Guitar shredding! Space adventure! Cornrow mohawks! The relationship between Chris Sims, Chad Bowers and Erica Henderson — the creative team behind Monkeybrain Comics‘ upcoming series “Subatomic Party Girls” — is ornery and sassy. It’s a rare dynamic, genuine creative relationship full of zeal and palpable energy, which is the brick and mortar for the upcoming digital series, which stars Beryllium Steel — a trio of lady rockers Cleo, Libby and Vette — shot into space for (hey, what else?) a publicity stunt, but get slapped with adventure instead.
Talking to the creative trio is like talking to a rock band that has toured together from coast-to-coast. There are quips, jabs, some ornery love — but the right type of juice is there. Henderson’s art pops, reacts and fits the story that Sims and Bowers have laid down. The three creators gave up the goods on their digital ballad with CBR News, discussing why they do what they do, how they work so well with one another, and all the mischief in-between.
CBR News: For those unaware of what “Subatomic Party Girls” is about, what’s the concept behind the series?
Chris Sims: It’s about a band called Beryllium Steel that gets involved in the biggest publicity stunt in rock ‘n’ roll history: They’re going to be the first band to perform live from the surface of the moon, and they’re going to get there using this revolutionary new starship technology that can cover massive distances in almost no time. So, of course, things go wrong and they end up on the other side of the galaxy where they have to fight their way back to Earth by rocking out.
Chad Bowers: It’s the concept album The Runaways would’ve made if they were really into “Star Trek Voyager.”
Chris and Chad, is this the first time you’ve worked together? What’s the collaborative process like with two writers, and what are some of the major bonuses — and hurdles — that come with this type of pairing?
Sims: We’ve actually been writing comics together since 2007. We used to work together at a comic book store, and we’d bounce ideas off of each other to pass the time, and our writing partnership grew out of that. We wrote a webcomic together called “Awesome Hospital” that was drawn by Matt Digges, who we’re working with on another project, and we have a graphic novel called “Down Set Fight” with Scott Kowalchuk that’s coming out later this year, so at this point, we’re pretty good at working together.
I think everyone who has a co-writer has a different process, but for us, it’s usually Chad who has the initial idea, then we get together and develop it into a plot, then we each trade off writing and rewriting pieces of an issue. I might write the first five pages of a story and send it over to Chad to have a look at, and he’ll change a few things and write a few more pages, and we’ll send it back and forth until we’ve beaten it into a script that makes sense to both of us. I think that kind of process really helps us, especially as indie creators, because we have to get past someone editing our work before anyone else sees it. Really though, for “Subatomic Party Girls,” we’re playing it a little looser than we have in the past.
As for hurdles, things tend to go pretty smooth. The weird thing about the way we work together is that we have tastes that really match up on the big stuff — we like the same kind of stories, the same big ideas, we have a lot of the same influences, stuff like that — but we have really different approaches to how to put that together. Our biggest fights aren’t over where the series is going or characters’ inner motivations, it’s over stuff like whether a character would ask for a “soda” or a “coke.” It gets heated, but I think we’ve mellowed out in the past few years.
Bowers: That’s basically the C&C Comics Factory method. Of course it changes depending on the project. For me, though, it’s real easy to get obsessed with the little moving parts of a story, and get lost. I lean on Chris pretty hard to keep things moving along and not to let me spend a week on page 6, panel 3 or whatever. But with “Subatomic Party Girls” there’s less to slow me down, as we’re really letting things happen as they happen, and trying something kind of new. And that almost sounds like we don’t have a plan, but we do, we do… it’s just that we don’t ONLY have one kind of plan, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes the troubles of a writer get multiplied by two. For instance, if there’s a particular scene or moment one of us is attached to but the other’s not, that can get dicey. If we were writing solo, we could either keep it or cut it and not worry about it too much, and the reading audience would never know. With two of us, we both know what’s missing and that one of us “won”, or whatever you want to call it. But in the end, more than not, it improves the story and we’re better off for having listened to the other person.
Erica, how did you get involved in the project?
Erica Henderson: Well, short answer — Chris asked me if I wanted to do it and I said yes. They actually presented me with two ideas and I chose this one. There aren’t really a lot of books out there like it and I wanted in from the ground floor. Also, I apparently can’t say no to sci-fi music projects, this one is my third.
