Rob Hanes is an old-school adventurer in every since of the word. His all-ages stories have been published since the early 1990s by writer/artist/publisher Randy Reynaldo, and earned a cult following from fans and pros for their classic take on spy adventures.
Now, the series Rob Hanes Adventures is finally being collected in a series of trade paperback volumes that will catch you up with the story to date, even as new adventures are published at www.rhadventures.com. We talked with creator Reynaldo about his labor of love, the influences on his series, and what’s new in this collected edition.
Newsarama: Randy, for readers unfamiliar with the series, tell us about Rob Hanes and his world.Randy Reynaldo: Rob Hanes Adventures is a modern-day, high adventure series—people have variously compared it to Young Indiana Jones, Danger Girl, American Flagg, and James Bond. Or called it a “grown-up Jonny Quest.” I get comparisons to Tintin a lot, too.
Rob is a private investigator/spy-for-hire who works for Justice International (or JI), which is a worldwide private investigations and security agency. Although most of JI’s private eyes have classic military and intelligence backgrounds, Rob is the odd man out because he’s fresh out of college, a bit more idealistic and pragmatic, and less jingoistic and hardened than the old school Cold War veterans who are the backbone of the agency.
This occasionally causes problems and conflicts for Rob. His main champions at JI are his boss, Gabriel Evans Girard, and his partner, Abner McKenna. Along the way, he of course meets plenty of oddball villains and beautiful women!
The series also exists in the “real world.” There’s not as much supernatural or out-of-the-world stuff like you find in Indiana Jones or Jonny Quest. Instead, I like to tie in with real-world current events and trends--Rob is often involved in intrigue in foreign locales like Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
When I first created the series, I always thought something like worldwide Justice International was a bit fanciful, but I’ve since discovered that there are plenty of real-world antecedents for the agency, like Kroll Associates and Blackwater Security!
Now having said all that, the series definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’ve always wanted the series to be breezy and have a light touch to it, and be fun. Rob isn’t as slick as he thinks he is, and sometimes he takes his work too seriously, which always are a good source of humor.
I like to mix it up, so I’ve had Rob taken prisoner in North Korea in one issue, while going undercover on a minor league baseball team in another and becoming obsessed with getting a hit! Will Eisner’s original Spirit is a good example of the wide variety of storylines I aim for in the series.
Nrama: How did you originally come up with this idea?
Reynaldo: As anyone who is familiar with me and the series knows, my original inspirations are the great soldier-of-fortune adventure newspaper strips of the 1930s and ‘40s, particularly Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates. But my strip isn't homage or nostalgic, I think it definitely has evolved into a distinct and modern adventure series.
I discovered Terry as an adolescent in the 1970s in books about the history of comics and in small collections. This was long before classic strips were as widely reprinted and available as they are today, so I often was forced to fill in the blanks with my imagination.
The sense of adventure, exoticism, and atmosphere in those strips captured my imagination, and I wanted to bring it up to date and capture that same spirit in a modern day setting. In fact, in my youthful naïveté, I originally envisioned the series as a newspaper comic strip!
Along the way, I also discovered Will Eisner’s Spirit, Roy Crane’s Buz Sawyer, and Frank Robbins’ Johnny Hazard. I also was a big fan of the kind of stark black-and-white art that was exemplified by many of the great adventure artists, which includes cartoonists like Noel Sickles and Alex Toth.
Though the work of people like Alex Toth has always been admired by other comics artists, this approach has been more widely embraced over the past decade or so with people like Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred carrying on in the same tradition. I used to be the only one working in this style, but these guys obviously have successfully brought it back into the mainstream and built on that foundation of black-and-white simplicity.
I read all kinds of comics, but another more modern influence on my own work is Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! I should add that Chaykin has mentioned Terry as being an influence on Flagg.
Nrama: What have been some of the challenges in putting the series out over the years?
Reynaldo: Rob Hanes Adventures is in an odd niche because it obviously isn’t a mainstream superhero series, nor is it an edgy indy comic. So the series is not easy to categorize in the market.
Someone once pointed out that outside of the comics field, my work would be considered “mainstream” because it’s intended for a broad all-ages audience. But in the comics industry, my kind of work is the exception rather than the rule.
Also, because I’m a one-man operation, I don’t publish as often as I should, which makes it a challenge to build momentum. I average about an issue a year. What makes up for it is that all my stories are full-length and self-contained, so I never leave readers hanging between issues.
Fortunately, because I’ve been doing this for so many years, I now have quite a backlog of stories!
Nrama: Why did you decide to do these collected editions now?
Reynaldo: Over the years, especially at conventions, I’ve gotten more questions about whether the book is available in trade paperback, and people have mentioned to me they prefer to purchase trade paperback collections.
Trades have become a more accepted format in the industry, so I thought it was a good time to do this—especially since, as I mentioned above, I now have a good sized back issue catalog. I still love the classic comic-book format, but a trade paperback does give work more permanence, and it creates an alternative way for people to try out the series.
Nrama: Why do you feel it's important to have a comic in that old-school tradition of light-hearted all-ages adventure?
