Tasty BulletArnold Pander, famed for his collaborations with his brother Jacob on Grendel: Devil’s Legacy, XXX, Accelerate, Batman: City of Light and more, is putting the finishing touches on his latest graphic novel. With current Vertigo editor Jonathan Vankin co-plotting (the writing begun before Vankin’s hiring), Arnold Pander’s latest book is called Tasty Bullet.
Tasty Bullet tells of Tamar, the Tasty Girl, a young woman whose entire life is wrapped around promoting Tasty Bullet, the ultimate energy drink. When events push her to question her life beyond her corporate function, as well as her dependence on the drink she promotes, Tamar finds herself against the man in a big way.
Arnold Pander stopped by to talk to us about Tasty Bullet and the film project that caused its long gestation.
Newsarama: So, Arnold, I find myself continually creeped out by commercials for hyper-caffeinated beverages. What set you on the idea of a book about an energy drink as a vehicle for exploring today’s fast-moving, highly marketed society?
Arnold Pander: Yeah, me too, especially when they tell you to be more productive and smart. They are usually really low budget and sketchy. In the branding that runs throughout the Tasty Bullet book, we wanted to capture that feeling that you’re consuming something that might possibly be bad for you but it’s too cool to resist. The slogan “Energy for Health” plays a bit “lost in translation” from the offshore ads that have found their way west. Jon and I were both living in LA at the time we came up with the Tasty Bullet concept. The “bling” era was just kicking in as the post 9/11 anxiety generated an almost surreal sense of narcissism in an already self-absorbed Hollywood culture. The constant barrage of billboards for the disposable icon of the moment got us going on the central theme of the story. The notion of a persona of a popular product becoming the living embodiment of the company that she doesn’t know who she is any more, seemed like a relevant subject for our idol worshipping times. What happens when the icon wants out but they won’t let her go? How far must she go to be free of the company and the icon she has always known herself to be? This is the dilemma of Tamar, the “Tasty Girl.”
NRAMA: Tamar is the Tasty Girl, the poster girl for Tasty Bullet. She’s hooked on Tasty Bullet herself, right?
AP: Yeah, the company Bullet Corp. has groomed her since childhood to be the perfect specimen of the Tasty Bullet drink. The secret formula feeds her ability to take insane risks for the company in pursuit of media attention for Tasty Bullet. It’s as though Popeye and Evel Knievel wound up in the body of Lucy Lu and she’s become the ideal spokes-model for Health, Energy and taking life to the next peak. The problem is, what goes up must come down. In the case of the Tamar it’s her own addiction that she must face if she is to escape the viscous cycle of her high-octane life as the Tasty Girl.
NRAMA: How does her addiction to Tasty Bullet affect her at the story’s opening?
AP: The story opens with The Tasty girl in true form: being chased by helicopter that sprays bullets at her as she speeds along a rooftop at full speed on a crotch rocket. (It would be pink if the book were in color) Right on cue she pops a wheelie of the edge of Bullet Corp. Tower. When her high-tech safety cord snaps upon it deployment the line nearly snaps off sending Tamar to her death. It holds by a broken latch and the Tasty Girl delivers her line for the cameras as if it was all part of the act. At that moment she realizes that she wants out. It’s not as easy as it seems when she begins to realize her own addiction to the drinks’ secret formula goes deeper than just a quick thrill for the next adrenaline rush. It’s part of her very DNA. To really leave her life as the Tasty Girl behind, Tamar will need to go to the darkest depths of Bullet Corp. to find the truth behind her forgotten past and how she came to be the pop icon for Tasty Bullet. It’s a wild ride that takes the reader from Tokyo’s madcap culture to the slums of India and beyond. It’s truly a journey of self-discovery.
Tasty GirlNRAMA: Media manipulation is a theme you’ve shown interest in previously. What draws you to this subject?
AP: As one of the Pander Bros. I have always been engaged in a variety of media. We were lucky enough to come into comics at a unique time, but our interests have always explored other forms of pop culture media. Marshall McLuhan’s “medium is the message” was a big influence early on, the idea of life and art imitating itself. The “tribal” mask we put on to assimilate and find power in society. In the case of Tasty Bullet, the concept came out of the desire to go deeper into the idea of a “branded lifestyle” and how it can impact how we see ourselves in the culture. How we define our own persona in a world that is becoming more and more depersonalized by our own fixation on media. I am just as much a part of it in my own life. I have put on a number of different masks at different times in the search for my own personal identity. The seed of the concept went back further however as both Jon and I wanted to play with the energy drink as a catalyst for the story. I had recalled in the mid 90s having an Asian energy drink on a trip to Amsterdam to cure my jet lag that had translated to simply, “Tasty.” I actually got kind of hooked on it and tried to bring some back to the states but it was confiscated by customs. I had always wondered what was in the drink that kept it from being allowed in the U.S. Jon, with his extensive knowledge of all things conspiratorial, had heard about Tasty and that, indeed, it was banned in the U.S. But more interesting to me was a girl that had done publicity stunts for the drink. A “Tasty Girl”? Yeah! This helped us to focus the story around the mystery of the “Tasty” girl and her speculative life as a product icon. There a bit more on this in the back of the Tasty Bullet graphic novel and at the website: www.tastybullet.com.
