Wide World of Webcomics: Time to TRIP FANTASTIC
Welcome back to Newsarma’s Wide World of Webcomics, our ongoing look at the best of the web, for one of the craziest comics we’ve ever covered…and that’s saying something.www.tripfantasticonline.com), is the world’s greatest stunt-guy. He’s also a junkie, a self-absorbed jerk, and rarely wears pants. Trip’s latest spectacular has gone astray, though, and now he finds himself of on the run from his former handlers and even those wanting to help him, not to mention a great number of Trip-Robots. And things are about to get weirder.
Told in a mad mélange of styles from black-and-white to 1990s-DayGlo to the occasional strobe animation effects, Trip Fantastic is one of those comics that will force its awesomeness down your retinas or die trying. We spoke with writers Jason Baxter and Mac Hamilton, along with artist Derek Charm, about the origins of Trip’s world, and weird early-1990s pop culture.
Newsarama: Guys, how in God's name did Trip Fantastic come about?
Jason Baxter: Trip Fantastic was an idea that Derek and myself had been developing on-and-off for a couple of years, and all three of us had flirted with a pitch for a cosmic teen superhero comic book before that.
We committed to the idea and agreed to collaborate on Trip Fantastic once Derek had hit upon an idea that really made the concept exciting and dangerous in and of itself--the idea that Trip would be more of a junior villain than just a mere jerk, a practically irredeemable, self-centered monster of a dude.
We ended up hanging on to the general idea and building another story around Trip. Our goal was to make Trip a bit more contained, unlike the other bat-shit insane pitch we had. Things did not go according to plan.
Nrama: Why'd you want to do the series online?
Baxter: We all love printed, self-published comics as art objects, but we wanted to reach a large audience and explore aspects of the digital comics medium that we felt weren't being fully capitalized on.
Derek Charm: One of the really exciting things early on for us was the idea of playing with animated .gifs as comic pages or panels to add a sort of liveliness to certain scenes like the rave at the beginning of issue one, or just as cute little add-ons like flashing police lights. Anything to make it a little more alive and immersive.
Nrama: What's been the most interesting reaction you've had to it so far?
Baxter: I had someone complain that the strobing .gif animations in the nightclub scenes were going to trigger their epilepsy, but I'm more surprised by the people of my parents' generation and older who claim to enjoy it.
It's definitely a comic that's deliberately designed to make you shocked and uncomfortable on a pretty regular basis.
Charm: I'm still kind of dumb-struck that people are reading it and liking it. We really appreciate everyone who has checked it out, backed the Kickstarter, done fan art, told their friends. It's kind of mind-blowing.
Hamilton: My favorite reaction was from a surly coworker who didn't like me much. He offhandedly mentioned finding a “stunt guy” comic and liking it, without realizing I was a writer on said comic. Still to this day the most meaningful compliment I accidentally received.
Charm: Jason and I had spent hours forever ago on the phone discussing the story, characters, jokes and where we wanted everything tonally. After that, it's pretty much been Jason and Mac hammering out the details, breaking the scenes, writing the script and then passing it on to me to draw, color and letter.
When that's all done, I send the pages back to Mac and Jason for final dialog tweaks and art tweaks, which we're pretty much doing right until it's ready to show everyone. Sometimes even after.
Hamilton: With the writing we try to sharpen each other’s ideas to deliver the most dynamic comic possible. Writing with someone else means that everything is going through a filter, and ideally improving.
We also try and write with Derek in mind. What would he want to draw? What would he knock out of the park? Trying to keep the story manageable, fun, and interesting is a delightful uphill battle.
What is there to embrace in the 1990s, aside from the underrated subtleties of Cool as Ice and backlit, heavily-filtered music videos filmed in warehouses?
Baxter: So, so much. Honestly, it doesn't suprise me that the '90s are resurgent as a
cultural touchstone. There's that theory that everything moves in 20-year cycles, and if you need a good unpacking of just how nostalgia has escalated through the decades, Simon Reynolds' Retromania is a fantastic read and was actually part of my research for this comic.
I will probably never tire of culture--both high and low brow--from the Clinton era, but my emotions are conflicted about it. I play in a band that was lumped into a genre that burnt pretty bright and fast and was widely derided as overly nostalgic.
Hopefully the comic is reverent to things like day-glo beach adventurism, rave culture, and Ren & Stimpy without coming off as merely referencing things from a childhood checklist.
Hamilton: I think the sensory overload aspect of the ‘90s is fascinating. Growing up during that decade leaves you with this hazy recollection of how things were culturally and socially. It imprints on you in a funny way. I don't feel nostalgia for that period of time, but I am endlessly fascinated by culture of that era. So naturally some of that just leaks into the comic.
