“Rocket Girl” offers readers a blast to the past. The upcoming Image Comics series by writer Brandon Montclare and artist Amy Reeder follows the adventures of Dayoung, a youthful policewoman from the future sent back to 1980s New York City to take down a group of scientists who inadvertently created an alternate version of the future that shouldn’t be. Faced with the challenge of bringing down the people who may or may not have created the future she lives in, Dayoung must deal with many difficult moral issues to fulfill her mission.
After enjoying the process of working together on their Image Comics one-shot “Halloween Eve,” Montclare and Reeder decided to not only work together once again, but try their hands at an ongoing series. As with their previous project, the dynamic duo went to Kickstarter where they raised $38,037, a nice increase from the $20,000 they set out to bring in. From there, Montclare and Reeder brokered a deal at Image and got to work on their series about a cop from the future being sent back to ’80s NYC to find out why her present is plagued by time anomalies.
The comic mixes a more grounded version of 80s NYC with Dayoung’s future which is a stylized look at what the next few decades would look like through the prism of the Me Decade and movies like “Blade Runner.” CBR News talked to Montclare and Reeder about re-teaming for this project, going the Kickstarter route once again and how Dayoung deals with the huge task she’s face with.
CBR News: Let’s talk a little bit about Dayoung. What made her sign up to become a teenage cop and why did she volunteer to go back in time on this mission?
Brandon Montclare: All the cops from Dayoung’s version of 2013 are teenagers. It’s a bit of backstory, but the inspiration was a teenager’s ability to uncompromisingly delineate. To counter the rampant corruption, her timeline created the NYTPD, the thought being teenagers have very clear ideas of right and wrong; they see the world in black and white, and don’t get lost in the grey areas. Of course, that’s a pretty unusual remedy for corruption! And it will definitely beg the question whether the powers-that-be in Rocket Girl’s world have actually chosen youngsters in order to manipulate them. But at the start Dayoung’s a true-believer. When she discovers the “wrong” in the past, she does volunteer, but she also feels there is no choice. The only thing you can do with wrongs is try to right them.
Amy Reeder: Brandon covered the plot point in his answer. It’s a great idea, and I have to drive it home with her design and presenting her. She’s got no shortage of courage. And almost too much heart and passion, which is fun to incorporate into a character who at first glance might appear frail or even lacking substance. So visually it’s turning her from wisp to whip. That’s both in the physical strength that underlies her grace as well as in her quick expressions. Facial expressions are a big deal to me and teenagers are especially great to work with because they are either stifling their thoughts or flying off the handle. Both are extreme, in their own way. So when Dayoung shows any emotion, it’s almost always with her heart on her sleeve. You have to draw her in a way that inspires a reader’s confidence in her, but you also want them to worry. I guess I’m saying it’s a little bit of everything!
Does Dayoung have any moral problems with the fact that she’s basically been sent back in time to undo her own reality and presumably her very existence?
Montclare: This is the crux of the story. It’s the “grey area” I noted above. Not only does righting a wrong jeopardize her own existence, it also risks the whole world — a veritable utopia — that she’s sworn to protect. Throughout life there are always going to be hard choices. Growing up is largely seeing that things are complicated and that there are no simple answers. “Rocket Girl” plays with that idea; plays the balance between admiring Dayoung’s hard principles and fretting over her naivety.
Reeder: It’s moral and it’s also personal. Coldness is totally an act for Dayoung. It’s a defense mechanism for the tremendous pressure she faces. I think that’s yet another common thing that teens do. Whether I’m drawing her stone-faced or Brandon is writing her hardboiled, I think Dayoung is always experiencing an ongoing inner struggle on some level.
When talking to my colleague J.K. Parkin on Robot 6 you mentioned that Dayoung winds up befriending the physics students she’s supposed to stop in 1986. What brings them together?
Montclare: The graduate students at Quintum Mechanics invent the time machine that not only changes the future, but also brings Dayoung back. At least the think they invented it.
Reeder: The team of physicists really have no clue what they’ve done! They certainly don’t have evil intentions in their research. But when the Q-Engine becomes a real thing, different people will react differently to the discovery. When a device can change the course of human history, it can be frightening, overwhelming, or a massive temptation for self-gain. In the future, Dayoung already knows that the discovery has been misused to benefit the Quintum Mechanics corporation. But how that happens is the mystery. The graduate students are understandably fascinated by the girl from the future. Dayoung sees them all as “adults” — even though they’re in their early twenties — and therefore doesn’t trust them at all. But she needs to find someone that can help her navigate the strange world of 1986 New York City.
