Monkeybrain Comics, the latest creator-owned venture from Chris Roberson, launched at the beginning of July with a number of new digital-only titles available through comiXology — and it looks like that number is about to grow. At today’s Monkeybrain Comics panel at Comic-Con International at San Diego, the publisher announced “Intergalactic,” a new series written by Joe Keatinge with art by Ken Garing that focuses on the politics and conflict between the Winstead family, the most renowned family dynasty of astronauts.
CBR News spoke with Keatinge and Garing about the upcoming digital series, the concept behind it and the advantages of the digital format.
CBR News: Joe, you have a new series coming from Monkeybrain comics called “Intergalactic” — what’s the core concept behind the book?
Joe Keatinge: What if we believed in the space program the way we once did?
What if everyone did?
In “Intergalactic,” the planetary economy hinges upon every move made by the globally worshipped astronauts manning the countless international and corporately owned space stations and rocket ships orbiting above the Earth. Nationalism and capitalism clash as the first sale of an international space station to a privately owned corporation begins, pitting two sides of the most renowned family dynasty of astronauts, the Winstead family, against each other. The aftereffects will be devastating. Not everyone will survive. Our world will hang in the balance.
Tell us a bit about the Winstead family and the two sides that come to be at odds with each other.
Keatinge: We’ve got a little ways out until the series is released, so I’d rather keep mum on the Who’s Who of it all for the most part. They’re a big, big family. Some [of] the children are cherished, some are completely disowned. Some honor the family’s legacy, others do whatever they can to destroy it. The first sale of an international space station to a private corporation brings them all together and that’s not a good thing by any means. Some of them want to hold onto their nation’s pride. Some want to do everything to acquire it. Why this particular space station is so damn important to such a diverse group of people is a big thrust of the series.
The book seems to focus on a battle of economic and personal proportions rather than that of a galactic conflict with aliens and lasers. What was the impetus to explore interpersonal and economic conflict using this setting?
It’s pretty simple. The best advice I’ve ever gotten is, “write the comics you want to read.” And I want to read an astronaut comic where the battle [is] of economic and personal proportions.
Why? I dig astronauts. I dig economics. I dig personal relationships. For whatever reason these ingredients formed a soup in my brain to become “Intergalactic.”
That said, will there be aliens and lasers?
Keatinge: No. No aliens. No technology that’s not plausible. There are no ray guns, no teleporters. It’s all technology that could actually exist within the next ten or twenty years or so, assuming we put the same effort, funding and vigor in the space program that we once did or that we currently do for weapons manufacturing. “Intergalactic” isn’t inspired by the pulps. It’s inspired by real people, real events, just taken to a somewhat fantastic place. Flash Gordon doesn’t impress me. Buzz Aldrin does.
The only fictions that play into my inspirations come from guys like Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke. Even when Dick, Clarke or Lem would delve into the fantastic, it still felt real as a reader. That’s the kind of sci-fi I’m going for here. I think human exploration of space is one of mankind’s greatest, most fascinating accomplishments. I don’t think you need to throw aliens in there to make it interesting.
“Intergalactic” isn’t Star Wars. There are no Wookies.
The idea of humanity trying to figure out how this new society is going to work, especially when the old society is still so dependent on them, is something I’m really eager to explore. The idea that so much rests on so few people. The desperation to either hold onto the power you’ve come into with this new establishment or the desire to create your own by any means necessary.
How much research did you have to do on the space program in order to craft this story? Have you always been a follower of space program developments or was this a new avenue for you?
Keatinge: You’ve got to do a lot of research for this type of thing — and I certainly am. That being said, it’s sort of like a life long deal. I’ve been enthralled with the space program since I was a kid. I wanted to go to Space Camp so freaking badly. A lot of this has just come a lifetime of thinking space shuttles are cool as Hell. I tend to get really, really obsessive with the stuff I’m into and want to know everything I possibly can about it. This is no different. I’ve done a lot of reading over the years on all things related to outer space and the human exploration of it.
You’re working with Ken Garing on art for this project — what drew you to his art style as a collaborator for the book?
Keatinge: Well, it’s funny, because at first I was telling Monkeybrain Publisher Chris Roberson I wanted a “Ken Garing-type,” because I loved his work on “Planetoid.” Ken just gets sci-fi. At least, he gets the sci-fi I like. Anyway, it occurred to me I should just ask and see if he had the time to do it and, well, he’s on the series now. He is very much the perfect partner and collaborator for this project. When we started spitballing the approach everything he said was perfectly in line with what I was thinking and the stuff that deviated just made the whole package even better.
Ken, how did you get involved in “Intergalactic?”
Ken Garing: Joe sent me an email briefly outlining the story as well as Chris Roberson’s outline of the Monkeybrain business model. I was really intrigued by both. Joe reached out to me really early on and said some really kind and supportive things about “Planetoid.” Also, “Glory” is one of the few ongoing comics I’m reading right now, so I was already a fan of Joe’s work. I also felt like I was in good hands with with Chris and Allison [Baker, Monkeybrain’s Co-Publisher] heading this up. The choice to go ahead with this project was a no-brainer for me.
What appeals to you about the story Joe Keatinge tells in the book?
Garing: I’m really interested in the specific type of science-fiction featured in “Intergalactic.” In recent years, it seems, a lot of sub-genres of science-fiction have been ignored and that cyberpunk/dystopian sci-fi has taken up all the oxygen. “Intergalactic” is more in the tradition of “hard” science fiction like that of Arthur C. Clarke or Issac Asimov, where the technology is practical. I feel like there is a lot of opportunity to explore contemporary themes and issues in these other sub-genres of science-fiction. I also feel like we’ve had enough “dead future” at this point. It’s time to build out of that.
