Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing look at the best of the web. Check out our archives if you haven’t already!For our latest profile, we’re looking at a strip by an established creator that’s recently been collected in hard-copy format. Anyone who’s picked up an issue of Image’s Gødland knows few artists can channel the space madness of 1970s-era Jack Kirby better than Tom Scioli. And while the word “epic” is overused, there are few other words who can describe his red, white and blue saga of American Barbarian.
In a far-future USA, a triple-colored-haired barbarian sees his family destroyed by the evil forces of Two-Tank Omen, a giant demonic pharaoh with tanks for feet. Wielding the Star Sword, he sets out for revenge – and it only gets crazier from there.
The storyline was recently collected by AdHouse books in a handsome hardcover that you can order here. We chatted with Scioli about his future world, his favorite barbarians, and taking his comics online.
Newsarma: Tom, how'd the collection with AdHouse come about?
Tom Scioli: Quite naturally. Chris (Pitzer) was interested in the book from early on. He said he'd like to publish it just as I was getting ready to start taking it around to publishers. Done deal.
Nrama: How much will the first volume collect, and how many volumes do you see this running ultimately?Scioli: This is it. It's 10 chapters and that's the whole story. Having worked on multi-volume series in the past and doing a lot of conventions, it's a real pain. You get diminished returns, creatively and financially.
I realized that I can do somewhere between 10-20 issues of a comic before getting restless and wanting to move on. I feel pretty confident that any story idea I have can be expressed in 300 pages or less. So rather than doing a sequel or a second volume of American Barbarian, I'll be starting a whole new webcomic called Final Frontier.
Nrama: I might regret asking this, but how on Earth did you come up with American Barbarian?
Scioli: It had such a long gestation period, it's hard to place how the concept came about. It was the coming together of a bunch of different projects I'd been thinking about. I wanted to do a barbarian story, but with a character that was iconic, but also visually unique. With barbarian comics either the character is utterly generic or too weird, like IronJaw [a 1970s post-apocalyptic barbarian comic from Atlas] or something.
Nrama: Why did you decide to do this as a webcomic?Scioli: Around the time I was shopping it around as a monthly comic, there was the notion of the death of the independent pamphlet comic. I saw that reflected around me. I couldn't get a publisher interested in serializing it. I believed in the project and I knew that I'd be able to get someone interested in it as a graphic novel rather than a series.
But I didn't want to disappear while I went away for a year or more and worked on the book. I'd talked to some webcomics creators. They were very persuasive about the benefits of webcomics. I went from a skeptic to a true believer. Webcomics are the closest thing to the Golden Age of comic books and the Golden Age of comic strips. There's a proliferation of content, an engaged and growing readership.
Nrama: I have to ask about how you conceived and executed that double-page spread with the cutaway to the inside of the tank-fortress in Book 3.
Scioli: It's one of those things that is a solution to a storytelling problem. I had a portion of the story where American Barbarian had to take over an entire fortress single-handedly.
There were a bunch of ways I could've laid it out. This was a solution that presented itself. I wanted to make that scene grand and splashy, full of panache. A moment that draws attention to itself. This is the big joyful moment of the story. Doing it as a cutaway just made a bunch of sense.Nrama: I was curious about some of your inspirations for this -- certainly things like Kamandi, Conan, The Eternals and Thundarr, but I was also wondering about such underground fantasy comics as Hanther's Tandra and The First Kingdom. Or possibly the 1980s B-movie hero Yor: The Hunter From The Future, who killed a Triceratops.
Scioli: I've read/seen all of those things except for Tandra, so it's all in there somewhere. That barbarian explosion in the popular imagination happened early enough that it was on the wane by the time I was exposed to it.
When a trend is fading, that's when the really interesting things happen, when the genre conventions get pushed to their limits in an attempt to keep a dying fad going.
Nrama: Also curious about the experimenting with styles you've done with real-world photos, such as the cover to Book 3 or the "REVENGE!!!" scene in Book 2.
Scioli: That's something I'd been wanting to do and I think the fact that it was a webcomic gave me the courage to do it. If it were a monthly comic, where readers are paying a high per-page rate, I would've felt too much pressure to do actual drawing rather than mixed media experiments. They fit the vacillating tone of the project, too I think. I'm really pleased with that aspect of the book and would like to push those things further in upcoming projects.
Nrama: Any particular favorite characters to draw in this one?Scioli: Two-Tank Omen is fun. I don't think I draw him the same way twice. I liked BadAzz a lot, too. Gali-Leo is a design I'm really happy with, too.
Nrama: If you could have action figures made of any characters from this, what would they be? I recognize the stupidity of this question.
Scioli: The Two-Tank Omen one would be great, although I imagine there'd be a large engineering challenge in keeping the tanks from breaking off. The roving science fortress would probably be the greatest playset of all time.
Nrama: What have you learned from the experience of doing a webcomic?Scioli: The big lesson is that the more you let yourself do your thing, the happier everyone will be. When you're having fun making something, that energy is apparent to readers and they really respond to it.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the end of Gødland and what that experience has meant to you?
Scioli: I'm working on it as we speak. It goes up and down. Some days I'm thrilled with working on it, other days it's painful. I'd like it to be really awesome, and I'd like it to be finished.
Finishing a large series is not as much fun as starting one. That's real work. The deadline pressure of having the American Barbarian book ready for Angouleme helped push me through that difficult period for that work. I need something to give me that push for Gødland .
Next at Wide World of Webcomics: Jon Rosenberg shows us Scenes From a Multiverse! Be there!