Credit: Bret Blevins (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)
Credit: Bret Blevins (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

Memorable Big Two artist Bret Blevins returns to mainstream comic books this June in a sci-fi story about a bounty hunt gone wrong - based on an original idea by Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri.

Scheduled to launch June 13 from Image Comics and Skybound Entertainment, Stellar by Blevins and writer Joe Keatinge reboots the 2010 Top Cow Pilot Season series by Kirkman, Silvestri, and Bernard Chang as it expands from a one-shot to (hopefully) an ongoing series.

When a standard bounty hunt goes wrong, Stellar finds herself at the center of a war she long thought could leave behind with her latest capture as her only friend. Newsarama caught up with Keatinge and Blevins about their collaboration and Blevins’ return to comics.

Newsarama: Okay Joe, Bret, how did you guys come together for Stellar?

Credit: Bret Blevins (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

Joe Keatinge: Directly, Robert Kirkman. Indirectly, Sleepwalker. Sleepwalker was and remains a favorite comic book for Robert and me, in massive part due to Bret's artwork. I know Robert knows this, so when he said he hooked up Bret Blevins to draw Stellar, he knew it was a dream team-up for me. The experience exceeded the high expectation. Blevins was always good, and he's only gotten better. As an admirer of his work for decades now, I genuinely feel Stellar is his best yet.

Bret Blevins: As Joe said, it was through Robert Kirkman and Skybound. Editor Sean Mackiewicz emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in a new comic book project, and the adventure began. I hadn’t yet met Joe, Robert, or Sean at that point, but as it turned out, Stellar has been one of the highlights of working in comics for me. I was intrigued by the concept, and Joe’s wonderfully balanced script, full of both action and human emotion has inspired me to reach beyond what I thought I was capable of.

Nrama: The elevator pitch I'm seeing a lot for it is "Hellboy is space," do you think that's apt or is there something better to give fans an idea of what the story is about?

Keatinge: Sure. One of the many things I love about Skybound is how they come up with so much of the marketing. It enables you to keep your focus on your work, especially since they have such a smart eye for this kind of thing. So, "Hellboy in space" works fine for me. Although it's less so "hey, here's a horror book in space" and more in line with how Hellboy approached horror fiction, especially folklore and Lovecraft, with how we're exploring science fiction and the reality behind what inspires it.

Credit: Bret Blevins (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

Blevins: The Hellboy reference probably wouldn’t have occurred to me on my own (if it had I would probably would have used a lot more moody shadow!), but I see the point: in addition to setting the story in an extrapolation of the classic science fiction pulp milieu that Joe mentioned, as a character Stellar is the victim and product of a destiny that was chosen for her by others, for their own reasons, and drives against her true nature. That’s the essential conflict of Stellar’s life, as it ultimately was Hellboy’s.

Nrama: Bret, what did you pull from for inspiration for a lot of these alien designs?

Blevins: The essence of the main creatures was in Joe’s original script descriptions, I just tried to find a blend of classic 1930’s/40’s pulp illustration/design glossed with a patina of modern stylistic treatment. I didn’t want the art to look old fashioned at first glance, though the tech, robots, spaceships, environments and aliens intentionally reference a retro Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon feel. This is the first project I’ve ever done where all the art has been under my control, including the color, so that allowed me to further tweak the designs with chromatic and rendering effects.

Credit: Bret Blevins (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

Nrama: Bret, you've kind of laid low in comics in recent years, going to film and TV for a stint then returning to a few issues here and there of big two properties, what was it about Stellar that really grabbed you?

Blevins: Yes, I was away working in film and animation for longer than I’d realized, nearly 20 years! I’ve always loved comics, obviously, but the industry downturn of the mid 90’s seemed like a good reason to try something else, and I was ready for new challenges at the time anyway, I think.

As I mentioned above, the initial Stellar concept immediately appealed to me - my approach to storytelling is rooted in characterization, the interior emotions of the protagonist(s) motivate every choice I make regarding staging, pacing, acting, design, everything. Stellar is a rich character to step into and bring to life - she can be powerful and confident, but is also a tortured soul struggling against many hostile or tragic forces. Just the sort of dramatic material that most inspires me!

Nrama: How would you describe Stellar, the character?

Keatinge: The only thing I'll directly say for now is we purposely pull a slow burn in the reader getting to know her. That said, she is someone who is grappling with some major sins past and is less interested in personal redemption as she is in communal salvation. That's all for now. Trust me on this one when I say the full picture of her is worth the wait.

Blevins: I’ve touched on that in the prior answer, but I would add that one of the most interesting aspects of her personality is the strange mixture of a weary, battle scarred soul laced with a touching innocence, forged together by the bizarre circumstances of her life journey. And of course she’s beautiful too—this is heroic fantasy, after all!

Credit: Bret Blevins (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

Nrama: Joe what would you say is the biggest difference between Stellar and your creator-owned works out right now?

Credit: Bret Blevins (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

Keatinge: Every single project I do is entirely different from any other, and that's the way I like it. I never want to do too much of the same thing. And sure, the hope is your voice still comes through, but Stellar couldn't be more different from, say, Flavor. I do think Stellar has a kindred spirit with Glory and, in a way, is a spiritual bookend to what I started doing at that phase of my career.

Nrama: What do you think made Stellar a great fit over at Image?

Keatinge: As the original idea was born from Robert and Marc Silvestri, there was no better home than Skybound. Frankly, Skybound's a group of folks I feel is an excellent fit for me, much less the projects I take on there. Kirkman and David Alpert put together such a fantastic crew of people, from editorial to their social media to their marketing to the people volunteering at their booths to... everyone. Everyone at Skybound is fantastic. I'm looking forward to making a home there for a long time to come.

Blevins: I agree wholeheartedly with Joe on the excellence of the entire Skybound crew - top flight skills, total professionalism, and a devoted enthusiasm for making good comics! You can feel their love and respect for the medium in every book they publish.

Credit: Bret Blevins (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

Also, though I don’t want to end on a heavy note, I feel it’s important to say here that Skybound and Stellar a have been a salvation of sorts for me. When Sean first approached me about the project, I was in a bad way due to a devastating personal loss. Actually I was in far worse emotional shape than I realized, and in spite of that everyone at Skybound has been absolutely wonderful and phenomenally patient as I slowly - very slowly - found my way back to health again while working on Stellar, and fundamentally, through working on Stellar. It’s hard to explain, but having Stellar to work on every day pulled me forward, even as I struggled to meet the standards I was striving for. It’s been a long journey, but I made it, and will be forever grateful for the kind indulgence of everyone involved.

I can’t imagine another company being so understanding and gracious, and I’ve worked for a lot of companies! I couldn’t be prouder of Stellar and all the many talented minds and hands who’ve brought it into being - I’ve never worked so intently on anything and it’s changed my notions of what can be achieved in a comic book. If readers enjoy it a fraction as much as I have - they will love it!

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