ARCHER Art Director Delivers COEN-Esque Cop Drama On Mars With REDLINE

Oni Press April 2017 cover
Credit: Clayton McCormack (Oni Press)
Credit: Clayton McCormack (Oni Press)

A famous sci-fi movie said "in space, no one can hear you scream." but they never said anything about laugh.

In the new Oni Press ongoing Redline debuting March 8, Archer art director Neal Holman teams up with artists Clayton McCormack and Kelly Fitzpatrick to follow a "war weary soldier/detective" named Denton Coyle as he investigates a politicized terrorist bombing.

Holman said he's mixing what he's done in FX's Archer with some surprising influences ranging from the Coen Brothers to Sergio Leone to return to comic books.

“Comics have been a part of my life since I was a kid - they're honestly the reason I got into art in the first place,” Holman said about his transition to comic books. “So, I've always wanted to do a book. It just took a while for the right time and right people to come along to finally jump in and do it. And I am now, predictably, completely addicted. It's been one of the most rewarding creative experiences of my career.”

Redline was announced last year at Comic-Con International: San Diego and Holman talked about the collaboration process and how was slightly trepidatious when starting out, but had high praise for both McCormack and Fitzpatrick.

“Going in, I was concerned I would piss everybody off being 'Art Director guy,' as that is a difficult hat to set aside. Clay's pages though, even his thumbnails, are so good I didn't have much in the way of notes at all. We're pretty similar in how we talk about story and timing - we make the same dick jokes. It's good times.”

Credit: Clayton McCormack (Oni Press)
Credit: Clayton McCormack (Oni Press)

“Kelly's a rockstar,” Holman continued. “It's best to just stay out of the way. Her palette has been dialed in from the first test page she sent in, so after that, it's been smooth sailing. Sometimes working through email with basically strangers can get awkward and stiff, but I feel like we all gelled pretty quickly.”

It's been great for me,” McCormack added. “This being my first major publication after working in the indies for some time, the folks at Oni couldn't have made it more smooth and easy. Kelly has been doing fantastic color work.” He felt that he and Holman had a similar sense of humor and have been on the same page “since the word go.”

Credit: Clayton McCormack (Oni Press)

“It also doesn't hurt to have a writer who's also a great art director, as it makes communicating ideas pretty easy, and allows me to take credit for all great suggestions,” he added.

Fitzpatrick talked about her past experiences, and how it’s easier to talk in person, but things have gone pretty smoothly for Redline so far.

“We all seemed to be in the same headspace wanting the same things visually. It's been pretty great!”

Talking about the designs for the characters of the book, Holman joked about how he gave McCormack a bunch of “vague and probably conflicting” notes about the world along with a “massive” folder of references that helps springboard designs.

Credit: Clayton McCormack (Oni Press)

“When I started thinking about the world, I combed through that folder, pulling everything from The Atlantic's photo essays of Iraq and Afghanistan to some old photos of NASA doctors to runway fashion photos. I did way too much research on the metal content of the soil on Mars. At one point, I was trying to figure out how the Mars atmosphere would affect ballistics. I quickly decided that was way over my head and also stupid.”

“Clay took all my bullsh-t and made something awesome,” he added.

McCormack went into more detail about the process.

“Neal made it clear right from the get go that this wasn't a clean, sleek version of the future. It's a future where things are broken and dusty, and the tech never quite works right, and I wanted to try and get that across by making things feel futuristic but not unrelatable.”

Credit: Clayton McCormack (Oni Press)

“It's the kind of sci-fi that feels like it's only a couple decades, or even single years away,” he continued. “For our main character Coyle, he's been on Mars for a long time, and he's beyond done with it, so I wanted him to be tired, over it, and have sort of a permanent squint that's the result of too many years in the bright desert.”

When talking about the Redline’s muddy and dusty color scheme, Fitzpatrick brought up the fact that the world itself feels like a character all its own.

“First, I had a conversation with Neal and Clayton over palette and I shopped some ideas around. Clayton draws really loose so I wanted a coloring style that would fit that. We also talked about how important the colors would be defining the different places the characters would be in - so I wanted to be thoughtful about incorporating the background as basically another character.”

“I wanted The Wake meets Pretty Deadly and The Martian for visual aesthetics,” she continued. “There's so much character in the environment of those books and I wanted to bring the same level of life to this book too.”

Credit: David Kuettel/Kat Stockton (Oni Press)

Given his pedigree of surreal comedy, when talking about the tone of Redline, Holman referenced the likes of the Coen Brothers that have “dramas that have bits of comedy, and comedies that have moments of drama.”

”The Coen brothers tread that line pretty well. Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorite comedies because of the dramatic moments within it. It's memorable.”

The aspects I latched on to the most were the comedy and the grittiness,” McCormack added. “I got what Neal was going for pretty much immediately when I read the script, and I knew it was my job to sell the grit and the comedy in order for the whole thing to really land, and hopefully I pulled it off. I actually was thinking of westerns, more than anything else - specifically that sweaty, high-heat feeling you get from the Sergio Leone movies. Sprinkle in a little bit of Dredd, and I think you've got a Redline stew going.”

Credit: Clayton McCormack (Oni Press)

Now, whether or not Redline had any sort of political issue or themes going into it, Holman said “yes and no, but it doesn’t reference any one conflict.”

“What I wanted to do was a noir mystery set in a sci-fi war, and let the political overtones be more background than foreground,” he said. “History is pretty rife with conflict, so I looked backward more than I did at what's going on today. Today has so many moving parts; any comment I would've made most likely would've been outdated by the time it went to print.”

Lastly, the team had parting words for fans on what they should expect from Redline (including how it’s not a kids’ book).

“It's all about the severed dong in issue #2,” Holman exclaimed while McCormack took it one step further.

“They should probably expect to laugh at things they didn't think they'd be laughing at. Also mystery, action, and dicks. Can I say dicks?”

Fitzpatrick simply replied, “madness, fun, and some aliens in the mix."

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