NRAMA: What does co-writer Jonathan Vankin bring to this book?
AP: Jon and I had a great time coming up with the tale of Tasty Bullet and we tapped into his vast knowledge of urban legends to create the various characters that inhabit the world of Tasty Bullet. We came up with a general structure but Jon was soon hired as a staff editor and writer for Vertigo Comics. This limited his ability to be involved in the Tasty Bullet project. I continued on my own to see it through to the end. Aside from co-plotting, I did the scripting and art. It sort of became more personal for me as the story went more in depth into the character of Tamar. The story is a mix of an over-the-top reality combined with an intense personal odyssey.
NRAMA: Your art has always, I feel, had certain manga influences in your layouts, but for this book, you’ve adopted a more consciously manga-inspired approach artistically in how the characters are designed. What motivated the style evolution? Market demands, personal interest, story demands?
AP: It’s funny but from the beginning of the published work (namely Grendel: Devil’s Legacy) my art style has had a manga look and style. Most of that came from my interest at a young age to fashion illustration. In fact I was looking into attending F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of technology) when the Grendel job, which demanded a Japanese focus, landed. Growing up around art and loving comics growing up, a variety of pop art influences helped shape my own style. I actually discovered manga in the early 90s. After drawing XXX, with its edgy post punk style, I wanted to warm things up again, and it started to become more conscious with “Secret Broadcast,” a short story with Electronica compilation companion of the same name that ran in issues 1 & 2 of Oni Double Feature. I wanted to take it further when this story came to be, since its origins were inspired by Japanese advertisements. It’s not meant as an homage as much as a further exploration of my own work. I just wanted the book to emulate what I love about manga.
NRAMA: You often work in collaboration with your brother Jacob. Why is Tasty Bullet an artistic solo project?
AccelerateAP: Partly proximity since I was in LA and Jacob up in our main hub of Portland, Oregon. We were also developing the Batman: City of Light story for DC, so we really had our hands full as a team. I also wanted to showcase my art in a book so it was made clear (mostly to myself) that I could create a high-end book on my own. That said, Jacob was a huge help in the logistics of the desktop publishing side of the project. Image Shadowline published our last GN Accelerate and has also been very excited about Tasty Bullet. Jim Valentino believed in the book even as the economy has been crashing down around us. We need those true believers to keep the cool stuff coming. Go Image Comics!
NRAMA: You and your brother finished your first feature film recently. How was that experience?
AP: Nothing short of amazing. It has been a lifelong goal to do a feature film. It’s called Selfless, an identity theft psychological thriller about a self absorbed architect whose life comes crashing down after a chance airport encounter with a stranger who happens to be a master at stealing identities. It asks the question if your identity was truly taken away, who would you become? Jacob directed and I produced, and we both wrote the screenplay. Selfless is the product of a lot of passion and determination. It stars Mo (The Fast and The Furious, 24) Gallini and features music by the Dandy Warhols. It was our desire to make a movie that shows our skills as storytellers beyond the graphic novel form. It took the best feature award at the BendFilm festival and continues to play in the 09’ festivals. Selfless will screen next at the Seattle true indie film fest on June 7th. People can view the Selfless movie trailer at www.selflessthemovie.com. You can also see a range of our media at www.panderbros.com.
NRAMA: How much did working on the movie affect your efforts on this book, either thematically or scheduling?
Selfless movie posterAP: Scheduling-wise, it was tough. I had to put the book down for a solid year in ‘06 and ‘07 while we put everything we had into the movie. It’s why our projects tend to have large gaps. Quality is key for us, and Tasty Bullet is no exception. Thru ‘08 and these last few months, I’ve poured myself into seeing Tasty Bullet to the finish line. The timing couldn’t be better with the self analysis that’s happening in our culture right now. Thematically speaking, the theme of self- and personal-transformation plays big in the work at the moment.
NRAMA: What’s next for you?
AP: Wow. No breaks, that’s for sure. We continue to seek a distribution deal for Selfless and are currently writing our new screenplay that we will seek to develop in the next year. There will be some interesting media around Tasty Bullet in the coming weeks/months, and we’ll be putting on the web as we edge closer to premiering Tasty Bullet on June 24th. Stay tuned at www.tastybullet.com and myspace.com/tastybullet for more of the about the infamous energy drink we call Tasty Bullet.