of Robot 13 were being done illegally. Rather than just getting angry, we decided that we’d look around to see what we could make happen. Right now, anyone can go to ComiXology and get issues of Robot 13 or KING! for .99 each, and the response has been incredibly strong. Our website, www.blackliststudios.com has a store where you can buy print issues as well, and over 100 stores nationwide carry Blacklist Studios comics. And like Daniel said- new issues are coming and you will be able to get them at our store, in shops and digitally as well.
Chuck- It was great meeting you both at APCC, are you attending any other conventions this year?
Thomas- No plans to do any more conventions right now. We are focusing on making comics, so it’s better to do that than travel and spend all sorts of our own money on airfare and such. We love meeting fans & will eventually get back to some cons, but right now, new comics are the full focus.
It’s always a blast to meet someone who writes/draws a book you love. It equally cool to meet two guys who love doing what they do and are eager to talk about it. I hope you take a look over at blackliststudios.com, or the Blacklist Studios Comixology page. Pick up a copy of Robot 13 or King! (which you’ll see more of here soon!). Hell ask your local comic shop to order it for you! I promise you won’t be disappointed.