Imagine a world where oil is in short supply and the ground we live on has been poisoned. If you’re lucky enough, you’ve found a new home amongst a hodge-podge assortment of zeppelins, airships and skybarges – but those vessels still need fuel, which leave those unfortunate enough to be stranded earth-side providing oil and supplies to keep the upper class aloft. There’s one vessel that doesn’t need that, however; the Dawn, an experimental skybarge that uses a mixture of solar, hydrogen and magnetic energy to stay afloat, and it’s the envy of the world – both the good guys and the not-so-good guys. That’s the story of the upcoming miniseries coming out of IDW called Wild Blue Yonder.Created in a partnership between writer Mike Raicht, Austin Harrison and rising star artist Zach Howard, Wild Blue Yonder was announced last month at Comic-Con International: San Diego and reached out to comic fans via Kickstarter to help fund the creation of this creator-owned project. Unlike a majority of Kickstarter projects, Wild Blue Yonder already had a publisher lined up but that doesn’t mean they don’t need money. Doing creator-owned comics, whether it be for IDW, Image, or even Marvel’s Icon imprint, offers no promises, upfront pay or page-rate for its creators, making it a huge gamble – especially when you have to set aside paying work to do it. Their Kickstarter drive just reached its $12,000 goal earlier this month with the funding window open until Thursday afternoon, and will use the money to pay for the incentives and provide a living wage to Howard for the full-time job of drawing this miniseries.
With Wild Blue Yonder set for release next year, Newsarama talked with Raicht, Harrison and Howard about the series, venturing from the blackened Earth their characters are trying to escape to the skies and the dogfights to keep their dreams aloft. The trio also were upfront with us talking about the misconceptions fans have about using Kickstarter, and the realities of doing creator-owned comics in today’s world.
Newsarama: What’s the world like in Wild Blue Yonder?
Mike Raicht: It's bleak. Basically an ecological wasteland. Decades of pollution and radiation have poisoned the Earth. The lower elevations are unlivable so people climbed higher. Those who live on the ground at the time this story occurs, even at high elevations, live harsh, sickness ridden lives that are spent wishing they were safe in the sky barges above. They spend their days providing fuel and supplies to those above them, praying they will be chosen to live among the clouds. The sky barges above spend their days scrounging for food, fuel, and fighting to protect what is theirs. They fight battles between sky barges with jet packs, crowbars and axes, because bullets ran out for most of them years ago. Neither choice sounds all that spectacular.
Nrama: What can you tell u about your teenage aviatrix, Cola?Raicht: Cola is one of two pilots who helps defend the Dawn. Her days include dogfights, scouting missions around Radiation clouds, sorties looking for food, keeping the men and women of the Dawn alive, and feeding her dog, Critter. These are some heady responsibility for a teenage girl. She is the daughter of Olivia, the Commander of the Dawn, which you can imagine leads to some serious tension, and the Dawn's cook, B.C. She's recently lost her rocket pack wearing co-fighter and is looking to replace him. She has some doubts about her abilities as a pilot made even worse by her mother's seeming lack of belief in her. However, the Dawn is her family and she will do anything to keep it flying.
Nrama: What is the Dawn, and why are so many people after it?
Raicht: The Dawn is a ship that runs on a combination of solar, hydrogen, and magnetic energy. It is the only ship of its kind and does not need any fuel, which is a resource that is running out in this future world. All of the other ships, including the Judge's ship, The Executioner, run on different combinations of fuel and other resources, but none of them are sustainable given the state of the world. The time of those flying machines surviving in the sky is running out so the Dawn is a highly sought after place to hang your hat.
Nrama: Who does Cola have to protect the Dawn from?
Raicht: Everyone else, basically. The sky is filled with different factions. Most are just people trying to survive. Times are desperate though and everyone is fighting for every imaginable resource. The planet is not providing, so people have to take what's left and try to make it last.
Others are sky pirates who attack any vessel they see in an attempt to take it.
The Judge and his fleet, are the most dominant army. They have collected other planes and built a huge militaristic society. The Judge believes his fleet is the fittest and you will join it or die. He's obsessed with the Dawn because possessing it keeps his fleet aloft.
Nrama: Tell us about the machines that make these men and women fly, both on Cola’s side and the Judge’s.
Raicht: Before the world went to hell, jet packs had come into vogue, so they are popular. Planes were built able to hover, and make aggressive turns in the sky. Not so far off from things we can do today.
The sky barges were created using whatever they could scrounge up on the ground as they escaped into the sky. They are almost small towns. They have crops on board, ways to filter water, kitchens, sleeping quarter, and even a place for some farm animals. Some can house hundreds of people and others are much less glamorous. We are almost two generations into this world when we enter the story, so they are more than a bit broken down and dodgy by this point.
The Judge's fleet was built by the army to survive the end of the world and to wage a war.
The Dawn was built by experimental science and was built exclusively for survival. They re-commissioned old WW II fighter planes they found in a nearby museum, thinking they would be great scout planes. They fitted them with rocket tech and they were off. They couldn't be picky.
The jet packs are the biggest weapon each side has. Since weapon firing warfare is a thing of the past, the battles are waged by rocket wearing soldiers. The soldiers are only good for short distance fighting. A little harrowing if you are using them to board and attack another plane or sky barge. Think of it as boat to boat fighting and you might get an idea of what is happening. Now have that going down, riding a rocket pack from ship to ship at 16,000 feet and it gets a little scarier.
