Although Voltron might be best known for its lion-based super robots, the key character of the series isn’t the robot but the pilots who bring it to life. And now, 28 years after Voltron first rocketed into the consciousness of kids everywhere we’re finally learning the origins of this elite squad.
Following up on its successful Voltron comic series launched last year, Dynamite just announced plans for a spin-off series titled Voltron: Year One that promises to delve into the early days of the people who could become Voltron Force when they were known as Space Squadron 686. Long before they’d uncover the ages-old technology known as Voltron, the entire group is here – Keith, Lance, Pidge, and Hunk – joined by short-lived Blue Lion pilot Sven, years before he was struck down in battle.
This follows on the heels of Dynamite’s first Voltron series which only just debuted back in December, but the publisher sees a strong demand to not just tell a single Voltron story, but to dig deeper.
“The Voltron property is at its resurgent height right now in terms of the new toys, cartoons, comics, etc., so as the saying goes, strike while the iron is hot,” said editor Joe Rybandt. “We’re forging new backstories for all of the main players with Voltron: Year One.”
Dynamite’s main Voltron series writer Brandon Thomas is onboard this breakaway title, joined by recent Joe Kubert School graduate Craig Cermak on art. Newsarama talked with both of them about the team, the mission, a new side to Sven, and the chances of seeing the beginnings of the Voltron Lions themselves when this title debuts in April.Newsarama: People know Voltron – but what can you tell us about the pilots and Voltron: Year One?
Brandon Thomas: These are slightly younger incarnations of the original Voltron Force --Keith, Lance, Sven, Hunk, and Pidge -- and this series is all about digging into what they were up to before re-discovering Voltron, and providing a hard justification for why their team of Space Explorers were sent after the Defender of the Universe and no one else. What appeared to be chance will prove anything but, and we’ll learn that it was no accident they pulled that particular assignment -- something Sven does in this series costs him almost everything and the question quickly becomes... did the Galaxy Alliance send them all to Arus because they hoped they’d succeed, or because they knew they would fail...?
Nrama: Craig, in drawing an origin that’s only briefly been glimpsed before, are you getting a chance to do your own designs for the main characters?Craig Cermak: I used the basic flight suit design I believe Keith had in the show with some tweaks, and each character has one but with a different color, naturally. Since there's a lot of under cover stuff in this series, their apparel changes frequently, which is really fun for me. We didn't want them to look exactly as they do in the main Voltron series, and it's nice because it can change as we move along, evolving and such.
Nrama: Although I imagine drawing superheroes isn’t easy either, drawing space battles, space ships and maybe some Voltron robots seems like a real challenge. Craig, what kind of preliminary work did you do to get ready to draw this series?
Cermak: At the moment, there aren't any Voltron robots, though that's not to say there won't ever be. For now though, it's all about the core team, along with their leader Sven, before their encounter with Voltron.
Thomas: The focus here is squarely on the squad of Space Explorers that’ll ultimately become the Voltron Force.Cermak: I'll have to be honest too and say I had never watched any of the Voltron series before, as I had missed that being born in the 90's. So my first order of business was watching some of the episodes to learn more. I did a chunk of character head-shots to differentiate them, which is easier for say Hank and Pidge, than it is for Sven and Keith. I did some pin-ups featuring the characters, but there’s this one group-shot that is just awful, so I told Brandon he can't show anyone! But it was good prep work.
Nrama: If there aren’t Voltron robots, can you tell us about the ships and technology they use in this comic, and how you went about designing it?
Cermak: The majority of technology in the book and the various spacecrafts have been created pretty spontaneously. Most times on the spot with just some reading ahead and making sure the craft will make sense on that page as well as later pages. Or making sure everyone uses the same type of gun if they're guards of the same unit. A lot of it is using my imagination, and thinking of how artists I like have tackled something, or how sci-fi movies portray various things. Really, there's so many different locations and weapons and costumes and ships... and it all moves fairly quickly so designing as I go with instinct makes it more fun and frankly, helps get the job done faster.
Nrama: Of all the Voltron stories out there in cartoons and comics, what did you use as an inspiration to come up with this prequel story?
Cermak: From the beginning, it was definitely the original show I used as my main source - particularly their body types and faces. For the hair... definitely replaced some of the mullets with more modern looks. I try my best to keep their faces consistent page after page but that's something that I can only get better at with experience. I use two different real people as a point of reference in drawing Keith and Sven, as those two are the most visually similar in my mind and I don't want to fall into a habit of giving everyone the same face.Thomas: Even in regards to the main series, the only thing we’re treating as official canon is that original animated series. The decision was made early on that we didn’t want to re-write everything that’s come before, and focus more on filling in some of the blanks or contributing additional layers to aspects of the mythology that were left a little more open than others. That’s definitely the M.O. here, and having the opportunity to work in two different time frames, one before the cartoon, and one after, allows us to really dig into the characters and send things into interesting and unexpected directions.
Nrama: Editor Joe Rybandt describes you as a big Voltron fan – can you tell us about your own early introduction to Voltron, and how you got on to writing not one, but two Voltron series yourself?
Thomas: Like many an eighties kid, it was one of my favorite cartoons growing up, and for the last couple years, I’d been working with Dynamite on a Project Superpowers spinoff mini that should hopefully be releasing sometime later this year. So while that was in the works, Dynamite got the Voltron license and I asked them about pitching for it at last year’s C2E2. Joe said something in that meeting that really sparked me and a few days later, I turned in an abbreviated version of what would ultimately turn into a massive proposal that gave walkthroughs for the first 20 issues of stories. After a little back and forth, things got locked in and I got to work preparing final scripts for the series.
Think I was about four or five issues in, and both Dynamite and the licensors seemed to be enjoying what I was building, so when the notion first came up about doing a companion series, they asked if I wanted to write that one as well. Obviously, I was interested, and I think both books will feed off the other, while still being somewhat unique in their own respects. I’ve even writing both of them a little differently to help ensure that.Nrama: Was this Voltron: Year One series something you had been considering for the main series before this chance to do a spinoff series presented itself?
Thomas: Yeah, there was some discussion about re-telling the origins of the main squad, and/or doing a modern retelling of the adventure where the Space Explorers actually encounter Voltron for the first time, so it was always something in the back of my head. And if we can make it to a second arc, folks will get a chance to see that, but when they asked me about writing the book, it wasn’t long before settling on this initial story that thrust Sven into the spotlight. This is a character that’s been a little kicked around throughout the history of the series, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to really dig into his head and see what makes him tick.
On top of that, Sven is going to appear down the line in the main book, and I thought we could do some things here to round out his personality and lay a little groundwork for his arrival there.
Nrama: Does this tie in directly to the new Voltron Force animated series?
Thomas: Not Voltron Force, but this first story is all about what this team of Space Explorers were up to immediately before being sent after Voltron, so it ties in heavily to the original series. And though casting Sven in the lead seems something of a departure, it’ll soon become clear how it all fits seamlessly into the period of time before the original series.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!