Is there a villain in the traditional sense? It seems like Dayoung’s dealing with well-meaning scientists, but there might be more to it.
Montclare: There’s more to it! There is a mystery that connects the 1986 and 2013 timelines, and whether the powers-that-be behind it are friend or foe is to-be-determined. That being said: comics writing depends on the use of cliche, but a cliche I always try to avoid is the classic “villain.” It’s a valid trope, but personally I don’t find it terribly interesting. Bad deeds are done by people who rationalize what they’re doing is right. So I try to give the antagonists more depth than just being foils while at the same time injecting doubt into the protagonists. Although I should note that absent the standard super-villain, “Rocket Girl” is in many ways a superhero tale. It’s consciously a mix between Superman, who comes from an alien world giving him tremendous power, and Spider-Man, a teen who struggles with understanding the responsibility that power morally demands.
Reeder: Yeah. Rocket Girl blasts to the past and is always saving the day. It’s a different take on superheroes, in part. Definitely the name “Rocket Girl” is meant to elicit superheroes. That’s a fun playground because we are, after all, making comics. But it’s only party of what we’re going for, creatively. As it happens, a lot of people want to stop Dayoung. But all of these obstacles wouldn’t consider themselves “villains.” They think they’re doing the right thing. And Dayoung herself will be tested: is the world clearly divided by “right” and “wrong?” Or is she also responsible for making tough moral decisions?
I’m very curious about the ’80s-inspired alternate future version of 2013. Can you talk about developing that world a bit and how much collaboration went into the process?
Montclare: I feel that it’s mostly my job to inspire Amy’s visuals. That’s important — giving her some ideas on things to draw — but it’s not particularly hard work. Amy is the one who has to put a gallon of sweat into making the alternate futuristic 2013 look good as well as feasible.
Reeder: The design for the alternate 2013 was a huge challenge. But I like challenges, although sometimes I can get lost in it. There’s so much you want to do. The parameters we chose were that it should be a 1980s vision of the future. It’s funny, because if you look at 1980s movies or comics about a futuristic 21st Century, they all have flying cars, but none of them have cell phones. They have video conferencing, but to use it they go to a futuristic public phone booth! In broad terms, all of this is discussed with Brandon. But he trusts me with the designs and the final look. To finish off, I go for a lot of bright and loud colors. A lot of old sci-fi art affects “future” with jarring color. It seems to still work!
You’ve talked about the importance of 1986 in regards to comics, but were there certain touchstone movies or other works of fiction you wanted to allude to or pay homage to with the setting?
Reeder: There are so many ’80s sci-fi films set in our current decade. If people really thought they would forecast our present reality, I guess technology has disappointed! I’ve mentioned a lot of the same ones: “Back to the Future 2,” “Blade Runner” — talk about diverse! “Fifth Element” was later, but that world was so immersive it became a big inspiration. I’ve been reading [Katsuhiro] Otomo’s “Akira” and [Masamune] Shirow’s “Appleseed” to get inspired by tech and vehicles. But at the end of the day, for things to move around properly in my style I have to come up with things that are all my own.
Montclare: I think when you’re doing a nostalgia piece, the biggest touchstones aren’t technology or language or fashion, it’s media pop culture. The entire “Rocket Girl” concept takes more from ’80s movies, in general. If you were lucky enough to be sitting in cinemas 20-30 years ago and watching “Akira” or “Blade Runner” or “Back to the Future 2” or “Terminator” or “Escape from New York” on the big screen, those stories are set in this decade. The creative impetus to “Rocket Girl” literally is the popular lament: “Where is my jetpack?” Those films forecast a much different 2013 than the one we got — Rocket Girl is investigating whether there’s a secret reason it never happened.
Pop culture aside, 1986 New York City was a much different place than it is today. How does that play into the story?
Montclare: Hopefully it plays to the delight of the audience. This is a period piece, so the attention to detail should be appealing in itself. And as I said, nostalgia plays a part. Outside of all of that, it’s also treated as a discrete “world” as much as Oz or Middle Earth or Gotham. And I think something that makes that special is that it wasn’t that long ago! The world was a totally different place in 1986. As an aside, I often think how different the world of comics was in 1986 and of course I was a total outsider at that time! The rapidness of change in a lifetime is a big theme of the series.