Nrama: I’ve been biting my tongue, but the big draw in this seems to be seeing Zach draw this world and draw some dog fights. What can you tell us about that?Raicht: I'm just as excited as you. Zach is an artistic monster in the huge moments, but he is also incredibly nuanced with the quiet moments that make a story great. He is one of the best artists in the business bar none and should be recognized for it following his unbelievable work on The Cape. I can't wait to see him draw this world and make these character real.
Zach Howard: I’m flattered by the notion that people would be drawn to the book for my illustrations, but the reason I decided to do this series with Mike was because there is a wonderful coming of age tale being told. People should buy it because it’s a complete product. However, if you are into Wolverine Christmas Specials (or some schlocky equivalent) then this book is not for you. We are trying to make a memorable story.
Austin Harrison: Zach's work on this book is incredible but it's not a surprise to me because I've been working with Zach for a long time and I think his talent is limitless. I can't wait for people to see more of his work on this book. Zach's storytelling gets me equally excited and this aspect of his talent is spectacular.
Nrama: On Kickstarter it’s said this has been in the works for 3 years. Who originally thought of the idea, and how did it develop?
Raicht: It's something I originally came up with. I pitched the world to Zach and we just couldn't find the right time to do it. Zach had been working on another amazing project with Austin Harrison and brought him in to work on the story with us. He really put me through my paces and pushed me hard to develop the characters and really nail down the story. On the art side, Zach has been adamant we use Nelson Daniel, his colorist on The Cape, and looking at that book and how amazing they mesh together, I wasn't going to argue with that. I think it all worked out for the best because I love the first few issues that we've put together.
Nrama: IDW’s publishing another Kickstarter project, Womanthology. Did IDW encourage you to use Kickstarter?
Raicht: Zach and I had been planning to use Kickstarter awhile before IDW was involved. When they asked Zach his plans following The Cape he told them he was going to do this. They became interested. They were behind whatever we already had in motion.
Nrama: Kickstarter is traditionally done for self-published books, but you launched this Kickstarter right after IDW announced it was publishing the series. Not to be pejorative, but a lot of people assume that the publisher would provide funds. Why should people chip in when you’ve already got a publishing deal for this?Raicht: We actually launched the Kickstarter the week before the book was announced, but we had been working on the Kickstarter for months before that. Anyone who has done a Kickstarter knows it's not really something you throw together. It takes time and planning.
Howard: Anyone who thinks this can kindly choke on a crank. IDW is publishing our creator owned series – not paying us for it. I don’t get a page rate. Mike doesn’t get a script rate. They are paying for our colorist Nelson Daniel. That is it. People on the internet just insist on assuming things rather than finding out anything factual. I think it’s a sign of the lack of emotional maturity, basic discipline, and respect that humans have now of days. Even the press makes assumptions – which blows my mind. Any person on our creative team and IDW would be happy to share any information about the series if asked in a genuinely non-accusatory way. It’s that simple.
And I take offense to your question. I don’t remember reading anything on Kickstarter about it being for self-publishing. I thought it was a place for creative ideas to be funded so they have the chance to come to life? This is precisely what is happening with Wild Blue Yonder. Seeing how I don’t get a page rate, and I need to pay my mortgage every month, why should our Kickstarter be viewed negatively. We need a small amount of money to do a five issue series. And we aren’t asking solely for donations – we are giving fans products in return. They purchase incentives. I’m doing an entire series for what I normally get paid to do for DC in a single issue. I’m taking a huge financial risk, and putting my butt on the line for something I believe in. Mike and I decided to go the Kickstarter route so we could own our product. I don’t see why we would be attacked for this, whether directly or passive aggressively.
Nrama: We aren’t the ones doing the attacking, Zach. But when people think of Kickstarter, its often thought of by fans as a funding source for those self-publishing -- Womanthology, for example, raised money to self-publish and it was only after that project had been funded did IDW step in to do the publishing part of the production of the book.
Since you’ve brought it up, most Kickstarter books are pretty upfront in their profile page about what specifically the money is going towards. People can assume part of it is to fund the incentives a project raises, but can you explain where the money you raised is going after that – since you are asking the public for funding?
Howard: Oddly enough, I’ll have to pay bills while I draw this for the next 10 months. So we will first set aside money for shipping the incentives, and then Mike and I will split the remainder. That will leave me with just a few thousand dollars to live off of. So this is an insulting question. Again, we are not getting rates from IDW. They are publishing our series. Do you believe that comics are produced for $0? Do you work for free? I’m not a trust fund kid, so I have to have some sort of income to survive. I live rather meagerly so I don’t think doing a fund raising campaign is immoral by any stretch. I think it’s horrible to think that people assume otherwise.
Raicht: Most, if not all, of the money not going towards incentives will go towards Zach working on the book. I've worked in this business awhile now as an editor and a writer and the artists put an insane amount of time into each book they do. It is going to take 10 months for Zach to draw this.
Nrama: Bringing this back around to the story of Wild Blue Yonder itself, where do you think you would be living in a world like t his?
Raicht: There doesn't look to be a use for comic book writers and College English Professors on any of the sky barges so I'd probably be in a spot of trouble. Passing skills on from generation to generation is a huge part of this world, and my dad was a dentist, so maybe, on the off chance a barge had a dentist office, I'd be cleaning teeth and telling people to floss more.
Harrison: Zach would probably be a Gun on the Dawn. That would be my guess as he likes to work with his hands and he's a tough dude. I would hope to be a pilot like my grandfather who flew in WWII.