1986 was a heady time, especially in New York City; but when a teenage cop from an alternate future with a laser gun and a jetpack pops in, it’s only bound to get crazier.
In the upcoming Image series Rocket Girl by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare, a 15 year old police officer named DaYoung Johanssin is set back in time to investigate future crimes she becomes a NYC sensation – and that’s not part of the plan. She’s back in the 1980s Big Apple to uncover the truth behind allegations that one of her time period’s top corporations has been using time travel to get ahead of competitors and gain an unfair advantage. Finding the truth behind that will be hard, especially for a 15-year old cop and especially in 1986.
News of Rocket Girl burst on the scene when the former Batwoman artist and her writing partner Brandon Montclare debuted the concept as a Kickstarter project. The duo quickly raised nearly twice their $20,000 goal, giving them the start-up money to take on the risky proposition of creating their own comic series. The duo then paired with Image Comics, who published their previous one-shot Halloween Eve, with Rocket Girl set to launch this coming October.
Newsarama: So what can you tell us about Rocket Girl?
Amy Reeder: It’s great. At least, it’s the best thing I’ve ever worked on. I’m inking, coloring, and lettering it because there’s nothing I want to let go of! And I think the story is going to blow people away. It’s fun and clever—but with a lot of action and definitely an edge. It has a teen lead, but it’s not at all kids’ stuff. That’s a misconception some people have had about this project—maybe in part due to taking too quick a look at my style? Or just the simple title we chose? But it is very high-octane and doesn’t pull any punches. It’s terribly funny, and dare I say amazingly cool?
Brandon Montclare: And, practically speaking, it comes out October 9. It’s been a huge year for creator-owned comics—especially at Image. And there’s a lot of great stuff coming out. So while we’ve been very lucky to have loud and enthusiastic support, we hope fans continue to be jazzed when they have the actual copy in their hands. Amy and I have been living with this comic for a long time, and it’s really exciting to finally be able to share it.
Nrama: Rocket Girl is a teenage cop from the future -- why’s she coming back in time to the 1980s, and specifically New York?
Montclare: A lot of it was simply a desire to do a 1980’s period piece. New York is also important because it’s a place that has changed a lot. It was much more grimy and dangerous—a different world. DaYoung’s alternate 2013 is a true utopia. But compared to 1986, our real 2013 is pretty utopic! And New York is always a microcosm for the whole world. Plus it’s on the forefront of technology and ideas and art. So setting it here makes the story feel as big as possible.
Reeder: It’s a blast to draw. 1986 New York City truly is a different world. Revisiting the fashion is fun for me. Because it’s a melting pot, you can conveniently hit a lot of cultures and clichés. Doing a period piece, you want to touch on all aspects of the world. New York has a little bit of everything when it comes to people and the things they do. But then there are also the strange, obscure props. Like landline phones or boxy computer monitors! Those types of things effect how people move through space, and that’s interesting to draw. And, of course, to contrast this I get to invent an alternate future with 3D holograms, flying cars, and teen rocket cops.
Nrama: In the comic, DaYoung’s coming back to 1986 to investigate some allegations against a company from her time called Quintum Mechanics. What are they being investigated for?
Montclare: In 1986 Quintum Mechanics invented the Q-Engine. It’s a device that opens up our understandings of how basic physics works. From this breakthrough, they make huge leaps in every avenue of business. From healthcare to entertainment to the military. The Q-Engine is decades ahead of its time. Looking at it from her world, DaYoung thinks it was literally ahead of its time—as in from the future, and sent back to the past to give Quintum Mechanics the inside track on cornering the markets.
Reeder: In a lot of ways Rocket Girl is a classic tale about an evil corporation. But it’s not so simple. The alternate future that Quintum Mechanics created is a true utopia. Everyone’s life is safer and easier. That reflects, somewhat, the gentrification of New York City over the past few decades—stuff like the “Disneyfication” of Times Square (where a lot of the action in Rocket Girl #1 is set). So Quintum Mechanics is another character in the story. And to design it, I goofed a lot on Apple’s branding—a big company that everyone seems to love and whose founder was a legendary visionary. But what if it got too big?
Nrama: DaYoung is a young cop from the future – a teenage young cop. Can you talk about the decision to make a teenager a licensed and rocket-wielding police officer?
Montclare: It seems like a pure gag, but there’s a significant story element behind the idea. In DaYoung’s “future,” the police have evolved directly from the corruption that was unfortunately pervasive up until the 1980s. In her timeline, to combat corruption they needed honest cops. And the idea is that teenagers—despite sometimes getting in trouble—are essential honest people with ironclad ideals of right and wrong. They also haven’t yet developed a strong sense of self-preservation—so they’re brave. But, of course, these qualities in addition to their youthful inexperience also make them easier to manipulate. And a big mystery in Rocket Girl is whether the New York Teen Police Department are puppets or a truly autonomous law enforcement agency.
