Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our ongoing look at the best of the web! Today, we take a journey through time and space for an intergalactic adventure that’s making a comeback.
Cleopatra in Space….sorry, Cleopatra in Spaaaace is exactly what it sounds like – the legendary Egyptian in the far future learning how to be a space-adventurer at the cat-run Yasiro Academy. Unfortunately for her teacher Khensu, Cleo is not easily controlled, and has a habit of running into big trouble on her Sphinx-shaped space bike. But Cleo’s fast on her feet, and faster with a ray gun, and the adventure is just beginning…
The series has already earned wide acclaim for its light-hearted humor, intense action and animation-style artwork by creator Mike Maihack, but has been on hiatus for nearly a year. But this week, it’s back, and we were able to talk to Maihack about his absence, his return, his plans for the strip, and what led to him putting Cleopatra in spaaaace!
Newsarama: So, Mike, Cleopatra is back. What were some of the reasons for the hiatus, and what brought you back?
Mike Maihack: Originally is was just to get a head start on the next chapter. And then I had a kid. And then I had this SUPER SECRET PROJECT to work on. And some not so super secret projects. Eventually I realized almost a year had gone by and it was time to get back to it.
Nrama: How's it been getting back in the groove on Cleo?
Maihack: Well, remember that time I mentioned I had a kid? (laughs) Actually, it hasn’t been so bad. I already had a decent buffer to get me going and CiS is pretty much my favorite thing to work on. So it was fairly easy to get back into it. Lots of fun things going on in the new arc too.Nrama: How'd you initially get the idea for the strip?
Maihack: I drew this image of Cleopatra floating in space with a space kitty beside her for this art topic site I was a part of a few years ago. After a few, um.. demands that I make a full-fledged comic about her, I gave in. And here we are.
Nrama: What's fun about writing Cleo?
Maihack: Cleo herself! Putting her in different situations, seeing how she’ll react- she’s pretty easy to write. And it’s fun playing the oh-so-irritable Khensu off of her rebellious and snarky personality.
Sprinkling in a little bit of Egyptian mythology into the sci-fi landscape I’ve created around her is fun too. Those ancient Egyptians generously provided us cartoonists with an almost limitless amount of story potential.
Nrama: It seems like you're at a point where you're getting into Cleo's backstory -- what can you tell us about why she's at this space academy run by talking cats?Maihack: Umm… I will say she has a large role to play in the survival of, not just the galaxy she’s currently in, but the entire universe. She knows it, the cats know it, heck- the whole school knows it.
But I think it’s more interesting to leave the readers out of the loop for now and reveal bits at a time. I will say after this last chapter plays out, her next story arc is going to be an origin story. So readers will get a lot of answers to their questions then.
FUN FACT! The part of the galaxy Cleo is currently roaming around in is called the Ailuros System. So that might be a clue to those with a little bit of Greek or Egyptian knowledge (or know how to use the internet) why it’s ruled over by cats.
Nrama: Tell us about your process for producing the strip, story and art.
Maihack: I think about the sequence I want to draw, generally during a run or on my drive back and forth from work, and try super hard to remember it. Then I get to work trying to tell it one page at a time.
Sometimes I’ll thumb out multiple pages at once—especially for the more action oriented sequences, but usually I figure things about as I go, jotting down notes and dialog for future pages on the margins of the one I’m working on.
Since I started this story almost three years ago now, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and it’s evolved quite a bit from what I initially had planned for it. For example, I always had in my head that Cleo was student at some sort of space academy, but I didn’t plan on writing about any of that till after this little solo adventure of hers ended.
But halfway into chapter two I realized it was going to add greater weight to the story if I snuck in some of that information earlier. Which is how the flashback happened.Nrama: What have been some of the biggest challenges in going from black-and-white to color?
Maihack: Time. It just takes longer. Also, recently I had to decide what color the Xerx were going to be since in my head they were still b&w. It was like trying to color-correct an Ed Wood movie. But I think it’s all worth it to give more scope to the world I’m just starting to build.
Nrama: An odd question: Do you actually have a Xerx-to-English translation available, or do they just speak in random symbols?
Maihack: I like to think they speak in some secret code only the Xerx can understand. It just looks random to us. But no, there’s no translation available. If I made one, it would no longer be an all-ages comic.
Nrama: How long do you see the story running ultimately?Maihack: This first story arc will end with chapter 3 and I have about seven story arcs planned. Theoretically I could squeeze even more in there since I’ve created a concept that allows it to go off in many different side adventures. But I have a beginning and an ending already written so now it’s just a matter of connecting all the various dots between them.
Nrama: Why are things always better when they're in spaaaace?
Maihack: Is that a rhetorical question?
Nrama: What's coming up for Cleopatra?
Maihack: She’s going to be visiting Hykosis City, or rather returning to Hykosis City, a place she’s been before but isn’t exactly welcomed back. I hinted that there was an incident there involving her in Chapter 2 and we’re going to find out a little bit about what that was.
Hykosis City, in my mind, is a vile, colorful and totally cool environment and I’m both excited and incredibly scared to start drawing it. The largest action sequence of the comic so far will take place there. There won’t be any further flashbacks either. This chapter is much more linear.Nrama: Something I'm asking everyone in this series -- what kind of opportunities do you feel have been opened up to creators through such new delivery systems as iPads and smartphones, and what can companies and creators do to take advantage of these opportunities?
Maihack: I think accessibility has been a huge opportunity. Being on the web, our comics were always available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. But now that those computers are becoming more and more portable, comics can be read more places than ever before.
Can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never been comfortable reading any sort of long form comic—long form anything—sitting in front of my desktop. But I’d definitely be more likely to read digital material that I can rest on my lap in front of me and easily set down when I go to bed.
Now it’s just up to us to make sure that material is formatted correctly for these new devices. It’s not as simple as just transferring everything or saving in a different file type. We need to make the proper adjustments to make sure they read well and look good too.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite comics/creators right now?
Maihack: Oh man. (laughs). I always have the hardest time singling out people during questions like this. Let’s see… I’m currently half-way though Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto. That series is incredible, and Urasawa’s cityscapes make me want to quit comics.I’ve always been a large Chris Bachalo fan so I’m really happy see him on a book I’m loving immensely- Wolverine and the X-Men. That and Mark Waid’s Daredevil are currently the only two books keeping me from saying goodbye to mainstream comics.
Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos just released a book called Cow Boy which is probably going to my favorite graphic novel this year. Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk is a delight.
And I know it’s not a comic, but Legend of Korra is possibly my favorite thing right now. I also found myself really getting into the new Green Lantern toon. And then there’s Adventure Time… Honestly, I’m actually way more influenced by animation than I am comics. I think I chose the wrong career.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Maihack: Well, that SUPER SECRET PROJECT I mentioned many questions ago? I’ll be spending the better part of the next year working on that. I’m sure there will be an announcement about it eventually.
Until then, there will probably be some other little side projects I’ll be working on. But that will be taking up the biggest chunk of my time. Well, that and being a dad.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Maihack: I don’t believe the topic of paradoxes and the Theory of Compossibility ever came up, but I suppose we can save such discussion for another time.
Cleopatra in Spaaaace! is back at www.cowshell.com/cleopatra.
Up next: It’s Grrrl Power on the Red Planet with Free Mars! And coming up: Lilith Dark, Sarah and the Seed, Dicebox and more as Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics continues!