Welcome to a special bonus installment of Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our ongoing look at the best of the web, where we go on-on-one with the creator of a comic about giant head-zits, bears and ghost cattle…and let you know how you can help bring about a new hardcover collection through Kickstarter.
Fans of print comics might have seen Ryan Browne’s work on such IDW books as Smoke and Mirrors, Graveslinger and G.I. Joe, and you’ll soon see his art on some acclaimed Image books with top writers like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer. But his webcomics work is…a little different.By that, we’re talking about God Hates Astronauts (www.godhatesastronauts.com), a full-color comic of superhero dysfunction that concluded late last year that got raves from the likes of Felicia Day, Darick Robertson of The Boys and Batman Inc.’s Chris Burnham, who did the intro to the new collection.
We assure you we are not making this up: In battle with famed pugilist John L. Sullivan and his army of bears, the superheroes known as The Powers Persons Five suffer a terrible blow when their immortal leader Star Fighter sees his skull smashed to jelly, giving him a grotesquely swollen noggin that would make Marvel’s MODOK go “Damn!”
Said noggin puts a cramp in Star Fighter’s marriage to teammate Starrior that not even Montel Williams can fix, leading to Starrior finding comfort with a cowboy haunted by the head of a dead heifer. This marital spat soon grows to include an army of crab-headed aliens from the Crab Nebula, a legion of amateur astronauts in grain-alcohol-powered silo-rockets, and a mutated version of the dad from Family Matters known as “Gnarled Winslow.”
This synopsis does not include the really strange stuff.
Browne is doing a Kickstarter Campaign for an oversized “Completely Complete Edition” of God Hates Astronauts that collects the complete series, the improvised 24-Hour Comic that started it all, and 20 all-new origin stories by an army of artists. We talked with him about his book, why his campaign isn’t like other Kickstarter campaigns, decapitation, and bears.Newsarama: Ryan, tell us about the origins of God Hates Astronauts.
Ryan Browne: God Hates Astronauts is a book that I've been doing off and on for the last six years on the web. It originated as an improvised 24-hour comic that I then refined and rewrote and turned into the script for the first issue.
So basically the book is not super well-planned, and started as a vehicle for me to tell ridiculous jokes with ridiculous characters and overly descriptive sound effects. I love humor and referential parody, and in print comics that is something that doesn't exist too much anymore, so GHA found it's home on the web. It's strange to me that humor is so prominent in most forms of media, but not in “comics”. They're called comics, for Jupiter's sake!
Nrama: And tell us about your Kickstarter campaign.Browne: The Kickstarter campaign has been in development for the past eight months or so. I knew that I wanted to have this print version to be definitive and absolute. I also knew that I had to add a ton of value that you can't see on the web to make the print edition worth buying.
The end result is a 180-page hardcover collection with 100 pages of stories, pin-ups and writing not seen on the web. I completely re-lettered and color-tweaked all the content that you see on the web, so that the story flows better and looks as good as it possibly can.
I enlisted and blackmailed every single artist that was a fan of GHA to contribute in some way or other either through a pin-up or through new, two-page origin stories of the characters from GHA, that I write and they draw.
A large part of the hardcover collection ended up becoming this amazing collaborative anthology kind of thing that grew and changed course many times over the books production. That's a big reason why I wanted to completely finish the book before it was launched on Kickstarter.
I wanted people to know exactly what they were getting, and if and when the book is funded, that it will go straight to the printers, so they don't have to wait too long to collect their rewards.Nrama: What made you want to do this hard-copy edition? For that matter, what do you feel are some of the unique advantages and complications of crowdfunding?
Browne: I've always wanted GHA to be in print. Up until this point, I have been self-publishing the individual issues of the book, but now that the main storyline is finished, I thought it would be an appropriate time to really wrap it all up. I did a Kickstarter campaign for my other webcomic Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief last year as a trial run for what I see is a much larger endeavor with GHA.
The great thing about crowdfunding is that I can make exactly the product that I want to make, and I can communicate with the fans for direct feedback. I've been told time and time again that my book wasn't very marketable, and that parody and humor in comics doesn't sell—crowd-funding has been my way of proving those publisher wrong.
The big problem, of course, is that I have to do it all myself. That's why I wanted the book to be finished before launching the Kickstarter. I knew it was a huge undertaking, and that there was no real way to know what the final product would shape up like unless I just flat out did it. I
hate that people use Kickstarter to fund a huge graphic novel that will take, say, three years to draw. That book never ever ever comes out on time—if it ever does—and it just gives crowd-funding a bad name.Nrama: A lot of our readers might know you for more “mainstream” print books such as G.I. Joe and Smoke and Mirrors. How are working on books like those different from GHA? I'm also interested in the differences between being an artist for another writer, and writing something for a different artist, as opposed to writing/drawing your own stuff.
Browne: (laughs) Yeah, the work on GHA is pretty darn different from the stuff that I actually make a living on. I love the collaborative effort of working with another writer for many reasons, but the main reason is that I can just focus on drawing and not worry about if the story works.
I just did an issue of The Manhattan Projects with Jonathan Hickman, and that was a fun collaborative effort where he let me come up with some crazy little details in the story and that was a ton of fun.
Basically, my writing is entirely visual in nature. I come up with broad outlines, and then I thumbnail and write dialog right onto the pages. Then when I finish the art, I edit and change my script in the lettering phase to make everything work as smoothly as possible. It's probably not the best way to do things, but it works for me.
