If you’re of a certain age, you probably have some vivid memories of “Tron,” the mid-eighties cult classic featuring fairly psychedelic effects and perhaps the only use of jai alai (well, computer jai alai, anyway) as a plot point in a mainstream movie.
Well, most of us remember the arcade game that came out with the movie a bit better than the movie itself, but the movie, about a man who finds himself inside a computer fighting against an evil mainframe, has been making a comeback on DVD.
“Tron” recently resurfaced as the “Tron” 2.0 video game available for X-Box and PC to unexpected success, and now the “Tron” universe is coming to comics in a new six-issue mini-series from SLG Publishing called “Tron: Ghost In The Machine.” We sat down with Landry Walker and Eric Jones, the writers of the new series, to talk about the book, themselves and, as in any proper interview, handlebar mustaches.
CBR: So, how did you guys get into comics in the first place?
Landy Walker: I’d like to say that it was out of a desperate passion for storytelling, or that I studied long and hard with various wise, international masters of the craft. But in truth, it was something to do that did not require either a college degree or even a high school diploma. I had a lot of friends that were artists, and they all talked about drawing comics. So I figured I should try working with them as a writer. Since this point, I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of pages of comics that Jones has drawn or co-written. “Filthy Habits,” “X-Ray Comics,” “Little Gloomy,” “Kid Gravity,” “The Super Scary Monster Show” and “Zombie O Rama.” We spent two years working on a comic strip for a major California music magazine. We’ve worked on “Kim Possible,” “Dave the Barbarian,” Tony Hawk comics, Will Smith Comics… And about a dozen projects that no one has seen. “Rise of the Dead,” “Pocket Hoes,” “Chrono-Nauts,” “Waffleopolis.” Blah blah blah….
Eric Jones: We’ve been doing comics together since the early ’90’s – everything from children’s comics to underground comics to comic strips. We’ve worked for tiny independent publishers and mega-corporations; we’ve self-published; we’ve edited anthologies; we’ve participated in comics collectives; we’ve worked in comics distribution; we’ve worked in comics retail; we’ve worked on creator-owned properties and licensed characters, too. You name it in the comics industry, we’ve done it at some point. Personally, I always had every intention of working in comics as an artist – ever since I was a kid – and never seriously worked toward any other career. So, it’s a good thing I wound up drawing and writing comics or else I’d probably be living in a refrigerator box somewhere.
LW: Which implies that he is not currently living in a refrigerator box somewhere. Frankly, most comics creators we would be grateful for a nice warm cardboard box. Boxes protect you from the vicious scavenging dogs and rats.
EJ: Delicious rats…
CBR: Mmmm..ratty goodness. So, tell us about “Tron: Ghost In The Machine.”
LW: Subjective reality and the limitation of human perception. If a man is transformed into pure information, what does he really see? What does he really experience? And what happens to his mental state afterwards. On the surface, the book is an action story. With love and war and adventure and death. But again, it’s really a book about the subjective reality and fractured identity, and as the story progresses, that will hopefully become clear.
EJ: It’s about exploring the limits of the Tron universe. We’ve both been huge fans of the movie since childhood, and we’ve both dissected the film extensively. We both wanted to examine what effects the Tron experience would really have on a person, and what the experience would actually be like. Reality is subjective, and in “Tron,” it’s doubly so.
CBR: How closely does the book tie into the original movie?
LW: Not very and quite a bit at the same time.
EJ: I think fans of the movie will love it if they follow the story to its conclusion.
LW: And that’s the trick. The story, as it will initially appear, is purposefully deceptive. Maybe.
EJ: Maybe not. It’s difficult to say for certain.
CBR: Well, are those laser bike things in there at least? It wouldn’t be “Tron” without them.
LW: Light Cycles. We really had no intention of including them, as they existed for a very specific purpose in the film. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was forced to fight for his life on the game grid, and the light cycles were part of that challenge. We did not want to simply rehash the experience of the movie in comic form. This is a different story. However, at the urging of Dan Vado (SLG President and Chief) we found a manner to use the light cycles that works within the framework we have planned. Obviously, these vehicles hold an iconic value that cannot be ignored, but if we had not found a natural way to include them, they would have been left out. The last thing we want to do is include something just for the sake of including something.
EJ: Exactly. They’ll be there, and I think they should be there for the sake of preserving the whole Tron “vibe,”, but not at the expense of the story.