How does “Intergalactic” play to your strengths as an artist?
Garing: I have a hard time accessing my own strengths. I can say that one aspect that I’m trying to explore in both “Intergalactic” and “Planetoid” is the interplay between the epic and the intimate. Mixing large scale fantastical revelations with quiet introspective or emotional moments. There’s plenty of epic sci-fi imagery out there, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot if it’s not in the context of a meaningful narrative of some kind. All of my favorite science fiction stories like “Blade Runner,” “Dune,” “Akira” or John Brunner’s “The Sheep Look Up” have these elements. I also feel that comics in particular has the range to to encapsulate both very well.
You’ve done Science Fiction before with “Planetoid” — how were you able to use this previous experience to help develop the art and designs for “Intergalactic?”
I’ve learned a lot about the use of reference with “Planetoid.” I have an extensive collection of industrial reference and I’m building a similar collection of images of space hardware for “Intergalactic.” The easiest way to explain it is that I don’t copy any single image as much as I plug specific elements into my own preexisting designs. Over time different artists develop a sort of shorthand for drawing these things, but it’s always good to return to the reference because a lot of this stuff you simply cannot make up.
Also, stylistically, “Planetoid” is a very visceral and muscular brand of science fiction. It deals with themes like abandoned industry, physical struggle and labor. I love “Planetoid,” but I’ve been working on it for years now, so it will be nice to shift gears and do something in a different vein with a bit more realism. There will be plenty of drama and epic moments, but not everyone in Intergalactic won’t be walking around with bulging muscles, for example.
Joe, Monkeybrain is the latest creator-owned venture from Chris Roberson and you’ve always been very pro-creator-owned material. What made you decide to bring “Intergalactic” to Monkeybrain as opposed to another creator-owned company?
Keatinge: I really wanted to do “Intergalactic” as a digital-first series. My ideas for the eventual printed format (although I think that’s a long, long, long time coming) aren’t ones that can make any economic sense in typically formatted single issues. This conflicted with my desire to tell it serialized, which was important to me.
The most obvious thing is it’s going to be landscape in both its digital iteration and the print collection. In the digital version specifically I’m planning on doing a lot with the storytelling that you can’t pull off in print — the mechanics of it like transitioning, pacing and so on.
Anyway, so when Chris contacted me about Monkeybrain it seemed obvious they were the perfect publishing partner for it. Chris and Allison are very much people I see eye-to-eye with. Their publishing model really interested me and — well, the truth is I just like working with people I like. Chris and Allison are people I would love to hang out with. Same with Eric Stephenson at Image or Steve Wacker and Sana Amanat over at Marvel. That goes far for me in determining who I want to work with.
You’ll be launching this book in the digital space on comiXology. Was there anything specifically about going digital that you hoped to take advantage of with this story?
Keatinge: Like I said, I very much envisioned “Intergalactic” to be told in a serialized format, but couldn’t see it working in single issues, much less due to economics more so than how I wanted to deliver the story. This will make a lot more sense when people read it, but it’s tough to sell someone on a landscaped single issue.
Furthermore, I want to explore conveying the expanse of space the typical dimensions of a single issue can’t convey. There’s a lot afforded to digital I’m excited to explore with this particular book.
I get driven nuts when people make the debate between print and digital, well, print vs. digital. All or nothing. I think both formats have a ton of potential that I want to explore. I write “Hell Yeah” and “Glory” in particular to be read specifically as physical single issues. I have ideas for stuff that could only be OGNs. I like exploring or trying out new things. I think people will see that the future of the comics industry has room for all this and more.
Garing: I’m sure [the digital format will play a role] as me and Joe get into the process more. I’m still working on “Planetoid” at this point. But with digital there are certainly advantages. You can achieve a higher range of color working digitally. Like, you can get some really interesting desaturated colors that in print come out muddy and lose variation. Also, there is a lot of new storytelling possibilities with the digital format, but how they are employed will be dictated by the needs of the story. I’m definitely willing to experiment though.
What do you think makes “Intergalactic” unique?
Keatinge: At this point people have seen me putting out work like “Hell Yeah” and “Glory” (and upcoming, “Thanos: Son of Titan”) that’s primarily come out of my love of comics in general and specifically super powered people punching each other until their heads explode. This is from a very, very different place. I think I’ve developed a rep — which I embrace — as guy who writes ultra-violent, over-the-top superhero stuff.
“Intergalactic” is something on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It’s people who could actually exist dealing with decayed relationships, personal betrayals and family antagonism in a bigger-than-reality setting. The violence is much more emotional than physical.
Although, as the teaser hints, there’s also plenty of people doing horrible things to each other. That astronaut didn’t cut her own line.
Garing: Pretty much everything. Seriously, I’ve been trying to find some inspirational comics to look at but there is surprisingly little hard science fiction comics that focus on realistic space exploration. There’s some European comics dealing with astronauts, but there’s really nothing out there quite like what Joe and I have discussed. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about this. Everything about this project from Joe’s ideas, to the possibilities with the artwork, and even the business model — this is all unexplored territory. It’s exactly the type of project I want to be involved with and I feel really fortunate to be part of it.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more coverage of Monkeybrain Comics and Comic-Con International 2012.