Before the 2014 summer movie season began, many comic fans received incredulous looks from their friends that don’t read comics. Those looks came as a result of readers speculating that the breakout characters of the film season were going to be a talking raccoon and his best friend, a sentient alien tree. With the summer box office season almost over and Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy” declared the champion, readers have also been proved right as two of the film’s most popular characters proved to be the heavily armed Rocket Raccoon and his best buddy, the Flora Colossus from Planet X, Groot.
The sheer imaginativeness of Rocket (created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen) and Groot (created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers) and the fun dynamic they share are part of the reason why the characters figure so prominently in the “Guardians” film and comics, and it’s also why they graduated to Marvel’s new ongoing “Rocket Raccoon” series (where Groot plays a supporting role) by writer/artist Skottie Young, which details what the duo gets up to when they’re not adventuring with the Guardians. We spoke with Young about the success of the series first issue, the success of the “Guardians” film, and the opening arc of “Rocket Raccoon” which pits the title character against his evil doppelganger and an army of his ex-girlfriends.
CBR News: Skottie, let’s start off by talking about some of the biggest “Rocket Raccoon” news, the success of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” feature film and the sales of issue #1. How did it feel to learn that the debut issue of “Rocket Raccoon” had been selected to be part of July’s “Loot Crate” and was ordered in such big numbers?
Skottie Young: I think it’s awesome. That puts those comics in houses. Sometimes when we see big sales numbers you wonder how many of those are making their way into hands and homes instead of shelves and long boxes. So now we have people who may not have read comics before or may not have picked this one up getting “Rocket” #1, reading, and giving it a try. Hopefully it will bring them to comic shops to get more books.
Did knowing you might have such a big audience of new readers have an impact on how you approached subsequent issues?
No, I think I’ve been doing things long enough now that I can often block that stuff out. [Laughs] It can be a pretty dark hole to get yourself out of if you start to make stuff based on trying to predict what others are going to think about and read, and what those people’s opinions will be months down the line.
As I mentioned, Loot Crate wasn’t the only way Rocket got some extra exposure. The “Guardians of the Galaxy” feature film is one of the most successful films of this summer movie season and Rocket and Groot are the film’s break out characters. Why do you think that is? What about them resonates with moviegoers and comic readers?
I don’t know. I think a lot of the credit for the movie goes to James Gunn and the cast. Plus I think everybody likes good buddy stories. There’s a whole genre of the buddy cop and buddy action films where you watch two characters try to get along.
I think that lately we’ve seen a lot of super hero movies where characters who didn’t know each other are pulled together and this is one where that happened, but two of those characters, Rocket and Groot, already had a history. Their connection was kind of the humanity of it all. You could feel, “Oh, me and my friend would poke each other like that.” Plus they were funny.
Those filmgoers who embraced Rocket and Groot should have a pretty easy time with this initial arc of “Rocket Raccoon.” It has the crime and comedy elements of the film, but it also has an interesting darker edge in the form of Rocket’s malevolent, black-cloaked doppelganger. Is that what you were aiming for
Yeah, I don’t know if I was necessarily consciously making it dark or light. [“Guardians of the Galaxy” comic writer] Brian Bendis wrote a short Infinite Comic where Rocket is in a bar talking about how he’s the only one of his kind and another character calls him out and says he’s not. That character then walks outside and gets shot and killed, and Rocket looks up and sees a cloaked, shadowy figure with a gun on the rooftops. That figure then walks off.
â€¨That’s all there was to that. I talked with Brian about that and he said I could pick that thread up wherever I wanted and see what happens. I liked the idea that Brian had left this thing dangling out there and may or may not return to it. So I thought I would pick that ball up and run with it.
There was no other information about that figure from the Infinite Comic beyond it being cloaked, so I thought the cloaked figure could be someone else of Rocket’s race or kind.
What inspired your take on the cloaked figure? He seems to be very, very angry.
[Laughs] I don’t know if he’s angry as much as maybe he doesn’t have a lot of patience for people who don’t get things quickly. I don’t know. Maybe that’s some of me.
I really grew up liking a lot of “Mad Magazine” and “Looney Toons.” And then when I got into comics it was stuff like “Lobo,” Joe Kelly’s “Deadpool,” and “Scud: The Disposable Assassin.” There was always kind of an attitude, an edginess and a lot of humor in those things, and not just humor for a joke or a punchline. Those are a lot of my inspirations and they’re always things that I’ve liked, and “Rocket” seemed like a great book where I could be myself and put all those influences in to.
