Racing has become a staple of Hollywood, but rarely has the high speed hi-jinx of car chases found their way onto the comic pages, for one over-riding reason: how do you depict speed with the static images of comics? But just as racing is about daredevils, a comics daredevil is bringing racing to comics.
On June 21st, noted independent artist Toby Cypress is putting the pedal to the medal and his money where his mouth is with the Image one-shot Rodd Racer. Over the course of 80 pages, Cypress’ titular hero Rodd Racer must push himself and his car to the limit to win the futuristic Thunder Alley Rally and win his life back after getting in over his head in debt to a big-time gangster. Rodd Racer has been laboring over this book for years, even to the point of renouncing paid comics work in favor of working in a bakery to allow him to focus his creativity (and his midnight oil) into this one-shot.
Newsarama: Let's start with an easy one, Toby - what's on your drawing board today?
Toby Cypress: At the moment I'm thumbnailing some pages for Blue Estate at Image Comics.
Nrama: Digging into this new book -- what can you tell us about Rodd Racer?
Cypress: Rodd Racer is inspired by some to the sci-fi comics like Flash Gordon, and crime noire movies like Touch of Evil, or Out of the Past. I'm a big fan of classic hot-rods although I'm a pretty bad driver myself. The story is centered on a mid-age racer who has had a great career as a stunt driver, but whose real talent is racing. He finally gets his chance to prove his talent but gangsters stand in his way.
In the world of Rodd Racer, street racing is a "modern" day gladiator event in which hot rods are the weapons of choice. No rules.
The book feels like crime noir, and reads like a Flash Gordon adventure. 1930's hot rod designs, art deco landscapes, deep shadows, and sci-fi technology. Hot rods are powered by experimental engines of futuristic theory, and the city is always under watch of floating lights.
The book is designed as a Black and White crime noir story, yet each chapter starts with a full color front piece that illustrates the futuristic elements of the world it takes place in.
Nrama: And just who or what is Rodd Racer?
Cypress: Rodd is a stunt driver turned Championship Rally Racer. He's not the best racer in the world, kind of a risk taker, and dangerous...going back to his stunt days. Rodd has made a name for himself in the Rally Racing circut by being the dangerous type of racer that the crowds love to watch.
Rodd finds himself indebted to the city's most powerful gangster who happens to run most of the racing events, and Rodd has to either flee the city, or win a desperate race which is rigged for him to lose.
Nrama: And that desperate race is the Thunder Alley Rally; what’s it like, and what’d it be like to attend?
Cypress: The Thunder Alley Rally is the city's biggest event of the year. It's the grand championship of street racing which starts inside a huge coliseum, and reaches out into the chasm streets inside the concrete jungle of the city. The whole city shuts down to watch, and celebrate as the best racers all compete. Giant air ships, or zeppelins watch, and broadcast the race's events via radio throughout the city.
It would be amazing to see. I love the idea of racing, but wish it was the most suicidal event on earth. I think it could use a bit more bull fighting, and roller derby, run by boxing promoters from the 1930's. Going to a Thunder Alley Rally event is just as dangerous watching as it is driving. Cars constantly spin into the spectator stands like a bomb, and the crowd goes nuts. I think of it as an insane stage dive. Yeah, it would be fun going to Thunder Alley Rally.
Nrama: I've seen a lot of comic artists talk about the difficulty in drawing high-speed chase scenes, but Alex Toth did it great back on those Hot Wheels comics. When you were doing these scenes, what was the most difficult part
> to drawing these kinetic and speedy movements with static drawings?
Cypress: I’m a big fan of Alex Toth for a very long time. His Hot Wheels stories are some of the best comics I've ever seen. My approach to communicating the high speed excitement of this sci-fi racing event was to take advantage of the eye ball, and the brain. The eye is naturally attracted towards negative spaces, light areas, rather than deep shadow. Western audiences read from left to right, panning an image, understanding how to tell the eye to stop at a certain spot, examine, and move in my desired direction helps to create a sense of momentum when necessary.
One of the big things is using black, and white. B/W allows me to control the eye with design, and composition that color would interfere with. The eye is instantly attracted to color in a way that would interrupt my intended composition. I've spent a long time coloring most of the book, but abandoned that when I realized the color was hurting the momentum of the cars, and the overall storytelling. So I decided to use color for just the chapter breaks for this Image Comics release. Turned out terrific. I'm really glad that there is some color, not too much.
So, to answer your question I hopefully arranged the comic pages to lead the eye from one corner of the page, and thru the sequences. Hopefully pausing to look at certain things, and quickly look at other things to create the sense of timing. Of course I draw in a very spontaneous manner as well, so many of the sequences in the book are simply me going nuts with the brush, and injecting a little rock/roll to my lines.
Nrama: I remember you talking about Rodd Racer for years, going back even to 2007 when The Tourist came about. How long have you been stewing about this idea, and where did it come from?
