What started six years ago as simply a 24-hour comic, which evolved into a webcomic, and then eventually a successful Kickstarter campaign, Ryan Browne's surreal and irreverent God Hates Astronauts will be reprinted in softcover form from Image in early October, which includes origin stories by some of today's top indie talent.
Part sci-fi, part superheroics, God Hates Astronauts has some of the most surreal moments in comics ranging from an immortal with a swollen head who replaces it with a spectral cow head to mobster owls and bears who practice the dark mystical arts. Newsarama recently talked to Browne about GHA and its arrival in softcover, as well as what he thinks of the comic's popularity and differentiating his style on multiple projects.
Newsarama: Ryan, God Hates Astronauts started out originally as a webcomic and your Kickstarter helped print it out in a hardcover format and now Image will be published the paperback as well as an ongoing on some point. At what time did you sit back and go "Man, people must REALLY love voodoo bears"?
Ryan Browne: Hah! Not until recently. The book has had a small and dedicated following for years but that never really translated into any financial gain whatsoever. I self-published the single issues for years without the book getting any real exposure. Once I decided to give it away as a free webcomic, the audience really started to grow and lead to the amazing response for the Kickstarter. I wasn't until about half way through the Kickstarter process that I realized that there would actually be an audience for more GHA adventures.
Nrama: I'm going to be pretty blunt here, but where do you come up with this stuff?
Browne: Do you mean physically or mentally? I will assume you are looking for physical locations. Usually I come up with my ideas in the shower... or when I'm running-- but mostly when I'm lying in bed tortured by my ever-churning mind. Does that answer your question?
Nrama: For readers not familiar with your webcomic...could you even begin to explain what it's all about? There's some pretty surreal moments.
Browne: I have this response to "what is this all about" that I have said about a million times and it's pretty convoluted. The fact that there is no "elevator pitch" for GHA has really hurt it's marketability in the eyes of publishers up to this point. It's really like an Adult Swim show more than anything... there are a ton of really surreal moments and characters that make perfect sense within the logic of the GHA world, but seem really nuts looking in from the outside.
Basically it's about a bunch of "super powered" narcissists who are employed by NASA to stop the wave of farmers who have been launching themselves into outer space in home made rocket ships. But, this doesn't ever really get addressed because they are too busy having extra-marital affairs, fighting boxing bears, being haunted by ghost cows, stopping bank robbing owls with crossbows and battling a zombie boxer from the turn of the century. Actually I've been writing volume two and it is much MUCH more plot driven. The first volume was really a collection of characters and jokes that I streamed together into a narrative.?
Nrama: How did Image approach you on the paperback printing?
Browne: With the success of the Kickstarter, I started to realize that maybe I hadn't printed enough hardcovers to meet the demand. I also realized that hardcovers weigh a ton and moving them to cons and shipping them out was way too difficult. I knew that I wanted to do a softcover second edition, but that I wanted out of the self-publishing game. A week after the hardcover was released, Ron Richards at Image introduced himself to me. I had been working on Manhattan Projects fill-ins and had just gotten the Bedlam job so he wanted to meet me. I gave him the GHA hardcover to share with [Eric] Stephenson and that put the wheel was in motion.
Nrama: You kind of have some fun with Star Fighter's immortality, which also gives the book some of the more horrific and yet hilarious moments. Did you ever think you were going too far at any point in the story with what you could do to him?
Browne: To me it is all in good fun, so no, I don't think I could go too far with it. Yes a huge gross head could be horrifying, but I try to portray it in it's silly, comic book glory. The key to GHA for me is that everyone in the world is deadly serious about everything that is happening no matter how outrageously ridiculous the situations are. Star Fighter goes through the gauntlet in the first issue and he does a lot of complaining along the way, but I wanted him to maintain a likable character. My main regret was the treatment of his wife in the first volume. I think she is pretty unredeemable so that is something I'm going to have to figure out in the next volume.
Nrama: You seem to have a knack for including obscure historical figures. Do you fancy yourself a history buff?
Browne: I really do love American history but my mind is so bad at remembering details that I'm very far from being a buff. There are so many great creative starting points... I just found out about this guy named "Sky High Madison: The Worlds Tallest Cowboy" who is incredible. I'm sure he will find his way into GHA at some point. You should google him.
Nrama: What's the process from doing something like Bedlam and then diving into GHA? Which genre do you prefer?
Browne: It's pretty tough to shift gears but doing Bedlam is making my normal art style more diverse. After spending months doing Bedlam, the first few GHA pages I drew were super confused style wise, but I'm starting to get my chops back and it has made my inking more confident. I like working in both styles but the GHA style is certainly what comes more naturally.
Nrama: At the end of the book, there's two-page origin stories with some great, talented artists. What was the process of choosing who for what character?
Browne: Everyone that I asked to participate was a fan of the book in some way so they were at least a little familiar with the characters. Basically I sent out a list of about 25 characters and asked them who wanted to draw what. Then when they were all assigned I started writing the scripts intentionally to play to the strengths of the artist that was assigned. It was an amazingly fun process and the first time that I had ever written scripts for anyone.
Nrama: Is it fair to say you've done your time with self-publishing and are moving on now?
Browne: For now, yes. The Kickstarter was the first time I actually didn't lose money on self-publishing and the process of sending out 1700+ hardcover books just about killed me. So yeah... for a while at least. I do have this other book called "Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief" that I did the first volume of through Kickstarter. I've started on volume two, so at some point that will happen, but thankfully that book is small and softcover :)
Nrama: The trade ends on a cliffhanger, so will the ongoing pick right up from there, or will some time have passed?
Browne: Time will have passed, but just a little bit. The consequences of the story elements in the first volume will come home to roost. I wish I could say more, but I don't want to spoil the first volume for anyone. I will just say that we haven't seen the last of astronaut farmers or the crab nebula.
Nrama: You have a casting call at the start of the book, but the real question is, who would be the voice of Ryan Browne?
Browne: Some nerd somewhere... but one who is really handsome, successful and good at lifting really heavy things like cars and buses.
God Hates Astronauts softcover release from Image hits store shelves October 9, 2013.