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Loveness Explores the Roots of the Friendship Between Rocket & “Groot”

by  in Comic News Comment
Loveness Explores the Roots of the Friendship Between Rocket & “Groot”

The Marvel Universe is home to many iconic friendships, from unlikely odd couple-style pairings to those that just make perfect sense. But Guardians of the Galaxy members Groot and Rocket Raccoon have a friendship that encompasses both extremes.

First paired together in the 2007’s “Annihilation Conquest: Star-Lord,” the miniseries set the stage for their future membership in the Guardians of the Galaxy. Since then, their friendship has grown, and while it may have appeared strange at first, upon closer inspection, it’s easy to see why. Rocket helps Groot, who is only capable of saying his trademark three words of dialogue — “I am Groot” — communicate and connect with the world. In return, Groot provides Rocket with muscle for his mercenary jobs and helps fine tune the minuscule marauder’s moral compass.

So, of course, it makes perfect sense for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” writer Jeff Loveness and artist Brian Kesinger, a Disney Animation storyboard artist, to separate the two.

RELATED: Loveness Orchestrates Cap, Spidey and Inhumans’ Attempt to Prevent “Cosmic Collateral Damage”

In order to learn more about the uprooted hero’s cross-universe adventures, CBR News spoke with Loveness about the upcoming series. In addition to relaying the difficulty of moving from writing dialogue-heavy characters like Spider-Man to a character with a limited vocabulary like Groot, Loveness revealed the section of space Groot will be stranded in, and how the action in the series will explore both Groot’s attempts to find and rescue Rocket from abductors to the origins of the duo’s enduring friendship.

CBR News: In this year’s “Amazing Spider-Man Special,” you showed how much you loved writing Spidey’s dialogue. Now, you’re moving from one of the most verbose characters in the Marvel Universe to one with perhaps the most limited vocabulary. What made you want to tackle the adventures of “Groot?”

Jeff Loveness: I thought there was a lot of fun to be had with Groot himself, and the relationship between him and Rocket.They’ve catapulted into being the premier odd couple of the Marvel Universe. They’ve become so popular in the last year, and there are so many fresh, new stories to tell with them.

Writing “Groot” gave me the chance to explore a lot of physical comedy, but it also challenged me to focus on more visual storytelling. In the “Amazing Spider-Man Special,” I relied on my love of quippy Parker banter, but this is a way to explore a different side of writing that I haven’t really done before.

Were you tempted to give Groot an inner monologue?

Definitely! I almost did, but then I thought, “No, that doesn’t exactly service the story.” It would have been a lot easier to simply write Groot’s thoughts in a thought bubble, but I was like, “No. Let’s play to the strength of the character.” It may be harder but I thought we should convey the meaning of all his dialogue through visual cues in his body language, structure it more “City Lights” or the first ten minutes of “Up” or “Wall.E,” or other animated films, like “My Neighbor Totoro.”

I wanted to embody the spirit of those almost-silent movie characters who can convey so much without speaking a word of dialogue– or by only speaking three words of dialogue, in Groot’s case. [Laughs]

Obviously, this means that you’re especially reliant on the work done by your artist. What’s it like writing for Brian Kesinger, who primarily comes from a Disney animation background?

You guys are going to absolutely love what Brian has done. I just got some pages this morning. I believe he’s about halfway done with the first issue right now, and honestly, every time he sends something in, I have a new favorite panel or page. He’s really emptying the tank here, and it’s only the first issue!

He’s doing such amazing work! When I took this job, I was a tad worried. It was like, “Oh man! Six issues of a character who only says three words?” Then I saw Brian’s art, and every panel has such specific body language and diverse expressions. I think you guys are going to love what you see.

I understand the inciting incident of the story you and Brian are telling involves Groot and Rocket becoming separated.

Yes! The first issue kicks off with a lot of fun. My initial pitch to Marvel was Rocket and Groot going on a cosmic road trip. I really enjoy road trip movies and books, and since Rocket and Groot are kind of like the Odd Couple of the Marvel Universe, I thought, “Let’s put them in a jalopy-style ship on the way to Earth via the sort of intergalactic Route 66 of the universe.” They’re taking the slow, scenic route.

The first issue involves a lot of fun mishaps on the road, but then there’s a surprising and tragic thing that happens which leads to Rocket and Groot becoming separated. Then Groot is on his own for the first time in recent memory that I can think of.