The origin stories in the hardcover for GHA are the first time that I have ever written scripts for other artists to draw. I wrote 20 in all, and 18 actually ended up being completed due to some people having to drop out of the project. After I got the final art, I would change the dialog and narration to better suit the visuals as I was lettering it.Nrama: Do you have a favorite character in this insane crew to write/draw, and if so, why?
Browne: I love writing the main character Star Grass. He has a total irrational, reckless energy that is really fun to write—especially since he slowly is losing his mind as the series goes on.
All of the writing that I do is based in the voices of actors and actresses from various films, that's how I keep all the characters personalities straight. I have a list of “Suggested voice talents” for all the characters at the beginning of the book which is an idea I took from Scud: The Disposable Assassin.
Nrama: RANDOM: What are some of your favorite crazy-mad sound-effects and retorts you've come up with for the series?Browne: Hmm that's a hard one. I really like “Defenestrate!” when a character get's thrown out of a window and I like “Slammed!” when a door is slammed and then “Unslammed!” when it is opened. I consider them all to be my children, and thus cannot truly pick a favorite.
Nrama: Alright, you sent me a list of people doing pin-ups and new pages for the HC: Ryan Stegman, Tom Fowler, Chris Burnham, Mike Norton, Rebekah Isaacs, Ethan Nicolle, Nick Pitarra, Tim Seeley, Tradd Moore, Tom Scioli, Jenny Frison, Chris Mitten, C.P. Wilson III and Hilary Barta. This is, as they say in the Queen's English, something of a superfly runnin' crew. How'd you get everyone together for this?Browne: God Hates Astronauts has always been a book with a very “Cultish” following, especially amongst comic creators. For the hardcover edition, I basically asked every artist or creator had shown interest in GHA for their help. I certainly called in every single favor that I had in the bank and then some for this one.
The whole anthology aspect of it took around eight months to all come together. The fun was writing scripts for such amazing artists, and then getting to color their finished line art. I certainly grew as a writer and colorist during the project, and intentionally wrote scripts to play to artists’ strong points.Nrama: MORE RANDOM: If John Sullivan's bears fought Ethan Nicolle's bears from Bearmageddon, who would win, other than America?
Browne: I'd have to say Ethan's bears are a much more formidable force. Sullivan's bears barely scratch anyone in GHA, and are largely incompetent. They do manage to raise Sullivan from the dead, so they've got that going for them! I was really excited to have Ethan draw some of Sullivan's bears in his pin-up and I think the love of bears is what brought us together!
Nrama: STILL MORE RANDOM: Very bad things happen to heads in this comic. Why are you so against heads, and would you agree or disagree that what happens to heads in your comic is any more bad than what happens to heads in most Marvel or DC superhero comics?Browne: Yeah, there are a lot of messed up heads in GHA. What's with that? I never thought about that much, but now I'm thinking I might need some therapy. The Big Two have nothing on my level of intense head trauma for the purposes of comedy.
Nrama: There's a bit of a resolution at the end of this volume, but do you see further adventures for these crazy kids?
Browne: I'd love to. Currently I have a bunch of other work on the slate, but I certainly have plans for the continued adventures of The Power Persons Five.Nrama: I'll be blunt. I still don't completely understand what the title means…or does it mean anything?
Browne: It really means nothing. I guess you could think of it being a science versus religion thing, but it doesn't have much to do with the content of the book. It's more like a band name... if you like the title, you will probably like the sense of humor of the book.
For example, if you like the name “Sex Pistols,” you will probably like their music. It kind of lets you know what you are getting into in terms of the slightly weird and offensive humor. But yeah, it's pretty random.
Nrama: One thing I've been asking everyone in this series is what new opportunities you feel have been opened up by such new delivery systems as iPads and smartphones, and what creators and companies can do to better take advantage of these opportunities.Browne: I think the great thing about web-comics is the ability to experiment at a very low-risk level. The main problem with the print world right now is that very few publishers are actually taking chances. The expense and the immediate internet backlash potential has made a lot of publishers pretty safe in what they release.
Digitally, if it doesn't hit, then all you've wasted is you time to produce it. It's also great how easy it is to share comics digitally. The idea that your readers are actively involved in people seeing your work is totally awesome.
Nrama: What are some other comics/creators you're currently reading and enjoying?
Browne: Well I love a lot of what Image and Dark Horse have been publishing. I always look forward to The Manhattan Projects, Black Beetle, Saga the most. I'm also super into Bedlam, Hoax Hunters, and I love Samnee's work on Daredevil.Nrama: What's next for you?
Browne: I'm fortunate enough to be working as a fill-in artist for Nick Pitarra on The Manhattan Projects. I drew issue #10 and am working on #15. After that, I am taking over for Riley Rossmo as the full-time artist on Bedlam with Nick Spencer. It'll be a really fun change for me to flex some of my horror comic muscles!
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Browne: That's about it. I'd just like to thank everyone for all their continued support of GHA over the last six years. It's been a super fun experience and I hope to get back to making the book sooner than later! THANKS A BUNCH!
If you love God Hates Astronauts, kick in to their Kickstarter on this page! And stay tuned for an all-new series of Wide World of Webcomics interviews here at Newsarama!