Rocket is now aware of his black-cloaked doppelganger, which means he’s now coming to terms with not being the only one of his kind. How is he handling that going into issue #3? Is he hopeful? Angry? Depressed? A little bit of everything?
I think it’s a little of everything. I think in most situations where we’re confronted with questions where the answers aren’t readily available for us we keep pushing forward on our quest for those answers and in some cases we may pretend that the experience is not eating us up.
â€¨It’s our coping mechanism. We want to know so bad whether it’s a test grade, or job opportunity or whatever, but how do we deal with the time from when the question hits us until we get the answer? That’s what Rocket is dealing with here. Maybe that’s where a little bit of the anger comes from, and why he’s so biting and scathing in his reaction to things. He’s a little anxious and frustrated and he maybe masks that a bit in comedy. So he’s doing his best to hold it all together and not go crazy until he at least tries to get the answer he’s looking for.
The black-cloaked raccoon isn’t the only antagonist in this arc. At the end of issue #2 you unveiled the existence of the Ex-Terminators. What inspired these characters? Are they essentially an armada of Rocket’s ex-girlfriends?
Yes. [Laughs] I was thinking about a B-plot and trying to come up with a group that would have some kind of issue with Rocket. Then I thought it would be kind of funny if we offset your expectations a little bit for this cute, fuzzy character that we’ve kind of turned into a stuffed animal.
Coming off of a book like “Oz” for so long and being the guy who does all the little Marvel kid covers I had this feeling that, “While I love that stuff, I’m not just that.” So I thought this would be a nice play on what people not only expect from me as a creator, but Rocket as well. This isn’t a straight up kids book. Rocket is still an adult and that’s what I wanted to get across in a funny way with the Ex-Terminators.
â€¨This cute little raccoon is an adult and he spends a lot of time in a lot of different places. So he may or may not get himself into adult situations. [Laughs] And some of those people might be mad at him for the way he deals with those situations.
It may be funny. It may not be funny, but at the time I thought it was kind of funny.
I think it translates pretty well. It reminded me of a sketch from the show “Kids in the Hall” that used to crack me where Bruce McCulloch is on trial in a court room and the jury is made up of all of his ex-girlfriends.
[Laughs] I’ll have to go back and watch that.
I think I have a tendency to go back to that joke. I did a “Deadpool Team-Up” issue a couple years back that Ramon Perez drew. In it Deadpool answered a help wanted ad for Galactus who was hiring a new herald.
So Deadpool applied and got the job. He got the Power Cosmic and turned his surfboard into a crazy Rat Fink-style hot rod. He then went in and helped Galactus find planets to eat, but he just talked too much and Galactus is like, “You’re the worst.” Then he and the Silver Surfer fought and afterward Deadpool lost the Power Cosmic, but at the very end he got together with all the other scorned Heralds at a Heralds Anonymous support group.
So maybe I need to go talk to somebody about that; my tendency to to pull together scorned groups of different kinds of exes. It could be ex-employees, ex-girlfriends, whatever. [Laughs]
The Ex-Terminators outnumber Rocket, but he does have allies in this story. Chief among them is his buddy Groot. The last time we spoke you mentioned how Groot is not a co-protagonist in this book. It seems to me his role is sort of a muscle character that you see in private detective novels who the main detective calls in if the case gets too deadly. Is that a fair description of Groot’s role in this series?
In this story he plays that role. I really wanted the book to focus on Rocket, but they are buddies. They are Han and Chewie. They’re going to go on all these adventures together.
I also wanted to show what happens when Groot gets taken out of the equation. Things become not so easy for Rocket. It’s very easy for the two of them to get into a spot and have Rocket tell Groot to hit everything. So I needed to take him out for a little bit to up the stakes for Rocket.
â€¨It’s kind of like if you write Superman. If you write him you have to figure out how to get him into a position where he’s in danger and that’s a hard job. With Rocket it’s much easier. You just take away his muscle. Then he has to become a little more clever.
So that helps on a storytelling front, but it also helps on a drawing front because Groot is a very big character. If you’re constantly drawing those two together then from a technical standpoint you have a scaling issue. I’m trying to fit this big character into the frame, which means I’m always going to be drawing Rocket really small. So part of me just wanted to get rid of him for a little bit to make sure that Rocket was visually the focus of the book on a technical front. So it’s a double-sided blade for me.