Reeder: When I drew “Madame Xanadu,” I had to research Medieval Britain, the court of Kublai Khan, Revolutionary France, turn of the Century London, the 1930s and the 1950s. My approach for 1986 is just as detailed; deeper and more detailed, in fact, because I’m spending more time in this world. It’s a completely historical approach to the visuals. Fashion, traffic, architecture and more beyond “pop” culture. And New York was a much dirtier and dangerous place! Everyone in it seems to be on edge. At least that’s how I’ve imagined it and am presenting it. So there’s a sexiness to all that, but also an anxiety that’s omnipresent. While there is a lot of tension, however, that’s also a great set-up for explosive humor.
Did either of you have experience in NYC during this time?
Montclare: I was still in grammar school. I lived in the suburbs with my mother at the time, but my father lived in the city. So when I was in Manhattan, I was still a bit removed; it always felt like an exotic place I was just visiting. I think that perspective was essential in my wanting to do this. If I had actually been more a part of that world — if I were any older, for sure — I would probably have been too close to it for my current storytelling purposes. I live in Manhattan now, downtown and I don’t see myself doing a 2010s period piece about it when I’m 60.
Reeder: I am a few years younger than Brandon, and grew up in Denver. But I’ve lived in New York for three years now. I don’t think I could do this book if I wasn’t currently a “New Yorker.” As far as living through the ’80s, I was just a little kid. But a lot of that 80s pop culture stuck to my world well into the ’90s and beyond!
Amy have you started drawing the people who pledged $350 more for an appearance in the second or third issue yet? How is it drawing real people into the comic?
Reeder: I’ve just started the process, asking for reference pictures and figuring out how to present them in the story. The idea is to put these fans in the 1980s, and really play up some dated stereotypes to make it fun. I’ve never done a likeness in a comic before. I use my own face and a mirror if I need reference! And I’m good at drawing from life and doing realistic stuff, if I’m just drawing for myself. Applying it to comics interiors is me exploring new ground. It’s not something I plan on doing often. But it’s cool because it’s different; cooler because it’s a way to do something special for a fan who was a big believer in the book.
Brandon, have you started doing any of the script/pitch reviews for the $75 pledgers?
Montclare: I have, and I’ve also done some of these for other Kickstarters. First and foremost, I want backers at this level to get overwhelming value. Sometimes trying to dedicate that much time makes you fall behind, but I think I’ve got a good system that I’m eager to share with these creators. As much as it’s straight constructive feedback, I hope it demystifies the comics business and helps with their networking. And when I was an editor at TokyoPop, DC and Vertigo I was always very active with submissions and finding new talent. This is an extension of that — and is just as enjoyable. I’ll do anything I can to help people break into the business — whether they’re a supporter of “Rocket Girl” or not. I remember how much I depended on the generosity and patience and opportunity of others to help me break in and want to be able to pay that back to current aspiring creators.
Looking ahead, what else can you tell us about what happens in the first five issues and beyond?
Reeder: “Rocket Girl” is jam-packed. Again, it’s mostly a period piece for the 1980s. So I’m very excited to see the reaction to all the little bits of attention to detail. I’ve already had amazingly nice feedback on my art and I hope that continues because so much of me goes into every single panel on every page. I also have to say I’m excited for people to read it through. It’s easier to tease the art and the high concept. But Brandon’s script — his characters and his dialogue — always blows me away. I’m constantly laughing out loud at something clever, or discovering new layers to the character dialogue. As it comes together, nuances magically appear out of the collaboration. It’s definitely my favorite book to ever work on.
Montclare: The first five issues are a complete story. “Rocket Girl” both naturally and by design lends itself to true sequels. I already know exactly what the second arc does and it’s a story that can be separated. When it comes to the flexibility of total series length, we’ve got great parameters. A lot of that is due to the time travel theme. We can wrap it without it ever feeling rushed; and we can expand without it feeling drawn out. That means the status quo will change between sequels, and sometimes a hardcore fan doesn’t like that, but I think it’s a positive. As long as it’s popular, we’ll keep doing it!
“Rocket Girl” #1 from Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder and Image Comics goes on sale October 9.