Reeder: To make DaYoung or the other teen police officers work, you need a design that’s chiseled but also fragile. Because they are so young and so much can go wrong, you need that frailty underneath everything. Obviously that’s something in the wire-y physicality of teens. But DaYoung is a bit like glass—cold and rigid, but perhaps also too delicate and breakable. On the surface, however, it looks like these kids can do anything.
Nrama: A futuristic crime investigation taking a teen Rocket policewoman back in time sounds story enough, but there’s more for DaYoung here than that – what else is she having to cope with in 1986?
Montclare: Growing up.
Reeder: Rocket Girl’s design works in a lot of cool ways. Brandon always gives me a million things to work with, and I try my best to be clever. It’s black and white because she is a police officer. But it’s also how she sees the world. “Growing up,” as Brandon says, a lot of that is making choices. The whole book is about making hard decisions. When the world is black and white, choice is easy. Her experiences in the past, the people she meets, and the ramifications of her action… nothing will have a clear “right” answer. There isn’t even a “wrong” answer. It all becomes about compromise and shades of gray. Accepting nuance is hard for teenagers; moral relativism seems downright dirty. So the main conflict throughout is DaYoung coming to grips with challenges that don’t fit neatly into her very one-dimensional worldview.
Nrama: The title of this series, and presumably DaYoung’s codename, is Rocket Girl. In a modern day world full of complex and sometimes esoteric superhero names, this seems pretty straight-forward – almost throwback, in a good way. How’d you settle on the name Rocket Girl?
Montclare: Rocket Girl isn't a code name that DaYoung chooses. Rather, it's what the people, and the press, in 1986 come up with to describe this mysterious flying kid. It is indeed very basic--and that could have potentially been a problem. But for comics it's unique enough. At first, the name was just something off the top of my head. In fact, I had said something like: “you can’t just do a book called Rocket Girl and not have a story behind it.” It was just a generic placeholder—like Superman or Spider-Man or Wonder Woman. It was just a name;, my point being—I think—that you needed a story behind the name. I didn’t have one. But I had to come up with one quick, because Amy liked the name so much. At the time I could have said “Lobster Boy” or something equally interchangeable and innocuous… and if I had, we’d be doing neither Rocket Girl nor Lobster Boy.
Reeder: Yeah, that’s the funny story. Brandon was just going on and on about something, and truthfully “Rocket Girl” was just about all I heard. I thought it was totally exciting! And I started getting images in my head. There was no story at all—but luckily that fit in later. I’ve said before that it really isn’t a proper way to develop a comic! But I just thought it was something that sounded immediately striking. Simple is usually good, and it stuck as Brandon built a story behind it. And with the name there is definitely a nod to superheroes. Not just in sound of the name--but that she has all the otherworldly powers, saves people, fights crime, etc. Not to mention we are making comics here, so a lot of Rocket Girl is playing with superheroes. But there’s more to it than just that.
Nrama: Rocket Girl got started when you two launched a successful Kickstarter that reached nearly double its $20,000 goal. Now three months later, how has those supporters and those funds helped you with this creator-owned project?
Montclare: The Kickstarter is essential—but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. It’s just one of the things that needs to be done to make Rocket Girl work. Other essential parts are, of course, the single issues (and ultimately collected editions) doing well at comics shops. Plus there’s digital readers. And even when Amy or I sell a copy at a convention, that helps the book survive and thrive. For creator-owned to work—at least for us—it needs to support a page rate that’s competitive with Marvel or DC. So everything is planned out. That the Kickstarter exceeded the goal is great, and gives us some more room financially. But a lot of the Kickstarter money goes right back into the Kickstarter rewards (which will ship with the first issue in October). We really do try to give fair value—we don’t think of Kickstarter as a way to get donations. More realistically, it’s selling some cool Rocket Girl stuff to fans. And in addition to that, it’s testing the waters to make sure Rocket Girl is something the fans want.
Reeder: The fan support is as important as the financial support. Those two things do go hand in hand. But just knowing that people are excited for Rocket Girl is a big help. I loved working on corporate characters like Madame Xanadu, Batwoman, and Supergirl. A big reason that work is so much fun is because of the built-in audience for those characters. I wasn’t the first to work on them, and others have already worked on them since. You get a lot of eyeballs on your art from readers that already love the characters. When you do something new, you have no clue if it’s something readers will respond to. So Kickstarter isn’t just about the money, it’s confirming whether or not you’re idea works. People seemed to love Rocket Girl right from the first glimpses in the Kickstarter. That’s HUGE. It’s not so much whether I’ll get to pay my rent. Quite frankly, paying my rent is too often an adventure regardless of what I’m working on. It’s that people want to give Rocket Girl a chance. And hopefully once they read the first issue, that enthusiasm only gets bigger, and they continue to support the book.