The other ally Rocket has joined up with is a pretty obscure character from writer Daniel Way’s “Deadpool” run, Macho Gomez. What made you want to bring Macho into the book?
He’s so cool! [Laughs]
I knew I was going to put Rocket on a prison planet and needed him to escape. This was months before I saw the movie. I had no idea there would be a scene in the movie of the Guardians escaping a prison. So that was a very happy coincidence.
I knew I needed a way to get him off that planet. So I thought, “What’s a good way that doesn’t involve him simply stealing a ship and flying away.” Once I started figuring out who he needed to talk to and things like that I started thinking about visual characters that I really liked. Sheldon Vella drew the Macho Gomez issues of “Deadpool” and he was so cool looking. So I always wanted to draw Macho sometime and then I thought that he was just the right wacky looking, bizarre character that would be in a prison for some reason and that I could easily tie to Rocket. Also he works for this character, Funtzel, and his intergalactic towing company, which I think is a perfect front for any kind of seedy underground criminal activity in the galaxy.
I thought about in a sort of “Sons of Anarchy” way. That would be a nice little crew to have that sort of thing with, which in return would make a perfect thing for Rocket to chat with those guys about.
Like most storytelling things in my life it started with something that looked cool. [Laughs] Then we’ll see what we can aim at that to make sure the thing that looks cool works in the story.
Speaking of things that look cool. Let’s talk about the maze-like prison escape scene in issue #2. What inspired that scene?
I knew that I was going to do a prison break montage. At first I had it set up as just a montage of crazy panels and all manner of weird stuff happening like jump cuts from panel to panel. The gag worked out kind of the same where Rocket says, “Time for a prison break montage” and they go off on a wild thing. It may have even been a double spread of just a bunch of panels.
Sana Amanat, my editor, said, “It might be cool if you did a big double spread of a maze or something like that.” I was like, “That’s a really good idea!” So I looked at my thumbnails versus that idea and decided the maze was a much stronger idea.
Once that happened it was just start doodling and seeing what worked in a compositional and wacky fun way. Luckily there have been a few personal projects that I’ve worked on that had similar scenes like that, which have worked out. I’ve done some crazy tubing and weird maze-like panels. So I had already played around with that stuff. It just hasn’t been published. I took those concepts and looked at them. At that point it was just drawing to see what works and what’s fun.
Let’s conclude by talking a little more about what’s coming up in “Rocket Raccoon.” Can you offer up any hints or teases about the remainder of this arc? Looks like the stage has been set for a space battle between the Ex-Terminators and Rocket and his allies, and possibly a gun battle between Rocket and the cloaked raccoon.
Obviously we’re wondering what this character is and what their history is. So I don’t want to give too much away about that.
â€¨We can definitely count on the Ex-Terminators catching up with him and throwing some fists around. That can absolutely be counted on. Rocket will get hit a lot in the face.
Finally, “Rocket Raccoon” is part of a growing number of cosmic Marvel titles. Will we see some links develop between “Rocket” and these other books? Or will your series stand on its own for a little while?
It will do whatever we feel and need it to do at the time. At the last couple of retreats a few of my buddies mentioned things that will happen in their books and I think it would be really cool to have Rocket touch on one of those elements really quick in my book like when they’re flying through a scenario and suddenly something happens. Things like that.
Unless otherwise noted or needed though, I think we’re all just telling our stories and having some fun. For me, these are Rocket’s adventures in the in-between times. We all go to work, but on the weekend we all go off and have little adventures that don’t have anything to do with our daily job. That’s kind of where my head is with this book. Moving forward if we ever need to jump into an event or tie ourselves into something else it won’t be a problem, but there’s no focus on that right now.
We all keep in contact. Sam [Humphries, the writer of “Legendary Star-Lord”] and I are really good friends. We launched our books at the same time so I think our heads are in the same place. Obviously the movie is going really good so everybody kind of has that vibe. Right now I think we’re all just moving forward telling our stories and seeing where they lead us.
I’m really glad everybody is having a good time with this book. It’s been really well received so far. I’m just really appreciative to everybody for being open to a book that is pretty heavily slanted towards humor. I know that sometimes can be a hard sell so I’m really, really appreciative that everybody is jumping on this crazy, cosmic romp.
“Rocket Raccoon” #3 is on sale September 3 from Marvel Comics.