Think the neighbor’s rottweiler in a public menace? Imagine dealing with wild griffins and panda dogs.
That’s what happens in Rob Anderson and Fernando Melek’s new cop series Creature Cops: Special Varmint Unit, the first of four series to be published as part of a deal between IDW Publishing and online comics education program Comics Experience. WIth the three-issue series debuting on January 28, Newsarama caught up with Anderson to discuss his concept, the cops handling these gene-spliced creatures, and how his time at a no kill animal shelter helped shape this “Special Varmints Unit.”
Newsarama: Creature Cops sounds like a pretty unorthodox police procedural, to say the least. Rob, can you discuss the tone of this series a bit, and shed some light on how this concept came to be?
Rob Anderson: It's an ensemble-style drama, where we follow a group of Animal Control Officers at a precinct as they try to "do the job"... and survive. So, it's about the officers and their lives, but they just happen to be dealing with these gene-spliced creatures. There's humor, both in these crazy animals and the relationships between the officers – I mean, you have to smile when you see a panda dog hybrid taking a whiz on a city street, right? – but overall, it's a drama.
As far as where the concept came from, around the year 2000 I read a story about artist Eduardo Kac convincing a French geneticist to create a "transgenic" rabbit by injecting the rabbit egg with jellyfish proteins. This white rabbit, named Alba, would glow green when exposed to blue light. That's a true story! This performance artist was trying to make some point, but, besides disturbing me, it got me thinking. If the technology became cheap and available at some point, how long would it be before we had a mess on our hands?
I've always loved animals, and spent a number of years volunteering at an open-access "no kill" shelter where I used to live. It was a pretty straight line from there for me to start thinking about animal control officers in a world like that.
Nrama: The core of this concept deals with animal hybrids. How did we get to this world, and why do we need the Creature Cops?
Anderson: By the time the story begins, hybrid animals have been around for 20 years, so it's just accepted. But in terms of the back story, in that world, twenty years ago, the Chinese government created a duo-spliced creature called a panda dog, and was able to import them into the United States and elsewhere. It caused a frenzy and everyone wanted one as a pet. People were standing in line for days to buy one. In fact, even in the present in that world, there are still "Pandamonium" stores that specialize in panda dogs.
Anyway, 20 years ago, a sort of scientific "Gene War" developed between the U.S. and China, due to the implications in agriculture and beyond, and eventually there were commercial applications and so on...until you reach the point that Congress had to federalize animal control due to all the legal and illegal hybrids running around, getting loose, going feral.
We desperately need animal cops even in our world, even if most people don't think about it much – it can be a thankless job – but the job is a hell of a lot harder in a world with freakish animals everywhere.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the officers of the Creature Cops? Who are these people?
Anderson: With it being an ensemble-style drama, we get to meet all the cops at the precinct to some extent, but the main characters are Al Kaminski and Marita Vasquez, and their commanding officer, Rick Carson.
Kaminski is a grizzled veteran who thinks he's seen it all and knows how to get the job done, no matter what it takes. He likes his drink a bit too much, and he's let himself go, but he's the guy you'd want at your back in a bad situation.
His partner, Marita Vasquez, is fairly new to the precinct, and she's had either the good luck – or bad fortune, depending on how you look at it – of being partnered up with Kaminski. She's brave and enthusiastic, but she's still learning the ropes.
Carson is the commanding officer of the precinct, and 10 years ago, he was Kaminski's partner on the beat. The two of them were caught up in a terrible incident at that time, and Carson lost his arm and nearly died. This first story arc is going to draw them right back to that case, which was the worst day of both their careers. Neither one of them has really ever gotten over it.
Nrama: As an animal advocate yourself, how do you inject that in your writing, particularly when it's about animals running amok?
Anderson: Well, most of the time, when animals are running amok in a city or town, there's a human at fault somewhere along the line, whether because they let them loose, didn't train them, or didn't care for them and so on.
As far as my animal advocacy, I really just let the situations speak for themselves, whether you're talking about animal hoarding or fighting rings. I don't feel like I need to "convince" anyone those things are terrible, so hopefully no one will be focused on my particular positions on things, versus just enjoying the story.
Nrama: Because the main "villains" of the piece don't really have a voice, what challenges does that bring you in terms of crafting compelling cases for the Creature Cops?
Anderson: I don't see the animals as villains at all. Sure, an animal that's a danger to humans has to be contained, which is where an animal control officer comes in, but that's different than being villainous.
It's like that old saying that working customer service wouldn't be half bad if you didn't have to deal with the customers. I think a lot of animal control officers would say the job wouldn't be bad...if you didn't have to deal with the people.
The animals may cause a lot of the conflict and action in the book, but the villains are most definitely human, and when it comes to humans, you never run out of compelling cases, right?
Nrama: How did you and artist Fernando Melek partner up? What do you think Fernando brings to the table artistically?
Anderson: Fernando is based in Argentina, and I contacted him through his representative Lucas Urrutia at Stone Tower Studios. Lucas was integral to the whole process, since he acted as translator most of the time as well. They were both wonderful collaborators and make a great team.
In terms of Fernando's artwork, I absolutely love his (human) facial expressions. He nailed Kaminski's emotions perfectly again and again, and there's often great character "acting" in the body language, too. That's something I loved in his work on Crossed: Wish You Were Here, too. Of course, he had to be able to draw crazy creatures, and I loved his renditions of the animals and creatures as well.
Nrama: What was the back-and-forth like in terms of designing the various hybrids? Do you two have a favorite hybrid?
Anderson: On the front end, I'd describe the hybrid in some detail when I'd send along the script, then I'd attach quite a bit of photo reference of the real animals involved, focusing on shots that really captured the aspects of the animal I had in mind. From there, Fernando would just run with it. I don't believe I ever asked for a change on a creature design, but Fernando is great at character design, so not much back and forth was needed on design.
I suspect Fernando's favorite is the creature that appears at the end of Creature Cops #2, but I can't describe it without spoiling things. I personally loved his rendition of the griffins as well. But my favorite hybrid is definitely the stray panda dog that constantly eludes the animal cops. He's a trouble-maker and I wish I could own a real panda dog just like him!
Nrama: What would you tell people who are still on the fence about Creature Cops to get them on board? Any teases you can share?
Anderson: I think a lot of people will come for the crazy creatures, but I hope they'll stay for the characters and the story. If you like animals and monsters, this is definitely for you. If you like cop dramas, it's also for you. In terms of teasers, if you like Lovecraftian lore, you might also want to check it out... pay attention to the backgrounds in the first issue and it might offer some hints on the later issues...