CBR: So, what kind of villains will Jet face this time around?
LW: When the game [“Tron 2.0”] came out, there was a bit of an outcry. Where was the MCP? Why had it not reappeared? There seems to be a desire in the entertainment industry to demand repetition. We intend to give the fans what they want on this one, yet show them why it’s not always good to get what you want. Our story deals more with shades of gray then with definitive good and evil, so specific villains are difficult to name. Many people have approached us to talk about the comic at conventions with the clear opinion that “Tron” somehow equates to a superhero book. That the main character is the good guy and therefore he must fight bad guys. But Jet Bradley, the central character, is not a hero. He’s a computer programmer thrust repeatedly into a nightmarish situation.
EJ: You’ll get the whole protagonist/antagonist thing in this series, but not in a traditional way, and not in a way you might expect. Although there is a strong temptation to take the MCP and update it into a modern villain with a top hat and a long handlebar mustache.
LW: Nothing says evil quite like a handlebar mustache.
CBR: Did you have thoughts about updating the setting and technology to keep things current?
LW: Not really. I think the game tried to do this to a degree and I really don’t see the point. The computer world is not a literal translation of our own. Taking something like a Light Cycle or a Recognizer that is so clearly beyond the scope of reality – and upgrading it further past the point of reality – only confuses the story. If we were to literally mirror advances in actual technology with the visuals of the computer world, I suspect that it would become indistinguishable from our own reality. The programs would lose their unique look and would have evolved into actual reflections of us.
As an example, in the film you have a ship called “The Solar Sailer.” This is a vehicle that carries programs from one computer to another within the same system. In other words, it’s the process of transferring data from computer to the next on a local network. How much more advanced does it need to be? The film was so far ahead of its time that it is staggering. Instead of upgrading the technology, the digital world has simply grown in scope. It has expanded from a single world into a vast universe.
EJ: Yeah, there’s no need to update the world of Tron, for the most part. It was always allegorical, so why bother?
CBR: So, what’s your opinion of the original movie then?
LW: Innovative. I’m a bit of a fan.
EJ: Love it. Fun story, beautiful effects, incredible design. Moebius is God.
CBR: We here at CBR agree with that sentiment. So, how’d you guys end up doing this book?
LW: We pursued this license for about six years. Eventually the right set of circumstances presented themselves, largely due to the efforts of friends we have at both Disney and SLG. It was a frustrating experience, because we believed we had the whole thing set up. But when the game came out, and we checked in on the status of the rights, we found that another company had purchased them. Eventually that company chose not to publish their title, and we contacted both SLG and Disney about locking them down.
EJ: We’ve been hot on “Tron’s” trail for years, since we’re both longtime fans of the movie. And since this isn’t the first time we’ve been associated with the property, it’s really gratifying to finally be able to have a hand in the continuing evolution of the “Tron” mythos.
CBR: Talk to us about your artist, Louis De Martinis.
EJ: Louis de Martinis is his name. He’s doing some great work. It’s very atmospheric, and reminiscent of the movie in that regard. Very painterly. I think fans are going to love it.
LW: We’ve actually only spoken to him once. And that was over a four party conference call. There’s email, but I’ve never really trusted that. So while the art keeps rolling in, there’s no guarantee that Louis is actually a real person.
EJ: He could be a comic book drawing robot from the future in disguise.
CBR: Ohhh, we like robots around these parts!
LW: Or perhaps something more sinister.
EJ: As if there were such a thing more sinister than a robot from the future drawing comic books.
LW: Beware Louis De Martinis!!!!
CBR: Noted! So how far are you planning on going with “Tron?”
LW: We’re currently planning six issues. Our story has a definitive ending and whether the title continues past that point will really not be up to us. If the sales are strong, I assume SLG will want to continue. Whether or not we want to continue past this point will depend on whether or not we feel we have more to contribute.
EJ: We definitely have some ideas for other “Tron” stories, but when we’re done with “Ghost In The Machine,” that story will be over. Still, it’s a lot of fun to be able to play with the “Tron” world, and it’s an opportunity that’ll be hard to pass up if it presents itself further in the future.
CBR: Thanks, guys.
Jet returns to the computer in “Tron: Ghost in the Machine” from SLG Publishing, on sale in April at mainfra…er, comic shops everywhere.