What do you get when you mix Zombies vs. Robots with Locke & Key? Something surprising. Locke & Key artist Gabriel Rodriguez is teaming with Zombies vs. Robots writer (and IDW COO and E-i-C) Chris Ryall on a new four issue series that takes them far away from their signature works and into unfamiliar and more dangerous territory.
Debuting in July, Onyx features a armored heroine who returns to Earth to find it invaded by a deadly alien spore. The spore has ravaged the planet, like many others in this future-set series, forcing her to decide if she can kill it once and for all or cordon off Earth for it to die out on its own.
Before it's official debut with July's Onyx #1, a five-page preview has been released in some IDW titles leading up to it, which Newsarama has -- as well as three new, unlettered pages from the debut issue.
Newsarama: Chris, Gabe – let's talk Onyx. Give us a sense of the basic premise and the things we'll encounter in its pages.
Chris Ryall: Onyx involves an alien cyborg (of a sort) who comes to Earth in pursuit of a galactic spore that devastated her planet, as well as many others. She’s here to either end the spore or cut off the infection at our planet, depending on how bad things are when she arrives. She’s not a warrior, but she’s seen a lot of war and grown hardened by all the losses she’s had to bear.
The Earth she lands on is nearing the 22nd century and nearing population overload. So mankind has done some... drastic things to the planet, which leads to worse things once the spore starts infecting the populace. Onyx comes across a team of soldiers checking things out, as well as human-animal mutates and other such horrors. For starters.
Gabriel Rodriguez: Not by choice, but because of fate, Onyx sort of embodies a nemesis for the Second Horseman of the Apocalypse, in a galactic struggle against a plague from space.
She had to learn the path of the warrior, aided by her high-tech suit and the strength of her will, as she is launched in a fight for survival of other species of an interplanetary scale.
What you’ll find in this book, hopefully, will be a hero not driven by revenge or a sense of justice, but by a morality based on empathy founded in her own losses, and also in a tragic feeling of responsibility in a mission in which she’s not even sure she has what’s needed to succeed.
Nrama: How did this idea come about?
Ryall: Gabriel and I had been wanting to create something together for a long time, and the more we talked seriously about it post-Locke & Key, the more we both wanted to do a science fiction story.
We originally talked about this character making its debut in one of the licensed books we do, but as the character became more real in our heads, we realized we had the perfect starting point to the long-gestating series we’d talked about creating together.
Rodriguez: Fun indeed was the fact that starting with a very simple basic idea, we gradually added facets and layers to this character and its world many times in coincidental or complimentary ways, so it was also great to realize we were both driven to build this story with the same points of interest.
For me, also, it meant an especially exciting challenge, as this “adventure/sci-fi/B-movie like” kind of story was one of the few genres I hadn’t had the chance to explore in my career so far.
Nrama: What can you tell us about our main character? Gabe, can you tell us how her look came about?
Ryall: Well, like I mentioned above, she’s not a bad-ass warrior who was born to fight, she’s a scientist from a world called Pelimosa who saw her family, her people and her planet devastated by this invading space-spore.
Left alive amidst the carnage, she saw little choice but to try to help other planets avoid the same fate. But to do so required sacrifices that left her more alone than she ever thought possible.
Rodriguez: The design approach evolved slowly, luckily, in a quite extended span of time, which I think was good to try different twists in the details of its final shape.
The basic approach was pretty clear from the very beginning, we wanted the look of a space paladin in a sort of an alien “Arthurian Knight in Shining Armor,” but we also wanted it to look organic, menacing and, quoting Giorgio Tsoukalos, “otherworldly.”
The design of the mask, for example, suffered lots of changes, as I wanted something that had a sort of organic appeal, with no-nonsense expression and alien badass looking. And a sort on insect-like inspired design did the trick for us.
Also, as we explored in detail the shape and functions of the suit, we found room to discuss about Pelimosa’s culture and science, or their technological accomplishments. And also, discussed how her bond with this cyber suit would leave a distinctive mark in the character’s inner world and the way in which she relates with those who surround her.
Nrama: What led to your wanting to do this original concept together?
Ryall: Well, Willie Nelson has that famous song lyric, “The life I love is making music with my friends,” and it’s just as applicable here. If I could spend the rest of my creative life making comics with my friends, it’d be a pretty great thing.