What’s it like working with two writers? Can you tell who had what idea, and whose dialogue made it to final draft?
Henderson: This isn’t the first time I’ve worked with two writers and it seems that a common theme is that the third party winds up mediating. I get a lot of “Hey Erica. Which is better, X or Y?” with zero explanation. Those two say that they’re not as bad as they used to be, which may be true, but I have never seen grown men who aren’t married to each other argue so vehemently over such teeny tiny subjects. It’s never about major plot points.
The first issue I received as a finished script, so I don’t know who did what. The second one I got in chunks as they finished them so I’ve got a better idea, but I think these guys are good enough to not make it too obvious when the writers switch.
How did you go about designing the characters? Were there several iterations, or were the character descriptions provided by the writers enough to go by?
Henderson: Outside of Alassen, I don’t think I got any character descriptions. The description I got there was in the form of a text message in the middle of the night telling me she should be a cat person.
As for the process, it’s not actually all that involved. Generally, I’ll have some sort of idea of what I want or at least what I want to get across, and then I just keep doodling until it happens. Cleo was more or less designed before I was really even thinking about this just because I was browsing a blog about black women’s hair and came across a post about a little girl with a cornrow mohawk and thought that was awesome. For Vette, I knew I wanted a large blonde and just kept drawing large blondes until it gelled. On the other end of the spectrum, I really didn’t have any ideas for Libby and no script to base a character on so I just drew faces until I thought it fit with the other two characters. The only other thing I’ll add is that I find it’s useful to do these quick doodles with a lot of personality and gestures to really get an idea of who this person I’m drawing is. Unless I think it’s going to be important I’ll just design the character as I’m laying out the page.
The only design that I presented that had to be changed was Dr. Sabotage, who was really just too handsome. The best character design is in issue two. The guys will back me up on this one.
It’s awesome that you have an all-female cast — it’s something this industry is in dire need of. Is there a character that’s developed to be your favorite?
Sims: That’s actually something we think about a lot. It’s one of the reasons I like working with Monkeybrain, too. We’re in there with books like “Bandette” and “Amelia Cole” and “Wander” that have these great women in leading roles, so it’s fun to try to live up to that. For a favorite — I’m really not sure. There’s a great moment with Libby, the bass player, in #2, and even though she doesn’t show up often, I had a blast writing Holly, the band’s manager.
Bowers: There’s plenty of ripped dudes out there doing cool stuff — Chris and me included — so whenever appropriate, it’s good to mix things up a little bit, sure. In addition to the ladies, we’ve written some pretty awesome robots and dogs too.
As for a standout character, it’s hard to say. Each of the girls has her own thing going on, so it all depends on who we’re writing. Cleo’s the wild one, and the heart of the group, and she tends to get the best lines. Libby’s the talent and the conscience of the group, and she’s great because she’ll tell you so. Vette’s kind of the quiet cynic, and probably the most like me, so there’s a lot there, too. So yeah, I like all the girls the best. How’s that?
What can readers expect from the series?
Sims: Adventure. It’s a fun comic and there are a lot of jokes and comedy moments, but at its heart, this is still a big sci-fi adventure about being trapped on the other side of the galaxy. There’s going to be danger and fun in equal measure.
Bowers: The unexpected! Oh, and the sensational character find of 2013 in #3.
Henderson: Female characters who don’t react to every situation by making a sexy face and pointing their chests at the viewer (because we are radicals). Readers should also keep an eye out for designs informed by classic sci-fi and music history.
What has your experience been like so far publishing “Subatomic Party Girls” through a digital-only company like Monkeybrain?
Sims: It’s been great. [Monkeybrain co-founders] Chris [Roberson] and Allison [Baker] have been friends of ours for years, and they’re just the best people to work with. I think they might’ve been more excited to read the first issue than we were, although I’m pretty sure that’s more because they love Erica’s art than our story. And who wouldn’t?
Bowers: Everyone’s been terrific. A top-notch group all around, and the best thing to happen to comics in a long, long while. We’re thrilled to be a part of the Monkeybrain family!
Henderson: I know Sims and Chad already said it but it bears repeating — Chris and Allison are lovely. They’ve put together a great bunch of creators and it’s really exciting to be part of that. The digital distribution model gives us a lot of freedom as well. We can really just do the story that we want and see how it goes.
“Subatomic Party Girls” #1 hits comiXology on May 22.