Like two asteroids on a collision course, rocker Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos and cartoonist Bill Morrison of Simpsons fame have come together to tell the unlikely story of Wiedlin’s own abduction by a space tyrant wanting a private concert on his far away planet. But for rock guitarist Wiedlin, she proves able to change out power chords for power guns to resist the mad Earth-obsessed Emporer’s machinations and free the masses that he’s already put under his thumb. In the upcoming series Lady Robotika, Wiedlin assumes the title role and uses the bizarre technology that the Emporer’s minions forced onto her to fight those same villains back.Coming from the Shadowline imprint of Image Comics, Lady Robotika is shaping up to be a space opera in the truest sense of the term, mixing music and outer space in some four-color follies. Joining Wiedlin and Morrison on this is veteran comics artist Tone Rodriguez who’s also illustrating the new Shadowhawk series. Just announced last week with the release date of July 14th, we talked to Lady Robotika creators Wiedlin & Morrison by phone for more.
Newsarama: How did the idea for Lady Robotika come about?
Bill Morrison: I met Jane at a comic convention in San Jose a few years ago and we hit it off right away. We became best friends, and through that came the idea to do a comic together. Jane has an incredible knowledge of sci-fi -- you know, you wouldn’t think a hot rock & roll chick would be into sci-fi – but Jane is. She has a long history going back to her childhood when she became a big fan of Star Trek and later Star Wars and reading and watching lots of science fiction, so when we started planning our comic book project, the idea of mixing sci-fi and rock and roll just came naturally.
Two decades later –
Jane Wiedlin: [laughs]
Morrison: Two decades later, we have Lady Robotika. No, it hasn’t been that long – it’s been a few years actually.
Nrama: Bill, tell us about the look and style of the art.
Morrison: The original designs for Lady Robotika were originally more cartoony; not like my Simpsons style, but more like what I did on my Roswell comic a few years back. I became really inspired by a lot of other comics – especially when we joined up with Image. The artistic bar was raised and it developed into what we have now. Now we feel we’re fitting in with the other Image books with a more high-caliber adventure comics look.
Wiedlin: It’s like getting into a nightclub you have no business getting into. Haha!
Nrama: Jane, this series is depicting you directly – not just a stand-in that looks like you. What’s it like to star in your own comic?
Wiedlin: It’s pretty much a dream come true. I now have a fantasy world all our own. My career as a rock guitarist allows me to do that, and now with Lady Robotika I get to legally escape reality. I’m so thrilled.
And with my experience as a voice-over actress for cartoons, comics are the next logical step.
Nrama: Can you tell us how you go from being a rock star here on earth to becoming Lady Robotika out in space?
Morrison: Basically, Jane is herself in the comic – it begins with her playing at a club. After the show, she’s abducted by aliens and taken to a distant planet to play a concert for their emperor. Emperor Yecchh is a Kim Jong Il sort of character, you know how he's obsessed with western culture even though he’s anti-west in every other respect. He’s really into music, movies and the pop culture of America.
Yecchh’s planet has been picking up radio waves and television transmissions, so knows the Go-Go's and he’s a big fan of Jane Wiedlin. So he has her abducted to play for him. What Jane doesn’t realize is that she was experimented on during the trip from earth to Herron IV while she was in stasis, and she’s been infused with nanobots.
Their plan was to turn her into a cyborg and add her to their growing slave class of aliens abducted from all over the galaxy. Instead of becoming a slave, Jane becomes their liberator.
Nrama: This being comics, I have to ask: what are Lady Robotika’s powers?
Morrison: Her main power stems from the nanobots that were injected into her, which cause parts of her body to become robotic. She later meets the creator of the nanobot technology, and he teaches her how to control them. She can essentially do anything she wants within the limits of the nanite technology.
What we know from the first story arc is that she can shoot energy beams, and communicate with and control the nanobots in her own body, and in the bodies of the other cyborg slaves. She’s kind of like Superman in that her powers are not fully revealed at first. Part of the fun is going to be adding and developing them as the series progresses. She’ll discover things about herself she doesn’t know; much the same way that when Superman started out he could only “leap over tall buildings,” while now he can fly to other planets, etc. Are we comparing Lady Robotika to Superman? Yes. Yes we are.
Nrama: Can you tell us more about the Emperor, and his right-hand person E’Death and what Lady Robotika’s up against in the book?
Wiedlin: E’Death runs the prison on Herron IV, which is the first planet in the adventure. She is an evil and powerful prison warden. After Lady Robotika escapes, they become arch-nemesises. E'Death has an arsenal of cyborg and non-cyborg workers under her – prison guards basically. And Lady R is battling both her and her minions.
The Emperor is also evil, don’t get me wrong, but unlike E'Death, he’s a victim too. You’ll have to read the whole story to find out that secret. We’ll be teasing it, but it won’t fully be revealed until the end.