And when those friends also happen to be among the most flat-put talented, diligent and conscientious creators in the industry, well, that’s just a bonus for me.
Rodriguez: I felt we sort of owed this to ourselves. As time passed with Chris, we’ve been building a friendship that has easily evolved into brotherhood, and it’s also not quite usual to find people with whom you tune as easily in work ethics, areas of interest and creative drive.
Time gave us both the chance to improve in our skills to finally found room to build together this insane Frankenstein in which we mashed up all the things we love and care about comics, movies and all kinds of fiction. Being also especially determined to hold high the banner of fun in “funnybooks.”
Nrama: And what is your collaborative process like? How is it different from adapting an existing property?
Ryall: Well, it’s ours through and through. Meaning it’s our world to build and our characters to make real and our chance to rise or fall. So it’s the right kind of pressure, the sort of thing we both care deeply about and are very vested in and also know the blame falls only on us if it doesn’t work.
But more than that, process-wise, it’s different than we usually work, too. Rather than going full script, as I tend to do, this story is coming together through conversations, scribbled notes, chats, a Marvel-style plot and Gabriel handling the visual storytelling in ways we haven’t approached in past collaborations. It’s a blast.
Rodriguez: (The process) has been incredibly fun and natural, as (it) allows us to feel very free in our approach to the page. It has been great for me to have the chance to get more freedom than ever in controlling the decisions about how to “shoot” the different scenes that construct the story – but never getting lost in the process, as I feel steadily guided by Chris’ overview of the full landscape and his ability to feed me with key tips to know where to pin the crucial points.
And it has also been great for both us, and hopefully for the good of the story too, to have room to keep questioning ourselves on how to improve every page and scene ‘til the very moment that they are finally done. It keeps you very aware of the strengths of collaborative efforts in making comics throughout all the stages of the process.
Nrama: What's the scale of this series -- how long do you see it going on for?
Ryall: We’ve got it set as a 4-issue thing right now but would both love to do more, audience and marketplace wiling.
Rodriguez: Yep. There’s room for many more Onyx adventures in our minds, waiting for an opportunity to get to be told if our readership gives us the blessing “thumbs up” to go forward with them.
Nrama: And tell us a little bit about the 5-page preview readers can find in the May titles.
Ryall: We wanted to do something special there, rather than just offer the first five pages of #1. So we created a little 5-page #00 issue that introduces Onyx and the universe in which she travels. It stands on its own so no one who misses it will be lacking if they only start with Onyx #1.
But the #00 issue is free in many of our May titles as well as online, so it’s there for people to see if they want a quick look. Not for nothing but the five pages also offer up some amazing Gabriel Rodriguez and Jay Fotos artwork so it’s worth the look for that.
But we also wanted retailers and consumers to have a better look at what they’d be ordering for July release during the ordering period. I appreciate how hard it is to take a stake on a brand-new title so this way, at least people can see—and hopefully like—what we’re asking them to order.
Rodriguez: Creatively speaking was for both of us like shooting a pilot for the series. A contained space to try the narrative, tone, visual appeal, design approach, and put all that together in a little story that would work as a tiny window to peek in what this new universe could be.
For me was a nice exercise to tune my eye and hand in the mood to try something so completely different to my previous project, Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland.
Nrama: What can readers expect from the Onyx series debuting this summer?
Ryall: Beyond all the above, and in addition to Gabriel’s great covers, we’re launching with some variant covers by other high-falutin’ art-friends of mine: Ashley Wood, Charles Paul Wilson III, Alan Robinson, and even Sal Buscema contribute covers to #1, with variants by folk like Jeffrey Veregge and Paul Hanley to follow.
We’re also packing each issue with extras in the form of character sketches, a letters page, concept art, and other things, just to really give you the most we can for your sheckles.
Rodriguez: Hopefully, they’ll find thrilling adventures in a book friendly and welcoming for any new comics reader. We’re trying to make this big in scope, but easy to follow.
And while playing tribute to lots of things we love about classics of serialized adventure, trying to give it a sincere 21st century approach, plus characters to suffer with and to root for.
Nrama: Give us the hard sell on this.
