Some people might say good comics for kids are almost as rare as a dinosaur. This April they’re going to be eating those words – or be eaten by those comics.
Writer Robert Kirkman is teaming up with his Astounding Wolf-Man collaborator Jason Howard on an all new-series aimed at kids of all ages called Super Dinosaur. Framed as a “Pixar movie on paper” in Kirkman’s first interview, Super Dinosaur features Derek Dynamo, the smart son of a gifted scientist, partnering with genetically altered Tyrannosaurus Rex named, aptly enough, Super Dinosaur. After discovering this Dinosaur and a whole hidden world underneath earth’s crust, Derek and Super Dinosaur have grown up together and become best friends. The pair put down the toys and put up their fists when Derek’s father is attacked by a rival genius called Doctor Max Maximus and these two young friends must stand up for him – and Super Dinosaur’s hidden world.
Super Dinosaur is an idea that came about through some playful sketching by the artist Jason Howard and his young son, Jake. After mentioning it in passing to Kirkman while talking about their then-current project Astounding Wolf-Man, the pair began brainstorming on this radically new idea for them. And this April, their brainstorming will see the light of day as the new Super Dinosaur series debuts – with a special issue scheduled for the following month on Free Comic Book Day.
For more, we talked with the artist about the unique creation of the character and where it’s going once he and Kirkman got it off the ground.
Newsarama: Robert told me that Super Dinosaur originated as a character you made up for your son. Is that right, Jason? Can you tell us about that and how it came together?
Jason Howard: My oldest son Jake was 5 or so at the time, we were just hanging out and he was telling me things to draw. One of the things he asked for was a T-Rex with a helmet. As I was drawing it he told me to give it gloves and a cape like Batman. When I asked him what to call it he said “Super Dinosaur”. It made me laugh, but it might not have ever turned into anything except later that day I was talking to Robert. We were discussing Astounding Wolf-Man stuff but we occasionally share stories about what crazy things our kids are up to and I mentioned Super Dinosaur to him. It seemed to spark something and he immediately said, "forget the cape, he has big robot arms that are controlled by his tiny T-Rex arms". I thought this was brilliant, and had a bunch of other ideas and we excitedly talked about all the cool stuff we could do with this. At the time we were in the middle of Astounding Wolf-Man, but as I had free time here and there I did some character designs and even a couple finished pieces. We quickly decided that this was a comic that we had to do someday.
Nrama: Do you do a lot of one-off things for your son?
Howard: Well, I don't draw whole comics for him. That would be silly. [laughs] But he will occasionally come up with different characters and sometimes he will draw them and other times he will ask me too. Some of my favorite characters he has created are Break-Man (a guy so strong that he breaks things), Big-Arm (his power is pretty self explanatory), and of course Wolferine (a cross between Wolf-Man and Wolverine, basically just a lot of claws). One of the cool things about having young kids is seeing how fresh everything is in their eyes. They don't judge or edit their ideas; there is an honesty there, and if they think something is cool they just go with it. No worrying about what other people will think or if the idea is "cool enough". I think it is a good lesson for me as a creator to learn.
Nrama: Robert said part of Super Dinosaur came because you both wanted to make something that your kids could read. As a father and a comic artist, can you tell us about that and trying to get something out there to appeal to kids like yours?
Howard: Robert had recently issued his creator owned comics challenge and part of that was a desire for more comics that would be appropriate for younger readers. And I would like to do a book that can read to my kids without worrying if the material is too violent or whatever. So as we were discussing Super Dinosaur we both really wanted it to be an "all ages" appropriate comic. I like reading comics that are targeted to me as an adult. And as an artist its fun to draw some of the over the top violence and other crazy stuff that you can do. Particularly on a book like Astounding Wolf-Man where Robert and I own it, and we can do pretty much anything we want. But I wouldn't give Astounding Wolf-Man to young kids. As a creator I have lots of different interests. Astounding Wolf-Man addressed one interest, Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark addressed another one, and now its time to try something different with Super Dinosaur. As a kid one of the first comics I read was TinTin, it really captured my imagination and I would love to create something that can do the same for my kids (or anyone else’s). I really pay close attention to the things that appeal to my kids. I ask them why they like certain characters, like why do they think Ben 10 is cooler than Anakin Skywalker? It’s a good thing they won't be reading this or I might have to start paying them for their work as my personal focus group.
Nrama: The big guy in the teaser image – Super Dinosaur – how’d you end up thinking up all these devices on him and how’d they work?
Howard: His design has gone through some changes but it started with Robert's comment about big robot arms controlled by his little arms. I like drawing roboty stuff so developing it was a lot of fun for me. As the series goes on his gear changes some, and he has different attachments for different environments.
Nrama: Super Dinosaur comes from a world inside our own called Inner Earth. Is that a chance to draw some crazy stuff not seen on earth’s surface?
Howard: Yes! Or it will be, the story starts out on our surface earth. I don't want to give anything away but I don't think it will be a surprise to anyone if we make it to Inner Earth at some point in the series.
Nrama: Robert said in an earlier interview that this is “essentially a Pixar movie on paper”. How are you approaching it different than Astounding Wolf-Man?
Howard: The "Pixar movie on paper" quote is a goal for us. Obviously that is a really high standard, but we figured if that’s our target then even if we only make it part way we will still be doing well. It also primarily applies to what we want the tone and accessibility level of the book to be. Pixar does a great job of making movies that appeal to all ages. The stories are simple and direct enough to appeal to kids but also have enough plot and character development to appeal to adults. We really want to make a true all ages comic, something that has cool visual surface elements and is appropriate for younger readers, but still has enough complexity and character development and heart to appeal to older readers. Sometimes it seems that the term 'all ages' gets pinned on little kid comics in a derogatory way. So if you view 'all ages' as a bad thing then that’s NOT what we are doing. We are doing a super cool comic with dinosaurs and robots and missiles and characters who change and a story with heart, it just happens to not have gory violence, boobies, or swears. If you want a comic with gory violence, boobies, and swear words, go buy Walking Dead!
For me as I am drawing it I am really trying to focus on having the characters act. I want their emotions to be very easily understood. I am also trying to keep the story telling really simple and direct, and avoid some of the super-hero comic tricks that I used in Astounding Wolf-Man, things like big posy figures breaking panel boarders. I want to create a world and have the characters exist within it.
Nrama: Now that you and Robert have turned Super Dinosaur from just a drawing for your son into a new series, what does he think of this development?
Howard: He thinks it is pretty cool. Although he keeps asking me why I don't just hurry up and make a Super Dinosaur toy. [laughs]
But I don't know if he really appreciates it fully at his age. I mean I show him pages and ask his opinion about certain things, but drawing is just what daddy does; it’s no big deal to my kids. Usually it’s their friends who are a little more impressed by my job. Maybe once the comic actually comes out I will gain some points in his eyes.
Nrama: This was announced awhile ago and the book isn’t scheduled to come out until the summer – how far along are you in the book, and how big will the first issue be?
Howard: Well the first issue is scheduled for April so it’s not too far off. Issue 1 will be oversize, and I am finishing that up soon. I am doing all the art including the colors. This allows me to make sure everything looks how I think it should, and having a little bit of a lead time allows us to get a bunch of work in the can before the book launches. If anyone out there wants to keep up on Super Dinosaur and/or my art you can follow me on Twitter @theJasonHoward or my website www.JasonHowardArt.com