Reynaldo: Adventure, and especially adventure comics, have always been a great source of entertainment, and provided readers with thrills and pure escapism. People today have a lot more choices for satisfying that itch, and probably in more immediate and visceral ways than comics. But adventure comics, when done right, should still be able to capture a sense of place, character and danger, and be as entertaining.
And though trends go in cycles, a lot of mainstream comics today are very dark and serious. My work provides come counter-programming to that.
But ultimately, I am doing comics that I’ve always wanted to read myself--and there aren’t a lot of other people working in this tradition anymore. So I think I definitely fill a unique niche in the market.
Nrama: Do you see a conclusion to Rob's adventures?
Reynaldo: Perhaps at some point, but I have so many stories in the hopper I want to do, I just haven’t thought that far ahead!
Nrama: Talk about some of the updates to this new edition, such as the lettering.
Reynaldo: To show how long I’ve been at this, when I started out, computers weren’t yet the norm in comics production, so my pages were all “old school” with the the lettering, balloons, and Zipatone shading placed directly on the original art. My lettering was passable, but like a lot of artists, I found lettering to be a chore.
Since then, of course, I’ve migrated much of the postproduction in my comics work to the computer, which is now an indispensible tool for me as a comic-book artist. My original pages are still hand drawn and inked with India ink, but nearly everything else is done with a computer, including the lettering.
When I decided to compile my earliest stories in this first volume, I wanted to re-letter them to bring them up to par with the current production quality of the series and the expectations of today’s readers. I was very fortunate to find a dependable, experienced and fast letterer named Johnny Lowe.
I initially just expected Johnny to digitally remove my original lettering and use my existing balloons, but he took it upon himself to re-do the balloons too and, when necessary, re-position them to improve the flow. He put a lot of care and effort in the project, and it really shows. The pages look fresh and sharp.
When I got back those initial pages, however, I have to admit I was at first concerned. Because some of the new balloons had been re-positioned, I had to retouch a lot of the art digitally. There also was a lot of Zipatone shading on those pages--which are made up of very fine dots--so I had to make sure everything matched!
Fortunately, as I started touching up the art, it was not as difficult as I had anticipated. It was still labor intensive, and I had to retouch nearly every page in the book, but having a drawing tablet and being able to cut and paste in Photoshop made it a fairly easy process, much to my relief. As it turned out, each individual page didn’t take up too much time to correct.
Sometime this summer, I'll probably post some "before" and "after" pictures at my blog to show the work that was done.
I had also hoped to do a new story for the volume, but both time and space just made it impossible--it took long enough as it is to get it out the door!
Nrama: What does Rob mean to you personally?
Reynaldo: This is a strip I created as an adolescent, and one that I was able to bring to fruition in the ‘90s and into the 21st century without having to change or sacrifice the core concept of the series. I think that speaks to the timelessness of the genre and what I created.
An aspect I admired about old strips like Terry and the Pirates was the fact that those characters went on one adventure after another, and stayed relevant and exciting to readers for decades. And more often than not, only one or two artists were associated specifically with those strips over that time.
I like to think of Rob Hanes Adventures in the same way. The series is my calling card, and I hope it creates that same sense of connection and longevity with readers. The idea of continuity over time, with characters and villains weaving in and out of the storyline while remaining fresh for new readers, really appeals to me.
Nrama: Are there any other comic projects or projects in other media you're currently working on?
Reynaldo: Since I have so little time to devote to my own work, I pretty much stay focused on the series. I do occasionally get approached for other projects, and recently took on a gig that didn’t take up a lot of time and paid well.
I recognize that working on other projects could bring more attention to Rob Hanes Adventures, but there are only so many hours in the day! Like a lot of small publishers, I have a “day” job that pays the bills (mine has nothing to do with comics), and I have a young family with children, so most of my extra time is spent on getting the next issue out.
I’ve also begun dabbling with making the series available in other formats, primarily as a way to find new readers. It’s available as a webcomic at rhadventures.com and available in a downloadable digital format at other websites. But I use existing back stories for these projects since, as I said, I don’t have a lot of time to create original work outside of the regular print comic-book series.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Reynaldo: The industry has obviously changed immensely over the last decade. Changes in printing technology and the explosion of the Internet have opened up new opportunities for artists, and made a big difference for small publishers like me to get the work out there. But it’s also made the market extremely competitive--there is a lot of outstanding work being done out there by talented artists!
Sometimes I wonder, given my publishing frequency and niche, whether the traditional comic-book format is still the best vehicle or me, or whether I should focus more on digital or web publishing, which I have begun to explore as an ancillary way to get my work seen.
But for now I’m staying focused on the series as a comic-book. I guess I’m of the generation that prefers the immediacy of a comic-book and being able to hold something tangible in your hands.
I’m grateful for the continued support the series gets from fans, retailers, and other pros, especially given the long wait between issues. It’s clear people “get” what I am trying to do, and there obviously is still an audience for this type of classic high adventure. I feel very fortunate to be doing this and to have people who look forward to every issue of Rob Hanes Adventures.
Live the adventure with Rob Hanes this September (Diamond order code JUL10 1161), or check it out at www.rhadventures.com.Adventure!