Nrama: What are some of the tricks and challenges in the limited animation added to the strip? I ask in part because that's something you can only do online, but not a lot of people choose to adapt it into their work.
Charm: The main challenge art wise is coming up with something that makes sense to be animated on a cycle; police lights, flashing rave lasers, drug-induced color changes. We did some experimenting with timed animation in the first part of issue three where it's a quiet peaceful black-and-white jungle scene that after a few seconds explodes into color.
So we're always looking for moments that we can accentuate. That said, there is an effort not to become too gimmicky and overuse it.
Nrama: I'm very interested in the color scheme for the series, which has this very bright, neon-type palette. Tell us a bit about it.
Baxter: Most of that is Derek, but some of it was also dictated by the script--specifically the blacklight sequence in the first issue. I knew that was something I hadn't seen before in a comic that we had to attempt. It turned out amazing.
Hamilton: Derek brought a unique look to the comic. He had to build a whole world, create so many different environments and just killed it every time. I'm consistently blown away by every page he delivers.
Nrama: Also, what are some of the biggest artistical-like influences on the series?
Baxter: I know some that haven't been mentioned in previous interviews--but were really important to the genesis and development of the comic--are director Michael Mann's early work (specifically Manhunter and Miami Vice), Seaguy, The Venture Brothers, Casanova, comics by everyone from Matt Furie to Moebius, and Enter the Void.
Charm: Bruce Timm and Jack Kirby are probably the two art influences I couldn't shake if I wanted to. Hugo Pratt, Kazuhiko Kato, Frank Miller, any of those guys who you can tell are just blasting through it. Again, it fits with the speed of the comic. Tonally there's a lot of Miller and Sienkiewicz's Elektra Assassin as well.
Dolph Lundgren and Grace Jones, [the Peter Weller vehicle] Of Unknown Origin, ‘90s Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, The Prisoner. Point Break. Advertisements from old comics. The delightful absurdity of movies like Airplane! and UHF. It's a motley hodgepodge.
Charm: Well, obviously we have a well-documented appreciation of Baywatch Nights and Thunder in Paradise. Both of which we got into right as we were starting Trip, and both of which have this tropical action thing going with them. Miami Vice, with its surreal pastel police officers.
My favorite we discovered was this barely-documented Canadian show called My Secret Identity, which was basically a ‘90s Smallville sitcom starring Jerry O'Connell in a salmon tank top. He's like Superboy if Superboy never fought a bad guy in his life. Totally silly and cheesy, but they had the coolest summer style. Also an amazing theme song.
Nrama: What is the secret to having hair like Trip's?
Charm: We used to text each other anytime we saw someone with that hair, but now it's everywhere.
Hamilton: Hair gel and anger.
Nrama: What's next for Trip an' his crew?
Baxter: That would be spoiling! This was always intended as a four-issue saga and once we've finished publishing the third installment, you'll see how all of the story threads have come together and everything's established for an action-packed showdown on the Arabian Peninsula. We're writing that fourth issue now, it should be a very fun read.
Hamilton: Big time adventure. I don't want to spoil anything.
Nrama: Something I've asked everyone in this series is what new opportunities they feel are available for comics and creators via such new delivery systems such as iPads and smartphones, and what creators and companies do to better take advantage of these opportunities.
Baxter: I wish I kept up on this stuff better, but the technology moves so fast. I think there is a great, untapped potential for interactivity in comics, and that's something I'd like to see more of.
Hamilton: Creating media that is meant to be read digitally is the biggest thing. Make it a unique experience to read on your tablet. You have to embrace the medium you are working in, and try and push the boundaries of what works on a screen, and how it works for the reader.
Nrama: What are some comics and creators you're currently reading and enjoying?
Baxter: Copra is the most artfully-done fanfiction I've ever read. Prophet is of course consistently great. I'll buy anything with Benjamin Marra's name on it.
Charm: Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye is great, anything by Brandon Graham, Grant Morrison, Young Avengers, BPRD, Sacrifice, Phabula by Dalton Rose for Monkeybrain is so good.
Hamilton: Prison PitProphet is amazing. Lately I've been way into Judge Dredd. Also making my way through Love and Rockets, which is a delight.
Nrama: What's next for y'all?
Baxter: Ghost-writing the Point Break sequel.
Hamilton: Finishing the script for the fourth issue. After that, I have no idea.
Charm: Finishing up the art on Trip 3 and 4 between raves.
Experience the rush with Trip Fantastic at http://www.tripfantasticonline.com/. And stay tuned to Newsarama for more Wide World of Webcomics interviews soon!