Usually, Groot’s language barrier is played for laughs. It punctuates a joke or scene in the larger “Guardians” book, but when you think about it, it’s actually kind of terrifying, not being able to communicate with any one in the universe. You may be this philosophical, noble and intelligent person, but other people just see you as this giant, walking space tree monster. It becomes very serious, very fast for Groot as he tries to figure out a way to survive and save his friend who’s been abducted across the galaxy.

How big a role does Rocket play in this series? Is he a peripheral character?

It stays with Groot’s perspective, but Rocket is never too far away from the heart of the book. Obviously he’s a major part in the beginning, and he plays a part throughout the book as we look back on Groot’s earlier life. We kind of see how that friendship developed in the first place.

As you said, I love dialogue! [Laughs] I definitely give Rocket his share. He’s a good foundation to build funny dialogue and scenes upon. He definitely has a presence. I think people will be satisfied with his role in the story.

So, do the flashbacks reveal that they have some shared history, before the first time readers saw them together, in the 2007 “Annihilation Conquest: Star-Lord” miniseries?

Yeah, you read the “Annihilation Conquest: Star-Lord” book, which is great, and there’s this quick toss away line in the sense of, “The raccoon and the tree formed a bond together.” When I read that, I was like, “Interesting. But how did that happen, exactly?”

In the book, they were all thrown together in this jail scenario, but that line made me think there might be something deeper to dive into. How exactly did they form a bond? What brings these two oddball characters together to bond in such a way, and then become kind of the core friendship of the Guardians of the Galaxy?

The flashbacks start off from their early prison days, and we build from there. I didn’t want to do too much with the specific event because this is a book that a lot of general readers will jump into that maybe don’t know the entire arc of the “Annihilation” saga. I wanted to be reverent to that, but also keep things accessible for our new readers.

Hopping back to the present, where exactly in the universe is Groot lost? What kinds of characters will he encounter and go up against?

That’s a huge part of the fun. I want to keep it a mix of characters you’ve seen before including possible appearances by some surprise Marvel characters. I’m still working out the logistics of who we will be able to use, because there’s this little thing called “Secret Wars” going on where the fabric of the Marvel Universe is being shattered from within. [Laughs]

I may end up going to my grave with some regret because I came up with my favorite joke of my career so far, and it was a Galactus joke — and apparently I’m not going to be able to use him. It was like, “Awww! Man!” [Laughs] I’ll have to save that in a Word doc somewhere, because I love Galactus so much.

It would not be a cosmic Marvel adventure, though, if I didn’t fit the Silver Surfer in there somewhere. I love that character a great deal. I actually find a lot of parallels between Groot and the Silver Surfer. Groot is this noble and friendly presence, but he’s also quite lonely and isolated. He can’t communicate with anyone, basically. Then, you have the noble Silver Surfer, who has almost limitless power, but that also isolates him in kind of the opposite way. He can communicate with almost anyone and has all this power, but that detaches him from his humanity and the cosmos. So when you write them together, you see that they actually have a lot more in common than you think.

Another part of the fun of this is, I wanted to show a kind of underbelly of the Marvel Universe. I wanted to show the kind of weird people you meet on a road trip at a highway diner around 3 AM. That’s the vibe I’m trying to go for. I want to populate the story with a lot of Marvel races and empires, but I want to show the lower, down-on-their luck classes of those cultures. So far, we’re playing with obsolete Mandroids, depressed space-gods and incompetent Skrulls. Hope you guys like what we’re coming up with.

Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun with and have a lot of ideas for “Groot.” I know you’re very busy because of your day job with “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” but if “Groot” resonates with readers, would you be up for doing more?

Oh, man! Yeah, totally! Writing for Marvel is a pure joy. People seemed to like my “Amazing Spider-Man Special” — that meant the world to me. I would absolutely love to write more for Marvel and more for Groot in the future. Yes, the day job keeps me busy, but I will always make time for Marvel Comics. They instilled a sense of wonder in me as a kid, and I will always be here if they need me.

With “Groot,” I’m very excited to explore a character that, while limited in what he can say, has so much to express. He’s this giant optimist of the Marvel Universe. This is a story about learning to be comfortable with your shortcomings. It’s a story about learning self-reliance. And, at it’s core, it’s a story celebrating kindness and how great it is to finally find a person in this lonely universe who gets you.

If you’re a loner or an introvert like me, you cherish your friendships even more. If something happens to one of your friends, you’ll go to the ends of the galaxy to help them. Groot embodies all those qualities we hope we have in ourselves.

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