From Friendly Ghosts Gamma Rays, No. 136
Hello and welcome to a special edition of From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays! We have gotten to talk to a lot of cool folks this year, and adding to that list of great conversations is part of the team behind the Redakai graphic novels that Viz Media has been putting out under their Viz Kids line! Joining us today are writers Aubrey Sitterson and Terrance Griep, and artist Zack Turner! Let’s get down to it!
With Aubrey Sitterson!
ComicAttack: Unlike other comics that have years of back story, Redakai is brand new and has only been on Cartoon Network recently, along with its game. So when writing it, how did you get into the groove of these characters? Did you watch hours of the cartoon?
Aubrey Sitterson: Hours of the cartoon sounds about right. Super-Editor Joel Enos was kind enough to hook me up with a boatload of episodes, so I was able to get up to speed pretty quickly. Various Redakai fan sites and message boards I found across the internet were also a huge help to me learning what it is that fans love about these characters. And of course, it helps that Kai, Maya and Boomer all have very distinct, established personalities that were pretty easy to slip into.
Additionally, it wasn’t THAT long that I was a kid myself, and even more recently I’ve been known to get sucked into an episode of Adventure Time or Regular Show, so the kids cartoon milieu wasn’t completely foreign to me.
CA: In a similar vein, how is Redakai different from your work on characters at the Big-2, like Wolverine or Superboy?
AS: I spent A LOT of time thinking about that and looking back to the comics, prose and television that I enjoyed when I was a kid. Ultimately, what I landed on was that my tastes (while hopefully a little more sophisticated), haven’t really changed all that much. I like genre material with lots of action, awesome visuals that’s actually about something aside from just punching, whether that’s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tintin or wrestling of my youth, or stuff I enjoy right now like Justified, Prophet and, erm, wrestling.
So really, the changes I made to my writing style were pretty minimal, as I tried to dial down language (difficult for me), vocabulary and panel count. But throw in some curses and $5 vocabulary words and cut down on the splashes and spreads, and I believe my Redakai would be pretty indistinguishable from work meant for older audiences.
CA: In Redakai, our heroes have these monster forms with a kaiju-vibe. Did you have a favorite one to write about?
AS: “I love them all!” is a pretty lousy answer, right? If I had to choose, I’d actually go for the villainous Hiverax monsters. On their own, Wrendrax, Neurax and Fangrax are pretty rad, with their specialized abilities and immunities, but what I really love is how they can combine into the uber-monster Hydrax. Going along with your Kaiju comparison, the only thing cooler than giant monsters/robots are giant monsters/robots that combine into an even gianter monster/robot. That’s just science.
CA: Aside from writing, you’re also the community manager for WWE Games. Is there a cross over with these passions that you fuel into your writing?
AS: Wrestling and comics – especially genre-based comics – are so very similar it’s ridiculous. In addition to the whole “male soap opera” thing that everyone bandies about, there’s also the idea that both wrestling and action comics are performances of masculinity – like a kind of male burlesque. It’s that kind of raw, primal appeal that both genres possess that leads to guys like myself getting hooked young and doing their best to make a career out comics and/or wrestling.
With Terrance Griep!
CA: Did you have a familiarity with Redakai before jumping on board as a writer, or did you have to dig into the world?
Terrance Griep: I confess, I possessed absolutely no knowledge of REDAKAI before jumping on board as a writer, but I honestly fell madly in love with the franchise as soon as I became familiar with it. I thought of my 10-year-old self watching three teenage friends battling the forces of evil while assuming numerous monster forms, and I quickly lost my mind.
CA: In your Redkai story “The Tiger Terror,” we cross over from the real world, into a video game-like world and back. What was the thought process behind this? Was it something influenced by having to work with a team of artists or driven by something else?
TG: VIZ Media’s own Master G–my superb editor, Joel Enos–mentioned early on that I would be working with two artists, so we decided to make that actuality into an affirmation. Further, during my research for the work, I found that every physical problem Team Stax encountered was solved by hitting it as hard as they could, which contradicts my admittedly-limited martial arts training. So I decided to give Team Stax a non-physical problem in a non-physical world, a problem whose solution is reached via meticulous restraint.