Ryall: See above, that’s about as hardselling as I tend to get. But let’s just say that anyone who’s got a hankering for a book with strong characters, interesting premise, amazing artwork, science-fictiony components, and even properly spelled words will find something to like here.
Rodriguez: Fun is the driving force at the core of this project. A kick-ass female hero, futuristic military commandos, mutants, interplanetary adventures, doomsday plague, interdimensional nightmares… and promise, we’re working hard for all of this to make sense in a friendly story.
We invite you to join us to have fun, and while trapped on that, discover characters that speak of current concerns in a world that will unfold rooted in so many things we love about comics, sci-fi and fantasy.
Nrama: What are some other books/creators you'd like to recommend right now? As a handicap, you can only name one book from IDW.
Ryall: It’s broken-record territory at this point, but that Saga book is pretty good. There are lots of things I like, so many creators doing amazing, diverse work right now. Which is my way of saying I know I’ll forget a great many titles here, but among the things I really enjoy are:
Afterlife With Archie, Sabrina, and The Black Hood from Archie; Ms. Marvel feels particularly fresh to me; the Marvel Star Wars stuff is off to a very fun start;Birthright and Wayward from Image are great fun; Astro City and Empire from Waid & Kitson both remain as good as ever; Marks Waid and Millar always provide a great read; Stray Bullets is good as ever; as are Brubaker & Phillips’ stuff; The Walking Dead remains a very readable, unkillable beast; Bill & Ted made a triumphant return, Alex + Ada, Southern Bastards, The Autumnlands, Trees, Manhattan Projects… Scott McCloud’s new book is great, I enjoy a lot of Jimmy Palmiotti’s projects I’ve Kickstartered, Chew is still very fun; Wytches, UFOlogy, Letter 44, Ivar, War Stories, Kate Leth’s and so many others’ webcomics and print comics… I could go on and on.
I wouldn’t say I’m up to date on all of them—the stack on the back of the toilet and on my iPad grows large as work gets in the way, but man, there’s just so much I enjoy when time allows.
And this doesn’t even mention the standalone graphic novels, Fantagraphics’ and other more indie fare… the things I named truly only scratch the surface of the good comics that are out there now, they’re just off the top of my head. It’s a great time for comics. But it’s always a great time for comics.
Rodriguez: Chris has basically scrolled down the whole market here! If I have to add a couple more, I’d mention Black Science, from Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera, Mouse Guard by David Petersen, who’s getting its 10th anniversary this year, and one of the most beautifully drawn and fun comics even done: Blacksad, by Canales and Guarnido.
And of course, don’t forget to revisit your classic, kids! Akira, V For Vendetta, Sandman, Incal, The Metabarons, Bone… they’re all there waiting for you to check them over and over.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Ryall: I’m currently writing an ongoing Zombies vs Robots series – #7 of which is maybe my favorite single issue of the series that I’ve written, and #10 features my favorite co-writer I’ve ever worked with; I’m also writing Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which debuted this month; and in August, I’m writing with Nelson Daniel drawing a comic called String Divers, which is being done with Ashley Wood and his toy line of the same name. That is a team of robots who travel down to sub-microscopic string level and face all kinds of wacky threats.
Rodriguez: Completing Onyx first and foremost, and after that, we’ll see. Certainly I would love to come back for more Onyx, more Nemo, and more Locke & Key in the near future. In which order, I’m not sure, would depend of what readers and publishers say, but just with that there’s a lot of room to explore.
Besides, I’ve been playing with the idea of fully adapting by myself a novel into a graphic novel, and have a couple candidates in the back of my mind for that sort of challenge. And, encouraged by a certain editor and certain publisher, I’ve been playing with the idea to write and draw an original comic series. That might happen eventually, too.
So as you see, there are lots of possibilities open, but nothing settled yet. I try to stay focused in one thing at the time, so right now for me it’s Onyx time, and I want to put all my effort, as is doing the rest of my teammates, to make it the best possible book.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Ryall: Always! That’s what makes all of this so much fun, there’s always so many new and exciting things in the works. Comic-Con International: San Diego is probably the next big public place we’ll be talking about things. And then at the end of July, Gabriel, Joe Hill and I will all be appearing at the Boston Comic Con together, and have a special con-exclusive cover of Onyx #1 at that show, too.
Rodriguez: Oh yes, see you there!