Morrison: A lot of the aliens Lady Robotika will run across come from different planets – it’s like the Mos Eisley cantina scene from Star Wars; aliens from all over the galaxy. The main race of aliens on Herron IV are lizard-like beings, while E’death comes from a planet of vampires. She’s a lot more human-looking than the other aliens, except for her facial features. She’s very evil – like the Darth Vader of the story – and she's on a relentless irrational pursuit of Jane. Once Jane gets the jump on her and escapes E’Death’s prison, her mission is to capture Lady Robotika and punish her.
Wiedlin: In a very sexy way. [laughs]
Nrama: How long will the Lady Robotika series run, Bill?
Morrison: We’d like to keep it going forever, but that depends on the sales. Our initial story-arc is going to be five or six issues, which will get us through Lady Robotika’s origin. Then we’ll look at the numbers and see if people want to see more. We’ve got tons of ideas for stories.
Wiedlin: We want this to be a real space opera – space “rock” opera – and ongoing series.
Nrama: It seems as if the core of this story is an over-eager fan kidnapping you to play a special gig. In real life, have you ever had anything like that – or someone offering to hire you for a ridiculous gig?
Wiedlin: It’s funny you should ask that. I got a message passed along to me the other day that a fan wants to hire me for an hour, at an astronomical rate, to show him how to play “Our Lips Are Sealed” on guitar. I’m flabbergasted over that; it kind of makes me nervous. Is it a trap? I need Admiral Ackbar to tell me!
Morrison: "It’s a trap!" (in Admiral Ackbar voice).
Nrama: Pitching in on this series with you Bill is artist Tone Rodriguez. You’re an artist – he’s an artist – so who does what?
Morrison: Tone is a good friend of ours – both mine and Jane’s. And when it comes to drawing, I’m very very slow… Dave Stevens-slow, if you know what I mean; probably slower than Dave was. And my regular gig working at Bongo takes up most of my time. Since Jane and I started working on this project a couple of years ago, I’ve been going at a comfortable pace designing and drawing it. But once we signed on with Image, suddenly there were these wonderful crushing deadlines.
Morrison: I soon realized I needed some help; it wasn’t physically possible for me to put everything I wanted to into these pages while still working full-time at Bongo. Tone had done a pin-up for an ashcan we sold at Comicon International last year, and I love Tone’s work. Tone’s been doing work for Bongo lately on Radioactive Man, and he’s really a very imaginative illustrator. Since I’ve I've enjoyed working with him at Bongo, and the fact that he’s friends with both of us, I invited him to join me in drawing the book.
I’m drawing everything up until Jane is abducted and then Tone takes over on the spaceship. It’s a real distinct scene change. There are some pages earlier in the story with a dream sequence where I draw the inside of the ship and the aliens, but it's more stylized. When Tone takes over, the aliens and the ship are much more realistic.
I’ll be inking the entire book, melding our styles a little bit in the process. We’re very excited to have Tone onboard.
Wiedlin: We’re lucky to have him.
Nrama: While visiting Mike Allred’s website, I saw that he did a great pin-up of Lady Robotika. Will you be featuring this, or any other artists’ pin-ups, in the series?
Morrison: Jane has a list of her favorite comic artists, and we’ve approached many of them about doing something. As time allows, I hope we’ll see more.
Wiedlin: Bill and I did Planet Comicon in Kansas City a couple weeks ago, and our friend Cat Staggs did a Lady Robotika poster that is an homage to Barbarella. It’s just so exciting to have talented people take your ideas and run with them. Bill and I are thrilled that friends, and now fans, are becoming part of the Lady Robotika universe.
Morrison: Speaking of Mike Allred, he started a feature in his Madman series where he had a different artist do a pin-up on the back cover of each issue. He had some great talent like Dave Stevens, Frank Frazetta and Alex Ross contributing pin-ups; he had so many that he couldn’t put out books fast enough to host all the pin-ups he was receiving, so he did a trading card set to showcase them all. I’m very inspired by that, and would love to do something similar in Lady Robotika. It's a real kick to see something you’ve created being interpreted by other artists.
Wiedlin: We should do some trading cards! We have about twenty pin-ups now, so we could.
Morrison: By the way, we want to merchandise the heck out of Lady Robotika. We already have t-shirts, prints and other things, but we're really looking forward to doing action figures, statues, toys and all kinds of things. On our website a couple days ago we posted a home-grown action figure made by Cliff Robinson.
Wiedlin: Cliff’s a great steampunk-style creator who makes fabulous machines and devices. He’s actually building something for my new recording studio, and on the side he built a custom Lady Robotika action figure. It’s got the cyborg arm, and even a crazy ray-gun guitar.
Nrama: Someone should do some custom guitars!
Morrison: We will be approaching the guitar manufacturer Gibson to pitch the idea of doing something special. Gibson is the brand Jane plays.
Nrama: Before I go, I wanted to go full circle and ask about doing music for the comic. I tracked down some theme songs you did for Lady Robotika. Will these be put on CD to be available, or are they online-only?
Wiedlin: I have a whole album written that was inspired by Lady Robotika. Our big plan is to release the songs with the collected graphic novel edition, which will come out after the fifth or sixth issue. We’ll bind it up into one beautiful package – with music and comics. We’re really trying to bring together a great story, fantastic characters and live music. It’s a real sci-fi space opera!