CA: You’ve worked on numerous other comics including Scooby-Doo. How does the teen-team base of the Mystery Machine Gang hold up to the action force of Redakai‘s heroes, Team Stax?
TG: The two concepts barely compare: Team Stax has been training for years while Mystery, Inc., are usually portrayed as avowed amateurs; Team Stax engages in wild adventures while Mystery, Inc., often just kind of stumble onto mysteries. I did evoke Mystery, Inc., in writing “Redakai: The Tiger Terror” in that the story is at its heart a mystery, and the noble teenagers involved have to string together a series of clues to resolve the conflict.
CA: You are also the pro wrestler SpiderBaby. Writing and wrestling is an interesting dynamic duo to do for a living! Do you find that helps you play out fight/action scenes in your head as you’re writing? What is this double life like?
TG: Wrestling bleeds into my action-oriented writing via identity. When I write super-heroes, I try to convey my insider’s knowledge on what its like to get in a fight while wearing spandex. When I write REDAKAI, I try to focus on the notion of transformation: since the members of Team Stax assume monster forms when fighting, I think of what it’s like to assume the persona of SpiderBaby…which neatly leads into your question about a double life. I’m surprised at how strange it can be. One wrestling fan at my gym sheepishly approached me and asked, “Are you SpiderBaby?” My reply was, “Not right now, I’m not.” That lends you some idea on how complicated it can be!
With Zack Turner!
CA: Redakai seems like an interesting project for artists because different chapters are drawn by different folks. Was this a tough dynamic, worrying about things like how is art going to connect and such, as you were doing this?
Zack Turner: I wouldn’t say it was especially tough considering the people I get to work with. Ray and his team are a pleasure to collaborate with. Thanks to the internet, we were in constant communication during the time. We were able to share ideas and designs and pages as we work on them.
CA: Your art in the Redakai volumes has a more polished anime-vibe to it. How close to the animated series did you have to stick art style wise?
ZT: Fairly close! I remember reading comics based on cartoons as a kid, and often though these don’t look like the characters on TV! Now that I’m on the other side, I try to be true to the source material while also putting my own polish onto it.
CA: Between the two volumes, from underwater worlds to video game-like realms, you got to draw a ton of different stuff. What was your favorite to work on?
ZT: I really loved working on the the Gilfreem home world. I got to roll up my sleeves and really concept a ton of stuff out based on the script. I was able to really bring the world to life, I’d like to think. World building is one of my favorite parts of making comics and stories.
CA: As an artist what are some of your inspirations?
ZT: First and foremost Kristen Perry, my mentor, has been a huge influence and inspiration to me. She constantly pushes me to do better work and I’m all the better for it. And she’s one HECK of an artist. Mike Wieringo was an immense inspiration, his art was insanely different from everyone else and every character he drew sprang to life off the page. Eiichiro Oda’s work always captures me and is an incredible story teller. Yusuke Murata’s work feels like it moves while things are completely. And then there’s the hundreds of amazing web comic artists out there which I read every day!
CA: You started in the industry as a colorist and over time have taken on full art duties. How was that transition, and how are the two different for you?
ZT: The transition wasn’t especially tough, the workload however is a different story! I was finishing up my work as a colorist for Fenix Gear, an independent book my friend Josh Breidbart was writing, and I mentioned to him, “Hey, I like the story, do you have another artist to finish it up?” I took over the art duties for the book from there. And ever since I’ve been trying to do my best with all the comics I’ve been doing full art duties on.
As a colorist you’re working in a team, being an almost behind the scenes person. You’re always there to make the art look it’s absolute best. It’s a very supportive role, and often under appreciated. Full art duties are a VERY different beast. You’re working less on the whims of other people and completely supporting yourself. Having to keep a very strict schedule and a it’s a very long day. However, it’s also very freeing. You aren’t waiting for pencils or inks from other people. So as long as you keep focused and have a goal for every day, deadlines don’t seem to close in nearly as fast.
We’d like to thank all three for taking their time out to chat with us here! Check out Redakai now, both volumes 1 and 2 out from Viz!