Cypress: Yeah, Rodd Racer started as a 10 page story contributing as an anthology with a dozen other friends, but the project fell through. However, I still had Rodd Racer on my mind, so I expanded the story,
and fine tuned it.
The idea initially was to create an epic chase sequence in comics...the longest chase scene in comics actually. I always loved movies like Bullitt and Grand Prix with those amazing car chases. The problem to solve in Rodd Racer was how to tell a story with a car chase? That's when I started to break up the chase sequence with a series of flash backs that will help give context to this chase, and puzzle together the story.
Nrama: Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren’t you originally self-publishing this and even had some copies to give out at New York Comicon? What led you to partner with Image for this?
Cypress: Yes, I self published the book under my banner Punkrock*Jazz Publishing as a limited edition last fall. I decided to partner with Image Comics to help get the book into comic shops for a worldwide release. The cost of promotion, and printing for my small artsy publishing scene at Punkrock*Jazz is something that I would prefer to maintain for advance limited releases, and experimental protects, but it's not something that can handle the financial investment of a high
print count, and wide market availability.
Most of my stuff will see an advance release to my fans through Punkrock*Jazz, like limited prints, special one-shots, or experimental mini-series projects that cater to collectors and my hardcore troopers that want a relationship with me, and my work. However, I prefer to partner with publishers such as Image when the time comes for a wide release because they have experience, and the staff that can allow creators to focus on what they do best while getting books to retailers.
It's been a great experience, and I've been working with Image for almost 10 years now on many projects large, and small and I really love everybody there. It's a living dream.
Nrama: Your name has been a rare treat in comics. You did some issues of Predator, X-Men and Star Trek in the late nineties, but have only popped up sporadically since then; I think Rodd Racer is one of your biggest works to date. What do you do when you're not doing comics, and what keeps bringing you back to it?
Cypress: I'm a comic artist first. I always look toward comic work to do when I need work, but sometimes I'm lucky enough to work outside comics: Commercial illustration, storyboards, and graphic design.
However, I think my favorite job outside of comics last was working in a bakery. I took time away from all freelancing because I wanted to focus all year working on Rodd Racer. So in order to fund the project I worked at a bakery part time, and met wonderful people. Anybody who knows me, knows that this is incredibly strange of me, I am not the type of
person that would work well at a bakery. However, the people were really nice, and I was working very hard for them, and then I would get home...and could not wait to get to drawing Rodd Racer. My art was never better because my focus wasn't on pleasing a client, or meeting a tight deadline... my focus was simply enjoying my work, and taking time to love every moment of creating. I think working outside of the art market part time was very difficult for me, and embarrassing, but humbling, and proved to me how much better an artist I am when working on my own creations rather than freelancing 7 days a week. I left a tribute in the back of RRodd Racer to store #268, and the girls there that took a chance on hiring me when I really needed something different in my life.
Nrama: With this finished, you're working on a webcomic called Kursk as well as something I read about called Hatestreet. Can you tell us about those?
Cypress: Kursk is awesome. That's all I can say really. I'm am incredibly excited to draw Kursk. It's coming along very slowly at the moment, because my current project Blue Estate has just started rolling,
however work on Kursk is constantly developing.
Kursk is my version of 1982 Conan the Barbarian/Thundarr the Barbarian, G.I. Joe, Escape from New York manga. Basically all the weird cool stuff of the 80's the era I grew up in, and inspired by.
The thing for me, I love genre stories. You know, westerns, crime noire, sci-fi, monster stuff. So what I want to do with my stories is re-imagine the genre comic with a powerful story that contrasts the absurdity of a cowboy in the white hat, the alcoholic private detective, the dystopian post-apocalyptic wasteland, and a misunderstood deformed creature. These are cliché, and we love these elements of genre for a reason. They are familiar, and are great spots to start when developing character. However I like to inject something personal, and tell a poignant story that lifts the genre from cliché into new directions, or at least a fresh point of view. Maybe even create art. So that's what I plan to do with Kursk, tell a story inspired by all the cool things I love, and inject with painful honesty. It's just starting, and it's going well. I'm currently thinking about moving the web-comic over to another site that is specifically designed to host web-comics, but that won't happen until later this summer. I plan on releasing a collected issue #1 of the
limited series thru Punkrock*Jazz this fall at NYCC.
Hatestreet is a story I've been working on longer than Rodd Racer. It's my personal love letter to art, comics, and music. I use the samurai film as my genre, and punk rock music as a weapon. It's my favorite story I've ever created, and it's not even written yet. My friends have seen some very early pages years ago, but it's been thru many changes since. If you like motorcycles, samurai films, and The Descendants (music) you'll like Hatestreet.
I get back to work on Hatestreet this fall for (hopefully) a summer 2012 release.
One thing I realize is that I take a long time to develop my projects. My favorite part of a project is researching, writing, and developing. And I take my time with my own stuff. When all is said, and done I want to look over at my bookshelf and see a few of my books lined up that I'm really proud of. Rodd Racer is on that shelf.